You’ve all heard of the Paleo Diet, practiced by celebs like Jessica Biel and Megan Fox, in which 21st-century humans emulate the food eaten by cavemen and women from 2.6 million years ago. But if you’ve considered undertaking this culinary overhaul, you may have wondered whether, while eating like a hunter-gatherer and getting that celebrity skin you’ve always wanted, you can still partake of your favorite cocktail.
The answer depends on whom you get your caveman diet advice from. On one hand, you’ve got Paleo Magazine, a publication dedicated to all things Paleo Diet (not all things Paleolithic, to be clear). Paleo Magazine puts a hard “no” on alcohol. In fact, the magazine writes that “if a food comes in a box or a bag, then it’s probably not very good for you.”
On the other side of the debate, you have Loren Cordain, the founder of the Paleo movement, who believes that moderate alcohol consumption is fair game, despite the fact that, as Cordain writes, “virtually all humans living as hunter-gatherers during the Paleolithic era likely did not consume alcohol.”
But whether or not Paleolithic man drank alcohol is actually a scientifically debated topic, with many believing that our early ancestors actually did enjoy alcohol as the occasional drink. As Patrick McGovern observes in Scientific American, “our ancestral early hominins were probably already making wines, beers, meads and mixed fermented beverages from wild fruits, chewed roots and grains, honey, and all manner of herbs and spices culled from their environments.” But this has wider implications than just your diet. Making fruit into alcohol “ushered in humankind’s first biotechnology, based on empirical observation,” McGovern writes. He goes on: “It is quite possible that much of what we consider uniquely human — music, dance, theater, religious storytelling and worship, language, and a thought process that would eventually become science — were stimulated by the creation and consumption of alcoholic beverages during the Paleolithic period.”
And homo sapiens aren’t alone here. The earliest primates evolved to down alcohol as well, like the Malaysian pen-tailed tree shrew that drinks the equivalent of nine glasses of wine a night without getting drunk. Talk about tolerance.
“Most modern primates have diets consisting of roughly three-quarters fruit,” McGovern writes, “and they are known to consume as much fermented fruit or drink as possible when the opportunity presents itself. Such considerations have been summed up in the ‘Paleolithic’ or ‘drunken monkey’ hypotheses, which posit that drinking is in our genes, whether for good or evil.”
“Living Paleo for Dummies” gets it. “Our hunter-gatherer ancestors occasionally let their hair down when they were exposed to alcohol by eating fermented grapes,” Melissa Joulwan and Kellyann Petrucci write. Paleo-alcohol under the “Dummies” guide includes potato vodka, wine, rum, and tequila. Not by themselves, though; apparently cavemen “didn’t sit around the fire doing shots.”
Maybe not shots, but they did drink. Go ahead Paleo followers, get sloshed.