Wednesday, August 10, 2005

בְּזֵעַתֿ אַפֶּיךָֿ תֹּאכַֿל לֶחֶם עַדֿ שׁוּבְֿךָֿ אֶל הָאֲדָֿמָה

You will eat bread with the sweat of your face
until you return to the earth...

בראשית ג׳ י״ט


Paleodiet is a genre of Healthy Eating theories which revolve around one basic assumption:
In order to be healthy, we should be eating the foods that our ancestors ate as they were evolving and becoming us. Our bodies haven't had time to adapt properly to all the new foods we've been eating in the few hundred generations since the first Agricultural Revolution, like dairy products and processed grains. And our bodies have most definitely not had enough time to adapt to all the chemicals we've been putting in our food for only the last hundred years or so!

Therefore, according to devotees of these "Caveman" and "Hunter-Gatherer" type diets, we should give up foods like wheat, milk and potatoes, and instead live on (preferably wild) meat, fish, and plant foods that can be eaten without processing — preferably foods that our ancestors probably ate back in Pleistocene Africa, as well as similar foods that some humans have continued to eat in Paleolithic or 'Stone Age' style civilizations up through today.

Sounds sensible enough to me. If you are a nutritionist or doctor who can poke holes through this theory, feel free to do so in the comments. But what I'm interested most in at the moment is how Paleodiet theories interface with Judaism. After all, if the ideal that these people and others have is Stone Age pre-Agriculture society, is there a place for that in a Torah that assumes that the Neolithic Revolution has already taken place? Was Paleolithic humanity ‘Eiden? And if it was, is it right to try and 'storm the walls' past the "ever-flipping fiery sword" to try and get back there?


Blogger Balabusta in Blue Jeans said...

The problem I have with this is that it disregards the _reasons_ for developing agriculture, herding, complex systems of law and ethics, and all of that. We didn't do it because Madison Avenue sold it to us, we did it because we needed to. We wanted to eat regularly. We wanted safety. We wanted to keep the God who led us out of Egypt and offered a scary but interesting deal. (Insert cultural equivalents here.) Our ancestors were not stupid people. They changed when the world changed around them.

If the Paleolithic is supposed to be purer than the Neolithic, does it then follow that we'd have been even better off as those squirrely proto-mammals?

8/11/2005 2:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that the agricultural revolution in ancient israel was cotemporaneous with the exodus from egypt. I think that agriculture preceded the development/revelation of the Jewish religion by a few centuries/millenia, actually, since the Torah assumes the existence of it. (Kayin, all the way back at the beginning of the story, is an agiculturalist, after his parents are forced into that life).

Most hunter-gatherer societies (not necesarily the same as nomadic herders, but herders have it pretty good too) actually do get adequate supplies of food. They just don't usually get the kind of surplus necesary for a population explosion. (In fact, historically, average life expectancies and nutritional health have gone *done* with the introduction of agriculture, because it's a harder life with less choices in diet) Our Neolithic grandparents chose the agricultural life most likely as a way to have as many kids as they wanted, without having to worry about outstripping the local resources, just by putting more and more land under artifical production. (Some [well actually only one] have explained the Kayin-and-Hevel episode as what happens wherever a surplus-production-based society interfaces with a non-production based one: the agriculturalists tend to kill off the non-agriculturalists to put their land under cultivation)

An interesting argument (from Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn) for the value of avoiding the divine punishment of having to be agriculturalists by not 'eating the fruit of knowledge of good and evil' necesary to control the world, is that people evolved into people by living in a certain balance with nature, and that (besides being unsustainable) the kind of mode of production we're using now separates us from "the gods" (he likes to write mythologically) and the processes that made us Homo sapiens sapiens, and would likely continue to shape us into more advanced, capable creatures, if we hadn't tried to pretend that evolution stopped as soon as we arrived on the scene.
It's interesting shtuff, I recommend the book.
-Alan Scott

8/11/2005 8:02 AM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

so if zadee ate herring,then i should too

8/11/2005 11:11 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Amshi, how do you pronounce the Rs in "herring"?

8/11/2005 3:17 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


I don't think these Paleodiet people go that far. Maybe some of them do, but it looks like the idea is limited to what we eat — what's healthy for our bodies as they are. Although there are people who believe that a stone-age Hunter-Gatherer lifestyle is the ideal and want to abandon technology. That would be disastrous if large contemporary societies attempted to do that, though; we've remade the world in our image, and now we're dependent on it to work as we want it to for us to survive.

Alan Scott:

Aren't the whole ideas of free will and altruism a rejection of evolution? Whenever you say "i think for myself, therefore i make my own decisions" or "every individual member of my species is important, i will protect them from harm" you're fighting the brutal hand of Survival of the Fittest. Evolution works by killing off (or cutting out of the gene pool by other ways) as many individuals as possible, so that only those who are strong/clever/etc. enough to survive can reproduce. Human society is built around the ideal that survival of the species is insufficient.


pretty much. except for health reasons, instead of spiritual kugel reasons. ;-)

8/11/2005 3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hm. I think I should have said "(pre)historical" instead of "evolutionary". Because human beings have always acted in ways that countered evolution, even when the Neolithic. But lots of other creatures also defy the logic of "survival of the fittest" by showing altruism to those outside their own gene pool. What they don't do, however, that many post-Neolithic humans did, is change the rules of production and population.

8/11/2005 3:46 PM  
Blogger Balabusta in Blue Jeans said...

Clarifying: I didn't mean the Exodus and agriculture occured at the same time, only that both were undertaken for good reason.

Sorry about that.

8/11/2005 11:10 PM  
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