It's Official: Paleo is NOT Ancestral
But even since I first heard of the paleo diet, and began reading about all of these remote ancestral tribes and cultures, there has been this nagging voice asking me how these populations can be translated back into the paleolithic. Some of these tribes are decidedly neolithic despite their "primitive" cultures. Any domestication of animals or cultivation of vegetation would be counter to the HG existence we are told we evolved through. So in addition to looking to remote tribes for answers -- as opposed to looking to where diets in our own cultures went off the rails -- we are essentially being asked to make the leap that these modern "paleos" in some way mirror the true paleos, but we must ignore any facets of their diet that pre-date agriculture. Hmmmph.
But paleo is not about that. As evidence of this I bring you Loren Cordain gnashing his teeth once again over the terrible blight on the world that is the legume, and we can throw the grains in there too: MEXICAN CUISINE, INTESTINAL PERMEABILITY AND THE PALEO DIET (this is taglined to GotPaleo but signed at the end with Cordain's name). He writes:
As with most eating traditions found worldwide, current day Mexican cuisine is derived from an amalgamation of people, cultures, historical events and available foods. Prior to the European “discovery” of the Americas by Columbus in 1492, the indigenous peoples of the area we now call Mexico were necessarily reliant upon native plant and animal foods that could either be collected wild or domesticated. Notable domesticated plant foods native to Mexico and the Americas were corn (maize), chile peppers (all varieties), tomatoes, squash, certain bean species (Phaseolus vulgaris [kidney, pinto, black and navy beans], Phaseolus lunatus [lima beans]), tomatillos, maguey (mescal), cassava, avocadoes, chocolate and potatoes, among others.
With the arrival of Europeans came the introduction of cows (beef, dairy products: milk, butter, sour cream and cheese), pigs (pork), goat, and sheep (lamb, mutton) which were rapidly incorporated into the native Mexican cuisine. Other European/Asian food introductions that are frequently found in the present day Mexican cuisine are wheat, rice, barley, hops, lettuce, onions, green onions (scallions), garlic, cilantro, limes, olives, olive oils, cumin, black pepper, vinegar, and sugar.Cordain then launches into a list of "Mexican foods" and the usual paleo treatises on lectins, phytates and saponins and how bad all of these things are for you. I include a screenshot of one section for full effect:
So what I found ironic about this article is here you have Cordain, however briefly, outlining the foods that were native to the land and which made up the basis of their diets -- regionally differing of course based on climate, terrain and access to water life -- and then basically laying down the paleo hammer as to why none of these are appropriate. I guess since he trademarked The Paleo Diet (capital T, capital P, capital D) he can pretty much make up whatever rules he wants. But this article surely demonstrates the utter disconnect with this approach and the true spirit of the movement and its basis. At some point TPD is supposed to be a form of reenactment -- at least the spirit was to emulate and copy the foods eaten by our ancestors before the modern foods ravaged our health. Only Cordain goes to great lengths to explain to us why the ancestral populations in this hemisphere should have died out long ago from leaky gut and whatever else his triad of bad plant food actors is supposed to kill you with. If you're going to eat "Mexican"
I guess Cordain hasn't gotten the memo on salt yet, and I'm not sure if his "pupil" recommends a salt rim on the Nor Cal. But meat and a side salad sounds like the perfect Mexican cuisine? NO. Sorry. It is not. Corn, beans and squash. This is the basis of the ancestral diet of most natives to the Americas. If Cordain wants to be honest and just come out and say that those of us of European descent are better off emulating the traditional diets of Europeans, then he needs to come out and say that, but he's going to run into problems there as the "paleo papers" put the birthplace of humanity in Africa ... It's a mess. I know. But even those of long lines of descent in this hemisphere don't get special dispensation. There's no caveat that such a diet might at least be more appropriate for you!! No. We should all -- in a quest for optimal health -- adopt TPD which means no grains, not even corn, and no beans of any kind, ever. Oh ... he's also against dairy even though that came with the European livestock, so he's somewhat true in the end to the P in paleo.
I think it is fair to say that the so-called "diseases of civilization" have wrought far greater havoc upon indigenous populations around the globe than they have on the already-somewhat-civilized. Even many rural settlers already began living a different life than those they displaced, bringing with them food stuffs from their homelands rather than adapting to those of their new homes.
If the community were to listen to the ancestral voices, they would be encouraging these peoples to return to THEIR traditional foods and practices. There are any number of legitimate nutrition programs aimed at doing just that, but you won't find Robb Wolf out working with any of these programs until he retires to farm coconuts. They simply cannot because such diets are, as Cordain demonstrates in such incredibly tone-deaf fashion, inferior and unacceptable to their standards of dietary purity and superiority. It is unquestionably racist and elitist, although I don't really think many of the people who think this way really recognize just how badly it is! There appear to be two strategies here:
- You have those who reconcile the disconnect by insisting that the traditional diets of these populations weren't really what they have been documented to be. In this regard we are to believe that all Native (North) Americans were carnivorous hunter gathering peoples who subsisted on very little dietary carbohydrate and ate mostly buffalo. Whatever "grain" or "tuber" would likely have been the equivalent of chewing on rope or straw and likely starchless and certainly sugarless ... just don't read the abundant literature outlining otherwise.
- Ignoring the traditional diet entirely and insisting that their paleo diet is nutritionally superior for all. Forget that they thrived on maize and legumes, those were merely the best they could do at the time and if they'd had their druthers, would have been abandoned long ago. This latter approach appears to be the one Cordain is taking, and, sadly, a majority one within the movement.
Interestingly enough, Cordain has aligned himself with the two stooges of cocolactocoloncleanse primaleo as a means of distinguishing himself in the paleo community now that he's retired from academia. Good choice Loren! I am of course talking about Heath Squier and Gary Collins who are having fun with themselves trying to tear down the house that Victory Belt built by baking one loaf of paleo bread at a time. These self appointed guardians of authentic capital P-aleo are an interesting duo. You've got Collins who will remind you any chance he gets that he was a pro.FESS.ion.AL and that he's not an expert but he is an expert, I guess even he can't tell. This is a man who has written articles on grounding and accupuncture, embraced colon cleansing and who has adopted the label "primal" to divert any possible criticism for his consumption of neolithic dairy.
Basically, according to him, Cordain invented paleo so call it something else and he's fine with you. He'll trash anyone who graduated from college and wrote a cookbook, but sees no irony in the fact that his side kick basically inherited his parents' business and would like you to believe that his nutritionist (? training ?) mother had no idea for years and years that kamut, spelt, lentils and beans had carbs in them. If most of the VB authors have no cred, what does that say of Heath? He's morphed the business into a paleo goods supplier selling paleo wraps and coconut flakes and a bunch of supplements. Heath's paleo day begins with the following non-foods within the first 2 hours:
I'm thinking that 3 years in he should be off the "transitional" paleo foods he sells, and I'm also thinking that paleo man didn't have a bunch of pill bottles in place of food. The rest of Heath's day includes some actual food, and another few scoops of protein powder because ... paleo. Do note the heavy dose of woo woo here too.
I'm not sure how this alliance came about, but good choice?
I get that Cordain and these two guys don't much like Chris Kresser for some reason. I guess being in with Robb hasn't brought Kresser any trail cred with Cordain. It's all a mess, but my my and SMH :-)
But oh my the legume cannot buy a break with this guy! Cordain says paleo man didn't eat legumes. Oddly enough he goes on about fire and cooking and then later talks of steamed broccoli and broiled salmon. Since paleo man walked out Africa to the shores of the British Isles, it is exceedingly unlikely that either of the aforementioned foods were paleo cooked or otherwise.
Folks need to write scholarly papers if they think paleo man ate legumes or potatoes. I don't suppose that during his academic career Cordain ever encountered an actual anthropologist? There is ample evidence for considerable starch consumption in the form of tubers, legumes and grains back into the paleolithic. If one can even draw a bright line in time, one can't just pick and choose which modern day plants to select. Avocados are a darling of the paleo crowd, but these are *cultivated* ... and said cultivation began with the humans populating this hemisphere, aka what we call Native Americans in the northern continent, but stretching down to South America too. Similarly, I don't think you can select just those HG groups who fit your dialog and dismiss others. There's also not much difference, IMO, between purposeful agriculture and gathering from plentiful wild sources. Clearly many ancestral populations did a bit of both and "paleo foods" are grown on freakin' farms and orchards and whatnot. You cannot acknowledge that and then say -- but no potatoes or legumes.
One of these guys -- don't recall which -- joked about people that must be addicted to chili. Get real. Paleoista is so anti-legume she suggested hummus be replaced with pureed broccoli recently on her blog. I don't suppose she suggests adding anything to that puree to replicate the flavor of hummus? Oh that's right, the beans add nothing, it's all in the spices. What's the deal with the broccoli? Not paleo. But who would go through all the soaking and sprouting and rinsing for a mushy bean? This is another thing. Where did this notion come from? This was the reason for my recent question about Weston A. Price's writings. Some were somewhat detailed in terms of foods and their preparation, but mostly you got a listing of a few staples and that was about it.
So this is from Hrdlicka's early 20th century account of the Pima:
Sounds like some labor was involved and then there was food for a long while to be had. Do you see any soaking, rinsing or sprouting? Collins is a big fan of Cordain's triad of plant toxins -- lectins, phytates and saponins. Do you see the soapy water when you boil your beans? That will dissolve your gut and kill you. Really really, you gotta believe Cordain knows what he's talking about. Pay NO attention to the billions of humans who thrived and were ripped. Lebron James has gone paleo and gotten ripped (I'd remind the audience here that Shanahan's star client was ripped on Hershey bars and dastardly fruit before going half-baked paleo.) If I were going to speculate -- which is mostly what Cordain does anyway -- I'd say that fermenting was what happened and humans figured out that doing it deliberately resulted in "acceptable spoilage" to something that remained edible thereby preventing losses to rotting etc. There is mention of drying of almost every food out there, which then in most cases required some form of rehydration. Hence soaking and some of the soaked beans sprouted. I have read a lot about various preparations and it would appear that this need to detoxify these dangerous foods is a myth. If anything, these "toxins" were medicinal. Again from Hrdlicka:
Somehow I doubt the Pima would have kept drinking bean juice if it "made them ill" as the paleos would have you believe. Saponins? Well I discussed these at length in this post, but the important point is that various African tribes specifically prepare a tea to contain saponins and drink it. They add it to milk based soups, etc. Rather than soaking and rinsing as if these compounds were deadly toxins rendering some foods inedible, humans have been "extracting" them and consuming them deliberately. For benefit.
Ancestral peoples. Pre-industrialized peoples. Traditional peoples. Whatever you want to call them. Cordain keeps repeating that 70% of our diet is refined flour, sugar and veggie oil. He is now teaming up with a purveyor of coconut flour wraps and almond meal breads. He has put his name on a bar that Julian sells.
In this country, paleo is being marketed to more than just whites of Euro descent. Only anyone of Native (North) American, Mexican or further on south to the tip of Chile have a long relationship with foods the paleos dismiss as nutritionally inferior and to be avoided. By his own telling, Cordain attributes many modern paleo foods to invaders from Europe. He also tells them that their health rests on going only as far back as this point and rejecting what came before. Makes a ton of sense doesn't it?
I have a few posts in the hopper on this topic as AHS14 had some interesting related talks. I'll also weigh in on what I've decided to dub Paleo Shneckenfeude ... because who can resist having a little fun with the paleo and low carb communities eating their own young.
Happy Sunday all!