The Pioneers of Paleo

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Despite the fact that it’s based on an eating pattern from millions of years ago, what we call the paleo diet is a modern contrivance. Based on the idea that our very ancient ancestors didn’t eat much in the way of sugar or grains, and instead chomped on fruits, nuts, root vegetables, and meat, paleo has developed a growing mass of devotees who swear by its life-changing effects (some science agrees). First proposed by Dr. Walter L. Voegtlin in his 1975 book The Stone Age Dietthe paleo diet came to mass prominence in 2002 thanks to Dr. Loren Cordain’s book The Paleo Diet.

Of course, just because the diet was first codified by those two publications doesn’t mean that no one between ancient times and modern day developed similar eating habits in the years before paleo was brought into the public eye. While all of these people are known for something more than what they ate, it turned out that in addition to excelling at poetry, baseball, manufacturing LSD, or other endeavors, they were also unwitting food pioneers:

Walt Whitman

One of America’s greatest poets, Whitman was also a loud, if pseudonymous, proponent of “manly health.” In "Manly Health And Training," a 47,000-word document that a Whitman scholar told the New York Times was “sort of an insane document.” Whitman preached the benefits of a meat-heavy diet, with the Los Angeles Times noting that his recommendation for “a simple diet of rare-cooked beef, seasoned with a little salt,” sounds like the kind of diet your paleo friend has talked to you about over and over again.

Henry Ford

Say what you will about Ford’s prowess as a businessman, or the other hats he donned; the man knew that our ancient ancestors were as much gatherers as hunters. So, he paid tribute to them by eating weeds he could find in his yardFord was a lamb's quarters and shepherd's purse guy, and it turns out that both of those have been given paleo diet endorsementsIf you can't find those weeds around you though, you can always go looking for mushrooms, just be sure you know how to forage for ones that are good for you and that won't make you terribly sick.

Wade Boggs

Hall of Famer Wade Boggs is famous for a number of things: Reaching the 3,000 hits club, playing in a World Series for both the Red Sox and Yankees, and allegedly drinking 107 beers in a day. And while his beer-drinking exploits wouldn’t exactly pass muster in the paleo community (though we'd certainly want to host him at our office), one of Boggs’ other culinary quirks would. Boggs was known for eating nothing but low-fat, high-protein chicken during baseball season. He ate so much of it in fact, that he became known as Chicken Man, was given a six-month supply of Perdue by the company, and even wrote a cookbook.  

Steve Jobs

Paleo has a well-earned reputation for being a carnivore’s delight, but that doesn’t mean a vegan can’t partake at all. Witness Steve Jobs, who was known for some time for eating nothing but fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetablesa type of diet known as fruitatarianism. While it eschews the meat portion of the diet, paleo does allow for 45% of your daily calorie intake to come from vegetables, fruits, and nuts or seeds.

Owsley Stanley

Stanley’s most well-known contribution to this world was mass producing LSD, which helped fuel the hallucinatory spirit of 1960s. And while he was certainly more of a party maven than a health nut, Stanley focused on a meat-heavy, low-carb diet, to the point where the Village Voice said that he “anticipated the paleo diet by almost 50 years.” Owsley preferred high-fat chuck beef to fancy filet mignon, and according to one girlfriend’s memoir, gone over in the Voicehe also didn’t even bother eating his steak (cooked rare) with a fork, opting to just go with a knife.

Hunter S. Thompson

Another notorious '60s character, Thompson was never exactly known as a picture of health or self-care. And while one piece of evidence points to his appetite veering away from what you’d think our most ancient ancestors went with, a passage of page 96 in Gonzo: The Life Of Hunter S. Thompsonhis wife Sandy described Thompson’s perfect breakfasts as being omelets, huevos rancheros (which can be paleo safeand “some kind of spinach thing.”

George Washington

Could the father of our country also have been the father of our paleo craze? Well, he might not have exactly started paleo's PR campaign, but, that being said, a modern paleo diet devotee would probably find plenty to eat if they were out with Washington. Our first president was known to be a huge fan of fish, nuts, fruits like figs and raisins, and mutton, which was specifically said to pass muster with Whitman in "Manly Health and Training."