Since both the Vegan and the Paleo diets have become so mainstream over the past few years, and both have their loyal (even obsessive) followings, I thought it would be interesting to compare the two from the angle of, which is a more natural way for humans to eat?
Let's dig in, shall we?
In response to this argument, I have heard vegans contend that in the past, this was because of necessity due to lack of available food sources, and that now our world is more prosperous, and we should focus on providing plant-based foods to everyone.
This brings up an interesting consideration: Is veganism a product of wealth? There is certainly some evidence to suggest so. In countries like the U.S. as well as much of Europe, where most people are quite wealthy - at least relative to most of the rest of the world - we see more vegans. We live in a society where just about any type of food you can imagine is available to us. This degree of choice is unprecedented in human history - at least up until the last century or so.
There's no denying that, to some degree, ethics is a product of prosperity. When humans had to fight for sustenance, and eat whatever they could to survive, you didn't have people saying "I'd never kill an animal for food." It just didn't happen. In many cases, it was you, or the animal - a choice that our survival instinct makes quite easy. But now, with grocery stores stocked full of any kind of edible you could possibly want, it is possible to make the choice not to consume animals. And many people are making that choice.
While many types of animals are biologically designed to eat a specific type of food - e.g. grass, fruit, other animals, etc., we humans, it would seem, are not. With our crafty brains and opposable thumbs, we have asserted our right to eat...well, just about whatever we please! With this attitude, and a will to survive, we've clawed our way to the top of the food chain. But does this mean that we truly are meant to eat everything that falls beneath us?
However, this post isn't about whether it is right or wrong to eat animals. I myself, sometimes feel a gnawing sense that eating another living creature might not be the most spiritual act. (On the other hand, I can't imagine why I would ever feel bad about eating, for example, an egg, assuming that the chicken that produced the egg was living a happy, healthy life, enjoying her "chicken-ness," as Joel Salatin would say.) :-)
And I personally have nothing against vegans. It very well may be a valid choice for some people, and I would never presume to tell someone that they should be eating meat if they don't want to (unlike most vegans I've run across, who seem mere moments away from clubbing me over the head, dragging me into a windowless room, and force-feeding me tofu!)... In fact, my own mother is currently enjoying a stint of (semi-)veganism. Although I can't say she is a true vegan, as she does consume meat and animal products sometimes at social occasions or holidays when family brings dishes that contain them. She also doesn't run around trying to convert everyone to her way of eating, which separates her from most vegans I have come into contact with....
But what about the Paleo diet? Also known as the "caveman diet," Paleo means trying to eat as closely as possible to the way our ancestors ate. Obviously there are a number of problems with this scenario - first and foremost being, we don't really know exactly what people ate a million years ago. And secondly, even if we did, we probably wouldn't want to eat most of it! (Yum..a handful of grubs, anyone?)
The Paleo diet is heavy on meat, and light on grains - in fact, most Paleo fans eschew grain altogether as a modern invention that is unnatural for humans to consume. Some critics argue that human digestive systems have evolved to tolerate grains, and this may be true in part, but I still think it seems pretty evident that Americans today eat FAR too many starchy carbs (just look at our waistlines).
The bottom line is, I think if you look at both sides, the truth about what is a truly healthy human diet lies somewhere in the middle. Humans really do have more of the biology of an omnivore. We don't have the digestive tracts nor the teeth of either a carnivore nor an herbivore. From what I have read and researched, we really shouldn't be eating huge amounts of either meat or grains. If you look at what we have eaten throughout history, it runs the gamut, but in general, we have usually consumed lots of fruits and vegetables, and small amounts of seeds, grains, and meat - when we could get it.
Which brings me back to the necessity question, and I will leave you to chew on this:
If tomorrow every single grocery store was wiped off the face of the planet, what do you think people would eat?
The answer is, we would eat whatever we could.
If we could not go out and buy food whenever we needed it, and we had to produce 100% of our daily calories ourselves, I am willing to bet the vast majority of us would eat some form of animal products - as do most people throughout the world who raise their own food.
Paleo? Not entirely, but I'm willing to bet there would be VERY few vegans in the world....
If this seems a bit inconclusive, it is meant to be. I am not here to say you should or should not eat meat, or grain. Nor am I saying that we should stop buying food and all go back to self-subsistence farming (although we probably would be a lot healthier without most of the foods in the grocery store...). In fact, I believe that from person to person, our bodies can handle different foods quite differently. I have read some horror stories online from people who went vegan for a while, and suffered a number of quite severe health problems because of it. Others seem to do quite well on a vegan diet. Some people can't tolerate gluten, and others seem to do okay with it.
Instead, I think you should do what seems healthy for YOU. As I've suggested numerous times before, learn to listen to your body, and pay attention to what foods bother you, and which ones make you feel great. Absolutely do your own research; learn about different ways of healthy eating, and feel free to test them out for yourself.
But don't feel you have to eat a certain way just because a certain group of people says you should. Remember that you are responsible for your own health, and only you can decide if healthy for you means eating Vegan, eating Paleo, or somewhere in between.
To your health!