This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
Recently I've been researching Southern food in the 1800s for a dinner that I'm cooking for. Weirdly, this style of cooking is somewhat in revival in Chicago with restaurants like Big Jones and Carriage House serving fairly authentic period foods. I was at Big Jones recently and all their biscuits are made with pastured lard. That's pretty hard to find in the South these days. In fact, recently a Southern relative said that "our family worked hard so our children wouldn't have to eat offal, and now you enjoy it?"
I grew up in the South and part of my family has lived there for a very long time. The states we are from, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi consistently rank very poorly in health markers.
I didn't grow up on lard. When I visited my grandmother, she had a tub of modern "healthy" margarine. But Grandpa still cooked with bacon grease. And there was always lots of shellfish and fish, which I hated as a youngster.
So when 23andme introduced its beta of a family tree feature and I started filling it out, I was dismayed to realize that on that side of the family at least, lifespan has dropped rather significantly over time, particularly if you exclude people who died in wars, accidents, at birth, or in childbirth. And even more if you exclude those who were not well to do. Most died in their 80s. Many were in their 90s. It goes along with this post I read some time back on Ryan Koch's blog on American lifespans. Nehemiah Manning of Bogalusa, who was my great-great-great grandfather, died when he was 99.
Interestingly, Bogalusa has been the site of a major heart disease study and an intervention program that promotes low-fat "heart healthy" diets for children.
Based on my research, that's not exactly what Nehemiah grew up on I would guess. It's hard to find much on that side of the family, but I have a lot more information on the family members from Arkansas. They weren't rich, but they were fairly well off. They owned cows, pigs, and sheep. They hunted bears and deer. And fished. My grandmother said her grandmother ate anything that moved. Living outside major cities was probably a boon for them since cities were so unhygienic back then and doctors did more harm than good. I calculated average lifespan of all some generations in my family that I had data for, excluding deaths in war, childbirth, and people who lived in very bad conditions (the McEwens when they first came from Scotland, for example, lived in crowded urban tenements), though I included some people who were rural poor (estimates would probably be higher without them).
Average lifespans for great grandparents was 74, for great x 2 it was 78, for great x 3 it was also around 78. There were plenty of nonagenarians. For people not living in obviously awful conditions or dying from things modern medicine does a good job preventing (typhoid, childbirth deaths, etc.), lifespans weren't so dramatically different it seems. Some lines of my family I can trace back into the 1700s, and I can assume a lot of them were wealthy considering they left records of all the land and livestock they owned. Plenty of nonagearians there too.
As for other things they ate, I know at least one of my great great great grandfathers, who died in a flu epidemic at the old age of 91, owned a flour mill. But those days flour was at least freshly milled and the varieties of wheat they grew were probably pretty different. I think that's why a lot of really old Southern cookbooks don't seem to contain very large sections of baked goods and buns that we think of Southern now, because heritage wheat is much more of a challenge to bake with.
The main cookbook I've been using for my research is The Virginia Housewife, which is available for free on Google. It's thrifty and luxurious at once. The upper and upper middle classes at the time were influenced by fine French food, but the cookbook is nose-to-tail and includes a lot of instructions on preserving.
this diet looks AWESOME to me
As far as eating like your grandmother, this stuff was long out of fashion by the time she was born. People started eating industrial margarine, low quality canned foods, and other processed foods even in the 20s and 30s in the South. In many ways they were probably worse than some of today's processed foods since many were adulterated or contaminated. Cotton took a heavy toll on the region. Cottonseed margarine, possibly the worst kind of margarine you could possibly eat, was present in many kitchens. Cotton mills and farms polluted the soil, a legacy still affecting us today as the recent arsenic in rice controversy has shown. Agriculture was consolidated and regulated. Households no longer kept their own hogs and cows.
And people blame the traditional southern diet on the region's health problems. Well-meaning reformists like Jamie Oliver attempt to introduce culturally alien low-fat and Mediterranean diets. Meanwhile in the cities in the North, svelte urban folks dine on butter and pork fat. It's kind of hilarious that I can find pimento cheese made with good pastured local eggs and dairy in Chicago, whereas the stuff I knew growing up in Georgia was often processed store-bought stuff. Lard? I can buy pastured lard at the corner store here. It would be a big effort to get that in the South these days in many places, particularly outside major cities where it is now popular with the bourgeois. Most hog farmers in the South are the Smithfield factory farm sort.
It isn't helped by what I would refer to as industrial pseudo-tradition, the same phenomenon responsible for fried bread being "traditional" Native American food. In the South I would say Paula Deen would be the perfect example of that. Her recipes are those of a region in decline, one in which processed flour, canned food, and refined sugar replaced the foods of the woodlands and rivers.
Even worse, many Southerners I've spoken to seem to firmly believe the Southern diet is "bad" and that foods like offal, game and animal fat are for "low-class" uneducated people.
As for fried foods, I also don't think deep fried food was that common. A good lard breed pig, which is what most families had back in the day, gives you a lot of lard, but that was precious and often had to last a year. These days, many families in the South use a deep fryer daily, mainly reliant on cheap processed reusable oil. In the Virginia Housewife, frying seems to mainly refer to pan frying.
I'm looking forward to exploring more about true traditional Southern cooking. I'll probably need to take a trip down South to see some family, including some distant relatives of mine who live mainly off of local fish and game.
Last year I paid a visit to Miya's Sushi, in New Haven, a restaurant that tries* to be sustainable
We are aware that the restaurant industry has a very harmful impact on the environment; in particular, the traditional cuisine of sushi is destroying our oceans. Therefore, we try to maintain a restaurant in as ecologically responsible manner as possible. We do our best to not use ingredients that are either overfished or that in their production have a negative impact on the environment. As a result, half of our vast menu is vegetable-centered; the other half does not utilize traditional sushi ingredients such as Toro, Bluefin Tuna, Big Eye Tuna, certain Yellowfin, Unagi, Red Snapper, Maine Sea Urchin, Octopus, and so on. Instead, we’ve created dishes that include unconventional sushi ingredients such as Catfish, which, unlike the farming of many farmed fish, are grown in confined ponds that make it virtually impossible to cross-contaminate other species or destroy the aquatic ecosystem around them.
I was reminded of it because on a popular Facebook group called International Paleo Movement Group, there was an argument between me and Lana, the admin of Ethical Omnivore Movement, a facebook page where she posts various articles and other information.
Lana thinks it is unacceptable to eat any seafood ever because we need to give our damaged oceans a rest. That there is no such thing as sustainable seafood. She was promoting a film called Sea the Truth, which is produced by the Dutch animal rights party.
They also produced Meat the Truth and I think here it's where we find parallels between many tactics that animal rights activists use to discourage omnivory. The main tactic is to highlight parts of the industry that is destructive and then also highlight incidences where corrupt governments and NGOs labeled meat or fish sustainable where it wasn't. The implication is that the entire industry is bad and it is impossible to buy sustainable versions of these products. With the growth of the local food movement, in meat at least, this position has become untenable since a growing number of people have personal relationships with the farms they buy from and see that not all meat is produced in the way portrayed by these documentaries. So they also increasingly ally themselves with other arguments that appeal to self-interest such as that meat or fish is all full of toxins or will clog your arteries and kill you slowly.
They also attack small producers, trying the best they can to find small producers that are poorly run in order to undermine consumer's confidence that they can find good products or to highlight the idea that even small producers can have a negative effect on the environment such as Meat the Truth's emphasis on methane that even grass-fed cows produce.
They want you to firmly believe that there is never an acceptable meat or seafood to buy.
When this kind of stuff gets incorporated by the paleo movement, it becomes even worse since so many people in this movement are rabidly anti-government and anti-agriculture. Fish farming? It has the word farming in it, so it must be always bad. Government monitoring and regulation of fish stocks? Nope, because a lot of governments are corrupt. I don't even know what solution they are proposing. Lana simply said people who eat fish are being selfish and small picture and we have to personally change in order to save the ocean.
Given that the ocean is the commons and in general owned by no one (a more sophisticated libertarian argument would attack lack of ownership), and that we can't assume that rest of the world's population is willing to give up seafood because of animal rights films, unfortunately the main viable solutions will be on a global policy level. Which definitely is difficult considering the capture of governments by industry interests, but the consensus on individual action is that it is ineffective at even making a dent on global problems like ocean health or climate change. I think even the makers of these films understand that. Marianne Thieme, the Dutch politician that helms these films, is a big supporter of bans for things she doesn't like, not trying to guilt consumers into making different buying choices. The Dutch understand this more than most people with their multiculturalism struggles. Marianne, knowing that many of the things she opposes are deeply culturally embedded, has backed bans on Kosher and Halal slaughter for example.
I'm not saying that small local solutions aren't important, but they will fail if they rely on the commons and the commons are not protected. A good example was efforts in the Gulf to develop sustainable fisheries that were stymied by the oil spill there.
The reality on fish and meat is that it's not all black and white, that the presence of bad apples shouldn't tarnish efforts to reform the industry, develop alternatives, and lobby for regulations or other methods that protect the commons for everyone. Some methods of harvest will need to be banned like trawling (some countries have already banned them) and some species will require harvest moratoriums.
Sustainable solutions do mean we have to consume less of certain things and not consume others at all, which is why arguments about emissions from grass-fed cows and other similar arguments can be so deceptive. Methods like pastured cattle raising are less productive, which means higher prices for consumers. Even though I get my beef at a very good price, it is still more expensive than factory-farmed beef. Which means the average consumer will buy and eat less. There are costs, but they are worth it in order to support functioning ecosystems that can produce all kinds of foods for future generations.
Of course when you are dealing with a wild animal things get harder. You have to have sophisticated monitoring in place in order to determine what can be taken sustainably. You have to accept that some years you might not be able to hand out any tags for animals or harvest quotas. It's possible that the best solution for some of these stocks is to treat them a bit like we started treating land hunting in the US after overhunting became an issue: we heavily regulated it, de-commercialized most of it. If you want a deer, you can go out and get it yourself with a tag given out by the government. This method has already been applied to abalone in California. You have to dive to get wild abalone. Given that this is kind of dangerous, sustainable abalone farms have been developed for the commercial market.
Back at Miya's, I thought most of our sushi tasted very good. The menu describes the production method, harvesting method, and a little bit about each fish. Well, maybe not a little bit. One of our complaints was that the menu was the length of a small novel, which made it difficult to actually decide what to order. I'm not going to pretend that my own choices or even your choices can save populations of fish. For every bluefin tuna I chose not to consume, there is a consumer in a developing economy who probably just got his or her first paycheck and is going to probably order fish without looking at their "seafood watch list" card. Solving ocean problems requires large scale policy solutions, not telling a relatively well-off educated person in New York City that they are selfish for eating grouper like Lana was doing on IPMG.
But I do think those of us in the food industry, whether its writers, chefs, or grocers can make a small dent by promoting good products and leaving bad ones off the menu. Good products might not reach everyone, but they provide business models that can be used around the world and generate demand that might spur development of similar production/harvesting elsewhere.
We hear a lot of endangered seafood, but what about marine species that are pests? That are invasive and negatively impact ecosystems? These are ideal to consume, we just need to make sure that we are purposefully overharvesting and not replenishing. And that we accept that if we are successful, these things won't be on the menu anymore. Jackson Lander's Eating Aliens highlights some of these species. Miya's has a tasting menu of invasives.
There are also conservation success stories that have been so successful that these species flood the market, which is the case with lobster right now.
I also think that we need to embrace some forms of aquaculture. This isn't black and white either. There are bad fish farms. Maybe right now most fish farms are bad, but there are good systems that are being developed right now. Development of fish feed for aquaculture that is not itself wild harvested and is not also species inappropriate grain pap is a major issue right now. We need to look at systems that farm seafood at every level of the ecosystem, from aquatic plants to brine shrimp. I visited an aquaponics operation here at the Plant in Chicago recently and there were farming herbivorous Tilapia there. Unfortunately, with most of their diet being grain, consuming them has almost none of the benefits of consuming wild fish. Innovations in the production of DHA-rich algae could be a possible solution. Closed salt-water fish production systems are already being developed. I have had an interest in aquaculture for some time and would very much like to produce freshwater prawns on my family's farm.
Also, I can't help but notice Lake Michigan in my backyard, which is full of fish. Maybe someday once the remediation is done, we can get pollution under control so we can consume fish out of their more often. I eat fish my father catches from there sometimes, but try not to consume it very often.
Either way, we can't let ourselves be derailed by sexy documentaries and books created by people who have other motivations, namely the end of omnivory, in mind. Even as a niche market, we can drive the development of better solutions.
I recommend the book Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe which takes a look at the current state of the fish industry. It's a short read and free of extremism. When buying seafood, I would recommend Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch website. You can even print out a card to take with you to restaurants and the grocery store. They use several criteria to determine which seafood are good choices. The ideal choices come from healthy populations which only what can be replenished is harvested, using methods that do not damage the ecosystem. The ideal fishery is managed in a way that preserves and maintains the marine habitat. You can read more here. You should also take toxin levels into account like mercury and PCBs. If you take fish oil, consider switching to algae-based DHA or source your oil carefully, as much fish oil production is currently unsustainable. I used to buy Marine Stewardship Council certified fish, but based on their approval of fisheries that use trawling, I do not believe they are a trustworthy source of information.
I treat buying seafood the way I treat buying anything. There is a wrong way to produce things. There is contamination everywhere. But if I ditched anything that was possibly bad, I'd have nothing to eat. Instead, I look for and support the best I can find. This requires me to ask questions and be knowledgeable. With sardines for example, there are two main fisheries. One is threatened (Atlantic), the other thrives (Pacific).
Personally, I've never been crazy about fish oil. I think the benefits have been exaggerated and there might actually be some negative health effects to high consumption.
I never ever ate fish until I was about 20, when I first started trying to use diet to treat my health problems. I hated fish and remember drenching it in spices to choke it down. But now I actually appreciate the taste of many fish and think it is a very important element in the flavors of my cooking. The main seafood items in my kitchen are:
I really would like to find a better source for shrimp. When I see wild caught Oregon shrimp at Whole Foods, I definitely buy them. Since fraud is an issue, I would suggest finding a reputable fish monger and buying whole easily-identifiable fish.
So no, I don't think the solution to our ocean's problems is to leave them alone. Good fisheries are stewards of the ocean and by relying on the ocean for food, our stake in the matter is much higher. Good community fisheries can even mount effective resistant about threats like undersea drilling. I also think it's important to preserve traditional healthy livelihoods and work with small local community fisheries to adapt their traditions to new global challenges as best as we can, a sentiment Lana does not share. To her it's black and white- there is no fish from the ocean that is acceptable to eat. I won't be liking "Ethical Omnivore Movement" any time soon on Facebook. It's time for a rational omnivore movement.
* they had no information at the time I dined there on the sustainability of the rest of the menu, such as the vegetables or the grains.
Some people sent Nicholas Kristof's latest editorial to me, a seemingly feel-good story about "happy cows." Maybe it's vestiges of my old veganism, but the whole story made me uncomfortable. It brought up some things I wrote about in my recent post The Meat in Your Milk.
It describes a farmer who loves his dairy cattle "like children." Then it dances around the issue about what happens to them when their dairy production wanes:
This isn’t to say that Bob’s farm is a charity hostel. When cows age and their milk production drops, farmers slaughter them. Bob has always found that part of dairying tough, so, increasingly, he uses the older cows to suckle steers. That way the geriatric cows bring in revenue to cover their expenses and their day of reckoning can be postponed — indefinitely, in the case of his favorite cows.
So they are like his children, except he sends them to slaughter when they aren't useful, unless they are his favorites?
It's almost enough for me to want to start a startup where you purchase milk with a percentage of profits going to a cow retirement home.
And what happens to male offspring? Surely he isn't feeding them for charity. Don't get me wrong, I think this farmer has some admirable ideas, but it takes a Pollyanna view of animal production to portray that system the way that Kristof does.
And ultimately it reminds me that I have mixed feelings about dairy. When humans started dairying, it created a strangely intimate relationship between humans and the animals they utilized as food. Hunter-gatherers and foragers generally don't kill the animals they raise themselves. It reminds me of this Richard K. Nelson story about how Koyoukon hunters found it so difficult to adopt animal husbandry.
After watching the chickens grow, many couldn't bring themselves to eat the eggs, and it was even worse to think of dining on the birds or pigs. "People felt like they'd be eating their own children," a Koyukon woman told me. "A lot of them said, from now on they would only eat wild game they got by hunting. It felt a lot better that way.
I wonder how many pastoral cultures even slaughter their animals very often? The Maasai, for example, view cattle as too valuable as signs of wealth to slaughter. When meat is eaten, it is often in the context of a ceremony. Perhaps religion is not just for humans to understand their own lives and deaths, but the lives and deaths of animals as well.
Now that my family raises some cows, I reflect on what they mean to me. I do not consider them children or friends. They are essentially wild animals to me. We left their horns on and they haven't socialized with humans much. I'm not arrogant enough to think a cow that hasn't been conditioned towards being fed (usually grain or formula) by humans when they are young will have any interest in consorting to me. They aren't my children or my friends. They are part of the ecosystem. We steward their land, fix them up if they are sick, but largely we leave them alone to do what they want as long as its in the realm of our fenced pastures until their slaughter day comes.
I've written before about the animal rights-locavore cold war. In some people's eyes, they are two types of liberal food movements, but the truth is that the locavore movement has its true roots in conservatism, as exemplified by the agrarian pillars of the movement such as Wendell Berry and Joel Salatin. Animal rights is just plain radical modernism, a pathology of alienation from nature. Being so different in core philosophy, it makes sense that animal rights would want to make life difficult for agrarians, who use integrated systems of plants and domesticated animals on their farms.
Believe it or not, there's a food issue lurking out there beyond food rights and food safety. Joel Salatin, the Virginia farmer-author-activist is worried that that next issue is animal rights.
He's already seeing evidence of it at Polyface Farm, his own farm in the Shenandoah foothills. During a tour of his farm Saturday for 150 attendees as part of a fundraiser for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Salatin said he's been reported to his local animal control officials by area residents who have had concerns about the treatment of his cattle.
In one case, someone reported him because one of his steers was limping. In another case, he was reported because his cattle were "mobbing"--hanging out close to each other as a herd in a new pasture.
In each instance, "We had to spend two days with local vets explaining what we do"...and he was off the hook.
His view of animal rights as an emerging issue for owners of sustainable farms rates a chapter in his upcoming book, Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World. It's due out in early October.
During the Saturday farm tour, Salatin wondered aloud what other problems the animal rights people might find at his farm. He pointed out how, during recent heavy rains, the chickens (who stay outside in mobile structures) got pretty wet, which isn't unusual. "We have days when our chickens are out here in the rain and cold and shivering. I know there are people who would like to go out and buy them L.L. Bean dog pillows."
Might the animal rights folks be better off focusing their attention more on CAFO's and other factory farm practices? They already have, of course, but Salatin speaks to a more ideological tendency.
The problem is a theme of his book: "We live in extremely abnormal times..." And one expression: "In our communities, we have more and more animal rightists."
Of course the animal rightists love regulation, the better to make it tough enough that the small farmers get out of business, just leaving the industrial CAFOs, which are easier to malign in the public's eye. Animal rights mouthpiece Jame McWililams consistently is on the side of big government. Sorry Philpott, they aren't on our side.
Cops have busted a group of oddball poachers in Prospect Park — a band of vagrants that was trapping and eating ducks, squirrels and pigeons.
Parks officers wrote four tickets — two for killing wildlife and two for illegal fishing — totaling $2,100 in fines during a two-day period last week.
The city would not immediately release details of the incidents, which occurred on July 17 and 18 — just days after park-goers told rangers about a “Beverly Hillbillies”-like scene on the southeast side of the lake, near the ice skating rink.
“This is a dodgy group,” said park-goer Peter Colon, who spotted one of the men catching a pigeon while his friend started a fire. “They are the most threatening people in the park.”
The disheveled — and possibly homeless — tribe in question uses “makeshift” fishing poles and traps to catch the critters, then grills them over the fire, according to park watchdogs.
“One woman uses a net to bag the ducks,” said wildlife advocate Johanna Clearfield.
How dare those vagrants eat animals! A host of sanctimonious commenters says they should go down to the food bank and get themselves some normal stuff, like Chef Boyardee (that was the kind of stuff they had at the food bank I briefly volunteered at before it made me too depressed to be motivated). Or wait in line for hours at the food stamp office only to be turned down because they don't have their original birth certificates, or a real address, or some other nonsense. Or as one commenter said, they should just be vegans like her friend.
Personally I wouldn't eat the animals there because of the fact that the city is poisoned by pollution, but honestly they are probably healthier to eat than whatever is served up at the local soup kitchen.
Let's all be reminded that the government regularly kills the geese in the park and ships them to ANOTHER STATE to feed the homeless. Remember, it's only OK if the government does it.
Whatever happened to "teach a man to fish?" Maybe they should go back to stealing like in the old New York City? So far a rise in crime hasn't accompanied the economic difficulties of The Great Stagnation, but it could happen.
I have to give credit to the sane comments too. A lot people reminiscing about how their grandparents caught vermin to service the Depression.
Physical Anthropologist John D. Speth wrote a fantastic book called The Paleoanthropology and Archaeology of Big-Game Hunting: Protein, Fat, or Politics? It's kind of a crime that it's not more widely available. It sells for $134 on Amazon, which is totally lame. If you are a student though you can probably get it for free. For my institution Springerlink had a free ebook download! I don't have time to do it justice right now, but there is a great chapter I just wanted to mention. It's about the high-fat African game animals, which are disproportionately represented in many sites tied to paleolithic hunting.
This is an opportune moment to take another brief detour into the realm of archaeology, this time to look at views about the hunting capabilities of hominins who occupied sub-Saharan Africa between about 300,000 years ago and roughly 40,000 years ago, give or take a few millennia. For those not too familiar with
archaeology, in Africa this period of the Paleolithic is known as the Middle Stone Age (MSA). During more or less the same period of time, Europe and western Asia were inhabited by Neanderthals, and in these more northerly latitudes of the Old World the comparable part of the archaeological record is referred to as the Middle Paleolithic (MP). Richard Klein has written extensively about the hunting strategies of MSA peoples, focusing particularly on the faunal record from two well-preserved and widely known cave sites located east of Cape Town along South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast – Klasies River Mouth and Die Kelders.
Klein has argued for many years that MSA hominins lacked not only the technological know-how of the people who followed them during the ensuing Later Stone Age (LSA), but they also lacked the cognitive wherewithal. Interestingly, eland remains in these caves are central to his line of thinking, and hence the reason for this detour. And, as I have been doing throughout the book, I will let Klein speak for himself.
In contrast to the other ungulates, the eland in MSA sites include a large proportion of primeage adults, and the age profile has a catastrophic shape…. The most likely explanation is that MSA people had learned that, unlike most other large African bovids, eland can be easily driven, without much personal risk. An eland herd caught in the right position could be forced over a cliff or into a trap…. However, MSA people could not have driven eland herds to their death very often or the species would have become extinct, since its reproductive vitality would have been sapped by the continuing loss of a large proportion of the available prime adults. Not only did the eland survive, but there is no evidence that it became less numerous during the long MSA time span…
Thus, MSA people were probably not very successful at hunting eland, and this makes it especially interesting that eland is the most abundant ungulate in the MSA faunas. The clear implication is that MSA people must have been even less successful at hunting other species that are less common in the sites but were more common in the environment. In short, MSA impact on the large mammal fauna was negligible. By extension, it may be argued that LSA peoples, in whose sites eland and other species are represented more in proportion to their live abundance, probably took a higher proportion of game overall. In short, LSA people were almost certainly more proficient hunters. Klein (1987:36–37)
I think this argument needs to be turned on its head. Judging by the many quotes from historic accounts that I have already presented, all of which extol the virtues of the eland as the “game-of-game” in a land of fat-poor animals, the eland is precisely the animal that one should target if the animal is available and the hunters possess the means. If anything the abundance of prime-adult elands in MSA sites is testimony to just how good, and successful, they were as hunters, not evidence of their impoverished cognitive capacity. It is the LSA hunters that should be the focus of interest here. Why were they (as it would seem) compelled to concentrate more on the far leaner and smaller game, the prey that explorer after explorer considered inferior food, especially when they were short of adequate sources of carbohydrates or alternative means of acquiring fat? It seems far more likely that the hunters of the LSA were under some level of stress, either because they managed to overhunt the elands, or perhaps because environmental changes reduced the numbers of elands. All of this remains speculative, of course, but I think the one conclusion we can safely draw from this is that the presence or absence of eland in archaeological sites tells us nothing about innate cognitive capacities.
Incidentally, the abundance of prime adults, evidence that led Klein to postulate that MSA hunters may have driven groups of eland over cliffs or into traps (the “catastrophic” age profile that Klein refers too – that is, an age structure that resembles what one would observe in a living population) need not imply mass kills. Since the faunal assemblages are aggregates or palimpsests of countless individual hunting episodes, the abundance of adult animals in their prime is what one might expect if hunters often deliberately sought out animals that were at their peak in condition, but also now and then killed whatever eland came within their sights, regardless of age. It would be interesting to know what proportion of the adult eland at Klasies and Die Kelders were males….
Hmm, possible dissertation topic? What's so important about eland? Why would hunters target them?
An 18th century Swedish naturalist quoted in the book gives some clues:
This animal [“Cape-elk” or eland] has a great deal of fat, especially about the heart: from an old male which we gave chase to and shot, we got such a quantity of fine and tender fat, as we could with difficulty get into a box that would hold about ten pounds of butter. As at the commencement of our journey homewards through the desert, the hounds we had with us had unluckily devoured our stock of butter, a farmer, who still accompanied us, showed us how to prepare the fat from about the heart of the elk, and to use it for dressing victuals with and for eating on bread in the same manner as is generally practised with goose-grease and hogs-lard. The taste of it also was very similar to these, and to the full as good; and, indeed, if I may be supposed to have been able to form any judgment of the matter at a time when we were so sharp set, and in absolute want of any thing else of the kind, it was rather better. The breast is likewise extremely fat, and is always looked upon as a great delicacy. The flesh is universally of a finer grain, more juicy and better tasted than that of the hart-beest. Sparrman (1785:207–208)
Speth has great information on early food containers where hunter-gatherers may have stored things like fat or boiled bone grease. Pottery may date back as far as 200,000 years, but it's also possible to store and cook with liquids in skins and other containers that would not be present in the record. He also takes down the common use of the San (bushman) as Paleolithic proxies.
I'll post more about this book soon. I've been very busy with school, but luckily this is what I study so I have ample fodder for posts now. I feel very bad for people who don't have access to this things.
It's possible they will take old books that are outdated and try to push their own rather narrow conclusions. Altough you don't need to have research journal access to find that Boyd Eaton thinks his own conclusions were wrong (though Konnor is still holding out):
Meanwhile, paleo eating continues to evolve. In 1985, Eaton and Konnor allowed foods like skim milk and whole-wheat bread. Konnor still thinks that was the right call, and believes his original concerns about fat were prudent. “You can’t just go to the supermarket and buy meat loaded with fat and say you’re doing the Paleolithic diet. You’re not.” Animals of 10,000 ago, Konnor says, were less fatty—so we must compensate by eating leaner meats, and less. Eaton has gone the other way. He says he had failed to consider the contribution of non-muscle meat like brain and fat depots, and thus underestimated the amount of fat we need. “It makes me feel stupid!”
In full discloser, I don't think there is enough evidence either way to draw a conclusion about fat in the paleolithic and we are dependent on modern nutritional science to elucidate whether or not fat is healthy (or types of fat). I also am a big fan of the idea that evolution of human being is on-going and didn't freeze in lower-paleolithic Africa. I personally cycle low and high-fat, but do best on high-fat (I lose my period on low-fat, for example).
I find it quite amusing when people accuse me of having one hunter-gatherer stereotype when it's also clear they hold one themselves. The most popular thing to accuse people of is that they hold the "man the hunter" hypothesis that people ate mostly meat and men provided most of the food. The challenging hypothesis is that humans mostly ate plants and women provided most of the food. The data does not support this very politically correct hypothesis because it plays to popular modern ideas, namely that plants are really good for you and women do all the work and don't get any credit for it. The Ethnographic Atlas is an extensive collection of data on hunter-gatherers and other cultures. In the excellent oldie but goodie Myths About Hunter-Gatherers, the author looks at the data and sees that:
It's perfectly logical omitting equistrians like the Plains indians because any culture using domesticated animals is pastoral, not hunter-gatherer. She notes that some of the "gathering was more important" stuff came from anthropologists who classified fishing as "gathering."
But old myths die hard and I still both of these incorrect ideas bandied around: "man the hunter" and "man the gatherer." The reality is more varied and doesn't really fit either. What about "man the fisher?" Or man the scavenger (luckily the topic of a paper I am writing for my latest anth class)? It's more like "man the opportunist." But either way...it seems to be men bringing home the bacon. Cordain has also done a more famous paper on the topic of hunting vs. gathering, but clearly not famous enough since I still see these myths around and have commenters repeat these myths over and over (and accusing me of not knowing anything about anthropology...).
A well-meaning, but mistaken, commenter pointed me towards this paper: Hadza Scavenging: Implications for Plio/Pleistocene Hominid Subsistence. Notice it says "Implications for" not "An example of." The Hazda are not living fossils, though many anthropologists think their lifestyle might have some similarities with paleolithic humans.
But the paper is priceless for the actual descriptions of how Hazda people obtained meat. Often it was
1. Some people hear something or see vultures in the distance
2. They investigate
3. Turns out to be some predator consuming meat
4. They scare away the predator and hope something good is left
5. Often all the "premium cuts" are gone, but they crack open the brain and other bones and eat the fat from theses
In this way it challenges two silly assumptions
1. Foragers eat lots of lean meat... sorry! the lions took that before you got there! Looks like only marrow is left.
2. Male foragers obtain giraffe meat by valiantly hunting it down...sorry! Looks like a group of women and some kids scavenged that meat from a lion kill.
Note that Hazda have some modern technology, so paleolithic foragers would have been even more dependent on scavenging.
Hmm, I think I have some marrow bones in the fridge calling my name....
I was curious recently about use of bones as food in the paleolithic. One interesting paper I found was Gazelle bone fat processing in the Levantine Epipalaeolithic. Epipalaeolithic is a term for an era confined to a particular geographical space of the Levant in the Eastern Mediterrean about the same time as the mesolithic era in Western Europe (21-11.5 thousand years ago). Hunter-gatherers in this era had more advanced tools than in previous eras. One thing they apparently used these tools for was to extract greater nutrition from animal bones. The major important products from bones were marrow and grease. Humans might not have the jaws of hyenas, who also consume bones, but we have the smarts to devise tools to get these nutritionally valuable products. The amount of time spent processing bones speaks to their nutritonal importance and also leaves good evidence.
While bone marrow is hard to extract, it was worth it for these hunter-gatherers considering how nutritious it was. There is evidence for marrow processing as early as 5 million years ago. Grease is also present in bones within the spongy microstructure, but it requires more technology to extract than marrow. The epipalaeolithic represented a bridge between foraging and sedentism, so at this point food was being stored. Grease could be stored in solid cakes, skin bags, or mixed with meat as pemmican. Extracting grease required pounding or breaking the bones and boiling them. The grease can then be skimmed from the surface. Back then most containers used were made of organic matter, which means there isn't a lot of good evidence for their exact nature. I remember some time ago seeing an argument on a paleo message board about containers, but this paper references evidence of organic containers that were probably heated with hot rocks from a fire, a method still used in some saunas I have attended.
How much and what kind of grease and marrow varied by animal species, age, season, weight, and physical condition. The species found in the Levant sites studied included fallow deer, tortoises, hare, and partridge.
This paper interested me because I've been thinking a lot about cooking methods and adopting those that are gentler than frying. The evidence is quite clear that boiling has been in use for a long time and also represents an excellent way to extract further nutrition from animals. The point that bones need to be broken to get the most of them is something to remember. Ask your butcher to cut your bones open so you can enjoy the marrow and make more nutritious and delicious stock. A cookbook that has some great info about what cuts to ask for is Bones by Jennifer McLagen.
Yesterday I went to another event with Jackson Landers, who taught my hunting class and writes an excellent blog. This time the event was about cooking Canada geese, which have been a subject of much controversy since the USDA randomly decided that the fat and immobile geese in Prospect Park in Brooklyn were taking down more planes than Al Qaeda and unceremioniously kidnapped, gassed, and buried them. It kind of doesn't make sense, but it's also a waste of good meat.
Jackson talked about methods for hunting that city-folks could employ, such as jump-shooting, which don't require a purebred hunting dog or a zillion decoys. Those of us who have tried to hunt complained bitterly about the city's onerous gun laws.
In between there was delicious goose prepared by Leighton here. A paillard of breast cooked with chipotle and cranberries was my favorite. Jackson generously gave me some of the goose remnants: a back and a leg, which I proceeded to cook wrong. And by wrong I mean totally overcooked. I should have googled a recipe or looked a Hank Shaw's excellent site, because it was not a forgiving as duck. If I could go back in time I would have done a confit or a low and slow braise in wine.
Now I understand the folk song Grey Goose, which is about hunting a grey goose that ends up too tough for anyone or anything to eat. They should have asked Jackson or Leighton and not assumed they could just fry the goose in a pan.
Jackson also set up a pigeon trap on John Durant's roof, a rather sketchy enterprise that ended up with no bird. I don't think we were that sad about it, though Jackson said dove tastes amazing and a pigeon is like a dove. Besides, my major worries were about the pigeon's feed, which doesn't make sense because I eat fish that have been marinating in some pretty frightening waters. And let's not even talk about the stuff we feed factory farmed animals...pigeons eat garbage, but so do pigs!