Many people ask me what I think the future of Paleo is? Will it ever by mainstream and recommended by doctors, government, and society alike? In many ways Paleolithic Nutrition is at it’s infancy in the scientific world and although it is the oldest “diet” in human history, it’s concepts are foreign to most people around us. In order for Paleo to have any chance to become more accepted, we will have to overcome several barriers…let’s see what I think they are.
Cost – There is a great deal of debate about how expensive eating Paleo really is. Some say it is extremely cost prohibitive while others insist that’s just a misperception. What do I think? I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
When people say that eating Paleo is no more expensive than eating the typical carb based diet most American’s eat these days, I would have to disagree. If you look at food at the grocery store as a whole, it is often cheaper to feed your family with processed foods than with fresh foods. Put it this way, IF you don’t care in the least about the health of the food you put on your families table, and you don’t really care what it is you eat anyway, you can find cheaper ways to feed your family with unhealthy food. If your family is hungry, and you have very little money, it is very hard to beat 4 packs of Ramen noodles at 15 cents each. Unless you really are extremely poor, I caution anyone from making assumptions that Paleo is “easy” to accomplish.
Next is the significant price difference between regular and organic produce, or bulk raised vs grass fed/free range meats. A whole chicken at my local Kroger costs 4-5 Dollars, while a whole organic bird costs $15. Now look, I agree with most of you that the organic bird has too many benefits to discuss as far as quality and lack of questionable processing practices, but many folks JUST DON’T HAVE THE MONEY! I am very up front with my patients and tell them that they simply have to buy what they can afford, as well as source what they can depending on their geographic location.
The bottom line is that you have to try much harder to eat a Paleo lifestyle on a budget. Can it be done, of coarse it can! But in our world of both parents working long hours, more and more meals being eaten outside of the home, and ever raising prices of food on the grocery store floors, the idea that cost does not present a significant barrier to more widespread adoption of the Paleo diet is foolish at best.
Social Environment – I touched on this just a bit above, but the way our society approaches food and free time is a major factor. The days of learning to cook from your parents, who learned to cook from their parents is becoming a lost art. Convenience is what drives the food industry and most families feel forced to take advantage of that convenience on a nearly daily basis. Late hours at work, ball practice that never ends, homework that takes up more time than it should…there are so many factors that force families to put the quality of the food they eat on the back burner.
I am saddened by the way most people choose their food. When is the last time you saw someone pull up to a car lot and ask for “the crappiest thing on the lot, I don’t care what it looks like, smells like, came from, how old it is, or how long it will last; I just need it to get me through the day.” Most take much more care in picking their cell phones than in picking their dinners. Sad as this is, it is reality. I wish I could change it, but the scale of the changes society would have to undertake to change this are so monumental, I don’t see it every happening. That train has simply left the station, and it does not have a reverse.
Overcoming these social forces is amazingly difficult, especially with the food industry catering at every turn to keep them going. Take an onion for example; you can now buy an onion, pay a bit more for a peeled onion, pay a bit more for sliced onions off the salad bar, pay a bit more for a container of (who knows how old) diced onions, or forget the whole darn thing and just buy something called “onion juice”. Buy a whole chicken for $4, four thighs for $6, or 4 boneless skinless thighs for $8! Imagine, having to butcher your own chicken!!! The nerve… With this type of social and retail environment, can you ever see Paleo hitting the mainstream?
Logistics – Have you ever had this thought? I can go down to my local grocery store and find so many items it is unreal. Take a simple red delicious apple. I would be willing to say that basically every grocery store in America has red delicious apples in it. Let’s say every store has a modest 10 apples, and a quick google search yielded that there are around 250,000 grocery stores in the US. So at any given point, I think it’s reasonable to assume that there are conservatively 2.5 Million red delicious apples on the shelves across America. Does that not just amaze you? How many trees does it take to produce that many apples? How many varieties of apples does your grocery store have? Realize we have these apples ALL YEAR LONG. What I’m trying to emphasize is that it takes an insane amount of food to feed Americans on even a daily basis. How many cans of corn stand on grocery shelves? Loaves of bread? Gallons of milk? Every day we have to feed approximately 310,000,000 people in America! Seriously, just stop a minute and appreciate the infrastructure that can accomplish this monumental task.
So, I have a question for you. Let’s say a third of the American population suddenly decided to go Paleo. I would first join you in saying Hooray!, I can’t believe so many others are going to experience the benefits of this lifestyle. So to my question… do we have enough food? I can’t say that I know the answer, but I would think a pretty good educated guess would be absolutely not. Let’s say Americans took it a step farther and decided they would only eat organic and pastured animals and produce, what then? Do we have the land to produce enough beef in a responsible fashion for the masses to consume? Again, I don’t know (although I’m comfortable saying I don’t think so by a long shot), but I can see where this could be a very real problem. There is a reason that cows are pumped full of antibiotics and steroids, and their health is sacrificed in the name of growth…we need the food!! Never given this much thought? Sit down for a few minutes, discuss with your Paleo friends…can America logistically be a primarily Paleo society?
Politics – Oh how I hate the word…Politics. I really don’t care what side of the aisle you are on, your party of choice has likely failed miserably over the years when it comes to nutrition in America. (Please, don’t leave me a comment and preach about why it’s all red’s fault, or blue’s fault…there are no clean hands in Washington. Believing otherwise shows nothing but blind faith.) Why is that so? One word…Lobbyists. Take for example last week when the USDA released a statement supporting “Meatless Mondays” as a way to enhance the sustainability of our food industry. Now personally the idea of a meatless any-day is depressing, but I guess I can see where the USDA was coming from. Problem is, they hacked off a lot of people! Beef people, pork people, chicken people… hell, probably even the Veal people were upset! ONE DAY later the USDA retracted their statement, and said they did not support the practice of Meatless Mondays. Amazing, truly amazing.
I don’t care what side of the issue you are on, I think we can all agree that it is sad that a government agency can be influenced so swiftly by big business. Don’t like it, I think you are gonna have to sort of get over it…welcome to America.
For Paleo to go mainstream, the government along with it’s health advisory committees, the American Heart Association, the American Medical Association (of which I am a proud NON-Member), the American Diabetes Association, etc…etc, would have to completely reverse their stance on fat, carbohydrates, obesity, and heart disease. In order to do that they would have to do something they will never do…ADMIT THEY ARE WRONG! Even if they had the intestinal fortitude to admit their beliefs have been wrong for decades, they would then have to convince a few other people that it is important to change their views and recommendations. Who you ask? I can think of the Dairy Industry, the Corn Industry, the Potato Industry, the Sugar Industry, the Fast Food Industry, the Peanut Industry, the Pharmaceutical Industry, the Beef Industry (yes, they would have to address how our modern livestock rearing practices adversely affect the quality and danger of the fats inside our animals), the Poultry Industry…I’m getting bored now, you get the picture. The entire food industry would have to change in order for Paleo to go mainstream. What do you think? That gonna happen anytime soon?
Nobody wants to hear it, but politics and money are at the core of how our country work. It should be no surprise then that politics and money have an un-alterable effect on the food that we eat.
So, Will Paleo Ever Go Mainstream? – In a word, no. I don’t see a time where the Paleo lifestyle is commonplace in American society. Call me negative if you want, but I see it as more realistic. Cost, social pressures, logistics, and politics; each contribute greatly to the low likelihood that Paleo takes America by storm.
I guess that means we just go on our merry way and live with this reality? Also in a word, NO! The Paleo community must band together and be as inclusive and understanding as possible so that anyone with an inclination to join us is able. Don’t look down on those who can’t afford grassfed meat, and instead applaud them for doing all THEY can do improve their health. Support your local farmer’s market, CSA, or grass fed farm if you are able. If you can’t afford their products, spread the word to someone who might be able to. Can’t afford a quarter of a cow, find a family or two to split the cost with. Grow a garden. Find ways to sustain YOURSELF in an environment of mass sustainability.
I’ll never likely get a chance to lobby in front of congress as to why the Paleo lifestyle should be moved to the forefront of our country’s war on the worsening epidemics of obesity, heart disease, strokes, or cancer. I will on the other hand have the chance, likely as soon as tomorrow, to talk to a single patient about why changing their nutritional habits could very well save their life. Don’t get caught up ruminating with anger about the injustices of our political system, while as a consequence missing the chance to make the world a better place one person at a time. Don’t get caught up in going mainstream, instead relish the opportunity to go UP-stream against the forces that hold back the Paleo lifestyle. The war may very well be un-winnable, but the little battles are where the real satisfaction must lay.
Agree? Disagree? Let me and everyone else know what you think!
July 30, 2012 at 12:11 am
Not sure if its true but I’ve heard that all beef in eurrope is grass feds.
July 30, 2012 at 12:44 am
I agree with your outlook even though it saddens me to think that overall as a country we won’t be able to get our act together.
However, we can not despair and give up.
As a first step it would be nice to get people to just eat real whole food and drop all the grains.
Cost is prohibitive if you source your food as all wild caught or pasture fed but a whole chicken off the shelf so to speak is one forth to one third the cost of organic and free range.
As we ween ourselves off the grains we could replace the grain fields with pasture grass and plant cows and other meat sources. How cool would it be to have bison on the plains again.
Change has to be evolutionary though and not revolutionary as the infrastructure we currently have will not be able to produce enough fresh plant matter for a third of a billion people or seven billion if you want to help them all. The ability to stock pile grains is a major part of our food as a society and you just can not do that with fresh fruit and greens. You could do it somewhat with roots and tubers as long as we all ate seasonally but like you pointed out there are millions of red apples on the shelves at any given moment. I don’t think people will be willing to give that up.
Do you think that in 50+ years when everyone is morbidly obese and has forgotten how to cook real food, except for those of us on the fringe, that cooking and the health benefits that go with it will be a selection trait that is sought out?
Can our current system take the catastrophic die off that is coming if we do not fix our culture and it’s attitude towards food?
July 30, 2012 at 2:01 am
You made many important points, the most important being, do what you can to improve what you eat. Not all people are in a position to eat completely organic or follow a paleo diet but most people could improve some of their dietary choices. I have had to change to a gluten-free diet. I have also eliminated most refined sugars. It was not easy to do but the difference in the way I feel makes it worth the effort.
July 30, 2012 at 8:01 am
I agree with everything your wrote. My largest concern is that by eating grain free, I tend to eat more meat. Since not all of our meat is organic/grass-fed (part of that is cost issue, part availability in our area) I worry about how many antibiotics we ingest. That said, a store bought pound of hamburger is likely still better for me than a donut, right? 😉
July 30, 2012 at 8:11 am
I would much rather you eat a hamburger than a donut! We just started small with the organic grass fed meet and then moved towards a larger and larger portion of our meet being “good.” Eventually, we got to where we are buying all organic/grass fed/antibiotic free meats and we were able to adjust the budget accordingly.
July 30, 2012 at 8:08 am
I think the politics is the biggest issue – with big business and big government working together to not only profit off everything American’s eat, but use that diet to create hundreds of millions of health care “customers.”
Their recommended diet obviously doesn’t work so they have medicines for people who “don’t respond to diet and exercise.”
What a racket!
July 30, 2012 at 9:07 am
I recently saw the movie, “American Meat” by Director Graham Meriwether. In that movie they showed how so many of our small farming towns are becoming ghost towns because it is no longer economically possible for livestock farmers to maintain commodity type farms.
Also in that movie, they profiled farmer Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm who has very effectively come up with a sustainable farming model that incorporates grass fed and free range animal production in a rather small amount of space. They did some math using his model to say that, yes, in fact, it IS possible to feed America using his model.
So I say, let’s get back into those ghost towns and start replicating what he has done. It seems that the land is there. We just need enough people to decide to head back to the farm and learn how to sustain ourselves.
August 4, 2012 at 12:26 pm
Speaking of Joel Salatin, I think that everyone with a interest in grass fed, local, and/or sustainable farming and eating should read at least his book “Folks, This Ain’t Normal”.
It had many insights in to the difficultly that small farms have bring food to the people in our world of big business and regulations. Has many other things to consider about life in general and really engaging to read. After reading that book I decided to go back and read two of his earlier books.