We spoke not too long ago about those annoying Crossfit ‘manimals’ you often see at the gym. But believe it or not, sometimes I don’t think it’s enough to hate on just the Crossfit workout program. Call me a cynic, but there’s another component to this lifestyle that has gained a ton of infamous popularity: the Paleo diet. Surely you’ve heard that Crossfit is dangerous and the Paleo diet is overhyped. But have you considered that the Paleo diet and its culture might be a tad sexist?
Hunters vs. Gatherers
A big part of the Paleo diet’s argument is that as humans, we should eat what we could naturally hunt and gather before the agricultural revolution. This means no grains, starches, and other gluttonous carbs we love to hate (or is it hate to love?). This also means subsisting on a diet of primarily animal proteins, vegetables, fruits, and other nuts and seeds that arguably we could obtain without agriculture. Furthermore, it’s assumed that men were usually the hunters of meat at this time while women, children, and the elderly were the gatherers of vegetables, seeds, and other plant-based food sources.
It’s the notion of hunting which needs to be addressed. Were men during the Paleolithic era really hunting down bison and killing bears on the reg? I think this fantastic image is more a patriarchal fable than an anthropological accuracy. The latest findings about the Paleolithic era actually indicate that many men found dead animal carcasses with enough meat still intact and just carried them back to their camp sites. They also ate a variety of plant-based foods (i.e. not just meat). In a way, this form of hunting is really just another form of gathering—the only difference is the men were gathering animal foods instead of plant foods.
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Moreover, hunting down large animals took strategy and teamwork that most humans weren’t great at quite yet. This is far from the noble images we see of cavemen hunting animals with bows and arrows or spears. Now do you get why guys STILL make a huge deal over who handles the grilling at a barbeque? Hunting and preparing meat products isn’t necessarily better for you nutritionally. Instead, it upholds a much larger tradition our societies have towards food and gender.
The War on Carbs
The war on carbs is almost as pathetic as the war on drugs. This isn’t to say you should welcome refined carbs like cookies and cakes with open arms and justify that midnight Dominos run, but carbs also shouldn’t be demonized the way they have been on the practically carb-free Paleo diet. Your brain primarily operates on glucose, and carbs are the richest source of glucose found in food. To think you can live without carbs might yield results at first, but also has plenty of risk factors you should consider before embarking on a diet like this.
It’s the Paleo diet’s emphasis on animal protein that specifically bothers me. Why do we praise a diet that so vehemently advocates for the consumption of meat and eggs, which are arguably foods cultivated by men? Women have culturally and historically been the farmers and gatherers of our global food system. Why hate on the foods that women are known for growing and cultivating? Why continue to shit on the food that has helped feed billions of people over millennia?
I know this sounds a bit extreme, but we can argue that the war on carbs is just another extension of the war on women. In most households, women are the grocery shoppers, cooks, lunch packers, and soccer moms providing orange slices and juice boxes at halftime. When you see a commercial on TV for Crystal Light, is it really a coincidence that a sleek, elegant, and thin female model is the shining star? Women are the primary audience of the diet and fitness world, and with the Paleo diet we’re essentially telling them to not eat the foods they have grown for generations. Even worse, we use a controversial scientific model that is still rigorously debated in the medical world to convince people that this is the way they were designed to eat.
Ultimately, do what you want. If cutting carbs works for your body and lifestyle, good for you. But don’t simply follow a diet because it’s trendy, because you saw some infomercial about it on late night TV, or because that rail thin roommate you secretly hate is doing it. Paleo or not, do your research and make an informed decision about the kind of diet you want to follow to not just lose weight, but also achieve a healthy lifestyle.