The Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet. There is nothing romantic about pre-agricultural times of some 10,000 years ago when hunter/gatherers had to scavenge for food. The Paleo Diet of today is a version far removed from the caveman when life was sustained haphazardly and at risk by hunting wild game and foraging plant foods prior to the domestication of animals and the cultivation of grains. Stressful as it had to be, it holds no resemblance to modern day food gatheringpushing shopping carts through wide, well-lit supermarket aisles that are piled high with convenience foods bearing colorful, catchy labels. The modern Paleo menu is really a faux copy of the original. Wild game do not roam and wild berries, nuts, seeds, roots, and rhizomes do not grow out our back door; rarely are these products sourced by supermarkets or by mail-order suppliers.

To its credit, the modern Paleo Diet does emphasize grass-fed animal products, fish, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits, while it forbids refined vegetable oils, refined sugar, industrial salt, refined grains, and commercial dairy products. One of the best features of Paleo is its implicit outlawing of most prepared convenience/snack/junk foods, as well as fast foods. An adherent of Paleo is forced to read food labels. And, a disciple soon recognizes the need to shop the periphery of the grocery store for whole, real food, as well as to spend more time in the kitchen preparing home cooked meals. If Paleo could become popular enough, it might encourage more local farming and farmers marketsperhaps we would fail to have enough real food to go around!

Realistically, the time commitment required for food shopping and preparation makes Paleo more attractive on paper than in real life. Most people are too busy to bother with food gathering and preparation. Another problem with Paleo is that it is expensive, both for the environment and the pocketbook. It might work for some affluent few who enjoy food shopping and preparation and can ignore hunger pangs for feel-good-feeling grains, but it does not work for global sustainability. Carbohydrates, mostly as grains, account for more than half the calories consumed in our country and for as much as 80% of the energy requirements of people in less-developed countries of the world.

A diet devoid of energy-dense carbohydrates must implicitly rely more upon animal proteins and fats. But many animal-based sources of protein are dwindling, because we have over-harvested fish and trimmed beef herds: Since 2008 global beef production has declined by 7.5 billion pounds while the world population has expanded by 300 million. And, in view of the 2012 drought, beef supplies will shrink even more as the poor 2012 harvest forces farmers to further liquidate herds.

To sum up: Any diet that omits wheat and other whole grains cannot be the universal and sustainable answer to feeding the world. There are other factors to blame beyond wheat for the modern epidemic of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular and other chronic disease. And, there are traditional forms of wheat prepared with care that civilizations have relied upon throughout time to support development, growth, and well-being that do not come with the health price tag of mutant dwarf wheat.

Copyright 2012