I’m not here to convert you to Paleo. My life is ‘Paleofied’, I guess you could say. But I don’t like labels, I don’t like bandwagons… I tend to shy away from subscribing to any one thing whole heartedly. Because I think in everything there’s a bit of truth, and probably a lot that isn’t.
Some things just have these things in a different balance. And I tend to lean towards Paleo because it has a larger balance of things that I agree with.
Paleo is a convenient catch-all for me to help me narrow down all the information available to something more managable. And then I can start there, filtering further for myself.
But there is something to be said for this movement. I have no doubt there are people taking it to faddish lengths, but for people who have researched and lived it for all the right reasons, it is no fad.
It truly encompasses nutrition and lifestyle principles that I think everyone can benefit from.
I’m not saying we should live like cavemen. I’m not saying we should eschew all modern conveniences. I’m not even saying you should be Paleo. (This post is not even about the food, specifically.)
What I am a fan of is balance in life. And I think modern lives are out of balance.
And I am a fan of not just doing things the way they’ve been done without at least looking for ourselves at the reasons why. ‘Cavemen’ times were not necessarily some Utopia, but neither is the modern world we live in. I think this bears looking at.
And I think that, beyond just the food, there are a lot of principles in a Paleo lifestyle that could restore some positive things to our lives.
1. Work for It
Once-upon-a-time, we had to expend some effort for our food. If we hunted & gathered it, we had to actually, you know, wander around to find it & run after it.
Or if we grew & raised our food ourselves, there was plenty of activity going on to farm and tend and prepare.
Our love of making things easier, while not always a bad thing, means that fast-forward a (scarily) little way, and now we can get all our food without even leaving the couch. Punch your order into an app and your groceries & takeaway will come straight to your door. Open a package and apply heat for 2 minutes, and you can have a meal. (A “meal”.)
No more waiting. No more effort. (Except working longer hours so we can pay for it…)
That seems a little screwy to me. And that’s even if we ignore the nutrition implications, and the question of whether this ‘food’ we are consuming can even be classed as such…
We have lost connection with our food. We have lost the deep sense of personal investment.
And the implications of this overflow into our health, our environment, our community, our bank accounts, our attitude towards waste and economy… the list goes on.
So we have all the suggestions on how to change this – avoid packaged food, make things from scratch, grow our own vegetables… This is not new information. Not many people would disagree with these being positive things.
But this is not the lesson I’m wanting to point out from this Paleo principle. It’s not just a matter of expending more effort. Because, lets face it, you are probably at the limit of your effort expenditure already.
And that’s the point. In the process of removing the effort required to have food on the table, we have filled the space with a lot of other things.
The balance has tipped too far the other way. It’s not just that we spend less time personally involved in our food, but all the other things that go with that. The more time working, the less time at the table with friends and family, the less time moving and being active, the less time outdoors with our hands in the dirt, the less understanding about the natural processes of food and nature, and the increased acceptance of chemicals & refined substances as substitutes for real food.
This is the balance that a Paleo lifestyle seeks to restore. And it is pretty much impossible – unless we address the balance of lifestyle and how to live in community. We aren’t meant to expend all the effort by ourselves. Food is mean to be a shared connection, with it and with each other.
2. Whole Food, Whole Life
Another by-product of having to work for your food is that you place a greater value on it. (And by work, I mean physically and directly, not just earning money to pay for it or for someone else to make it.)
Economy goes beyond just the money. When you’ve worked hard for your resources, you want to make the most of them. You appreciate their intrinsic value.
And so you use the whole animal. Make things out of the skin and fur and wool, eat the organs and the meat, use the bones in stock. Eat the whole vegetable, use the off-cuts in stocks, use the scraps in compost to enrich the rest of the vegetable patch, or to feed the chickens who then give us eggs. Almost nothing has just one purpose or use.
This way of living is not just the fate of people who can’t afford to just buy the fancy stuff. It’s actually healthier – for us and the world – because it’s balanced. The nutrition you get from eating all parts of the whole animal is much more complete. And there is far less waste compared to just taking a few parts and throwing the rest away. And as a result, each resource goes further. And it encourages us to be creative.
This “whole” principle is something everyone can benefit from. For our health and for our entire approach to life. (Look into Permaculture as a whole life principle for similar ideas.)
3. Tune In
One of the main reasons a lot of people start on Paleo or some derivative of it, is because they feel like something isn’t right in their bodies. Perhaps it’s specific diseases that set them on the path, or perhaps it’s certain intolerances, or maybe it’s just a general feeling that the way they are eating and living just isn’t letting them be their best selves.
Whatever starts it, the common thread is that people are listening to their bodies. They are tuning in. And that continues, even more so, after starting on the Paleo path.
The whole lifestyle encourages you to tune in. To listen to your body. To understand what is going on inside for yourself, and address it yourself. You start listening to how you feel when you eat or do certain things. And then you respond. You adjust.
And this might continue forever. You experience might change over time, as you respond to bodily feedback.
That might seem like hard work. And it is – at first. Because it’s not really something we are used to. The irony of the surfeit of information available to us these days, is that we tend to rely on other people to understand it for us. We rely on ‘officials’ to tell us what to eat, doctors to tell us when we are sick and what to do about it, governments to control what is even available to us…
We have turned off the feedback system.
And so turning it on again is a learning curve. First we have to learn how to listen. Then we have to learn to interpret what we are hearing. And then we have to re-learn what we can do about it. All while recalibrating to understand what health and balance actually feels like.
And this is a principle that we could all benefit from. Not just in food, but in all areas of life. In taking care of the earth, our families, our careers and passions…
We have forgotten how to trust ourselves. We have forgotten that everything is connected & can work together if we let it.
This might seem like a bit of an abstract principle, and not one that I’ve necessarily seen espoused in the Paleo world. But it something that just felt right to add here.
There is something about fire that I think we are missing in our lives. Something that I think has been instinctively known, historically or culturally, and naturally incorporated.
So am I going literally caveman on you, here?
Sort of. I’m not going to say you should start cooking everything on a open fire – though I’m not not saying that either.
But there is more to it…
Fire is cleansing, purifying. It clears out rubbish. It is a catalyst for new growth. It provides warmth, light, energy, comfort, entertainment – who hasn’t been mesmerised by a campfire? There is something magical about it that can absorb you for hours.
Something changes about a space when physical flames are present.
I’m not going pretend to back this up with scientific research. But there is something elemental about fire that I think we need in fundamental ways, just like we need water and air.
It challenges our desire to control everything, to have instant everything. It’s raw and natural – and, honestly, beyond most people’s understanding. What exactly is fire anyway? Why is fire?
And it draws people. Brings people to sit side-by-side or across the fire from each other. It slows us down and draws out conversation, reflection, celebration, ceremony. We all connect to this source-of-life feeling it provides.
So light some candles. Light your open fire. Gathering around a brazier on your patio. Build a fire pit. Go camping and watch the flames.
Connect, value, tune in. And tie it all together with fire. Those are the principles of life that we can all benefit from.