Back when I was a kid, my sister (the unrepentant animal lover) made the public declaration to our family that she was now a vegetarian. She was probably 15-years-old, which is old enough to make these sorts of choices without too much parental disdain, but my father begged to differ. While my father was hardly a meat enthusiast, he did relish the opportunity to use his love and trivia, with a bit of evolutionary science, to prove his point. Within a few days of my sister’s conversion to the vegetarian way, my father presented to us a chapter in a book (the name of the book is now long forgotten) that provided graphic illustrations of the human mouth and how the arrangement of our teeth provides evolutionary proof that we humans were meant to be eating meat. My father said the presence of the human incisors was hard-bitten proof that eating vegetables alone would be a disservice to our toothy architecture. Regardless of his persistence, and his illustrative proof, my sister did not budge and remained a vegetarian for several years.
Back then, in the 1980s, being a vegetarian was hardly the norm and barely accepted. Now we live in a far different culinary landscape with a plethora of options for casual and hardcore vegetarians (as well as vegans). However we also live in a time of sweeping food trends; ones that both reinforce and negate vegetarianism. While not the newest, but maybe one of the more enduring trends to date, is the “paleo diet” which consists of a whole lot of meat eating. The paleo diet, which is short for Paleolithic, is a lifestyle and diet that adheres to Paleolithic standards, which is short on processed foods, like breads and grains, and quite long on big slabs of beef and pork. Now eating your weight in beef and pork may not seem like a healthy option to anyone (let alone vegetarians), but paleo diet enthusiasts say a steady diet of meat, tubers, root vegetables and sometimes fish, along with a fair amount of exercise to keep things moving, will provide optimum health and get us back to our ideal form of being. John Durant, who is a paleo diet enthusiast and authoring a book on the diet told NPR, “For millions of years, we didn’t have an obesity problem because we ate foods that our metabolism was adapted to…we were active and lived a healthy lifestyle.”
While many paleoanthropologists admit that we humans did actually evolve to eat meat, and some even contend that a meat-based diet will help us get smarter, many nutritionists contend that too much meat (especially red meat) is a bad bet for personal health. And while there may be virtues to following a paleo diet, the average person doesn’t engage in nearly enough exercise (as our Paleolithic ancestors certainly did) to burn through the caloric and fat intake that comes from such a meat heavy diet.
What is your read on this Paleolithic approach to eating? Does it make evolutionary sense to eat like our cave dwelling ancestors, or is it just shoddy rationalization to eat like a brute?
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