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.
A few years ago, when I was in college, I was on a volunteer trip in the North of Wisconsin and I was invited to an Ojibwe sweatlodge. I had never had an experience like that before. It was incredibly powerful, like being reborn inside a volcano. But it also tested the very limits of my heat endurance, particularly since Christian missionaries influenced the tribe enough that women have to wear thick long skirts while men go into the lodge shirtless. I never did a sweat lodge again, but when I moved to Sweden I discovered sauna culture, which has many of the same benefits, but is usually much more casual and less extreme (except for a few stupid isolated incidences like the guy last year who died in a "sauna contest."). In Scandinavia saunas are often paired with swimming in cold water, which is probably why that region, along with Russia (which has a Banya culture), produces some of the world's top cold-water swimmers (many of whom are women, who have an advantage thanks to higher body fat). I'll write more about that later, particularly since I hope to interview some swimmers when I go to Stockholm next month. I'm also planning to write some more on sauna and the studies done on that subject. Fire adaptation isn't just a joke.
But lately I've thought of sweat lodges because of the whole "cold adaptation" thing that's caught on a bit. Richard Nikoley posted a pro-Dr. Kruse anti-intellectual screed. The gist of it seemed to be: well, I benefited from cold water, so Dr. Kruse must be onto something and I like him anyway. Ok. Dr. Kurt Harris and Dr. Emily Deans tried to talk some sense into him. Thankfully Ray Cronise, who happens to be an expert on the subject, showed up and finally Nikoley listened to a voice of reason. If you are interested in doing some thermal hacking with cold, I strongly recommend that you follow Ray's sane science-based recommendations.
Water temperature less than 60F/15.5C and air temperature less than 32F/0C are great lines of WARNING. in temperatures lower than this there is a chance of hypothermia. Walking hypothermia* can be very serious (google it) and so it stands to reason when you go below these thresholds it’s 1) at your own risk and 2) should be done with caution.
Contrast that with Dr. Kruse's recommendations, which involve ice water and he dismisses the significance of numbness, saying "My entire torso has been numb for 8 months now." Yikes.
Sweat lodges were touted for similar health-related benefits, as well as used for quasi-Native American new age rituals, often to the chagrin of actual Native American tribes. Unfortunately, in 2009 several people died in a New Age sweat lodge ceremony. The Lakota Nation filed a lawsuit against the guru responsible for the faux-sweat lodge ceremony that pushed so many people into the danger zone. The Lakota were concerned about their traditions being used irresponsibly.
Either way, you'd all have more fun and probably get more benefits by heading to your local Banya or Korean sauna and doing a normal sauna session and then a dip in the cold pool. Maybe have some good offal-rich soup that most of those traditional sauna places serve. When I lived in NYC I often went to Coney Island Banya, but I've heard good things about Castle Spa, a Korean place in Flushing. However, none can compare to the Finnish saunas. Nothing like a sauna next to a ice-filled lake. And grilling some sausages on the coals. And total co-ed nudity (actually less sexy than you would imagine). Or the Austrian sauna I went to in the mountains where we ran outside into the snow.
Sauna + cold pool = fun
Numbness = bad, and not fun
I find that the more regularly I do sauna, the better I am at dealing with cold. And that's important, since I don't drive and I've lived in cold climates for the past decade. And I like wearing miniskirts even in the dead of the Chicago winter. And being able to forget my gloves. I wasn't always this way. When I first moved from Georgia to Illinois I remember having to sleep under two comforters and an electric blanket.
And the Game of Thrones scene that I always think of when I read people from the South talking about cold adaptation:
* you might want to look up afterdrop too. Also I find it interesting that other neurosurgeons have done controversial cold therapy.
All societies are sick, but some are sicker than others…. There are some customs and social institutions in all societies that compromise human wellbeing…. For a number of reasons …many anthropologists have chosen not to write about the darker side of life in folk societies, or at least not to write very much about it... The message of this book is not that traditional beliefs and practices are never adaptive and that they never contribute to a population’s well-being; and I am not claiming that people never think rationally enough to make effective decisions about meeting the challenges posed by their environments. To do so would be absurd…what I am calling for is a moratorium on the uncritical assumption that the traditional beliefs and practices of folk populations are adaptive while those of modern societies are not and a commitment to examining the relative adaptiveness of the beliefs and practices of all societies. The goal is a better understanding of human adaptation not just in particular societies but over the course of human history.
That's from Sick Societies, by Robert B. Edgerton, which is a very interesting book. The subtitle "the myth of primitive harmony" is misleading. Not all societies in the book are stereotypically "primitive." He includes both jungle foragers and Appalachians living in hollers. Harmful maladaptations include physical mutilation, cannibalism, food and sex taboos, initiation ceremonies that make the worst Frat hazing look tame, and belief in witchcraft and divination (yes, some foraging societies persecute and sometimes kill people that they believe are witches).
The Netsilik Inuit believed that when a pregnant woman first felt labor pains, she had to be confined to a small snow house if it was winter or a tent during the summer. The woman herself was considered to be unclean, and a newborn child was thought to give off a particularly dangerous vapor at birth. Because the entire community was thought to be in great danger, no one was permitted to assist the woman in giving birth. If the birth proved to be difficult, a shaman might be summoned to drive away evil spirits, but no one was allowed to touch the woman.87 This taboo might have served as a population control measure because it probably increased infant mortality, but it also endangered the mother, and there is no evidence that the Netsilik had any desire to reduce the number of fertile and sexually attractive women in their society.
The Gebusi of Papua New Guinea are one of many small-scale societies whose fear of witches has been maladaptive. A very small society of about 450 people in a lowland rain forest area of southcentral New Guinea, the Gebusi were still beyond the influence of missions or government officials when Bruce Knauft studied them between 1980 and 1982.34 They were a remarkably noncompetitive, self-effacing, mutually deferential people who actively encouraged nonviolence. Yet they believed that all illness was caused by witchcraft, and their resulting attacks against presumed witches were so violent that their homicide rate was one of the highest ever recorded. Nearly one-third of all deaths among them were homicides, and almost all of the victims were suspected witches. Keith Otterbein has suggested that their practice of executing people thought to be witches was an adaptive “group survival” strategy because it controlled the malevolence of witches; but Knauft points out that their killing can hardly be considered adaptive because the population, small to begin with, was “dying out at an exceedingly rapid rate,” and their extremely high homicide rate continues to be an important cause of their population decline.35
For me, it is quite fascinating. Having grown up around very traditionalist people I derive a certain level of comfort from traditionalism. But at some point it's clear that I'll always be an outsider, as my parents were. When it comes to committing heart and soul to ancient traditions whether social, dietary, or religious…I baulk. In the end traditionalism fails for me because in every tradition there is maladaptive beliefs and behaviors bundled together with ancient wisdom. Members of these traditions who have grown up with them from birth are often unable to see this.
Traditional solutions and long-standing beliefs and practices tend to persist not because they are optimally beneficial but because they generally work just well enough that changes in them are not selfevidently needed. Given all that we know about the sometimes astoundingly bad judgment of “rational” planners in modern nations, it seems unlikely that people in smaller and simpler societies that lack our scientific and technological sophistication would always make optimally adaptive decisions even should they try to do so...Psychologist Donald Campbell has suggested that this may be so because people have evolved to be conservative, to respect established ways and responsible leaders; for Campbell, conservatism is a survival mechanism.43 Similarly, sociologist Joseph Lopreato was so impressed by the human predilection for conforming to rules and forcing others to do likewise that he posited a genetic need for conformity….ith the partial exception of subsistence activities, for every man or woman in a folk society who has been able to explain why something believed or done is beneficial, there have been thousands (in some societies this includes everyone) who provide no more by way of explanation than “it is our custom” or “we’ve always done it this way.”
This has happened even when I've tried to climb up the family tree into our own past. A problem here is there are lots of trees to climb. I've climbed a lot of them so far and have been pretty disappointed, so I take what I like and leave. Unfortunately this is in itself somewhat maladaptive itself as it leaves me without the community and sense of belonging that usually accompanies such traditionalism.
postpartum depression are thought to include the stress of the event for the mother and family (including fears of being an inadequate mother), individual psychological characteristics of the woman, and changes in levels of estrogen and progesterone. Yet despite the frequency and seriousness of postpartum depression in the United States, the phenomenon appears to be quite rare in non-Western societies.112 For example, when Sara Harkness asked Kipsigis women in Kenya about their emotions following child birth, they unanimously denied that they felt sad or cried during the early weeks after giving birth. In fact, they declared that such things never occurred.113 For these Kipsigis women, despite hormonal changes, postpartum depression did not exist; giving birth was a happy event, one looked forward to by women who received positive social support throughout their pregnancies and after the birth of the child. The reasons why American culture (and the cultures of Western European countries) has made giving birth a depressing event presumably have to do with psychosocial stress. The Kipsigis and other societies have not made giving birth a stressful occurrence.
I've often thought that Jewish people are lucky because they have a strong secularized diaspora. I have some Jewish blood myself, but found that even that community still seems to be based on ties of kinship that render me an outsider. Is there an equivalent for Southerners out there somewhere? Maybe in Austin or Atlanta? I'm not a big fan of hot weather unfortunately.
That's what the men of Vanuatu proclaim in this really interesting series called Meet The Natives. I don't usually enjoy reality TV, but I couldn't believe how much I enjoyed this show, which is posted on Youtube. The premise of the show is that five men from Tanna, a village in Vanuatu go to Britain and live among what they refer to as "three tribes": the working class, the middle class, and the upper class. I often find that shows about tribal people can be dehumanizing and prevent people from seeing the tribal people as individuals, but this show does not suffer from this. Chief Yapa, Joel, Posen, Albi and Jimmy Joseph are all very interesting and wise people. Jimmy is the narrator, as he speaks very good English, but the voices and personalities of the other men are very distinct as well. Interestingly, Jimmy also seems to be the uploader on Youtube and has some comments on the show there.
I actually learned about Vanuatu from The Paleo Guy's blog. The people of Vanuatu are not hunter-gatherers, but foraging horticulturalists who grow roots and raise pigs. It's clear from the documentary that the people are very healthy, with lean muscular bodies, clear skin, and strikingly white straight teeth. As I have written before here, horticultural and foraging cultures are very diverse. I can understand why the people of Tanna were chosen because their tribe seems very happy and healthy.
It becomes obvious that the five men aren't going to Britain just to experience the culture, but because they dream of meeting Prince Philip, who they believe is the son of their God. The rest of this post contains spoilers for the show, so if you want to be excited about finding out if they achieve their dream, watch the show first and then come back here.
The first family they visit is a middle class pig-farming family. I thought it was interesting that they chose a free-range pig farmer, since most pig farms these days are not free range. I would imagine that the men would have had a very difficult experience if they visited a typical pig farm.The people of Tanna also farm pigs, but there were amazed by the size and fatness of the pigs in Britain. However, the fact that the farmer artificially inseminated the pigs bothered them. The chief said that "animals and human beings are the same thing, mating should be done in private." Posen, the pig farmer, says that pigs are possessions and they must treat them with respect. They then cut to a video of Posen feeding his pigs some coconut. The pigs in Tanna are even more free ranging than the British pigs, wandering about the village. I suppose they stick around because the people feed them.
However, while animals and human beings are the same thing to the Tannans, the chief also says that "animals are made to be killed, but not human beings." The Tannan views on animals are among the most interesting parts of the show. While eating dinner with the middle class family, it comes up that the Tannans eat dogs. The middle class mother asks if they eat their pets. They say that they do not, but some dogs are pets, others are not.
Dogs come up again later in the show when they are staying with the working class family. While out shopping with them, the Tannans see homeless people for the first time. They cannot understand how people can be homeless. Jimmy says that in their village anyone can build a hut and everyone will help them and share food with them. Later in the show the Tannans say that sharing is the source of their happiness. The sad fact is that if a homeless person tried to build their own house on unused land in the US they would be evicted. It is even illegal to share food with the homeless in some cities.
After they learn about the homeless the Tannans are brought to a place where women spent all day "treating dogs like humans." It's a dog grooming parlor. After seeing this the chief says that "English people care a lot for their animals but they don't care about people's lives."
The Tannans meet a kindred spirit when they meet a professional rabbit hunter. They are impressed with his skills and philosophy on life, which is that he wants to do what he loves and not be part of the rat race. They say he is like a brother to him. When they are skinning the rabbit, they learn that people no longer want to wear fur. Jimmy is mystified, he says it makes sense to wear the fur since the rabbits are living in England and it's cold in England and the fur is warm. The hunter says this mystifies him too, but that he is so happy to spent time with the Tannans since they understand him and many people in England do not understand hunting anymore. Later when they are visiting the upper class people, the Tannans see a fox hunt. Because of animal rights activists, real fox hunts are banned in England and they carry on the tradition by having fake fox hunts. The Tannans think this is a crazy waste of time.
Another interesting this is that when they see the homeless people they ask "does this mean they have no fathers or mothers?" Later they learn about the fact that many families in Britain are broken. Their working class host, Ray, tells them he has a son from a previous relationship who he never sees. Now he is off to war in Afghanistan. This makes the Tannans very said. They explain that the bond between fathers and sons is very important.
Another thing I really liked about the show is that it also wasn't exploitative of the people of Britain. I've seen a fair number of British reality shows that portray British people, particularly the working class, as being very uncivilized, but while it's clear the working class family on this show had problems, they were shown as very nice and welcoming people. The Tannans form very close bonds with the working class family and are actually happy that they have to share a room because they like sleeping near each other so they can talk.
Unfortunately when they visit the working class family they have their first tastes of truly processed foods from boxes and KFC. I think some people have the idea that taste is more culturally relative than it actually is. The truth is that all humans are vulnerable to hyperpalatable foods, though increasing exposure seems to lead to increasing divorce between craving and needs. The Tannans say that KFC is very good, even better than home cooked foods. I was heartened to see that during a meal with the middle class family, the chief asks to be passed the butter and he eats all of it up with a spoon.
I was very happy that they do get to meet Prince Phillip, though they want him to come back to the island with them to fulfill their prophecy and he doesn't. It's funny because they say that they understand that son of their God chose to live among the upper class tribe because the upper class tribe follows the ancient rules of the ancestors. In the end Joel says "I think the English should return to a more traditional life. I think they used to be a lot like us, living with love and respect and unity. But if they carry on the way they are, they won't be able to find that life anymore."
Interestingly, the people there credit some Westerners with having taught them important things. According to legend, a US serviceman during WWII named "John Navy" taught them to end tribal warfare.
I think it's amazing that we are at the point that we can listen to the wisdom of people from places like Vanuatu, but underneath there is a tension. In the show it's clear that on their island there are gender roles that most Westerners would be uncomfortable with. Some jobs are lady's jobs, some are men's jobs. When they visit a gay club the Tannans are very uncomfortable. I learned later that parts of Tanna are part of a movement known as Kastom, which is a traditionalist movement. They resist things like public schools, believing them to be a threat to their customs (correct, IMHO). The commenters on Youtube praised the Tannan's ability to "live in harmony with nature" but were clearly put off by these attitudes as well as the attitudes towards animals.
Either way, I learned a lot from the show and I'm looking forward to watching the next one, which is about their trip to the US.
Jimmy home with his baby
SG: The Pima were first contacted in 1539 by the Spanish, who apparently found them to be lean and healthy. At the time, they were eating a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet based on corn, beans, starchy squash, and a modest amount of gathered animal and plant foods from the forest and rivers in the area. In 1869, the Gila river went dry for the first time, and 1886 was the last year water flowed onto their land, due to upstream river diversion by settlers. They suffered famine, and were rescued by government rations consisting of white flour, sugar, lard, canned meats, salt and other canned and processed goods. They subsequently became obese. Their diet consisted mostly of bread cooked in lard, sweetened beverages and canned goods, and they also suddenly had salt. I don't see why that's incompatible with the food reward hypothesis. It is, however, difficult to reconcile with the carbohydrate hypothesis.
I've known about the Pima story for a long time, mainly through the work of Gary Nabhan, who wrote Why Some Like it Hot and several other excellent books. Why Some Like it Hot is particularly relevant here because it posits that certain cultures are uniquely adapted to the foods of their own locality and history. That's a far stretch from the typical paleo proposition that we are all adapted to the same foods we ate 40,000 years ago.
It is interesting to note that at around the same time that flour was making the Pima overweight and diabetic, processed foods were harming other populations in other ways. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration has plenty of pictures of toothless children suffering from TB, but almost none of them are fat. Obesity came to places like Scotland only after the advent of processed foods 2.0, the hyperpalatable junk food engineered in laboratories. Why did the Pima get fat so quickly and before these foods were in the marketplace?
The tragedy of the Pima has been a boon for research into the genetics of diabetes and obesity since they tend towards genetic homogeneity. Through this research, several genes have been identified that are linked to their conditions. These include variants in interleukin 6, uncoupling protein, mannose binding lectin, and the leptin receptor gene, to name but a very few of the promising candidates.
So do these genes doom the Pima? Obviously not. There are a few prominent bloggers who say that whether or not you have diabetes is genetically determined and you cannot eat yourself diabetic. This is nonsense.
The Mexican Pima still live as traditional farmers and ranchers, so they are much more active. They are not skinny, but they are not obese either. What is their diet like? Beans, wheat flour (OMG), corn tortillas, and potatoes are the main staple. They eat much less fat than the US Pima. It was only recently that roads came to their area, so needless to say, they don't eat fast food (at least at the time that paper was written).
I have little doubt that their diet was probably much healthier in the past. Pictures of the Pima in the past show them as being svelte. Staples of this older diet included more unusual desert foods such as tepary beans, mesquite pods, acorns, and heritage varieties of corn. One main point of Nabhan's book is that not all plants of the same species or type are made alike. Different beans have different nutritional properties and phytochemicals. The ancient Pima ate both wild and domesticated legumes. Their diet was around 70% carbohydrates.
Even those Indians who still rely heavily on beans and corn are today consuming varieties that have little or none of the nutritive advantages found in the staples of their historic diet. For example, the sweet corn familiar to Americans contains rapidly digested starches and sugars, which raise sugar levels in the blood, while the hominy-type corn of the traditional Indian diet has little sugar and mostly starch that is slowly digested.
Similarly, the pinto beans that the Federal Government now gives to the Indians (along with lard, refined wheat flour, sugar, coffee and processed cereals) are far more rapidly digested than the tepary beans the Tohono O'odham once depended upon. Indeed, their former tribal name is a distorted version of the Indian word meaning "the Bean People."
When Earl Ray, a Pima Indian who lives near Phoenix, switched to a more traditional native diet of mesquite meal, tepary beans, cholla buds and chaparral tea, he dropped from 239 pounds to less than 150 and brought his severe diabetes under control without medication. In a federally financed study of 11 Indian volunteers predisposed to diabetes, a diet of native food rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates kept blood sugar levels on an even keel and increased the effectiveness of insulin. When he switched back to a low-fiber "convenience-market diet" containing the same number of calories, the volunteers' blood sensitivity to insulin declined.
An overlooked aspect here might be social effects. Obesity in the Pima has been tied to the use of formula. It has been also seen that "non-working" Pima women are more likely to consume traditional foods and feed them to their family than "working" Pima women. I put working in quotation marks because I am referring to work in the extractive capitalist sense. It's clear that Pima women have always worked as gatherers and farmers, I'm talking about work that provides only money to the home, rather than providing income of a more holistic sort.
What is fascinating to me is that the Pima have a lower than expected incidence of heart disease. It's clear to me that the Pima are a genetically distinct population with unique adaptations to their ancient diet and lifestyle. They don't show that carbohydrates per-se cause obesity. They do provide an example of the synergistic effects of genes, diet, and lifestyle. If I were Pima, I would be inclined to eating a low-fat high-fiber diet rich in these traditional foods.
But I'm not.
Reader Matthew sent me this radio piece about Slow Food's Terra Madre convention. It features some cultures I am very interested. One is the Scottish Crofters and bonus points for mentioning the Highland Clearances, which forced many crofters from their home, often cruelly. One of those people was Jemima Campbell, one of my ancestors. More and more my diet has come to resemble that of a crofter: grassfed lamb and beef with some horticultural crops.
Here is Julie Fowlis, one of my favorite Scots Gaelic singers:
Another people featured are the Sami (sometimes called the Lapps, but that is considered derogatory), a relatively little-known indigenous culture in the far-north of Scandinavia that once herded reindeer extensively. Some still practice this, though it is dying out for the same reason that cattle driving died out in the US: farmers don't want nomadic grazing animals invading their land, so they fence it off and sometimes kill the animals. I was surprised at some of the negative attitudes against Sami I encountered from Swedish farmers. This story talks about how Sami eat dried reindeer meat as a snack to gain energy. I often bought reindeer meat in Sweden and it was excellent. I hope Sweden will realize the value of this to their nation's health and support these herders better.
I also really like Sami music. Here is one of my favorite Sami throat singers:
As I understand throat-singing may be an acquired taste, here is the more contemporary beautiful Sofia Jannok, who I met last year
As Prof Gumby (and I) say, modern indigenous people aren't paleolithic people, but they still have much to teach us. Why are they so healthy when eating their native diets? I think science should explore this, but I also think they deserve to have their livelihoods supported because they have cultural, social, and culinary value among other things. Hopefully increased appreciation fostered by Slow Food will allow them to find a way to sustainably share their food with the rest of the world.