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But, Beans Aren’t Paleo!?

fava_beansI’ve recently received a lot of messages and comments regarding how “un-paleo” my recipes are.

Yes, I cook with beans. No, I’m not sorry. Nor do I claim them to be “paleo”, because nothing we eat today is actually paleo as in “things people ate during the paleolithic era”. The concept of a “paleo diet” in popular culture is not informed by anyone familiar with the archaeological record.

Here’s the SparkNotes version:

Beans grew wild (without cultivation) in Africa and Asia before we had record of their introduction to the Americas. Considering the fact that indigenous pre-Colombian societies cultivated beans and thrived on them as a dietary staple, this could be an opportunity to discuss the Bering Strait, or how the first peoples of the Americas arrived here.




I won’t claim that pre-Colombian is synonymous with paleo, because it isn’t. I will state that during the paleolithic era, people ate legumes. Bean varieties that during the Agricultural Revolution—and later the Industrial Age—were artificially selected, by humans, to become the varieties we recognize as “beans” today.

Where do you think pre-Columbian peoples came up with the brilliant idea to cultivate beans? In other words, beans didn’t evolve after we did. They were there, in the wild, and we noticed them as we began to create the cultural forms that define our lives today.

One might wonder while reading this, why we don’t often associate beans with the diet of the first humans.

In the paleolithic era—humans did not eat the things we now call pinto, kidney, soy, lima, black beans, chickpeas, fava beans*, broad beans, white beans or navy beans. If that makes you wonder why—it’s because those varieties didn’t exist in the paleolithic era. Just as the cow didn’t, but its bovine ancestor did.
*pictured above




People ate a lot of things during the paleolithic era that would irk most people on the “paleo diet” today. Yes, they ate meat. But said types of meat weren’t boneless, skinless chicken breast, hard-boiled eggs, or bun-less kobe beef sliders. They ate insects. Organ meats. The brains of primordial bovine creatures (the ancestors of the cow). Hearts. Placenta. Liver. Hooves (how do you think we came up with the concept of gelatin?). We hadn’t yet developed the social constructions involving what is “good to eat”. This is why in different parts of the world, what is “good to eat” is not the same in Korea, for example, as it is in North America. In the Andes (South America, i.e. Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia) cuy (guinea pig) is a delicacy. That probably grosses you out, since you most likely cared for a guinea pig as a pet when you were a child, or knew someone who did.




Any meaning we attribute to anything is the result of a cultural or societal construct. So, “are beans paleo?" No. Beans are as un-paleo as beef.

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9 Comments

  • Reply

    J Finlay

    November 25, 2015

    So, “are beans paleo?” No. Beans are as un-paleo as beef.

    What a silly comment… Paleo is not a reenactment. Paleo means simply making informed choices based on what we know our ancestors ate. We know that they did not eat that many beans unless desperate and, when they did, the necessity for processing meant they were only consumed in tiny portions. Their starches would have come from root vegetables which are not at all similar to beans. The meat they ate would have been fairly close in chemical makeup to modern beef.

    You don’t have to follow paleo 100%. it’s not a religion. But no need to come up with convoluted excuses for including non paleo foods in your recipes

  • Reply

    Angel Austin

    January 4, 2016

    Thanks for this. You’ve cleared a lot up for me.

  • Reply

    Danika

    January 8, 2016

    Fantastic, really enjoy how you explain this, simple and clear.
    In our modern world with our bodies working hard to maintain balance all the time, fluidity in diet is key. Beans are convenient and nutrient-dense, my body likes them. Especially mung, they are amazing. I call them ‘bliss beans’.

  • Reply

    Victoria

    February 12, 2016

    This is a great article… Very matter of fact. I love it.

    We recently adopted a modified Paleo diet. My husband is treating/ recovering from Lyme disease. Aside from that,we fast as vegans for almost half the year and as such need the beans. The issue with the anti nutrients in the beans can be rectified by soaking then over night in water and a little bit of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. That neutralizes the phytates and makes the beans more digestible.

    Our Paleolithic ancestors also spent a lot of time on food preparation and they would have fermented or soaked the beans. Properly prepared beans are paleo in my book too!!

  • Reply

    Kat

    February 18, 2016

    I think you raise an interesting point and if you want to use beans, by all means they are your recipes – go ahead! Just think it is slightly misleading to include the word Paleo in your web address, when clearly you’re not….

  • Reply

    Landen Szakal

    April 4, 2016

    Love the work you have! I do a YouTube channel on similar content. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyf9_lOzSsI I think it would benefit the readers. I would love to contribute.

  • Reply

    Pol

    April 12, 2016

    If I go vegan, personally I’d rely on non legume sprouts like sunflower etc, yeast and fungi, and of course, algae, to supply me enough protein. They’re packed with lots of micronutients, more than legumes. And I’d enjoy perfectly healthy green legumes such as green beans and green peas in moderation.

  • Reply

    Mary

    May 26, 2016

    I respect your decision to choose to eat foods that might not necessarily be considered paleo.

    However, like others have said, you can’t get on someones case about them claiming you don’t eat paleo when your web address is extremely misleading stating it’s vegan paleo website and it’s not.

    More power to what you are doing, but again, misleading because of the address.

  • Reply

    Roman

    July 14, 2016

    Why do you mention paleo in your website title if you dont like to throw around the word. I think the goods in beans dont outweigh the bads. I can easily get the benefits of beans without the toxins beans have. I do agree that most foods here no w arent paleo but organ meats, fish and bone marrow are most certainly paleo. I never understand people defending things your better off not eating.

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