Burning Straw Men

Welcome to those chasing links from The Guardian to this site.  But also, apologies that you have had to read such an awful piece of writing from Dave Bry.

NB: The Guardian has since softened their original article, moving away from me “disavowing Paleo” to me “separating myself from the movement.”

Dave obviously has a bee in his bonnet about the underlying tenets of Paleo – this is fine, it is a free world still – in some small sections at least.  But unfortunately for his “journalistic” credentials, rather than write something based on fact, Dave has chosen to cobble together a few bits and bobs from the interweb in order to construct his straw man arguments.


Firstly, I did ask Mr Bry if he would remove the mention of my name and the link to this site, as I felt he had used it out of context and to support a false argument (he declined). His rationale is that my “disavowing” of Paleo adds to 2015 being a bad year for the movement.  With reference to that particular post, it was actually very well-received by the movement in general, with the overall feeling that more of us need to speak out against the very issues I wrote the post to address.

A movement, organisation, or any other group for that matter, is stronger when people are prepared to speak against it when it becomes damaged and dogmatic.  My post was one designed to call out the people who are intent on reinventing the same processed crap, tweaking a few ingredients to suit a set of arbitrary rules, and calling it “Paleo”.  What my post wasn’t, and this seems to be the point that really bakes Bry’s noodle, was a dismissal and disavowment of the underlying tenets of Paleo; that it is a good heuristic for eating foods – plants and animals – in their most minimally processed forms; approximating (as opposed to replicating – because we can’t) the very types of foods we have eaten the longest, and minimising the edible-food-like-substances we have been exposed to the least.

Since that post, there have been several other high profile Paleo proponents who have sought to minimise their association with the very type of Paleo my post took aim at.  Again, what Bry attempts to position as a negative for the movement (the changing of my blogging name – very flattering though, I must say), was seen as anything but.

Bry goes on to make many other errors in his piece, including;

  • Positioning Paleo as “meat forward”.  This is one of the most common straw men, largely built up by modern media and their stereotypical portrayals of Neanderthals ripping at raw flesh (occasionally reinforced by equally stereotypical CrossFit meat heads). In the real world, however, most Paleo-types are very heavy on the vegetables.  Most of us base meals on a plate that is 25% quality protein and 75% vegetables. Hardly meat heavy, and certainly not carnivorous as Bry suggests, but certainly more inclusive of vegetables than the vast majority of vegetarians I have ever consulted to in my nutrition practice.
  • In the by-line, Bry labels Paleo as a carb-adverse diet, and links this to the main thrust of the “bad news” for Paleo in 2015, the recent research suggesting our hunter-gatherer ancestors owe their big brains to consuming carbohydrate as well as cooking meat.  Shock horror, our ancestors ate starchy roots and tubers!  Leaving aside the fact that the highest profile proponents of this heuristic for navigating the modern foodscape all recommend the inclusion of starchy vegetables and even the likes of rice (in a suitable individual context), this whole thing is not about replication of our past.  There is no deal breaker here.  Paleo is not wrong.  Actually Paleo is once again proven to be largely right.  But this doesn’t make for good click bait.  The ignorant, which Bry seems to willfully be, will continue to believe we are all running scared of starchy vegetables, so that they can continue to publish [false] lines like “Paleo is a carbohydrate averse food regime”.
  • Going after Cordain and his anti-potato stance, seems to perhaps give Bry’s piece some weight. However, Cordain is an outlier in the movement on this topic, perhaps making the mistake of digging his heels in on an early hypothesis and now being reluctant to move away from that.  The younger generation of proponents tend not to suffer from this, and with the exception of those with autoimmune conditions (who are encouraged to test their own tolerance to potatoes), the humble spud is firmly back on the menu.
  • Bry takes Mark Sisson’s recommendations out of context (as Bry seems to be good at doing), calling into question his 100-150g of carbohydrate per day recommendation (which is still actually plenty for the general population who are very limited in activity levels).  But Bry then refers to the 150g recommended by the recent “man-ate-potatoes” research.  Where Bry likes to play division, I see convergence.
  • Lastly, Bry goes on to cite Dr Ron Rosedale, an individual firmly in the very low carbohydrate camp, as his final example of why the Paleo castle is crumbling.  Yet, somewhat stunningly, Bry shows the extent of his research for this fluff piece.  He Googled “Paleo doctors”, and Rosedale’s name appeared on the first Google page in an article on Paleo AND Low-Carb doctors.  The ignorant do like to conflate those who advocate a lower carbohydrate than is commonly consumed by society and those who advocate a low carbohydrate diet (typically under 50g per day).  But those in the know are aware that 150g would be considered a lower carb intake (and one not easily achieved without reverting to modern acellular carbohydrate sources).  Certainly, as per the vast range of intakes our ancestors likely ate, modern Paleos favour a range of intakes themselves, but maintain that the source needs to be high [cellular] quality sources.

So again, apologies if you turned up here to read something quite different.  But also see this is a very good example of how our modern media like to cut, hack, and paste anything and everything they can to suit whatever narrative they want to push on the day.

POSTSCRIPT: Another individual Bry focused on, Mark Sisson, has recently added his thoughts too.  I thoroughly recommend stopping by there for a more in-depth analysis.