You may be asking…
Do you live on bacon and kale and CrossFitting* in your Vibram Five Fingers**?
Paleo has been blowing up lately and as a result there’s a lot of weird ideas about what it is, and a lot of people getting really dogmatic about it. For me, this sums it up well (from a page from Paleo Magazine, used with permission):
The idea, essentially, is to eat real food and live a life that treats your body nicely. How do we do that? Look at what humanoids thrived on for the millions of years our recorded history ignores, and continue to thrive on in non-industrialized areas. Be critical of modern food science, fad diets, processed foods with adamant health claims, and the FDA. Learn how you can do right by your body and the earth, and not just one or the other as though they are mutually exclusive.
My story… a very short version
In early 2008, after most of a lifetime of frequently-debilitating and always-annoying. health problems, I found out I was gluten-intolerant. From doing research on gluten-free food, I discovered paleo. From paleo I discovered primal. From all this and a nice chiropractor I discovered Weston Price.
I’ve been learning about and following these approaches ever since. Going gluten-free cleared up most of my health problems, and taking a paleo approach further boosted my strength and helped to get me out of the rut of my undefined unconventional, non-specifically non-conformist, uncomfortably against-the-grain worldview. It helped me to find a path that was more harmonious with my nature, and to find a community of like-minded people that I could identify with.
Paleo? Primal? Price? P-p-p-p-please?
To grossly generalize, the paleo movement and the Primal Blueprint promote health by looking at human activity prior to the agricultural revolution. The Weston A. Price Foundation promotes traditional foods and preparations.
I see them as a Borromean knot (like a Venn diagram but with three circles). With their respective principles, many are similar (e.g. high-quality animal products), and some contentious (e.g. grains and legumes).
A holistic, non-dogmatic approach to paleo
My version of paleo goes beyond food (though that’s a vital piece of it), beyond exercise (also important), beyond every-day life. It’s part of a larger narrative that connects these things with the rest of life, culture, and thought. Yes, it’s connected to how I exercise and the shoes I wear**, but also to how I think about things and make decisions about where and how to spend my time (and money). It’s all connected.
For me, identifying as paleo means having a wider view of human history. It’s about looking to the past—namely, to human history prior to the agricultural revolution—for clues as to how to move forward and live in a society that is in many ways really out of whack. Mostly what you hear about paleo focuses on food and exercise, but I take it further.
It’s not about fetishizing the past and being some kind of neo-Luddite. It’s about considering that early human history wasn’t as bad as modern-civilization-lovers claim it was, just because there wasn’t indoor plumbing or canned yams; that a lot of things worked then that maybe don’t anymore. (In this way, I am also identifying with ideas from the anti-civilization/anarcho-primitivist/deep-green resistance movements, which, if you ask me nicely, I may elaborate upon.)
I don’t think we need science or religion or modern fad diets or factory-model educational systems to tell us how to live or eat or exercise or think or feel or believe. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Humans lived and thrived for a long time before disconnecting ourselves from the rest of the earth so much that we needed to be told how to live and thrive.
Paleo means, for me, going for a more well-rounded and holistic approach to all parts of life, including the way we think, which means trying not to be all dogmatic and judgmental. (Not an easy task! Our culture thrives on dogma and judgment and we have been appropriately conditioned.)
It is not about some stringent, unwavering set of rules of what I can and can’t eat, or whether some ancient tribe ate grains or not, or if some paleo writer once recommended canola oil. These are little things that need not take away from a more Big Picture perspective. It’s philosophy, not science. It’s spirituality, not religion. It is not compartmentalized.
Enough of that. What’s for dinner?
With regards to food (the primary focus of this blog), I have always been a foodie. Rather than only feeling limited by my gluten-intolerance, it led me to find out about new foods and new ways to prepare them, which got me excited and made me even more of a foodie. The paleo/primal/Price approaches further opened up the world of food to me.
I’m always learning about different kinds of foods and experimenting with things like fresh herbs and fermentation. You mean I can make my own brownies that don’t make me sick and all blood-sugar-spikey? I can lacto-ferment my own mushrooms rather than spending a butt-load at the store for them? Sweet!
I tend to just use the term “paleo” to label myself, because it’s simple and lately, more and more people at least kind of know what I’m talking about.
What paleo is, according to top paleo bloggers
According to Nom Nom Paleo…
Before I quote her, I just want to say that Michelle Tam from Nom Nom Paleo is probably my favorite paleo blogger… She focuses on good food and what she cooks with her family every day, and generally stays away from the politics and the contention and the orthorexia that characterizes the dietary dogma of other otherwise well-intentioned bloggers.
“[T]he Paleo dietary template is based on the notion that for optimal health, modern humans should eat in a way our hunter-gatherer ancestors did.…
“Anatomically modern humans have been around for over 200,000 years, and for 95% of our evolutionary history, our ancestors ate whole foods that they hunted or gathered: animals, seafood, plants – all of them packed with the nutrients our bodies evolved to thrive on….
“This doesn’t mean, however, that the Paleo approach is singularly focused on precisely replicating what cavemen ate. Sure, there may be some Paleo eaters who approach their diets this way, but there isn’t just one definitive, monolithic, one-size-fits all Paleo diet.… The Paleo tent is big enough to fit a host of different approaches and goals, but the core tenets of ancestral eating remain the same:
“• Eat whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense, nourishing foods. Prioritize grass fed and pastured meats and eggs, wild-caught seafood, and vegetables. Enjoy fruit, nuts, and seeds in moderation.
“• Avoid foods that will harm us by causing systemic inflammation, wrecking our guts, or derailing our natural metabolic processes. Abstain from toxic, pro-inflammatory foods like gluten-containing grains, legumes, sugar, and the laboratory-concocted Frankenfoods found in the middle aisles of your neighborhood supermarket.”
According to Balanced Bites…
I love this FAQ: What is Paleo? You can find the foods that work for you by following certain guidelines, and get excited when you find things that work for you, while not demonizing and preaching against those which don’t work for you, and also while not just saying screw-it-all-it-doesn’t-matter-what-I-eat.
This is the infograph upon which the recipes in this blog are categorized.
According to Chris Kresser…
“I suggest we stop trying to define the ‘Paleo diet’ and start thinking about it instead as a ‘Paleo template’.
“What’s the difference? A Paleo diet implies a particular approach with clearly defined parameters that all people should follow. There’s little room for individual variation or experimentation.
“A Paleo template implies a more flexible and individualized approach. A template contains a basic format or set of general guidelines that can then be customized based on the unique needs and experience of each person.
“But here’s the key difference between a Paleo diet and a Paleo template: following a diet doesn’t encourage the participant to think, experiment or consider his or her specific circumstances, while following a template does.”
And most importantly… it need not be about dogma and judgment.
“[T]here is not a SINGLE person in the Paleo movement who NEVER strays. Whatever Paleo guru you’re thinking of right now, I can tell you they splurge on corn, sugar or grains sometimes. Paleo is about ideal food choices to optimize health and nourish the body for a lifetime. For US that lifetime includes sometimes making choices that are neither the best, not the worst, and moving on. We have defined the things that are absolute no’s for our family, based on OUR reactions to them. So please, find what works for you and go with it…. Just like you do not want to be judged, I encourage you not to do that of others.”
What shade of Paleo are you?
And then there’s the Seven Shades of Paleo (not to reference trashy misogynistic pseudo-literature or anything) classification system from Robb Wolf. (I usually fall between 4 and 5, depending on the day/month.)
Resources, or a paleo-and-related mini-store
This is just the beginning. I am always learning, taking in, readjusting. This philosophy is subject to change—to be qualified, expanded upon, and edited at will.
To learn more about me, visit the about page. Check out the recipes category for the goods (further categorized based on the Balanced Bites infograph, above.) I also write about food more generally, health and wellness, homesteading, and life and culture—all from, more or less, the perspective this post puts forth.
*No I do not do CrossFit. I dig the MovNat philosophy more.
**But I do love my Vibrams. Which I discovered before learning about paleo, after preferring being barefoot most of my life. Which just proves my predilections.
(Shared with Small Footprint Fridays.)
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