Something which has been on my mind lately and I wanted to discuss it with ya'll.
I've seen several questions on here that are along the lines of, "I can't afford grass-fed beef, is supermarket meat okay?". Yes, we all know that grass-fed, organic, non-pasturized etc, etc is the OPTIMAL way to eat. But it's not always feasible in the current economic situation. When people have to make the choice between keeping the lights on or buying a half-side of cow, which do you think is going to happen?
Also, could the type of bragging such as, "I've got a freezer-full of free-range bison and uncured pork belly--what do I do with it?" create a sense of inferiority in people who can't afford all of that? As if implying, "If you can't do it (this way), don't do it at all." I can't help but wonder if there's a sense of elitism coming from the Paleo community that might discourage people from trying or sticking with Paleo.
Bear in mind, I know a lot of people DON'T have this attitude and are happy that more people are starting to eat more whole, unprocessed foods.
A lot of PHers seem to advocate only going whole hog paleo, even to the point of dismissing stepwise paleo. They let optimality get in the way of improvement. That, in my opinion, is a problem.
I think it stems from ultimately how folks get introduced to paleo. There's folks like Whole9 and Robb Wolf, who advocate 30 days ultra-strict as the way to go. No surprise, paleo folks who did this advocate following such a plan. You don't see many incrementalist paleo folks out there, Kurt Harris is about the only guru (if you can even label him that) that comes to mind.
I'm certainly an advocate of incremental paleo if that's works for you. I'm an advocate of half-assed paleo, which produces nearly all the results of strict paleo with none of the hassle and guilt-tripping. There's absolutely no need to be some kombucha-drinking, bone-broth-sipping, coconut-oil-guzzling paleo weirdo to enjoy at least some benefits of a better diet and lifestyle.
In terms of improving diet/health with paleo, sure, grass-fed beef is better than CAFO beef, but you know, CAFO beef is better than bolonga on Wonderbread. We shouldn't be discouraging people from making the first step.
There's any number of things that can discourage people, and the main issue is the control of information. People come to any new subject today via the internet, and the vast majority of the information available is discussing details. That's not to say the basic information isn't there but it's not what people spend days endlessly commenting on and discussing. Blogs and sites like this lack a structured narrative. And while it's fairly straight-forward to answer specific questions (like the benefits of grass-fed) there is an awful lot of back-story that is both immensely accessible and immensely confusing. And when you have a dozen different people trying to build a coherent 'answer' simultaneously, each with different backgrounds and opinions, it's not easy to see the big picture. That's where starting off with one of the books makes sense.
However, I'm not sure I'm entirely with the idea of trying to bring people to paleo as a holistic diet in any case. For me it was something that, ahem, evolved out of seemingly isolated goals. Sure this included supporting grass-fed and organic food, or at least food quality. It also included other things like not eating bread as the main part of every meal. Identifying a common theme in these ideas being paleo did lead to experiments with other concepts and certainly provides a wealth of information that isn't so easily found for each disparate lifestyle choice I was trying to follow. But my diet is defined by the hundreds of individual decisions I make, not by pigeonholing, and that's one of the strongest themes running through here. Everyone makes their own compromises.
It seems to me it would have to be a very superficial look at the community to be put off by details such as organic, and it's very hard to do anything else to persuade or support people who are only engaging superficially. People carry around gross misrepresentations of thousands of subjects in their heads that they don't really know anything about. What can we do if they are already put off from learning anything more?
I've been noticing this too. But I strongly believe that the quality of what we ingest is critical to our health and not an "elitist" thing at all. I also believe that the philosophy of sustainability and ethics that go along with pastured livestock farming and local markets resonates with the philosophy of paleo/primal.
People (particularly Americans, I find), are just so accustomed to not paying much money for food. It is an example of a cognitive bias called "anchoring." When you can buy a fast food meal for five bucks, 2 liters of soda for 99 cents, eggs for a dollar a dozen, chicken breast for 99cents a pound, you develop an "anchor" - what you think food should cost. Then when you see the prices on grass-fed beef or organic produce, which are above your anchor, you're freaked. "I can't afford that!"
I wonder, though, how many people willingly shell out for Starbucks-type drinks or restaurant meals. Those are other kinds of anchors.
I think the trick is to weigh the pros and cons, decide where you will and will not compromise, and then do some diligent research into finding the best bang for your buck. That requires some effort and some planning, and often some shifting of priorities. For me, healthy food is one of my top priorities, and I'll sacrifice in some other areas to make it happen for my family. I have researched which foods are the most important to buy organic, which are less important and make my food choices accordingly. I take advantage of sales and local markets. I bought a big freezer and stock it with grass-fed beef and frozen berries, which are cheaper in bulk. In the end, I'm not spending much more than I did before, because my cart has no "junk" in it and the food I buy is more calorie dense. I also waste a lot less of it because I'm conscious of what it costs.
I really don't think it's much of an issue if one really does their research. My boyfriend and I are on an extremely tight budget, because only I am working full time, since he's going to school. Fortunately, he's getting some assistance, but that doesn't leave us much. At our local co-op, we're able to get pastured eggs for $2.50 a dozen, and great prices on bulk items (nuts, etc). We also have a "student" membership which costs $10/year, and we get something like 10% off everything, and 15% off special orders (cases of Taste Nirvana Coconut Water, mmmmm). In addition, the butcher we go to has grass fed meats, with the ground beef being roughly $4.25/lb, and other cuts very reasonable. We got a turkey breast that fed us for 2 weeks of lunches for like $25! We try to buy mostly organic fruits/veggies, especially the "Dirty Dozen", and other things we eat a lot of. The other stuff, we buy "conventional", to save a few bucks. We also shop for produce at BJ's Wholesale (like Costco or Sam's Club). They have a surprising large selection of organic produce (including baby spinach for $4.99/lb, rather than $4.99 for 8-12 oz at the supermarket). And couponinng. Now, I am by no means an "Extreme Couponer", BUT I do try to search out coupons for things that we are planning on buying. Sometimes it's as easy as Google-ing "XXX Coupons 2012" and sometimes you have to sign up for a newsletter. I have a separate email account for my coupons, so the flyers and junk mail don't fill up my regular inbox. Believe me, Paleo can be done on a budget. It takes planning, but it can be done.
I know the kind of people you mean, and certainly we have the "all or nothing" types among us. I generally view this binary, black and white thinking as immature, and have noticed most people who think in black and white terms come around to some shade of grey--maybe darker, maybe lighter--eventually.
I do believe people generally have the responsibility to not use our words to make others feel inferior. But I think framing the defensible, generally good practice of, for example, choosing grass-fed beef, as "elitist" and then supporting that by characterizing discussions of how to approach a freezer full of bison (or whatever) as "bragging" comes pretty close to begging the question.
In my experience here on PH, I perceive a more thoughtful tone most of the time--paticularly when dealing with new people and people with financial limitations--and true elitism and bragging relatively rare. But perhaps I'm one of the elitists and just can't see it.
I'm a member-owner of a small, very nice local food co-op that emphasizes natural, organic, local products. Most of the farmers whose products stock the shelves also appear at our neighborhood farmer's market in the summer. You don't have to be a member to shop there, but I invested to support the enterprise, because I have principles like supporting local farmers, rational and sustainable farming practices, and the humane, ethical treatment of animals.
I view this more as my personal responsibility rather than worrying about the responsibility of (or for) others. I have enough trouble keeping my own house clean, and sometimes I compromise. When I compromise and buy a CAFO ribeye for $10 at the supermarket because it would be $16 at my co-op and I don't have $16 that day, the shopper next to me buying 4 lbs of hamburger for the same price could say I was elite. And the one further down the aisle getting 8 pounds of chicken thighs might think we're both elite. We're all elite to the person who still has a week to go before they can visit the food pantry again.
Maybe "elite" isn't the word we're looking for, but "privileged," or "more affluent," or something. We do live in a world of people with different means. Those of us with more have more choices, and we can use those choices all kinds of ways.
The food at the co-op costs more than that at the supermarket--our little operation certainly exerts much less influence over the market than Whole Foods or Safeway. On the other hand, I can walk there in 3 minutes, instead of driving, and it's so convenient (not to mention socially rewarding, as I have a personal relationship with our team there).
I know it might be difficult to feed a family at the co-op, but I'm not feeding a family, only me. I have a modest income, but I can afford it. I'm lucky that I can manage life without owning a car, and that represents thousands of dollars I can divert to qualify food. I also don't pay for television, and live in an extremely small and perhaps less than luxurious apartment that while nice and cheap, also lets me live steps from the co-op, the library, and multiple modes of public transit.
These all represent choices I made, some conscious and planned, some happy coincidences. All of these mean I can afford to use my dollar to NOT support factory farming and the CAFO system, and instead to support local farmers. I'm not exactly sure why I want to be good, or at least be better than I am, but I do, so I think maybe I should. Personal choice does matter. My food co-op comprises something like 1,800 people who all could and did make a choice to support a different system. That's just 1,800 people in one neighborhood in Chicago, and now residents have a new locally owned and operated grocery store that can sustain itself and even profit.
A rising tide lifts all boats. Leaving aside the many people who cannot afford to make the kind of choices I've been able to make, if a good number of the other thousands or millions of people who can make such choices actually do, things would be better for everyone. So I think ringing the grass-fed/anti-factory-farming bell as often as possible--and taking the time to explain why--makes sense to me. Some people can't afford it. But some can. That message isn't inherently elitist, and it probably ought to be delivered in ways that don't make it seem that way. Maybe that's really the problem here.
I don't think people that post about having half a cow or anything are being elitist or bragging. I've read of some posts here about meatshares between college students who often make little money. The cost of purchasing half a cow, per pound, is often LESS than CAFO ground beef...and with the half the cow, you get "premium" cuts. It's an investment that is worth it in the long-run. I disagree with the poster that commented that it is about affluence...many people on this site have been able to do paleo on a budget while seeking out local sources for their food. It's a little more difficult and you may not get the "tastiest cuts" of meat though, but it might be worth it for some people.
I agree with PrimalDanny on this one...I think it's more of an issue of "misconceptions people have about the economics or practicalities of better quality produce that are the problem, rather than the fact that paleo advocates this produce."
I think on this site, the idea of natural living extends to other areas further than cost for people. People think about life quality, sustainability, animal cruelty/humane treatment, and place those concepts on nearly the same level of importance of the cost of food. So maybe the strong feelings drive their voices a little louder, maybe coming across as elitist.
I like gydle's post. It's about weighing pros and cons. For instance, I've never had a ribeye or fancy cut of grass-fed steak. I've only had ground beef because it is the cheapest. I only think the taste is "okay" but I'll stick with it instead of going for cheaper better-cuts (e.g sirloin) of CAFO because the cons of CAFO for me outweigh any pros. And sure, I'd like to try out some other meats, but local eggs are much cheaper so I keep on eating them and sacrifice taste, but I'm not bothered by it.
However, if someone is looking at this from a purely health standpoint and being "paleo", without getting into ethics and planning, I agree that any change is good change. And yeah, CAFO beef is better than Oscar Meyer hotdogs.