grow it cook it preserve it eat it wendy pillar blog gardener grow your own in dorset

On the Paleo Diet - 5 June 2015

I just read a book on the Paleo diet because several people whose opinion I respect keep talking about it. However, my inner critic began arguing with it before I had even finished the Introduction. Like all diet systems, it seeks to prove it is the One and Only, and goes in search of a scientific theory to back its case up, but there are holes in the logic of that scientific argument large enough to drive a bus through. Principally, if modern obesity and diseases are the result of the agricultural revolution, 10,000 years ago, why did they not manifest until 30 years ago - about when supermarkets got into bed with the food industry and we all started eating junk food?

I find it hard to believe that paleolithic people were efficient enough hunters to eat meat three times a day, without any means of storage, or that nuts or eggs (both easily collectable, storable and transportable) were not a major part of their diet. We are told repeatedly that all hunter-gathers were/are slim and fit, and that this is because of their diet, but if the modern overweight westerner had to hunt or gather everything they ate from the wild, without firearms, they'd rapidly become pretty slim and fit too - or dead. Instead modern folk spend their day sitting at a desk, before popping out of the car into the supermarket on the way to their centrally heated homes to buy food, which they will just put in the oven to prepare. Methinks that is a major factor in modern health problems. If you go on a foraging day the one thing you will learn above all else is just how hard it is to get a full meal that way. Wild carrots may be much more nutritionally dense than their farmed counterparts, but they are about 40x4 mm and they don't grow in 20ft rows!

The Paleo diet doesn't challenge the dominance of the supermarket. Diet systems don't, because the diet industry is part of the food industry. It recommends doing one's hunting and gathering in the supermarket aisles. A pork chop and salad is suggested for breakfast, but if that pork chop is industrially produced, then it will be full of antibiotics and growth hormones, of poor quality and full of bad fats, and the salad will be elderly, packed in gas to keep it looking fresh, have pesticide residues and be nutritionally poor. You might well lose weight because it is low calorie and doesn't disrupt your blood sugar like cornflakes or toast, but it won't solve health problems.

It's a myth perpetuated by agrobusiness that we need GM and industrial farming to feed our growing population - we currently produce enough food to feed everyone but 1 billion are hungry because they can't afford to buy food. Hunger is about politics not agriculture. But the planet can't afford to feed 9 billion people getting 50% of their calories from meat, as the author recommends. Either this is a diet for the privileged few or it will be industrially produced for the masses, degrading all quality out of it until its no better than the current array of junk food. It is also conveniently left out of the argument that the traditional Ethiopian diet, totally vegetarian, and the traditional Inuit diet, without vegetables, as well as the traditional Icelandic diet, heavy on dairy, all produce very healthy populations. What these diverse diets have in common is no pollution with pesticides and no food industry pressing heavily processed foods on them (as well as a traditional lifestyle with few desk jobs). When it comes down to it, it's food made in factories with labels on that is the problem, not the particular combination of these foods in the diet.

Here's my suggestion for a real modern hunter-gatherer diet (the book deal is in the post!). You do your hunting at farmers' markets and local farm-gate suppliers or a small butcher's shop with good provenance. At the very least this involves some walking around, carrying bags and social interaction, all of which are good for you. Adopt a nose-to-tail approach and eat various parts of the animal and possibly include healthy, sustainable and frequently wasted meat like rabbit and deer. Go gathering in your garden amongst your own-grown veg. If you grow your own veg, you are bound to eat more of it, far less likely to spray toxins on it and will expend many calories growing it. Gathering your food from your own plot is immensely satisfying precisely because it satisfies that ancient, hard-wired hunter-gatherer instinct. Anything you have to buy in the supermarket, eat much less of. And do some real foraging in the wild now and again, to appreciate the wonder of wild food, but also the difficulty of nourishing yourself that way, and the marvel that is agriculture.

And never read diet books!

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