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home | Tea Party Economist | Why the Paleo Diet Isn’t Paleo . . .

Why the Paleo Diet Isn't Paleo. It's Capitalist.

Gary North
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April 21, 2012

I eat a "paleo" diet because, after three score and ten years (Psalm 90:10), weight stays on longer and with greater tenacity. By eliminating carbohydrates, I control my weight.

But why does this diet work? Not for the reasons stated in the short video you are about to see.

The so-called paleo diet is being promoted as the diet most consistent with the truth of Darwin's concept of evolution through natural selection.

We are told that when our ape-like ancestors were evolving into humans, they did so by meat-eating.

Therefore, we should eat meat and fish, but not eat grains.

Here is a short "preview of coming attractions" for a well-funded documentary on the paleo diet. You will see the underlying message about the cause of obesity and lots of obesity-related diseases. It's because grains are not part of our genetic evolution.

This argument is wrong. It is anti-Christian. It is also anti-Darwinist. It takes something very special to violate the premises of both Christianity and Darwinism. You must have a very large epistemological gullet to swallow this argument.

The argument also reveals an irreconcilable split in the environmental movement, which I certainly appreciate.


Faction #1, the crunchies, don't eat meat. Why not? Because meat requires far more of nature's resources to provide the same quantity of life-sustaining calories. Here is a typical anti-meat summary.

Ecological burdens result from both modern, intensive livestock production methods--such as chicken and pig feeding houses and beef feedlots--and extensive forms--such as ranching and pastoralism. The environmental effects of intensive livestock operations run from grain fields to manure piles. And unsustainable grazing and ranching patterns of impoverished and affluent regions alike sacrifice forests, drylands, and wild species. Multiple forces have disturbed traditional pastoralists' ecologically sound livestock systems, leaving herders to crowd with their animals in areas where the land is quickly laid to waste.

The concentrated feeding facilities of the industrial and newly industrializing countries use vast quantities of grain and soy, along with the energy, water, and agricultural chemicals that farmers use to grow these crops. Pork production absorbs more grain worldwide than any other meat industry, followed by poultry production. Together they account for at least two-thirds of feed grain consumption. Dairy and beef cattle consume much of the remaining third. (Fitzhugh et al. 1978; FAO 1985, 1988, 1989)

Faction #2, the paleos, insist that meat is what gave not-quite men their ecological advantage over their vegetarian forebears. Mankind survived as a species because humans ate more meat and fewer grains, we are told.

Faction #1 is both economically and ecologically correct. Meat does take a lot more resources to produce than grains do. This is why widespread meat-eating came only after 1800, and only in the West. Why? Because that was when the West's economy began to grow at 2% to 3% per year, compounded. No one knows for sure how this turning-point came to be. The debate centers around two questions. First, why did it begin where it did, i.e., the British Isles (not Ireland) and the United States? Second, why did it take place when it did? There are at least two dozen explanations, but none of them holds up under scrutiny. (The best economic historian working on this problem is Prof. Deirdre McCloskey in the Bourgeois series. Two volumes have been published so far, with four more scheduled. At age 70, Prof. McCloskey had better start picking up the pace. The clock is ticking.)

Meat is affordable today. That is why we eat lots of it in the West. (When the price of something falls, more is demanded.) We are rich. Meat is the food of successful people. It's a status issue. It may be a health issue. The debate centers on health. This is conceptually a mistake, although medically it may be on target.

Here is what the debate ought to be about: the economic system that made meat affordable. There is only one possible answer: free market capitalism. Meat is capitalism's diet. As a culture-wide phenomenon, it came late: after the Industrial Revolution, which began around 1780. Only as the free market made the masses in the West wealthy enough to afford meat on a regular basis did any civilization see the widespread adoption of the so-called paleo diet. Conclusion: The paleo diet is not paleo. It is post-paleo and post agricultural revolution.

Men in primitive conditions barely survived on meat. They lived in small groups. The division of labor was low. Trade was low. Everyone worried about where the next meal was coming from. The next meal could run.

Grain can't run.

We are told that primitive man ate meat. If true, that was what kept him primitive.


The paleos invoke Darwinism. That is because they don't understand Darwinism.

A traditional Darwinist, if consistent, has to say that the cultivation of grains gave mankind a competitive advantage over all other species. This is the heart of Darwinism's theory: a small competitive advantage in a given environment. Grains are cheaper to produce than meat. The supply of grain is more predictable than the supply of meat. Agriculture lets men remain in a fixed region. It increases the number of humans. This increases the division of labor. The division of labor is what gives men an enormous competitive advantage over all other species.

Saying that the development of scientific agriculture gave men a major advantage is another way of saying that his brain gave him this advantage. His brain let more of his offspring survive in a dog-eat-dog world. It became a man-eats-grain world. Men then domesticated dogs, who helped men herd domesticated animals. Men fed their dogs a few meat scraps and a lot of grain. Low-cost dog food, then as now, was mostly grain.

The real problem for Darwinists to explain is this: How did man's brain appear? How did such a leap of being take place? A. R. Wallace, the co-discoverer (promoter) of evolution through natural selection, saw that this leap of being contradicted their principle of nature's itty-bitty changes. Because of this obvious discrepancy in their joint theory, Wallace broke with Darwin. Wallace became a spiritualist. Darwin ignored Wallace's question. So do most of his disciples. The ones who don't have all abandoned the original premise of Darwinism, namely, the uniformitarian assumption that the slow, tiny rates of biological change that we see today have always existed. These are the punctuated equilibrium evolutionists. The most famous member is the late Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard paleontologist. They have punched a gaping hole in the H. M. S. Darwin.

The paleos have to argue as follows. Meat eating gave man an advantage over other species, especially the species that men ate. This advantage made their brains more powerful. The brain became evolution central -- a leap of being in nature. Having brains, men then cultivated grains. This gave them another huge advantage in nature.

But the carnivorous genes failed to get the memo from evolution central. They still cry out for meat. They are like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors. "Feed me, Seymour, all night long." So, paleos advise, let us feed our still primitive, slow-witted, meat-loving genes. Let us starve our grain-loving genes, which are killers.

I have a suggestion. Stop blaming grain for obesity. Start blaming a lack of self-control. Capitalist man can afford to stuff himself. Until 1840, hardly anyone could afford to do this. It's not a genetic problem. It's a self-control problem.

The economic solution to obesity is socialism. Or try monetary debasement coupled with price controls. Both have worked well in the past.

The best thing I have ever read on this is from Dinesh D'Souza.

Indeed newcomers to the United States are struck by the amenities enjoyed by "poor" people in the United States. This fact was dramatized in the 1980s when CBS television broadcast a documentary, People Like Us, which was intended to show the miseries of the poor during an ongoing recession. The Soviet Union also broadcast the documentary, with a view to embarrassing the Reagan administration. But by the testimony of former Soviet leaders, it had the opposite effect. Ordinary people across the Soviet Union saw that the poorest Americans have TV sets, microwave ovens, and cars. They arrived at the same perception that I witnessed in an acquaintance of mine from Bombay who has been unsuccessfully trying to move to the United States. I asked him, "Why are you so eager to come to America?" He replied, "I really want to live in a country where the poor people are fat."


The carnivorous society has become possible in the West in just three generations, not 50,000 years.

John Tyler was born in 1790, in George Washington's first term. He became President in 1841 when Harrison died. I did a video interview with his grandson, Lyon Tyler, in December of 2010. Both he and his brother are still alive. Here is a recent Sunday Morning interview of Harrison Ruffin (yes, that Ruffin) Tyler.

Paleo diet? My big edema-swollen foot.


So, the next time you feast on a plate full of meat, give thanks to God, who gave you a brain, and if you have any time remaining, thank capitalism. Without a brain to develop scientific agriculture, which makes possible a carnivorous culture, mankind would not have lived long and prospered. Without capitalism, you would be feasting on gruel. You would be saying to God, "Please, sir, I want some more."

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