In this article I’m going to highlight some changes to food that we could see in the coming decades, and how they could affect you and I as paleolithic lifestylers. I don’t have a crystal ball but everything here is theoretically possible or being prototyped somewhere…
So. What the hell happened to food?
You probably agree that, on the whole, business makes the decisions in how most feed themselves today. Mainstream science, beholden to its commercial funding, often presents research that’s not exactly objective. There are labs where people design food, putting together food products for maximum palatability and largest profit margins.
It’s not all bad of course, we’ve had all kinds of innovation out of these mega corporations’ research dollars. And paleo itself is built on findings in the nutritional and social sciences. The thought leaders in our field often have scientific backgrounds. So it’s not like we’re opposed to science.
In many ways, paleo is a backlash to the frankly disastrous standard of health in the modern world. We’ve opted out of the SAD and taken back our wellness. To some extent we’ve also reclaimed our food supply. But, in this big business, high tech food world, where do us paleolithic eaters stand? Are we, along with the vegans, and other ‘extreme’ dietary groups, destined to be the last of the natural food holdouts resisting the tendrils and developments in the mainstream food industry? Do we choose to resist forever, or will we one day see authentic ‘paleo products’ on supermarket shelves?
Image credit: Simon Shek
To many of us, paleo is a way of life, one built on living with the healthiest and most sustainable principles. And with the work of people like Robb, the movement, which lacks huge corporate interest and funding, grows stronger every year. Grass fed is grass roots, and long may it continue.
But in spite of our progress there’s an awkward question that nobody’s really asking.
Can the foods that science ‘designs’ ever be made ‘better’ than our staples of leafy greens, wild caught fish, grassfed meats, and so on? By ‘better’ I mean providing higher quality nutrition, and costing less in resources to bring to market?
Or bluntly, can ‘Big Agri’, ‘Big Pharma’, and food technology make paleo obsolete?
Clearly not at the moment, but what about in the future? Consider foods precisely tailored to our individual genetic profile, and perfectly reproduced in 3d organic printers. Or even assembled at a cellular level by nanotechnology. And if these ‘printed’ meals were better for us, how many of us would choose to consume them? What if meat was made obsolete?Do you think we’d be forced to give up consuming animals, by ‘ethical groups’?
So, is paleo about optimal nutrition, or a natural way of life? Must there be a tradeoff? Perhaps we can use technology to enhance our Palaeolithic foods? For example, genetically identical grassfed beef, but grown in a vat (in vitro) from samples taken from cattle. All fine and good, but would the paleo orthodoxy accept it? Would we trust the FDA if they labelled it ‘safe’?
And what about foods with almost identical nutritional profiles to our favourites, but in strange shapes and colours (to appeal to the kids and the vegans perhaps)? Would you give your children something that in every way resembled and tasted like a chocolate bar, but had the nutritional payload of wild Alaskan salmon? I think I would.
In the nearer future we’re supposed to see the coming to market of a second generation of ‘transgenic foods‘ (another word for genetically modified). Their composition would be altered, supposedly to promote health benefits. For example, foods with ‘boosted additives’ such as antioxidising agents that are actually bred into the cellular structure of the food, not mixed in later as an additive. Just the way that antioxidants in nature work.
So to take this further, would Mr/Mrs Paleo eat a transgenic, antioxidant enriched bagel that’d been authentically stripped of the lectins, gluten, nasty carbs and whatnot? What if it tasted like chicken? What if it was good for you? What would the point of paleo be then?
Yeah, it could all get a bit weird for us.
Hell no, GMO
Image credit: John S. Quarterman
Can we ever get to the point where we have GMO without the Monsanto style consequences with soybeans and intellectual property law? Maybe…
Do you think GMO can survive this generation’s distrust? It’s done enough damage and got enough bad press already, so I don’t think it can. But suppose one day we get good at it, and by then people have forgotten all about Monsanto. What if GMO got so effective that there was no point to us eating these ‘old’ and nutritionally inferior varieties of vegetables? If GMO were to become acceptable on a wide scale, there’s no doubt we’d have the holdouts with their oldschool genetically untampered cabbage patches. Would you be among them?
Yet it helps to consider that the foods we consume today have already been molded by thousands of years of human selection, which is a little like old fashioned genetic engineering, albeit in slow motion and with certain constraints. Many paleolithic eaters are suspicious of fruit for this very reason, selected for thousands of years for the maximum tasty sweetness (and fructose payload!). But what about a delicious GMO apple where the fructose has been swapped out for something else? Would you try one?
And the far future…?
Obviously, biological science isn’t just tinkering with food. Everything with cells is up for grabs, or will be. That includes you and me.
So, what about that far off point where we no longer require what we define as food to survive? I’m sure you know of the life extensionists, popping 150 pills a day, holding out until they’re able to upload their minds into the mainframe, or to receive some sort of therapy that rejuvenates their body on a cellular level. Waiting to become the next level of humanity.
And If we aren’t even human anymore, then what is paleo to us? Not a problem for current readers, but perhaps we think about our children, grandchildren and descendants. Posthuman grandchildren? Could happen.
Considering what we’ve already pulled off in genetic engineering, would you discount this sort of technology arriving eventually? I wouldn’t.
Sure all this talk of food tech and going beyond our humanity might be too much at the moment, and maybe it is. But science moves faster than it has ever moved before, and if anything it is accelerating. Maybe paleo is just one point in our journey towards optimal wellness. Maybe science will outdo nature after all. But science has an agenda, because it’s got to get money from somewhere. Nature doesn’t have an agenda.
Will there be a time when paleo is no longer optimal? That depends on how we respond and define paleo. So, will paleo practices evolve and change alongside scientific progress? I guess that’s down to us. I think so, we’re a progressive bunch.
But what do you think?
- How will technological changes affect our food supply and way of life in the coming decades?
- Will there ever become a point where man-made foods are nutritionally superior and more socially/economically expedient than natural whole/paleolithic foods? What do we do then?
- Will there ever come a point where human advancement takes us beyond the consumption of food and ergo, beyond paleo. What then?
Byline: Jack Oughton is a journalist and copywriter for hire from Croydon, UK. He eats a paleo diet and most of his friends and family think his food choices are ‘insane’. The hell do they know anyway? He can be found on Twitter, masquerading as a talking owl called Koukouvaya