I received a letter today and I thought I’d share the correspondence. Not to embarrass anybody or anything, but because someone took the time to send me an honest account from their perspective and I responded in kind. Letters like this get to the heart of what we’re doing and why. We don’t have all the answers, often all we have to go on is our personal experience and what we see. But as I mention in my response, what’s required is often a step back to see the big picture and then a step in—way in!—to see the entire truth. And even then, I’ll not pretend I have all the answers, or even 1/3246th of them.
Name has been removed because I didn’t ask permission first. Also, this version has been edited with Allan Savory’s corrected name. My original response had his name wrong, but I followed up with the letter writer about that. Nothing else has been altered.
Please share your thoughts in the comments!
[Dear Paleo Periodical,]
I’ve been a vegetarian for 45 years.
I have been the same weight for 50 years.
Low average BMI.
I lived in Sudan… where the main food was a large grain tortilla + beans. Plus some goat cheese, greens and so forth. We ate it at work. People weren’t obese.
I lived in Guatemala… where the main food was corn tortillas… plus some beans, cheese, tomatoes and peppers… Nobody was fat…. but then guys were hoeing, and women were washing clothes and grinding corn by hand. No need for the gym.
Folks in China ate mostly rice… and did not get fat till they started eating an industrialized processed high protein diet.
I observe many obese North Americans who are enjoying eating lots of meat…
I will continue to have my rolled wheat and oats for breakfast… and wheat tortillas around cheese and beans.
Along with fruit and vegetables and nuts and cheese.
The world can’t provide a high meat diet for 7 billion people…
I have no stake in what you eat. Carry on!
But unfortunately, a lot of our understanding of food issues is limited. You have to zoom out a bit time-wise and then zoom in microscopically to understand the full picture.
Foods like beans, corn, rice, and oats are historically and anthropologically known to be “fall back” foods, meaning that they helped bridge gaps between more optimal food sources. This is supported by the fact that there has never been a vegan culture in the history of the world. A diet that requires supplementation is not a sustainable one.
If you were able to visit these same places 10,000 years ago, you’d probably see a very different environment and different food choices.
That being said, humans are amazingly adaptable and can get by on many foods. But what do they thrive upon? We live in a time of unprecedented choice over our circumstances, and yet we don’t fully understand the consequences of that choice enough. The problem is, if we don’t choose wisely, we fall prey to those who benefit from our illness and ignorance.
[Letter writer], I worked out 5 days a week minimum and ate black beans, whole wheat tortillas, quinoa, brown rice, tons of veggies, oatmeal. I gained weight and started racking up autoimmune symptoms. Simply by shifting my diet (I actually work out less now than at any point in my adult life!), I’ve restored my health and have a lean, strong physique that I only dreamed about previously.
There is an ethical way to eat meat. Yes, Americans eat a lot of meat and are unhealthy. But they eat a lot of unhealthy meat, and they almost always eat it in conjunction with other processed foods and chemicals. What our meat eats and how it’s raised matters.
The argument that we can’t feed 7 billion this way has been debunked by more knowledgeable people than me. I suggest Allan Savory’s TEDTalk. The whole reason we have an unsustainable population in the first place is agriculture. Using chemicals, GMOs, and environmentally disastrous monocultures to feed more hypothetical people is the definition of madness. How can we give more optimum nutrition to those already here? Because all of us deserve better.
You may be able to maintain a slim figure, but the rule of autoimmunity doesn’t exclude you from other potential issues. This is where our genetics comes into play. We are all reacting to the same stimuli in different ways. I might get acne and weight gain, and you might get cardiovascular disease and arthritis. We don’t get to choose how it affects us.
So we all have our choices in life. I know my own experience and you know yours. But I’d rather put my faith in a human logic that pre-existed me by thousands and thousands of years.