I do CrossFit. Wait, let me clarify that: I do CrossFit on and off, in between periods of barely being able to get out of bed because I’m in so much pain and walking like there’s a baseball bat rammed up my ass when I can. When you’re 45-years-old, you spent a good portion of your youth subjecting your body to an awe-inspiring bombardment of illegal substances, and your preferred exercise regimen involves lifting a bourbon bottle to your mouth, a CrossFit box may as well be a CIA Black Site. In fact, waterboarding actually sounds like a CrossFit exercise. (“Your WOD today is a 17-minute AMRAP, 12 wall-balls, 12 box-jumps, 12 power snatches and 30 seconds of waterboarding. Now get ready ’cause here comes Jay-Z and Green Day playing at full blast overtop of each other for the next 20 minutes — GO!”) CrossFit beats the crap out of me, but I do it anyway. I’m not a proselytizing cultist about it and I certainly don’t care about the camaraderie aspect, since if I had my way at least 40% of the people on the planet would vanish like it was the asshole rapture. I do it because it’s good for me and occasionally I have to make concessions to such things.
But while I’m inexplicably willing to pay a good amount of money for the equivalent of kicking myself in the balls over and over again with a pair of Reeboks on, there’s one facet of CrossFit I won’t even consider. There’s one precept the religion of CrossFit preaches that I simply will not adhere to. I won’t, under any circumstances, go paleo. And if you’re doing CrossFit, as far as your coaches and just about anyone adopting it as a full-fledged lifestyle are concerned, you have to go paleo. It’s part and parcel of the primal ferociousness CrossFit is supposed to represent. The paleo diet is so inextricably linked to the CrossFit phenomenon that I can’t help but wonder if the farms and purveyors that benefit from CrossFit’s promotion of their products and methods kick a little back to the industry somehow.
The basics of the paleo diet are that it allows primarily for lean meats, fish, non-starchy vegetables and fruits, and nuts for extra protein. It cuts out grains, dairy, processed oils, sugar and a few other odds and ends we’ve learned to enjoy as people lucky enough to be living in the early part of the 21st century (including gluten, because may as well throw in our country’s nutritional boogeyman du jour). That’s the point of the paleo diet, though: It’s specifically engineered to negate two million years of human development because it contends that we haven’t actually evolved in our ability to metabolize many of the foods that became available to us once we became an agricultural society. According to the disciples of the diet, our bodies are still best suited for the limited choices that were available to our paleolithic ancestors. So, yes, to put it bluntly, the paleo diet demands that you eat like a caveman and claims that this is what we’re all meant to be doing.
It would be easy to argue that this is nothing more than the latest in a long line of silly food and lifestyle fads to capture the cultural imagination. It would be even easier to point out that the case for it is bolstered by a bunch of pseudoscientificnonsense, that our earliest ancestors actually weren’t the least bit discerning about what they ate and were more opportunists than anything else because they had to be, also that we did in fact evolve to live as we do now. It would be easiest of all to say that it can be lousy for you and it works no better than less restrictive diets anyway. All of that would suffice in justifying my resistance to submitting to the cult of paleo. But really my reasons can be expressed in much simpler terms, beginning with the fact that I’m not a fucking caveman.
I was born in 1969, which may feel like eons ago but was by no means an era in which we were still throwing bones at a monolith or fending off saber-tooth tigers with tree branches. I’m lucky as are all of us that we live in an age where food of all kinds, from countries and cultures all around the world, is ours for the taking. We’re also fortunate to be the beneficiaries of thousands of years of improvements in agricultural technology and nutritional medicine. It’s baffling the people who insist that somehow things were better millions of years ago. I guarantee you that if you could go back in time, find a paleolithic man, give him a beer and show him pictures of a grocery store on your iPhone he’d hop the next wormhole to the 21st century. Well, first he’d beat you to death with a rock because magic drawing box scare Zog, but then he’d be hunter-gathering himself right the hell out of there. (Speaking of which, if you profess to be seriously dedicated to the full paleo lifestyle and you write about its benefits on your website you deserve to be swallowed in a singularity of pure righteous irony.)
I eat pretty healthy, but there’s very little I cut completely out of my diet and there’s almost nothing I won’t try at least once. My spirit animal is Anthony Bourdain and, like him, I don’t think of my body as a temple — I think of it as an amusement park. I’m not interested in living longer at the expense of all the wonderful indulgences which would make that long life worth it. I love food. I love cooking. My fiancée is a chef, for Christ’s sake. Eating with her and with friends is a joy and a celebration and not something I ever want to deprive myself of in the name of looking at food merely as body fuel. I punish myself over and over again through CrossFit, which is the kind of thing I should be able to do precisely so I don’t have to avoid eating a lot of the foods I enjoy.
Eventually and ironically, the paleo diet is going to go the way of the paleolithic era itself. CrossFit may continue to promote it but who even knows if CrossFit will be around a few years down the road, considering its meteoric rise. It may morph into something else and “going paleo” will simply become whatever the next nutritional trend is in our country — a country that’s so wealthy its people have the luxury of casually excluding foods from their diets. Whatever happens, I’ll still be eating sensibly and exercising hard (I hope). That should be enough.
Oh yeah, one more thing. The paleo diet demands that you give up alcohol and coffee, and, well, fuck that. Those cavemen have no idea what they missed out on.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.