WHAT IS PALEO?
‘In a sense we know much about the experience of the hunter-gatherer, since it is the experience that shaped us, and which lies interred like an archaeological stratum beneath the polished consciousness of civilised man.’
Roger Scruton: ‘Tally ho! Let the hunt remind us who we are.’ The Telegraph, December 2005.
‘A Paleo, Primal or Ancestral approach to health takes a traditional attitude in helping to solve the current problems associated with the physical and psychological wellbeing of humans; in particular their food choices.
Looking back to our past lifestyles (both ancient and relatively recently) throws up some interesting questions regarding the concept of ‘progress’ and allows us to think carefully about the ways in which we want to live going forward. This applies not only to food and its production, but also to the communities we live in, the things that we learn, the way that we move, our sleep patterns, our shared religious and spiritual life, our downtime and leisure activities. In all these areas, there is a rich treasure in studying our ancestors and their behaviour.
Of course they put up with hardships that we could never envisage, lived lives that were dangerous and cut short by either accidents or (more recently) diseases often brought on by industrialisation, crowding and poverty, lost children at a young age and were often forced to leave their homes and travel in search of work.
We have made remarkable advances in science and technology and some of our medical achievements are breathtaking. We are able to tackle many diseases, treat infections, transplant organs and carry out complex brain surgeries yet we continue to experience ever-increasing problems related to health and general well-being.
Even in two generations, many of us have experienced the loss of community or of a family network as people move further and further apart for a myriad of economic and social reasons. The result is an increasing atomisation and all the problems that are associated with it. Soaring rates of obesity and the diseases it triggers , tell us that something is wrong. Yet we live in an age where health advice is dished out constantly. We are bombarded with recommendations from government, media, and healthy living ‘experts’, our food is labelled with a myriad of nutritional information and warning signals, magazines are filled with advice and newspapers heave with doom-laden warnings. All those years of health and lifestyle advice and we continue to struggle.
Although the problems are vast and outside the remit of this site, our food choices is certainly a good place to start. We can learn a lot from this and thereby extend our knowledge to other areas of our lives. When we understand how our food and its production has been altered, how we have been turned into ‘consumers’, how we are affected by advertising, how food and shopping choices continue to be centralised and limited while retaining the illusion of ‘choice’, we can understand that all these things can be a symptom of a much wider problem. By going back to simple, basic principles we can see how we have been manipulated through no fault of our own. The power of the media to influence our lifestyle choices is almost overwhelming.
When it comes to food, a return to the basics can help us focus on the problem. If we look at the animals that are kept in zoos, we would expect them to be fed on a diet that they would eat in the wild, a diet that they have always eaten. Yes, perhaps they would need supplementation to counter the effects of zoo living but on the whole they are fed the sort of things that they eat when roaming the savannah or hopping around the Antarctic – the sort of things that they have been eating for ages. We would assume that this is the ‘natural’ diet for them; a diet on which they would thrive.
What if we apply the same logic to us? What if we looked back in time to the diet which sustained us for thousands and thousands of years? Many people believe that looking at the traditional diets and lifestyles of humans can help us to understand why we are experiencing the physical and mental health problems associated with contemporary living. Although food may be only a small part of a much wider problem, the principles we need to apply in recognising and tackling this problem can be translated to other areas of our lives.
There is a body of evidence that points to the agricultural revolution as the point at which things began to take a turn for the worst regarding our health and diet. Obviously this differs from geographical region to region but it is agreed by many that the move away from hunting and gathering lifestyles to agriculture oversaw a decline in the health.
There is evidence to suggest that the transition from a hunter-gatherer diet and the ensuing dependence on cereals (sugar) rather than fats and proteins as nutritional sources may have initiated major diseases of civilisation – diabetes, Alzheimers, atherosclerosis, some types of cancer – that were virtually unknown in hunter-gatherer societies.
Alternatively, some people believe that it was the transition from nomadic farming to settled agricultural communities relying heavily on cereal grains that was the problem.
Travelling forward in time, we may only have to look back at our great-grandparents generation to see the simplicity of the food they ate, of their shopping choices (the butchers, the greengrocers, the general store that contained a fraction of the items available to us in the supermarket). This simplicity was often of necessity but looking at our current supermarket aisle, are the apparently ever-increasing food choices available to us necessarily a good thing? And is it really a wider choice or just more of the same industrialised food with a different label?
By looking at the diets of traditional communities through forensic evidence, the study of present day hunter-gatherer societies and other groups that continue to eat a traditional diet that has hardly changed through the ages, we can begin to construct a blueprint to help us. Of course variations occur due to climate and geographical factors but again, the commonalities far outweigh the differences. The ancestral health movement translates the hunter-gatherer/traditional diet template to modern times.
- ‘Paleo’ is short for Paleolithic era or STONE AGE
- Archeologists believe the Paleolithic Era ended around 10,000 years ago
- ‘Palaios’ means ‘old’ and ‘Lithos’ means ‘stone’
- The Paleolithic Era covers the period from the earliest use of stone tools up until the Neolithic (New Stone Age) period and what we call the agricultural revolution.
- During the Paleolithic, human societies lived as hunter-gatherers
- We can take Paleo as a starting point to look at the broad changes in our food choices over thousands of years,