Paleo won't feed the world

If you haven't yet read John Ringo's The Last Centurion, I highly recommend it. For all of its flaws in writing style and narrative flow, it is a highly entertaining, very memorable, and quite enjoyable near-future military fiction novel. It is also a richly textured, heavily researched- and yet quite thoroughly profane- look into the stupidity and utterly unscientific nearsightedness of most liberals. It tackles many, many topics- including manmade global warming, the supposed "benefits" of diversity, and of course the question of whether or not an all-organic approach to farming is capable of feeding the country's population.

That latter question becomes quite important if you've dedicated yourself to eating right and eating hearty.

If you grew up eating what the world's "scientific authorities" told you was good for you, you are intimately familiar with this picture:

New USDA Food Plate Pyramid Replacement

And if you've been eating Paleo, or anything even close to Paleo, for any significant length of time, you know what a lot of garbage this is.

The emphasis on hearthealthywholegrains is very probably killing humanity faster than any other factor, for as any adherent of the Paleo philosophy knows well, our bodies just are not adapted to handle a modern, high-gluten, high-starch, high-grain diet at all. Genetically, we are still basically the same hunter-gatherers that we were a hundred thousand years ago, before the advent of modern agriculture; our various bodily systems are optimised to run on meat, vegetables, and fruits. Our natural inclinations are, and have always been, toward foods that are fatty, salty, and sweet.

When we work with those genetic predispositions, and combine the very best of good eating with really hard exercise, we tend to become what we were always intended to be- fit, strong, lean, active, and happy.

When we ignore or work against these simple principles, we become lazy, insipid, unhappy, bloated, and sick.

This mode of thought used to be common knowledge- otherwise known as "your grandmother's wisdom". We lost it in favour of a lot of nonsense over the last 50 years that has been shown, repeatedly, to be not only wrong, but deeply dangerous.

Increasingly, even mainstream scientists are realising that their entire profession has been based on a gigantic con. Even the once-ardent defenders of the status quo have begun to realise the errors of their ways and are promoting high-fat, high-protein diets that more closely match the food habits of our ancient ancestors.

And if you have spent any significant amount of time experiencing the joys of eating the way you were always meant to eat, you might find yourself wondering why we couldn't feed everyone this way. Anyone who has ever tasted a true grass-fed rib-eye steak knows full well what I'm talking about when I say that there is nothing like that taste to be found in industrial-raised meat. The difference in taste and texture is the same as that between night and day.

One might naively ask, therefore, why we couldn't just require everyone to eat this way.

The answer is really quite simple: it just isn't possible.

You cannot have a world with a population of some 7 billion people, limited arable land, and even more limited water resources, and expect to feed them all on a diet high in animal proteins and fats.

Think about it. In order to achieve the highest possible quality of food, you would need to set all of your livestock free. Cows, bulls, sheep, chickens, buffaloes- they would all need to be given vast amounts of space and virtually unlimited grazing ground in order to achieve the levels of taste and the health benefits that you would really want from high-quality meat.

The problem is that grazing space is limited. As are the resources required to sustain that grazing space. And that is before we account for the energy actually lost in moving up the food chain to the point where we eat the actual animals:

... diagram shows how much energy is transferred through a food chain
Yeah, I know, the pink is gay. It's the best I could do.
Think about that for a moment. More than 98% of all of the energy that goes into the food chain is lost* before that delicious steak or lamb rack reaches your dinner table. Sobering, isn't it?

That, incidentally, is exactly why meat is expensive relative to grains- and why grass-fed, organic meat is much more expensive than industrial meat. It simply comes down to a question of energy transfer. You have to understand that organic farming requires, depending on what exactly it is that you're trying to produce, roughly three times the resources for the exact same amount of food. And that is if you are really damn good at farming- I'm talking, as good as the Amish

So if we can't feed the world on properly raised meat, what about industrially raised meat? It's not nearly as good, being pumped as it is full of growth hormones, antibiotics, various other additives, and assorted nastiness, but surely we could feed everyone using that?

No. For the exact same reasons as above.

Even if you raised all farm animals in the most energy-efficient method possible, and spent the absolute minimum amount of time between the point where the animal enters the world and the point where it gets sent to the slaughterhouse, you are still losing most of the energy that goes into feeding the animal. The mathematics of energy transfer are brutal and inescapable in this regard. It simply can't be done.

So then, all that is left is to feed the world with grain-based products. Which is precisely what has been happening for nearly 10,000 years- ever since the dawn of the Neolithic Age, in fact, when agriculture came about and humans moved from being nomadic hunter-gatherers to agrarian herders and farmers.

Among paleoanthropologists, it is quite well known by now that this radical change in our lifestyles also contributed to an equally radical change in our health and well-being as a species- almost entirely for the worse. We became shorter, our bones became less dense, tooth decay became common, various cancers and illnesses that had never been seen in the anthropological record for our ancestors became relatively common. If you don't believe me, watch the excellent documentary "Fat Head" for details- right down the bottom.

How can we reconcile these two massive contradictions? We know, on the one hand, that agriculture contributed to a radical decline in human health and well-being. We also know, on the other hand, that it contributed to a massive boom in human populations, globally- several times, actually, as innovations in agricultural techniques and genetic research led to ever-greater crop yields, and genetic engineering of crops led to hardier, more disease-resistant and pest-resistant crops.

The simple fact is that we cannot. It is impossible to feed the world on a Paleo-style diet. It simply can't be done, there are too many of us and too few resources to do the job. Nor, for that matter, would most people necessarily acquiesce easily to eating in such a fashion- not everyone wants to eat just once or twice a day, or eat mostly just meat and fish and vegetables, or cut out all dairy products**. Most people today would not have sufficient wit or willpower to cut out processed sugars from their daily intake- they've gotten addicted to the stuff.

The only way to get the population down to the point where an organic approach to food is truly capable of feeding the world is genocide on a scale never seen in human history.

I think it is fair to say that most people would refuse even to contemplate such a horrific thing.

My own perspective on this is a bit unusual. You see, unlike most adherents of a Paleo diet, I have no problem whatsoever with genetically modified plants and foods. None. I don't consume them (much) myself, but I'm sure as hell not going to demand that they be banned. The reason is simple. Back in the 1950s, my country was just beginning to emerge from the shackles of colonialism and was trying to figure out- not terribly successfully, it must be said- how to feed a huge and growing population.

Then along came a brilliant scientist named Norman Borlaug, whose ingenious discoveries in plant genetics led to the creations of new strains of high-yield wheat and rice that allowed not only my country, but many others, to feed their people without any real problems.

I have no desire whatsoever to revert back to the days when my people were starving because they could not eat, at all- never mind that they couldn't get meat, they couldn't get food, full stop.

For a Western mind, the very concept of famine makes literally no sense- you people have never seen real hunger up close and personal at a national level.

I have. And I do not wish to see it ever again.

If genetically modified wheat and rice and corn is what it takes to feed my people, then so be it. I can afford better, so I choose to do better- but for those who cannot make that choice, I cannot in good conscience argue that they should simply starve. To argue this is quite simply inhuman.

Are the vast majority of the world's people therefore condemned to a life of sub-optimal health and well-being as a result of eating processed, mass-marketed grain-based foods, while a tiny minority of relatively well-off individuals instead dine on meat and fish and naturally raised fruits and vegetables?

Quite bluntly, yes. There is no way around this, and it is rather pointless even to try. Again, Do. The. Maths. The energy inefficiency of eating meat has to be measured against the health benefits of doing so.

So what is the young man of today to do, given these facts and given the evidence?

First, eat as well as you can afford. If you cannot afford to eat good high-quality protein and fat, eat what you can given your current budget. Never let the best be the enemy of the good. If you have to eat industrially raised meat, try to balance out the harmful effects of eating that with supplements that lower your triglycerides and boost your Omega-3 fatty acid intake. And if you can't afford meat at all, well, too bad. Do the best with what you can.

Second, don't pretend that eating "organic" suddenly makes you a supporter of the little guy. I see this with the tofu-heads that shop at Whole Foods all the time- these irritating hipster douchebags who think that paying a premium price for their "ethically raised" kale suddenly makes them morally superior to everyone else. Guess what: organic food is big business. Don't kid yourself about this. If you buy organic or grass-fed or ethically raised food, most likely you are padding some big corporation's bottom line.

I, personally, have no problem whatsoever with this. Vive le capitalism.

Third, and most importantly, understand that your personal choices are yours to make. Don't impose them on others. Here I am speaking primarily to the tofu-eaters who live in places like Nyack and Williamsburg and think that the world's problems would be solved if only we all started buying "organic" food all the time.

If you choose to eat meat, great, good for you- get the highest-quality meat and fish that you can afford, it'll taste great and you'll feel great.If you choose to be a vegetarian... well, you're an idiot, but that's your problem. If you choose to be a Vegan... check inside your pants to see whether you are in fact male, because you're clearly suffering from a massive testosterone deficiency. But again, it's your choice. I can't tell you how to eat. I have no right to tell you how your food should be raised, how it should be farmed or cultivated, and how it should be transported.

The beauty of eating Paleo, or something like it, is that you're eating the way your body was originally designed to eat. It feels fantastic to eat this way- you have endless energy, you feel happier, you exercise better, you can enjoy better sex, and you really taste things properly.

If you choose not to enjoy these benefits, because doing so would be too expensive, then that's fine. Nothing wrong with that- as long as you're willing to live with that choice.


* No lectures on the Law of Conservation of Matter, thank you very much, I happen to know something about it myself.

** I am something of an exception here. I am highly lactose tolerant, so as a result I have no problem whatsoever consuming large amounts of milk, half & half, cheese, yoghurt, and cream daily.

Comments

  1. You're wrong. A good place to start would be Joe Salatin's work.

    ReplyDelete

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