The “paleolithic diet” has gotten more press lately. Paleolithic diet advocates say our ancestors lived in a state of gastronomic innocence, eating mostly meat, before they were seduced by agriculture and fell into eating grain. Some go further and say that not only should we eat like cavemen, we should live like cavemen as well. For example, we should have random bursts of exercise, as if fleeing a saber-toothed tiger, followed by long periods of leisure.
I am amused by how much some people believe they know about paleolithic life. Most of us don’t know that much about how our great grandparents lived, and yet others make confident detailed claims about the lifestyles of pre-historic ancestors. This is convenient since their claims are unlikely to be proven wrong, given how little we know or are ever likely to know ancient lifestyles. Of course those making the boldest claims are not scientists but popularizers who take a hint from the scientists and run with it.
I have no opinion on the actual recommendations of the fans of paleolithic culture. Maybe we would be better off eating more meat or having random bursts of intense exercise; I have no idea. However, I object to the pseudo-scientific rhetoric used to support the recommendations. I also object to the implicit assumption that it would necessarily be good to emulate the lives of paleolithic humans even if we did know how they lived.
Even the little we think we know about ancient cuisine should be called into question. A paper entitled Thirty thousand-year-old evidence of plant food processing was posted online this week which suggests people were making flour 10,000 years earlier than previously thought. Of course this doesn’t mean that people all over the world were living on pasta, but it does underscore how little we know about the real paleolithic diet.