Jackson, in his (almost) infinite wisdom, had a great idea for a gimmick for us to write about as we’re attempting to start this thing (The Atavist Daily): we would both do a ‘Whole 30’ challenge and write blog-like updates on it every couple of days. As busy guys with lots of other stuff on our plates, he thought it’d be good to have a go-to subject to fill up entries, since we’ve committed to posting something new every day - a task that will hopefully get a lot easier if we can recruit a couple more contributors.


It was, and is, a good idea. But it’s not going to happen. This post is about why.


For those of you unfamiliar, the ‘Whole 30’ challenge is basically a challenge to eat a 100% super-paleo diet for a month. No grains, no beans, no dairy, no alcohol,  etcetera. The idea is kind of like a cleanse: you remove more from your diet than you probably really need to, to eliminate all of the bad stuff that might be causing whatever little health problems you’re facing. At the end of the month, you can start experimenting with re-introducing ‘gray area’ foods, like dairy, which some people can tolerate well and others can’t, to see if you can handle them. Therefore, it’s important that there’s no cheating.


Now, both Jackson and I are big supporters of paleo diet principles, though neither of us follows a 100% paleo diet at this point. I’d say about 40% of my meals are paleo; Jackson claims half of his are. And we would have a lot to gain from a ‘paleo cleanse,’ honestly: I’ve been having headaches and digestion issues probably related to diet, and Jackson has, in more candid moments, admitted that he’s got a few pounds he’d like to lose.


And yet, we both decided that the time wasn’t right.


Why? For one thing, the side effects. While people who go through the Whole 30 program come out on the other end feeling awesome, the first couple of weeks are characterized by headaches, cravings, tiredness, and withdrawal symptoms. Yes, withdrawal, because we’re actually addicted to sugar and other components of the Standard American Diet (has anyone been clever enough to nickame this the “SAD” diet yet?). And that’s a problem for us: we both work in fairly high-intensity white collar jobs, where we need to be able to perform on a high level every day or else we risk getting fired. And while we’re not crazy about our jobs, we’ve got loans to pay, and at some point would like to own our own houses so that we can stop contributing to the coffers of our landlords, plus we’d like to have enough money to support families, kids, etcetera… you get the point. We don’t like our jobs, but we need them, and while in the long run the health benefits of a 100% paleo diet might make us perform better, this summer is a particularly busy time in both of our jobs, and it just wouldn’t work right now.


So, maybe in the future one or both of us will try a Whole 30 - and we’ll happily take any advice on making it work. But I wanted to take this opportunity to admit that, right now, we can’t live up to our ideals, and that's okay. Atavism isn’t about perfection- it’s not really an ideal at all, or an ideology: it’s a mode of criticism. You don’t have to eat perfectly to know that Kraft mac and cheese is a bad thing and the world would be better off without it. You can even succumb to your desire for that mac and cheese and still be an Atavist: after all, very powerful forces of capitalism have made that food-ish product something that many of us crave, and while we’re not powerless to resist, we do have limited willpower, limited resources. Sometimes you have to pick your battles.


And another important tenant of Atavism is that you can’t just fix one aspect of life in a vacuum - it’s all tied in together. If our health was better, we’d be better at our jobs, and if our jobs didn’t require us to perform constantly or else worry about being fired, we’d be healthier - less stressed, more able to get into health projects like this. If we were members of stronger communities, we would have more resources to help us out, whatever we tried to do. We shouldn’t pretend that any and all of us should be able to just go Whole 30 on demand and that anyone who doesn’t just doesn’t have the willpower. We need systemic change across our culture, not just a change to our diets.    



The {Partial} 30

by Douglas Payn

August 11, 2014

Even with Instagram, my cooking doesn't look this good...

You'd think it would be easy to commit to only eating meals like this for a whole month.