The Paleo Manifesto author John Durant talks with the Paleo Movement Online Magazine about being in ketosis during The Colbert Report, why his new book, The Paleo Manifesto, downplays the Paleolithic, and the role of Paleo in the Food Movement.
Many people know you from your appearance on The Colbert Report a few years ago, but few people knew that you had been fasting all day for that interview.
I may be the only one of Colbert’s guests who was in ketosis during the interview.
I was so anxious the night before that I only slept for four and half hours. I don’t function well on fewer than six hours, and I can’t spell my own name on fewer than five. I knew that if I ate normally, I’d be exhausted and would need to rely on coffee— but it’d be hard to time my caffeine intake to avoid being strung out. So I ate a little pastrami around 8am and ate nothing else until we taped around 7:30pm. They had a big fruit platter with cheese and crackers in the green room, but I just had some green tea. The interview went well, and we had a feast around 10pm.
How is your new book, The Paleo Manifesto, different from other Paleo books?
I cover the Paleolithic, but it’s just one of five “Ages” of human and pre-human existence: Animal, Paleolithic, Agricultural, Industrial, Information. In between each of these Ages was a revolution that radically changed humans and how we lived: the Paleolithic Revolution (large brains), the Agricultural Revolution (culture), the Industrial Revolution (industrial technology), and the Digital Revolution (computers).
Since these were the moments when humans and human lifestyles changed most radically, they’re also the most useful moments to understand changes in human health. And sometimes the Paleolithic isn’t the most important period to understand.
Can you give us an example?
Take sleep. The Paleolithic isn’t all that useful to figuring out how to get a good night’s sleep. Yes, it gives you an approximation of a healthy sleeping pattern, but so does looking at our agricultural ancestors. The main transition in human sleep patterns took place after the Industrial Revolution and the rise of indoor lighting, clocks, stimulants (coffee and tea), softer bedding, and sleeping alone. Furthermore, the most useful examples for how to combat sleep disorders also come from the Industrial Age, such as polar explorers and astronauts, who have to thrive in locations without a regular transition of night and day.
When it comes to diet, it’s important to understand the Agricultural Revolution (grains and dairy) *and* the Industrial Revolution (refined sugar, flour, and processed food). For some people, avoiding industrial foods may be sufficient to be healthy — and that’s fine. For others, it’s not!
If you want to understand thermoregulation, then you really need to understand every major transition: the rise of warm-bloodedness (Animal Age); the rise of hairlessness, sweating, fire, and clothing (Paleolithic Age); the rise of sweat bathing traditions that introduced temperature extremes (Agricultural Age); and the rise of indoor heating and air conditioning (Industrial Age). We’ve even started to tinker with our *internal* temperature by taking fever-reducing medicines (antipyretics).
The Paleolithic is very important, but it isn’t sufficient.
We are a collage of different parts and pieces from different times — and our health solutions will be too. Yes, I’m mostly a hunter-gatherer, but I’m also a herder-farmer. And I live in an industrial world. And now, I’m a biohacker trying to build my own entirely novel habitat that both respects my inner animal and allows me to enjoy the benefits of civilization. I’ve got one foot planted in the past while the other stretches into the future.
All that said, if I could only understand one stretch of human existence in order to figure out how to be healthy, I’d study the Paleolithic. So it’s not that my book downplays the Paleolithic so much as it elevates what we can learn from other eras.
What role do you see the Paleo Movement playing in the food movement?
People are different, and the food movement needs all different types of people.
The food movement needs people who support traditional agriculture and eat agricultural diets—herder-farmers, so to speak. People like Michael Pollan.
The food movement also needs people who actually cultivate our wild food systems and people who thrive on a forager-style diet—modern hunter-gatherers, as it were. People like us.
Everyone has a role to play. Vegetarians have brought to light legitimate ethical abuses in the factory farm system – but they’re not going to lead the charge on locavore hunting, which is good for the environment, ethical, and healthy. That’s our role.
If paleo continues to explode and the food movement, broadly construed, doubles in size that would be a very good thing.
What do you think of critics of the Paleo Diet?
I sometimes wonder what all the fuss is about.
The way many people actually eat paleo or primal (i.e., often incorporating some traditional dairy) basically boils down to Michael Pollan’s principles but more pro-meat and anti-seed (grains, legumes, nuts, seeds). Is that really so radical a notion that critics need to “debunk” paleo?
At the same time, paleo advocates need to be careful not to overhype it and to approach thoughtful critics with a little humility. I thought it was great how the Paleo Movement Magazine interviewed Alan Aragon, a vocal critic of paleo. Good for him and good for you.
Now let’s step back and put things in perspective. For the last few decades, “healthy whole grains” have been treated entirely uncritically. That paleo has brought attention to the notion that there might be *a few* drawbacks to a heavily grain-based diet is a triumph of the most basic form of critical-thinking: pros and cons. The same point is true of the entirely uncritical attitude towards traditional fats.
Please, tell me— who is being unscientific here? It was the people who treated “healthy whole grains” as nectar of the f*@$ing gods and fat as the evil boogeyman. The popularity of those points of view are due in no small part to people who are known to put ideology over science: vegans, vegetarians, and those who push a plant-based diet as the solution to all the world’s ills. Spare me.
If the Paleo Movement can do two things and nothing else— get conventional health authorities to acknowledge the disadvantages of grain-based diets and the advantages of fat-based diets—then it will have been magnificently successful.
But we can do a whole lot more!
One warning before you crack the book.
For people who are already paleo, the book contains a ton of fresh material – what we can learn from obese gorillas, Biblical hygiene laws, and British polar explorers. But I also intended the book for people who aren’t into paleo—and perhaps never will be. I wanted it to be an entertaining, intelligent, and credible overview of a healthy lifestyle informed by human evolution.
All that is to say, it makes a great gift to the skeptic in your home or workplace! 😉