Watching the paleo vs. vegan blog battles is entertaining, but frustrating. Each side likes to make well-reasoned arguments against positions the other side isn’t really taking. The proponents of veganism like to pretend that paleo-eaters only eat meat and cheese (in other words, paleo = zero-carb = extreme Atkins), while some paleo advocates lump vegans and fruitarians together, or imagine that vegans eat soy products every single meal.
For example, Dan Pardi of Dan’s Plan recently forwarded me this series of videos from Don Matesz of the Primal Wisdom blog. Don, a formerly enthusiastic proponent of the paleolithic diet, has switched to veganism and is now condemning the paleolithic way of eating. I’ve watched about half the series so far and I haven’t found it very convincing. Most of it seems to be an attack on low-carb, high saturated fat, low fiber diets, which is not necessarily the same as a paleo diet. Most variations of the paleo diet are medium-to-high fiber (from vegetables and fruits), medium carb (from fresh fruit and starchy tubers), and some “seafood only” variations of the paleo diet are extremely low in saturated fats.
The truth is, there is a great deal of consensus on many health topic among paleo-eaters and vegans. Both sides agree that:
- eating fruits and vegetables is health promoting
- animals should be treated humanely (with enough space, social contact with their own kind, fed food that doesn’t cause digestive distress, not abused, etc.)
- organic, sustainable agriculture is superior to conventional agriculture, both in terms of environmental impact and nutritional quality
- moderate intake of healthful fats (Omega-3 and monosaturated fats) is health-promoting
- trans-fats, refined sugar, refined vegetable oils, and refined flour are terrible for health
Of course there are points of disagreement. Does high saturated fat intake usually lead to heart disease? Does high gluten intake often lead to gut inflammation? I would say probably no, and probably yes, respectively, but I might be wrong. I try to keep up with the research, and base my own behavior on the most reputable, most widely replicated clinical studies. My own mind has changed in the past. In my late teens and early twenties I was an evangelical vegetarian. I was incredibly annoying. I’m done telling people how they should eat — I only want to share what I’ve learned so far in a take-it-or-leave-it format.
Your enemy is not the health enthusiast who disagrees with you. It’s a difficult fact to accept, but it’s true; different diets work well for different people. If someone finds a diet that works well for them, we should let them eat it in peace.
The real enemy is the Standard American Diet (fast-food, i.e. factory-farmed meat cooked in rancid vegetable oil, served with genetically modified, conventionally grown, pesticide-laced, uber-refined soy/corn/wheat concoctions, served with a vat of carbonated high fructose corn-syrup).
I’m not a fan of most vegans diets, but many vegan diets are closer to a healthful diet than a fast-food diet. A vegan diet based on gluten-free grains, minus the soy, plus some low-mercury fish (sardines, wild-caught salmon, etc.), would probably work out pretty well for most people. Yes, I know it’s not vegan if you add fish, but it’s just one dietary step away from excellent health (some extra protein, B12, and Omega-3 fatty acids). And some people seem able to thrive on a pure vegan diet (for example, Derek Tresize).
Vegans are not the enemy. Industrialized food production systems that want to feed you manufactured Franken-foods are the enemy.
Vegans should stop worrying about ancestral health enthusiasts as well. Millions of people, including myself, have restored their health by cutting most refined sugars and oils, grain products, and legumes out of their diets. Many paleo/ancestral health enthusiasts don’t eat any dairy products at all, and many more don’t eat red meat. Vegans, paleolethic diet advocates are not the enemy. McDonalds is the enemy.
You know who the biggest enemy is? Public school systems that feed our children tater tots, chicken fingers, chocolate milk, and soda for lunch. And don’t forget the plastic containers and bottles treated with bisphenol-A.
Health enthusiasts, let’s spend less time and energy arguing about the finer points of diet, and focus on taking action on the things we can agree on. More fresh vegetables and fruits, more healthful fats, more nutrient-dense high-quality food, less trans-fats and refined vegetable oil, less refined sugar, less white flour, less processed food, and fewer health-damaging chemical additives and preservatives. Especially for our kids!