(This started out as a comment on the last post, but it got way too long, so I’m spinning it off into a new post.)
Well, Dave and Grandma, what I’m going to say is that I think it’s possible to become too jaded. It’s pretty understandable, looking back on what’s happened during your lives, that you’d be skeptical of pretty much anything. Practically the entire time you’ve both been alive, the food system has been defined by chaos, uncertainty, extremely unhealthy food, and extremely unhealthy people.
Before World War II, there were hardly any industrial foods that made up any significant amount of diet. Then with the wartime butter shortage, margarine got popular, and it was profitable too, and big food processors started realizing how much money they could make by turning cheap, low-quality ingredients into something technically edible. And things snowballed from there into Fruity Pebbles, Hungry Man, donuts, textured vegetable protein, and everything else that comes out of a factory. And of course a big result was that people got fat.
So suddenly there was also a huge market for solutions to that problem. Seems to me that people were still under the Jetsons “gee-whiz” spell of thinking there was an industrial solution to everything, and so the solutions that got popular all involved new processed foods. Anything low-fat, for instance, is probably from a factory. The FDA helped the chaos, because it gave the new industrial foods a big stamp of approval (being firmly partnered with the big food corporations). And one solution after another failed, because it was a whole era of wrongheadedness about the solutions, thinking that better living was surely through food chemistry. So yeah, what you two have seen is: “Eat margarine instead of saturated fats! …Wait, margarine was the problem. Okay, eat low-fat! …Wait, fat wasn’t the problem. Okay, eat low cholesterol! …What, you’re still having heart attacks? Okay, avoid, uh… eggs.” And so on. But it hasn’t always been a cyclical bunch of contradictory information like that. That only goes back to the beginning of the industrial food system… you just both have the misfortune of having been born at a time where that’s been playing out over the whole course of your lifetime.
On the other hand, I can look back on all that as just so much history, and I have the good fortune to have been born at a time when there’s a growing movement of people who want to erase all that nonsense and go back to before the whole industrial thing even started. “Whole foods” is the key here. Some people want to go back farther than others, but really, there’s not that big of a gap between those going paleo and those who cook their own sourdough. It’s a return to making stuff from scratch, and to tradition. Tradition is pretty well proven. Much better than the pretty dismal record of industrial food.
I do happen to think that pre-agricultural tradition is better proven than 1800s-era tradition, just based on the fossil record, but obviously we don’t have any cookbooks from the Paleolithic Era, so it’s easy to call the paleo stuff new and a fad when there’s not much to compare it to, and it’s also harder to know you’re cooking what would’ve been eaten back then. But you can make good guesses. The thing I like about paleo is that there’s a lot of actual study that backs it up, and it makes sense. One of the books I just read (The Perfect Health Diet) compares industrial-style nutritionists to the blind men trying to describe an elephant by feeling its parts. Paleo steps back and looks at the whole elephant and it just makes so much more sense than the back-and-forth confusion about which ingredient is the devil now and which “superfood” will save your life. Instead of looking at the latest “new study”, the paleo books I’ve looked at cite meta-analyses of all the studies that have been done on whatever issue. Instead of treating each nutrient as though it were eaten in a vacuum, it looks at the body as a whole. The way paleo and the related diets approach the study just makes so much sense and is so in keeping with proper scientific method and sensible ways to think.
And by the way, Dave, that same book ends by taking a look at the health habits of the oldest people to have lived, and one thing they all seem to have in common is that they love to cook from scratch. They weren’t eating strict paleo, but a lot of them got pretty close. There were a couple stories about people refusing to eat cake on their 110th birthday or so because they hadn’t eaten sugar for the last 80 years. You may not need to follow all the guidelines, but you don’t make it to 115 years old eating donuts and French fries.
File under: food