Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
3 Apr

Is It All Just a “Paleofantasy”?

PaleoFantasySo this is my review of the new book Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live. It’s been making the rounds for a few weeks now, and although some other people have already weighed in, I’ll add my two cents. At the outset, I’d like to make very clear that I actually agree with a decent portion of Marlene Zuk’s individual arguments. Though it may surprise you to know that Mark Sisson agrees with the most prominent paleo debunker du jour on several topics, I’m not saying I support the overall product or her final conclusions. In fact, Paleofantasy is an odd, meandering book whose ultimate purpose I’m not really sure I truly understand.

There are two main problems with the book, as I see it. First, she’s working against a straw man. Many of the arguments she debunks, like “eyeglasses aren’t paleo” or “the paleo diet was carnivorous,” seems to have been dug up from some random Internet commenter or drawn from fringe camps. In other words, they aren’t arguments people like Robb Wolf, Chris Kresser, Paul Jaminet, or me (or our readers) are making. Second, many of her counterarguments or “nuanced approaches” are the very same ones we’ve been exploring at length for years! After reading the book, John Durant tweeted “Paleofantasy shouldn’t have been a book in 2013, it should have been a blog post in 2010,” and that’s as good a description as I can think of.

It’s all very uncontroversial:

There is no one paleo diet.

Who’s saying that? Humans have spanned the globe for millennia, surviving and even thriving in environments ranging from tropical to temperate, from arctic to near-aquatic, all the while subsisting on the wild foods available to those regions. Same basic diet of animals and plants, different configurations.

Evolution doesn’t just stop and humans didn’t just reach a state of perfect adaptation back before agriculture from which we’ve never progressed.

Sure. I talked about how we’re still “evolving” last year, even mentioning Zuk’s favorite topics – lactase persistence (35% worldwide, which is far from 100%) and amylase production. She discusses a few more recent changes, like malaria resistance, adaptation to high altitude, and earwax differentiation, but that’s it. If she wanted to, I’m sure she “could keep adding to the list” and mount an overwhelming case for widespread genetic adaptations to grain consumption, chronic stress tolerance, and sedentary living, but she’s saving up material for the next book. Or something. Either way, I’m not very convinced by her “list” of rapid evolutionary changes, especially considering most of them have little to do with the mismatches we discuss in this community and none of them are even present in a majority of humans.

Zuk is also quick to misrepresent “our” arguments so she can swoop in and take the sensible position – positions the ancestral health community has long occupied!

In her exercise chapter, she characterizes paleo exercise proscriptions as “short and intense” and “literal-minded,” mimicking activities like “having to run down a rabbit for dinner.” We type away at our computers on caveman forums, spend a little while lifting weights and running sprints, and sit back down. Then, Zuk explains that contrary to our reenactment fantasies, the real problem and the real divergence from our past is that modern humans sit too often. It is our inactivity, our hours and hours spent doing nothing physical that hurt us. What we should be doing is lots of slow moving, steady low-level activity like walking, hiking, gardening, yard work, house work, rather than sitting all day and trying to make up for it with a hard gym session. Hmm – where have I heard that kind of stuff before? Why hasn’t the ancestral health community addressed this pernicious force in our lives?

Later, she rightly claims that paleo authors are suspicious of endurance training, mocking my position that the idea that “natural selection redesigned our simian shapes to run the Boston Marathon is… ludicrous.” As support for her claims, she cites Louis Liebenberg’s persistence hunting studies (PDF) with the Kalahari bushmen of Botswana where men would go on hunts lasting “two to five hours, with an average running speed of 6.3 kilometers (about 4 miles) per hour.” Those are fifteen minute miles. If you were running the Boston Marathon at a 15 minute-mile pace, you’d finish in six and a half hours (roughly). That’s an easy run (fast walk?), especially for someone who’s reasonably fit. You could hold a conversation at that speed. You could get up and do it again the next day at that pace. That’s not chronic cardio. That’s not a competitive time for an endurance athlete – the dogged pursuit of which is precisely what I’ve always warned against. It’s easy aerobic activity, the kind I promote!

Even when she acknowledges the potential utility of an evolutionary approach to analyzing health or current environmental “mismatches,” they are glossed over or relegated to a single sentence buried in a paragraph. Zuk spends an entire chapter explaining how traditional child-rearing, with its extended family members available for childcare, extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, parental “indulgence” of crying babies, is likely the biological and evolutionary norm for human infants, citing Dr. James McKenna’s extensive research on the benefits of the aforementioned methods… and then ends the chapter by saying “most children grow up fine” so let’s not bother with it. Let’s just keep on keepin’ on.

In response to the idea that limiting artificial light at night and getting plenty of natural light during the day might improve sleep and preserve our circadian rhythms, she asks “is this really the solution to our health problems?” She creates an argument that we are all apparently positing – that smashing light bulbs and waking up at dawn are the cure to all our health problems – and then proceeds to dismiss it, to laugh it off. And yeah, it’s ridiculous to say that unnatural light is the cause of all our health ills… but who’s saying that? Who’s making this argument but her? And on that note, what about the negative effects of artificial light at night? Aren’t they worth investigating? Isn’t the data we already have fairly compelling?

(If you notice me asking a lot of questions in apparent exasperation, it’s because I’m puzzled and exasperated and driven to inquiry by some of these “arguments.” Forgive me.)

A worrisome theme starts to emerge: that the past is murky and we need more data so let’s not make any sudden changes to the way we live, especially not if they’re couched in evolution. I disagree. Whatever most people are doing isn’t really working for most people, whereas whatever we’re doing (whether it’s a paleofantasy or not) seems to be working.

To her credit, Zuk doesn’t throw out the idea of evolutionary mismatch altogether (although you could have fooled me). She just rails against “denouncing modern living as unsuitable to our Stone Age genes,” calling for research into “just what parts of that life send us too far out of our evolutionary zone of tolerance,” as if she’s stumbled upon some revolutionary concept. Really, though, we are exploring and identifying the specific aspects of modern life that trigger a mismatch. We are gathering data. Academics and scientists and bloggers and lay individuals are figuring out, in fits and starts and lurches and self-experiments and clinical trials and study analyses, just what works about modern life and what does not work. We’re not resting on our laurels, on our assumptions.

So we kind of agree, even though it appears she doesn’t know it.

I don’t necessarily blame Marlene Zuk for her failure to comb the ancestral health community’s tomes, read all the blogs, study the comment sections (although she seems to have a fondness for anonymous blog commenters), attend the symposiums and conferences (although much of the material is available online for free), and explore the message boards. There’s a lot of material to cover. It’d probably take years to really do a thorough job. But if she hoped to publish a relevant critique of the community, she probably should have understood its actual claims instead of erecting a straw man for easy defeat.

In John Hawks’ favorable review of the book, he says that we must “play with hypotheses, explore their predictions and try very hard to falsify them.”

I completely agree. I think Zuk agrees, too, and I think I may have divined her ultimate goal with this book. In her 2009 NY Times piece on the same subject, she said “we shouldn’t flagellate ourselves for having modern bodies, and we shouldn’t assume that tweaking our diets or our posture will rescue us from all our current ills.” She thinks people are rushing headlong into such dangerous lifestyle changes as giving up grains, sugar, and seed oils without doing their due diligence.

You’ll have no arguments from me. Assume nothing, test/tweak/research everything. It’s not like I’m sitting here typing away, conjuring up fantastical stories about the past and making big lifestyle proscriptions based on said stories. Those success stories are actual success stories from actual people. Those studies cited are actual studies from real journals. I suppose you could make the argument that all these folks losing weight and gaining muscle and getting off meds and regaining their lives after adopting a Primal way of eating, living, and moving cannot definitively establish the lifestyle was the precipitating factor. They can’t “prove” it works. It could all be a big dream.

A big paleofantasy. I could be making this entire world up in my head as I go along, a lonely brain in some amniotic sac with electrodes attached, my entire history and the blog and the books and my relationships all constructs of my mind. I don’t think I am, though. I think this is real, flesh-and-blood stuff.

Are improved blood sugars, better blood lipids, a hundred pounds of weight loss, newly emergent abs, steady midday energy, improvement of autoimmune disease, and new leases on life paleofantasies? No.

Are sitting in front of an LCD screen until 2 AM, spending zero time in nature, living off of Cheetos and Coke, walking under a thousand steps a day, and working 20 hour days at a miserable job evolutionary mismatches with drastic health consequences as shown by current science (and hinted at by anthropology)? Yes.

And that’s what it comes down to in the end: results. We got ’em, and people recognize that.

Have you read Paleofantasy? What do you think? Let everyone know in the comment board, and thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I was eating lunch one day in a military cafeteria that offered few food options that were considered “paleo.” After a few comments on my choices, none of which included meat (because I like to know where it comes from before I eat it), I began a conversation on paleo and why I eat like I do. The person sitting across from me, who was much higher ranking, busted out and said “I don’t believe that evolutionary crap.” From there, I couldn’t continue. I just kept quiet, ate my salad, and got out of there. Whether it be religion, ignorance, or just plain stubborness, some people don’t want to believe. There’s nothing we can say or do, we can just go about our business and make ourselves happy, and anybody else who wants to come along for the ride.

    Jeremy wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  2. I think many of our communication and understanding problems as a society come from our lack of solid foundational education in logic and reasoning. We’re not really taught these skills anymore or appreciate their value (generally speaking). We are not encouraged or required to think critically in today’s world in order to survive. We can go on auto-pilot and live, but not necessarily well.

    If we continue to improve our logic skills, while maintaining compassion and understanding for where others are coming from, I think that the ancestral health community will continue to have a positive impact on the world and people’s health and well-being. The point after all isn’t to be right to simply stoke our egos, but to spread the truth so that the most people can prosper.

    Arrogance is very off-putting and blocks our desire to continue learning (if we think we know it all already), so I think we should continue to be aware of this when we talk with others…and hope for the patience and openness of mind to listen, and possibly learn ourselves :-)

    primalpal wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Thank you for hitting the nail on the head. I often feel as a society we’re heading to a future that looks like the movie “Idiocracy”. Where asking for a simple glass of water will invoke raised eyebrows and responses like “You mean that stuff in the toilet?”. So sad, yet so true…

      christi wrote on April 7th, 2013
  3. If Ms. Zuk really wanted to debunk Paleo living, would she not have tried it first? This would have deprived us all of spending more quality time together.

    cberg wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  4. Marlene Zuk only has any readers because most of her titles have “sex” in part of the title.
    Getz’m every time!!
    What a funny quacker she is.
    Funny and sad.
    Unfortunately, she will probably keep a few people in Ill health
    because of her book.
    As we have witnessed in the last few years, there are many
    ill-informed, mis-informed and out right lied to people that
    really don’t know any better.
    They can not sort through information critically and logically,
    and thus they are doomed in their irgnorance, lazyness and fear
    of learning.

    Donna wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  5. Great post, thanks Mark!

    My girlfriend (& others) like to take shots at Paleo for some reason. Actually I know why my gal does it… she just likes to have fun with it. After seeing my success, she is 60-70% Paleo. Why others do it I am unsure. Is it some weird envy at my weight loss? Is it a true concern that I am somehow hurting myself?

    The author just hopes to cash in on anti-paleo folks who will buy it. She & her editors knew that they were using straw-man arguments. The same goes with that Discovery mag article. They just poke around the edges just to get a rise out of people & make money.

    Why do people hate Paleo so much? I really don’t understand. The same people will talk about the virtues of the Mediterranean diet when Paleo is not all that different.

    Joe S.

    Bruinwar wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  6. This reminds me of the pro-smoking campaigns of the 80s. It’s hard to give up something that gives us pleasure (especially when addicted to it) even if it’s not good for us. It’s often easier to try and debunk a theory that makes you feel like you may not be living healthy than it is to apply that theory to your life. It’s easier to eat corn bread and birthday cake than it is to refuse and chose something better. It’s easier to believe that running yourself to death is better than short, intense, heavy workouts that leave you with more energy. You should here my friends talk with me about my primal lifestyle…

    “Isn’t all that meat really bad for you?”
    As if I only eat big hunks of raw flesh with the bones still attached.

    “I couldn’t live without bread. That can’t be healthy.”
    The same excuse I used to use.

    “My nutritionist friend says its really bad for your adrenal glands and that you could die.”
    Nutritionists are not doctors and are trained and certified by our corn-pushing government.

    “My friend, whose a personal trainer, says that you’ll get all big and bulky if you do all that heavy lifting and that if you want to lose weight, you’ve gotta do an hour of cardio a day”.
    Trainers are certified over a weekend at whatever big box gym they work at.

    Either way, I’m sure this book is just a way for the publisher to make money off of those people who say all of these things above.

    Ryan wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  7. I wonder if Ms. Zuk, as part of her research, read the book “Wheat Belly,” an indictment against modern wheat that has been so altered by hybridisation that it can be considered a GMO now. Also, she should have checked out the Weston A. Price Foundation site. Although they still recommend “healthy whole grains” after soaking and-or souring to reduce phytates, they are very much down on sugar and vegetable oils which our modern diets are full of.

    D. M. Mitchell wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  8. When I first came upon Mark’s website and read the success stories, I was immediately interested but at the same time my radar sent up a signal – if it’s too good to be true, it likely is just that. However, being trained as an engineer, I am driven by data, empirical evidence and observation, and after just two months of switching to a paleo diet, working out at the local gym three times a week, and walking every evening for an hour, my blood work told my doctor and me all I needed to know: dramatic decreases in total cholesterol, increases in HDL, decreases in LDL, triglycerides, blood sugar, and another notch in one’s belt. Most of us here have similar data streams and can put a price on better numbers (i.e., walking instead of driving, increased activity at home and work, less visits to the doctor) but how does one measure the change in attitude?


    Jeff F. wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  9. Zuk’s arguments, and those presented in positive reviews like the one in Nutrition Action, are a classic example of flawed critical thinking. She and all other authors should be required to take a freshman level critical thinking course (if p, then q) before submitting their final works. or – “every time it rains the street is wet, so is it raining every time the street is wet?” Obviously, this is not the case, because in the latter you could have a wet street from group tears crying over such an irresponsible book on a sunny day.

    In the meanwhile, readers can be alerted when they come across phrases like, “it follows that…” or “it stands to reason…” or worst of all: “don’t you think?”

    Brad Kearns wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  10. The basic research into ‘the paleo diet’ itself shows that there is no one paleo diet; rather, there were a range of diets (Cordain et al., 2000; Kuipers et al., 2010). The argument is that modern diets fall outside of this range — with regard to macronutrient ratios, and micronutrient levels (Cordain, 2002) — and that this may cause specific problems (Kuipers, Joordens, & Muskiet, 2012).

    I wish critics of the diet would read (and criticise) the actual research, rather than criticise their own fantasies about it.

    Cordain, L. (2002). The Nutritional Characteristics of a Contemporary Diet Based Upon Paleolithic Food Groups. JANA, 5(3), 15-24.

    Cordain, L., Miller, J. B., Eaton, S. B., Mann, N., Holt, S. H. A., & Speth, J. D. (2000). Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 71(3), 682-692.

    Kuipers, R. S., Joordens, J. C. A., & Muskiet, F. A. J. (2012). A multidisciplinary reconstruction of Palaeolithic nutrition that holds promise for the prevention and treatment of diseases of civilisation. Nutrition Research Reviews, 25(01), 96-129. doi: doi:10.1017/S0954422412000017

    Kuipers, R. S., Luxwolda, M. F., Dijck-Brouwer, D. A. J., Eaton, S. B., Crawford, M. A., Cordain, L., & Muskiet, F. A. J. (2010). Estimated macronutrient and fatty acid intakes from an East African Paleolithic diet. British Journal of Nutrition, 104(11), 1666-1687. doi: Doi 10.1017/S0007114510002679

    Scott UK wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Similarly, ‘barefoot running’ has some science behind it:

      Sure, the science may be wrong… but we’ll never know because people like Zuk don’t engage with it (and criticise their imagined versions instead).

      Scott UK wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  11. Mark. I thank you for reviewing the book and taking the time to clarify, once again, what the Primal community actually believes and teaches. As one of the leaders in this movement you correctly saw the need for you to weigh in and be “on the record” with a clear response. Since many of us will at some point have this article shoved in our faces it is just a matter of time before we will hit this link and invite the naysayer to read. Looking forward to that!

    David wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  12. The idea of “Paleofantasy” being some kind of put-down reminded me of this quote:

    “I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?” ― J.R.R. Tolkien

    I know it’s a helluva lot better to go primal than to keep doing what I was doing (CW) and expecting a different outcome that I had been getting (Fat, Sick, and Tired).

    Adriane wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  13. Don’t feed the troll, Mark.
    These types of people are only hijacking the latest popular diet to get some attention, simply because they can’t do any better.
    Waste of time to de-bunk.
    Any person with common sense eats a diet that ACTUALLY WORKS to build a strong body and brain (i.e. organic paleo).

    Edward wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  14. I saw the book over at Amazon, and read the blurb, as well as checked out some of the interior pages (like I always do before buying any book), and I came away with two opinions:

    1. This woman is a rabid vegan obviously annoyed at losing the dietary battle, so she wrote a book to act as her megaphone.

    2. This woman is a rabid CW dietician, and is striking out through her paper megaphone to bash our way of eating, because she fears for her job.

    Either way, SHE is the one caught up in a Paleo fantasy of her own making!

    Wenchypoo wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  15. I’d be curious about studies that specifically confirm that grain production of any type is harmful.

    I agree with a lot of the paleo advice. Eating natural organic products, lots of veggies and quality meat, getting exercise and not being sedentary, all great points.

    But the idea that all grains are poison seems to be supported by scientific evidence only tangentially. Have there been any real studies simply concluding that eating grains are harmful?

    Nick wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • “grain production of any type”
      “all grains are poison”
      All statements of absolute are always wrong. (Irony intentional.)

      Also I don’t know what you mean by “poison”. That they will cause instant death? That they do more harm than good? That you are better off not eating them than eating them?

      “All grains” are not equal. Wheat is “really bad”, oats are “less bad”. I rarely eat either but if I was forced to choose between a serving of whole wheat bread and a serving of oatmeal, I’d choose the oatmeal.

      I’m not understanding what it is that you’re really asking. But the answer to your question as you phrased it is no, such studies probably do not exist.

      Piper A R wrote on April 4th, 2013
  16. Thanks, Mark, for taking one for the team. Nice review of what sounds like a brutal read.

    To show my appreciation, I’m gonna take my primal-fueled, 35-pound lighter body down to the gym and lift some heavy stuff.

    Tim wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  17. If I’m at risk of being quoted in a book, I better start watching what I say more often on here.


    Kevin wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • +1…thought provoking!

      Nocona wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  18. All I know is that I keep singing “It’s alllllriiiiiiight – it’s my Paaaaaleeoooooo Fantasyyyyyy” in my head…

    …all while stuffing my face with a bunless grass-fed beef burger and raw organic peppers, zucchini, and cherry tomoatos…suck on THAT Zuk =P

    Mike B wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  19. I think like most of us that learned about Paleo, Zuk or one of her loved ones will have to be so ill and not getting relief from modern medicine before she will be willing to try something like Paleo.

    Sometimes you have to hit close to rock bottom before you can look up and see the light :)

    Stacey wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Hmm, you’ve posed an interesting theory, that many of us found this site due to our, or a loved one’s, poor health, with little relief from modern medicine. There should be a poll about that, though one of the possible answers would have to be “I don’t know/not sure.” I had been all set to argue that my husband’s poor health is not what led me to Paleo, but I don’t recall if I was trying to find answers to what is going on with him, or reading something totally unrelated when I link hopped my way here…

      b2curious wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • Yep. I had a chance back in the late ’90s to get Paleo info when I was suffering from really bad adult onset asthma, but there were no books and little in the way of on-line info. We moved to France and there was no opportunity to go further in discovery. Fifteen years later, my son got very ill and Celiac was one of the possible causes. We had moved back to Canada and low and behold, there was suddenly a whole lot of infirmation available on line! As cutting out gluten is “easy” to do if you eat Paleo (and a heck of a lot less expensive!) it made sense to check it out again. The best thing that could have happened to me and my son was his getting sick. It lead both of us on a journey to Paleo and much improved health.

        Now the fine tuning is another learning curve 😉

        Stacey wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • I heard about paleo from a commenter on a football blog I follow. I was 36, 6’1, 195 lbs with bodyfat in the high teens and wearing 34″ pants. My cholesteral was 42 HDL 110 LDL 150 total. So I was doing pretty good for a mid 30s guy. I went paleo because I wanted better than pretty good.

      Piper A R wrote on April 4th, 2013
  20. PaleoFantasy : Not exactly wrong , no discernible point.

    The Evolutionary story brings life and colour to some of the dryer science stuff.

    Don’t want to give up your tasty lab created “food” buy a bag of wheat a bottle of canola oil and take a few packets of sugar from Denny’s , try each on on its own before the “food” companies can work their magic… yum yum, it will be a tortured existence without these naturally delicious… substances.

    My paleofantasy is that our ancestors tamed dinosaurs, I know its wrong now but I do remember watching a very compelling documentary about it as a child called “Flintstones”.

    Zenmooncow wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  21. I’ve read the comments and don’t get it…personally I feel so much better eating 95 percent paleo (I occasionally indulge in dessert). Try it, if it doesn’t work, stop and go back to the SAD diet. Been there and I know it definitely doesn’t work. All of this back and forth tends to be a waste of time and energy. Let your personal results speak for themselves. Success is always the best measuring stick!

    Troc wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  22. Mark,
    What does Marlene look like? I’d like to see a photo of her next to you & let the facts speak for themselves…

    SuperDave wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  23. I’ll let the academics debate the fine points of paleo diet and evolutionary theory. I prefer to rely on my personal experience and general observations.

    It may be anecdotal but one has only to observe the drastic change towards chronic ill health, diabetes and obesity of Native Americans after adopting the SAD foods in the last several generations. These people were as close to the Paleo concept as anybody just a few generations ago and now they are so obviously unable to thrive on modern food ‘technology’. Other ethnic groups are better able to tolerate it but any visit to Walmart will show that in general we are not faring well on grains and sugars.

    In general terms I don’t see why anyone would argue with the basic concept of eating healthy whole unprocessed foods.

    Bayrider wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  24. I saw this book on the shelf in the bookstore the other day, skimmed through it, and immediately saw the flaws in her reasoning. It seems so irresponsible of people to publish things like this without thoroughly researching it first. I am so glad that I stumbled on MDA while wandering the Internet one day, but if I had seen this book a year ago, when I was just starting to look at the primal lifestyle, I probably would not have looked any further. I would still be over three hundred pounds and on my way to an early death, and it makes me sad to think of all the others who may have had their own chances at good health cut short by reading this book, or even just seeing it on the shelf and saying “paleofantasy? I guess that caveman guy really is full of it, oh well.”

    Tom Nelson wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  25. “A big paleofantasy. I could be making this entire world up in my head as I go along, a lonely brain in some amniotic sac with electrodes attached, my entire history and the blog and the books and my relationships all constructs of my mind. I don’t think I am, though. I think this is real, flesh-and-blood stuff.”

    That would be one massive community dream!! If it is all fantasy I am cool with not waking up!!! Fact is when I eat and live this way I feel amazing and look amazing. That’s what counts!!

    Joanne - The Real Food Mama wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  26. I’ve lost 5lbs and 2 inches in 3 weeks, and I feel amazing. That’s not a fantasy, that’s pretty darn real.

    Nay wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  27. The more popular Primal/Paleo lifestyles get, the more you can expect these sorts of mainstream media denunciations and attacks.

    J. Stanton makes this point rather well:

    “There’s one big reason that industrial food manufacturers like Kraft (Nabisco, Snackwells, General Foods, many more), Con-Agra (Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, Healthy Choice, many more), Pepsico (Frito-Lay, Quaker), Kellogg’s (Kashi, Morningstar Farms, Nutrigrain, more) are huge and profitable.

    It’s because grains are cheap, but the “foods” made from them aren’t.

    One reason grains are so cheap in the USA, of course, is gigantic subsidies for commodity agriculture that, while advertised as helping farmers, go mostly to agribusinesses like Archer Daniels Midland ($62 billion in sales), Cargill ($108 billion), ConAgra ($12 billion), and Monsanto ($11 billion)—and result in a corn surplus so large that we are forced to turn corn into ethanol and feed it to our cars, at a net energy loss!

    “There isn’t one grain of anything in the world that is sold in a free market. Not one! The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians. People who are not in the Midwest do not understand that this is a socialist country.”
    -Dwayne Andreas, then-CEO of Archer Daniels Midland

    “At least 43 percent of ADM’s annual profits are from products heavily subsidized or protected by the American government. Moreover, every $1 of profits earned by ADM’s corn sweetener operation costs consumers $10.” (Source.)

    (And if you’re not clear on just how deeply in control of our government these corporations are, here’s another example: Leaked cables reveal that US diplomats take orders directly from Monsanto.)

    That cheapness, however, doesn’t translate to profits for farmers or cheap food at the supermarket.”

    “It’s clear that it’s far more profitable to sell us processed grain products than meat, eggs, and vegetables…which leaves a lot of money available to spend on persuading us to buy them. Are you starting to understand why grains are encased in colorful packaging, pushed on us as “heart-healthy” by the government, and advertised continually in all forms of media?

    And when we purchase grass-fed beef directly from the rancher, eggs from the farmer, and produce from the grower, we are bypassing the entire monumentally profitable system of industrial agriculture—the railroads, grain elevators, antibiotics, growth hormones, plows, combines, chemical fertilizers (the Haber process, by which ammonium nitrate fertilizer is made, uses 3-5% of world natural gas production!), processors, inspectors, fortifiers, manufacturers, distributors, and advertisers that profit so handsomely by turning cheap grains into expensive food-like substances.

    Conclusion: You Are A Radical (And So Am I)

    Simply by eating a paleo diet, we have made ourselves enemies of the establishment, and will be treated henceforth as dangerous radicals.

    This is not a conspiracy theory. By eschewing commodity crops and advocating the consumption of grass-fed meat, pastured eggs, and local produce, we are making several very, very powerful enemies.

    * The medical and nutritional establishments hate paleo, because we’re exposing the fact that they’ve been wrong for decades and have killed millions of people with their bad advice.

    * The agribusinesses and industrial food processors hate paleo, because we’re hurting their business by not buying their highly profitable grain- and soy-based products.

    * The mainstream media hates paleo, because they profit handsomely from advertising those grain- and soy-based products.

    * The government hates paleo, because they’re the enforcement arm of big agribusinesses, industrial food processors, and mainstream media—and because their subsidy programs create mountains of surplus grain that must be consumed somehow.

    Is anyone surprised that a government which spends billions of dollars subsidizing the production of corn, soy, and wheat, would issue nutritional recommendations emphasizing the consumption of corn, soy, and wheat?”

    Mark, as a leader at the forefront of this movement, I’d expect a lot more of these kinds of attacks and denunciations in the future.

    Keoni Galt wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • I know lots of small farmers–I get my milk, eggs and meat from them. They don’t see anything of all the subsidies that are supposed to go to farmers. They scrap by hoping this year will be wetter than last year, because there is no safety net for them beyond their neighbors.

      Beccolina wrote on April 4th, 2013
  28. Thanks for this review. It answers two of the three questions I had based on what I’ve read about the book so far:

    1) Does she have science to back up her claim that humans have evolved to consume mostly grains? (Not really.)

    2) Does she understand what the paleo lifestyle actually is? (No. She REALLY doesn’t.)

    The third question is how she addresses paleo authors’ claims that barring childhood death, childbearing death, or accident, paleolithic humans were generally healthier than modern humans.

    I’m torn between whether or not I want to actually read this book. As someone who’s spent most her life following non-SAD diets in pursuit of health, I’m sick of defending myself against nitpickers. And you know what? I don’t care if everything I’ve read about how paleolithic humans lived is wrong – paleo lifestyle works for me and that’s what matters.

    Violette_R wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  29. I think it is more of a fantasy to believe that our digestive systems can evolve at the pace of industrial food production. She says that people “are rushing headlong into such dangerous lifestyle changes as giving up grains, sugar, and seed oils without doing their due diligence” without mentioning how people have rushed headlong into dangerous lifestyle changes such as eating food conceived in a laboratory without doing their due diligence.

    I can only speak from my experience. For years, I ate the recommended diet of whole grains, lean protein (without consideration of animal diet), and limited saturated fat. I got plenty of excercise, running a half marathon and biking 2 centuries. Despite all this, I was still overweight, plagued with migraines and felt generally unhealthy.

    I started living according to the Primal Blueprint in January 2013. After 3 months, I get better sleep, lost 15 lbs, have not had a single migraine, and have a furnace of sustained energy in my belly.

    Due dilligence be damned, I’m sticking with what works. I cannot thank Mark Sisson enough for the changes this awesome resource have brought about in my life.

    Mark Decker wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  30. There appears to be a very one sided argument going on here. She can bash grain, sugar, legume free eating all day, but that doesn’t change that I am allergy free in the midst of a Willamette Valley spring for the second consecutive year having previously been ‘allergic to everything.’ Bash away, Zuk. This shit works!

    Jessie Nowak wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  31. “Anecdotal” or “Scientific”….hmm. Why should I argue about my own results / successes? I don’t. I just look in the mirror, nod my head and smile.

    Rob wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  32. Le sigh. I enjoy reading articles and information about “the other camps”, but it always disappoints me when it’s unfounded and based on half-truths. I will stick this one on the “don’t bother” shelf, and hope that there’s someone out there willing to present an enlightened and sound argument against paleo, just for kicks.

    Emily wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  33. I always enjoy a logical smack down whether direct or praxeological. My favorite book review ever written is by Murray Rothbard, reviewing a two volume, “History of the American Repbulic” by of George Dehousar and Thomas Holbert Stevenson. The review is a 100+ page smack down. A must read for anyone who wants to see how a review is done.

    Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  34. Hey, the way I see it, the best thing we can have are the naysayers. They make us THINK, make us reanalyze, make us confirm what we are doing; even if her arguments are circular and not really arguments at all, Zuk and others like her do serve a purpose: they challenge us to constantly reflect on what we are doing and look for answers and counterarguments, and they stimulate our cognition in a way that fellow PB’ers cannot. Great book review Mark… I think this is one I can skip out on.

    Stacie wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  35. This was very timely for me. I read a magazine article on Zuk’s book recently and was wholly uminpressed, except for one of the comments that said Zuk’s area of expertise was studying fossilized insects. Yep. How this makes her an expert on Paleolithic diet escapes me. But what was more timely was the frustration I experianced with family members over the Easter weekend. They can see the results (me, minus 30 pounds and lots more muscle) but would rather slit their own throats than cut back on bread, cake, pastries, gooey cake, you name it. I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but I do. One of them is on some new fad diet every six months or so, going as far as taking injections and never loses weight. HELLO!!!! Good to have this family forum to fall back on. :-)

    Dano wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  36. Wow, I do all of my urban hunting at a 4mph (15min mile) pace. Glad to know when I go distance walking, I don’t have to run !!!

    Tammy wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  37. Fantasy? The 80 pounds I have lost simply by changing my diet is no fantasy; No other diet ever came close to this. My blood tests are perfect. I feel better.

    No meds, no surgery.
    So it´s kinda hard to “debunk” it for me, really.

    Ursula Dorada wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  38. It is easy to criticize something one does not understand. I have not read the book, but it appears from Mark’s comments in this post that Zuk terribly misunderstands the topic of living primally, both in its details and in its broad scope.

    I am a living testament of this idea. I was skeptical of getting rid of grains when my wife tried to get me to take the 21-Day Challenge in the summer of 2012. I reluctantly agreed to do it because she needed the support (she didn’t want to see me eating ice cream while she was eating healthy foods). Now, I tell her all the time that I am so glad she got me to live primally. I have always been “healthy,” but I feel better than I ever have in my life, and after starting to exercise and move primally, I am getting ripped (though it’s difficult to devote the time I want to devote to exercising, etc. as I am in law school, have a 16-month-old, and my wife is in grad school as well).

    But my point is that I was very skeptical at first. And I am one who does not easily change his mind about anything. I am very stubborn and set in my ways. But I had my mind totally blown by PB and MDA. I am a daily visitor to MDA, and I find that I go here for advice for about every facet of my life. Coincidentally, I started wearing glasses a couple years ago, and having them makes my quality of life better, so I would disagree with those who say there is no need for such devices.

    The problem I see for many people is that they have a very black and white mentality. They fail to practice any sort of moderation in their lives. It’s all primal or death; it’s no technology or all the latest technology. These are simple and possibly unrealistic examples, but they emphasize my point: in order to find ways of doing things and ways of living that are effective, one must be adaptable (as Grok most definitely was). One of the things I really appreciate about Mark and his work is that he stresses moderation of thought and of execution (for example, using computers is part of our reality today, but there are ways of using them effectively whilst not doing harm to one’s health).

    I appreciate your input, Mark. Thanks for doing what you do!

    Joe wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  39. I’m not a sceptic. I’ve been ‘primal’ for about 3 weeks now and I’ve lost body fat visibly, have cured my ‘where’s the sweets?’ afternoon hunt and am full of energy. On top of that I’m loving eating more meat and veg and healthy nuts and seeds and im no longer addicted to chronic cardio or hours in the gym.

    Primal – its the future!

    Lee wrote on April 3rd, 2013

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