LET INGA TELL YOU:
It has really been only in the most recent history that humans — well, first-world humans anyway — have had the luxury of deciding what they want to eat. This has led to endless debate and virtually no agreement on what constitutes a healthy food regimen. I know a number of people, for example, who are currently following the Paleo diet.
Now, I am in no way bashing the Paleo diet except to comment that a life without ice cream or pasta seems like a cruel way to live. But when you read about what those guys were actually eating back in the early Stone Age, you gotta wonder whether they would have killed for a loaf of Wonder Bread and a jar of Jiff?
I was imagining Stone Age family life back in the Paleolithic era where people allegedly lived in caves, but most didn't simply because there weren't all that many caves. Also, there was a lot of competition for cave real estate from wild creatures. I whine about rats but Paleo Mom had to call Hyena-Be-Gone if she wanted to get rid of household pests.
In that era, dinner was basically whatever you could hunt or gather. Eat it or starve. I imagine that starving probably sometimes seemed like the better option. But then, those people didn't throw their genes forward.
Now, "gather" has such a nice idyllic sound to it. When I imagine it, it is never raining. Paleo Mom (women were the gatherers), a couple of kids in tow, meanders the local terrain picking berries, digging for tubers, and trying to create a balanced meal that would satisfy the minimum daily requirements for iron, folate, and at least a smattering of the B vitamins.
Unless, of course, it was winter, in which case she wasn't picking much of anything. It all depended on where you lived, obviously, but in colder climes, more likely a lot of edible roots and tree bark. Yummo!
Again, depending on where you lived, you could be finding fruit, nuts, insects, small lizards and a selection of various-sized mammals. The option of getting food that was "out of season" was 35,000 years out.
The "hunting" part is under some debate. One likes to imagine Paleo Dad loping across the savannah in hot pursuit of a wooly mammoth. Of course, he had to drag it back home once he slew it, or at least the meaty parts. In my fantasies, the Paleo Kids are sitting around the fire when Dad gets home, and instead of greeting him with delight that he has brought home dinner (and that he himself wasn't the dinner of assorted predators), they whine, "Wooly mammoth AGAIN? That's all we ate LAST week!"
But no, I'm guessing that didn't happen much. Paleo Mom meanwhile wanted to know, "Does this wolf pelt make me look fat?"
While the Mighty Hunter image sounds kind of romantic, it's been theorized that those Paleo folks didn't necessarily always kill their own food. Some anthropologists maintain it was likely that they scavenged meat, fat and organs from carcasses that larger animals had killed or from animals that had died of natural causes. Sort of like an early deli.
"Look, Thag! The snout is still here! Lunch!" By this theory, Paleo dieters should probably be eating roadkill.
It's always fun to superimpose our lives onto those of our antecedents, especially if trying to replicate their diet. So I'm thinking about Paleo Mom saying to Paleo Dad, "The Groksteins are coming for dinner on Saturday. I'm thinking bison or ground sloth, with a side of grasshoppers and fly larvae. Do not even THINK of bringing home any carcasses. Fresh kill ONLY."
And Paleo Dad grumbles but goes and picks up his spear. No point in telling her that ground sloths are already extinct and the last bison he saw was 20 miles away.
So I guess it's kind of hard to know how healthy the Paleo diet really was for the people who actually ate it. Definitely a lot of protein in those insects. But a lot of risk in eating a rotting carcass that has sat in the sun a day too long. Maybe that's why Paleo Guy was usually dead by 30.
Letting my always-perverse imagination run free, I like to speculate what Paleo Guy would think if he could see into a future world of us trying to emulate his diet (minus the lizards and beetles). Would he say, "That pepperoni pizza you're eschewing in my name? I would have eaten it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, home delivery didn't start until the Mesolithic."
Would it baffle him why anyone would restrict their diet if they could eat anything they wanted? Would he puzzle over why anyone would eat tofu if they had any other choice? Much to ponder.
— Inga's lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org