Are we Hunters? Are we Gatherers?
Or..... are we Hunter Gatherers?
Allow me begin this article with a show of Gratitude to everyone who commented on the blog "Hunter Safety". It was wonderful to see how much intelligent (and at times even heated) debate was generated, not to mention the space it made for a conversation that was long overdue.... This most is certainly a place for open dialogue, so as long as we remain fairly civil, you are welcome to discuss your feelings and opinions in the comments below...
It seems to me that as a collective we have so much more in common than not, and since our visions, values, and goals are so closely aligned, we might be all the wiser to unite and synthesize our views, rather than creating infighting within what is quickly becoming a bi-partisan health movement!
I don't know about you, but I am very motivated by the ideal of balance, and feel that when we polarize we become cut off from an entire range of innovation, possibility and opportunity. One such polarization that is emerging in our community now is that between the "Vegan" community and the "Primal" community. For those who are not familiar, please allow me to elaborate.
The Vegan ethos is one of total abstinence from the foods and products derived from animal origin, this includes more than just meat, but also dairy, eggs, honey, leather, wool, silk, beeswax, and more. This total abstinence in my experience (I lived this way for many years) is an ideal which one strives for, though in reality is difficult to achieve. Still, one can get relatively close to it, and it is intimately entwined with a world-view that sees the eating of Wild or Domesticated animals as both unhealthy and unethical.
The Primal diet focuses largely on the diet of "Primitive" peoples, and not so much those living today as those who inhabited the Earth during the last IceAge. Its focus is primarily on red meats, organs, animal derived saturated fats, as well as fishes, birds and their eggs. There is a focus on the anthropological history of Homo as a genus, and what the fossil record indicates was, at least at that time, one of our dominant food sources.
Not only do these two dietary camps represent a polarization, both occupying extreme ends of a scale of possible food choices, but both see their approach as the "orthomolecular" or correct diet for our species from an anatomical and zoological perspective. And while both sides possess their token charts and statistics, books, cult of personality figures, and amazing health testimonials, I cannot help but feel that there is a piece here that is missing.
Human beings (genus "Homo" species "sapien sapiens") are — rather inarguably — Omnivores.
Omni, from the Latin "Omnis" meaning "All, Every, Everything", and Vore from the Latin "Vorare" meaning "To Devour". In other words, we eat everything. This is fairly indisputable. The only place where this is being disputed is within the extremes of dietary culture, where one might contend that while we are omnivores by habit, we are otherwise by design.
From sworn herbivory to total carnivory, human beings really do eat everything! Just have a look at this guy, Michael Lotito, who was famous for eating bicycles, televisions, and even a small airplane (that "meal" took 2 years!)...
Oh yeah, before anyone comments.... I am not suggesting this!
Personally, I have come to view the Omnivory of Humans (outside of bicycles of course) as something rather beautiful and it seems to be our ability to include "everything" into our diets that has allowed us to so consciously craft our destiny as a species.
It occurred to me recently how very dependent our species is on both plants and animals for our nutritional needs. Take vitamins as an example. We know that metabolically we require the vitamin B12, or cobalamin, without which the deficiency known as "pernicious anemia" develops. This molecule is particularly deficient amongst the plants of this world, and so we require animal foods for this essential nutrient (essential as is meant in nutritional terms, meaning we can not produce it from our own metabolism). One of the glaring issues with Veganism as a dietary practice is that it is notoriously deficient in this vitamin, making it then, a vitamin deficient diet. And while this may seem odd to those who are not and have never been vegans, it is something that, rather astonishingly is often the most overlooked, side stepped, and brushed aside flaw in the field "strict vegetarianism". It is of course not the only nutrient that we find lacking in Vegan diets, but is a great example thereof.
Similarly, when we come to a molecule like Vitamin C, or L-ascorbic acid, again we are talking here about an "essential" nutrient, one that we can not manufacture (well, except in laboratory synthesis). Its deficiency causes the rather unfortunate symptoms of "scurvy" precisely because we lack the ability to "bio-synthesize" it. This is somewhat unique in nature, as most animals and plants are quite capable of making their own. Vitamin C, while found to some degree in animal tissue (liver and adrenals concentrate the most), but when compared against plant foods (in particular berries) meats and organs come up wanting. It is unlikely that we have developed a dependence on this Vitamin's presence in our food from the consumption of animal foods, but rather from its liberal and even extreme concentration in the foods that we have developed eating... in other words, plants.
We truly are Omni. We are the everything species...
Even more so than animals like the Bear that, while omnivorous, lack Fire, the Elemental tool that renders the inedible edible. Sorry Rawfooders! Check out Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human
While a look into the distant past - which of course is merely speculation - may yield some interesting insight into the diet of the proto-form of our species, I think both perspectives lack a critical component. We are Homo sapien sapien. The domestic human. Homo sapien (one sapien) was what is considered the "archaic" human form, the predecssor of the "modern" variation. We are a novel organism and....
We are neither chimpanzees as the vegan world would often contend, nor are we Neanderthals as the primal diet proponents seem to suggest.
We are a unique species, specifically adapted as omnivores, and with modifications to our anatomy that attest to this. In fact, it seems to me that our anatomy demonstrates that we have adapted to Fire in the same way an organism like a fish might adapt to the Water, or a bird has adapted to the Air. Our lack of hair being just one example. Another is the fact that we have the smallest mouths and stomachs (compared to our body size) of any of the great apes seems to indicate a selection towards those who ate the softest and most condensed food sources.
A brief survey of those humans we call the "Indigenous" of the world, especially those who were Hunter/Gatherers reveals a diet that, while varying in the ratio of animal to plant food, still always contains both in ample degrees. These people are always cooks, in that they are never found on "Raw Food Diets". They eat a mix of raw and cooked foods, as well as balancing animal foods against plant foods. I know of no culture that is based solely on plant food, nor one built exclusively on animal foods.
It seems like a strange and impossible argument to reconcile when the Vegan community continuously references chimpanzees and other apes, which we are a distinct species from as an indicator for what we should be eating. And regardless, Chimps are far from vegetarians, eating insects, small primates, honey, eggs, and even bush pigs and antelope! And while they are largely fruit eaters, most primatologist agree that meat is amongst their most prized dietary inclusions. We cannot just simply blow this off, nor use Chimpanzee diets to validate the safety or soundness of a human Vegan diet.
At the same time, neither are we Neanderthals. Isotopic testing of Neanderthal bones seems to indicate that their was little to no plant protein present in their diets. In other words, they were predominantly meat eaters and hunters. Homo sapiens sapiens sapien surveyed anywhere around the world today is, without question, Omnivorous.
I propose a synthesis of these two world views, and actually, everything in between. What I have learned from 16 years of direct immersion into the field of nutrition is this... Whole food plant based diets promote cleansing in the body, and are very catabolic. They are great for reducing weight, for clearing toxins from the system, and resting the organs... temporarily.
Vegan diets are cleansing!
Animal based whole food diets are very building and anabolic, and promote the growth of the body's tissues. Increasing the quantity of high quality animal protein and fat in the diet is critical for rebuilding the body after long cleanses. They are also amongst the only foods that many people can tolerate when they have developed significant fungal infections or food allergies.
Primal Diets are Building!
When the goal is neither building nor cleansing, then a diet that is balanced between both high quality plant and animal food is ideal for homeo-dynamis, the dynamic balance that is usually (mis-correctly) called homeo-stasis.
Here in this chart is an example of the spectrum of nutrition that I was talking about...
Where we eat on this scale is entirely up to us, and of course always in flux. Rather than dogmatically polarizing ourselves to one extreme or the other, would it not be wiser to move along this scale based on our personal goals and the affects we are aiming to achieve?
If you have spent years on a vegetarian diet and have experienced a "failure to thrive", it is animal foods that offer the chance to rebuild your body. In particular it is wild animals or free ranging grass-fed domesticates that contain the nutrients required to refurbish a depleted body.
Conversely, if you have been on a Standard American Diet for some time, and are feeling the burden of the toxic load this so easily creates, a vegetarian and even raw food approach may be just the answer to cleanse your body of the environmental and industrial toxins that pollute our inner ecology.
More importantly, can we simply eat without judgment for one another? The heated discussions between the opposing factions of our community is almost embarrassing. We all agree, it seems, on this; Our food choices matter. They matter for our health and the health of the planet. They matter for our children, and for the future of our species. They are at the root of so many of the challenging issues that face us today.
We all agree that we prefer organically grown and wild foods over those cultivated with pesticides and herbicides. We all prefer foods with wild or heirloom genetics over those that have been poorly bred or genetically modified. We all are doing what we can to create a world where the Soil, Air, and Water is clean and pure, and the rays of the Sun can freely penetrate down to the Earth (hint).
We have such a wonderful technology and medicine in the nutritional wisdom we have gleaned. We know how to both cleanse and rebuild someone. Whether you come from a Vegan diet, a Rawfood diet, a Wholefood diet, the Weston Price diet, the Paleo diet, or the Primal diet, or any other makes little difference. We are all committed to using our dietary choices to heal ourselves and everyone around us that is willing. We share far more with one another in this regard than we do with the other 99% of the Earths current human population. Perhaps a bit of Conscious Omnivory could go a very long way.
Besides we all have a piece of this mosaic we are creating... We each bring a little more perspective based on our knowledge and experience.
After all... its only food.
PS. For all of the frutarians who kept saying that if humans were animal eaters they would be able to run down an antelope... well, check it out! We can! Ok.... so in this video it's not an antelope, but rather a Greater Kudu, and the Kalahari Bushmen do just that! Amazing, humbling, inspiring, and.... well rather Sacred too. Its called Persistence Hunting! Notice at the end that they eat plants with this meal! Enjoy!