“I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” – Ralph Nader
By now I’m quite sure you’ve run across, in some form or fashion, Marlene Zuk’s work, Paleofantasy. Now, I can’t claim to have actually read the book, but I have read a few interviews with her (here, and here, for example), and I’ve listened to Carl Lanore’s extensive Super Human Radio interview with her. I think that’s a reasonable cross-sectional exposure to get the gist of what she’s implying in Paleofantasy — essentially, that we ought not try to emulate our paleolithic ancestors because (a) we’ll get it hopelessly wrong, (b) we have only sketchy evidence at best as to what these people did eat much less how they actually lived their day-to-day lives, and (c) hey! We haven’t stopped evolving, by the way!
And on those points, she is, of course, absolutely right.
But here’s the thing: it seems to me that Marlene is stuck in 2009. This essay (and the points iterated above) were certainly relevant then, but the Paleo movement has since addressed and moved well beyond those tired arguments. And smartly so. The caveman re-enactment thing was an easy target a few years back, but the Paleo argument has since been refined to address the fact that this lifestyle and way of eating is still the most optimal human diet based on nutrient density, nutrient bioavailability, and the exclusion of “questionable” foods, compounds and chemicals.
The fact that we are still evolving, and that some of these evolutionary changes occur in a cosmic blink-of-an-eye (lactose tolerance, for instance), has little bearing on what we, as individuals, are best suited to consume today. That my 50-thousand-year-hence ancestors may be fully grain adapted has (or should have) absolutely no bearing on what my optimal food choices are in the here-and-now. I’ve often said that I am, in fact, a humanist — but I’m sure as hell not going to take a needle for team human on this one. It seems that there are plenty of willing souls capable of forwarding this charitable, evolutionary work 😉
And look, I get it. This book needed to be written — if for no other reason than to educate and prod those just now moving into the Paleo lifestyle to question authority; to think in a critical, non-compromising way. And it’s not that Zuk’s science is wrong per se (it’s certainly not), it’s just that the practical application and direction of that science is a non-sequitur vis-a-vis the modern Paleo movement. Those of us who have been entrenched in this movement from the get-go stress using the science of nutrient density, problematic proteins, inflammation and immune response rather than arguing the “caveman” theory. What man ate prior to the rise of agriculture simply creates a basis from which to form testable hypotheses, noting more. Novel foods are not evil, just suspect. Guilty until proven innocent seems perfectly logical to me in this instance.
I certainly don’t begrudge Marlene Zuk’s making some descent money on this book, and I applaud her for forcing the masses to think critically. Again, as far as the mainstream is concerned, it probably did need to be written. I just wish that her arguments had been better directed. And truth be told, Mat Lalonde already put this “Paleofantasy” argument to bed a few years back. At Mat’s urging, we in the leading edge of the movement have since raised the bar. Marlene is simply late to the game, taking haymakers at an opponent who’d already been deftly KO’d by the Kracken.
Harnessing modern technology to advance ancestral wellbeing better describes the Paleo movement of 2013. Finding the weak underbelly in this argument would have been a much better use of Ms. Zuk’s time.
In health, fitness and ancestral wellness –