(that is one of the questions.)
Between Wooo's recent slap at the "paleo-blogosphere," the comments after it, the asshole I chastised yesterday, and a current experiment, I've thought quite a bit about the lifestyle and dietary framework we label "Paleo." Complex subject! Some people deplore how this promising concept has gone downhill (i'm in that camp), others say it was just a fad to begin with. People like Sisson will surely say that it's as firm and valid as it ever was, and I hope that twenty years down the line, they'll be shown to be correct.
What the best writers have always agreed about -- it's not meant to be a reenactment, but a template. We cannot replicate the foods available to our ancestors any more than we can replicate their societies. What we can do is mull over what their lifestyles must have included, deduce what must have ameliorated the threats against health, wellbeing, successful reproduction, and so on, and then see what we might learn from this and profit thereby.
I see this learning and profiting process somewhat like I do that of my reenacting hobby. The EXACT replication of everything is NOT POSSIBLE. Yes, I wear garments my great-grandmother would not find unusual, from the skin to the outermost layer. But I did not grow up wearing a corset EVERY SINGLE DAY from my earliest adolescence, and as a result my trunk is a modern "construction" with ribs a little constricted halfway up (from a bra capable of supporting my double-Ds), but NOT constricted at the waist, which they would have been if i'd been born a century earlier. My feet are "healthy" by modern standards, not narrowed by decades of wearing shoes that were fashionable by nineteenth-century dicta.
When I show school-children the rations that an American Civil War Union laundress would have been issued, they're seeing modern flour (cleaner and whiter than it should be), modern salt-pork (leaner than it should be), and modern beans (more uniform than they should be), ... among other things. We can show generic examples, but we cannot show exactly what there WAS.
Paleolithic-era people in different parts of the world had a gigantic difference, from one to the next, in what flora and fauna were available to them for consumption. GIGANTIC. Then, from one year to the next there might have been large differences in weather-contingent foodstuffs. When one source is scarce, another would have been made-use-of, even if it was less desirable -- better Top Ramen than no food at all, a struggling student of today might say! Much as a paleo-idealist might like to imagine the bounty of nature when there were fewer of us to compete, those of us who read a goodly amount of HISTORY know that droughts, disease, wildfire, excessive rain, and other such catastrophes were fatal to man, animal, and plant-life alike. Famine HAPPENED.
So when we get people who say "those people ALWAYS ..." or "those people NEVER ..." -- it's just nonsense! Those people DID when they COULD, but when they couldn't, they "made do." They DID eat high-cellulose vegetables, because they filled an achingly hungry belly. They ate bugs. They ate slightly-toxic things, which they learned to treat in such ways that they became at least a little nutritious ... like acorns and pokeweed and grass-seeds.
When they could get it, they lapped up honey -- you know, that "sugar" which Bill the Asshole said we MUST NOT be apologists for ... whatever that means. They boiled down tree sap to make more sugar. They ate rotting fruit, which is loaded with sugar (and alcohol).
Are we being less "paleo" or more so, when we make excursions from deer-liver and a starchy tuber for dinner? Does it really matter? Do we have to work out with rocks and branches, or sprint a lot to be true to the ancestral fitness template that SOMEBODY has speculated on? I kinda suspect that digging clams and climbing trees is equally legitimate, exercise-wise. As a correlation, carrying your day's groceries in a large city from the store to your house is probably very similar. In the 'burbs we may have to carry a backpack when we walk the dog to be comparable. But crossfit ... I doubt that a large proportion of the population had that kind of workout on an everyday basis!
A concept like primal/paleo, taken reasonably, can result in some really helpful behaviors. Taken like prairie fundamentalists take protestant Christianity -- ignorantly, with no historic insight, and the "more is better" mindset of fanaticism -- the paleo template becomes burlesque. NO GRAINS (despite Native Americans' use of wild rice)! NO DAIRY (despite the fact that we all start life on "dairy"). Lots of plants and tubers (despite the fact that many of them are loaded with toxins and antinutrients). Are shellfish really paleo? Are fruits legitimate, despite the fact that the fruits available to us now are artificially cultivated to be high-sugar? Given the desirability of real versus processed food, WHAT IS "REAL FOOD"?
Using science as well as REAL HISTORY (as opposed to ignorantly-imagined old-fashioned-ness), we can construct credible concepts of how our ancestors survived the harsh world in which they lived. The harsh world in which we live now is very different, but still perilous. We have tools that our forebears didn't, though -- we can see how our genes predispose us to disease, whereas they could only see what weaknesses ran in families and to only ally themselves with the most hardy (at least, the higher social classes, who had choice but not the pressure to mate with only others of their own caste). We have scientists who are/were interested enough to pass us GOOD recommendations for overriding our shortcomings -- as opposed to their fellows who only care(d) about promoting their own fame or wealth.
We have a lot of advantages now. Some are context-related in their beneficence (like antibiotics), and some are mixed blessings (blood- and image-based-screenings in search of disease in the "healthy" population). Some are life-saving concepts carried to extreme (caesarian-section delivery where not always indicated). Some are "pure" beneficent intervention (appendectomy and other surgeries), where survival would be impossible in its absence. We also now have genetic sequencing, which allows us to know how our own SNPs predispose us to ruin. We have SOME information to help us ameliorate it.
Longer lifespans now? POPPYCOCK. We have less infant mortality, less infection-based death, and surgically-sourced lifesaving, that's all. We also have a toxic, stress-exacerbated, advertising-misled society and lifestyle. We have a food system which is nothing less than HORRIFIC -- CAFO meats and GMO plant matter! It's a testament to human resilience that we survived the industrial revolution. Will we survive the technical revolution? Time will tell -- but a paleo TEMPLATE could help.