Was the Paleo Diet a Good Idea?

America has a way of blaspheming every good idea. We have a way of wrapping infinite tiny things in plastic and dehumanizing even the most wholesome of good intensions. We have a toxic drive to monetize. Every moment of our lives becomes an incessant race for newness implying better-ness and a reason to sell, sell, sell.

The Paleo diet idea was a good idea… But then the movement, in true American consumerism worship fashion, became a grotesque parody of how humans once lived, and how humans ought to live and eat now.

Also, the Paleo movement never got the details right. It made cartoonish simplicity of the grand complexity of the Paleolithic diet, food systems and lifestyle within tens of thousands of civilizations of humans around the globe during that more than 2 million year time period.

The same simplistic notion was repeated practically word for word like scripture, by bloggers and wellness proponents during peak Paleo when everyone needed it for SEO, but few activated sufficient curiosity about how Paleolithic people actually ate and survived in any of the many, many different ecosystems, food systems, and climates across the planet.

When we take a tiny snippet, a generalized notion, cover it in plastic and sell it to America as the true way of being human, we smother the beautiful web of life and culture that evolved before we sanitized it.

It is part of American supremacy to believe we are the best. If we are the best, we don’t think to contemplate culture or past food systems which might offer more elegant and balanced ways.

The Paleo movement got people thinking about eating a more clean and natural diet and that was good. That was very good. It really did give us vital tools to support a more sustainable and humane food system while eating to support our own health too.

But then it wrapped every tiny little thing in plastic and people forgot we were supposed to be devising a new cultural solution to our broken food system and our chronic health epidemic.

The Paleo movement gave us a reminder to learn the lessons of the past, to look back at the deeply varied, deeply diverse ways that humans interacted with this earth, its plants, animals and seasons, to feed themselves for eons and eons.

There is wisdom to be had in ancient food systems. This wisdom should be applied to decisions we now make about how to feed ourselves, and how to devise a new, better, more health promoting food system that makes use of all the modern science and technology while honoring the nutritional needs of the people and the ecosystem needs of the planet.

A tiny ball of peanut butter and coconut, wrapped in plastic, does not approach what a paleo diet or food system was, or what its modern upgrade should be.

The Paleo movement gave us the framework from which we can now have the next evolution of the discussion. It gave us a window into a world where the food system was nourishing and where humans had an entirely more earthbound relationship with their food.

As global society experiences an existential crisis of disconnection, where the most basic of our cultural norms are literally killing the planet while making the people very sick, we have to ask, why would we continue with a system such as this?

The Paleo movement brought clean eating to a much more mainstream, widespread audience. A continued conversation around proper, ancient food systems, and what sort of elegance and balance can we learn from them, would benefit us all.

Further Resources

Modern hunter-gatherer children could tell us how human culture evolved and inspire new ways of teaching” (The Conversation, 8-29-2019). Be sure to watch the videos in this article. Hunter gatherer children harvesting wild food!

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