As a kid, I grew up in the inner-city jungle of San Antonio, Texas where my single mom Margarita spent her days hunting and foraging to make ends meet for her kids. After my parents’ divorce, we moved from my father’s “first-class, first world” across the tracks and down a trail of tears to a new world. A world that was a far cry from the advantages and immunities of our formerly privileged life. In the inner-city jungle, my father’s money no longer white-washed the permanent native red paint from our cheeks. Instead to be, or even appear to be Mexican, including in the way we behaved or spoke, meant that we had less access to the opportunities and tools one needs to thrive. We were considered less significant, even marginal to polite and civil society. See, even in San Antonio where Mexican-Americans made up most of the city, the mostly Anglo male, conservative establishment still wielded all the wealth and power.
Like our Mexican migrant farm worker grandparents and Paleo native hunter-forager ancestors before them, we managed to survive, and sometimes even thrive on what we could create from what was accessible, from what we could cultivate, including the foods we ate. We even found comfort in our grandmother’s Mexican food, as well as the Tex-Mex food she created from the foods that are available to us in Texas – a cuisine that managed to outclass the racism, segregation and discrimination of the South as a successful downtown Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurant. These recipes my mother learned from her mother while working and growing up in our grandparent’s restaurant. And even though the establishment told us that our culture was worth less than theirs, our foods served as a primal, daily reminder of our Mexican identity and cultural value.
Yet today, proponents of the so-called modern Paleo Diet and lifestyle movement made up of, and run by, mostly privileged, conservative, American, male Anglos want us to buy the idea that the Paleo Diet can be both “Modern” and “Mexican”. Let’s consider that possibility. The modern Paleo Diet claims to be grounded in evolutionary biology, the processes that produced the diversity of life on Earth, and intends to “mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors” in order to “optimize your health, minimize your risk of chronic disease, and lose weight”.
Although, it’s a “modern” diet and lifestyle too. So Paleo leaders advocate maintaining the spoils of modernity. Like even when Paleo leaders say they suffer from the ills of being a caged “zoo human” in modern industrial society, they suggest that you can still be set free by what you consume like their Paleo-approved, processed and packaged goods for sale. To be fair, some Paleo leaders have begun to acknowledge the science of how modern city lifestyle toxicity and stress can be a factor of chronic disease and obesity problems. Yet, that acknowledgement remains secondary to the selling of their Paleo bread and protein powders, or the modern comforts and conveniences of their cell phones and minimalist shoes.
Oh, and modern Paleo can be “Mexican” too. That’s right. Just do a simple Google search for “Paleo Mexican” and you’ll find “Paleo Mexican on Pinterest” where you can learn how to make “huevos rancheros” without the corn tortillas, cheese and sauce. No, that’s not “huevos rancheros”, that’s “huevos ala Mexicana”. Wait a minute though, you forgot the rancheros bacon. Aren’t domesticated, farm-raised pigs considered Paleo these days? But these Paleo people are just too culturally ignorant to know better, let alone understand the difference. Then there’s “healthier margaritas” made with kombucha tea. “Paleo fajitas”, because apparently regular meat fajitas are not Paleo enough. What’s that? You can also wrap that “Paleo meat” in a plantain or coconut Paleo tortilla? No, that is cuisine from other Central and South American Latin cultures. Not Mexican. But for too many in the U.S., including these culturally ignorant modern cavemen, it’s all Mexico south of the border anyway, right? Wait, you can make a Paleo taco by wrapping that meat in a lettuce wrap. No, that’s another country’s cuisine, I’m afraid.
Wait, there’s lots more. How about when you have a “Mexican craving”? It’s okay. You can Paleo Hack it. On Instagram you can also find out how to make the rice milk drink ‘horchata’ without the rice milk. What about rice made of cauliflower? See, Paleo Mexican is “progressive”. So let’s do a Mexican recipe round up for Cinco de Mayo, just the food, minus the border patrol and Mexican immigrants. Still need more? What about Paleo Porn where “MARLA (not Maria) SARRIS”, a non-chef, baton-twirling, aspiring Miss America will sell you her Paleo Mexican recipes in her new E-book, “Los Paleo”. “Los” Paleo Marla? Perhaps, that should be “El” Paleo? Right. But again, these people seem too ignorant of Mexican culture to know better. I could go on.
See, the problem here is that Mexican and Tex-Mex foods are born of much pain and suffering. They are foods that come from a shared background, experience and perspective, and thus a cultural understanding. A birthright. After the Spanish Conquistadores raped, pillaged and plundered the Aztecs in what is now Mexico, they tried to colonize the Aztecs by imposing their culture, including their diet, on what was left of the natives they enslaved. The Conquistadores even went as far as to introduce their disease-ridden ‘domesticated animals’ which wiped out even more natives. That was in addition to the many massacres of natives at the hand of the Conquistadores’ guns and steel. Yet, even despite the Conquistadores having burned crop fields and banned the farming of certain foods with spiritual significance like corn, native food culture prevailed. So the foods and cooking techniques of Mexicans, and then Mexican-Americans came from the painful fusion of two cultures.
Mexican and Tex-Mex foods are now fundamental to the culture, its organization, principles and popular traditions of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans alike. The basic staples of Mexican and Tex-Mex food remain farm-raised, native foods such as ancestral grains, starches, legumes and alcohol derived from sources like corn and beans. While the Europeans introduced a large number of other staples, most notably meat from domesticated animals like cows, pigs, chickens, goats and sheep, dairy products (especially cheese), wheat, rice, sugar cane and various herbs and spices, the basic staples and native foods still make up a majority of the world’s energy intake.
Now today, these Paleo leaders want their followers to believe that as the Conquistadores before them, it’s ok to just marginalize, and even demonize the native food staple contributions to Mexican food. Specifically, they suggest that Paleo followers can still “do Mexican” by wiping out the native cultural contributions, and replace them with some white-washed, Paleo-approved, superior ingredients that privileged people value more, can afford, and which they believe to be healthier. The logical inference being the diet that I and the majority of the world eat, who also just happen to be people of color, is inferior because it will not optimize your health or minimize your risk of chronic disease, and will make you fatter. Now, just chew on that for a moment.
So, modern Paleo leaders ethnocentrically discriminate against entire classes of my ancestral food like grains, legumes and starches my ancestors ate, and again what a majority of the world’s population eats. Paleo leaders discriminate by trying to impose their privileged cultural ideas on my culture’s food because they believe their opinions to be superiorly healthy, whether or not it has been scientifically proven so. At the same time, and too often, these Paleo leaders fail to make the fine distinctions such as differentiating between seasonal wild sources of food, and industrially-created food that may also be the cause of their modern health issues. Not to mention when it comes to these classes of food that Paleo leaders discriminate against, they often lack the solid cultural knowledge and understanding of how to properly prepare these foods so they will be nutritious, and not toxic. Even more, these Paleo leaders too rarely acknowledge the importance of addressing the agricultural environmental toxicity where the foods they eat are so often farmed. Those toxins have historically killed the migrant farm workers that pick much of their food. Yet, these Paleo leaders associate themselves with ideas of ethical farming and sustainability, but what have they really done to address the environment and working conditions of those who raise and grow their food?
Just to be clear here, my Mexican ancestors weren’t Paleo hunters and gatherers, they were migrant farm workers out of the Neolithic era who ate non-Paleo-leader approved food. Now I have researched and know enough about my native ancestry, including those that were hunters and gatherers, to say they appear to have eaten other non-Paleo-approved foods as well. This leads me to wonder just how much the average Paleo Dieter actually knows about his or her particular ancestors, assuming they want to mimic the food groups of their pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors. Even then, how could the domesticated food available today possibly mimic the wild foods my ancestors ate to optimize my bio-individual health in today’s radically different world?
Even so, the main Paleo leaders like Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf and others have continually modified the “Paleo Diet” rules or guidelines to now include foods such as sweet potatoes, fatty meats and only certain types of processed dairy, and even sodas. What’s that now? “Resistant starch” is okay after you so fanatically discriminated against others for eating such foods? To be fair, a faction of current Paleo leaders suggest a more flexible and individualized approach through the theoretical and experimental idea of a “Paleo Template”. Yet, even their so-called template still does not allow me to eat what my ancestors ate, such as ancestral grains and legumes that made them healthy, that made me healthy.
While it seems that Paleo is an ever moving, ever expanding target, I also have to ask at what point does the exception swallow the rule, guideline or even template to the point that it can no longer credibly be called Paleo, let alone Mexican? What exactly does Paleo stand for? How could it have any integrity when it has yet to be credibly defined by evolutionary biology? I know what my grandmother’s home cooking stood for: love and play. And her food optimized my health, minimized my risk of chronic disease, and didn’t cause me to get fat. But maybe some of the Tex-Mex food I ate wasn’t the healthiest with some of its modern, industrially influenced ingredients. You know, I wish my grandmother was still with us today. Because I would love to see some of these modern Paleo leaders try and come into her restaurant, push aside her rice, beans and corn and explain why they think their modern Paleo Mexican is superior.
Still, after years of modern Paleo Diet changes, the lifestyle and movement remains remarkably unevolved, and incredibly non-diverse. Yet, while these Paleo leaders are constantly invoking and associating themselves with images of indigenous and native people in their marketing, you don’t see these leaders rubbing elbows with them at their Paleo conferences, or on their many marketing platforms from which they make their money. One Paleo leader supposedly educated as an evolutionary psychologist at Columbia and Stanford universities, contrary to evolutionary biology, the processes that produced the diversity of life on Earth and that holds that diversity is strength, has even gone as far as to openly state that “diversity is our weakness”. Accordingly, he states that if we all just ate “Paleo”, did Crossfit, read The Economist, gave up religion and spoke the same language the world would be a much better place. Did I mention this is the same guy that spoke on a panel of Gringos at the “World’s Largest Paleo Streaming Event” Paleo f(x) on “Shamanism – Our Quantum Leap Forward”?
Meanwhile, other Paleo leaders blogging about “Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb” and Paleo are being hosted on “racial realism” promoter David Duke’s radio show, and then in turn promoting his website through theirs. They say it was an oversight based on ignorance, and guilt by association. Once, maybe. But by three different Paleo leaders, on three different occasions? Yet, have these people been formally denounced by the rest of the Paleo leadership? Hardly. Rather, these admittedly ignorant people, and others like them, have been and continue to be given a platform and stage, or are dismissively laughed off as fringe. Except, they’re not. The Paleo leaders say that they unabashedly use the Paleo caveman mythology, stereotypes and exaggerations to help people conceptualize ”oftentimes a confusing transition to the Paleo/ancestral lifestyle”. Yet, at the same time the Paleo caveman “analogies” are also accompanied by Paleo opinion leaders with some truly backwards, unevolved prejudices and intolerant behaviors based on race, ethnicity and gender which are too often hostilely conveyed throughout the Paleo sphere.
Further, while adaptation and diversity are fundamental to Darwin’s ideas about evolution, let’s also remember that the original title of Darwin’s book was “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” See, it was that book, along with Darwin’s other writings, that eugenicists used countless times to justify their racial attitudes and arguments for their superiority and the inferiority of others. They wanted to preserve the “favoured races” that just happen to be the conservative Anglo establishment by committing genocide across other cultures. They wanted to exterminate or enslave my ancestors the “savages” and people of color, much like the Conquistadores before them. The same Darwin ironically promoted the breeding and domestication of select people and animals. To be clear, those attitudes, those vestiges of discrimination, haven’t just disappeared either, and many of those eugenicists who later got traction were originally laughed off as fringe too.
These are the same Paleo leaders and followers who are continually aligning themselves with the character of native and indigenous cultures. Yet, they source much of their food from migrant farm workers who pick their food, or from places like the Amazon, simultaneously wiping out what is left of hunter-gatherer cultures as encroaching industrialization brings these foods to the global market. See, what is available to eat among native people then, as today, was and is strongly influenced by not just “culture,” but by many ethno-geographical, socio-economic and geo-political factors. Even if Paleo advocates could convince Western civilization to revert back to a Paleo Diet, what would happen to the billions of people of color in the third world countries who subsist off of grains and legumes?
Let me be clear. I am of course in support of playing with food, exploring the foods you love, to discover new imaginative food creations. I love fusion cuisine. But I would be less culturally and intellectually offended, as well as insulted, if what Paleo leaders brought to the table was less ignorant, more genuine and authentic, with a solid cultural understanding of the foods they claim to represent and fuse. But I’m not talking about a cultural understanding that comes from staying a few weeks as a gringo tourist in a hotel, hostel or even an Airbnb place in Cancun, Mexico either. Because if these Paleo leaders showed more cultural understanding it would seem a lot less like appropriation and exploitation, especially when one’s ancestors are arguably so suspect.
You know, back in the 90’s while training for elite-level powerlifting and life-time, drug-free bodybuilding competitions, I found that the “original Paleo Diet” had a few good ideas, like exploring an evolutionary approach to nutrition. But today, it seems steeped in a marketing-driven business enterprise that essentially repackages those ideas and the ideas of others who were around long before the modern Paleo Diet movement. All of this seems completely inconsistent with the pristine hunter-gatherer cultures I have since lived among in the Amazon and Andes for over a year now. So when Paleo leaders try to align themselves with something so genuine and authentic, not to mention something so dear to me as my culture heritage, I’m a little more than put off. It really seems to me that these Paleo leaders lack cultural understanding of both Paleo and Mexican, modern or otherwise. They have become caricatures of themselves, and their attempt to associate themselves with native and indigenous cultures, as well as my own, has made a parody of our cultures and perpetuates myths, stereotypes and exaggerations that my ancestors worked so hard, and even died, to overcome. So when Paleo leaders try to associate themselves with, or even co-opt my culture, I think it’s fair to say I’m offended and insulted.
See, for me the value of being Mexican, of diversity, especially as it relates to evolution, is not uniformity or sameness. It is creative, interdependent collaboration that innovates for a meaningful impact on the challenges we all face in the inner-city jungle or the Amazon, so that we might all thrive. So I ask, am I the one “race-baiting” (ethnic-culture baiting), or are they? What’s my bottom line here? What do I want people to do now? Simply, I want you to be aware that these Paleo leaders are piggy-backing, riding the coattails of my culture’s cuisine success after we overcame a history of discrimination. So yes, these Gringo tacos of “Mexican Paleo” dishonor the legacy of my immigrant Mexican grandparents and my mother who cooked real Mexican and Tex-Mex food. Now, I hope all of you reading this have a greater cultural understanding of why, so you won’t help spread an idea like “Paleo Mexican” which is more than oxymoronic, it is paradoxical. So now, let’s just call this what it is: the continued appropriation, exploitation and bastardization of other cultures for profit.
Guest Article by Richard Garcia
In high school Richard was a lifetime, drug-free, nationally and internationally accomplished Olympic weightlifter and powerlifter. Richard then attended The University of Texas at Austin Communication School on scholarship. While there he also earned a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Certification as he helped put himself through school with his own personal training and nutrition consulting business. He had careers in teaching, politics, public relations and marketing. Richard then went on to work as the right-hand for Dr. Stephen R. Covey and the #1 leadership and management training company in the world FranklinCovey. After working with Dr. Covey, Richard pursued his other dream of becoming a lawyer by attending The University of Texas at Austin School of Law. After a career in the legal field, Richard woke up one day in 2010, quit his job, sold everything and filled a backpack with just what he needed to explore play around the world. Since then, from the cities to minimally and recently contacted hunter and forager tribes, from kids to the leading play thinkers, researchers and practitioners, Richard has been learning first-hand how we may have lived before, how we may have played before. Richard practices minimalism, studies minimalism’s relationship to creating playful environments, how to inspire playfulness in others, and how we move naturally when we play, as well as ancestral health foods, superfoods and natural medicine.
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