(Stone) Age Of Innocence: Cave Man Fantasies

Screw vintage. The alleged new nostalgia is for "a much earlier epoch: the Pleistocene, when humans lived in small hunter-gatherer groups and didn’t worry about high cholesterol."

First of all, it should be said that if there's a great mania for prehistoric living - or, “paleofantasies”- we've missed it, “10,000 B.C.” and the Cave Man Diet notwithstanding. But if author Marlene Zuk is to be believed, people are taking the notion of "green" to the extreme, and are attracted to the idea of a time when "life used to be more in sync with the environment."

Zuk suggests that some of this is genetic:

That beer gut? It comes from eating too many processed carbohydrates; our bodies evolved to eat only unrefined foods, mainly meat, and we get out of kilter veering from our ancestral diet.

But such idealization is, of course, well, idealized: "The notion that there was a time of perfect adaptation, from which we’ve now deviated, is a caricature of the way evolution works." Scavenging carcasses is not only unappealing, but merely one step in human evolution. Common bromides like the unnaturalness of consuming dairy or the proportions of foods we're meant to consume are themselves based on very little; "we know little about the details of early family structure and other aspects of behavior...Which of our human ancestors are we using as models?" More to the point, "the notion that there was a time of perfect adaptation, from which we’ve now deviated, is a caricature of the way evolution works."

However tenuous the claims of a caveman revival, it is true that there's a general, vague Rousseau-like wish for a time before we ruined everything. Which is natural, if unproductive. Zuk's irritation is as a scientist: she views such idealization as reductive and simply inaccurate. We say: sure, we'd like to be kids sometyimes, too, but you can't go around in a stroller dressed as a baby. (Well, and keep a job.) For our part, we'll take great literature, music, art and sarcasm...and the ability to make change, as well as the wisdom to regret it.

The Evolutionary Search for Our Perfect Past [NY Times]