Have Israelis embraced the caveman diet?
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The so-called paleo diet, a growing trend in the West for several years now, seems to be catching on quickly in the country. While it was nearly unheard of here even two years ago, the local community with the paleo palate now boasts multiple Facebook groups with thousands of members, at least one store, and soon – a market with dozens of vendors catering to this crowd.
The paleolithic diet, also called the paleo or caveman diet, is ostensibly based on types of foods that our ancient ancestors might have consumed, including certain types of meats, nuts and fruit, and vegetables.
Proponents argue that the human body has not fully evolved to enable consumption of foods that entered the diet following the advent of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. They thus seek to eat foods that they believe to be similar from an evolutionary or health perspective to what early humans ate.
People following the diet generally avoid grains, legumes, some or all dairy products, white sugar and processed oils such as canola, as well as processed food. Many adherents, however, freely acknowledge that they are not trying to eat like prehistoric man did: The caveman is simply a mascot and the diet is a means to ensure that they will consume what they consider to be nutritious, high-quality, unprocessed food.
The diet also has its critics, who argue that human beings are more nutritionally flexible than people that follow the diet claim.
No need to be fanatic
Ohad Roth, 45, has been coordinating a paleo market in Israel for the past year, inviting boutique producers and farmers to sell their goods directly to the public. Until now, the market was held sporadically, in different locations around the country. The most recent event, held in partnership with RFA, Israel’s CrossFit group, drew 8,000 people over two days.
Meat for sale at a paleo market event. Photo by Eyal Keren
Now, if all goes as planned, Roth says, the market will be a regular monthly feature, at its permanent home at the Hadar Yosef stadium in north Tel Aviv.
Roth says the diet’s allure is that it makes people feel better and healthier, and he denies that one has to be fanatic about it. There’s nothing wrong with being 80-90 percent paleo, he notes.
“Lots of people are coming to paleo because they want to lose weight, but they stay because they find out that it’s changing their life ... Physically they just feel much better,” says Roth.
Thanks to modern, high-carb diets, he adds, “your body tells you you’re hungry even though you’re not. We’re not eating because we’re hungry. We eat because we want to snack. Eating today has become something social."
Olive oil for sale at a paleo market event. Photo by Eyal Keren
Consumption of energy-dense foods such as fat and protein, as is prescribed by the paleo diet, makes you feel full while enabling you to eat less, Roth explains.
The paleo trend is catching on quickly here, he says, because Israelis are particularly inclined to look to friends and family for recommendations regarding many aspects of their lifestyles – including dietary choices. “People feel good about it, so they run to tell their friends,” he says.
Despite its reputation, the paleo diet is not all about eating meat: “I don’t necessarily eat more meat than the average person. I just pass over the carbs, and I don’t fry my meat in canola oil.”
Roth used to work in the finance industry, but for the past year he’s been devoting himself to getting the market off the ground. He and members of the international paleo community, say that a paleo-themed market of this scale and regularity would be the first of its type in the world.
Produce for sale at a paleo market event. Photo by Eyal Keren
The first market day is scheduled for Friday, July 17. Products for sale at the include biltong, a South African-style dried meat made by a South African immigrant; gluten-free pitas; specially prepared lamb bacon; pizza with crust made from almond flour and tapioca, instead of traditional flour; fruit and vegetables straight from the farm; and alcoholic beverages, including gluten-free beer. About half of the stands offer kosher fare.
Roth says that many of the foods for sale are premium products. As a result, they’re not cheap, but, he explains, the prices are fair, particularly because they’re being sold without middlemen.
“It’s the most varied market in Israel,” Roth declares. “It’s an event for the paleo community, but it’s also a festival. Come eat, drink, listen to music, and before you leave – go and buy everything you need to have at home,” he says. “I hope it’s the best entertainment in the city.”