Is the Paleo Diet Conservative?

A 1900 Republican campaign poster for the US presidential election, with portraits of President William McKinley and Vice Presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt at center. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.org

This is not a question that I had ever considered asking myself before, “is the Paleo diet conservative?” I figured it was an eating plan, a lifestyle, basically a way of living to improve one’s health that was entirely unconnected to politics. But there is one conservative writer who seems to think it is. Jack Hunter, official campaign blogger for GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, wrote recently on his blog about his experience with Mark Sisson’s “The Primal Blueprint“.

Conservatism has at least two running themes. One is deference to custom and tradition. Or to put it another way: the notion that our ancestors knew better. The other is a gut distrust of self-appointed “experts,” or what 18th-century English statesman Edmund Burke called society’s “sophists, calculators, and economists” who seek to quantify and regulate humanity.

In its philosophy, the Primal Blueprint is essentially a conservative diet. Author and Primal Blueprint creator Mark Sisson says, “Forget everything you thought you knew about diet, exercise, and health. It’s time to go back to the beginning.” He believes that the “experts” at the Food and Drug Administration, with their food pyramid and nutritional advice about what constitutes a well-balanced meal, are full of it.

Mark Sisson MIGHT be considered a self-appointed “expert”, except for the probability that he does not seek to control anyone. He just wants to share his knowledge and experience of eating the primal or paleo way with others to improve their health. But if one’s definition of conservatism is to look to our ancestors for guidance, then the paleo diet is indeed conservative. We are constantly looking back, through the archeological and anthropological records to determine what our pre-agricultural ancestors would have eaten.

And if the definition of a conservative is to distrust government agencies, like the FDA, then that reinforces the idea of the paleo diet being conservative. From a personal stand point I see the activity of the FDA and other government agencies like the USDA and even the CDC, as detrimental to the health of the citizens of the US. The effort that these agencies put into shutting down small farmers who provide raw dairy products to willing customers is one testament toward that point. You would think that these farmers are selling dangerous drugs. You can read more on this here. Read about the health benefit of raw dairy here and here.

I’ve never been on a diet my entire life, but the older I get, the more I try to be health conscious. This has typically meant just riding my bike for exercise and not eating crappy food all the time. Yet, during a business trip to Jacksonville, Fla., in October, my friend and author Thomas Woods kept telling me about how many intelligent people he knew had tried the Primal Blueprint diet and claimed it worked. Many said it changed their lives. I watched Tom order Mexican food, sans the tortilla wrap and corn chips, and devour a pile of ground beef and vegetables as he promoted the healthy virtues of this primal, caveman-style of eating…..

…..The first week I lost 10 pounds. I wasn’t even trying to lose weight, but did anyway. That week I ate steak, bacon, sausage, eggs, ribs, fish, chicken, and ground beef. I thoroughly enjoyed each meal, and I felt healthier quickly. Now, when I see rice, bread, or pasta, it’s easy to avoid them because I don’t want to feel sluggish and tense. As I write this, I’m enjoying a sausage and ham omelet with a side of fresh veggies — no potatoes, home fries, or biscuits. This is a diet? Really?

Really Jack! Paleo is a breeze, once you get past the carbohydrate addiction, and it is a true pleasure to follow. Absolutely no deprivation. I find that when people say “I could never give up pizza or pasta”, it’s the carbohydrate addiction talking ( read about getting past the carb addiction, click here). And as you proved Mr. Hunter, you can still enjoy some carb heavy foods, on occasion, if you are careful.

I’m not sure I buy into this whole caveman narrative (didn’t they die early and suffer from all sorts of diseases?) and my commitment to this plan has been entirely dietary — I remain a workaholic night-owl. Given my line of work, Sisson’s advice to chill out is not something I can afford to do. I still do my minimal biking for cardio. But that’s it.

The caveman narrative, as Jack Hunter puts it, is usually misinterpreted. Our Paleo ancestors may have died, on average, younger than us (about 35 years – see this site for a full breakdown), but their shorter lifespans were due more to injury, bacterial infection, childhood death and death at child birth. There were no nice ERs or EMTs to call if you broke your leg. But what they did NOT die or suffer from were the modern diseases. No diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and more, since these are all driven by diet. You eliminate modern grains, excess starches, beans and sugars and you eliminate the disease. I suspect that with or modern technology with child birth, healing physical wounds and avoiding lethal bacterial infections our caveman ancestors would have lived much longer lives on average.

But what continues to fascinate me is the generally conservative premise of the Primal Blueprint — that the experts who’ve told us for years that eating whole grains and fiber was a healthy alternative to fatty foods have been completely wrong and that our meat-and-plant-eating ancestors had it right. I know the “experts” at the Federal Reserve with their Keynesian economic approach to government “stimulus” and bailouts have been completely wrong in their analysis and prescriptions for the financial crisis. Perhaps the Food and Drug Administration and the entire health establishment are just as ass-backward?

Then again, I don’t need to wonder. My body has already told me. I feel great.

So is the Paleo diet conservative? I now believe it is. Perhaps that explains all of the libertarians and Ron Paul supporters on the International Paleo Movement Group on Facebook. Well, at least it seems as though they are in a majority. It might just be that they are a little more outspoken. To find out the political trend of Paleo or Primal diet followers, take our non-scientific poll!

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7 Responses to Is the Paleo Diet Conservative?

  1. Jim Purdy December 18, 2011 at 9:57 am

    YOU ASKED:
    “Is the Paleo Diet Conservative?”

    That is a very easy question to answer.

    The paleo diet is an evolutionary diet, based on hundreds of thousands — actually, millions — of years of evolution.

    Most conservatives seem to live in some goofy fantasy world of creationism, denying all the overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution.

    Liberals tend to be much more informed about science, including evolution. So, in that context, the paleo diet is undoubtedly liberal.

    However, on a personal level, paleo folks tend to disagree with big business and their shills at the FDA and the USDA, and they want government to stay out of their lifestyle decisions. That is a libertarian view.

    So, the paleo diet is both liberal and libertarian.

    But definitely not conservative.

    • Lila Solnick December 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm

      I did indeed ask Jim.

      I find it interesting that different conclusions are drawn. Even though I wrote the piece and it was based on someone else’s view point, I think the Paleo/Primal lifestyle is more libertarian than liberal or conservative. Liberals want to control what we do, hence the various laws they love to impose on us.
      Conservatives want fewer laws, but the laws they want also interfere with our lives in a different way. I think there is a misconception about conservatives all being Bible thumping creationists. I think that creationists are a very small portion of the conservative ranks, but are loud and therefore take up a disproportionate amount of the conversation. Just like the left takes up a disproportionate amount of the liberal conversation. Conservatives are also very well informed on science and I think more so than liberals. Just because ABC and CNN show conservatives as illiterate louts, doesn’t mean it’s true. I know many conservatives who are extremely well informed and are not Bible quoting Christians. The media has a major bias against conservatives and puts them in the worst possible light.

      Because those of us following the paleo lifestyle want to be free to do so and in anyway we choose (i.e. primal people wanting access to raw dairy), that speaks to fewer laws which restrict personal freedom. Libertarians want smaller government and less interference, liberals want more government. I cannot see that Paleo is liberal in anyway.

      Thanks for the reply!

  2. Jim Purdy December 18, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    “…liberals want more government?”

    That is a favorite theme of the fake journalists on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, but it is not well supported by the historical record, especially in first half of the 20th century.

    Yes, liberals did lead the fights for education, health, child labor laws, and the environment, but:

    Liberals historically opposed anti-science laws, including continuing efforts to keep evolution out of public schools.

    Liberals historically opposed government intrusions into the constitutional freedoms in the Bill of Rights, especially freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom from religion.

    Liberals historically opposed government persecution of women, blacks, and immigrants.

    Liberals historically opposed a big bloated budget-busting military.

    Liberals historically opposed budget-busting government subsidies for big banks and other big businesses.

    Liberals historically opposed laws against a woman’s right to choose.

    Liberals historically opposed laws that suppressed voting, including poll taxes, literacy tests, and the ban on women’s right to vote.

    Liberals historically opposed government’s use of violence against workers when they tried to engage in collective bargaining

    Would you like a few hundred more examples of liberals opposing big government? Look into the histories of women’s rights, civil rights, and workers’ rights, and how the heavy hand of government oppressed those groups.

    And I still liberally praise your blog.

    • Lila Solnick December 18, 2011 at 3:49 pm

      Historically, you are correct. But I think things changed for liberals in the 60′s. The left began to take over and that is what is representative today when one thinks of liberalism (or should I say what I think of). I speak of current times only. In the 1950′s I would have been a liberal or Democrat. Not today. Look at what our current administration has done in giving hand outs to business, imposing an insane health care bill that no one read before it was passed, and other similar items. Perhaps our president is not a liberal but a leftist. In which case my argument about liberalism is meaningless. Mind you I do not defend Bush either. It was under HIS administration that they imposed CFLs (aka mercury bulbs) on us, which is an ecological disaster in the making.

      However your liberal praise of this website is greatly (and liberally) accepted!

  3. Ian Lucas December 19, 2011 at 12:13 am

    Interesting article!

    Also, I’m hardly a believer or a creationist, but a few pages into Genesis, God does make clear his preference for fatty meats over food from plants. ;-)

  4. Steve Parker, M.D. December 23, 2011 at 9:24 am

    I’ve had the impression for about a year that modern paleo adherents are more libertarian than anything else. Hope to see more folks take the poll.

    -Steve

  5. Andrea Schueler December 25, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    I think everybody can follow a Paleo Lifestyle. Regardless of what political party one prefers (if any). What is correct in biochemistry or exercise physiology is not a political question.
    Of course when we get to the question of sustainable agriculture and how we should change health care and food supply and fitness training there will be a lot of debate about the right way. But it’s the same with civil rights movements, women’s rights, environmentalists or fighting against Big Agra and Big Pharma: those are all grassroot movements where different people unite in one common purpose. That’s the only way you can achieve anything (if your opponents are stronger than you).
    You can fight against toxic food or water and against toxic drugs as a libertarian/ conservative/ liberal/anarchist/leftist or whatever. And because you can achieve nothing alone you need to team up with as many other people as you possibly can.