Deconstructing Scientific American’s Anti-Paleo Article

Yesterday science writer Ferris Jabr posted an article on the Scientific American website called How to Really Eat Like a Hunther-Gatherer: Why the Paleo Diet is Half Baked.  Some of his gripes with paleo are accurate, but not unknown to paleo afficiandos and others are simply not well thought out. I’ll go through them here one by one.



Diet has been an important part of our evolution—as it is for every species—and we have inherited many adaptations from our Paleo predecessors. Understanding how we evolved could, in principle, help us make smarter dietary choices today. But the logic behind the Paleo diet fails in several ways: by making apotheosis of one particular slice of our evolutionary history; by insisting that we are biologically identical to stone age humans; and by denying the benefits of some of our more modern methods of eating.

On his website, Sisson writes that “while the world has changed in innumerable ways in the last 10,000 years (for better and worse), the human genome has changed very little and thus only thrives under similar conditions.” This is simply not true. In fact, this reasoning misconstrues how evolution works. If humans and other organisms could only thrive in circumstances similar to the ones their predecessors lived in, life would not have lasted very long.


There is a difference between ‘surviving’ and ‘thriving’. In terms of health and happiness I would not consider the majority of the human race today to be thriving. Obesity is skyrocketing, mental illness is everywhere and even those considered to be of normal psyche’s are far more stressed out than your hunter-gatherer’s – who really do exhibit a remarkable lack of stress and worry.  And while species do need to be able to survive new environments; and while we have evolved slightly since the paleolithic era, our genes have changed no where near as fast as our culture has. If you took a person from 20,000 years ago, gave him a haircut and dressed him in clothes from your local mall he would be indistinguishable from the other shoppers, albeit in better shape. However, that mall and everything inside placed next to a paleolithic village of huts would seem like from another planet. We are simply not adapted to live sedentary lifestyles, indoors and munching on the Western diet.

Even if eating only foods available to hunter–gatherers in the Paleolithic made sense, it would be impossible. As Christina Warinner of the University of Zurich emphasizes in her 2012 TED talk, just about every single species commonly consumed today—whether a fruit, vegetable or animal—is drastically different from its Paleolithic predecessor.

This critique of modern paleo diets is true. Although none of this is new to the paleo community. As Fabr himself writes, people who follow a paleo diet try and mimic the ones of their ancestors as best as we can.

But where Fabr really gets into trouble is when he starts talking about our ancestors and their health. He writes..


[ The Paleo Diet ] ignores much of the evidence about our ancestors’ health during their—often brief—individual life spans (even if a minority of our Paleo ancestors made it into their 40s or beyond, many children likely died before age 15


Fabr needs to do a little more research into the lifespan of hunter-gatherer’s.  Perhaps he is unaware of this study entitled

Longevity Among Hunter-Gatherers: A Cross-Cultural Examination that found the modal age of death in extant hunter-gatherer tribes to be 72. While it is true that childhood mortality is much higher (which significantly brings down the mean age of death) in these cultures the reason for their early deaths has nothing to do with diet.  It is believed that somewhere between 15%-50% all young babies died from infanticide. Many other’s during childbirth.  Infant mortality in hunter-gatherer tribes was 30 times higher than in modern society and childhood mortality 100 times higher. The reason for these high rates is the natural dangers of living in the wild and living in a world without modern medicine. Ask yourself, would you have made it out of childhood if you had never seen a doctor?  I know that I had a terrible case of pneumonia at age 2, and whose to say without the help of modern medicine that I would have survived.

We can look at the chart of the actual deaths of members of the Hiwi tribe, the tribe that Jabr references and see exactly what it is that killed them.  Most interesting is the data collected from pre-contact times as that would be the most telling of a natural hunter-gatherer tribe. Although it should also be mentioned that the Hiwi have a higher rate of mortality, especially from warfare as in comparison to other extant hunter-gatherer tribes.

Of the 169 total deaths recorded, here is why they died.

Infectious disease (Malaria, respiratory infection, diarrhea, measles)= 70

War (with each other or Venezuelans) = 33


Congenital infant death (birth trauma and other childbirth deaths)=12

Environmental Hazard=7

Human Caused Accident=7


Organic and pathological conditions (heart problems, cancer, liver problems, “swallowed tongue”) = 1

Nutritional deficiencies (starvation or malnourished)=0

Jabr used the Hiwi as an example of anti-paleo but looking at their mortality rate it looks like a glaring win for those who choose to eat a Paleo Diet.  Only one single Hiwi died from a pathological condition(the most common form of death in the US) and considering that “swallowed tongue” was even considered in the category by the researcher’s that could very well have been the reason for that death. While 0 of the Hiwi tribe died from either nutritional deficiencies or starvation. This means that the diet of the Hiwi was certainly not giving them cancer and heart disease. Where does this leave Jabr’s argument? Basically “Lots of Hiwi died from malaria, therefore you should eat pancakes.”


recent study in The Lancet looked for signs of atherosclerosis—arteries clogged with cholesterol and fats—in more than one hundred ancient mummies from societies of farmers, foragers and hunter–gatherers around the world, including Egypt, Peru, the southwestern U.S and the Aleutian Islands. “A common assumption is that atherosclerosis is predominately lifestyle-related, and that if modern human beings could emulate preindustrial or even preagricultural lifestyles, that atherosclerosis, or least its clinical manifestations, would be avoided,” the researchers wrote. But they found evidence of probable or definite atherosclerosis in 47 of 137 mummies from each of the different geographical regions.


Dr. Stephen Guyanet breaks down this study and what we can draw from these conclusions excellently here. Most importantly he writes that developing atherosclerosis does not equate to having a heart attack. Atherosclerosis may just be something that happens as we age and while it is a risk factor for heart attack, numerous studies of non-industrial cultures have shown them to have atherosclerosis and yet have almost zero incidence of heart attack. It should also be noted that only 6 of the mummies came from a hunter-gatherer culture (what an incredible sample size!) and these hunter-gatherer’s were from the artic, and had to adopt a very extreme diet out of necessity with almost no plant food. In other words, these are not your average hunter-gatherer’s- most of whom lived in more moderate climates.


And even if heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes were not as common among our predecessors, they still faced numerous threats to their health that modern sanitation and medicine have rendered negligible for people in industrialized nations, such as infestations of parasites and certain lethal bacterial and viral infections.

Actually many of the viruses that humans have fell to over the years came from animals that we were breeding. Hunter-gatherer cultures existed largely without these deadly viruses and hence had no immune system response to them when the white man came and devastated their populations with small pox and other diseases.  Certain hunter-gatherer tribes never even got the common cold. While it is true parasites and bacterial infections were a problem, what does it have to do with modern people eating a diet based on our paleolithic ancestor’s? Absolutely nothing.


If we compare the diets of so-called modern hunter-gatherers, however, we see just how difficult it is to find meaningful commonalities and extract useful dietary guidelines from their disparate lives (see infographic). Which hunter–gatherer tribe are we supposed to mimic, exactly? How do we reconcile the Inuit diet—mostly the flesh of sea mammals—with the more varied plant and land animal diet of the Hadza or !Kung? Chucking the many different hunter–gather diets into a blender to come up with some kind of quintessential smoothie is a little ridiculous.


Here’s the thing about modern day hunter-gatherer tribes. They have been pushed to the ends of the earth by agriculture societies, and now only exist in the harshest of places. Places where most people have no desire to live. The Hadza and !kung live in sweltering heat of Africa, the Inuit in the freezing cold of the Artic and the Hiwi deep with the jungle of the Amazon where malaria runs amok and all sorts of other things large and small that want to kill you. Yes their diets are extremely different, but that is out of necessity of where they live and what is available to them. The vast majority of our hunter-gatherer ancestors would not have lived in such dramatic conditions and have far more variety and food available to them.

Even as diverse as the diets of the Inuit and the !Kung, they do have some commonalities. Neither of those tribes eats bread, pasta, pizza, cookies, or drink coco-cola. As Jabr himself admits, “The [paleo] diet is largely defined by what they do not do”


Meet Grok. According to his online profile, he is a tall, lean, ripped and agile 30-year-old. By every measure, Grok is in superb health: low blood pressure; no inflammation; ideal levels of insulin, glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides. He and his family eat really healthy, too. They gather wild seeds, grasses, and nuts; seasonal vegetables; roots and berries. They hunt and fish their own meat. Between foraging, building sturdy shelters from natural materials, collecting firewood and fending off dangerous predators far larger than himself, Grok’s life is strenuous, perilous and physically demanding. Yet, somehow, he is a stress-free dude who always manages to get enough sleep and finds the time to enjoy moments of tranquility beside gurgling creeks. He is perfectly suited to his environment in every way. He is totally Zen…..

..In contrast to Grok, neither Paleo hunter–gatherers nor our more recent predecessors were sculpted Adonises immune to all disease….Drop Grok into the Hiwi’s midst—or indeed among any modern or ancient hunter–gather society—and he would be a complete aberration. Grok cannot teach us how to live or eat; he never existed


Oh really.. Let us check out a few descriptions of hunter-gatherer’s who don’t live in such extreme conditions of the Hiwi. Here is Weston Price’s description of the Torres Straight Islander’s:

It would be difficult to find a more happy and contented people than the primitives in the Torres Straight Islands as they lived without contact with modern civilization.  Indeed, they seem to resent very acutely the modern intrusion. They not only have perfect bodies, but an associated personality and character with a high degree of excellence. One is continually impressed with happiness, peace and health while in their congenial presence (p.187).


Or what was said about the people of the Marquesas Islands by the early navigator’s..

The people of the Marquesas Islands were enthusiastically extolled for their beauty and excellence of physical development by the early navigators…They reported the Marquesans as vivacious, happy people…The early navigators were so impressed with the beauty and health of these people that they reported the Marquesas Islands as the Garden of Eden (p.116).


While you can find pictures of clearly underfed hunter-gatherer’s living today in extreme conditions of Africa, when we look at pictures of hunter-gatherer’s before they were kicked to the ends of the earth we do find Adonis looking figures. Check out these Australian Aborigines



Here is another picture…Do you see how well built these guys are? Especially the one on the far left and the far right? This is about as perfect as you can get. And these guys don’t go to the gym or drink protein shakes!



In case you are thinking it is just the’s not. Here are the Waoroni Indians of Ecuador. Studies on them when they were first discovered showed them to be totally absent of hypertension, heart disease, cancer, anemia, the common cold, polio, pneumonia, small pox, chicken pox, typhus, syphilis, tuberculosis, malaria or serum hepatitis



Or we can take a look at the Asaro mudmen of Papua New Guinea. Horticulturists who eat similarly to modern day paleo dieter’s. Eating sweet potato’s and fruits from their garden and meat from livestock.


Over on twitter, Ferris Jabr proclaimed that he “sees no legitimate reason for prohibiting grains, dairy or legumes”

Well I’m going to give him a few. They aren’t optimally nutritious, and they have immunogenic and allergenic properties in their proteins. They also have higher food palatability and reward which causes you to eat more than you should. Dr. Mattieu Lalonde who got his Ph.D on organic chemistry from Harvard gave a great speach at the Ancestral Health Symposium in 2012 on just why you shouldn’t eat these foods. He is a very smart guy and this is well worth watching. Grains especially don’t come out too well. Legumes fair better and dairy does fine. If you are one of those people who can handle dairy I’m all for it, but many are not. And even Jabr arch-nemesis Mark Sisson says that legumes are ‘ok’. Although people should still be concerned about their phytic acid content, which stops you from absorbing a lot of the nutrients present in legumes. Meaning legumes probably aren’t as nutritious as their content contains. They are also high in lectins which are potentially toxic and can lead to autoimmune problems.

But the answer on grains is clear. If you are looking for the optimal diet, why would you make grains a staple of your diet when they simply aren’t as nutritious as meat and vegetables? Especially grains in their modern form. And the reason they are not as nutritious to our bodies has nothing to do with chance, it is because we did not evolve to eat them over millions of years. These are a relatively new food group to our species. Paleo logic, and it is backed up by nutritional data.

Ferris Jabr says that people like Mark Sisson and other paleo folk don’t understand evolution and science, but I think this post shows that he is the one who has it backwards. After all, Mark Sisson is 60, follows the paleo diet and lifestyle as best he can and has the body of a 20-something UFC fighter.



Ferris Jabr is a 20-something year old who thinks Mark Sisson’s lifestyle is illogical and has a body similar to Screech.



Ben Franklin on the Superior Quality of Life of the Indians

Here are some more quotes from Ben Franklin in the happiness, ease and tranquility of Indian life.



” To those who remained behind, it was often rumored that those who had gone over to the Indians had been “captured.” While some captives were taken, more often the whites took up Indian life without compulsion. As Franklin wrote to Peter Collinson May 9, 1753:

The proneness of human Nature to a life of ease, of freedom from care and labour appear strongly in the heretofore little success that has attended every attempt to civilize our American Indians. . . . They visit us frequently and see the advantages that Arts, Science and compact Society procure us; they are not deficient in natural understanding and yet they have never strewn any inclination to change their manner of life for ours, or to learn any of our Arts.
While Indians did not seem to have much inclination to exchange their culture for the Euro-American, many Euro-Americans appeared more than willing to become Indians at this time:

When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return. And that this is not natural [only to Indians], but as men, is plain from this, that when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived awhile among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet within a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of Life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.
Franklin followed with an example. He had heard of a person who had been “reclaimed” from the Indians and returned to a sizable estate. Tired of the care needed to maintain such a style of life, he had turned it over to his younger brother and, taking only a rifle and a matchcoat, “took his way again to the Wilderness.” Franklin used this story to illustrate his point that “No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies.” Such societies, wrote Franklin, provided their members with greater opportunities for happiness than European cultures. Continuing, he said:

The Care and Labour of providing for Artificial and fashionable Wants, the sight of so many Rich wallowing in superfluous plenty, whereby so many are kept poor and distress’d for Want, the Insolence of Office . . . the restraints of Custom, all contrive to disgust them with what we call civil Society.”—-

Benjamin Franklin on the nobility and manners of the so called ‘savage’ Indians.

Benjamin Franklin
Remarks concerning the Savages of North America

Savages we call them, because their Manners differ from ours, which we think the Perfection of Civility. They think the same of theirs.

Perhaps if we could examine the Manners of different Nations with Impartiality, we should find no People so rude as to be without Rules of Politeness, nor any so polite as not to have some Remains of Rudeness

The Indian Men when young are Hunters and Warriors; when old, Counsellors; for all their Government is by Counsel of the Sages; there is no Force there are no Prisons, no Officers to compel Obedience, or inflict Punishment.—Hence they generally study Oratory; the best Speaker having the most Influence. The Indian Women till the Ground, dress the Food, nurse and bring up the Children, & preserve & hand down to Posterity the Memory of public Transactions. These Employments of Men and Women are accounted natural & honorable, Having few artificial Wants, they have abundance of Leisure for Improvement by Conversation. Our laborious Manner of Life compar’d with theirs, they esteem slavish & base; and the Learning on which we value ourselves, they regard as frivolous & useless. An Instance of this occurr’d at the Treaty of Lancaster in Pensilvania, anno 1744, between the Government of Virginia and the Six Nations. After the principal Business was settled, the Commissioners from Virginia acquainted the Indians by a Speech, that there was at Williamsburg a College, with a Fund for Educating Indian youth; and that if the Six Nations would send down half a dozen of their young Lads to that College, the Government would take Care that they should be well provided for, and instructed in all the Learning of the White People. It is one of the Indian Rules of Politeness not to answer a public Proposition the same day that it is made; they think it would be treating it as a light matter, and that they show it Respect by taking time to consider it, as of a Matter important. They therefore deferr’d their Answer till the Day following; when their Speaker began by expressing their deep Sense of the Kindness of the Virginia Government in making them that Offer, for we know, says he, that you highly esteem the kind of Learning taught in those Colleges, and that the Maintenance of our young Men while with you, would be very expensive to you. We are convinc’d therefore that you mean to do us Good by your Proposal, and we thank you heartily. But you who are wise must know, that different Nations have different Conceptions of Things, and you will therefore not take it amiss if our Ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same with yours. We have had some Experience of it: Several of our young People were formerly brought up at the Colleges of the Northern Provinces; they were instructed in all your Sciences; but when they came back to us they were bad Runners ignorant of every means of living in the Woods, unable to bear either Cold or Hunger, knew neither how to build a Cabin, take a Deer or kill an Enemy, spoke our Language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for Hunters Warriors, or Counsellors, they were totally good for nothing. We are however not the less oblig’d by your kind Offer tho’ we decline accepting it; and to show our grateful Sense of it, if the Gentlemen of Virginia will send us a Dozen of their Sons, we will take great Care of their Education, instruct them in all we know, and make Men of them.—

Having frequent Occasions to hold public Councils, they have acquired great Order and Decency in conducting them. The old Men sit in the foremost Ranks, the Warriors in the next, and the Women & Children in the hindmost. The Business of the Women is to take exact Notice of what passes, imprint it in their Memories, for they have no Writing, and communicate it to their Children. They are the Records of the Councils, and they preserve Traditions of the Stipulations in Treaties 100 Years back, which when we compare with our Writings we always find exact. He that would speak rises. The rest observe a profound Silence. When he has finish’d and sits down; they leave him 5 or 6 Minutes to recollect, that if he has omitted any thing he intended to say, or has any thing to add, he may rise again and deliver it. To interrupt another, even in common Conversation, is reckon’d highly indecent. How different this is, from the Conduct of a polite British House of Commons where scarce every person without some confusion, that makes the Speaker hoarse in calling to Order and how different from the Mode of Conversation in many polite Companies of Europe, where if you do not deliver your Sentence with great Rapidity, you are cut off in the middle of it by the Impatients Loquacity of those you converse with, and never suffer’d to finish it—

The Politeness of the Savages in Conversation is indeed carried to Excess, since it does not permit them to contradict or deny the Truth of what is asserted in their Presence; By this means they indeed avoid Disputes, but then it becomes difficult to know their Minds, or what Impression you make upon them. The Missionaries who have attempted to convert them to Christianity, all complain of this as one of the great difficulties of their Mission: The Indians hear with Patience the Truths of the Gospel explain’d to them, and give their usual Tokens of Assent & Approbation: You would think they were convinc’d. No such Matter. It is mere Civility. A Suedish Minister, having assembled the Chiefs of the Saquehanah Indians, made a Sermon to them, acquainting them with the principal historical Facts on which our Religion is founded, such as the Fall of our first Parents by eating an Apple; the Coming of Christ, to repair the Mischief; his Miracles & Suffering, &c. When he had finished, an Indian Orator stood up to thank him. What you have told us, says he, is all very good. It is indeed a bad Thing to eat Apples. It is better to make them all into Cyder. We are much oblig’d by your Kindness in coming so far to tell us these Things which you have heard from your Mothers; in return I will tell you some of those we have heard from ours. In the Beginning our Fathers had only the Flesh of Animals to subsist on, and if their Hunting was unsuccessful, they were starving. Two of our young Hunters having kill’d a Deer, made a Fire in the Woods to broil some Part of it. When they were about to satisfy their Hunger, they beheld a beautiful young Woman descend from the Clouds, and seat herself on that Hill which you see yonder among the blue Mountains. They said to each other, It is a Spirit that perhaps has smelt our broiling Venison & wishes to eat of it: Let us offer some to her. They presented her with the Tongue, She was pleas’d with the Taste of it, and said, Your Kindness shall be rewarded: Come to this Place after thirteen Moons, and you shall find something that will be of great Benefit in nourishing you and your Children to the latest Generations. They did so, and to their Surprise found Plants they had never seen before, but which from that antique time have been instantly cultivated among us to our great Advantage. Where her right Hand had touch’d the Ground they found Maize; Where her left hand had touch’d it, they found Kidney Beans, and where her Backside had rested on it, they found Tobacco.—The good Missionary disgusted with this idle Tale, said, What I delivered to you were sacred Truths, but what you tell me is mere Fable, Fiction and Falshood. The Indian offended, reply’d, My Brother, it seems your Friends have not done you Justice in your Education, they have not well instructed you in the Rules of common Civility. You saw that we who understand and practise those Rules, believ’d all your Stories: Why do you refuse to believe ours?— [interleaved is a sheet with no writing, but a sketch of what appears to be a hot air balloon]

When any of them come into our Towns, our People are apt to croud round them, gaze upon them, & incommode them where they desire to be private; this they esteem great Rudeness, the Effect of & Want of Instruction in the Rules of Civility & good Manners. We have, say they, as much Curiosity as you, and when you come into our Towns, we wish for Opportunities of looking at you; but for this purpose we hide our Selves behind Bushes where you are to pass, and never intrude ourselves into your Company.—

Their Manner of entring one anothers villages has likewise its Rules. It is reckon’d uncivil in travelling Strangers to enter a Village abruptly, without giving Notice of their Approach. Therefore as soon as they arrive within Hearing, they stop & hollow, remaining there till invited to enter. Two old Men usually come out to them, and lead them in. There is in every Village a vacant Dwelling called the Strangers House. Here they are plac’d, while the old Men go round from Hut to Hut, acquainting the Inhabitants that Strangers are arriv’d who are probably hungry & weary; and every one sends them what he can spare of Victuals & Skins to repose on. When the Strangers are refresh’d, Pipes & Tobacco are brought, and then, but not before, Conversation begins, with Enquiries who they are, whither bound, what News, &c. and it usually ends with Offers of Service if the Strangers have occasion of Guides or any Necessaries for continuing their Journey, and nothing is exacted for the Entertainment.

The same Hospitality esteem’d among them as a principal Virtue, is practic’d by private Persons, of which Conrad Weiser, our Interpreter gave me the following Instance. He had been naturaliz’d among the Six Nations, & spoke well the Mohock Language. In going thro’ the Indian Country to carry a Message from our Governor to the Council at Onondaga, he call’d at the Habitation of Canasetego an old Acquaintance, who embrac’d him, spread Furs for him to sit on, plaid before him some boil’d Beans & Venison, and mix’d some Rum & Water for his Drink. When he was well refresh’d, and had lit his Pipe, Canassetego began to converse with him, ask’d how he had fard the many Years since they had seen each other, whence he then came, what occasion’d the Journey, &c. &c. Conrad answer’d all his Questions, & when the Discourse began to flag, the Indian to continue it, said, Conrad, you have lived long among the white People and know something of their Customs. I have been sometimes at Albany, and have observed that once in Seven Days they shut up their Shops, and assemble all in the great House; tell me, what is it for? what do they do there?—They meet there, says Conrad, to hear and learn good Things. I do not doubt says the Indian, that they tell you so: They have told me the same; But I doubt the Truth of what they say, and I will tell you my Reasons. I was lately to Albany to sell my Skins, & buy Blankets, Knives, Powder &c Rum &c You know I us’d generally to deal with Hans Hanson, but I was a little inclin’d this time to try some other Merchant; however, I call’d first upon Hans, & ask’d him what he would give for Beaver. He said he could not give more than four Shillings a Pound; but says he I cannot talk on Business now; this is the Day when we meet together to learn good Things, and I am going to the Meeting. So I thought to my self, since we cannot do any Business to day, I may as well go to the Meeting too; and I went with him. There stood up a Man in Black, and began to talk to the People very angrily. I did not understand what he said; but perceiving that he look’d much at me, and at Hanson, I imagin’d he was angry at seeing me there, so I went out, sat down near the House, struck Fire and lit my Pipe, waiting till the Meeting should break up. I thought too that the Man had mention’d something of Beaver, & I suspected it might be the Subject of their Making. so when they came out, I accosted my Merchant, Well, Hans, says I, I hope you have agreed to give more than four Shillings a Pound. No, says he, I cannot give so much; I cannot give more than three shillings & sixpence. I then spoke to several other Dealers, but they all sung the same Song. Three & sixpence, Three & sixpence. This made it clear to me that my Suspicion was right; and that whatever they pretended of meeting to learn Good Things, the real purpose was to consult how to cheat Indians on the Price of Beaver. Consider but a little, Conrad, and you must be of my Opinion. If they met so often to learn Good Things, they would certainly have learnt some before this time. But they are still ignorant. You know our Practice. If a white Man in travelling thro’ our Country, enters one of our Cabins, we all treat him as I treat you; we dry him if he is wet, we warm him if he is cold, we give him Meat & Drinks that he may allay his Thirst and Hunger, and spread soft Furs for him to rest & sleep on: We demand nothing in return. But if I go into a white Man’s House at Albany, and ask for Victuals & Drink, they say, where is your Money? and if I have none; they say, Get out you Indian Dog. You see they have not yet learnt those little Good Things, that we need no Meetings to be instructed in, because our Mothers taught them to us when we were Children: And therefore, it is impossible their Meeting, Should be as they say, for any such purpose, or have any such Effect. They are only to contrive the Cheating of Indians in the Price of Beaver.—

Cavemen Didn’t Get Cavities..But Why?

When I was younger I always used to wonder how did our ancestors ever survive without toothbrushes and toothpaste? Didn’t they all lose their teeth by the time they were 15? I brushed my teeth twice a day, went to the dentist every six months and STILL got cavities.  Our ancestors must have been chewing apples with their gums right?

Well it turns out that our hunter-gathere ancestors didn’t get cavities. Like ever.

And when I switched to a paleo diet two years ago I stopped getting cavities as well. I skipped out on the dentist for two years and when I showed up.. Zero cavities. I had cut out all the processed sugars that I was sure was mucking up my teeth and gums. But it turns out that the answer as to why Hunter-gatherer’s didn’t get cavities might be even a little more complex than that.

In a study published in the journal Nature Genetics, a team of Australian scientists have come up with a different hypothesis. Yes processed sugars ruin your teeth, but our ancestor’s teeth went bad long before the invention of Coca Cola. It all started with the invention of agriculture and our diet changing from that of meat and vegetables to now eating carbohydrate rich foods such as wheat and barley. The problem with this change in diet is that harmful bacteria, especially adapt at feeding off of these carbohydrates began to flourish in our new bread and pasta eating mouths and won out over the friendly bacteria that were the original inhabitants. This lead to gum disease, cavities, and perhaps even diseases not normally associated with the mouth such as diabetes and heart disease. The effect of having your mouth in a state of constant immune response in order to fight off bad bacteria can lead to problems elsewhere in the body.

Just another reason to ditch the grains and start eating Paleo. Avoiding a mouthful of harmful bacteria.

A picture of the Tribal Maori's Teeth Before Adopting Western Diet


The Maori's Teeth After Adopting Western Diet


Cliff Jumping: The Effects of Danger and Safety Reliance on Depth of Friendship

This is an imaginary experiment I came up with for a graduate school class. It  deals with the lack of danger, and hence lack of opportunities in modern society to form deep bonds..


Cliff Jumping: The Effects of Danger and Safety Reliance on Depth of Friendship


Me, jumping off a cliff


This study examined the effects of danger and cooperative safety dependency on the quality of friendship amongst ten groups of three men.  The trio’s engaged in the highly dangerous activity of cliff jumping where they put their lives in danger and depended on each other in case of emergency.  The author hypothesized that the danger and safety reliance of the activity would strengthen their bonds of friendship.  The results of survey data confirmed the hypothesis.


The thunderous plodding of a woolly mammoth burrowing through the bush was contrasted by the quiet whispers of the fur clad cro-magnon.  “Olog voha mug.” With that Swift With Foot leapt out of his crouching spot and rushed toward the elephant, spear in hand.  The flint pierced the beast’s jogular. Letting out a gigantic grunt the animal bucked and knocked Swift With Foot to the ground.  It moved in for the kill, preparing to stomp the young hunter into the dirt. Flying Bear and West Wind moved quickly. They thrusted their spears into the elephants hide.  The mighty mammoth fell.

The three early humans let the scene engulf them in silence for a few moments before letting out rapturous screams and embracing each other feverously.  They were more than just friends, they were cousins who lived together in the same band of hunter gatherers.   Every day they risked their lives for each other and their success depended on their loving bond fostered through dangerous experiences.

People living under the relatively safe conditions of a modern urban society may suffer from a lack of deep friendships (Cosmides, 1996).  Because our environment rarely forces us to expose ourselves to dangerous situations with our friends, we may not feel the deep bond that can result from experience a high adrenaline situation with your friends. It also deprives us of situations in which we may need our friends to be there to ensure our survival.  Having a friend willing to step in and risk their own personal welfare to help you when the stuff hits the fan can create a deep bond amongst men (Buss, 2000).

The present studies aim is to examine the effects of two independent variables on the quality of male friendship.  For  the purposes of this study the author contrived two operational definitions. One called ‘danger’,  which is an activity with an inherent risk of injury. The other variable is called ‘safety reliance’, which is defined as having one’s safety dependent on others during a dangerous  activity.  This paper hypothesis  is that both variables, danger and safety reliance will have a positive effect on the dependent variable which is quality of friendship.



Participants included 60 undergraduate male students from a large east coast university . They all volunteered to do the experiment through the acquisition of class credit. The students consisted of 20 separate groups of three friends.


A protruding rock face where cliff jumping into a deep river was popular was found.  A questionnaire was used to assess whether or not the experience had strengthened the bond between friends.


A control group for the Danger variable of 10 trio’s of friends were taken to a local swimming pool and instructed to jump off a diving board on innocuous height. Ten trio’s of friends were taken to a local rock face 50 feet above a deep water river.  The boys were then given the instructions to jump off the cliff in order test the independent variable Danger.  Half of them were also instructed that if one of them should become injured during the fall, it was up to the other boys in the trio to save the wounded man and ensure his safety.  This was the IV group for Safety Reliance.  The 5 sets of boy in the control group for Safety Reliance were told that if something went wrong they would be saved by an EMT on hand.    Afterwards all participants were told to fill out a survey asking whether they felt their friendship had strengthened after the experience.   A follow up was done one month later to see if there were any lasting effects. The boys filled out the same survey. The survey included questions on a seven point scale ranging from  1 ‘highly disagree’ to 7 ‘strongly agree’ with statements such as ‘this experience has  made me feel closer to my friends’ and ‘I feel a stronger bond between my friends now after the experience.’


Both hypothesis were confirmed by the results.  The ten trio’s of males in the Danger condition all reported to be closer friends after the cliff jumping experience and all five trio’s of friends in the Cooperative Safety  responded that the danger of the experience and the safety reliance cooperated towards this bond, both immediately after the jump and during the follow up one month later.


It is a problem of modern society that you can never know who your true friends are. The whimsical nature of the modern friendship leaves people with a sense of insecurity. The purpose of this study was to see if events more closely simulating the danger and safety reliance of our ancestral times would deepen the bond of friendship amongst males.  The results of the studied showed overwhelming evidence that engaging in a dangerous experience with a group of friends that involves reliance on another for personal safety deepens a bond of friendship.

There were of course some limitations to the performance of this study. At first the IRB did not approve as the danger to the participants was perceived to be too risky. However, a small bribe in the form of a ‘donation’ was made to the right people that ensured the committee’s approval.  Also amongst the first groups of boys to jump from the cliff included a rather rotund boy weighing in excess of three hundred pounds.  It was feared that upon impact the gluttonous fellow might empty the river of its precious liquid. Luckily these concerns were unfounded and the boy merely had to be saved from drowning once it was discovered he was unable to swim.


Buss, D. (2000). The Evolution of Happiness. American Psychologist , 15-23.

Cosmides, T. &. (1996). Friendship and the banker’s paradox: other pathways to the evolution of adaptations for altruism. Proceedings of the British Academy , 119-143.



A Day in the Life of the Hunter-Gatherer Typee Islanders

Today Herman Melville is best known as the author of the literary classic “Moby Dick.” During his life, however, he was known as the man who lived amongst the cannibals. Melville was filled with wanderlust and an independent streak from a young age. Wanting to be free of family support and make a life for himself that included adventure and traveling a 20 year old Melville signed up to be a crew member on the Acushnet, a whaling ship that would go on an 18th month journey through the Pacific Ocean before Melville, sick of the long trip and the unfair treatment he thought the workers received, decided to escape the ship while it was docked in the Marquesas Islands of the South Pacific.

Island of Nuku Hiva, where Melville escaped and lived amongst the cannibals.


He and a fellow ship mate made their daring escape from the boat and headed for the hills of the tropical Island.  They underestimated their ability to survive on their own in the wild though and after a few days found themselves hungry and without reliable shelter to protect them from the heavy rainfall.  What they needed to do was to seek refuge amongst the Island’s natives. This was potentially problematic however, of the two main tribes that inhabited that Island there was the Happar, known for being friendly and cordial and then there was the Typee, by reputation a group of cannibals who would surely feast on the Americans white flesh if they so happened to run into them.  There was no way of knowing which of the tribes they would encounter first, it was a life or death coin flip as far as they were concerned, but starving and cold they had no choice but to follow a beaten path through the forest that would inevitably take them to the village of either the Happar or Typee.

The path led to the Typee village. 

Miraculously, he was received by the locals with open arms. The duo were given food to eat, a thatched roof to sleep under and even a personal assistant. A man named Kory Kory helped Herman adjust to the leisurely life of those in the valley. One of Kory Kory’s duties was to carry Melville, who had injured his leg during his escape through the jungle on his back wherever he went. In fact, Melville was treated so well that he worried that the Typee might be fattening him up for better eating!

In reality Melville would spend three weeks living amongst the Typee before leaving the valley to return on the sea life upon another whaling ship. While he may have taken a few creative liberties in turning his adventure into the semi-autobiographical “Typee,” the work that he was most known for his during lifetime there can be little doubt that his description of the Typee people and their way of life is accurate. His account is corroborated by his fellow shipmate as being truthful and the descriptions of that Natives match those given by other explorers who had visited the Marquesas Islands.

Melville described the average day in the life of the Typee, which he said “Nothing can be more uniform and undiversified than the life of the Typees; one tranquil day of ease and happiness follows another in quiet succession.” The Typee were not early risers and would wake up well after the sun had risen.  The first thing they would do is head on down to the stream and bath in the cool waters and fresh air, frolicking about for 30 minutes or so before heading back to the house for breakfast, which was a light affair consisting of fruit and coconuts. The residents of the house would sit around on the mats and engage in cheerful conversation as they ate.  After this pipes were lighted and the tobacco smoke was passed around, although each person only took a few puffs.

From there people went their own way, some would go back to sleep, others would head out into the groves to collect fruit or fibres of bark. Some of the girls would spend time adorning themselves with flowers and lathering their bodies with oils.  Men could use this time to sharpen their spears or carve some wooden design.  After the morning’s light work, the afternoon was a time for a glorious siesta in which everyone partook.  This usually last about an hour and a half before rising, and then another smoke before preparations for the largest meal of the day.  Melville would often eat his afternoon lunch with the rest of the bachelors in a place called the “Ti” which was reserved for men only, the ‘savage’ version of a boys only club where he dined on roasted pork. “The Ti was a right jovial place. It did my heart well, as well as my body, good to visit it. Secure from female intrusion, there was no restraint upon the hilarity of the warriors, who, like gentlemen of Europe after the cloth is draw and the ladies retire, freely indulged their mirth.”

As evening approached Melville would take a canoe out on the lake with a pretty young native lady that he fancied or bath again in the waters stream with the others.  When the sun went down, torches were lit  and the natives gathered to engage in chanting, stories were told and ‘all sorts of social festivities served to while away the time. The young girls very often danced by the moonlight in front of their dwellings.” Finally, everyone would retire to the house where they slept, doze for a bit, before waking to eat the final meal of the day, pass around the tobacco pipe on more time before collapsing into a deep sleep. “The Native strength of their constitution is in no way shown more emphatically than in the quantity of sleep they can endure. To many of them, indeed, life is little else and an often interrupted and luxurious nap.”

1 Mile Kettlebell Walk Challenge

I’m having a difficult time writing this blog post, my forearms are on fire.  Let me explain why..


My brother Dylan came up with an interesting exercise challenge. Grab your 55 pound Kettlebell and walk with it for a mile. I immediately realized how ancestral this exercise was.

Our hunter-gatherer forefathers were constantly carrying heavy stones great distances.   Whether it was to make a fire pit, add strength to a hut or build some crazy monument, our ancestors had to be strong enough to pick up a heavy stone and have the conditioning necessary to walk with it.


So I grabbed my kettlebell and went for a stroll.The first thing you’ll notice when you do this is….just how the heck should you carry this thing? Hold it out in front of you with two hands? Put it in the lock position? Heave it on to your shoulder?

You’ll end up doing all of the above. For any position begins to burn too much before you move it around, and then switch to the other shoulder, and then back to a new position and start the cycle all over again.

Whatever works for it. Just carry the damn thing.

After the first 1/4 mile I was fine. I could feel the workout in my back and legs. This isn’t so bad, I’ll make it. At the halfway point my hands and forearms were starting to burn, a small seed of doubt began to creep in.

At 3/4 of the mile I thought about quitting. ” I don’t know if I’m going to make it, my hands are sweaty, my fingers can barely hold this grip. Just rest for a while”.

But then another part of my brain said “Shut up you ******, you are going to make it or fall down trying.”

So I went the whole mile.

It really is a total body work out.  Your arms are worked from holding and gripping the kettlebell in various positions, your back and core are constantly under strain to keep your torso erect and your legs are obviously doing all the walking.

Overall, a great exercise. So grab your Kettlebell and get walking!



Top Ten Tribal Principles



Here are the Top Ten principles of the Tribal Way in order to live a life endowed with a sense of vitality and well-being.




1.  Foster Close Social Bonds.

Our ancestors grew up in small bands of people who counted on each other for their survival. Contemporary studies on well-being show that what separates very happy people from the rest of us is the strength of their social and romantic relationships.

2.  Be Physically Active.

The daily grind on the African Savanna involved walking great distances in search of food, carrying heavy buckets of water back and forth from the stream to the campsite, fetching firewood, and the occasional fight or flight with a dangerous animal.

3. Eat Healthy

Hunter-Gatherer’s ate a diet consisting of fresh, whole natural foods such as game meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts. There was no processed food to go around back then and consequently they enjoyed a robust health unimaginable by today’s average person.

4. Sleep

Sleep comes in a variety of different ways around the world, especially outside of western culture.  Whether you have to get your sleep all in one go, like taking an afternoon siesta, enjoy polyphasic or even sporadic sleep like some hunter-gather cultures, the important thing is to get plenty of it. While those of us in the West are often sleep deprived, hunter-gatherer’s chief complaint was sleeping too much!

5. Get Out In Nature

A variety of studies have shown the benefits of being immersed in nature range from improved health to a calm mind and better concentration. Our ancestors lived amongst the flora and fauna like a wild animal. Flowers, trees, landscapes, camp-fires, sunsets…soak it all up.




6. Calm Your Mind

According the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at UCLA the average person thinks 70,000 thoughts per day. Constantly wrapped up in this tornado of worries, thoughts of the future and past is stressful and exhausting. Hunter-Gatherers in contrast lived almost entirely in the present moment and had a remarkable lack of worry or stress.  Hunter-Gather’s are said to be the first meditators, staring at the flames of a burning fire and letting their thoughts drift away. Meditation, Yoga, and relaxation techniques such as slow breathing should be used daily.

7. Less Work, More Leisure

Meaningful work, not too much. That is the key to a happy profession. Hunter-Gather’s spent 20 hours a week or less foraging for food. Most of their day was spent in abundant leisure activity, playing games, singing songs, gossiping with friends and family and taking naps. Figuring out how to accomplish this in our workaholic modern world is the big challenge. If you have any ideas please write them in comments section below!

8. LIve Adventurously!

In the Maasai tribe of Africa, a boy is not considered a man until he has killed his first lion. With a spear….

Can you even fathom the amount of courage this takes? Nietzsche famously said “Whatever does not kill you, makes you stronger”.  The Tribal Way doesn’t recommend you becoming adrenaline junkies, but occasionally pushing your boundaries, taking risks, and exploring new horizons can imbue one with a sense of competence and confidence.

9. Enjoy Art

Tribal societies regularly engaged in community dances and rituals. They sang songs, painted their bodies, wore masks, adorned themselves with jewelry and had a great sense of fashion.


10. Explore the Occasional Altered State of Consciousness

The happiest people to ever walk the face of this planet are the Shaman’s of hunter-gatherer societies and the enlightened monks and yogi’s from East.  While the safest way to reach these higher states is through advanced meditation techniques, this also takes the longest. Psychoactive plants such as magic mushrooms, peyote, Kava, and marijuana have a long history of use in tribal societies. The more intense psychedelic trips should be only explored under the supervision of an experienced user as they are in these tribal cultures. If done right and safely, these trips can create a life changing glimpse into the magic of reality. The high doesn’t last however, and that is why we here at the tribal way recommend hardcore meditation so as to be able to achieve these amazing states of mind safely and on command.






The Perfect Athletic Build

What is the perfect athletic build? In this post I will outline my thoughts on what the perfect athletic build is..and just as a hint of what’s to’s probably not what you think it is.


What does the perfect body for all around athleticism look like?  Is it big and powerful like an Adrian Peterson? Thin and wiry like a triathlete? Or something in between?

How do you even define athleticism?

Let’s start here.

Most would say all around athleticism is the summation of individual athletic traits, such as strength, speed, endurance, agility and coordination.  To find the best athlete one could then test an individual on each of these variables and come up with some numerical output to determine their athleticism. But are we to give equal weight to each variable? How should we determine the relative importance of flexibility and strength? Should they be equal, or is strength more important than flexibility? What about endurance versus top end speed? This kind of analysis is just too messy, and it leads to too much subjectivity.

A more concrete way to find the best athlete would be to have athletes compete against each other in every individual sport in the Olympic Games. By competing in every single event, the athletes would be tested on all facets of athleticism, from pure power in the weight lifting competition to the ultimate endurance in cross country skiing. Now, getting athletes to do this is impossible, but can we imagine what kind of athlete would come out on top in this challenge?

Would it be a large, powerful competitor such as a football player? A smaller, more coordinated gymnast?

Another way to think about who would be the ultimate all around athlete would be the following competition. Imagine that the name of all the Olympic sports were thrown into a hat, and you had to pick out a sport at random. It could be rock climbing, it could be the half pipe in snowboarding or it could be the pole vault.  Without knowing what sport will be chosen, what size athlete would you want to compete in the mystery event?

One way to test this is to find out the average height and weight of a male Olympic Gold medalist.

The assumption here is that by taking the average height and weight, our hypothetical average athlete would be competitive in the widest variety of events, and hence win our challenge.

Thanks to the great website I meticulously searched out the height and weight of every single gold medal winner, in every single individual event from gymnastics and weight lifting, to downhill skiing, speed skating and the luge. Absolutely every event from both the 2010 Winter Olympics and the 2008 Summer games were included.*  I averaged out their height and weight and came up with the following…

The mean height and weight of a male Olympic Gold medalist from the last two Olympics was 5’11.75 inches and 176.4 pounds.

The median height and weight of a male Olympic gold medalist was 6’0, 173 pounds.

I imagine that this is a lot smaller than you were expecting when you were picturing the perfect human athletic specimen. Perhaps you were thinking of someone like Lebron James or even the hulking Brock Lesnar. But how would Lebron or Brock do on a mountain bike? Their huge physiques would be an enormous disadvantage.  To be an all around athlete, carrying around too much mass is a hindrance to endurance activity.

You can’t have it both ways, you cannot be super strong and have super endurance, there is a balancing act between the two. That is why marathon runners weigh 120 pounds and the strongest weightlifters up near 300.

My analysis of the perfect athlete comes dangerously close to the top performer in the sport marketed for producing the world’s greatest athlete. The Decathlon. This year’s gold medalist, and world record holder in the decathlon is Ashton Eaton.

Ashton Eaton, 6’1, 180.8 pounds.

Other athletes within this range include..

Andre Agassi, who is 5’11 and 176 pounds..


And Willie Mays, 5’11, 175 pounds.


Notice that Eaton, Agassi and Mays all have lean, muscular physiques. They are strong, but not overly powerful, they look like they have a solid amount of functional strength, but still have the endurance to push themselves for hours on end.  In contrast to your average gym go-er with bulging biceps and chicken legs, they are well proportioned, with strong legs, thick cores and toned upper bodies.

Does this kind of build make sense from an evolutionary perspective?

Of course it does. Our ancestors certainly had to be strong in order to carry large game, firewood, buckets of water, and perhaps fight off any rivals.  But endurance mattered as well, sometimes hunts would last for days. That is dozens of hours of non-stop walking and tracking game. Hunter-gatheres had to be strong, but they had to be lean and fit as well.

Is it just a coincidence that the lean muscled body of a hunter-gatherer resembles that of our perfect athlete?




*I eliminated team sports (One can’t compete 1 on 1 in soccer). For Sports with built in weight classes, I took the Super-Heavyweights, seeing as they are likely the strongest competitors and more often than not win an absolute division title (although this isn’t always the case…it’s certainly conceivable that a heavyweight or even light heavyweight could beat a superheavyweight), but let’s err on the side of caution here.



This is the Tribal Way..

You are a wild animal.


You are the product of 3.5 billion years of evolution. You have billions of direct ancestors. All of whom were able to successfully navigate the world, kill their own food and find a partner to bear offspring. In the last few million years your human ancestors were able to hunt wild prey with either their bare hands, or at most, rudimentary tools.  They lived care free and healthy lives.

How does your life compare to your tribal ancestors?

Can you chase down a wild boar with nothing but a spear? Are you lean and fit? Can you walk all day long on your bare feet while carrying a small deer on your back?

This is the tribal way.

Do you sleep well every night? Do you wake up refreshed and joyful as you step outside into the warm morning sun?

Are you having soul melting sex with a healthy, beautiful partner several times a week?

This is the tribal way.

Do you eat a breakfast of ripe, delicious fruits? Does your diet subsist of wild, fresh plants and animals?

Are you perfectly healthy? Are your teeth white straight and shining? Do you have clear skin? Perfect eye sight, and a body that feels energetic?

Do you spend most of the day laughing and playing games with your closest family and friends?

Are you free of stress and worry? Are you present, here and now, with a clear mind? Do you walk around with the lightness of a feather? Do you dance?

This is the tribal way.

As the sun sets, and the full moon lights up the sky. Do you stare up at those beautiful distant stars as you succumb to the vast awesomeness of the universe?


Press Play. Dance.