"The cavemen are happy in the modern world"

3 minute read

I blame Harold Dibble. Oh, sure, all these “paleo diet” people point the figure at Loren Cordain, but Dibble was the first to give them a cookbook!

So now, it’s a “movement” and it’s in the New York Times:

Mr. Durant, 26, who works in online advertising, is part of a small New York subculture whose members seek good health through a selective return to the habits of their Paleolithic ancestors.
Or as he and some of his friends describe themselves, they are cavemen.

Oh sweet mercy. Give me a break.

This guy grows a “cheerful Jim Morrison” beard and installs a small chest freezer in his apartment (there’s a photo of the “meat locker” that’s supposed to “spook a female guest”), and we’re supposed to think he’s a weirdo survivalist of some kind? Hasn’t this reporter, Joseph Goldstein, ever been outside the city? If he’d gone out to flyover country – say, New Jersey – he’d discover bigger deep freezes in the homes of most hunters. The only thing strange about this guy is that he doesn’t have a basement to put it in.

Well, how’s it working out for them?

Most of the cavemen at Mr. Durants gatherings are lean and well-muscled, and have glowing skin. A few wear trim beards. Some claim that they no longer get sick. Several identify themselves as libertarians.

OMG, they’re LIBERTARIANS! It’s like Manhattan has finally fallen to those “rewilding” people! Come on baby, light my fire!

There’s a typical kind of “lifestyle” article in the NY Times, where a reporter interviews three or four people who all do some weird thing, as if they were part of a trend sweeping the nation. But it always turns out that these three or four people all know each other, are all twenty-somethings, all live in some fashionably bohemian area of Manhattan, and (often) just happen to be acquaintances of the reporter.

Now this could be because the NY Times only hires reporters plugged into hot new trends, which are all started by twenty-somethings in Chelsea. Or it could be that twenty-something reporters on deadline tend to “run home to mama” when they can’t think of any other ideas.

You tell me which this is:

Another caveman trick involves donating blood frequently. The idea is that various hardships might have occasionally left ancient humans a pint short. Asked when he last gave blood, Andrew Sanocki said it had been three months. He and his brother looked at each other. We're due, Andrew said.

The article itself is pretty deep in snark, and with all its talk of fasting and blood donation, it’s like a flashback to 1994. Which I admit is kind of entertaining. The article’s lead photograph, posing three of the “cavemen” dressed all in black in front of the Cro-Magnon diorama at the American Museum of Natural History, makes them look like the cast of Pleistocene Twilight.

The only reason I’m really incensed is its promotion of a self-proclaimed guru (whom I won’t name), whose website (which I won’t link) promotes some of this quackery. Some of the resulting advice seems to be dangerous. For example, a current entry encourages people not to carry or drink water during workouts – I suppose because cavemen didn’t have water bottles? It’s a good way to get yourself hospitalized or worse.

I’m the last person to promote gatekeeping in science. But a piece of free advice: Don’t get your information about human evolution from non-anthropologists who charge you money for subscriptions and seminars!

Meanwhile, on the Upper East Side we hear from a doctor who prescribes his patients Cordain’s Paleo Diet. Supposedly that shows the trend is spreading into the mainstream – although The Paleo Diet is now eight years running.

I don’t think there’s anything harmful about adopting a hunter-gatherer-like diet. I do doubt whether it’s the most healthful diet for some people – the point of “adaptation” is to increase offspring number, not longevity! Besides, some populations have been adapting to agricultural diets for ten thousand years. The most healthful diet for you might be the diet of your recent ancestors, not your Paleolithic ones.

But to be honest, the best food is the food that brings you nearer the ones you love. And if frozen venison ribs in your living room can make you “a chieftain of sorts among 10 or so other cavemen”, well more power to you. Maybe it will bring you a Wilma Flintstone, too.