So what is paleo anyway? What does it mean? Are potatoes really paleo? Is Crossfit paleo? Is running not paleo?
I see these questions asked and answered all the time yet without perspective regarding the terminology. What does “paleolithic” mean anyway?
I see people ask “What is the paleolithic?” and the answer is almost always, and incorrectly provided as the period in time between “aprox 2 million years ago and 15 thousand years ago” or some other estimate. The problem is that is true only if you are descended from Europe or Asian stock.
So let’s look a the terminology and when we are deciding for ourselves instead of “asking our gurus” what is and is not “paleo” the answer becomes self-evident.
The Defination of "Paleo"
“The Paleolithic” is not a period of time. It is a cultural development state. Think of it as puberty for civilizations. For some it started very early, for others it hasn’t ended yet. To define it by two points on a calendar and apply it to a question and receive an answer ignores the context.
|It may be the early 1,900s but these guys are still living their "Paleolithic"|
When you start to correctly view "What is paleo" as a developmental stage rather
than two points on a calendar you can better define your questions and answers.
It does not have pre-determined start and end points on the calendar. The “paleolithic” occurred for some cultures between certain periods of time, and for others they are still living in the “paleolithic.”
The “paleolithic” is cultural development state which roughly is characterized as beginning with the use of small tribal communities either nomadic or stationary, simple tool use such as bone, stone, wood but not metals such as bronze, the absence of agriculture and reliance on either or both hunting and gathering.
The Regionalism Factor
So now that we have correctly defined the “paloelithic” lets apply it to regionalism.
The component composition of a “hunted or gathered paleolithic diet” is obviously going to be influenced by what can be gathered by those living in the region choosing from which food sources are naturally available.
So what do we know so far? How do we apply this?
Examples: For a Kitavan, only 50 years still living their cultural “paleolithic” yams are indeed paleo. For the average European who’s paleolithic ended about 10 or 15 thousand years ago, yams would not be as in their cultural history yams were not gathered in their region so could not have been part of their “paleolithic” diet and lifestyle but some wild tubers would be in small amounts as these were time consuming to gather and of generally low yield.
Grains could actually be “paleo” if your stock comes from an area of abundant grain stock occurring naturally.
But all these examples rely on a third, yet not yet discussed condition also being true.
Selection and Preference
To me this is the dirty little secret of paleo that a whole bunch of authors want us to ignore and why we should also consider the fossil record.
Just because a region was filled with yams, abundant grains, wolly mammoth, etc… does not mean, AT ALL, that anyone actually ate those things, or if they had done so whether it was considered an emergency, starvation mode only food source, or part of their daily diet.
Finding “paleoliths” (actual souvenirs from the palelothic) such as seeds of grain at one encampment does not mean that grains were eaten. (perhaps they would ground up and used for resin or glue to bind fibers on bow strings) Here is where all the guess work and deduction must occur which is likely why this discussion is clearly avoided by those who wish to spin paleo to mean what they want it to mean.
Countless times I have had people point out that some sort of wild tuber grows in the Canadian Shield as proof that my native brothers must have enjoyed them. To them I say “Come and show me, there is 3 feet of snow in the bush, the ground is frozen, and the yield on those is smaller than a 3 year old’s pinky finger”.
To me the evidence that “tuber love” was absent in my part of the world is obvious, it would require far more energy and effort to harvest said tubers then it would provide to eat them as a regular part of the diet.
Selection then becomes quite likely the ONLY point of real debate when one is deciding whether or not something is “paleo” for examining their own genetic heritage
So now that we have the terminology in place lets answer some questions.
I know for example that my lineage includes a large percentage of Native stock. I know that my Native brothers were indeed living in a paleolithic cultural developmental period only a few hundred years ago that did not include agriculture or international trade. That horses were not used, and mass transit included canoes, boats, walking and jogging. That scouts and messengers covered ground by jogging. In this context, is running paleo? For me absolutely! For a Kitavan? Absolutely NOT.
Let's stop asking the gurus what is or is not paleo as most are overwhemingly defining it on what "their paleo" defination is, in a context that applies only to them.
Instead lets learn to figure it out for ourselves, what is really paleo for us.
And once we have done all that, lets not commit the logical fallacies of....
Bandwagon, No True Scotsman, and Appeal To Nature