I was just over on Matt Stone's site, 180degreehealth.com. I hadn't been there before, and although he's not a fan of the Paleo diet gig, I've got no beef with him, and although I haven't listened to his presentation at the Paleo Summit yet, I'm looking forward to it.
Within the comments about the nifty Paleo Summit that Mr. Stone is a part of, someone posted a link to this news story about an "uncontacted" Peruvian tribe known as the Mashco-Piro and their violent brushes with modern society, which are evidently due to logging and other "civilized" activity pushing them out of their traditional territory.
First off, I find the use of the term "uncontacted" a rather poor choice of terms. Isolated, yes. Apparently violently xenophobic, yes. Completely uncontacted, no. Uncontacted (for whatever it means here) does not mean unmolested, unchanged, or unaffected by activities of the modern societies around them. To assume it does would be to assume that they lived in a bubble or in an alternate dimension. Which brings me to Mr. Stone's comment:
Yes, that picture will probably make it into the Paleo book, along with several other pics of primitive hunter-gatherers looking mediocre at best.Here's the photo he's referring to:
Which is actually found on the front page of www.uncontactedtribes.org without cropping:
Looking into the Uncontacted Tribes site, here is another pic of the same gentleman who is apparently very mediocre looking by Mr. Stone's standards:
Which begs the question, what would qualify as "top-notch"? Again, using uncontrolled and unverifiable observations, I don't see anyone in the photo who would qualify as obese by our standards. I don't see any evidence of acne on the younger people in the photos, and what's more, if you say anything bad about him, he will cut you with his capybara tooth-tipped wood knife. How many people in modern-day America are not obese, lacking acne, are willing to be photographed nearly naked, and have a kick-ass wood knife?
So I guess mediocre is a subjective term.
Issues I raised in his comment thread (still awaiting moderation as of this post) included the reliability of judging an entire people's health due to diet based off of the pictures of one family. Further, how has the illegal logging affected their diet and lifestyle? Have they moved to or from a monocrop supported diet? What were they like a hundred or two hundred years ago? These are the beginnings of hypotheses, not conclusions.
We can really go down the untestable question rabbit hole if we want: These people were able to be photographed. Why? What made them amenable to the photos? Did they know about the photos? Are they behaving differently than the other members of their tribe, such that the photos were able to be taken? Then we can get into whether or not these people are eating a paleo-traditional diet, a neo-traditional (traditional with comparatively new additions due to contact w/ the outside world) diet, or a completely "western" diet. Are these people even members of the Mashco-Piro? And on, and on...
Ultimately I can't answer those questions. What I can do is appreciate these people for whatever vestige of their traditional culture they've got left.
Other Paleo blogs and books have showed pictures of well-muscled, lean hunter gatherers, many of whom look like they hunted and gathered at the local Globo-Gym. If one had the time to waste we could start comparing pics of subjectively crappy or healthy looking indigenous peoples and get into quite the pissing match, considering that one's definition of crappy or mediocre varies based on a number of biases. If I were to go the academic route and pursue my Master's in Anthro, maybe I'd compile all the pictures of all the indigenous peoples in existence and make a big flip book so as to finally confirm the body composition of foraging/hunter-gatherer/preagricultural societes. But I don't have that much time.
Here's an idea for another fun project. Photograph all indigenous peoples. Then photograph all "civilized" people. Then compare the percentages of those two groups who have outward-yes, just outward-signs of chronic diseases, impaired glucose control, sleep deprivaton, osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, venous hypertension, etc. Despite the variation in native diet, I would surmise that the people not eating processed crap and getting no sleep or exercise will be less "mediocre."
Ultimately, photos are a nice visual way of conveying a lot of information, but when it comes to proving or disproving the validity of any eating approach, they don't hold a lot of weight in my eyes. They are crystalized representations of time and place and person. A comprehensive, longitudinal photo-documentation of people out in the world and of participants in any dietary studies like those of Dr. Lindeberg would be quite nice, but still, they are only one facet of the whole deal.
Until then, I shall rely on Dr. Lalonde's advice and hypothesize that a paleo-esqe diet is better for me than a western diet, and I will keep carrying out my own little N=1 experiment to test that hypothesis.