3

votes

How do we maintain civilization and population on a paleo diet?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created May 23, 2011 at 8:05 PM

I'm wondering if any paleo diet advocates would like to weigh in on the question of human population. To be blunt: how do we decide who lives and dies, and how do we maintain human technological civilization while eating a paleo diet?

The human population of this world is big because of farming. Even before oil and the green revolution the human population was larger than a strictly paleo diet could support. Ceral grains provided the abundant, storage ready calories that allowed the human population to grow.

The world cannot support 7 billion people eating a paleo diet. The world cannot support 7 billion people with pre-industrial agriculture.

Environmentalists, energy analysts, and just about everyone else looking at the problems of the modern world are loath to touch on the central driving factor of most modern problems: the immense and unsustainable human population of this world.

3eca93d2e56dfcd768197dc5a50944f2

(11697)

on October 19, 2011
at 08:44 PM

7 billion people are too many to feed by natural means. I'd say, the magic number for Earth's size is no more than 1 billion humans on the planet. That's a number that is possibly sustainable via the Paleo eating habits. It obviously means that space currently occupied by humans to feed all 7 billion, should be given back to animals/vegetation too.

9a5e2da94ad63ea3186dfa494e16a8d1

(15833)

on June 15, 2011
at 03:52 PM

"We"? :-) This presupposes that we're in charge of the world...?

C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on May 25, 2011
at 03:19 PM

An excellent book - a definite must read for anyone interested in food politics.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25472)

on May 24, 2011
at 03:21 PM

Eat more meat.....

D67e7b481854b02110d5a5b21d6789b1

(4111)

on May 24, 2011
at 03:11 PM

I assume you "Rich people" in relation to third world countries. For most people in the US, not eating paleo is a choice, not a price issue. Two conventional beef roasts and a bag of potatoes and carrots costs about the same as a large box of Hot Pockets, a bag of Doritos and a dozen soft drinks. Eating Paleo does not mean everything has to be grass fed and $8 a pound. For a cook who plans their shopping it is far cheaper to eat paleo than to eat SAD, it is far more convenient to eat SAD. Choices.

7ee01316570b660bd47e9481e8db7c30

(60)

on May 24, 2011
at 04:21 AM

Unfortunately, this is not the case. The economy is not "more real" than the physical world, and the physical world sets certain limits. It is undeniable that grains, whatever their faults, provide several orders of magnitude more calories per acre than pasture. Given that we are dangerously close to or have already overshot the earth's carrying capacity, there is no way we could scale up animal food production to the level needed to feed the world.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 24, 2011
at 02:34 AM

Yeah, that sounds like what I was saying.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25472)

on May 24, 2011
at 02:13 AM

Weak is relative.....if the stressor takes out the dominate species strength that is the stressors of life and evolution at work. You can spin it how you choose.....but the fittest survive based upon the context of the day. Sometimes the day allows the weakest to survive........asteroid meets dinosaur let's mammals rule the earth. Even evolution has a context

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 24, 2011
at 12:58 AM

People who are physically or mentally weak by our standards aren't necessarily evolutionarily weak. If the physically and mentally STRONG care about preserving the weak, that's what's gonna happen. In "survival of the fittest", the word "fit" simply refers to what's good at surviving. Weak people helped by strong people may be great at surviving.

Medium avatar

(3259)

on May 23, 2011
at 11:07 PM

Interesting, although my caveman-economist brain doesn't quite get some of your argument. If paleo is based on sustainability, where do your increases in animal yield and labour productivity come from? We can't push beef yield too far beyond its natural point without the use of chemicals, and productivity increases generally come with the introduction of technology (in grass-fed beef?). If we have anything to learn from the rise in demand for organic food, the capacity to boost production to meet it may be somewhat sticky, and price setting is way more complex than "beef down, grain up."

C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on May 23, 2011
at 10:30 PM

Awesome answer! Been doing a lot of thinking about paleo politics lately.

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19245)

on May 23, 2011
at 09:30 PM

People who say "somethings got to give" usually don't expect to be the ones doing the giving.

94e89cc96d5a58b71f36b369b8082999

(767)

on May 23, 2011
at 09:23 PM

No, it's not. History is littered with thinkers expecting overpopulation to harm us; instead, human ingenuity has always thwarted these doomsayers. It may be difficult to exactly predict how billions of people will change their preferences and habits in the future, but that is no reason to believe that "the way things are" is the things will always be.

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12 Answers

10
Be1dbd31e4a3fccd4394494aa5db256d

(17969)

on May 23, 2011
at 10:08 PM

This all presupposes that we have to feed the world on a paleo diet. Such arguments are used by those who hate something and advocate its complete and unconditional abolishment (vegans) without any thought to the middle ground. Let's just examine the issue of livestock farming.

There is a ton of prime pasture land in North America where I live. Grass-fed pastures with proper grazing techniques are indefinitely sustainable, good for the land and can provide a large amount of food. It strikes me as reasonable to use this pasture land for what it is best at being - pasture land. So there will be a limited amount of pasture land, but pasture land nonetheless. We have X number of bison or whatever and we can make use of the entire animal for food. What is the paleo diet anyway? Is it eating 2 pounds of meat and 6 eggs a day like some people do, or can it be 1/3 a pound of fatty meat in one meal, some shellfish in another, and a bone broth in one more? People forget that when you take the whole animal into consideration you have an ample amount of gelatinous protein which usually goes to waste or gets used for industrial purposes. Furthermore, harvesting grains yields non-seed parts that can be safely and healthily fed to animals. Many people forget that it is subsidies on corn and soy that makes it so lucrative to feed the animals that junk in the first place. If you take away the subsidies yes it does become more expensive and that's fine and people with more money end up buying up all of the steaks and people with less have the ground meat, gelatinous parts and organs. Although I think it's like $3 a pound from my local guy if you buy a whole cow. Cmon $3 a pound does not indicate a huge and worrisome demand. This model has me personally eating less muscle meat than the average American, with none of it taking up the hippies' precious grains. Oh I forgot, there's TONS of grains. If we planted tubers and vegetables in their place we would still be able to feed everyone.

In general my main objection to the Kantian sillies is that their ideology is speculative and not grounded in reality but in ineffectual ideals. Because you do something doesn't necessarily mean that everyone else WILL. Unfortunately for their health there will always be a vast majority who choose to subsist on the SAD and will never change no matter what we crazies implore them to do for their own sake. If it ever happens that everyone wants to eat a paleo diet then we'll talk some more. But I don't think it will be much of a discussion, the free market usually does the talking and we all fall in line or find alternatives like cow shares and such.

C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on May 23, 2011
at 10:30 PM

Awesome answer! Been doing a lot of thinking about paleo politics lately.

4
7ee01316570b660bd47e9481e8db7c30

on May 23, 2011
at 09:51 PM

There is no way to feed the world on the kind of "paleo" diet that many on this site practice. However, we could easily feed the world with a diet based on starchy tubers and fermented non-gluten grains. This kind of Kitavan-style diet is just as healthy as a meat and fat heavy paleo diet, but is far more scalable and universally attainable.

If we really want to see the improvements in health endowed by paleo diets on a population-wise basis, it is imperative that we drop the faux-nietzschean worship of meat as the only acceptable dietary staple.

4
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on May 23, 2011
at 09:05 PM

I don't know. I was told that God was going to get rid of huge swaths of the population this past weekend. Unfortunately S/He didn't come through. So, I guess we're going to have to wait until December 21, 2012. I'll get back to you on your question then.

3
Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on May 23, 2011
at 11:58 PM

It's a really interesting question but based on some false assumptions I think. For instance, the idea that grain farming is efficient ignores how unsustainable it really is. The farmer/author Joel Salatin ("The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer" is fantastic) grows a surprisingly large number of cows on grass - and the practice is sustainable, reduces greenhouse gases, preserves the soil and is healthier. Many of those factors are ignored when "experts" talk about how productive grain is!

When pundits talk about grain being "efficient" they are mostly referring to how it makes money for the very small number of corporations that own the systems behind it. For just about everybody else it's a disaster on just about every level - bad for the land, for the air, for the people and for the animals (if the grain is feed to livestock). Small farms are "inefficient" not because they don't feed people - they do - but because they don't make corporations rich.

Note that except for in the West, agriculture actually tends to be closely associated with famine - and has been since Neolithic times.

It's possible that if "everybody" went paleo (and there are many variations of paleo so many environments could support it) there wouldn't be enough to go around - but the numbers simply haven't been done properly on that.

I highly recommend the book "Against the Grain" by Richard Manning. He really delivers a scathing indictment of 'agriculture' - and it's backed up with a lot of factual information (the best kind :-))

C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on May 25, 2011
at 03:19 PM

An excellent book - a definite must read for anyone interested in food politics.

2
00c8eb3f6e6a1884216044ca29cf868a

on June 15, 2011
at 09:59 PM

Our current system of industrial agriculture is completely unsustainable.

Just for starters, we're strip-mining our topsoil to grow 200+ bushels of corn per acre, at about 1% per year, and we're using 3-5% of world natural gas production to make the ammonium nitrate fertilizer to do it. And we're strip-mining the ocean for fish to make up for the nutritional inadequacy of grains.

In other words, we have an unsustainable system in overshoot, whose endgame is a depleted world that supports far less people than would be alive in a world of sustainable paleo eaters. Arguing that it's superior is simply delaying our inevitable confrontation with the problem of exponentially increasing population. (And all the projections that it will somehow level off soon for any reason but famine or disease are, as far as I can tell, wishful thinking.)

2
Da353144e7438a83395c8556a023b528

(38)

on June 15, 2011
at 03:19 PM

If the grain feed population of the world were to disappear we would no longer to be able to specialize and our population would revert to pre-agricultural levels. Whether or not the rest of the world's population eats a paleo diet may not be of concern to you but what they do while they are alive is. You didn't build your house, generate your electricity or raise your beef. When agriculture stops the human population will drop like a rock.

We can't sustain our current population on a diet based on Hunting and Gathering. Let me be clear: we have been overshooting the planet's carrying capacity for humans since the very first harvest. Agriculturalists won out over Hunter-Gatherers because they had greater numbers of people. They could fight and specialize and develop technology and civilization.

A small group of Hunter-Gatherers can produce everything they need for themselves, but they are limited in the number of people they can support. Agriculturalists produce a surplus which allows them to specialize and develop things like the internet.

2
03fa485bfd54734522755f47a5e6597e

(3944)

on May 24, 2011
at 12:40 AM

The US government currently pays farmers not to produce anything on about 35 million acres of arable land. That's not desert or scrub ground; it's land that was formerly planted to crops and was taken out of production and put into the set-aside programs in exchange for a subsidy check. Aside from that, there are large areas of land tied up in parks that could be used as pasture if we really needed to. And that's just in the US; I've read that China has enormous untapped grasslands, and every advanced nation has subsidies or quota systems to try to balance prices and control the food supply.

That's not to say that feeding everyone on traditional paleo might not require changes or bump the percentage of a family's budget spent on food back up somewhat. But we're a long way from feeding as many people as we could, regardless of the diet involved, and I don't think anyone really knows how many people the earth could feed.

1
94e89cc96d5a58b71f36b369b8082999

on May 23, 2011
at 09:45 PM

You're making a fallacious assumption: "Because the world is supported by grains right now, fewer grains would lead to mass starvation and death."

In a hypothetical world in which everybody wants to eat Paleo, prices would change. The increase in demand for pasture-fed meat would cause suppliers to replace grain fields with animal grazing fields. Grain prices would increase as meat prices decreased. Paleo-friendly fruits and veggies would also have their output increased and, eventually, their prices decreased. The result of this process would be that a Paleo diet would be more affordable than it is today and a SAD would be more expensive. In other words, people would still be able to afford to eat. When you factor in the inevitable innovations and improvements in food storage, animal yields, labor productivity, etc., you realize that a full-scale adjustment toward Paleo principles may be fully sustainable.

That said, grains are awesome in developing countries where starvation is a legitimate concern. Nobody would go on the Paleo diet if the choice was between "Paleo" and "death".

Medium avatar

(3259)

on May 23, 2011
at 11:07 PM

Interesting, although my caveman-economist brain doesn't quite get some of your argument. If paleo is based on sustainability, where do your increases in animal yield and labour productivity come from? We can't push beef yield too far beyond its natural point without the use of chemicals, and productivity increases generally come with the introduction of technology (in grass-fed beef?). If we have anything to learn from the rise in demand for organic food, the capacity to boost production to meet it may be somewhat sticky, and price setting is way more complex than "beef down, grain up."

7ee01316570b660bd47e9481e8db7c30

(60)

on May 24, 2011
at 04:21 AM

Unfortunately, this is not the case. The economy is not "more real" than the physical world, and the physical world sets certain limits. It is undeniable that grains, whatever their faults, provide several orders of magnitude more calories per acre than pasture. Given that we are dangerously close to or have already overshot the earth's carrying capacity, there is no way we could scale up animal food production to the level needed to feed the world.

1
78f4a1b90814931891179fca3b987292

on May 23, 2011
at 09:11 PM

I really like what Cordain wrote about it here: http://thepaleodiet.com/?qa_faqs=are-hunter-gatherer-diets-practical-to-feed-the-worlds-population

So, no, it's not possible to feed the world Paleo. But rich people can eat this way, and avoid expensive health problems. And maybe donate those savings to the poor? ;)

But I think we can feed a lot more people Paleo than one might think at first glance, at least in the US. Change the awful farm subsidies system and organic veggies won't be so expensive. And animals eat what people can't.

Anyways, try this: http://paleohacks.com/questions/560/how-environmentally-responsible-green-and-sustainable-is-the-paleo-diet#axzz1NDC9HH50

D67e7b481854b02110d5a5b21d6789b1

(4111)

on May 24, 2011
at 03:11 PM

I assume you "Rich people" in relation to third world countries. For most people in the US, not eating paleo is a choice, not a price issue. Two conventional beef roasts and a bag of potatoes and carrots costs about the same as a large box of Hot Pockets, a bag of Doritos and a dozen soft drinks. Eating Paleo does not mean everything has to be grass fed and $8 a pound. For a cook who plans their shopping it is far cheaper to eat paleo than to eat SAD, it is far more convenient to eat SAD. Choices.

0
Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25472)

on May 24, 2011
at 12:52 AM

We don't ........Darwin said It is survival of the fittest. Who cares what the majority of the world does. That is life in a nut shell

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 24, 2011
at 12:58 AM

People who are physically or mentally weak by our standards aren't necessarily evolutionarily weak. If the physically and mentally STRONG care about preserving the weak, that's what's gonna happen. In "survival of the fittest", the word "fit" simply refers to what's good at surviving. Weak people helped by strong people may be great at surviving.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25472)

on May 24, 2011
at 02:13 AM

Weak is relative.....if the stressor takes out the dominate species strength that is the stressors of life and evolution at work. You can spin it how you choose.....but the fittest survive based upon the context of the day. Sometimes the day allows the weakest to survive........asteroid meets dinosaur let's mammals rule the earth. Even evolution has a context

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 24, 2011
at 02:34 AM

Yeah, that sounds like what I was saying.

3eca93d2e56dfcd768197dc5a50944f2

(11697)

on October 19, 2011
at 08:44 PM

7 billion people are too many to feed by natural means. I'd say, the magic number for Earth's size is no more than 1 billion humans on the planet. That's a number that is possibly sustainable via the Paleo eating habits. It obviously means that space currently occupied by humans to feed all 7 billion, should be given back to animals/vegetation too.

0
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on May 23, 2011
at 10:19 PM

Eat less meat. And if we need meat, eat good meat. The same for diary and eggs and honey.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25472)

on May 24, 2011
at 03:21 PM

Eat more meat.....

0
6e4b38a97f74c32c4d12977acf7cba35

on May 23, 2011
at 08:47 PM

the world is over populated somethings got to give.

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19245)

on May 23, 2011
at 09:30 PM

People who say "somethings got to give" usually don't expect to be the ones doing the giving.

94e89cc96d5a58b71f36b369b8082999

(767)

on May 23, 2011
at 09:23 PM

No, it's not. History is littered with thinkers expecting overpopulation to harm us; instead, human ingenuity has always thwarted these doomsayers. It may be difficult to exactly predict how billions of people will change their preferences and habits in the future, but that is no reason to believe that "the way things are" is the things will always be.

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