The sustainability argument says that we could not all in the world be fed paleo-like. I think it is misguided for several reasons, including that we are not suggesting to re-enact paleolithic life, but we rather expect that using current technologies food production will be reoriented towards a truly healthy standard.
What do you say?
One thing about the "we couldn't feed everyone without commercial grain farming" argument is that it's always based on the standard large-scale, monocrop paradigm. So someone says, "Ok, let's figure out how much beef we could raise in this huge Nebraska cornfield if we switched to pastured beef. First we'll have to fertilize (because the soil's entirely dead by now) and plant alfalfa. Once that gets established, we'll bring in a few thousand head of cattle, so we'll need to run plumbing through the field for water, and build sheds for shade, probably with sprinklers and fans in them for hot weather. So we'll need electricity out there too, for the fans and to keep the drinkers thawed in winter. We'll have to continually fertilize, because the manure won't be enough on its own, and probably replant the alfalfa every few years. Then we'll have to haul the animals to Chicago or Detroit for slaughter, and ship the meat from there to grocery stores around the world."
Looked at that way, of course it's going to be expensive and inefficient. But that's not how traditional farmers did it. Heck, it's not how my grandparents did it. They used natural grasses for much of the pasture, and trees for shade (and sometimes fence). They used ponds and creeks for water wherever possible. They ran hogs and other animals behind the cattle, to clean up what the cattle missed (or what went through them undigested). They even combined livestock with grain crops, by running cattle in cornfields after harvesting the corn, so the cattle could eat the corn that was dropped, and they'd get some good out of the stalks as well.
I don't know if anyone's studied it in that context, but I doubt if we're going to get that from the USDA or university studies. I'd like to see a study that compares the productivity of traditional methods done traditionally, versus modern commercial farming and all the inputs it requires. I have a feeling they'd be more even than people think.
You might like to watch this video of Dan Barber: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EUAMe2ixCI
The last five minutes in particular are very interesting and I think he is dead-on: We do not need to feed the world. We need to feed ourselves. Keep in mind that "we" (the western societies) are throwing away one third of our food. That would be enough to feed the starving. Twice. The issue is not food production. It is food distribution.
Aaron, I totally agree...and disagree at the same time. You're right, that argument is based on the mono-crop model, but that model is actually cheaper and more "economically efficient" (a loaded term, I know). Please understand...I'm not arguing it's a good thing, it just is. The traditional model of your grandparents may be more efficient and less expensive to them, but from society's perspective it's sadly not, given how we've set the house of cards up. If every local economy attempts to produce the full range of food products that are desired for a modern paleo diet, it would be incredibly inefficient and quite impossible in many places in the world. It may work where you are, but I live perched on a piece of granite overlooking the North Atlantic. We have limited capacity to produce livestock, fruit, or a wide variety of veg. We import our meat from the West, and yes that sucks, but unless we're willing to limit our diet to what we can produce, that's what we're faced with. And I can guarantee that in this neolithic world of unlimited choice, entitlement, and "I NEED IT NOW!" consumerism, very few people would be willing to make the difficult choices required.
It's partly a case of the horse being out of the barn. People where I live love to talk Buy Local (which I agree with), but they (we) also love our avocados and coconut (affordable clothing, computers, cars, bicycles, Vibram 5-Fingers...)
For the record...I'm with you. I've done consulting work with the local beef industry and have pushed them to think laterally - to try and get out of the commodity grain-fed beef industry and move to grass, recognizing it is a niche industry for a small number of producers. I also understand that there are negative consequences from society's perspective, and that those things need to be understood.
There is grass on Mr. Hoven's farm that feeds an awful lot of cows. Better that grass be used than go to waste. Therefore, I shall eat his beef. If there is ever more demand for his beef than he has supply he will probably raise prices a little, but I was clearly there first. A beef rancher doesn't just magic a business out of nowhere - people have to support it from the getgo. That I do and thus I have more entitlement to that beef than anyone else.
Darwin said it best.......survival of the fittest. I feel very good about this every time I see the Dietary Guideline released. Paleo is tested and makes sense biochemically and is time tested. If you dont buy it you can always be bailed out Merck Pfizer or Abott. I like survival of the fittest. It seems very Paleo to me.
I think sustainable is the wrong word. We need to look at rebuilding and regeneration of food and water sheds. If we're not at all willing to change anything about our modern ways of life to make room for the reality of the needs of the soil, animals, ecosystem, we're doomed.I'm not talking climate change or even peak oil. Just destruction vs. regeneration.
"If the best current knowledge were employed, enough food to feed four billion + people could be grown in the Southern half of Sudan! It is only the Western Bias, the idea spread throughout the world that one must eat white grain and drink soda pop to be “civilized,” that is responsible for the suffering of the millions of starving people in the world. It is a myth that there is not enough to go around, that there is no way the Earth can support its exploding population. The truth is that most of the world’s food resources are controlled by a handful of greedy men, who deny people the right to grow food themselves but try to sell them Western-produced junk food instead. [Some Experts] estimate that if all the arable land on the earth were used properly and sowed with foods for human consumption, the Earth could support 60 Billion people, almost 15 times the current population! But it is true that there is no way we can feed the world population on Whoppers and Cheez-Wiz, let alone nourish it."
— Paul Sitt Fighting the Food Giants.
Good things to watch:
There is no such thing as THE Paleo diet. There are instead many different configurations of Paleo eating depending on the locale and the culture. I would think that at least some reasonable portion of the population could eat Paleo-style, that is, adapt their diet to their locale and cut out the grains because they'll get better nutrition if that land's turned to grass and light tree cover and they raise animals on it. Now I am not sure if it's possible to feed six billion people that way but the point is, we shouldn't have six billion people here. If six billion people were sustainable we would have hit that number well before we developed a petroleum economy and the Green Revolution.
I'm at peace about it though. At some point the oil will run out and there will be a die-off, since population is a function of food supply. And it may be that I or my descendants will be some of those who die. I don't like that idea, but it is not like I can go around sterilizing five-sixths of the population to ease the crash, and I wouldn't want to. And the idea of the die-off is abstract enough to me that I feel no great urgency about it. It's like hurricanes and tornadoes. It's nature. I am not bigger than nature. I'm Homo sapiens sapiens and it's my job to adapt. That is what has made my species successful. We have adapted to more environments than any other species on the planet. And that was before high technology.
All you can do is worry about yourself and those close to you. We have been well enculturated in the idea of saving the world, and that was true well before the environmentalist movement. But it's B.S. Everybody cannot live the same way even if they could all eat some variation of a Paleo diet. Worry about you and yours and try not to take more than you need (in food or otherwise) and that's about all you can control.
I think there's a difference between sustainability and standards of health. Could everyone in the world be fed on a paleo diet, and would it be sustainable? The concept of sustainability and its metrics are incredibly complex and have the added muddiness of value judgement (what's sustainable to you may not be to me...). My suspicion is that a global shift to paleo, as we in the West generally define it, would not be sustainable holding population and economic well-being constant. As much as it pains me to say it, our current level of population and income are highly dependent on the availability of mass-produced (fertilized) food shipped from countries or regions that can produce it cheaply and efficiently. That applies to most of the crap we buy. Try and buy EVERYTHING locally and you quickly realize how dependent your lifestyle is on cheap crap.
Like I said...it pains me to say that. I wish it wasn't so. I'm a locavore, shop at a farmers' market, buy as much as I reasonably can locally, or at least nationally. I would argue, however, that I live a very privileged life and that my approach to consumerism works for a small percentage of society.
Grass-fed beef is a beautiful example of a sustainable paleo food, but how many places in the world could feed their local population on it? The Canadian province I live in has a lot of grass, but we could never meet existing demand for beef let alone increasing demand from a shift to paleo. Taking beef as an isolated example - to be sustainable, our local system would need to decrease in population. Scale that up globally and across all paleo food products, and (unfortunately) I think people starve in the short term until a "sustainable" level of population is reached. The muddiness lies in whether you think that's good or bad.
The Green Revolution helped create this house of cards, and undoing it would require some difficult choices.
I found The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, Sustainability by Lierre Keith helpful in discussing the larger ethical realities in vegan/vegitarian versus paleo/pasture-fed animal meat. It is not the last discussion on these issues and because her's is one of the initial books to synthesize a lot of this material, others will have to come along and fill and refine it. But it is an imporant discussion that looks at food production, sustainability, nutrition, and ethics from a very different take than that coming from vegitarian circles. One of her major points is that the kind of agricutulture required to sustain what the vegitarian assumes degrades the topsoil, removes forest and prarie ecologies, necessitates trucking food long distances from 'bread baskets', and larger acherage than is accounted for by vegitarians. She also put forth a some examples on how various poly-cultures can be utilized with and necessitated by animals in smaller-denser utilization of land...and in ways that build soil in substantial ways...and maintain water aquafers instead of removing water to spray on crops in a negative equation.
She is also a radical feminist, which becomes very myopic for me and gets in the way of her larger argument (everything that is bad, has to do with men and patriarchy...everything good has to do with restoring women to some special place in nature). But if you don't miss the forrest for her pet-ideology trees, it is a important read.