Now it’s time for… a brief treatise on Paleo Economics & Nutritional Ethics!

The food bill at our house is astronomical.

And it bugs me.

Not just because debt is stressful, but because I know that most people simply can’t afford to eat this way.

That feels unsustainable. On a global scale. Given the 7,226,000,000 people on the planet just now.

Geological PeriodsBack in the Paleolithic, there were fewer of us. Obviously. Population size was regulated by the amount of food available.

I’ve wanted to write about Paleo Economics for a long time but I didn’t want to just moan about my first-world problem: Oh, woe is me, I feel so inequitable about this pastured steak and organic asparagus with balsamic vinegar I’m about to eat…

I felt like I needed to have at least an inkling of a solution.

I think I may have one. At least there’s something I’d like try.

But first, the problem:

Small Island Economics

I was reading an old anthropology book about a cluster of four small south-pacific islands called Yap (also called Wa’ab).

I’m not sure if the anthropology would hold up to scrutiny, but I learned something from it that I think is important.

Yap is tiny and remote, and once-upon-a-time humans had to be entirely self-sufficient there.

YapObviously there were no supermarkets, but there also was no continent to migrate across when food was scarce or villages got overcrowded. People had boats and travelled to other islands, of course, but these were populated, and the people living there were facing the same constraints, and weren’t necessarily welcoming.

People lived on Yap, in a finite ecosystem surrounded by water, with whatever resources they could gather from the land & sea.

According to this anthropology book, they dealt with the inevitable scarcities by creating a caste system.

On Yap, you were born into your caste, but unmarried women and younger sons could also be demoted into a lower caste if the population got too large.

The low-caste was prevented from eating the good food, owning or farming the land, and owning valuable property. They were the people who suffered when food was scarce. In effect, the low-caste acted as a buffer against famine and scarcity for the high-caste. They could get sick or die without anyone getting too fussed, as long as the high-caste people were protected.

This arrangement was unjust, of course, but worked really well to ensure that some people always had enough food to survive and thrive, and thereby could continue living on the little islands of Yap.

Even during bountiful times, when there was more than enough for everyone, the low-caste people were forbidden to eat the good food, because they were still required to act as a buffer in the future when times got hard again.

Sounds very human to me.

And we are no different.

It’s just harder to see because our island is so much bigger. Earth-sized.

But we are nevertheless exercising our high-caste privilege to eat the best food. We can justify it for health reasons. For the health of our families and the health of the planet.

Of course.

But we simultaneously know that other people are going without, and that (if we were to really analyze the situation) those people will also function as a buffer against scarcity and want. For us.

Small World Economics

earthIf this paleo eating thing is actually optimal for humans, not just high-caste humans in the first world, we might have to consider making the switch from small island economics to small world economics, starting with food.

I’m not an economist.

But I found a possible solution to this problem when I was reading the The Wahl’s Protocol. The Wahl’s Protocol has three levels, and the most extreme level, the Wahls Paleo Plus, is a nutritionally–dense, high-fat, low-carbohydrate, moderate-protein, ketogenic diet.

I say ‘moderate protein’ because that’s what Dr. Wahls calls it. And it is moderate compared to a SAD diet, but it’s a low-protein diet compared to the way I eat now. It contains less than half the amount that I am accustomed to eating as a Paleo or AIP person: 6-9 cups of low-carb veg and 6-12 ounces of meat (depending on body size). Most of the calories come from coconut oil. You can also optionally have up to 1 cup of berries, as long as you can remain in ketosis. That would be an increase in fruit for me, overall. Two meals, with a 12-16 hour fast overnight. I usually eat two meals on weekends and holidays, and I prefer that,  but work stress has always necessitated 3 meals on weekdays. That’s going to change! At least for awhile.

Nutritional Ketosis~Nutritional Ethics

Fat is converted to ketones in the presence of limited carbohydrates, and ketones fuel our mitochondria, brain cells & muscle cells. In the absence of carbohydrates, excess protein will be converted to sugar, so protein levels need to be curtailed to enable dietary fat to get to the front of the nutritional queue.

Think about eating significantly less. Spending less money on food. Spending less time eating. Leaving more to go around.

Maybe the solution to the Paleo Economics problem is obvious. So obvious it’s almost embarrassing.

We need to eat less.

Not debate about whether meat or vegetables should go at the bottom of our food pyramid diagrams.

Just eat less.

C’est ça.

I’ve never been a moderate eater. I’m a robust eater, which is one of the reasons Paleo works for me and a SAD diet completely didn’t.

But I’m ready to change. Over the past couple of days I’ve been scaling back my meat, cutting back on lunch, organizing my vegetables by colour and sulfur content based on Dr Wahls’ Protocol, and eating coconut oil by the spoonful.

I’m going to try it. Obviously, I still need to be able to run my life. Do my hot hot power flow yoga. My demanding full-time job. Tend my family. Keep my house in order. And have good energy left over to inquire into stuff that interests me.

And if I stop being altruistic about nutritional ethics for a moment, What if eating half as much meant I could save money to go to Hawai’i for a couple of weeks every winter?

Which coincidentally (or not), was originally settled by people who left overpopulated Polynesian Islands to find new islands that would sustain them.

But here on Earth in 2014, there are no unpopulated islands for us to flee to. We don’t know of any habitable unpopulated planets, either.

So it seems to me, we can choose. Small island economics or small world economics. The power choose always rests with the high-caste, (until there is a revolution).

I’m going to experiment with living in a small-world. Starting today.

25 thoughts on “Now it’s time for… a brief treatise on Paleo Economics & Nutritional Ethics!

  1. I’ve noticed that the higher quality the food is (nutrient dense) the less I eat. It’s a surprising and yet totally sensible idea. My Whals Protocol is sitting on the table waiting for me to pick up…

    • I agree, it is surprisingly sensible. I’m just trying to decide if I’m going to go back to full-fat tinned coconut milk, which Dr Wahls uses & recommends but has guar gum in it (which isn’t AIP-friendly), or whether I’m going to stick with making my own. Maybe both, because I admit to feeling tempted by the convenience of tins…

  2. I totally agree, however we can always count on a healthy life choice to be shared by a very small percentage of people, the majority of the population doesn’t really care. I brought up to my boyfriend the other night how it’s a good thing it isn’t accepted by a lot of people. Sometimes I wonder if diet won’t be the thing that separates and thins our over populated planet.

    • You make an excellent point: many people choose not to live this way. In a perfect world everyone would choose to be healthy, but all we can strive for is a somewhat more optimal world, one in which everyone has the opportunity to choose!

  3. So good to have someone addressing this. I work in conservation, so I am often made aware of how I am constantly consuming, when we need to be consuming less. Great post.

  4. Petra – I haven’t read the Wahl’s Protocol yet. I do know that Nora Gedgaudas (Primal Body, Primal Mind) is eating less animal protein and more quality fat – of course, along with all the veggies.

    I have naturally moved toward the eating twice a day on this crazy AIP ride…

    I’m finding that my health AND the health of the planet is becoming more import and to me as I get older…

    Great post!

  5. I must have missed this post, very thought provoking! I find I function exceptionally well when practicing intermittent fasting (usually on weekends) but I hadn’t thought about incorporating calorie restriction into my daily routine. Food for thought!

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  10. Great post! Gives me something new to ponder (still working on absorbing all the info on AIP and figuring out what to cook for myself, my Paleo husband and my two young boys that are resisting change). My biggest challenge at the moment is that in addition to AIP diet, I’m also trying to work with a low-FODMAP diet. The lack of vegetables allowed are causing an issue. Any suggestions?

    • My husband Matthew has been AIP & low-FODMAP for most of the past 8 months. When he went back to a regular AIP, he declined again so he’s been back on the low-FODMAP variation since April. It means a lot of chard, spinach & arugula for greens. Zucchini. It’s fairly easy to make salad with low-FODMAP vegetables like lettuce, carrot, cabbage, radish, cucumber and olives or capers. He includes more fruit & high starch vegetables than I do, to ensure nutrient density: for example, berries in larger quantities, plantains, green bananas. The Nom Nom Paleo cookbook has a good section on getting their two young kids to go Paleo (one of whom was very resistant). If my kids were younger, I’d get autocratic about it, knowing what I do now about the health implications of eating SAD food. My two adult kids read my blog occasionally and are ideating about healthy eating. I wrote a blog post about sharing a pantry with my vegetarian teenager. Vegetarian or not, the pantry-sharing principles might apply, if you decide not get autocratic with your kids: Good luck with this transition. It can feel overwhelming when you a in the process of changing your pattern of eating, but in a relatively short period time starts to feel quite normal. I’d love to know how it goes for you.

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