How a beloved TV chef became one of Australia's most polarizing public figures.
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Michael: Okay. I have one. I have one, but it's problematic.
Michael: Welcome to Maintenance Phase, the podcast that isn't ... a knife.
Michael: This is the most dated reference that it has ever been on this show. [laughs]
Aubrey: Good, good. I like it. I like it.
Michael: Because literally all I know about this person is that he is Australian.
Aubrey: And all I know about Australia is Crocodile Dundee.
Michael: I'm Michael Hobbes.
Aubrey: I'm Aubrey Gordon. If you would like to support the show, you can do that at patreon.com/maintenancephase or you can buy t-shirts, tote bags, mugs, all manner of things at TeePublic. Both of those things are linked for you in the show notes. And if you'd like to keep listening, just come on down, keep listening. We got a real barnburner on our hands.
Michael: Yes, all I know about this human being is that, A, his name is Pete Evans and B, we have received roughly 5,000 requests to cover this gentleman.
Aubrey: As far as I know, every person in Australia has emailed us.
Michael: No, literally, the country of Australia has requested that we cover this person. [laughs]
Aubrey: Official request from the state.
Michael: So, I've been trying to avoid spoilers, because every once a while it'll come up or somebody will send us something like, “You guys should cover Pete Evans, the guy who--" and I'm like, “Close tab, close tab--" [crosstalk]
Aubrey: Delete, delete. Yeah. [laughs]
Michael: Something, something problematic. So, I am ready to be treated on this episode the way that I treat you in other episodes, where you fuck with me for the first 30 minutes to let me tell me the truth.
Aubrey: I am going to drop in, see if I can drop in an image search like image without giving you-- God damn it. They all want to give you the whole link to the whole news story and I'm like, “No.”
Michael: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. You got to do screen grabs of it like, “I did with Mel Gibson.”
Aubrey: I'm going to try texting it to you. That's what I'm going to do.
Aubrey: Okay, here we go.
Michael: Oh, that's what it looks like?
Aubrey: Here's another one.
Aubrey: Yeah, there you go. Tell me.
Michael: He's got the serious one and the goofy one. These are how they are labeled on his computer. It's like hotdad.jpeg and like goofyscienceguy.jpeg.
Aubrey: Uh-huh? The way that I have been describing, the way that this dude looks in my own brain is like Kendall.
Michael: Yeah, that's what I thought, too.
Aubrey: Kendall in his 40s.
Michael: He's the hot math teacher at your school.
Michael: He's just a white guy with a 5 o'clock shadow and I think, are those blue eyes?
Michael: And he's ostentatiously wearing t-shirts in both of these.
Aubrey: I'm really like the idea of ostentatious t-shirt wearing.
Aubrey: It feels like thing that I aspire to. [laughs]
Michael: These are like publicity stills. He's chosen to wear a t-shirt in what appears to be an author headshot or something. I feel like it's a choice.
Aubrey: So, interestingly, Pete Evans doesn't come to us as primarily, like a diet or nutrition guy historically. He comes to us as a fine dining chef.
Michael: Oh, okay.
Aubrey: Today, Pete Evans is 49 years old. He was born in Melbourne in August of 1973. In my notes, I wrote classic Virgo, even though, I don't know what that means.
Aubrey: I did look up his zodiac sign. I don't know why.
Michael: Scorpio rising. Yeah.
Aubrey: He in the mid-90s. In his mid-20s, he moved with his brother and their business partner to Sydney and opened up a restaurant called Hugo’s Bondi.
Michael: Hugo’s Bondi? Okay.
Aubrey: The restaurant becomes super-duper popular, people really love it. By all accounts, the food is great. About 10 years after opening Hugo’s, Pete Evans starts writing cookbooks. To date, he has published about eight of them. As he starts publishing cookbooks, his star continues to rise. He's conventionally handsome, he's young, he's a white dude, he's charming, he's a subject authority, all signs point to make this dude famous in the system that we've got.
Michael: How does this start to rise?
Aubrey: He starts promoting his books and showing up, promoting his cookbooks, doing little TV demos, that kind of thing.
Michael: Oh, okay.
Aubrey: He's doing the circuit and he becomes a sought-after guest.
Aubrey: That all leads up to, in 2010, his TV career starts in earnest and he becomes a judge on what was then a new cooking competition show called My Kitchen Rules or MKR. As far as I can tell, MKR occupies a similar place in Australian pop culture as the voice or project runway of just huge beloved reality show hit. People absolutely adore the show.
Michael: It's like the great Australian food off or something.
Michael: People just watch it and like it.
Aubrey: Yeah, that's right. It's a cooking competition show and it's home cooks competing in pairs with other home cooks.
Michael: Oh, okay.
Aubrey: He is one of the judges. I watched several episodes of MKR for this and I couldn't grab the video of it. They were on platforms where you just can't do that. But there were a couple of different times where he did the, “I'm sorry to say, I didn't like this dish. I absolutely loved it.”
Michael: Oh, God. All right.
Aubrey: Do you know what I mean? You are like, “Okay.”
Aubrey: He's like the fake out sweetheart judge and people talk about him that way. They're like, “You're so charming.” He's generally a sweetheart on the show. Within a couple years, he signs a deal with PBS in the US and does a show here called Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking, where he travels around the US cooking for folks. His TV career just continues to grow. He's charming. He's really good at being on TV, which is one of those things that doesn't sound like a skill, but it totally is.
Michael: Totally is. Yeah.
Aubrey: He's on the rise, he is beloved, and in 2012, he starts getting a little bit of flack in the press.
Aubrey: He does a feature in the Sunday Age. That is one of those everything I eat in a day like food diary things. Here's what he says is in his food diary in this feature called My Day on a Plate.
Aubrey: 7 AM, two glasses of alkalized water with apple cider vinegar then a smoothie of blended alkalized water organic spirulina, activated almonds, maca, blueberries, stevia, coconut, kefir, and two organic free-range eggs.
Michael: [laughs] Okay.
Aubrey: 8:30 AM, sprouted millet, sorghum, chia, and buckwheat bread with liver pate, avocado, cultured vegetables, plus ginger and licorice root tea.
Michael: Aubrey, this is exhausting. [laughs] This is exhausting.
Aubrey: [laughs] It's not going to get less exhausting.
Aubrey: I knew he has a lunch that sounds reasonable to me, which is fresh fish, sauteed kale and broccoli, spinach and avocado salad, and cultured vegetables. At 3 PM, he has activated almonds, coconut chips, cacao nibs plus green tea. At 6:30 PM, he has emu meatballs, sauteed vegetables,-
Aubrey: -cultured vegetables, plus another cup of ginger and licorice root tea and at 8:30 PM, he has a homemade coconut carob blueberry goji and stevia muffin.
Michael: Oh, my God. [laughs]
Aubrey: You know this is the shit where I'm like, “I'm only growing stronger bring me all of these food.”
Michael: It's just every weird food trend over the last decade.
Aubrey: It is literally and figuratively, throw a bunch of superfoods in a blender.
Michael: Right. [laughs]
Aubrey: They publish this alongside a note from a nutritionist who's just like, “Hey, man, A for effort, but there's no evidence about any of this. Also, you can get emu pretty much.” [laughs]
Aubrey: It’s a whole note. It's great. This nutritionist very clearly tries to be like, “These are good things. He's doing good here.” Hence, so clearly a reach, where she's like, “Good drinking water. It doesn't need to be alkalized.”
Michael: I love the idea of printing these probably, clearly fake celebrity food diaries with an actual expert right next to them would be like, “Hmm, don't know about that.”
Michael: Don’t alkalize it.
Aubrey: Yeah, fully just like, “Here's 300 words of side eye.”
Michael: Yeah. [laughs]
Aubrey: When this came out, the internet pounced. There was some TV comedy about it, there's a little clip of a morning show, joking about activated almonds and a bunch of people were like, [chuckles], “this guy get a lot of this nonsense” and that was the end of it. The next year, Pete Evans goes all in on the paleo diet.
Aubrey: Mike, I would like to ask you what you know about the paleo diet if anything.
Michael: I didn't know we were going to talk about the paleo diet today. I'm really excited about this.
Aubrey: Oh, yeah.
Michael: It's like eating like a caveman.
Michael: Early humans lived longer and were healthier, and so based on that we should go back to a pre-agricultural is my understanding.
Michael: Meat and vegetables, but nothing that is grown or processed, so, no wheat. It's a lot of like nuts. There's a paleo restaurant in Berlin that I went to once, which was actually really good. The bread was just a bunch of little, tiny nuts shoved together and held together with raisins. [crosstalk]
Aubrey: [laughs] It's just compressed trail mix.
Michael: It was basically trail mix.
Michael: But I'm like, “You know what, no mix [unintelligible [00:10:15].” So, I was fine with $24 trail mix.
Aubrey: Pretty much nailed it. Paleo is one of the first big diets to bridge the rhetoric of weight loss and of like, “It's not about weight loss, it’s about how you feel. It's about wellness.” This is one of those that's tries to do the like, “It's not anti-fat. it's just ablest.”
Aubrey: You pulled this out, but the idea is basically that the way we eat today isn't how we're supposed to be eating and that actually, we should be eating foods in the way that humans did in the Paleolithic era, which is prior to the development of agriculture.
Michael: I don't know about you, but I have known people that have been on the paleo diet over the years. I actually think that as a diet, paleo seems one of the more harmless ones. I feel the actual diet itself seems fine. It's just like a bunch of meat and vegetables, basically. And then, it also sounds like the historical documentary factual stuff like paleo. It is just complete fucking garbage.
Aubrey: Oh, yeah.
Michael: There's no basis for it but also, if you want to live like that, honestly, it seems less bad to me than other fad diets.
Aubrey: I just started wiggling my butt in my chair, because I got so excited to get to that part with you.
Aubrey: This is a weird source, but the History channel has a really good little synopsis of like, “Here's what is and isn't allowed on the diet.”
Michael: It says, “The diet is comprised mainly of meats and fish that could have been hunted by prehistoric man and plant matter that would have been gathered including nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits. All grains and processed flowers are avoided as the prehistoric age predated crop cultivation. Dairy products are off limits. Early man didn't raise animals for meat or milk. Honey is the only sugar that's allowed on the diet as refined sugar as we know it didn't exist. And salt intake is limited since our ancestors didn't exactly have salt shakers at the ready 20,000 years ago. Processed foods in any form are forbidden and meat is supposed to be grass-fed as that more closely resembles the natural diet of roaming animals.” I have some comments.
Aubrey: All I want are your comments. Tell me all your comments.
Michael: [laughs] Well, the whole thing with this is like, “Well, where are you drawing the line?” Postagricultural, preagricultural, my understanding of early societies is that they were mixed. There were nomadic human populations at the same time, they were settled human populations and there were hunter-gatherer populations that were also doing light agriculture. This paragraph mentions like 20,000 years ago, they didn't have salt, but it's like, well, why 20,000 years ago? Why is that the thing to aim for? Why not 10,000, why not 60,000?
Michael: I am not an expert in the field, but this paragraph feels to me like it's written by somebody who also isn't an expert in the field.
Aubrey: Yeah, you keyed in on something that I think is really important here. Two things. One, I wanted to include this quote because it is such a tidy encapsulation of the rhetoric of the paleo diet, not how people talk about the actual Paleolithic era, right?
Aubrey: The Paleolithic era ranges from 2.5 million years ago to 10,000 BCE.
Aubrey: To put that in context, humans developed lactose tolerance into adulthood within a span of about the last 7,000 years. Blue eyes are a genetic mutation that's believed to have come about between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago and were aiming for, “This is how everybody ate across the whole world, sometime between two and a half and 10,000 years ago.”
Michael: And also, it's so difficult to get reliable information about that period to about early humans. There're only a couple skeletons. I don't know with what certainty we can even say that people were eating this and not eating that.
Aubrey: There's also a pitch that is pretty standard that comes along with the paleo diet.
Aubrey: Pete Evans, as it so happens hosted a TV show called The Paleo Way.
Michael: Oh, no. [laughs]
Aubrey: In the first couple of minutes of the first episode, he essentially gives the pitch for paleo. And so, I just sent you a clip in Zoom.
Michael: Oh, please God, I was just going to be like, “Aubrey, can we stop recording and watch a clip?”
Michael: I'm so glad [unintelligible [00:14:50].
Aubrey: It’s as if I have done this before.
Michael: I know we've been here.
Michael: Okay, we're queued up at 110.
Pete: “Paleo Eating is not about losing weight. Although, when you eat healthfully, your weight tends to equalize to your natural, beautiful proportions. Paleo is not only about eating healthy food, but it's also very much about avoiding foods that can cause you harm. Think that's redundant, consider a slice of wholegrain toast, be sure, it may give you a bit more fiber and B vitamins than a slice of white toast, but they both have a slew of anti-nutritious properties that can cause more harm than good.”
Michael: I have a comment already.
Aubrey: [laughs] Me too.
Pete: “If I could sum up the paleo way in a word, it would be natural.”
Michael: I don’t know.
Pete: “You can accept that we are natural beings, then it would follow that a natural diet would be our healthiest. Wouldn't you say?”
Michael: Oh, my God.
Aubrey: Wouldn't you say?
Pete: “My entire goal for this series is to show you how to eat the way nature intended. In the first few million years, we or some pre-relative were on this planet, we had a completely balanced symbiotic relationship with nature.”
Speaker 3: We’ve started off from chimps, eating mostly fruit, a little bit of meat, moved to land started scavenging carcasses from other kills, getting bone marrow, getting brains, at some point started developing tools and hunting, and then at some point started cooking.
Pete: “And an amazing thing happened during this 3-million-year Paleolithic period as hunter-gatherers. The vast energy we were getting from hunted meats, those amazing nutrients from the brains, the bone marrow, the organs, the muscle, the rich vitamins and minerals we were getting from the foraged fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables fed us so completely that our brains grew bigger. In short, we became human.”
Michael: Do you mind if we watch this entire thing together?
Michael: This is so-- This is such [unintelligible [00:16:49]. I was taking notes in my head. I'm like. “Mm, doesn’t sound right, doesn’t sound right.”
Aubrey: [laughs] It is. As we have said many times on this show, it is a rich text full of terrible points.
Michael: Very rich.
Aubrey: We became human, what?
Michael: [laughs] Okay, there's a whole thing. This came up with the carnivore people too, where it's like, “This is what made us human,” but then in the period from two and a half million years ago to now, we were mostly not human.
Michael: Modern humans have only been around for-- my understanding is 50,000 to 100,000 years. The vast majority of that period were early humans or some proto human post, common ancestor with monkeys. So, we're not even talking about hunter-gatherer societies. We're talking about other species.
Aubrey: But Mike, the little animated caveman is now wearing an apron in a chef's hat and he's standing upright and waving.
Michael: I love the power of animation to just [crosstalk] over like such bullshit.
Michael: [crosstalk] to be like, “We're monkeys, and then we're cooking, and then we're people,” and then all that shit about like, “There's whole wheat bread and then there's white bread, but they're both fucking poison.”
Michael: I don't know, man. A lot of societies eat bread.
Aubrey: Right. A lot of people eat a lot of bread and they're fine.
Michael: It seems fine.
Aubrey: In that section where he's talking about like, consider a piece of white bread versus a piece of wheat bread.
Aubrey: What you can't hear during that is that the visual is a split screen of a slice of bread and then this title card of swapping out information for each piece of food that they show that says things like, leads to leptin resistance, like what?
Michael: People don't know what that is.
Aubrey: Or, they'll say, blocks your body's ability to absorb nutrients.
Michael: Contains zero Chevron with Techron it’s like these words.
Michael: Does most of the population even know what leptin is?
Aubrey: I would say probably most of the population at least in the US has a better sense of what hospitaliano is than what leptin is.
Michael: Yeah. [laughs]
Aubrey: [laughs] Thanks for coming with me on that one.
Michael: That was good, that was very good. We haven't even talked about the fucking horrific anti-fat bullshit at the beginning where it's like, “Paleo is not a diet.” When you go on paleo, your body will right size itself or something, you're like, “Settle at your natural weight or something.”
Aubrey: Your natural beautiful proportions. Get out of here.
Michael: This is what drives me fucking nuts, because they don't mean that dude, because if you're like, “I've been on paleo and I still weigh 250 pounds,” there'll be like, “Well, then you need to eat less.” You'll settle like you're the right weight for you unless you're big in which case you should be as smaller. That's what they fucking mean by those.
Aubrey: Yeah, that’s right.
Michael: It’s so transparent.
Aubrey: Absolutely. It's so transparent and it's also, look, the thing that sells diets is anti-fatness, period.
Aubrey: Anti-fatness and ableism. That's it. Don't get fat and don't become disabled, because you know how those kinds of people are treated and you know what it means to be those things. So, definitely don't do it, because that means you are a failure of a person like, no thanks.
Aubrey: Okay, so, I feel we're segueing into something and I want to just formally open the door to it. Hello-
Michael: Well, do it.
Aubrey: -which is where the actual paleo diet came from.
Michael: The caveman, Aubrey. It comes from caveman. It comes from early-- [crosstalk]
Aubrey: [laughs] Yes, the Paleolithic era, Mike. Its science. [laughs]
Michael: It went straight to Paleolithic people to us.
Aubrey: When I was doing the research for this, there are two different starting points that people cite as like, “This is when the paleo diet came into being.” The big one that gets cited the most often is in 2002, a nutrition researcher and exercise physiologist named Loren Cordain publishes a book called The Paleo Diet.
Aubrey: That's the most commonly cited starting point and then there were some sources that were a little bit older and actually The Paleo Diet came around in the 70s. I found the book that introduced the paleo diet to the world. It was published in 1975. It was published by a gastroenterologist named Walter Voegtlin.
Aubrey: And he starts talking publicly about adjusting our diets to align more with the Paleolithic era. The book that he publishes is called The Stone Age Diet.
Aubrey: It is different than contemporary paleo. It didn't restrict beans or dairy. It was mostly just about restricting the highest carb foods, which is part of the debate here is like, how paleo was it, right?
Aubrey: But also, there is a much bigger part of that debate. I think that one is window dressing for a bigger reason to ignore this guy.
Michael: Wait, okay, can I guess?
Aubrey: Do you want to guess? Oh, my God. Yes. Okay guess. Oh, my God, guess.
Michael: Whenever you say like there's a diet book in 1975, I see a distant object over the horizon coming into view and just giant flashing like Hollywood sign letters saying eugenics.
Michael: It’s always, it always really dark.
Aubrey: Oh, Michael. I just texted you.
Michael: Oh, my God.
Aubrey: A quote directly from The Stone Age Diet.
Michael: It says, “Geneticists have for decades deplored the unfortunate restrictions of civilization that allow the human race to breed with much less intelligence than is applied in breeding our cattle.” Holy shit. Oh, wow. Okay, “Effective eugenics, if such were possible could quite rapidly eradicate hereditary disease and undesirable mental and physical traits while enhancing desirable mental and somatic attributes.”
Aubrey: So, that's a real quote from the book that started The Paleo Diet.
Michael: Okay, when I said eugenics and you were like, “Hey, let me send you this quote.” I felt you were being polite and you were like, “Well, if you squint, it's part of eugenics, [crosstalk] it’s like no.” [laughs]
Aubrey: He's like, “Hey, shoutout to eugenics.”
Aubrey: I feel we're going to get it done one of these days. Holy shit.
Michael: Just like straight up, let's do eugenics. Also, wait, is he writing this in 1975?
Michael: That is late to be using the word 'eugenics', dude.
Aubrey: At this point, Eugenics Boards in the US were already shutting down and he's like, "Bring it back everybody, not done yet.”
Michael: That’s dark.
Aubrey: It is so fucking dark.
Michael: He's basically making a classic eugenics argument that basically, right now, the wrong people are breeding. As a result, the human race is not becoming more excellent over time as the cows are. We are becoming less excellent and that's because we don't eat like cavemen, I guess or something.
Aubrey: Yeah, I think it's worth noting that this is not an exception to his politics. This is the rule of his politics. One of my favorite books that we have discussed on this podcast is Diet and the Disease of Civilization, which is this analysis of the ways in which we talk about diets as a solution to a fallen society. The author of that book talks about how Paleo Diet proponents have distanced themselves from this dude, because he was not just full-throatedly a proponent of eugenics, but also pretty committed to white supremacy.
Michael: Did you read this guy's whole terrible white supremacist manifesto book?
Aubrey: I read half of it and then I was like, “I don't think I'm getting more intellectual nutrition out of this.”
Michael: [laughs] He's not going to save it in the third act.
Aubrey: [laughs] No, he might pull it out here in the end like, no.
Aubrey: We should have gotten to some of these points, but I would just lift up that there are three really key critical problems with paleo. One is this thing that we were just talking about which is that it is premised on deeply ablest and often eugenicist logic. The focus here is on this magical thinking designed to convince nondisabled people that they will never get sick or become disabled if they just follow the right steps.
Aubrey: Problem number two. It makes a bunch of broad claims about health outcomes and those outcomes are largely unproven. The headline here I would say is that The Paleo Diet is pretty debated in the literature for a lot of the same reasons the keto diet is, which is that quite a few proponents make a bunch of very bold claims about the diets ability to cure, or prevent, or treat different health issues. And quite a few opponents say, there isn't really sufficient evidence to draw those conclusions. The biggest meta-analysis I found of The Paleo Diet was a meta-analysis of four randomized controlled trials that covered 159 participants.
Michael: Oh, wow. Okay.
Aubrey: Those are small.
Michael: And also, probably, six-week long studies or something like that. These RCTs for diets are always super short.
Michael and Aubrey: Yeah.
Aubrey: I would say, generally speaking like cards on the table, I'm generally with the opponents. The research that exists that trumpets these glowing findings in its executive summaries. The actual numbers just don't back it up. They show nominal changes in waist circumference, and blood glucose, and HDL cholesterol, stuff like that. But nothing Earth shattering, right?
Michael: There's no evidence for the claims. The claim that they're making is that like, “This is the superior diet for humans.”
Michael: This is always the big break that it's just like, “Okay, we've cracked it. We've cracked the code. We know exactly how all humans should be eating.” And then you look at the literature and it's like, “Waist circumference was two centimeters smaller.” [laughs]
Michael: So, [crosstalk] well. [laughs]
Aubrey: There is a great paper that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, where a couple of researchers really take on a bunch of the health claims being made about paleo on the heels of study being published trumpeting the promise of paleo. They call out in this paper that there are these broad claims that restricting specific food groups as you do in paleo is health promoting. But those claims haven't established the specific restrictions that they're proposing being actually health promoting. In this paper, they say, “Okay, so, dairy is a good source of protein, calcium, and phosphorus and you haven't illustrated the benefits of cutting out dairy.” We know what it's good for. We don't know what it works against.
Aubrey: You're saying that cutting out greens is really important, but greens are a really inexpensive staple food for people around the world and it's a way that we feed huge portions of the population. The last one is, beans are actually great sources of protein, fiber, and minerals, and they are also a huge staple food for many, many, many people around the world. You have not illustrated why it would be health promoting behavior to restrict those foods, right?
Aubrey: They also include this killer quote in their paper, which I just sent to you.
Michael: Ooh. “In real practice, many people including popular proponents of The Paleo Diet, such as online bloggers and cookbook writers are merely adapting their Western diet to align with paleo diet restrictions. For example, desserts made with paleo acceptable alternatives such as almond flour and honey instead of sugar and wheat flour. In this case, The Paleo Diet philosophy is extremely unlikely to change health outcomes for anybody, but those with celiac disease.”
Aubrey: Essentially, they're saying like, “If your muffin is made with almond flour and honey, instead of wheat and cane sugar or beet sugar, or whatever kind of sugar, that's not necessarily going to make a massive change in your health outcomes if you are an otherwise nondisabled, nonchronically ill person.”
Michael: Right. Because you're basically eating the same macro nutrients or whatever in the brownie. There's nothing obvious about eating honey is better for you than sugar, particularly.
Aubrey: Also, hard to argue that “cavemen” didn't have wheat, but they definitely had Bob’s Red Mill almond flour, like what?
Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Also, I got really into beekeeper YouTube in the last couple months.
Michael: I’d like, calling honey preagricultural. I guess, that's technically true. But when you think about what it takes for humans to gather honey before they were essentially farming honeybees, it's like you're walking around the forest, you're finding a hive, you're risking getting stung a million times. Hunter-gatherer societies were probably doing that, but they weren't having honey on the scale that modern humans are having honey. I'm assuming it would have been a couple times a year or something as a tree. You're not just walking through the woods and just scooping honey out of trees.
Aubrey: That's how Yogi Bear eats honey.
Aubrey: That’s how Winnie-the-Pooh eats honey.
Michael: [laughs] You're buying queens on eBay, you're wearing a suit. It's manmade food. It's fine.
Aubrey: Paleo is pre-agriculture, but post eBay.
Michael: Yeah. [laughs] I don't know. I don't even understand the fucking distinction between agricultural and nonagricultural at that point.
Aubrey: Totally, absolutely. This is what we're talking about like, when you just focus on the core idea that's being presented, it falls apart so quickly.
Aubrey: The other thing that paleo proponents will insist upon is that, because this diet existed before agriculture as we know it now, it must be healthier, which then means that people who existed before agriculture as we know it now must also have been healthier, too, right?
Aubrey: No. As you have noted, the data on Paleolithic humans is really tricky to come by because you can't just ask one. But I will say that The Lancet published a study of mummies and found that 47 of the 137 mummies they looked at had hardened arteries.
Michael: Yes, but what was their BMI, Aubrey?
Aubrey: Michael, Michael?
Michael: Do you know if they were healthy? I need to know if they were thin? Were they thin?
Aubrey: So thin. They became human.
Aubrey: Their bodies equalized to their natural, beautiful proportions.
Aubrey: Anyway, again, not a huge amount of data, hard to do a randomized controlled trial on a population that has long since dead and gone, but 47 out of 137 having hardened arteries is not exactly the stellar endorsement of paleo that paleo proponents might hope for.
Michael: That's a thing with these harkening back to previous times thing is. There's something about reconstructing this imagined past, where we were all just more pure in this inchoate never quite defined way. They're drawing on these kinds of, I guess, assumptions that we've all made in our heads of like, “Well, what were caveman lives like?” But none of us are basing that on any real information. Most members of the public do not have a firm grasp on that period of history. They're just inviting you to envision a fake past and then they're using that fake past as evidence for how you should structure your life now.
Aubrey: I think it's a lot of the political rhetoric of the right, which is like, “We need to get back to this time.”
Aubrey: But we are extremely susceptible, broadly speaking to this idea of nostalgia, and it also feels like, “It is no accident that the main proponents of this diet are white dudes who are going back in the past seems like a good thing to do.”
Aubrey: The third and final problem with paleo that I would say is that the premise is just wrong.
Michael: Do we get talked about early man now?
Aubrey: We sure do.
Michael: I'm so excited.
Aubrey: First things first, the planet was then as it is now extremely biodiverse.
Aubrey: If you try to imagine making a statement now that is like, “Here's how people in the world eat today.” Is there anything that we can say for sure that had any real meaning? It just doesn't hold water on its face that someone in a desert and someone in a rainforest would be eating the same way for a two-million-year span.
Michael: Right. Proto-humans were eating carcasses off the ground. There's a big debate about whether humans were actually hunter-gatherers or like scavengers.
Michael: And so, there's also it's like, well, if we really want to harken back to it, then you should be eating fucking squirrels from the side of the highway.
Michael: But of course, they're not doing that because this whole thing is aesthetic.
Aubrey: Right. And also, I did find some work done by two professors, who compiled a bunch of data on the diversity of plant life in the Paleolithic era based on like, all of the information we've got, what they found was that Paleolithic humans had “extraordinarily broad tastes.”
Aubrey: Folks were eating nuts, fruits, seeds, stems, roots, maybe not very much meat at all. One of the professors who did that research actually was quoted as saying, “The modern human diet is clearly restricted when compared to the early hominin diet or even to the early farmer’s diet.”
Michael: This is somewhere where I sort of side with the "we are a fallen society" people.
Aubrey: We can’t. [laughs]
Michael: If you were the fruit and vegetable aisle of a grocery store, there's like, I know 25 things there or something. There's one species of everything. There's one type of banana, maybe two that you can buy or is really five or six species of apples. In a previous era, we would have been eating a much wider array of wild fruits and vegetables, which would have been much less optimized through breeding. The red peppers would not have been as big as the red peppers we get now are. But they are probably would have been 18 different species of peppers that-- Well, actually, there's a lot of peppers now, anyway, but do you know what I mean? [laughs]
Aubrey: Right. This story of pawpaw fruit and Carolina Gold Rice and that the more our food systems become industrialized and streamline, the more different kinds of plants and foods die off and cease to exist.
Michael: Because this is also like the central fiction of The Paleo Diet. The idea that you can just opt out of modern agriculture. When the sad fact is that, if you go to a grocery store, all of the stuff in there is going to be like a factory farm, large scale bread for size and sweetness, et cetera product. Like it's a consumer product at this point.
Aubrey: I will say, there was a totally killer article that I read for this from Scientific American and their framing device for the article was they're like, “We'd like you to consider a paleo influencer. We're going to call him Grok.” Here's what this paleo influencer does. He works out this many times a week, he eats these foods in these ways, he does his meal prep like this, he does blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and then they describe a bunch of hunter-gatherer societies, and they're like, “Now imagine dropping Grok into that.”
Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah[laughs]
Aubrey: It's just like, “Who are we kidding? You're doing all of your “paleo meal prep” and putting it in your subzero refrigerator in your house.”
Aubrey: That's the little overview on paleo. We're going to now return to Pete Evans.
Aubrey: He starts his show and his website, both of which are called The Paleo Way in 2013. The very next year, he opens a paleo restaurant and he starts talking about the consequences of what he considers to be the “modern diet.”
Michael: Oh, no.
Aubrey: This is where we get into “processed foods,” all of that kind of stuff. One of the consequences that he names is that he believes that the modern diet causes autism.
Aubrey: And he thinks that The Paleo Diet can treat autism.
Michael: Oh, fuck.
Aubrey: Right. At this point, he is an ambassador of a place called The Mindd Institute.
Michael: That sounds like something from fucking, Zoolander. It's so fake.
Aubrey: I mean it so.
Michael: We are a think tank called Mindd.
Aubrey: [laughs] The Mindd Institute genuinely argues that autism is reversible through what they call nutritional medicine.
Michael: Oh, my God.
Aubrey: So, I wanted to pull a classic Michael Hobbes like, “Mm, that sounds it's out of context. Let's see what happens when we put it back in the context.”
Michael: It's going to get worse, isn't it?
Aubrey: It's not.
Aubrey: It’s not a good direction. It's not the direction you're hoping for.
Aubrey: This is Pete Evans’ actual words from his actual Facebook posts about healthy eating guidelines and a rise in autism in Australia.
Michael: Oh, my God. “Why is Australia fast becoming the most obese and unhealthy nations on Earth? Is this because we're a nation of self-obsessed, weak-minded people with no self-control? No. Is it because we are a nation that for far too long has been told to steer clear of foods naturally high in fat, which naturally trigger our fullness hormone and instead told to eat six to eight servings of processed carbohydrate a day and wonder why we are still hungry after eating three cups of rice or six slices of bread?” This man is one of the worst writers we've ever read in the fucking show, Aubrey.
Aubrey: I mean, run-on sentences on run-on sentences, baby.
Michael: I forgot the origin by the time I got to the destination.
Michael: Why has a rate of autism climb from one in 10,000 children in 1974 to one in 50 in 2014? Where do you think it will be in another 40 years if it is escalating at this rate? This has grown rapidly since the guidelines have been in place! My God.
Aubrey: Yep. Autism, a natural variation in humans as a thing that's the direct result of Australian dietary guidelines. What are you're actually talking about, sir?
Michael: The food pyramid is making the frogs gay.
Aubrey: My plate is really fucking people up.
Michael: [laughs] I know.
Aubrey: Every part of it is a mess and it's the run-on sentences of a person who has lost their connection to their audience, they have lost their connection to persuading or moving anyone. These are the run-on sentences of someone who is just fired up and as getting some shit out onto the page.
Michael: This is the notebook from seven.
Michael: First of all, I would need to see confirmation that the rate of autism has gone from one in 10,000 to one in 50. Also, this has happened with so many other things like peanut allergies and stuff, where it's like, “This thing increased at the same time as this other thing. Therefore, it's causing it.”
Aubrey: One of the diet books in my diet book collection is called Diet, Crime and Delinquency and the author genuinely argues that like, “People who commit crimes have the same diet-
Michael: Sounds about right.
Aubrey: -and the diet is just foods that are affordable to poor people.”
Michael: Yeah. It's like they're all eating fast food and things they buy in bulk at the grocery store. Wow, we solved it.
Aubrey: They have breakfast cereal for breakfast.
Aubrey: Okay. So, I am going to come clean and say, I did not fact check one sentence of this statement, because it is so clearly the rantings of a person who has gone all in on an idea and is uninterested in whether or not it's true.
Aubrey: And he has a huge following at this point. Most recently, he was up to two million followers on social media.
Aubrey: So, he makes this big, bold claim. And then, in 2015, he digs in even a little deeper and he announces a new cookbook that he's publishing. That cookbook is called Bubba Yum Yum the Paleo Way for New Mums, Babies and Toddlers.
Michael: Bubba Yum Yum?
Aubrey: In this book, he recommends replacing both breast milk and formula with bone broth.
Michael: [laughs] He's a bone broth guy. Yes.
Michael: Oh, I'm so glad we get to talk about bone broth, too. [laughs]
Aubrey: This is really a greatest hits episode in disguise. This led to an investigation by Australia's Federal Health Department. The publisher ends up postponing the release of the cookbook based on this investigation.
Michael: I love that. Cracking down, like regulators cracking down on straight up misinformation?
Aubrey: Imagine, if people were invested in regulation, what would be possible?
Michael: Government's doing stuff. We stand.
Aubrey: The results of this investigation, basically, a number of his recipes were found for babies, were found to contain 10 times the safe maximum intake of vitamin A. If babies have too much vitamin A, that leads to swelling of the fontanelles, the soft spots in a baby's skull.
Michael: Oh, my God, that doesn't sound good.
Aubrey: So, the publisher postpones the release of the cookbook, they changed some of the most egregious recipes, but many were reviewed after it was published by other nutritionists and other early childhood and infant health experts and they were still like, “These are still not good.”
Michael: I don't know, Aubrey, I feel you're not giving him enough credit for going from 10 recipes that harm children to seven. That's progress. [laughs]
Aubrey: I'm supposed to write a book that's not “extremely deadly for all babies.”
Michael: For all babies.
Aubrey: It's so fucking dark and horrible. [laughs]
Michael: It's also fucking hella funny, because the whole thing is based on fucking hunter-gatherers, were hunter-gatherers making fucking broth?
Michael: They were boiling bones for eight hours. That doesn't even sound credible to me.
Aubrey: Mike, we're halfway through my notes for this episode.
Michael: Okay. [laughs] All right.
Aubrey: The most [laughs] is that this dude wrote a diet book for babies that was judged extremely deadly for all babies, and then continued to have a career for seven more years.
Michael: Imagine writing a fucking cookbook that is so bad the government is like, “No.” [laughs]
Aubrey: Like, the fucking Babadook of cookbook, “What are we doing?"
Aubrey: So, as part of this, I have such a hard time saying the name of the cookbook, the Bubble Yum Yum controversy. [laughs]
Michael: I think he ran a shrimp company.
Aubrey: There was a big outcry from the Australian Medical Association, which very quickly becomes one of his most doggone critics that like, every time he says something, the Australian Medical Association tweets out about it, or sends out a press release, or sends out-
Michael: I’d love it.
Aubrey: -higher ups to do some media and be like, “This dude shouldn't be talking to anyone about anything.”
Michael: Imagine having a Twitter beef with the fucking medical association of your country.
Aubrey: Absolutely [crosstalk]
Michael: This is something I aspire to.
Aubrey: 2015 is the year that he releases this cookbook. It's also the point at which he starts taking bigger and bigger swings.
Aubrey: He starts giving out direct health advice on social media. Someone joins a Facebook Live AMA situation that he's doing. This person says, they've been diagnosed with osteoporosis and are wondering what he thinks they should do.
Michael: Oh, no.
Aubrey: And he says, they should cut out dairy because it can “remove the calcium from your bones.”
Michael: I feel this is how the fucking internet works. Because my understanding is the thing of you need to drink milk for calcium is actually overblown, because there's plenty of other sources of calcium. So, it's like, on some level you could say that milk is necessary for calcium is a myth, right? But then through the internet telephone machine that then becomes like, milk fucking removes calcium from your bones.
Aubrey: I don't know, man. I don't know if that came to him through a game of internet telephone. I don't know if he's just straight up making shit up at this point. [crosstalk] I don't know if this is wishful thinking, I don't know, if this is some crank sent him something. But of course, dairy doesn't strip the calcium from bones.
Michael: No. [laughs]
Aubrey: Things I can't believe I'm having to say into a microphone.
Michael: As a principle, if somebody has osteoporosis and you don't know anything about that condition-- This man runs a restaurant.
Michael: Speaking from literally just vibes, I guess, he has no actual topic expertise.
Aubrey: Also, in this conversation with this follower on Facebook, the follower says, “Let me check with my doctor.”
Aubrey: And he says, “most doctors do not know this information.”
Aubrey: Basically, like, “Your doctor is not going to confirm it, because they don't know.”
Michael: But then, why would they not know, Peter?
Aubrey: So, that was 2015. By 2017, dude, not only still has a career, but it's getting bigger.
Aubrey: In 2017, he self-produced a documentary that Netflix picks up. It is called The Magic Pill.
Michael: Oh, no.
Aubrey: In it, he claims that a low-carb, high-fat diet like paleo or keto can treat a wild range of conditions. The core argument seems to be as with so much of his paleo content, you're only sick because of the food that you eat. Don't worry, you just did it to yourself.
Michael: A new and innovative message-
Michael: -for an influencer. [laughs]
Aubrey: The Australian Medical Association once again launched a petition for Netflix to remove the documentary from its platform due to its misinformation.
Aubrey: That same year that he releases this documentary, The Magic Pill, he also starts making a bunch of public statements about, ooh, we're playing the hits. Do you want to guess what he starts making public statements about?
Michael: Okay, what have we not covered yet?
Aubrey: Oh, my God.
Michael: He's got to do some weird exercise stuff now. Is he going to become like a Pilates influencer or something?
Aubrey: No. He starts going hard against fluoride.
Michael: Oh, really?
Michael: That's Maintenance Phase classic. [chuckles]
Aubrey: He started saying that fluoride is a neurotoxin.
Michael: Love it.
Aubrey: He says that he has only been drinking fluoride free water for over 30 years.
Michael: It doesn't sound right.
Aubrey: It doesn't sound right.
Michael: It’s not right.
Aubrey: There's a whole explanation from one of the pieces that I read that was like, “Water fluoridation in Australia started in 1956. Municipalities have been adding it since then.”
Aubrey: What is he talking about? Unless he's only drinking bottled water or something for 30 plus years, I don't know what this could be about, but okay.
Michael: It's kind of a funny flex to not just be like fluoride is bad for you. But to be like, "Fluoride is bad for you and I knew it decades ago."
Michael: You fucking plebes drinking fluoridated water?
Aubrey: I was anti-fluoride when it was just me in the John Birch Society.
Michael: Yeah. [laughs] I know.
Aubrey: Okay. There's a whole response from the National Health and Medical Research Council being like, “No, here's all the data on fluoride.” And then they also have to say this incredibly demoralizing sentence that's like, “We don't find any link between fluoridated water and IQ, cognitive function, cancer, mortality, and Down syndrome,” where you're like, “God damn it.”
Michael: That's the Snopes website where every day they're like, “Hillary Clinton does not suck the blood from babies.”
Michael: I'm like, “What are people saying on the internet?” It seems to me he was actually fairly high functioning until he got famous. It seems he got famous relatively late in life.
Michael: I'm always amazed at people like those who seem to have these previous lives, where they're high functioning and pretty normal, and then something happens, and they just get internet madness, and they totally lose the ability to assess claims or have any critical faculties. Do you have a theory on how a guy like this went down such a rabbit hole?
Aubrey: I can't say for sure what drew him down this garden path and he hasn't really spoken to it. Anytime he talks about it, he's like, “Well, I just looked at the research and the research is so clear. There are mountains of evidence. Look at this one study I found with transcription.”
Michael: Oh. Yeah.
Aubrey: But I do think without his whiteness, without his nondisabled body, without his thinness, and without his conventional attractiveness, I don't know how far this story goes.
Aubrey: We are trained to believe that thin people and nondisabled people have earned their bodies that they are healthier as a result of the work that they put into their own health. So, that's the thing that I think has most stayed with me about this story is that it's not necessarily a story that is explicitly about whiteness and dudeness. But it's a story that doesn't exist without whiteness and dudeness and thinness.
Michael: I also wonder if it's something also about being conventionally attractive, quite successful. I do think that a lot of people in that situation do think that they earned it.
Michael: And when they hear about people who are fat or with chronic illnesses, I think they just think like, “Well, you're obviously not trying hard enough, because look at me.” It's like they're using this N of 1 to form, what is essentially an entire worldview. And then they look for things like The Paleo Diet that fit that worldview, but they're not seeing all the rolls of the dice that got them to where they are. The way that so many of these people become advice gurus, it's so interesting to me.
Aubrey: I am going to cut you off, because you are straight up like basically reading out some quotes from him.
Michael: Spoiling the episode.
Michael: How the turntables have.
Aubrey: So, Michael Hobbes, here's my proposal to you.
Aubrey: We're halfway through my show notes on this.
Aubrey: And essentially, what we have covered-- If you imagine this episode, one of the 2010 Harlem Shake videos.
Aubrey: We have done the first part, but the beat has not yet dropped.
Michael: Oh, [chuckles] this is just people sitting around at their desks and it's like, [unintelligible [00:51:30]
Aubrey: This is extremely tame part.
Michael: Oh, my God.
Aubrey: I would like to propose that we do a Part 2 that is when the beat drops and just get into all of the absolutely bonkers Skrillex fucking turns that this story is about to take. [laughs]
Aubrey: What do you think about that?
Michael: That sounds good. I don't know if I can handle it, because due to all the fluoride I've been drinking, my cognitive faculties are-- [crosstalk]
Aubrey: No, Mike. [laughs]
[Transcript provided by SpeechDocs Podcast Transcription]