Friday, September 30, 2011

Is Paleo Elitist?

Let me start off this post by saying I strongly believe in the many incarnations of the paleo/primal diet and have eaten this way for almost 5 years now.  I will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  This post is going to be a collection of thoughts I have had lately.  My question is, is this way of living elitist?

I got to thinking about this thanx to a blog post from Penniless Parenting.  She did a thought provoking, although somewhat flawed assessment of the paleo diet.  One of the objections she raised was how expensive the food was.  Despite many posts around the blogosphere about how affordable paleo can be, bottom line is it is more expensive than a self cooked, grain based diet.  

I have argued that when you factor in the health care costs of relying on grains as the bulk of your calories, the net outcome is a grain based diet will cost more in the long run.  This still may be true but many people could care less about that.  They need to figure out how to feed their family today while also coming up with rent at the end of the week.  They are not concerned about if and when they may get sick.  Their life is the here and now reality of getting by on a shoestring budget.

I read many free paleo blogs and they are written by well-intentioned people.  Most of them don't know the world of struggling to feed themselves or their family.  They can afford to go to the farmers market to buy high quality, paleo friendly food AND go to Starbucks for a $4 coffee afterwards.  That is great and I commend them for feeding themselves well.  There is yet another level of paleo eaters who make sacrifices in their budget so they can afford the high quality food.  They cut out things like Starbucks, the new shoes, and dinners out to have a healthy future.  This is also great and commendable.  For my family...we probably fall into the latter group.

In thinking about things in a primal framework, there is something else I wonder about.  Very few of what I will call the thought leaders in the paleo world talk about hunting or fishing for their own meat.  I can't think of something that would bring us closer to our primal roots than actively supplying one's family with meat.  It is great exercise, it is relaxing, and the food is the highest quality available.  We are talking about the ultimate in free range, organic, wild caught, local.....everything paleo pundits advocate.  Yet they rarely talk about it and I wonder if any of them do it.  Sure living like a caveman is good for you but hunting is only something toothless rednecks do, right?  I don't know, is that what the prevailing thought is?  I took up hunting last year because it fits very well into the paleo ideals.  Why does it seem like I am more of a minority in this movement?  Am I a savage for killing an animal and then butchering it for my family to eat later?  I can guarantee that my not too distant ancestors would have considered people who didn't hunt as being the unusual minority.

As I said, hunting is a great form of exercise.  In my first hunt last year, I had to hike up a steep hill (several times per day) that was probably about an 800 yard trek.  Despite no recent hiking experience....I got up there with relative ease and left my mates in the dust.  Later that day, I helped 2 other guys haul a 120 pound doe from a ravine up a hill to the main trail.  I did the bulk of the work as the other 2 guys took frequent breaks.  These guys were my age.  I credit my stamina to diet and workouts at my $9/month gym.  I also do a lot of hauling firewood wood by hand from my back yard woods as a form of exercise.  I don't do the $150/month Crossfit gym membership.  I just can't afford it.  I do those style workouts occasionally on my own.  Crossfit is MEGA popular in the paleo world.  Crossfit has done a great job of promoting this diet.  The Crossfit membership is even less affordable than paleo eating.  Many outsiders may think these two ways of thinking go hand in hand.

Then there is the toe shoes that are so popular in paleo circles.  $100 for these shoes that mimic being barefoot.  These are great for running while not strapping huge, padded shoes to your feet and are much more natural.  There are many who cannot afford to buy regular shoes for themselves let alone toe shoes.  When they want to mimic being barefoot, they take their shoes off. 

Oh well, I am gonna to stop my ranting now and wrap this up.  In the end, I feel paleo is definitely the best choice for people who can afford it.  Many more people can afford it than actually do it.  I have been judgemental in the past.  Its time for me to be a bit more sensitive to the fact that paleo principles can be a bit elitist.  There are some people who just can't afford this way of living and I need to respect that rather than get on my high horse about being healthy.



claire said...

I think there is a difference between following basic Paleo principles and shelling out tons of money to have the trendiest Paleo stuff.

I live in hugely expensive San Francisco, and I make less than half the median income here.

I have made simple sacrifices in how much stuff I have and services I pay for, instead focusing on investing in food. I buy grass feed beef in bulk to save money. I'm sorry but less than 4.00lb for grass fed beef is worth it in price, flavor and nutrient density.

I like your idea of hunting but it's not so possible for me in this urban area.

Perhaps people should start getting to know their neighbors and working cooperatively to share garden space, cooking and canning food and buying whole animals and splitting them to save $. We expect to live so independently and it limits us.

Anonymous said...

"Many more people can afford it than actually do it."

And this is why it's not elitist.

I eat paleo on an annual income less than half what the feds consider poverty level. I do it by not buying things like Vibram Five Fingers and four dollar cups of coffee.

Chuck said...

I am jealous of $4.00/pound

i would love to hear more about how you make things work.

Anonymous said...

Chuck: Forgot to mention I also live in the state with the 49th worst economy out of the 50, last time I checked! Most of it is just not buying junk/dumb crap, as well as not having a mortgage to pay off. After that, I'd say it's all about:

- Smart buying. Every fall I get a quarter cow for the deep freeze. That lasts all winter and works out to about four bucks a pound. A number of farms have fresh eggs at very reasonable prices. Canned salmon is a great cheap staple to throw in some seafood variety. And I don't completely avoid non-pastured meat, so there's more than one local butcher I'm also willing to buy from, and one decent supermarket that occasionally has half-off sales.

- Sticking as much as possible to what's locally available and in season. This keeps fruit and vegetable consumption within reasonable limits. Coconut is one of the exceptions, though I found you can make coconut butter at home for a quarter of the store price. This also helps minimize "treats" and keeps them special instead of an everyday thing, which can be a huge buy-in factor for some folks, particularly with kids old enough to be set in their SAD ways. And the worse the state of the world economy gets, the more important I think it will be to rely on as little resources as possible that come from more than 50 miles away.

I do quite a bit of preserved fermented vegetables in the summer and fall, but canning still seems like too much time and trouble for the return on investment.

And needless to say, it's a lot easier when the rest of the household is on board. My partner might not be eating paleo, but is definitely eating better since I made the change myself.

Penniless Parenting said...

I think it is elitist to assume, as anon wrote, that if everyone did like they, they'd be able to afford a Paleo diet. I do all anon wrote plus more, but I still can't afford a Paleo diet. Expand your mind a drop; there might be people just as frugal, or more frugal than you, that still can't afford a Paleo diet.

And unfortunately, my religion forbids hunting, or I'd take that up.

Chuck said...

good for you for making sacrifices and getting creative

thx for dropping in

Anonymous said...

I don't assume that everyone will, even if they can. And I don't assume that everyone can. But I am positive that many, many more can than actually do.

Jan said...

"There is yet another level of paleo eaters who make sacrifices in their budget so they can afford the high quality food."

We fall into that category as well, although it occurred to me that if you read my blog you probably wouldn't know it. But, we own one car and our house was cheap for the neighborhood it's in. We rarely eat out, and I haven't seen the inside of a Starbucks in so long I can't even recall when the last time was. We buy in bulk, and we spend a LOT of our free time canning, freezing and preserving. As I lose weight, I'm shopping more in the back of my closet than I am at stores.

BUT part of the problem is that these days, we expect food to be not only cheap and plentiful but EASY, forgetting that just 3 or 4 generations ago, food was a much larger part of a household's budget and took much more time to prepare, and if you didn't preserve it yourself, you were SOL in the winter months and during lean times. IMHO, the subsidization/industrialization of commodity food crops is the larger part of the problem, not that paleo is elitist.

There was a time when I was very poor. I know what it's like to live to hand-to-mouth. I also knew then what I know now: whole foods ARE cheaper than processed crap. So if you can afford grass-fed and organically raised, knock yourself out. But in the long run, battery eggs, CAFO ground beef and pork shoulder blade steaks, whole potatoes and canned green beans are not only a LOT cheaper than McDonalds or Healthy Choice frozen meals, but healthier as well.

Chuck said...

thx for chiming in. this has been something on my mind lately. although i haven't gotten many opinions stating paleo is just simply unaffordable, i have gotten many saying that it can be affordable.

the subsidies do tend to skew the cost of certain foods verse other foods.

Matt Metzgar said...

I think there are different levels related to income. Could someone on a very limted income afford organic produce and grass-fed beef? It would be difficult. But they could buy chicken and potatoes instead of bread and milk.

If the will is there, I don't see income as being a major issue.

Be said...

As long as the consumer isn't really directly paying for health care, a $10 deductible payment per visit/prescription allows us to keep searching for a magic bullet instead of thinking of the REAL cost of our dietary budget.

I also happen to agree with Jan - no surprise there, but affordability is a cop out. Just saying.

Chuck said...


"chicken and potatoes" that sounds like something from 70 years ago rather than 15,000 years ago.

you and I are very much on the same page regarding the magic pill mentality. that really frustrates the hell out of me.

Betsy said...

Don't forget to factor in that many people simply don't have access to grass-fed, organic and raw foods. For me, I would have to have grass-fed meats shipped to me as there isn't anywhere within reasonable driving distance to buy from. The nearest Whole Foods and Trader Joes is 150 miles away from me, and the nearest farm I can buy raw milk from (I know, I know, dairy isn't paleo but it is a Real Food) is 100 miles away. We do have farmer's markets in the summer, but none of it is organic. Local and fresh, yes, but not organic.

Many of the real food blogs I read, whether it's paleo/primal, traditional a'la' Nourishing Traditions or just Real Food, do get elitist about the "right way" to do whole/real foods. The tone I get from these blogs are, "if you don't do grass-fed/organic/raw then you're not doing it right."

I just can't afford to drive hundreds of miles around my state to procure food on a regular basis. My state's food co-op doesn't even travel this far out, the nearest drop off point is 50 miles away. Even if I could buy in bulk, I don't have a deep freeze so I have no storage space.

If I had access to it all within my immediate area, it might be possible to budget to include it more often, but to also factor in travel and shipping costs, to the price of the already expensive food, is just not doable. So standard grocery store food is my only option.

From the blogs I read I gather many of them live on the left or right coasts, near bigger urban areas, so the thought of not being able to easily buy these foods seems to get forgotten. I admit, my situation is a bit odd because if I only lived 100 miles further to the east in my state, all of this would be a non-issue. But where I live is smack dab in the middle of a grass-fed/organic/raw desert.

Anonymous said...

"if you don't do grass-fed/organic/raw then you're not doing it right."

If anyone says that, they're wrong.

Don't eat grains, legumes, sweeteners and vegetable oils.

That's it.


Work the rest out depending on your ability, willingness, and context.

Chuck said...


if it weren't for our deep freezer, we would be in the same boat as you. do you have luck finding decent eggs around you?

Johnlyn ~ Frugality and Homemaking said...

Anon said it best!
"if you don't do grass-fed/organic/raw then you're not doing it right."

"If anyone says that, they're wrong.

Don't eat grains, legumes, sweeteners and vegetable oils.

That's it.


Work the rest out depending on your ability, willingness, and context."

I do NOT believe that this diet is more expensive than eating grains. We eat less often so yes, breakfast might cost more, but we don't snack the entire day like we used to.

Our budget has increased since we chose a different diet, but that's because we're choosing to support our local economy and buy local food.

Elitist? Nah - just want to help out local farmers.

Chuck said...

Well, it appears more are supporting paleo as an affordable diet plan. Please comment on Penniless Parenting link in this post your ideas as to how you make it work.

Megh @ Yolks, Kefir, & Gristle said...

I'm totally on board with what you're saying about hunting. We are hoping that wherever we move next will be somewhere that the deer don't have such ready access to stocks of soy-based animal feed. (Pennsylvania deer, much to my body's unhappiness, clearly eat a good amount of soy!) If that happens, my husband very much wants to makes some hunter friends to teach him the craft.

Also, I think that there's something to be said about what exactly constitutes being an elitist. And as unpopular as it might be, is there something wrong with being a member of the "elite"? I don't know, maybe there is. It's all a matter of perspective, tho. As Americans -- or even just as people with internet access and time to blog -- we ARE the elite of the human race, by a really long shot. The fact that we can have this discussion is evidence of that. I don't know that there's anything to feel guilty about in that -- I mean, guilt is more about who's feeling it than about the reasons why, in my opinion. I guess I'm ok being "elite", if that's what I am because I don't eat grains and legumes and refuse to subject my body to soy-fed animal products. I don't feel like I am irresponsible about it--quite the contrary; and I don't feel like ditching all the resources I have--a la Into the Wild--really is responsible either. It seems much less elitist to be eating this way than to be walking around using an iphone. But that's the way I've chosen to live my values.

sheone said...

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