Why people are wrong about the so-called Paleo-diet

I am worried about all of the talk about the so-called paleo-diet. Cookbook authors (esp. their publishers), diet supplement MLM saleforces, and tabloid columnists have been spreading the word about the advantages of eating like our prehistoric ancestors. Problem is that the words they are spreading are the wrong ones; their message is misguided.

Archaeologists study the past according to the social, political and economic contexts in which they live, teach, research, publish, and of course, eat. In the 1930s Gordon Childe coined the term the Neolithic Revolution to highlight what he saw as the radical break in world prehistory: the shift from hunting and gathering to farming. Childe saw the progress of history from a Marxist perspective. Important changes were revolutionary. The basis was to be found in how we get our food. Problem is that the more anthropologists and archaeologists learned about the diversity of hunting-and-gathering and farming lifestyles, the murkier appeared Childe’s original vision. We now know that hunter-gather lifeways were complex and not dire desparate scrambles to survive. Nor were the lives of the early farmers easy times of surplus and regular food. Reality is always more complicated than that.

The thing that gets me about the Palaeo-diet proponents is that they push meat as the key to our modern human evolution as a species; they say we are the intelligent species we are because we hunted animals and took energy from meat. The truth? Most hunter-gatherers rely heavily on non-meat sources of energy: gathering plants, nuts, berries and root foods. Finding the problems and errors of popular uses of the past is what the best kind of modern archaeologist are doing. It’s the kind of work that we are doing at San Francisco State. If it is what you want to do, then join us at the graduate level for our MA. Find out about application deadlines (they are rolling) and requirements by visting our M.A. in Anthropology section on our website or send us an email: AnthroMA@sfsu.edu.

Link:The evolution of diet (National Geographic)

If you want to learn more about hunter-gatherers and their life-styles, then have a look at this:

Cummings, V., Jordan, P. and Zvelebil, M. (eds) 2014. The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Hunter-Gatherers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.