What Explains the Paleo/Primal Fad?

“Are you Paleo,” some CrossFitter asked me. This was in 2008 and I should have invested in the Vibram Five Fingers shoe company, because the Paleo movement isn’t going anywhere.

(Click on this image to see the growth in interest, as measured in Google queries, for the Paleo movement.)

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We have to ask:

Why is Paleo so popular?

In my view, the Paleo movement is a cry for help. It’s a way to say you’re masculine while remaining politically correct. Think about what the Paleo/Primal movement advocates:

  • Eating meat
  • Playing/goofing off
  • Not taking life so seriously (i.e., having anxiety attacks at a cubicle job)
  • Doing manly shit like lifting weights, hunting, and running obstacle courses.

Paleo is popular because men are afraid to be men

As a man, we’re expected to deny our very nature.

Go get into a car where you passively breath in polluted air to work in a cubicle to support some wife and brat at home. (Paleo man was not monogamous and monogamy is unnatural for a man.) Go home to “pitch in” raising your kid. (Paleo man mentored but did not raise his children. The day-to-day grind of watching the kid was left to the mother and her extended family.)

Image you said:

I’m a man. This work shit isn’t natural. Back in the day, we went on hunts and then rested and chilled out for a few days at a time. Raising kids ain’t natural. Banging the same woman isn’t natural. I want to lift weights, play, lay around in the sun and shade, bang multiple women, and sleep 10 hours a day.

You’d be fired from your job and women would want to castrate you.

Yet isn’t that what Paleo advocates (sans the stuff about monogamy, which is too taboo for modern cavemen)?

I’ve never identified with the Paleo lifestyle because I don’t need ideological cover.

I’m a man. I don’t think work is natural; I think it’s  oppressive and should be avoided whenever possible. I don’t apologize for sleeping too much or remaining idle. I do not deny my sexuality.

Paleo man

Paleo is also popular because living in large cities is unnatural.

Where I was from, men didn’t apologize for doing manly things. Men didn’t need to create a “life philosophy” to justify eating meat, shooting guns, and getting into trouble. As a matter of fact, we actually killed our own meat with our own guns.

The Paleo diet and Paleo lifestyle is for  men who are afraid to just say, “I’m a man and like doing manly shit. I don’t need to apologize or come up with a justification for it.” Instead, gusy are seeking intellectual cover by saying things like:

Man evolved to live in open spaces, to run and play, to be out in nature, and to eat meat. Men are naturally aggressive and need outlets for aggression. Although women should not be forced into traditional gender roles, gender is not a social construct. Men do better when they are hunters and providers and women do better when they are nurturers. Evolution. Blah, blah, blah.

Right now my relatives back home are working on cars that they are going to drive in a demolition derby. Their women will have a meal ready when they get home from goofing off with their man friends. When it’s time to “get out that male aggression,” men will smash cars into each other. Their women will be cheering them on. They’ll get drunk at a pig roast and then have wild, drunken, Paleo style sex.

My whole childhood was Paleo. We just didn’t call it that. We called it growing up in the country.

We didn’t have the helicopter parents that city slickers had. We rode our bikes until it was dark outside, got into fights, climbed trees, jumped off of roofs (when mom and dad weren’t around, we climbed out of our bedroom window to get on top of the roof), played baseball, went to creeks, tore up corn fields, and generally raised hell. We would lift up trees to find snakes and use our hatchets to chop the heads of snakes off. We shot stray cats and birds with BB guns.

Just as a Paleo child had to do work for his family, we had to have part-time jobs for spending money. We detasseled corn, bailed hay, used a machete to chop up nature’s overgrowth, and had to shovel snow in the winter.

As we got older, we cruised around listening to “A Country Boy Can Survive.” We had keg parties in corn fields and drove drunk. We played high school football and smashed into each other.

We knew to wait until after the first freeze until hunting rabbits. (The diseased rabbits wouldn’t survive the first frost.) We killed our own food and ate it without wondering if that’s what our “Paleolithic ancestors” would have done.

In the country, every man talks about getting “land” or getting “timber.” Property isn’t measured in square feet. Real men speak in “acres.” Once a man has timber, he sets up a deer stand and waits for hunting season.

We spent time in nature. We had to walk across a frozen pond hoping it wouldn’t crack while hunting pheasants. There were no medical aid stations waiting for us in case something went wrong during our “warrior dash” over electric fences.

We went went “pinging” with a Ruger 10-22 rifle, spending an afternoon going through over 1,000 rounds of 22 caliber ammo.

We got into schoolyard fights. We had guys drive a truck in the snow while hanging onto a tube.

Most of us were poor or part of the working poor. If you wanted a college education, you had to join the military.

A Spartan Run is the last thing I want to do. I did obstacle courses in the Army. I wore ill-fitting leather boots. I did road marches where I had to make the decision every soldier dreds: If you take your boots off to apply foot powder (to help prevent blisters by drying out your feet and socks) will your foot fit back into your boots (the ankle swells badly during a march and your boot serves as a de factor ankle brace)?

After hiking 15 miles, I feel asleep on my ruck sack with nothing between me and the stars – like my Paleo ancestors.

When I moved to the city, my country childhood friend (in the country we have lifelong friendships) my AK-47. He put it into a gun case in the back of his pick-up truck and took it to my dad.

When I look around the Paleo movement, I see people who are like me in my current state. I am yuppie scum. I have stronger opinions on the right moisturizer for men than I do on duck blinds.

Me and guys like Mark Sisson are hedonistic yuppies who can navigate around a Botox clinic far better than we could find our way around the woods. Do Paleo men shoot testosterone, HGH, and go to anti-aging clinics?

The Paleo movement is a front. It’s narcissism. It’s creating a false identity.

You can’t be Paleo living in the city.

When people ask me to go camping, I laugh. “Didn’t you get that shit out of your system when you were a kid?”

Now I’m sure some of you guys are “Paleo,” and will get pissed. There’s no need to be butt hurt.

I’m not hating on your movement because that would be hating on myself. I’m as much of a city pussy as you are. We are the same. We’re vain hedonists looking to make a buck, find some good espresso, read the latest book, and get our dicks wet.

I just don’t front like I’m a primal man since I know what it means to be primal. Being primal can be romanticized but cities are where it’s at.

If you want to live a Paleo lifestyle, leave the city. Go into the country. Instead of spending $750,000 for a few hundred square feet, buy hundreds of acres of woodland that will be loaded with deer.

Drill a well for your water. Go outside in your vast acreage and start a big ass bonfire. Invite your tribe over to eat deer sausages made from wild game that you killed yourself.

Get yourself a bow and go hunt those deer on your own land. Learn what it’s like to stalk an animal for real. Learn how to not step on a branch, to control your breath, and to become one with nature.

The real Paleo men are out living in the country, being country boys, driving around ATVs, and having a good time out in nature.

  • http://nexxtlevelup.com Nate

    Nice, D&P, didn’t realize you grew up Iowa style!

    Whenever I’ve used “paleo” terminology it’s for other people to immediately identify what kind of diet I’m talking about. As a lifestyle, though… I can see its appeal to others now that you put it this way.

    I guess my buddies and I have always been about guns, hunting and fishing, getting muddy as fuck, poison ivy multiple times a year, blowing dumbass amounts of money on ammo and lures, boozing fireside, flying ATVs over terraces, popping critters down at the creek, and all that fun shit. Lifting weights, wrestling, football, and backyard boxing were a given. It’s easy to forget that a ton of dudes do not have this frame of reference and explains a lot of the need for teaching game/masculinity.

    • Danger & Play

      Yes, a Midwestern boy here.

      I omitted the Paleo diet, which is highly effective. I think some of it is is silly (such as the paranoia about lentils; people have eaten lentils for thousands of years and they seem to be fine).

      But a critique of the Paleo diet would be focusing on the 10-20% that is sort of silly, and that sort of nit-picking is sort of silly.

      • http://nexxtlevelup.com Nate

        Right. The people who proclaim paleo diet all the time like it’a a badge of honor are annoying but there is no doubt that it works.

        Still semi-baffled at this “paleo lifestyle” business, as opposed to the diet. Your post was my first intro to it. Whatever, I guess. If I didn’t know any better I’d think it’s just another form of attention whoring. Can’t just go out and do man shit, gotta tell everyone about it and give it this new name…

  • Mac

    Sounds like life growing up in Maine, except we would spend our winters doing stupid shit on skis and snowmobiles, and trying to hunt the triple crown – that is, a buck, a moose, and a bear. I never got it, but my buddy did. He shared all the game with us, and bear meat is great. Try some if you get the opportunity.

    I always chuckle to myself when I see effeminate guys in the gym who are wearing their vibram five fingers, lecturing each other about how “Bicep curls are stupid. Stick with the big lifts; that’s how you boost your testosterone man!” I never really realized that the reason these guys are so desperately chasing masculinity is because it has been missing their whole life, but it makes sense.

    Do you see yourself ever moving back to the country later in life? Personally, I’m over it. It was fun growing up, and Maine is nice during the winter, but just forget about living there past the age of 20.

    • Danger & Play

      Right. It’s funny. Like those guys are more masculine because they bought shoes.

      (It’s all that non-Paleo advertising people have been brainwashed into believing. People think you can buy an identity. If I buy the shoes and do some Crossfit and eat 85% dark chocolate, then I’m a real man.)

      I’m not anti-Paleo. .

      Do your thing, eat your food or whatever, but there comes a point where a guy is no different from a hipster or goth or other scenester.

  • http://MrVeins.com Aaron

    Everyday I’m more grateful for growing up in the country. I just shot a rabbit the other day, skinned it, cut it open and ripped out all it’s guts. I fed the head to my pup and fryed all the meat. It was delicious.

    Every man should experience hunting, killing, cleaning and cooking his own food. How ignorant it is to grow up not understanding the mortality of animals and how taking a life feels, yet eating meat everyday.

    I love the fresh air and how adventure is in my fucking back yard. You can’t beat living in the country, especially with your little country lady… Well you can, if you have little country ladies… but that’s another story.

    Anyway, how can you hate on camping like that?!

    Your post brought me back to the time I was stacking hay bails while Hank Williams played in the jeep. Or kayaking across the lake with an army of tree stumps hiding just beneath the dark waters surface.

    It seems we have more in common than I thought.

    Good shit. Way to expose the “paleo lifestyle” for what it really is: a joke.

    • Danger & Play

      The downside is that it gets so boring that we do a lot of dumb shit like “booze cruising.” I drove drunk so many times. I’m lucky to be alive.

      Living in the country is a first-hand look at true freedom. You’re on your own and survival is a bit of brains and luck.

  • http://www.goodlookingloser.com Good Looking Loser

    Nice post.

    Overall, I think the Paleo and (EAT REAL FOOD) movement is good for the lesser informed.

    Here is why-

    Although I’ve lived in 9 different cities, been in fitness/nutrition for 10+ years. It hadn’t really occurred to me until 3 years ago that 90% of the stuff at the grocery store isn’t food.

    I’ve looked at a blue box with a happy cartoon tiger on it “Theyyyreeee Greattt!” and considered it a “lousy food choice” for years.

    It’s not even food though. It was made in a factory, not on a farm.

    So many people from big cities have blasted by decades of advertisements that they have no real concept of what food is.

    I definitely agree with the ‘trendy’ reasons you listed that otherwise metrosexual guys “go Paleo” and how it’s ironic it’s even a trend in the first place.

    Nice post

    • Danger & Play

      Yeah, I talked about that in my juicing (vegetables, not steroids) post. (It’s on the right side of the screen if you’re on a desk top.)

      I always only looked at calories – or macronutrients. Figured as long as I hit my macros/calories and didn’t get fat, then I was healthy.

      Ate all sorts of Cliff Builder’s Bars and other crap.

      I was fit but not healthy.

      That’s why I introduced juicing into my life. Real foods, concentrated nutrients. Health and fitness.

    • stuart

      About the only thing paleo gets right on nutrition is that seed oils are bad. It’s wrong on pretty much everything else. It’s not that it’s a horrible diet that will kill you, it’s just riddled with baseless ideas. It’s also often totally inconsistent such as when excess seed oils are labelled bad, but then nuts like almonds are recommended.

      Sugar and fructose are not bad for you and are in fact somewhat preferable to starch and especially preferable to the complex starches in many “primal” vegetables. The glycemic index is pure bullshit. The unsaturated fats like fish oil the paleo people have hyped are bad for you. Paleo says dairy is bad for you, but if you have no clear reactions to milk and cheese they are damn near perfect foods and you should load up. In practice, paleo diets seem to wind up serving lots of muscle meat but going heavy on that boosts cortisol, and can also give you too much iron. Adverse reactions to gluten in wheat are due to a compromised metabolism that can be fixed. You’re not celiac because your caveman genes can’t handle wheat, your health and digestion are just shitty and you have low thyroid. Paleo seems to advocate substantial quantities of varied vegetables. There is really no evidence that eating loads of vegetables is good for you and some reasons to think it can boost endotoxin exposure.

      I could go on. The whole paleo lens is just broken. The rational starting point to understanding good nutrition is not guesswork fantasies about cavemen or epdemiological studies, but biochemistry and physiology.

      Paleo, vegetarianism, and a lot of other nutrition and supplement ideas today really have religious undertones. It’s about self denial, food taboos, and the idea that if you eat rightly you can join the chosen ones and live forever. Back here in reality lemonade, pizza, and ice cream is a perfectly healthy meal to enjoy in moderation. Sorry, you’re going to die at about 80 whether you enjoy the pizza and ice cream or not.

  • http://30daystox.com XDays

    Awesome post.

    When I was thirteen or so my dad made me move from the city to rural Iowa. He didn’t want me to grow and to be “spoiled” like everyone else in our neighborhood.

    I spent all of high school shooting guns, blowing things up with fireworks, playing sports, doing farm work, and playing outside. People hit each other with sticks, shot bottle rockets at one another, and got in fist fights. No one ran to the police and there were no anti-bullying committees formed.

    There was a lot of self-sufficiency too. One of my friends accidentally shot himself, non-fatally, while in the middle of the woods. He was alone and had to seek out help while injured.

    I actually went back to the city where I grew up before going to rural Iowa. I was shocked at how mollycoddled everyone was. 20 year-olds taking their parents with to job interviews. A childhood friend calling his mom to make sure that it was safe for him to eat a Popsicle that had a torn wrapper. All kinds of things that I would never have imagined people actually being worried about.

    While I don’t really like the country lifestyle, I do think it teaches a lot of responsibility.

    Good post.

    • Danger & Play

      The country is a great place to grow up.

      The city is a great place to live.

      I’m a minimalist and also an epicurean. I don’t like much, but when I do like something then only the best will do. For example, I don’t do caffeine, but enjoy the taste of hand-crafted coffee. So I live in a place that makes coffee by the hand at 7 p.m.

      I also love museums and other cultural attractions.

  • Revo Luzione

    Paleo is popular because a few bright, well-ready individuals have been able to articulate a compelling case that the paleo lifestyle is a powerful way to enhance health, well-being, and overall life satisfaction. I agree that paleo makes masculinity cool again, by identifying and highlighting the masculine elements of our primal nature. I think it’s also popular because people resonate with the idea that we’re all mammals, and behave like mammals. It fits into the evo-psych narrative that the manosphere finds compelling.

    So in essence, the movement is driven by opinion leaders who are real science & history nerds like Robb Wolf, Matt LaLonde, and John Durant, to name a few, who really dig into the literature to demonstrate, for example, that lentils, like all other legumes, have antinutrients that don’t do us any good,. and contain inferior protein quantity and quality compared to an equal amount of, say eggs or pastured beef.

    I agree with you that a lot of urban paleo people are posers, but the real drivers of the movement are striving to get outside more, hunt wild game, do more shit in the country, etc. Heck, one of those guys mentioned killed an elk with an atlatl.

    At the end of the day, I think any movement away from sedentery, industrial lifestyles is good, and the paleo movement is only going to get stronger as more people realize the lethality and boringness of the cubicle-industrial complex. It’s not as if the paleo movement is the only alternative, but most people are sheep, and move in groups, and gravitate twoards in-group activities and identity. I think that’s a win overall. I’ll be shocked to see that it turns into a “fad,” and goes away. This movement is a more right-center version of hippiedom that some conservatives and for sure libertarians can get on board with. I think it’s got legs and is going to be a real cultural force for some time. Time will tell.

    Props for giving the topic some real thought and a fair shake in addition to some fine analysis. I’m looking forward to Durant’s paleo manifesto. I know you’re buddies with him on twitter, I’d be interested to see your review of his work.

    • Danger & Play

      I like Durant a lot.

      Post is less about him and more about the type of people who get Tough Mudder tattoos and look at a food checklist to see if they are allowed to eat something.

      • http://enemy--within@tumblr enemy–within

        I was so confused when these mud runs started coming out. I don’t get why these dweedbusses need permission to round up some babes and bros and go run around in the mud. It all seems like social cover. If I want to go run around in the mud or blow 2k on a new M1A I don’t need like the permission of some sort of larger cultural gestalt

  • JT

    I know the antagonizing title is good to draw in readers but you really should change it to read “What explains the Paleo/Primal LIFESTYLE fad?”.

    99% of the references to “Paleo” on the internet concern the diet aspect of it. Your title suggests that you think this (the diet aspect) is a fad. I’m assuming you really think the lifestyle movement is and not the diet though. The diet is clearly not a fad (it can’t be by definition – it’s been around since forever).

    I think the lifestyle movement is a little lame myself and agree with most of your analysis of it but it always bugs me when bloggers title their pieces misleadingly. It’s the same type of crap most of the leftist mainstream media pull in an effort to lure in readers. One of the things i like about most red pill writing is that it is generally honest and straightforward (and often politically incorrect as a result). It doesn’t need to lower itself because truth and integrity are held in such high regard. You know – masculine values? Resorting to the same manipulative tactics, even in the title, just undermines the piece itself in my opinion.

    Be better than that.

    • Danger & Play

      Do you have a stylesheet I should follow so that I don’t repeat these mistakes?

      Also, please provide me a list of subjects I’m allowed to discuss on my blog.

  • ManosphereRadio

    I grew up a city-boy but I’ve always craved more of the hunting and camping lifestyle growing up. Most of Sisson’s readers are blind followers who spend half their time asking ‘Is This Primal?’ with every meal they eat. Great post.

    • Danger & Play

      On Twitter I’ve tossed the idea of a hunting manosphere “retreat” out there with Mitch and the guy from Illusion of Sanity.

      It’d be fun and probably will happen one of these years.

      It’s not that expensive if planned right. Probably the better off among us would cover most of the cabin/lodging fees and it’d be up to the rest of the guys to get a plane ticket out there.

      Who knows? The ‘sphere is only growing and you’d be surprised at how successful and generous some guys can be…

    • will

      I also would like to tag along. I have been too long a city-fag myself

  • http://youngmanredpill.wordpress.com Keanu

    Grew up a suburb kid but did undergrad in the rural midwest. Then for two years after college, I moved to a very, very rural town in South America. A farm town 10 miles on a dirt road. I moved in with a family of 13, who owned 15 acres and a bunch of livestock, pigs, and other animals. This was 2010 and I had no idea what the paleo diet was yet. I did note, however, how jacked all of my host brothers were. They had never seen a weight room or done a deadlift a day in their life. And whenever we ate meat–which would be anything from chicken to bird to cow–they would all lick the fattiest parts right off the bone. I’m embarrassed to say it grossed me out. But but the end of my two years, I was sure as hell slurping that fat right along with them.

    Lots of Peace Corps volunteers I knew there were uppity vegetarian types who thought they were better’n everyone. Watching them explain to a bunch of poor farmers why they didn’t eat meat in the local language was hilarious. Paraguayans were always dumbfounded: “So you don’t eat meat? Well you must eat chicken though, right? No? So what do you eat? Beans and rice?”

    It’s ironic how as we become wealthier with more choice, what we actually want is a return to the primal, as you say D$P.

    I’m living in the city right now, but damned if I can’t see myself moving out to the country to raise a family.

  • anon1

    Whether they want to label it paleo, or being a man or whatever i’m down for it. to me, labels have never been necessary but the meat and potatoes [so too speak] is. its just semantics

    majority of population centers are urbanised landscapes. as people lose touch with the basics, a proportion end up rebelling, self diagnosing and course correcting, the paleo movement is one such relabelled course correction.

  • http://rightsideguide.com Casey

    Where I live (outside the states), the men go deer hunting with dogs and a knife. The dog sniffs out the deer, chases it to the water’s edge where the hunter jumps out of a tree and stabs it in the neck.

    I fucking kid you not.

    The hunter then loads it into his canoe and paddles it home, eats it and shares it.

  • http://badgerhut.wordpress.com Badger

    I’m totally down with D&P’s point, but for another angle: I used to be in a paleo eating meetup group. Great food as you would guess, and people concerned about fitness which was cool (even if one of the feeds was held at a hardcore feminist’s house). The driving characteristic of most of the group, though, was not trend or social ennui – it was health. Most of them were either recovering from obesity or had a food allergy or some other bad reaction to the standard Western diet. They HAD to eat that way or they couldn’t live a productive life. It was sad, in a way, but also very encouraging to see they could live a more normal life without needing medications or therapy.

    It seemed to really cut down on the trend-speak, honestly – they had more important motivations than building a bullshit identity around it.

  • peewee

    Any effect of increased manliness is a side effect of paleo / primal and means you should discontinue using and evolutionary framework to inform your future decisions.

  • Chuck

    I’m following the paleo diet since 2 years now … not because it became trendy but because I was looking to optimise my health … Results …. After 1 month 15% increase in strength in all my lift (was plateaued since many years), I had freaken alergy to any kind od pollens and sinus issue not any more, I required 9 to 10h a sleep to be optimal… now only 7h, I dropped body fat while gaining muscle … when to 8% … I look fantastic …. My natural testosterone level is now super high … and I’m now never sick…. Whatever the name of this diet…. The same diet is used to fight again cancer to revert heart disease, fix diabetes …. and the list goes on and on … one of my friend use it to cure is degenerative arthritis problem, which is incurable according to specialist ….. Its becoming a trend … because it fucking works!!!! And yeah real man eat fucking meat and fuck this shit tasteless bread, pasta, potato poison!

  • http://cornerforideas.com/ Corner for Ideas

    Haha I never thought of the paleo movement that way. This was a great post.

  • Matt Carroll

    I don’t know man, maybe a lot of people eat a diet and wear an image without the life to back it up. But I knew there was something behind the movement, and it inspired me, who never really spent a fucking day in nature, to take it a step further.

    I now spend half of my time in the wilderness, I’m learning to survive in the wilderness using only materials found from the wilderness, I’m conditioning my body and mind to the elements, and I’m determined to a start a hunter-gatherer revival movement — without the hippy shit, without the hillbilly shit, without the army survival shit, without the impoverished African shit, without the lame tramping shit. I’m deadly serious about this, even if it takes me decades. I’ve only felt stronger about one other thing in my life.

    That other thing is technology, by the way. What is stopping one from spending half their time in the wilderness, and half their time in a technology-dense city life? It’s doable, and I know people want it. You don’t have to pick one. Maybe you see it as either-or, but I see a way to live both lives. Maybe all you see you see is some sort of narcissism in the paleo crowd, some sort of false identity. But I see a desire for something more, and I’m going to bring it out of them.

  • http://maximalman.com Brandon

    I grew up in the country and spent a lot of my early teenage years in the woods learning how to hunt and track wild animals. At one point we lived on about 40 acres of woods, didn’t have running water and our electricity barely worked. I was homeschooled so I used to spend all my time outside chopping wood, collecting sap from trees, and skinning deer in the fall.

    My cousins and most of my family all live the same way. Then I got fancy and decided I wanted to move to the city and while I love it here it has nothing on the lifestyle freedom that you can achieve from owning your own land and doing the things that YOU want to do. That is why I’ve made it a life goal of mine to buy my own land one day and keep it in the family name.

    I agree 100% with this post and that is why I’ve never taken the Paleo movement seriously. They’re trying to capture something that’s always been there and its only been the last 60 years or so that people have really gotten away from that life.

    Basically we need to get back to “paying our dues” and stop trying to half ass stuff. If you want to live like a damn Paleolithic man then go do it. Men are hungry to be men again and Paleo is basically they’re version of fight club or the moose lodge.

    Anyway this comment has gone on too long but I just wanted to say good work Mike and I’m glad to know that you grew up in the country too.

    Makes me respect you even more.