I thought I’d start a new segment: Attacks on Paleo. It might be interesting to see what the non-keto, non-paleo layman thinks of this lifestyle. I may look at scientific studies at some point, but at this stage it’s more interesting for me to look at what members of the general public think. To that end, I’m going to start plucking articles from the web and take a look at their arguments, fallacies and all.
The first article, “Sorry, Neo Cavemen, But Your Paleo Diet Is Pretty Much Bullsh*t”, was written by Madeleine Davis at a site called jezebel.com: https://jezebel.com/sorry-neo-cavemen-but-your-paleo-diet-is-pretty-much-512277993
She starts off with the old adage “live and let live.” To wit, “[a]s a general rule, it’s a good idea to let people eat what they want and leave them alone about it. If someone wants to be vegan, who cares?…An adult’s personal diet isn’t really anyone else’s business, so it’s weird to harass someone for not making the same dietary choices that you make.”
So far so good, but the title of the article tells us that she is not going to live and let live. Paragraph two fires a double barrel at the mentally disabled, which is to say, paleos, “[u]nless we’re talking about the paleo diet, which we can all agree is a dumb diet for dumb people who all need to be told how dumb they are.” You don’t need any advanced training in logic to see this statement as a classic argumentum ad hominem. There is no argument here why the paleo lifestyle is wrong, you are simply an idiot if you follow it. A classic attack the man and ignore the argument zinger. Let’s see if she gets better.
“Joking, of course. If you’re a man who wears toe shoes and keeps his hair in one of those greasy half-ponytails, then the paleo diet might be perfect for you.” So no, it only gets worse, just another ad hominem. Only greasy haired losers with toe shoes, whatever they are, might need the paleo diet.
Surprisingly, this author admits that there are some benefits to paleo, “In fact, as mockable [another ad hominem] as the idea of eating like a hominin of the paleolithic [sic] age is, the paleo diet does have some health benefits. Cutting out processed foods (the paleo diet forbids any consumption of dairy, processed grain or processed sugar because they weren’t in use pre 10,000 BP) and eating more proteins and vegetables can lead to a more nutrient rich diet.“
So there are health benefits admittedly. So why is this lifestyle so mockable? Is there any argument on its way? Sort of, but not a good one, “That said, anyone who thinks that they’re actually adhering to a legit paleo diet is kidding themselves [sic]. As Ferris Jabr points out in the Scientific American, both our bodies and the foods we eat have evolved greatly in the last 2.6 million years, so what you think is a caveman friendly meal of meat and tomatoes is actually an entirely different meal from what the first humans ate.”
Huzzah! An argument. So paleos are idiots because they think they’re adhering to the same lifestyle as homo habilis. There’s a bit to unpick here. Firstly, I have never read any paleo claiming we are trying to ape the same diet as homininans from millions of years ago. I’m pretty sure scientists would only be guessing at what they ate anyways. The paleo argument is that most of mankind were hunter-gatherers until the agricultural revolution circa10,000 BC. Therefore, we are evolutionarily adapted to eat a lot of fats, a moderate amount of protein from animals and lesser amounts of vegetables. Sugars should be in small amounts from fruits. That’s the basic argument. Of course, there’s more to the paleo lifestyle than just diet. See below if you’re interested.
The author has done us service above though by giving us a second logical fallacy: the straw man. This is when someone distorts the other person’s argument and then refutes the distorted argument. This gives the impression, to some, that the actual argument has been refuted.
In her penultimate paragraph Davis writes “Jabr also points out how our own bodies have evolved to support lactose and processed foods over time. Again, if you feel better when not eating dairy, processed sugar or processed grains, then by all means forgo those things, but don’t cloak your dietary choices in a wishy-washy ideology about the health of the first man.”
So we have evolved to support lactose? What about lactose intolerance that many people suffer? And humans have evolved to eat processed foods. Really? In the last 120 years? Who actually argues this? Then we return again to cutting out dairy, processed sugar and grains may make you feel better, but if you make an argument based on our hunter-gatherer ancestors you are cloaking your food choices in a “wishy-washy ideology about the diet of the first man.” The straw man argument returns; no paleo is arguing we go back to what the first man ate.
In the same paragraph, Davis continues, “[i]t’s downright impossible to replicate that diet and, as it turns out, the people of the paleolithic [sic] era weren’t all that healthy to begin with. A study of over 100 mummies from societies of farmers, foragers and hunter-gatherers around the world found that 47 of the 137 bodies had hearts that showed signs of clogged arteries (atherosclerosis).”
So we’ve got serious problems with this statement as well. The mummies came from four populations: Egyptian, Peruvian, the Ancestral Puebloans of southwest America and the Unangans of the Aleutian Islands. The Egyptians and Peruvians were agriculturalists and the Puebloans were forager-farmers. Only the Unangans were hunter-gatherers. Still, three out of the five Unangans did have signs of atherosclerosis and it seems that they were living on marine life. So there may be something here. Yet a sample size of five hunter-gatherers is not good. Any scientist will tell you that’s too small a sample. Moreover, if you actually go and read the study, the lead scientist, Greg Thomas believes that the clogged arteries may not have been from high cholesterol through diet but instead “caused by smoke inhalation or chronic infection.” Thomas’s colleague in the study, Michael Rosenfeld, states that animal studies show a link between a fatty diet and blocked arteries, but adds “the plaques seen in the mummies might have been caused by kidney disease or osteoporosis, rather than by atherosclerosis.” So this study is hardly a slam dunk against the paleo lifestyle.
The author concludes with eat whatever is right for you, but you’re not really eating a paleo friendly diet when on paleo.
So this attack is low hanging fruit. The author either doesn’t really know what paleos are arguing, or she knows and is distorting what paleos are arguing, or she stumbled across an eccentric who is arguing that we all should go back and eat like homo habilis. I don’t know. She ultimately never makes a coherent argument against the paleo lifestyle. We have some ad hominem attacks and a couple of straw men. The one piece of actual evidence is by no means conclusive. I wonder why she is so against a lifestyle she knows very little about.
For those who want a crash course on paleo or keto, go read the following articles: