Friday, March 8, 2013

Thoughts on Paleo 1 - A reiteration of the narrative of the creation and fall

A number of people in the comments have asked for my thoughts on paleo.  This blog has been going for quite a few years and during its life, paleo has certainly been an interest and it has often been identified as a paleo blog.  Indeed I received a signed copy of Sisson's Primal Blueprint on its release as I was in the paleo gang, which was then much smaller.

However I am increasingly uncomfortable with "paleo" in its application, assumptions and adherents.  I may do a few posts on the issues at play here.  As a preliminary observation however, I want to comment on something that I have been thinking about recently:  Paleo as a reiteration of the biblical narrative of creation and fall.

Creation and Fall

If you are familiar with the biblical narrative man is created in the image of God  and placed in a perfect environment, the Garden of Eden.  He is given a prescribed diet and operates in a state of the social and spiritual ideal.  The Bible tells the story of how through man's choice - initially signified by a disobedience to God over food - he is excluded from this perfect ideal environment.  This is the Fall.  He is shut out from the Garden and there are consequences for his health (he now becomes mortal), his lifestyle (he now has to toil),  his social life - the marriage relationship is messed up - and his spirituality (he loses his relationship with God).  The whole world also suffers and is under the curse of this sin.

Jesus takes the punishment for man's sin and in Him - the second Adam - we gain what we lost, ultimately a place in a new recreated earth, a new environment.

Paleo and the fall

I find hints of this narrative in Paleo.  There is a perfect environment from which we have fallen through choices primarily about our food.   As a consequence we are suffering in terms of health, social life and even spirituality (the Primal Connection?)  The whole world is messed up because of agriculture.

This is perhaps why paleo offers such attraction - it appeals to the same deep hungers that are there in the Bible;  the feeling that we are somehow in a messed up and spoiled world, the desire for Eden.  Some recognition that all of our lives are ruined through our poor choices?  We long for better health, food, relationships and society.


Maybe this is also why people become so sectarian and obsessed about their Paleo diet - it becomes their route to salvation.  What we used to find in religion we now try to get from diet  -  the hope, the community.  Those that disagree with us and our way are not just wrong....they are heretics destined not for a poor state of health but for damnation.

We need to ease up about all this


Anonymous said...

It's kinda ironic. The paleo crowd seems to be pretty open but any deviation from the commandments is quickly put down. I love paleo for it's simplicity and truly appreciated the work that's been done. But do I think we've figured it out completely? Nope, but I look forward to seeing how it evolves. Diet, like religion seems to bring out the extremes in people.

Jono said...

I'm glad to see this post. I think there is much in the bible regarding how we live (historically and with wisdom). For instance, the story of Joseph in Egypt deals with the storability and density of wheat and is used as a way to extract assets from the masses for the benefit of the sovereign. The early parts of the bible deal with the struggle between settling in large groups and maintaining a nomadic lifestyle--the farmers and the cow hands battle in the American West was similar. The battle between Cain and Able, Jacob and Esau. Fascinating stuff.

Mark said...

Mythology (Grok, Gnolls), clerical orders (MovNat, CrosssFit, FMS certifications), schisms (dairy, safe starches), scholastic debates (macronutrient ratios, "is XYZ paleo"), hypocrisy and rationalization (alcohol, "paleo desserts"), self-mortification (cold therapy), even a prophet crying in the wilderness (paleodrama). By golly, Chris, I think you're on to something!

Chuck said...

so, if someone i know does not treat their body well in so many ways, including diet, can i not think to myself that they brought it upon themselves?

Skyler Tanner said...

Astute observation.

This is why someone like Mat Lalonde is so popular: instead of a narrative, he present real genuine scientific evidence. This muddies a narrative.

That is why I continue to eat this way: it's not about grok, it's about science.

Unknown said...

Is it really about science? There are so many gaps in current science that it can be, if you BELIEVE so, but we can't make conclusions about what to eat based on current science. That's why "eat what you want" is the most prevalent answer among experts with no hidden agenda or book to sell. There are some rules that one shoud follow to maximize gains, but they have little to do with good/bad foods and everything to do with calories and macronutrients.
I honestly believe we will move more towards what the likes of Alan Aragon say, not towards Jimmy Moores or Richard Nikoleys (nothing personal, those two are just too great examples) - gurus with no scientific background who sometimes can hardly spell mitochondria yet shoot long podcasts and write books to eudcate others, from marketing, wishful thinking, cherry picking and inability to properly evaluate studies to what science actually says presented by someone who has the ability and credit to convey the message. People who fall into the guru trap rightfully feel betreayed and confused and this should stop.

FeelGoodEating said...

Bravo Chris!

To take it one step further........
Is NOT eating animal flesh an inevitablre outcome of pu ongoing spiritual evolution/primal connection.
This is my personal koan....


August said...

I've actually used this a metaphor to try and explain the paleo diet to people who are somewhat biblically literate.
Of course, this assumes my audience already has the eden story as a concept in their heads, and that they will not be replacing it with some sort of paleo neo-edenic story.

Bill Strahan said...

It's funny that I've pointed out Genesis 3:19 to people who told me they didn't buy Paleo because they believed in creation. No problem.

"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

So, based on that I'd say eating bread is part of the fall, and now we don't have to. :)

It's a little bit tongue in cheek, but not entirely.

And for the die hard "Paleo reenactment crowd" I like to point out that bacteria free water is definitely NOT paleo. You might persuade them to shoot a local coyote and eat it raw, but no way they'll drink from that stream by their house.

Don't do Paleo, do what works. In my way of looking at it, there's a BIG overlap there, but I prefer sterile water to the stream, I like whey protein, and a pre-workout cup of coffee is pretty great. All non Paleo, but they all work for me.

Anonymous said...

Nice one Chris.

IMHO - Extremism, xenophobia and dogma are all common human traits. People express these views through will diet, religion, sports, politics, cults etc. It has been going on forever and this Paleo thing is just another iteration of the same.


Anonymous said...

Chris, with this post you have made it official that you've now moved beyond knowledge to wisdom. Well done!

I think what we are talking about is people's nature. Paleo is a religion for many. These people just need religion in their lives, they typically are black and white thinkers who want things to be clearly one thing or another. A belief system that is inviolate and intact. And if someone suggests to them a world of shades of grey they can become defensive. Harder to understand is that science is a religion too! It's hard for science's adherents to keep an open mind, it becomes gospel for them too. It is science after all! Yet the science constantly changes as new information becomes available. This should be enough for the wise to keep an open mind rather than becoming dogmatic. I have also seen otherwise intelligent people (scientists/researchers) create poor study designs and/or come to questionable conclusions which then become accepted truths. This is another reason to pause before trenching in on a position. Are we just mindlessly espousing someone else's mistakes?

Unknown said...

When it all started, blogosphere was a place to confront conventional wisdom. We all really thought we are morally superior for not listening to authorities, not accepting what they serve us blindly. Plus, their food pyramids seemed complicated, as well as strange multiple-set exercise recommendations.
Now I see a huge opposite trend. People are fed up with fads, at least those who think independently. They crave professional advice on the internet. One set to failure proponents start to give credit to multiple set routines that vary exercises and rep ranges. There are still practical issues but most no longer thing someone is trying to betray them by proposing mutiple set, periodised routine.
Paleo eaters expand their horizons, loosen their adherence and suddenly, we recommend to eat real food, have a nutritious base, not to have a good food/bad food list, have variety. We abandoned fasting, because it is good on paper to improve some markers for limited amount of time, not really as an effective long term well-being strategy.
How different are we now from mainstream advice? Some MensHealth authors actually promote all of what I've just wrote about.

People like Alan Aragon, Lyle McDonald, Brad Schoenfeld were "right" all along, yet we didn't listen because their answers were too grey. "it depends" they said. "Single set works, but is probably not optimal for hypertrophy, although if you are pressed for time, it's efficient."

I still see value in some simple strategies, especially in exercise, as adherence is huge factor. Yet I realized blogs are 99% distraction where someone points you in the wrong direction based on his own limited understanding combined with unlimited desire to finde the truth.
I feel good quality books on training and diet are rare, but they are the way to go. You get dense science-based message, you can let it sink in, you are not distracted, you can apply it and doesn't lead you to another rabbit holes. Maybe all we need is to check Amazon four times a year and pick the best books? Not the most popular, but those with the most insightful reviews and written by the best minds in the industry. It's up to everyone to decide which books are worth it.

Chris said...

That is a very good and very perceptive comment Ondrej. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Why isn't anyone including the important perspectives and contributions of Michael Pollan to this discourse? For ten years I've read and researched nutrition and diet and am yet to come upon another perspective as elegantly simple and profound as his: "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much." The fact that there is so much anxiety surrounding food reveals our confusion. Pollan asks the important questions: why are we confused? And who benefits from our confusion? Because we are confused, we rely on a "priestly" class of alleged experts to interpret the unseen world of nutrients for us and then create dietary dogma. Put him on your reading lists!

John Sifferman said...

Well said, Chris. I think this is a topic that is well-worth delving into on CR - strikes a nerve, for sure.

Anonymous said...

Along a slightly different religious path... I played Emo Philips' clip on religion (Google Emo Philips and Die Heretic) for my wife last night for exactly this reason. Give it a listen and see if it doesn't describe the Paleo/Primal world.

I call my diet Paleo because that is what I first learned of the concepts under (reading Deep Nutrition). I think the bumper sticker version of it, Michael Pollan's "Eat real food. Mostly vegetables. Not too much." sums it up nicely. But it didn't get me to change my diet.

Many people probably wouldn't call my diet paleo. But it works for me.