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Is the Paleo lifestyle Narcissistic/Self-Indulgent or Paleo Public Health

by (762)
Updated September 16, 2014 at 7:19 PM
Created February 25, 2011 at 4:18 PM

Hi All,

From a public health perspective, what good is a diet that cannot scale? Some say Paleo isn't sustainable globally or even in less-developed nations. Is that true? At the risk of sounding glib, isn't part of the Paleo lifestyle to use our brains to solve out current problems? Shouldn't we use our brains to better the world? Surely, vegans and agribusiness aren't the only ones who can have a political presence.

Reducing DOC cost might free up money for our government to spend on more humanitarian measures. But, that seems to me to require an overly charitable idea of how the government reallocates surplus funds.

Interested to hear your thoughts, Mike

800e726cb5dff569fd8edf604c3e2793
1655 · March 15, 2013 at 3:17 PM

"Gee, my genes may die out. The tragedy." -- no, no, that's perfectly fine. Less competition for my genes to deal with... :-P

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15583 · March 17, 2011 at 9:25 AM

Seconded xyz's comment about the food/fuel/environmental consumption of those in the developed world. It's utterly futile (not to mention morally repugnant) to point the finger at 'high population' when the impact of population on resource consumption is so minimal. Removing the US' (5% of the population) consumption (1/4-1/3rd of the world's resource consumption) would have much more impact than reducing the population of the 2.3billion people who are responsible for 3% of global consumption.

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3618 · March 05, 2011 at 4:53 PM

Lab-grown meat is ridiculously unsustainable. You need machinery to do it, which requires power, which requires a power *grid* plus fuel to feed the power plant, which requires digging up still more fossil fuels, even if you go nuclear, which has its own set of problems. Raising a meat animal only requires having access to water, a bit of land, and the animal's natural forage.

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215 · March 03, 2011 at 7:01 AM

The fact that there are already too many of us cannot be understated. The right number is the number the planet can sustain with everyone on a healthy diet, not just kept alive with a cheap staple of empty carbs.

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609 · March 02, 2011 at 9:54 PM

The food, fuel and environmental footprint of a US citizen dramatically exceeds many thirdworlders.

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762 · March 02, 2011 at 6:56 PM

@Richard: Good post (both here and on your site). I hadn't thought of the issue through the collectivist vs. individualist lens. Perhaps just as you said (paraphrasing): "Vegans hate humans for being human." one can say that some activists hate some for being lucky. But, what of that idea of helping your fellow man/woman if for no other reason than you might need their help? Remember the story of the lion & the mouse?

8f08fb03fc5c2f44b7d5357e8a3ab1c5
393 · March 02, 2011 at 6:47 PM

Populations in most developed countries are falling, not rising. So while you may not wish to have kids for other reasons, the argument that you would be contributing to overpopulation of our corner of the world does not hold water.

90754eb77fa3835526151624ce6c4ea8
548 · March 02, 2011 at 6:16 PM

"The idea held by a small group of wealthy most-ly white liberals that by eating beans they are saving the world." Whenever I order a scotch rocks at a bar and the bartender goes to put in the tiny plastic stir straws, I say "STOP. I don't need them. Save the planet!"

61b801de5dc345b557cd4623d4a4f26b
2682 · March 02, 2011 at 4:31 PM

I agree. I understood the question to be "Why should some enjoy what others might not be able to have?" To which I say, "As long as I can have it, I will enjoy it, no matter if my fellow man can enjoy it or not."

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762 · March 02, 2011 at 2:49 PM

@Heather: One difference between food and some of the other things you mentioned is that the latter (e.g. computers, furniture) aren't required for living. Others (e.g. clothes, shoes) have many acceptable low-cost alternatives. (Who really needs a Prada bag?) So, I think things required for living merit a special consideration.

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762 · March 02, 2011 at 2:47 PM

@JML: You raise a good point. I don't think there is a blanket solution. But, how to get more people on the Paleo-bandwagon without sounding like a crazy, evangelical vegan?

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762 · March 02, 2011 at 2:45 PM

@Dudley: But 'survival of the fittest' is an operational definition. It means those best suited to their current environment. One could argue that makes Paleo-ers quite unfit.

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40 · March 02, 2011 at 11:25 AM

Good link Melissa. That's exactly the kind of thinking that is needed more.

3c04e97f68c270d7a03861e2daf75f68
40 · March 02, 2011 at 11:17 AM

I'm with Heather - in a very real way we cannot but act out our nature. Building cities and expanding is an inevitable and natural extension of that, even to the extent that it is pathological.

3c04e97f68c270d7a03861e2daf75f68
40 · March 02, 2011 at 11:13 AM

Whilst I kinda agree with you, I for one don't know what the earth (or Universe) was supposed to be for... not to put too much of a metaphysical point across. Looking good naked, however, has a clear purpose.

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609 · March 01, 2011 at 7:26 PM

Gee, my genes may die out. The tragedy.

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4896 · February 28, 2011 at 11:23 PM

I still think it's totally possible. difficult, but possible. Just imagine switching all the corn, wheat, rice and soy fields into pastures, leaving only vegetable patches. The biggest problem with food is not just the number of people, but devastated land and poor communities, paying for centuries of abuse from the North.

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4896 · February 28, 2011 at 8:38 PM

Thank you, Melissa, that's what I was talking about!

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56596 · February 28, 2011 at 8:00 PM

http://challenge.bfi.org/winner_2010

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4896 · February 28, 2011 at 7:44 PM

calm down, seriuosly. No one says you should live on $2/day, we are talking about the ways we could help others stop living on such low level and maybe help them have a chance to live healthy and with dignity?

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39821 · February 28, 2011 at 7:31 PM

No thanks; I'm working on my own retirement. I never did buy into the social security pyramid scheme. Feel free to name one of your mewling brats after me though.

A68f24168bc0de414a038037e287b581
4896 · February 28, 2011 at 7:14 PM

so I guess it's my kids (whom I plan on having) will work on your retirement? thanks. I guess I should have one extra just for you.

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762 · February 27, 2011 at 4:46 PM

@Ali: I don't think there's a dichotomy me here. It's not either your get the ribeye or they do.

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762 · February 27, 2011 at 4:45 PM

@jackrabbit: Don't oversimplify- it's not be Paleo or join them. The world would be better if it were different. But, it isn't. And we can use our brains to make things better on a larger scale than one person. What's wrong with that?

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1132 · February 27, 2011 at 10:48 AM

if each couple had just one child, the balance would be satisfied too.

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56596 · February 26, 2011 at 10:48 PM

Well, for most paleo folks who work in policy, it's only a peripheral influence. When I worked in policy, I supported the healthfulness of full-fat foods and did not support the trend of using high-PUFA oils. But I never mentioned paleo ever, but those things aren't about paleo, they are about science, and paleo is mainly about my own health journey.

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762 · February 26, 2011 at 9:50 PM

@Melissa: I agree there's something amiss with 'categorical imperative' reasoning. And although we shouldn't do things to exacerbate our situation, we can't very well kill off the 'extras'. Who would decide that anyway? So, how can the Paleo lifestyle influence global health policy?

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1449 · February 26, 2011 at 4:20 PM

Way to go! Your choice to not reproduce will have zero impact on the overpopulation crisis. Uncountable hordes of useless eaters continue to multiply at an accelerating pace, wasting resources and polluting the environment. In fact this world needs more, not less, cognitively capable problem solvers who will fix the scourge. On the other hand, we could do with fewer misguided ideologues.

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2427 · February 26, 2011 at 1:50 AM

"They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines." --Richard Dawkins . Your genes are about to die out. I guess they must be defective if they've allowed you to come to this conclusion

C2502365891cbcc8af2d1cf1d7b0e9fc
2427 · February 26, 2011 at 1:50 AM

"They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines." --Richard Dawkins Your genes are about to die out. I guess they must be defective if they've allowed you to come to this conclusion.

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1132 · February 25, 2011 at 11:28 PM

I've kind of got in trouble for expressing any humor on this forum before, so I won't start. I say to Heather, read some Desmond Morris.

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1591 · February 25, 2011 at 10:57 PM

Yeah, I go there too. And then I get paranoid about living in an apartment complex in a city, with no garden, and no farm animals...

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56596 · February 25, 2011 at 10:13 PM

WHy does everyone have to do that same thing? Maybe since everyone in the world can't afford pants, we should all forego them.

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762 · February 25, 2011 at 9:59 PM

@Oliver: Still you have to admit the "enslaved by supernatural forces comment" is well-placed.

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762 · February 25, 2011 at 9:57 PM

@Travis: I didn't mean to imply that one should give up Paleo because it isn't sustainable. Rather, are there ways to make it more broadly applicable? That it isn't as monolithic should make it more adaptable than SAD to local circumstances, which could be a plus. Perhaps it's the doctor in me talking, but something strikes me as off about saying it's their health or mine. We're smart, surely we can figure out a way that doesn't involved amber waves of grain.

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762 · February 25, 2011 at 9:53 PM

@Melissa: I don't agree with the politco-vegans (a great name BTW). But, I feel some people could accuse Paleo followers of a similar elitism because the path we claim to health (and to many, sadly it is just a claim) isn't broadly applicable.

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762 · February 25, 2011 at 9:52 PM

@Fearsclave: You raise a good point that one shouldn't through good energy after bad. But, is it right to say that by accident of birth because someone can't eat Paleo they are in some very real senses 'screwed'. Our brains allows us to 'hack' evolution both as individuals and as a group, I hope.

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1132 · February 25, 2011 at 9:39 PM

thank you for backing me up a little David and Fearsclave.

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4089 · February 25, 2011 at 8:33 PM

When I start getting pessimistic, I start thinking that we aren't going to have to restructure our civilization to get us all eating paleo; natural ecological processes are going to take care of that for us. And that is not a happy thought.

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4089 · February 25, 2011 at 8:32 PM

I'd say that a Paleo diet was perfectly sustainable for a couple of million years or so, until we took up agriculture and balloned our population a few billion people over the planet's carrying capacity. It's not Paleo that's unsustainable, it's our whole civilization, unfortunately.

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4089 · February 25, 2011 at 8:30 PM

The sustainability argument isn't an argument against Paleo; rather it's really an argument against population overshoot. It's not saying "Paleo isn't a good diet", it's saying "there are too many of us for us all to be able to eat a healthy diet". And personally, depriving myself of a proper diet in a quixotic and utterly doomed and pointless attempt to save the world seems, well, quixotic and pointless.

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587 · February 25, 2011 at 6:34 PM

I am one of those narcissistic breeders who chose to both have a child and eat in a way that reflects my relative good fortune and my education on the subject. Better to be self-indulgent than diabetic, I feel.

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15583 · February 25, 2011 at 6:10 PM

... if we suffer from being exposed to large numbers of new people for very brief periods of time, in confined spaces. (see http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=i-ZEIgFfXGgC&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22Handbook+of+cultural+psychology%22&hl=en&ei=PPBnTYqbI8imhAecjNnsDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false p84-87 roughly)

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15583 · February 25, 2011 at 6:06 PM

@ Heather, it's true that anything at all that we do must result from our 'nature' in this loose sense, but it's equally clear that some of the states of affairs that we bring about are different from those that we experienced in our 'natural' environment and so adapted to. Hence we're 'naturally' disposed to a certain amount of food/light/water and even if we 'naturally' act so as to deviate from these conditions we'll suffer. I think cities and large, quickly changing groups are an example of this. We evolved in relatively small groups with people we knew very well, so it's unsurprising...

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12359 · February 25, 2011 at 5:45 PM

While I like the sentiment of "I satisfy the balance by not having kids" I don't think that we in N.America and Europe are in any way a part of the overpopulation problem see: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2054rank.html

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919 · February 25, 2011 at 5:25 PM

Despite the well-documented health advantages, fortunately for those of us sold on the Paleo lifetstyle, the majority of the population are not so inclined, or disciplined enough to adopt it. Survival of the fittest then ?

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4464 · February 25, 2011 at 5:13 PM

"I satisfied the balance by not having kids" - love it and ditto

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3162 · February 25, 2011 at 5:13 PM

I don't understand this argument. What is causing us to build cities if it is not our nature? Are we enslaved by supernatural forces or something? It's in our nature to behave the way we do, good or bad.

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762 · February 25, 2011 at 5:07 PM

@Melissa: So far it's a great answer. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts.

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1132 · February 25, 2011 at 4:58 PM

i'm not debating whether eating paleo is sustainable either. I think the issue of the global population burden is something that needs addressing - by collective governments. I personally am interested in my own health, it's selfish yes.

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762 · February 25, 2011 at 4:32 PM

@Oliver: My point in asking this question wasn't to debate whether Paleo is sustainable. Other posts have addressed that. Rather, I was interested in what people thought about the implications of improving the lives of those in the developed countries vs. allocating those resources to help the less-developed ones. Or, is that just pacifying an unsustainable population burden?

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762 · February 25, 2011 at 4:26 PM

@Andy: You're completely right. That echoes my favorite argument against vegans: You mean you don't mind killing legions of insects? But, just because on of the 'other' approaches has a flaw doesn't mean this one can't have the same flaw.

E34fbfa1bca9ae970c9c7313bf9de9f8
1436 · February 25, 2011 at 4:25 PM

One could argue grain based agriculture isn't sustainable either.

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17 Answers

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad
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56596 · February 25, 2011 at 4:48 PM

People are looking for flat simple global solutions, which is probably a relic of our evolution since we evolved in small tribes that could have such solutions. I particularly see this in vegans, who often present numbers for efficiency as if we need to calculate diets based on the whole world. But the world isn't flat and the solutions to global problems will be localized. If it were flat we could just tell the Peace Corps to teach everyone to grow millet gruel. But the reality is that development projects need to adapt to the local environment. In Upland Nepal, improvements of livestock matter. In South Africa, improvement of yam varieties and family planning matters. In most of Europe and the 1st world, we have a whole different variety of problems.

I certainly don't advocate paleo for the world. It is a specific diet for individual problems. In terms of global health, I would like to see more funding for a variety of agricultural projects. The sad thing is politcovegans like Myers would not support such projects. I've seen Heifer International criticized by vegans for giving poor Africans livestock! Let them eat gruel...

I recommend reading: http://agro.biodiver.se/ an excellent blog on local development projects and other local ag stuff

The Coming Population Crash

http://www.landinstitute.org/ = Wes Jackson's Perennial grain project

I'll add more later :)

But you know what's arrogant/narcissistic? The idea held by a small group of wealthy most-ly white liberals that by eating beans they are saving the world. Sorry, economics doesn't work that way.

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548 · March 02, 2011 at 6:16 PM

"The idea held by a small group of wealthy most-ly white liberals that by eating beans they are saving the world." Whenever I order a scotch rocks at a bar and the bartender goes to put in the tiny plastic stir straws, I say "STOP. I don't need them. Save the planet!"

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad
56596 · February 26, 2011 at 10:48 PM

Well, for most paleo folks who work in policy, it's only a peripheral influence. When I worked in policy, I supported the healthfulness of full-fat foods and did not support the trend of using high-PUFA oils. But I never mentioned paleo ever, but those things aren't about paleo, they are about science, and paleo is mainly about my own health journey.

4e40d2b9e1a762949a25b958762aa10d
762 · February 26, 2011 at 9:50 PM

@Melissa: I agree there's something amiss with 'categorical imperative' reasoning. And although we shouldn't do things to exacerbate our situation, we can't very well kill off the 'extras'. Who would decide that anyway? So, how can the Paleo lifestyle influence global health policy?

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad
56596 · February 25, 2011 at 10:13 PM

WHy does everyone have to do that same thing? Maybe since everyone in the world can't afford pants, we should all forego them.

4e40d2b9e1a762949a25b958762aa10d
762 · February 25, 2011 at 9:53 PM

@Melissa: I don't agree with the politco-vegans (a great name BTW). But, I feel some people could accuse Paleo followers of a similar elitism because the path we claim to health (and to many, sadly it is just a claim) isn't broadly applicable.

4e40d2b9e1a762949a25b958762aa10d
762 · February 25, 2011 at 5:07 PM

@Melissa: So far it's a great answer. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts.

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609 · February 25, 2011 at 4:30 PM

One non-nutritional argument against the Paleo diet is that it isn't sustainable for the entire world or even on smaller scales in less-developed nations.<<

That's because we're about 5B over the carrying capacity of the planet for humans to eat this way and growing. I satisfied the balance by not having kids.

800e726cb5dff569fd8edf604c3e2793
1655 · March 15, 2013 at 3:17 PM

"Gee, my genes may die out. The tragedy." -- no, no, that's perfectly fine. Less competition for my genes to deal with... :-P

E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107
15583 · March 17, 2011 at 9:25 AM

Seconded xyz's comment about the food/fuel/environmental consumption of those in the developed world. It's utterly futile (not to mention morally repugnant) to point the finger at 'high population' when the impact of population on resource consumption is so minimal. Removing the US' (5% of the population) consumption (1/4-1/3rd of the world's resource consumption) would have much more impact than reducing the population of the 2.3billion people who are responsible for 3% of global consumption.

2a6035eb0317c8a71fef4879cb54c835
215 · March 03, 2011 at 7:01 AM

The fact that there are already too many of us cannot be understated. The right number is the number the planet can sustain with everyone on a healthy diet, not just kept alive with a cheap staple of empty carbs.

425aa4bfb79556ed50ea693c3edd7e13
609 · March 02, 2011 at 9:54 PM

The food, fuel and environmental footprint of a US citizen dramatically exceeds many thirdworlders.

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393 · March 02, 2011 at 6:47 PM

Populations in most developed countries are falling, not rising. So while you may not wish to have kids for other reasons, the argument that you would be contributing to overpopulation of our corner of the world does not hold water.

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609 · March 01, 2011 at 7:26 PM

Gee, my genes may die out. The tragedy.

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1132 · February 27, 2011 at 10:48 AM

if each couple had just one child, the balance would be satisfied too.

C2502365891cbcc8af2d1cf1d7b0e9fc
2427 · February 26, 2011 at 1:50 AM

"They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines." --Richard Dawkins . Your genes are about to die out. I guess they must be defective if they've allowed you to come to this conclusion

C2502365891cbcc8af2d1cf1d7b0e9fc
2427 · February 26, 2011 at 1:50 AM

"They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines." --Richard Dawkins Your genes are about to die out. I guess they must be defective if they've allowed you to come to this conclusion.

32d2f8a41a121608d07aa68aa17991c7
587 · February 25, 2011 at 6:34 PM

I am one of those narcissistic breeders who chose to both have a child and eat in a way that reflects my relative good fortune and my education on the subject. Better to be self-indulgent than diabetic, I feel.

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12359 · February 25, 2011 at 5:45 PM

While I like the sentiment of "I satisfy the balance by not having kids" I don't think that we in N.America and Europe are in any way a part of the overpopulation problem see: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2054rank.html

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4464 · February 25, 2011 at 5:13 PM

"I satisfied the balance by not having kids" - love it and ditto

C1ea79115a062250a7263764797faa30
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851 · February 25, 2011 at 8:24 PM

I was interested in what people thought about the implications of improving the lives of those in the developed countries vs. allocating those resources to help the less-developed ones.

It depends on what you mean by "help". If by "help" you mean "give them more food", then I don't think that's a good solution. I'll let Daniel Quinn say it:

For ten thousand years we've been increasing food production to feed an increasing population???and for ten thousand years our population has grown. Every single "win" in food production has been answered by a "win" in population growth. Every single one. But, according to our cultural mythology, this doesn't have to happen???and one of these years, magically, it will not happen. The magic will presumably be that all nations will achieve improved social and economic conditions and adopt effective, voluntary family planning, just like the Union of Concerned Scientists recommends. This magic didn't happen last year or the year before that or the year before that or the year before that or the year before that???but one of these years, by God, every guy on earth will put on a condom and super-glue it in place and it WILL work. One way or another, there will come a year when we increase food production???and miraculously there won't be an answering increase in population to consume it.

Our cultural mythology explains why it was vitally important for us to increase food production last year. We HAD to, in order to feed the starving millions. Everyone knows that. But, oddly enough, we increased food production to feed the starving millions, and guess what? The starving millions went on starving. The population went up???but the starving millions didn't get fed. And of course we know why it's vitally important to increase food production THIS year. We've got to do that in order to feed the starving millions. We WILL increase food production this year???there's no doubt of that???but is there anyone in this room who believes that the starving millions will be fed, this year, for the first time in living memory? I guarantee you, my friends, that by year's end this year, the starving millions will still be starving???and I guarantee that our population will have grown by two percent.[...]

Let me explain why those starving millions are not getting fed. Every year here on this parking lot we call earth, the human population grows by about two percent???all segments of it grow by two percent. This means that there are more blue-eyed people here this year than last year???and more brown-eyed people. It means there are more red-haired people here this year than last year???and more brown-haired people. It means there are more people here growing up well fed???and more people here growing up hungry. The starving population goes up just like all other populations, and producing more food can do NOTHING BUT produce more starving millions. We're not making hunger go away by increasing food production, we're just creating more and more people to go hungry. Increasing food production actually INCREASES the number of hungry people, the same way it increases the number of rich people, poor people, tall people, short people, smart people, and dumb people.

It's unintuitive, perhaps, but if your vision of sustainability is that everyone gets fed well then you end up with an unsustainable growth in population. Because you're not just feeding people, you're feeding a culture and a system. And that culture, that system, is what is responsible for the fact that some people are well fed and other struggle to make ends meet. True sustainability must first come from a different culture which has sustainability as one of its inescapable foundations. Hunter-Gatherers who ate the original paleolithic diet had that (not in every case, but for the most part). But even we who eat a modern Paleo diet and support pastured cattle, etc... we don't. Sorry for the length of the quote.

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1591 · February 25, 2011 at 5:57 PM

This is a great question, and an issue I struggle with myself. I don't think "narcissistic" is the right word, but selfish? Yeah, maybe. The problem is that in order for Paleo/Primal to be sustainable, we would have to rework - from scratch, pretty much - our entire world economy. Food would have to be local, to eliminate transportation costs and spoilage. Food subsidies and protectionism would have to stop altogether, thus favoring local food. Whole areas of social policy would have to be revamped, regarding how charitable assets are distributed. Food aid would have to stop, probably. In other words... no possible way. So, since I can't change the world, I work on myself. And when I have the money, I support orgs like Weston A. Price in their efforts to educate, and I try to support local farms and local food advocates.

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1591 · February 25, 2011 at 10:57 PM

Yeah, I go there too. And then I get paranoid about living in an apartment complex in a city, with no garden, and no farm animals...

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4089 · February 25, 2011 at 8:33 PM

When I start getting pessimistic, I start thinking that we aren't going to have to restructure our civilization to get us all eating paleo; natural ecological processes are going to take care of that for us. And that is not a happy thought.

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548 · March 02, 2011 at 5:39 PM

The rotting sores and bloated bellies of the starving masses will never be a mortgage on my life, nor on my choices for myself or the values I produce for myself and others I value. While it's certainly unfortunate that not everyone in the world lives in the lap of luxury or even at a level of basic sustenance, it's simply not my problem.

This is MY life and it simply boils down the that.

A comment I made on my blog yesterday peripherally speaks to the root cause, the chief antagonism in today's politically charged world: collectivism vs. individualism.

http://freetheanimal.com/2011/02/vegan-lies-and-their-stick-figure-people.html#comment-60655

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762 · March 02, 2011 at 6:56 PM

@Richard: Good post (both here and on your site). I hadn't thought of the issue through the collectivist vs. individualist lens. Perhaps just as you said (paraphrasing): "Vegans hate humans for being human." one can say that some activists hate some for being lucky. But, what of that idea of helping your fellow man/woman if for no other reason than you might need their help? Remember the story of the lion & the mouse?

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128 · February 25, 2011 at 10:02 PM

I don't think Paleo needs to be justified by any means other than personal criteria: health, energy, and so forth. Indeed, I would ask what the motives of the critics are. If Paleo isn't sustainable.... well, what is?

However, there is a strong argument for change within the system, which is very similar to buying new hybrid electric vehicles. It is this: absent some radical change, which would alter the rules of the game in ways that are difficult to foresee (and hence to plan for), people are going to continue to drive and buy cars. By voting with our money for better vehicles, we increase the incentives for the world to flow our way, and in an incremental (even potentially "evolutionary" :) way rather than a boil-the-ocean jump to perfection. (Please don't read too much into this argument: I personally drive an old car and use a bike, and I know perfectly well that a lot of buying is simply social signalling. Nevertheless, I think the above reasoning is sound).

Similarly, by buying what is now fairly expensive and high quality food, we increase the market for exactly that. From the comments on this board, I think most of us would love it if almost-as-good-but-much-cheaper Paleo food became available.

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39821 · February 25, 2011 at 7:25 PM

I'm personally not interested in the sort of dietary martyrdom about which you speak.

7 billion humans is far too many and certainly would not have occurred without grain consumption. Does this mean that because of the sins of our fathers we should continue to eat grain and continue to swell the human population to even more ridiculous levels?

Because I refuse to reproduce, I make far less of an impact on resources than someone who is consuming a "sustainable diet" but creating offspring who create offspring and so on.

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39821 · February 28, 2011 at 7:31 PM

No thanks; I'm working on my own retirement. I never did buy into the social security pyramid scheme. Feel free to name one of your mewling brats after me though.

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4896 · February 28, 2011 at 7:14 PM

so I guess it's my kids (whom I plan on having) will work on your retirement? thanks. I guess I should have one extra just for you.

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1449 · February 26, 2011 at 4:20 PM

Way to go! Your choice to not reproduce will have zero impact on the overpopulation crisis. Uncountable hordes of useless eaters continue to multiply at an accelerating pace, wasting resources and polluting the environment. In fact this world needs more, not less, cognitively capable problem solvers who will fix the scourge. On the other hand, we could do with fewer misguided ideologues.

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762 · February 25, 2011 at 9:57 PM

@Travis: I didn't mean to imply that one should give up Paleo because it isn't sustainable. Rather, are there ways to make it more broadly applicable? That it isn't as monolithic should make it more adaptable than SAD to local circumstances, which could be a plus. Perhaps it's the doctor in me talking, but something strikes me as off about saying it's their health or mine. We're smart, surely we can figure out a way that doesn't involved amber waves of grain.

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78417 · February 25, 2011 at 8:09 PM

The Earth was not meant to sustain 7 billion people. Agriculture allowed our species to exceed the Natural balance. We have gone from Survival Of The Fittest to Thriving Of The Sickest. N now Agriculture is the number #1 cause of environmental damage. Even with "green technology", consuming grains, legumes, n dairy is eating ourselves into extinction. As far as narcissistic....who doesn't wanna look good naked?!

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40 · March 02, 2011 at 11:13 AM

Whilst I kinda agree with you, I for one don't know what the earth (or Universe) was supposed to be for... not to put too much of a metaphysical point across. Looking good naked, however, has a clear purpose.

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2682 · February 25, 2011 at 6:28 PM

I never think globally, so you could argue that everything I do is selfish.

As for food, I try to buy locally (and have plans to grow my own produce) but if local isn't available I don't worry about it.

I never say to myself, "Is it fair for me to eat ribeye tonight when there are families who only get beef once a year, if at all?" I say, "Hooray, ribeye is on sale!" 8)

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2682 · March 02, 2011 at 4:31 PM

I agree. I understood the question to be "Why should some enjoy what others might not be able to have?" To which I say, "As long as I can have it, I will enjoy it, no matter if my fellow man can enjoy it or not."

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762 · February 27, 2011 at 4:46 PM

@Ali: I don't think there's a dichotomy me here. It's not either your get the ribeye or they do.

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565 · March 02, 2011 at 12:26 AM

I think that even if the Paleo diet in its strictest form cannot scale, variants of it certainly can be implemented depending on local conditions even if these cannot carry the branding "Paleo." What I think is important is to implement as much as possible the diet that will bring the best health and, in cases where this cannot be done, to reduce damage as much as possible. The additional question that this question necessarily implies is: what is a scalable diet? Let us say that we all had to suddenly go on a poverty diet. I do not believe this would have to be composed mostly of wheat, soy, and fructose like the SAD is. White rice has a low toxin load, so do lentils. Pseudo grains are complete proteins that have fewer toxins than the gluten grains. A diet containing whatever portion is necessary of these elements in addition to fibrous vegetables, nuts, and tubers would certainly be an improvement on the SAD and one that could perhaps be more sustainable or at least storable. Not the ideal but not total poison either. In any case, addressing such questions is very difficult in such limited space since, as Melissa mentioned, this global problem is composed of tons of tiny problems with their own solutions and it is impossible to produce a blanket "sustainable" global diet just like that.

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762 · March 02, 2011 at 2:47 PM

@JML: You raise a good point. I don't think there is a blanket solution. But, how to get more people on the Paleo-bandwagon without sounding like a crazy, evangelical vegan?

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4896 · February 28, 2011 at 7:21 PM

I dont' know if we are able to help each and every person. but I do know, that as the rich elite of the globe, we do not do enough. A lot of humanitarian programs are based on patronizing giving instead of empowering the poor. There should be more programs like Heifer, that help people be self-supportive with animals. There are more and more programs that help rework the land in a natural way - letting cows graze and fertilize the soil which helps growing plants on teh same land in cycles. there are lands where only grazing animals (sheep and goats mainly) can survive, like in semi-deserts and mountain areas. Animals are often the only source of sustainability.A lot of good land where people for generations were growing tubers and rising their herds are devastated because of the abuse from the North's big businesses. Land is taken away to build factories or big farms with produce shipped to Europe and the US. If the poor countries were left to itself, helped to restore their natural resources, agricultures and way of living they would be able to support themselves. But the big corporations have no interest in them, so they keep on stealing land to create huge sugar cane plantations or similar. First people need to educate themselves, to learn how these poor became so poor, and how come countries with often amazing natural resources, or at least good enough land, are so poor. Then we can think of strategies.

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40 · March 02, 2011 at 11:25 AM

Good link Melissa. That's exactly the kind of thinking that is needed more.

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4896 · February 28, 2011 at 8:38 PM

Thank you, Melissa, that's what I was talking about!

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56596 · February 28, 2011 at 8:00 PM

http://challenge.bfi.org/winner_2010

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1061 · February 25, 2011 at 11:15 PM

I have read a number of economists and agriculturalist who say the real food problem is distribution, not lack of growing space or output. Remember, the ol' US of A PAYS farmers to NOT grow crops or raise cattle (I know the former, but only think the latter).

That aside and getting BOT, I am sure some Paleo types are in for Narcissistic and Self-Indulgent reason. But, that is why they do anything; so Paleo is just another example of their Narcissism and Self-Indulgence.

But, I am also sure that lots, maybe most, Paleo folks are in for their health and wellness and really appreciate how much better they feel on it; and do not do it as an ego thing.

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6235 · February 28, 2011 at 4:04 PM

I tend to think that we are very good at meeting demands. Lab grown meat has been demonstrated, it just isn't a research priority right now. Most of us could grow quite a bit of what we eat if we had about 5% of our living space converted to hydroponics. Not worth it right now.

I think that we are all working on creating questions, and the fact that we don't have answers yet is a very poor reason to stop trying to formulate the question. Once we have a good question answering it is something we are good at.

So maybe we are over carrying capacity, maybe cities are unnatural. On the other hand I tend to believe that natural is the sum of the changes all the species make to expand their niche and deal with their wastes, we are not unique in altering our environment.

I do think we have a distinct advantage in that we can do our alterations with the understanding of what other species need and how they are going to impact the environment, in my ideal world we work to weave these changes together.

Of course in my ideal world we also dense up to make more space for other creatures and wildness and do a lot of other things that are not traditionally paleo.

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3618 · March 05, 2011 at 4:53 PM

Lab-grown meat is ridiculously unsustainable. You need machinery to do it, which requires power, which requires a power *grid* plus fuel to feed the power plant, which requires digging up still more fossil fuels, even if you go nuclear, which has its own set of problems. Raising a meat animal only requires having access to water, a bit of land, and the animal's natural forage.

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3162 · February 25, 2011 at 5:38 PM

Why food? I think people tend to pick and choose lifestyle choices to moralize over based on what they are comfortable with. Food is one of the easiest ways to do this. It doesn't require much sacrifice to eat a piece of toast versus a piece of steak. Perhaps poor countries can't afford to eat paleo on a large scale. They also can't afford all the clothes, shoes, clean living spaces, toys, furniture, entertainment, computers, medical care and everything else we have. How is that sustainable for everyone? I don't have any theories about how to fix the entire world, but I think it might be more sustainable for many impoverished societies with a little space for a few goats or chickens and a garden. That could feed a non-farming family easily without too much extra work and money after the initial expense. Donating the initial training and expense is a more worthwhile effort in my opinion than eating a piece of toast.

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762 · March 02, 2011 at 2:49 PM

@Heather: One difference between food and some of the other things you mentioned is that the latter (e.g. computers, furniture) aren't required for living. Others (e.g. clothes, shoes) have many acceptable low-cost alternatives. (Who really needs a Prada bag?) So, I think things required for living merit a special consideration.

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584 · March 15, 2013 at 3:05 PM

Container gardening is going in a lot of new directions. Vertical, rooftop, straw bales, raised beds at the senior centers. Any way vegetables can be grown, we're going to figure out how to do it in every nook and cranny of urban and village life and with a variety of materials. Optimized hydroponics is for spaceships, we're going to be laying out old carpet on rooftops. This is how supplementation with healthy foods can happen in an increasingly crowded world.

The logistics of container gardening begs for variety. The isolated growing areas helps with preserving unique strains for seed saving. Coming across each others' containers as part of village life helps with sharing locally-targeted growing knowledge and seed sharing.

I'm afraid anything large-scale and centralized is going to constantly be under pressure to go the way of grains. Seeds are the part of the plant that is supposed to last through seasons and store a punch of energy that whole time. In thinking of distributing food to areas, grains make sense. To get away from grains, we have to get away from thinking about distributing.

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76 · February 25, 2011 at 7:31 PM

narcissistic? self-indulgent?

who gives a fuck?

what does that have to do with taking care of yourself?

perhaps because a majority of the world's population lives on less than $2 per day, I should do the same?

everything we do is narcissistic and self-indulgent by this measure, it has to be in relation to the people around you, not the 7 billion people of earth

i assume 95% of the people on this discussion site are from the USA....we are the richest people on earth, don't kid yourself.

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4896 · February 28, 2011 at 7:44 PM

calm down, seriuosly. No one says you should live on $2/day, we are talking about the ways we could help others stop living on such low level and maybe help them have a chance to live healthy and with dignity?

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762 · February 27, 2011 at 4:45 PM

@jackrabbit: Don't oversimplify- it's not be Paleo or join them. The world would be better if it were different. But, it isn't. And we can use our brains to make things better on a larger scale than one person. What's wrong with that?

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1132 · February 25, 2011 at 4:27 PM

It's not human nature to gather in the hives that are modern cities. Nothing is particularly natural to us anymore. On a global level eating "paleo" is not sustainable, but neither is the human over-population of the time we live in. Our genes want to express themselves as well as possible and genes according to Dawkins are pretty selfish.

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40 · March 02, 2011 at 11:17 AM

I'm with Heather - in a very real way we cannot but act out our nature. Building cities and expanding is an inevitable and natural extension of that, even to the extent that it is pathological.

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4896 · February 28, 2011 at 11:23 PM

I still think it's totally possible. difficult, but possible. Just imagine switching all the corn, wheat, rice and soy fields into pastures, leaving only vegetable patches. The biggest problem with food is not just the number of people, but devastated land and poor communities, paying for centuries of abuse from the North.

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1132 · February 25, 2011 at 11:28 PM

I've kind of got in trouble for expressing any humor on this forum before, so I won't start. I say to Heather, read some Desmond Morris.

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762 · February 25, 2011 at 9:59 PM

@Oliver: Still you have to admit the "enslaved by supernatural forces comment" is well-placed.

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1132 · February 25, 2011 at 9:39 PM

thank you for backing me up a little David and Fearsclave.

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4089 · February 25, 2011 at 8:32 PM

I'd say that a Paleo diet was perfectly sustainable for a couple of million years or so, until we took up agriculture and balloned our population a few billion people over the planet's carrying capacity. It's not Paleo that's unsustainable, it's our whole civilization, unfortunately.

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15583 · February 25, 2011 at 6:10 PM

... if we suffer from being exposed to large numbers of new people for very brief periods of time, in confined spaces. (see http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=i-ZEIgFfXGgC&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22Handbook+of+cultural+psychology%22&hl=en&ei=PPBnTYqbI8imhAecjNnsDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false p84-87 roughly)

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15583 · February 25, 2011 at 6:06 PM

@ Heather, it's true that anything at all that we do must result from our 'nature' in this loose sense, but it's equally clear that some of the states of affairs that we bring about are different from those that we experienced in our 'natural' environment and so adapted to. Hence we're 'naturally' disposed to a certain amount of food/light/water and even if we 'naturally' act so as to deviate from these conditions we'll suffer. I think cities and large, quickly changing groups are an example of this. We evolved in relatively small groups with people we knew very well, so it's unsurprising...

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3162 · February 25, 2011 at 5:13 PM

I don't understand this argument. What is causing us to build cities if it is not our nature? Are we enslaved by supernatural forces or something? It's in our nature to behave the way we do, good or bad.

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1132 · February 25, 2011 at 4:58 PM

i'm not debating whether eating paleo is sustainable either. I think the issue of the global population burden is something that needs addressing - by collective governments. I personally am interested in my own health, it's selfish yes.

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762 · February 25, 2011 at 4:32 PM

@Oliver: My point in asking this question wasn't to debate whether Paleo is sustainable. Other posts have addressed that. Rather, I was interested in what people thought about the implications of improving the lives of those in the developed countries vs. allocating those resources to help the less-developed ones. Or, is that just pacifying an unsustainable population burden?

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