What’s the Deal with…Paleo?September 15, 2015
There is an awful lot of talk about the paleo diet going on at the moment. And when I say a lot, I mean a really vast, clamorous wave of discussion just about everywhere you look.
Having evolved our lifestyle and diet over thousands of years, it seemed that it only took two or three for an idea based around bringing food back to basics to become a whirlwind of marketing, celebrity chefs and instagram deserts (hashtagnofilter), all under the umbrella of ‘paelo’. Sometimes it can seem that if you want to prepare a healthy nutritious meal for the people you love, you must first fork out a fortune on high-protein-high-fibre-whole-grain-no-grain-fat-free-sugar-free ingredients. To not do so? Well, it’s simply irresponsible! It’s unhealthy! It should frankly be illegal! Chastise yourself for even having the thought.
Or – you know – don’t.
How did this happen? Why is bone broth now a thing? Can bread kill you?
In an effort to help you breathe a little easier, HelloFresh looked into what we can learn from the Paleo diet, how it started, and how it all got so serious…
The Beginning of the End?
In December 2014, Jamie Scott posted his first article on a blog called re-evolutionary.com. Why was it significant? Well, until then, Jamie was the New Zealand author behind blog That Paleo Guy. In the article, Scott was highly critical of the lifestyle he was once a major proponent of. The problem, Scott explained, was not him, but the movement itself. What had started as a heuristic (basically, a simplified rule of thumb)had become a highly monetised, increasingly exclusive movement based around an ever weakening analogy.
As Jamie Scott explains;
“The problem with ‘health’ in modern times (a problem which also affected my own health, as well as how I practiced in my own health-focused career), is that if you are interested in it at all, it generally gets sold to you in the form of industrially-produced foods with select ingredients or nutritional properties (“whole grains”, “fat-free”, “high-fibre”, “high protein”), or as a gym membership, a certain pair of shoes, or the latest monitoring device. And that is it. ‘Health’ then, is about not being acutely sick, eating whatever you like as long as it ticks a few nutritionalised boxes, and ensuring you get to the gym 3 days per week to burn calories. There’s no need to connect with your food or understand where it comes from. No need to reflect on the fact that you’ve spent you entire work day sitting down AND now all your exercise time doing the same. Sleep is a bank of time you can borrow from without ever really paying it back. Natural environments? For tree hugging fringe-dwellers. ‘Health’ is shallow and disconnected…
…“Paleo” then was a nice simple heuristic – a shorthand if you like – for expediting the understanding of why that sugar-coated cereal with all its ticks, stars, and promises, is something you should perhaps best avoid. Or why the fat in eggs and avocados won’t likely kill you. Or why InstaTwitFace doesn’t count as socialisation….”
A simple idea
So what’s the point about Paleo, really? Before it became quite so buzz-wordy, and at the heart of it, it’s about taking into account what we put in our bodies. Like, really thinking about it. In the Paleolithic period, everything human beings ate had to be hunted or gathered by hand. In our modern lives of convenience and pre-prepared food, maybe the chain of ground to plate is something we just don’t think about as much. Of course, convenient food doesn’t have to be separate from wholesome fresh ingredients. When we bear that in mind, we do our bodies a huge favour! The same goes with thinking about how much we move about in a day, or how much sleep we get a night.
You can see how the simple idea of avoiding processed foods and grains, and eating lots of fruit, vegetables, meat and nuts would make sense for a lot of people.
What went wrong?
A simple idea about simplifying our food choices and avoiding food from a factory – so far, so good. So what went wrong? Well, somewhere along the line, it seems that the big business behind food started to co-opt this movement. What started as a good heuristic became something so simplistic that it could be misinterpreted and misunderstood, and parodied. The point then, of eating fresh food straight from the earth, was somewhat missed by the sudden glut of ‘paleo’ desserts – pale imitations of proper cakes and biscuits, made from often very expensive and hard to source ingredients. Better than a slice of chocolate cake? Probably. But also, only eating slightly less good versions of junk food all the time can’t be a lifestyle choice. Eventually, the pizza-free pizza you’re eating just won’t be able to cut it. And after looking at something that should be pizza, we bet we know what you’re going to reach for…
Big food companies branding their premium priced products as ‘paleo’ also pressures people to financially commit in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Suddenly, we’re back to where we started in this weird cycle of modern food. Paleo is no longer a re-imagining of our lifestyles and our diets, it’s a new must-have item.
Where to now?
Despite this, paleo may still offer us some insights into how and what we consume:
Substituting a poor health choice with a pale imitation of one made from approved ingredients is a miserable way to live.
Celebrate the unique pros of the food you are consuming!
Don’t try to recreate trash from treasure!
Think about where your food came from. How many steps were there between it growing and you eating it? Does it bear any resemblance to something found in nature?
Surely, when we think more deeply about how we fit into the world around us, we can reap benefits. But as for paleo mini muffins? Give them a rest, and save the real stuff for birthday parties.