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Why Eating like a Caveman May be the Way of the Future
George Dvorsky   Jun 19, 2012   io9.com  

When it comes to our eating habits, it’s clear that we’re doing it wrong. We may be in the midst of health crisis, but there are few practical solutions for dealing with it.

But now a growing chorus of people are claiming that modern and processed foods are to blame, insisting that we should instead take an “evolutionary approach” to our diets and turn to foods that were eaten by our Paleolithic ancestors. Critics have responded by proclaiming it a misguided step in the wrong direction. Either way, Paleo eating has become a major lifestyle.

There’s no question that something’s terribly wrong with the way we eat. Nearly one in three Americans is overweight or obese, and rates of diabetes continues to rise. These conditions, along with steady rates of heart disease, cancer, and inflammatory problems, have led some to predict that the young generation now growing up will the first ever in our history to have shorter lifespans than their parents.

Part of the problem is that virtually everything we thought we knew about eating is wrong; the current health crisis is in no small part caused by widespread and pervasive food confusion - and much of driven and reinforced by the modern food industry. As counterintuitive as it might seem, we now know that saturated fats are good and that salt has been unfairly vilified. It’s becoming apparent that whole grains are extremely unhealthy, and that sugar is far, far worse than we previously thought, a conclusion that has led some experts to essentially describe is as a poison.

At the same time, grocery stores are filled with fat-free and fat-reduced products - and the obesity problem persists. Fad diets have virtually no staying power, much to the delight of those offering them. We have become a fat-starved people, who, in its place, have substituted high density carbohydrates like bread, white potatoes, rice, and other sugar infused foods.

 

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Image via Shutterstock/1971yes.

George P. Dvorsky serves as Chair of the IEET Board of Directors and also heads our Rights of Non-Human Persons program. He is a Canadian futurist, science writer, and bioethicist. He is a contributing editor at io9 — where he writes about science, culture, and futurism — and producer of the Sentient Developments blog and podcast. He served for two terms at Humanity+ (formerly the World Transhumanist Association). George produces Sentient Developments blog and podcast.



COMMENTS

Eating like a caveman may - or may not (cf. http://health.usnews.com/best-diet/best-overall-diets ) - be the way of the future. But if so, we must take care to ensure we don’t have morals to match. The Palaeolithic diet involved hunting, killing and eating sentient beings of other tribes, races and species. (cf. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/jun/20/ice-age-cannibals-britain-earliest-settlers ). This is not, I hope, a lifestyle we want to emulate. Caveman life-expectancy was typically too short to permit assessment of the long-term health benefits and risks to consumers of such a diet. However, the consequences were clearly horrible for its victims. 

Today at least, the life-expectancy of vegetarians is higher than that of meat-eaters. 
The decline in violence, and expanding “circle of compassion” chronicled by Steven Pinker in “The Better Angels Of Our Nature”  (cf. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/sep/22/better-angels-steven-pinker-review
might have entailed heroic self-sacrifice on the part of moral agents. Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to the case. Many millions of people in the world now enjoy cruelty-free vegan lifestyles. 
(cf. http://www.veganism.com

I agree with David.

Regardless of its benefits, this so-called caveman diet presents many ethical issues. Lately I read a lot of testimonials about the positive effects of this carnivorous diet. In some of those testimonials, I noticed one recurring argument against vegetarianism. They accuse vegetarians of hypocrisy - since anyway, the ecological footprint of human agriculture is anyway lethal to a number of lifeforms. So, they say, at least paleo-eaters do not fool anyone, including themselves, pretend to be angels

Even if it is true that our agricultural techniques represent indeed a threat to a number of organisms, the proponents of this paleo-diet fail to see the moral dimension behind their alimentary preferences.

Also to them - is not only a matter of heather food. I suppose, for example, that they would really not support cannibalism. But - what if it turned out that drinking human blood is indeed as beneficial as our close ancestors used to think (http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/europe-s-medicinal-cannibalism-the-healing-power-of-death-a-604548.html)? What if, for the sake of argument, toddler sausages provided amazing heath benefits? Would they eat that too?

We all abstain from killing and eating humans, and especially our close relatives - at least the large majority of us. Also those who enjoy non-human meat. So, the real question is - why making a human sandwich with your retarded sister’s flesh sounds so morally disturbing, even to most human carnivores? I believe that we have to dig deeper, and realize that the reasons behind our benevolence towards other lifeforms are very close to the reasons why we all abhor cannibalism. Something tells me that those reasons have much to do with kinship - with the feeling that, in a way or another, we all belong to the same family. Sentience and cognitive skills do not really matter, I think. Would they matter if they proposed you to eat a sedated, comatose relative?

Imitating a caveman does not sound to me as a very transhumanist lifestyle.

Indeed. Analogously, the case against (human) slavery isn’t weakened by the frailties, hypocrisies and occasional self-righteousness of early abolitionists. When exploring the effects of the abolition of human slavery, it would be disproportionate for historians to focus entirely on the health consequences of black emancipation for white slaveowners. Doubtless some ex-slaveowners could claim that aerobic exercise made them fitter, while others would say the need to do manual labour made their rheumatism worse. Maybe so; but this is rather missing the point

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