The caveman mission

I think I might be slowly turning into a caveman.

Over the past few years you may have heard about these modern, Western, largely urban people who try to eat the way paleolithic people ate, exercise the way they imagine hunter-gatherers exercised and maybe even try to think the way cave people thought.

Taken to extremes, the lifestyle can involve fasting to simulate scarcity, running without shoes, donating blood on a regular basis to pretend you’ve been gored by a wild aurochs, and even eating raw meat. You’ll sometimes see these people referred to “primals.”

I first became fascinated with this tribe in 2010 thanks to a couple articles I came across (in Maclean’s and The New York Times). Being a journalist, I aped the idea and wrote a newspaper story of my own in the spring of 2010. As part of the exercise, I went on a version of the paleo diet for 30 days maintained  this blog while I did so. It received web traffic well beyond what I could have expected. That alerted me to the fact that there’s a large community of cave-people lurking out there. Most of them appear to be smart, and voracious for information.

Meanwhile, I lost 10 or 11 pounds over the 30 days, and weight loss wasn’t really even a goal of mine.

So naturally I wondered: Could these primals be on to something? I’m sure I’m not alone in being open to the idea that humanity has taken a few wrong turns since settling down into farming and hierarchically organized societies (a.k.a. civilization). As a 21st-century Westerner, I wonder: To what extent could we ameliorate our problems with obesity, diseases of affluence and even psychological malaise by adopting some (really, really) old-fashioned lifestyle choices? We who belong to the tribe that invented aerosol cheese clearly do not have a monopoly on wisdom.

That’s not to say that modern medicine, for instance, is bunk. But I don’t think many people would argue with the idea that we’d need less of it if we spent more time outdoors walking instead of indoors vegging, and ate veg instead of fries.

The title of this blog refers to the idea that maybe the cave people were doing a few things right that we are now doing wrong. Revenge of the Caveman is about exploring the idea that a pre-agricultural lifestyle — call it paleolithic or hunter-gatherer or “caveman” — might actually be superior in some respects, and better suited to the biological needs of the human animal, than the urbanized, post-industrial 21st century reality we inhabit. We can’t (and wouldn’t want to) turn back the clock, but that doesn’t mean we can’t borrow a trick or two from the Stone Age.

Over the course of the year 2013, I will be undertaking a series of month-long lifestyle experiments to see which paleo-fads work for me and which don’t.

Here you will read about my own experiences with paleo living, plus any articles I manage to publish on the subject, and I’ll throw in lots of links to other people’s work and thoughts in the area as well.

Paleolithic diet and living

The question of what kind of lifestyle is natural for a human being has a left a lot of people in deep thought, including me.

With regard to diet, I’m increasingly persuaded that the answer essentially lies in the plants and proteins that our species has been consuming for tens of thousands of years. Later innovations, including dairy, grains and sugars, certainly keep us going. But paleolithic diet advocates argue these things aren’t as wholesome as primal categories like meat, greens and seeds. The argument goes that these are the fuels evolution designed us to run on.

As of Jan. 1, 2013, I’m again experimenting with the paleo diet, though in a less strict fashion. My personal paleo rules are sketched out here.

The experimental caveman

I’m a journalist and a skeptic. Revenge of the Caveman doesn’t have much of an agenda, political or otherwise. I’m not an advocate of the paleolithic diet — and especially not of any commercialized, branded Paleo Diet — but I do find the basic tenets largely persuasive, hence the experimentation upon myself.

I’m also not an expert in anything in particular, but I’d like to think I’m wise enough to listen to the people who are. I will try my best to share the most salient research that the would-be modern caveman would find interesting. I’d like to be unbiased, so I will endeavour to include resources and articles that challenge the assumptions behind pro-paleo thinking.

On the term “caveman”

I completely acknowledge that the term “caveman” is sexist. And it brings to mind images that are probably misleading. I use it because it’s kind of funny.

A couple of people once questioned my eating of fish on the paleo diet. Of course fish is/was a paleolithic food, I thought; isn’t that obvious? I eventually realized that the thought of paleolithic people eating seafood probably never crossed their minds because they’d never seen a cartoon caveman with a fishing pole.

Our thoughts of paleolithic people are dominated by Fred Flintstone and Captain Caveman and crummy museum dioramas with hairy, ooga-booga-faced mannequins crouching over a fire in their furry tunics, facing the cold, harsh wilderness with little more than sticks and rocks.

But of course real “cavemen” could fish. The people of 15,000 years ago would have broadly resembled today’s hunter-gatherers, with their own sophisticated cultures, rituals, and clever technologies and strategies for survival.

Our ancestors weren’t slope-headed idiots: They were us, just without the convenience/curse of touchscreens and Chef Boyardee and treadmills.

In fact, they’re still around us. I figure we can learn a lot about rolling with a paleolithic lifestyle from the people who are still rocking it: certain groups of indigenous people, especially those that do not practise farming and have not been contacted (or very much affected) by the outside world.

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