Monday, March 11, 2013

Paleofantasy by Marlene Zuk

I first heard of Paleofantasy when our rep from WW Norton, David Goldberg, came in to the bookstore to talk about some upcoming releases.  Naturally I snatched up the book as though everyone in the room would immediately lunge for it, but, as usual, my co-workers just stared at me.  It’s no secret that I love science, but this whole paleo-diet trend that’s been making the rounds has made me even more passionate about my desire to see science finally being taken into account before anyone jumps on the paleo-bandwagon.  

Paleo-dieters and lovers of the caveman lifestyle believe that homosapiens stopped evolving some time around moving into caves and that modern man is not fit for our current lifestyle.  They blame all manner of diseases on the idea that humans were not meant to live as we do now and that agriculture is killing us.  Marlene Zuk, a biologist and professor at the University of Minnesota, argues that evolution doesn’t stop and to argue that we were “meant” to do something is an argument that evolution has some kind of end goal, which is a little ridiculous. Zuk combines biology and anthropology to disprove many of the myths that paleo-lifestyles are based on.  Although we don't know exactly how early man lived, Zuk dispels the most common ideas through meticulous research and, best of all, science.

This book isn’t an attack on paleo-lovers, it’s a scientific answer to the believe that we’d all be better off as hunter-gatherers.  In many cases the arguments made about caveman lifestyle are not true to begin with, so there is no reason to believe that living that way now will be any healthier.  Zuk’s overall point was that there is no one way that cave-dwellers lived.  There were multiple societies, each with their own way of living and eating.  For example, Zuk explains how our ability to digest dairy and grains has been a recent(relatively speaking) product of evolution.  However, there is evidence to suggest that some groups of early-man did eat grains or dairy, while others didn’t.  Paleo-enthusiasts may be healthy because they make an effort to exercise and not eat processed foods, but not because they don’t eat grains or abstain from dairy.

Zuk isn’t on a mission to make paleo-people feel bad, or ruin their dreams of caveman rockstardom; her only desire is to shed some light on the science behind the the trends.  In some cases, there is scientific evidence to back up the healthfulness of paleo-lifestyles.  For example, barefoot runners run differently than those in sneakers and tend to suffer fewer injuries.  In terms of child-rearing, there seems to be a case for raising children with alloparenting, letting a newborn set it’s own eating and sleeping schedule, and keeping the child either in, or near the parents’ bed.  

Paleofantasy is a fascinating and accessible read that I had trouble putting down.  This book shows that while it’s no secret that many of our modern problems are caused by poor lifestyle choices, that doesn’t mean we all need to give up eyeglasses, stop eating quinoa, and give blood as often as possible to try and imitate the life we think (without any real scientific evidence) cavemen may have lived. 
Buy it indie!

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