This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
I've noticed a few people tweeting this new paper, titled Hunter-Gatherer Energetics and Human Obesity, but I haven't seen many blog posts about it. Some of the tweets are to the effect of "haha, total proof that eat less, move more is a farce."
The paper is open-access, but the researchers published an editorial in the New York Times
We found that despite all this physical activity, the number of calories that the Hadza burned per day was indistinguishable from that of typical adults in Europe and the United States. We ran a number of statistical tests, accounting for body mass, lean body mass, age, sex and fat mass, and still found no difference in daily energy expenditure between the Hadza and their Western counterparts.
Unfortunately, the applicability to the average dieter in the United States might be limited. Notice "typical adults in Europe and the United States." I don't know, but last time I was in Europe, it seemed like people biked and walked places a lot more than in the US. As a non-driver, when I lived in Europe I was hardly the oddity I am here. In many places in the United States it is not even possible to walk to the grocery store. One study showed that the average American takes 5,117 steps a day, whereas the average Swiss person takes 9,650 steps a day. That's another issue with the Kitavan study, in that it also compares activity levels with a non-US group of people, the Swedish.
There is also the possibility that the Hadza are not expending as much energy as expected because of nutritional stress. Whether or not certain hunter-gatherer groups are naturally small or if they are exhibiting stunting is an important question. A paper that came out last year about a similar group of hunter-gatherers, the !Kung, re-opened this debate, speculating that the !Kung are somewhat malnourished:
Given the adverse conditions of life in the Mexican refugee camp, and the similar pattern of growth of the Maya and !Kung, the most reasonable interpretation of the growth of the !Kung infants and children is that it is due to inadequate food intake, disease, or a combination of both. Small size of !Kung infants and children sets the pattern of growth for older ages, as !Kung adults remain relatively short and light throughout their lives...
People with energy deficiency, or living at a delicate energy balance, do practice an economy of effort. Some examples are studies by George B. Spurr and colleagues of marginally undernourished boys and girls, ages 6–16 years old, in the city of Cali, Colombia. These boys and girls adjust their energy expenditure according to energy intake. In one quasi-experiment (Spurr & Reina 1988), normal and undernourished boys were observed at a summer day camp. They were encouraged to increase their physical activity by playing sports and other games. The undernourished boys were not able to keep up with the normally nourished boys during the morning session. At mid-day both groups received a meal and the undernourished boys received an extra 760 kcal of food, all of which was consumed. During the afternoon play session the undernourished boys were able to keep up with the normal group for about 2 hours, which is about the time they expended the extra 760 kcal eaten at lunch.
I would like to see similar data for the Hadza. And other foraging cultures, especially those with access to higher quality game. And it's worth remembering that even if the Khosian hunter-gatherer lifestyle is of continuous antiquity, it is the tip of the iceberg in terms of foraging. There were many very diverse paleolithic foraging cultures and so few of them are represented in the tiny remnants of this lifestyle available to study today.
Some books about the paleo diet reference the impressive height of paleolithic hunter-gatherers, comparing them to stunted agriculturalists. However, the archeological record is full of shorter hunter-gatherers and almost all modern foragers would be considered tiny. The average Hadza man is only 161.3 cm tall (5.3 feet). Is this stunting or is it genetic? Either way, some see their height as a feature, not a bug, contending that shorter people have certain metabolic advantages that are protective against many diseases of civilization. Hilariously, that paper I just linked to is posted along with many others on the website Short Support, which is all about how awesome short people are. At five feet two inches tall, I approve of this site.
Furthermore, it would be interesting to explore the genetic uniqueness of the Hadza. Another recent study showed evidence for genetic adaptations to local environmental conditions. The authors of this paper note that more research in this area is needed:
And indeed, studies reporting differences in metabolic-hormone profiles between traditional and Western populations support this idea (though more work is needed).
Also it's worth noting that physical activity has many known benefits beyond just burning calories.
Furthermore, it is quite funny to see how popular this study is with people promoting a low-carb diet because one of the reasons some of them have said foraging people can tolerate starch/sugar is because of their high activity levels. Though conveniently Rosedale has recently switched to saying it's because they are short, just in time for this study. Because honestly, the Hadza diet has quite a bit of sugar in the form of honey, berries, and baobab:
Dr. Lustig should come and tell them not to eat so much sugar. That humans aren't evolved to eat so much sugar and didn't have access to it in our natural evolutionary environment. Especially the honey. It's really appalling how sugary that stuff is.
Don't get me wrong, this is an interesting paper, but grouping Europeans together and then those Europeans with the particularly sedentary Americans means we can't use this paper to say that food is the main thing that matters in determining weight.
I'm sure you have your own take on this, since the paper is open access, I recommend reading it.
This is one of the better articles I've read lately. It addresses serious errors common to works that cite the Paleolithic and foraging societies at being an apex of human welfare. Some of these errors include
For example Lee wrote that the San "worked" only 20 hours a week. Unfortunately, his definition of work was a little questionable. Turns out they work as much as I do:
investigation revealed that what he defined as subsistence activities occupied adult !Kung for about 2.4 days per week on the average, or for about 20 hours. This rather leisurely work schedule, it is claimed, managed to yield an abundant and nutritionally well-balanced diet. These findings were somewhat puzzling to some anthropologists who have conducted similar investigations in similar societies. Hawkes and O'Connell (1981) observed that the Bushmen figures were one-half to one-fifth of the time required by the Alyawarra, a central Australian foraging group. They expressed some surprise because the !Kung and Alyawarra are very similar in habitat as well as technology. The difference, it turned out, was explainable by Hawkes and O'Connell's definition of work: in their calculations of work, they included time spent in processing food as well as hunting and gathering it...."In addition there are the important tasks of manufacturing and maintaining their tool kit and, of course, housework-for the !Kung this involves food preparation, butchery, drawing water and gathering firewood, washing utensils, and cleaning the living space. These tasks take many hours a week" (Lee 1984:51-52).6 When these tasks are added to "subsistence work," the estimate per week is 44.5 hours for men and 40.1 hours for women. Lee is quick to add that these figures are well below the 40 or so hours per week that people in our own society spend above their wage-paid job doing housework, shopping, and other household chores. What seems to be at issue here is what we mean by terms such as "work" and "leisure" in the context of hunting-gathering societies---or, indeed, in the context of any society.
What about all that time spent lounging about?
And then there are the G/wi Bushmen, who reside in the central Kalahari. According to Silberbauer (1981:274- 78), they spend a good part of the day (from about 10 A.M. to about 4 P.M.) resting in the shade, not because they have "chosen" leisure over work or have limited wants, but because to venture out in the blistering sun for any time would expose them to dehydration and heatstroke. Throughout much of the year, there is little cloud cover to provide some relief from the withering heat; unshaded temperatures can reach 60'C (140'F), and sand temperatures as high as 720C (161 F) have been recorded. During the early summer months, all the G/wi lose weight and complain of persistent hunger and thirst (Silberbauer 1981:274). Hardly a "picnic outing on the Thames."
Also sheds further doubt on how well humans are actually adapated to the savanna.
What about using the !Kung diet to make inferences about what a healthy Paleolithic diet was?
Truswell and Hansen (1976:189-90) cite a string of biomedical researchers who have raised doubts about the nutritional adequacy of the !Kung diet, one going so far as to characterize one Bushmen group as being a "clear case of semi- starvation." Truswell and Hansen (1976:190-91) themselves have concluded that the data suggest "chronic or seasonal calorie insufficiency may be a major reason why San do not reach the same adult stature as most other people."... although he softened his opposition somewhat by conceding that the smallness of the !Kung might have something to do with undernutrition during childhood and adolescence, and he went on to note that !Kung raised on cattle posts on a Bantu diet of milk and grain grow significantly taller (Lee 1979:291).
This paper also mentions the fact that the vast majority of the !Kung consider mongongo nuts an undesirable fallback food. People who want to exploit the !Kung to talk about the Paleolithic tend to believe that they have been foraging since the Paleolithic and the nearly agropastoral people have had little effect on their lifestyle. I will address more of this myth in later posts, but needless to say, the evidence points to the fact that the !Kung have had trading relationships with agropastoralists and their current state is much more precarious nutritionally than it was in the past.
What is mainly missing from their foraging diet these days is fat:
We hear so much these days about the overconsumption of fat in the modern industrial diet that we sometimes forget how important some level of fat consumption is to normal human growth and the maintenance of healthy bodily functions. Animal fat, says Reader (1998:124) is "the proper measure of affluence.".... Hayden's (1981:421) observation is especially relevant here: "I was astounded the first time I saw Western Desert Aborigines ... kill a kangaroo, examine the intestines for fat, and abandon the carcass where it lay because it was too lean. Upon making a kill, Aborigine hunters always open the intestinal cavity and check the fat content. Virtually every ethnographer with whom I have discussed this observation confirms it, yet such details are seldom reported in the literature."
But at least they all love to share with each other...right?
Here, we were told, in the more marginal areas of the world were societies that were depicted as just the opposite of the industrial West, societies characterized by egalitarianism, widespread sharing of resources, an indifference to material possessions, societies whose members seemed to live in harmony with nature and one another and whose wants were modest and easily satisfied....sharing that goes on seems to be as much motivated by jealousy and envy as it is by any value of generosity or a "liberal custom of sharing." In his survey of foraging societies, Kelly (1995:164-65) notes that "Sharing... strains relations between people. Consequently, many foragers try to find ways to avoid its demands .... Students new to anthropology..,. are often disappointed to learn that these acts of sharing come no more naturally to hunter- gatherers than to members of industrial societies."...(1982:55) recounts the incident of an elder Bushman who asked him for a blanket. When Lee responded that he would just give it away, the elderly Bushman replied, "All my life I've been giving, giving; today I am old and want something for myself." Lee adds that the sentiments expressed by this elder were not unique. Perhaps "human nature" is not as different from society to society as we have been led to believe.
Perhaps there was a golden age, where fatty game was more abundant and sharing came easily. But the Bushman don't tell us much about that and overall it remainds a speculation.
Recently I've been reading lots of papers and working through data on violence and pathological conditions during the paleolithic. I think there is a tendency to view paleolithic hunter-gatherers as brutes or angels. I admit I've fallen for both betrayals. When I was young I thought of historical progress as being a march away from our natural brutish Hobbesian condition. Then I read things like The Worst Mistake by Jared Diamond and became sympathetic to the idea that instead, hunter-gatherers represented humans living as they were meant to, avoiding the physical and mental neuroses of the present. Having taken up study of the paleolithic more seriously at an academic level, I'm now of the opinion that while both stories are nice, they are just a vain attempt to deal with the utter chaos of both the present and past, where progress is actually non-linear and highly variable. I've seen skull casts from the paleolithic that are beautiful in their perfection and those bashed in by clubs. I've read polemics on both sides such as Sex at Dawn and War Before Civilization.
One thing I've read with great interesting is Robin Hanson's series on foragers. One provocative post tries to map modern liberal values to foragers. Unfortunately, I think it paints a rather unrealistic view of foragers. Another example is this feel-good article about how great hunter-gatherer parents are and how we should be more like them:
Natural birth: If you want to up your chances of rearing an empathetic, well-adjusted kid, you might try to give birth as our ancestors did: naturally. Research shows that various medical interventions can inhibit important “love hormones” like oxytocin from being released during labor and delivery, interfering with the mother-baby bonding process. These hormones help provide moms with the energy and instinct to nurture their children, says Narvaez.
Breastfeeding: When possible, moms should breastfeed their infants—for a long time, says Narvaez. Ideally, for two to five years. A child’s immune system isn’t fully formed until around 6 years old, she explains, and breast milk lays its building blocks. The World Health Organization recommends that babies nurse for at least two years.
Lots of cuddling—and no spanking: Along with the nutritional value of breast milk, kids develop a sense of wellbeing from the positive touch that breastfeeding involves. Narvaez advocates near-constant holding and cuddling. “We know that positive touch has benefits to brain development, hormone-functioning, and appropriate social interactions,” she says, noting that babies’ brains are only a quarter developed at birth. She also encourages co-sleeping, and she cautions against spanking.
Responsiveness: Our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t likely see much value in letting a baby fuss or cry. You can’t “spoil” a baby, says Narvaez. Parents should aim to meet a child’s needs before he or she gets upset. “Kids who have really responsive parents tend to be more agreeable, and they tend to develop a conscience earlier,” Narvaez says. “This responsivity helps the child regulate. Gradually, the baby learns to calm him- or herself down.”
Many adult caregivers: Our early infant ancestors benefited from being cared for by mom, dad, and other adults who loved them. Surrogate parents also help to share some of the burden of parenting, helping to prevent exhaustion.
Free play with kids of varying ages: Needless to say, hunter-gatherers weren’t separated into age-specific play circles, exposing them to kids at different stages of development—and thus, enhancing their own growth. And studies show that children who don’t spend enough time playing are more likely to have ADHD and other mental health problems.
The whole thing seems rather euphemistic to me, coddling both moderns and presenting a noble savage view. It only lists "nice" things. Trolls in the comment section pick this up immediately. Where is the mention that paleolithic babies didn't go to daycare to be cared for by an unrelated adult alongside 10 other unrelated babies? I suppose that can't be mentioned, along with the reason why most modern women don't breastfeed very long (because most work long hours and most workplaces don't allow children), because it's illiberal and doesn't fit with the feel-good advice.
What about the big-Is: Infanticide and infant mortality. I feel these are played down too much is these discussions despite the fact they really are the major difference between modern and ancient babyhood. Maybe forager mothers got to breastfed their babies and spend a lot of time with them, but they died in alarming numbers. Sometimes they died at their mother's hand- foragers didn't worry about raising sickly or developmentally-disabled babies because they often simply didn't raise them. Infanticide often also occurs because forager women DO work and they can't carry more than one baby on their back. This is called birth-spacing infanticide.
Of course, this varies quite heavily among foragers. In the data I've seen, infanticide rates range from 1% in the San to 11% in some Australian Aboriginal groups to 67% of female babies in some Inuit groups.
And then I'm reading Bryan Caplan's Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, where he presents some convincing data that it doesn't really matter whether or not an upper middle class parent chooses co-sleep or not, since nature matters more than nurture. I'm not entirely convinced by all his data, but that deserves its own post. Either way I do believe in some of the precepts listed above, but I'm playing devil's advocate because it irks me when I see the paleolithic or foragers used in just-so feel-good narratives.
Katharine Milton: Do you really think ancestral humans went out and said, “We’re going out to get some French fries today”? No, they said, “With any luck, praying to the sun God, or whomever we revere, we’re hoping to get something to eat.” They don’t care what it is—a lizard, an elephant, a bunch of fruit, roots, a bunch of grubs. The human diet has always been whatever you can get your mitts on that won’t kill you and you can digest. That’s it. Simple as pie.
While hunter-gatherers aren't perfect proxies for ancestral humans, this is definitely not true for them. In fact, most studied hunter-gatherers have a system of food taboos. Not everything edible is something to eat, no matter how hungry you are. Meat is the most commonly "tabooed" food according to a paper called Meat is Good to Taboo
traditional cultures including hunter-gatherers, pastoralists, horticulturalists
And this does NOT include the most common taboos, which are those for pregnant women, which overwhelmingly proscribe certain meats. It seems somewhat odd to deny women the most nourishing food during their pregnancy. It's possible this is a modern forager adaptation that is not ancestral, but either way if you added those on this list you'd get even more meat taboos.
In these societies meat is both highly prized and proscribed. Why? Some anthropologists have argued that this allowed hunter-gatherer cultures to live in harmony with the environment and not over-harvest certain species. However, ecological studies have not supported this theory much.
Another argument is that is keeps the population at carrying capacity, but that hasn't held up either and is possibly maladaptive.
Maybe there is something bad about the foods that have a taboo? Again, it seems some tribes are perfectly fine eating these foods.
It seems like many of these taboos are not about logic, but about how humans view animals. Very interesting is the idea of "Animals that live in close association with humans are often identified with humans such that eating them becomes linked to either cannibalism or animality. Viewed in terms of prototypicality, such animals occupy a marginal space, for they have been drawn by their association with humans away from the defining features of animals, namely that, as evidenced by their amoral behavior, animals are the antithesis of humans. " I've written before on the fact that while eating animals is part of our evolutionary heritage, raising them for consumption is not and used the example of a Koyoukon tribe that didn't want to kill the pigs they were given to raise.
A study of the Orang Asli tribe in Malaysia found:
The dominant interest of the Orang Asli in animal life is in respect to animals as food sources. Taking a party of Orang Ash on a tour of a local zoo produces considerable gastronomical excitement, as each animal species is compared with another for its food potential. Is a boiled giant-tailed tree-rat more appetizing than roasted mountain redbellied squirrel?
BUT most of their food taboos involve meat!
The Orang Ash as animists believe that everything living, as well as a number of inanimate phenomena such as thunder, have spirits. Human flesh is not eaten, nor flesh spiritually related to man. For example, tiger meat is not usually eaten, as tigers sometimes eat man and thereby the tiger might contain a human spirit.
The Orang Ash will not normally kill or eat those animals that they have kept as pets or have reared, in the belief that it is morally wrong to feed and look after an animal and, having then gained the animal’s trust, to later deceive the animal by killing it. Goats, chickens, and other livestock, as opposed to personal pets, are often sold or exchanged with someone from another settlement, even though they realize that the new owner intends to kill the animal.
The fact that modern humans closely live with and raise the animals we eat is perhaps at the root of many neuroses about animals.
There is also the fact that meat is paradoxically one of the most nourishing foods, but also one of the most dangerous. In the wild, parasites and other meat-borne illnesses are a real danger, which might account for some pregnancy taboos. It's interesting in the light of the fact that humans are one of the few primates that scavenges meat, one of the most potentially dangerous ways to consume it. The Orang Asli believe meat has strong spirits that can make a pregnant woman very sick. Large animal meat has the strongest spirit. Pregnant women often rely on meat with weak spirit like frogs, fish, and rats.
Weirdly, many cultures have animals they just consider disgusting and won't eat. For the Orang Asli it's small lizards and leeches.
So perhaps ambivalence about meat has been around for a long time. It's a testament to the power of this food. But in modern life perhaps it's more a testament to our dysfunctional relationship with nature.
One of the views that I get the most email about is my assertion that Inuit ate and still do eat plants. I have gotten dozens of emails saying I am wrong because of
1. Vilhjalmur Stefansson, an explorer, said so, in Fat of the Land
2. My professor/cousin/best friend's daughter lived with the Inuit and said they didn't eat any plants
Perhaps Anore Jones is part of a conspiracy, but if she is, it seems to be fairly usophisticated, because almost none of her book's content has been disseminated online and it contains recipes that use such crowd-pleasing ingredients like seal oil and fish heads. Her book is called Plants That We Eat and it's 240 pages, which is curious for a culture that supposedly eats no plants. If it's fiction, she's done a rather miserable job and I suggest you read Borges' The Book of Imaginary Beings instead.
But I doubt it's fiction. She lived in Kotzebue with Inupiat for 19 years and has numerous photos of them preparing plants. I think people with plant-free anecdotes may have either not spent enough time with the Eskimos or might have not had enough contact with women. According to Anore
Generations of Inupiat have lived healthy lives eating predominately meat and fat. They got all the necessary nutrients because their diet included much raw or lightly cooked meats, including heart, liver, kidney, brain, eggs, the edible parts of stomach, stomach contents, intestines, bones, and/or skin. Essential or not, plant foods remain a treat. Inupiat have always eagerly sought and stored in quantity all that were available.
The main plant foods are:
Several ZC/VLC people have told me that they heard that Inuit spurned berries and considered explorers who ate them foolish. Having eaten many far-northern berries, this doesn't make any sense to me unless they had some religious taboo, which they don't. In fact, it seems Inuit women (and sometimes men) go to a great deal of trouble collecting seemingly trivial tiny plant foods even when ample fat is available. I suspect that many of the plants they eat are very powerful nutritionally.
Some interesting ones include Sura (Salix pulchra), which is preserved in seal oil after picking, and contains 7-10 times the vitamin C of oranges! I often gathered wild chives (Allium schoenoprasum L.) in Sweden and the Inuit also use them raw in seal oil or cooked with fish.
Anore found that Inuit used lacto-fermentation to store some greens in the winter. Sourdock (Rumex arcticus), for example, is fermented in an underground sod house stored in sealskin pokes. A recipe is provided in case you have those ingredients on hand :) The Inuit warn you to turn it every few days to keep the bottom from rotting and occasionally untie it to let gases out.
Some plants, like roseroot (Sedum rosea) are fermented in water.
My grandmother would always dig the roots of roseroot when she could. She buried them in sand and grass on top of a high knoll. If hard times came when we were short of food, we'd know they were waiting. As long as we had seal oil, we could eat them. - Bessie Cross, an Inuit who Anore interviewed
Berries were often made into a dessert called Akutuq. It was made with rendered whipped fat mixed with berries, sometimes with roots and greens. Tragically, now the dessert often is made with hydrogenated vegetable shortening and sugar. Traditional fats included hard back fat from the caribou or moose, or blubber from walruses or seals. So much for wild game not having much fat...the Inuit have enough fat to have excess to use in desserts and other food preserving.
Another popular treat is Ittukpalak, which is made with roe and berries. I have made this and it is beautiful and delicious! Most of the berries they gather are rather tart and include blueberries, salmonberries, bearberries, cranberries, and rosehips. I often gathered rosehips in Sweden even in the middle of winter when they were withered on the vine. They could then be boiled into a vitamin-C rich tea.
In a good berry year the otherwise green tundra actually has a blueish cast from so many berries. Even after people and all the creatures have taken their fill, the berries will still be thick. They freeze on the bushes and on the ground for the mice and ptarmigan to eat all winter and are there, dried and sweet, for bears, birds, and people to eat next spring. It’s such an enormous wealth of food, but one never to be counted on, for in a poor berry year you will walk all day and not find enough to taste. Then the animals that ate berries must find other foods and some must eat each other.
As for roots, they have a rather ingenious method of gathering known as Masrunniaq. They look for mouse diggings and dig up their nests. Sometimes they hit the jackpot and find a cache of tiny sweet roots known as masru. They take the roots and add a piece of fish into the nest to thank the mice. Then they cover the nest back up with dirt. Some of the best roots come from Eskimo potato (Hedysarum alpinum)
Some roots are poisonous and it can be hard to distinguish these from the sweet roots. Don't try this at home. Inupiat say "eat masru with oil, or else you may become constipated."
Another method of stealing from animals includes the consumption of nigukkaun, which is caribou stomach, put in a warm place for 1-2 days or longer to ferment. Humans can't eat lichens, but the enzymes in the caribou stomach break them down and once fermented they can be eaten by us. Anore recommends NOT making this without the assistance of an elder. She says it is an acquired taste, but that she has learned to love the sweet-sour fermented taste.
Another dish is Inaluaq, which is a particular part of the ptarigan intestines. She suggests "warm the green, pasty material inside but don't actually cook it." mmm.
While the Inuit culture is rather uniform from an anthropological perspective, there are differences in food culture
The root of the yellow flowered oxytrope (Oxytropis maydelliana) has been eaten from Sealing Point in the historical past. It is also known as aiqaq and eaten in Anaktuvuk Pass and Canada. It occurs nearly all over Alaska and Northern Canda but is eaten only in certain places. Even 20 miles east, at Sisualik and Kotzebue, aiqaq is not normally eaten.
Like in Sweden, medicinal teas are made from spruce and juniper. Unlike in Sweden, Inuit never eat fungi except as part of caribou stomach.
So is this a conspiracy? Some of my VLC friends wil probably insist that this is a result of colonial contamination of their culture, which makes absolutely no sense, considering these foods are very hard to process, some are poisonous if processed badly, and colonialism brought foods that are easy to cook and which are now widely adopted to the exclusion of many of these plant foods. Occam's razor! Obviously, their diet is still low carb, but there is evidence that the plants that they eat, even if they don't contribute a lot of calories, matter on a micronutritional level.
We aren't as strong as when we were kids. Few young people even know how to enjoy [berry picking]. We eat different foods now, a lot of store foods. Some foods we carry for our lunch are half packaging, and all the junk gets left on the berry ground. It's not good for the birds and animals, and it's not a thank-you to the land to cover it with trash. Now places on those good berry grounds look like a dump—Styrofoam cups, pop cans, paper plates, plastic wrapping, and aluminum foil. We want to treat the ground that grows our food better than that. It's good to remember the old custom of leaving a thank-you for the berries. The best thank-you we can leave today is to leave the berry ground clean.- from interview with elder
I wish this book had color photos, but while some of the recipes are impossible to make in Brooklyn, it's a beautiful testament to human ingenuity and opportunism. I trust Anores' information will stand the test of time and I'm some people who insist Stefansson showed Inuit ate an all-meat diet might not have read his complete work. I also think that Inuit food is probably more diverse than anthropologists traditionally thought— for example, in the works I just linked to he mentions several plants that are absent from Anores' book! I hope more of Anore's work and actual Native voices on food reach the greater world.
Alaskan woman gathering roots, from a book on Native Writers, which includes an essay by a Native woman corroborating Anores' work
I keep seeing things about how fasting isn't paleo because the paleolithic was an environment of abundance. So? So is Brooklyn, that doesn't mean we eat all the time.
Ever just not feel like cooking? Ever plan your day badly and end up skipping breakfast? I wouldn't be surprised if hunter-gatherers did the same. After all, butchering animals IS tough work.
So I'll just reference one of my old posts on Daniel Everett's book Don't Sleep There Are Snakes, which is about the Pirahã tribe: "They have no food preservation methods and simply eat when they have made a kill. Apparently being hungry is no obstacle to exerting themselves: "I have seen people dance for three days with only brief breaks, not hunting, not fishing, or gathering -- and without stockpiled foods."
So fast if you want to, but the idea that fasting is inhuman and damages your metabolism seems bunk to me. Lean Gains has a good post about it. That said, I think fasting is for HEALTHY people. If you are trying to repair your body, eat well and then fast when things are normalized a little better. I also think that fasting should never feel bad. If you are healthy and fasting properly you should be perfectly functional, not obsessed with food, and in a good mood. If you aren't those things...maybe you need to take a step back and nourish yourself first.
Fascinating both for Daniel's personal journey and his accounts of life among one of the most unusual of the Amazonian tribes.
"Of the 229 hunter-gatherer societies listed in the Ethnographic Atlas, 58% (n = 133) obtained 66% of their subsistence from animal foods in contrast with 4% (n = 8) of societies that obtain 66% of their subsistence from gathered plant foods...For worldwide hunter-gatherers, the most plausible (values not exceeding the mean MRUS) percentages of total energy from the macronutrients would be 19–35% for protein, 22–40% for carbohydrate, and 28–58% for fat "
Paleolithic people clearly preferred animal foods as they represented the highest quality nutrition, but only those without the choice to eat plants survived on very low carb diets and the Inuit clearly prized berries when they were in season.
I think a very low carb approach to paleo is as un-paleolithic as a vegan approach. Both can be done and technically fit the definition of paleo, but they are far from optimal. The funny thing as that the people I know on very low carb are often as dependent on supplements as vegans, which doesn't speak much to the suitability of their diet for humans. Although it probably doesn't help that they often don't really try to emulate the diet of successful human carnivores like the Inuit who certainly consumed more than just ground beef. They ate kelp, berries, and a wide variety of meats ranging from fish to polar bear. In fact, arctic foods like smelt and seal are very high potassium and would prevent cramping.
With most big proponents of the paleo diet being male and the general taboo against this subject, it's not surprising that menstruation and the paleo diet is little discussed. That's a shame, because the beneficial effects of the paleo diet on menstruation is one of the main reasons I keep to the diet.
In most of the modern world, getting your period is a pain. It can last as long as a week and be accompanied by all manners of maladies ranging from irritability to stomach upset. Young women are getting their period earlier and earlier, at the ages of 11 and 12. This has been tied to disease later in life.
It's hard to know what menstruation was like in the paleolithic, but the modern hunter-gatherers studied provide some insight. Foragers, and most women in the rest of the world, get their period around 16. That makes sense because if women started earlier it might make for risky pregnancies. In Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman, menstruation is described as a "thing of no account." It's the conventional narrative that menstruation would have been rare for hunter-gatherers, but this is not true. It would have been less because of breast feeding and pregnancy, but still part of the female experience.
This excellent article about that myth talks about how sometimes !Kung women will have periods but will have not released an egg. It also talks about the myth that exercise causes amenorrhea
I learned, by studying runners, what is true for all women - ovulation and menstruation are not the same. Regular periods can and do occur with no ovulation or with disturbed ovulation[8,13,14]. However, like most doctors (and consequently, ordinary women), Is Menstruation Obsolete? implies that periods mean ovulation. It also infers that amenorrhea is (just) anovulation. In fact, amenorrhea means both estrogen and progesterone levels are low-a situation that always causes fast bone loss and the risk for osteoporosis.
She contrasts low fertility caused by living an active and natural life, with the Western illness of amenorrhea, which seems to be unrelated to those things.
My own experience is that prior to starting the paleo diet, I had very heavy periods lasting as long as a week and accompanied by irritability, stomach sickness, and headaches. After I had been on the paleo diet for awhile, my periods became shorter, lighter, and easier. The times I have gone off the paleo diet and had bad periods again have been a huge incentive to stick with the diet.
Why are my periods so much better now? Well, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 has been linked to PMS. The reduction in body fat also probably decreased the length of my period.
The problems with modern periods can be linked to various modern habits from contraceptive pills to environmental toxins to delayed childbirth. However, it's clear that appropriate nutrition plays a role.
Some women have reported amenorrhea on the paleo diet. The causes of amenorrhea seem to be varied and some are serious, so a visit to a doctor might be in order.
A strange instance of cognitive dissonance occured when reading the chapters on Eskimos and Native Americans. In the Eskimo chapter they note that diverticulitis is unheard of in those eating the traditional diet. In the next chapter they note that US Indians also have a low rate of this diverticulitis and credit it to their high fiber intake. If low fiber intake was to blame, you'd see extremely high rates in Eskimos.
The book also discusses the high rate of infectious disease in hunter-gatherers, which account for the low life expectancy in many of these population, but then also notes that it is likely most infectious diseases were introduced by agricultural civilizations.