February 8, 2014
The controversial thoughts below are written by John Durant, author of The Paleo Manifesto and mastermind behind the PaleoCon Summit (happening between now and February 14, in which I personally give a talk on “Raising Primal Kids”).
“Paleo is a cult.”
You’ve probably read that somewhere by now. It’s not a compliment.
A cult is a small group of people who holds strong beliefs that are outside of the mainstream.
Yet the mainstream is overweight, depressed, and sick – praising the false gods of low fat dieting, whole grains, and calorie counting. Being healthy almost requires being a member of a cult: it’s the only way to avoid the constant onslaught of sugar, junk food, and sedentary life. Perhaps treating our health regimen as a form of religious observance is exactly what the doctored ordered.
Healthy habits and religious rituals share a long history. Consider the origins of one of the most successful religions in history: Judaism.
In my recent book, The Paleo Manifesto, I examined the importance of hygiene in Judaism. Religious purification rituals such as bathing, avoiding contact with bodily fluids, and food inspection rules helped early urbanites avoid infectious disease.
Or consider the usefulness of hand washing:
“One of those purification rituals requires an unclean person to take both hands and rinse them in clean water (Exodus 30:17–21; Leviticus 15:11; Deuteronomy 21:6). The Nobel-worthy Commandment to wash your hands is called for in a few specific circumstances, but it was subsequently extended to mean that Jews should wash their hands after waking up, after going to the bathroom, before meals (eating bread), before worship, after being in a cemetery, after coming within a certain distance of a corpse, after touching private parts, and a Talmudic list of other situations. Today, hand washing is known to be one of the simplest and most effective ways to avoid infectious disease—and even washing without soap is better than nothing. Islam mandates hand washing at least five times a day (before prayer), and if clean water is unavailable, scrubbing the hands with clean earth or sand will do (Quran 5:6).”
We take modern hygiene for granted, but people back then didn’t know that germs existed. A religious “ritual” like hand washing would have seemed utterly pointless – yet anyone who washed their hands multiple times of day would have benefited enormously.
How many times did you wash your hands yesterday?
You probably have no idea. If you’re like most people, washing your hands is just a habit. It’s just something you do after going to the bathroom, before preparing food, before eating a meal, after working out, and any number of other circumstances. And you might not have been aware that for much of human history, the most sensible and widespread piece of health advice was a religious ritual – a little offering to God.
Judaism has always emphasized right action and right conduct, in part, since good hygiene requires daily attention. The same attitude can be applied to the daily actions required to be healthy today: standing, walking, running; growing, cooking, and eating our food; training and competing. The health challenges have changed; the challenge to be healthy still remains.
So is Paleo a cult?
Yes, of course it is.
And the world desperately needs more health cults, not fewer. We need more ways to inspire, cajole, and yes, threaten people to take the daily actions required to thrive.
The old religion was health – health is the new religion.
What do YOU think? Do you agree with John? Leave your questions, comments and feedback below.