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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Going Mainstream or Just a Passing Fad? The Future of the Ancestral Health Movement

  • Author(s): Stapell, Hamilton M.
  • et al.

The current ancestral health (“paleo”) movement is often thought to be on the verge of going mainstream. Many within the movement believe this would lead to positive health and financial outcomes for both individuals and society as a whole. However, the transition from a small, highly-devoted group of adherents to a mass following will be far more difficult than commonly assumed. This paper argues there are three main obstacles to it becoming a mass phenomenon in the United States. First, Neolithic foods are tightly woven into the fabric of our culture (for example, bread within the Christian tradition). Second, refined carbohydrates, which make up a large portion of the typical Western diet, are physiologically addictive. Third, we see a cross-generational sense of entitlement, which commonly privileges transitory “fun” over true mental and physical “flourishing” (eudemonia). This paper also identifies the two types of individuals that typically go paleo: those who are sick (and for whom conventional medicine has failed) and those who are seeking performance. The key commonality between both groups is a very high level of intrinsic motivation, which also suggests limited penetration of the ancestral health movement in the future.

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