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Thu Jul 26, 2012, 12:21 AM

Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians- Scientific American

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/07/23/human-ancestors-were-nearly-all-vegetarians/



Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians
By Rob Dunn | July 23, 2012 | 39

Paleolithic diets have become all the rage, but are they getting our ancestral diet all wrong?

Right now, one half of all Americans are on a diet. The other half just gave up on their diets and are on a binge. Collectively, we are overweight, sick and struggling. Our modern choices about what and how much to eat have gone terribly wrong. The time has come to return to a more sensible way of eating and living, but which way? An entire class of self-help books recommends a return to the diets of our ancestors. Paleolithic diets, caveman diets, primal diets and the like, urge us to eat like the ancients. Taken too literally, such diets are ridiculous. After all, sometimes our ancestors starved to death and the starving to death diet, well, it ends badly. Yet, the idea that we might take our ancestral diet into consideration when evaluating the foods on which our organs, cells and existence thrive, makes sense. But what did our ancestors eat?

Here is where the trouble starts. Collectively, anthropologists have spent many a career attempting to hone in on the diets of our most recent ancestors. Typically, they focus on our stone age (AKA Paleolithic) human ancestors or our earlier pre-human, hominid ancestors. Even if we just consider our stone age ancestors—those folks whose stories span the time between the first stone tool and the first agriculture—the sides of the debate are polarized. If you listen to one camp, our ancestors got most of their nutrition from gathered fruits and nuts; successful kills of big mammals may have been more of a treat than an everyday reality. A paper out just this month suggests even Neanderthals–our north country cousins and mates– may have eaten much more plant material than previously suspected. Still, the more macho camps paint a picture of our ancestors as big, bad, hunters, who supplemented meaty diets with the occasional berry “chaser.” Others suggest we spent much of our recent past scavenging what the lions left behind, running in to snag a half-rotten wildebeest leg when the fates allowed. Although “Paleolithic” diets in diet books tend to be very meaty, reasonable minds disagree as to whether ancient, Paleolithic diets actually were. Fortunately, new research suggests answers (yes, plural) to the question of what our ancestors ate.

The resolutions come, in part, from considering the question of our diets in a broader evolutionary context. When we talk about “paleo” diets, we arbitrarily tend to start with one set of ancestors, our most recent ones. I want to eat like Homo erectus or a Neanderthal or a stone age human, my neighbors testify. But why do we choose these particular ancestors as starting points? They do seem tough and admirable in a really strong five o’ clock shadow sort of way. But if we want to return to the diet our guts and bodies evolved to deal with, perhaps we should also be looking our earlier ancestors. In addition to understanding early humans and other hominids, we need to understand the diet of our ancestors during the time when the main features of our guts, and their magical abilities to turn food into life, evolved. The closest (albeit imperfect) proxies for our such ancestral guts are to be found in the living bodies of monkeys and apes.

I should start by explaining what the “gut” is and does; I use the term too loosely. What I really mean is the alimentary canal and all of its gurgling bells and whistles. This canal is the most important and least lovely one on Earth. It takes you from the mouth through the body all the way down to the anus. But while most canals take the shortest course between two points, the one inside you takes the longest. The longer the canal, the more area over which digestion can occur. Food enters the canal through the mouth, where it is chewed and slimed with saliva. It then hits the stomach, where much of the digestion of proteins occurs. Next, it is on down to the small intestine where simple sugars are absorbed. If you have just eaten a twinkie, the process essentially ends there. Everything worth consuming has been absorbed. But if you have eaten broccoli or an artichoke, things are just beginning. It is in the large intestine, where harder to break down carbohydrates (such as cellulose, the most common plant compound on Earth) are torn asunder. This system evolved so as to provide us with as many calories as possible (long to our benefit) and, also, as many of the necessary but hard to produce nutrients. The alimentary canal is, evolutionarily speaking, a masterwork1.

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Arrow 32 replies Author Time Post
Reply Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians- Scientific American (Original post)
LeftyMom Jul 2012 OP
Phlem Jul 2012 #1
Raster Jul 2012 #2
LeftyMom Jul 2012 #5
longship Jul 2012 #11
LeftyMom Jul 2012 #12
longship Jul 2012 #15
Scootaloo Jul 2012 #18
longship Jul 2012 #19
CrispyQ Jan 2013 #31
demosincebirth Jul 2012 #3
LeftyMom Jul 2012 #7
Scootaloo Jul 2012 #16
Kalidurga Jul 2012 #4
undeterred Aug 2012 #24
Kalidurga Aug 2012 #25
CrispyQ Aug 2012 #28
CrispyQ Aug 2012 #27
undeterred Aug 2012 #29
Gregorian Jul 2012 #6
LeftyMom Jul 2012 #8
Speck Tater Jul 2012 #9
flvegan Jul 2012 #10
drokhole Jul 2012 #13
ginnyinWI Aug 2012 #30
Warpy Jul 2012 #14
Scootaloo Jul 2012 #17
JustAnotherGen Jul 2012 #20
Phlem Jul 2012 #21
RebelOne Jul 2012 #22
HopeHoops Aug 2012 #23
Turbineguy Aug 2012 #26
leftyladyfrommo Jan 2013 #32

Response to LeftyMom (Original post)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 12:35 AM

1. Scientific American

Been subscribed for the last 10 years, and on.

Love it.

New Scientist. not bad, wish I could afford 2 science subscriptions.

-p

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Response to LeftyMom (Original post)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 12:39 AM

2. Read the comments to this opinion piece. They are what is worth reading, not this.

Comment No. 6:

This entire article is irrelevant.

Humans largely survived and thrived on animal products throughout the paleolithic. They helped make us human, they are one of the reasons why we aren’t more like chimps and gorillas, hanging around the equator engaging in copraphagia.

This is some incredibly lazy scholarship, if you can call it that. I’ve never seen a more hand-wavy comparison of gut composition. Those who have done actual quantitative studies on human gut composition have concluded that we are specially adapted to consume animal food (not exclusively). The author could have saved himself a lot of time by looking for this research instead of making up his own arguably irresponsible hand-waving. Maybe the author is trying to be more like our chimp and gorilla cousins by not only believing but also consuming his own feces?

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Response to Raster (Reply #2)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 12:52 AM

5. I don't see how that's a helpful comment is all.

First of all, the insistence that "humans largely survived on animal products" in the paleolithic is not supported, which is not surprising because there's just not much evidence to support it. In fact, we know from studies of hunter gatherer diets in particular that diets were largely plant based and occasionally supplemented by animal products.

As far as the gut, animals that eat a large quantity of animal tissue tend to have much more acidic stomachs and shorter guts, in addition to the obvious differences in dentition.

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Response to LeftyMom (Reply #5)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 01:03 AM

11. Here's some real help.

Human ancestors were nearly all omnivores. We know that because of teeth, which are easily preserved.

Anybody claiming otherwise has a steep hill to climb.

If you don't want to eat meat, that's fine with me. If you want to be vegan, I don't care.

But humans have very likely always been at least partially meat eaters. It's a done deal and the teeth tell the story.

Eat all the veggies you want; I know that I do. But this OP has no basis.

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Response to longship (Reply #11)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 01:09 AM

12. So is Scientific American a tool of Big Tofu?

I'd sure like to see a contrary argument from an equally credible source.

FWIW, human teeth don't suggest a meaty diet. The big difference between our teeth and those of the other great apes (who are all nearly entirely vegetarian) is that we don't have big showy canines for sexual competition and display. Which is what our ancestors' canines are for, thus the sexual dimorphism.

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Response to LeftyMom (Reply #12)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 01:27 AM

15. You are correct.

And Scientific American is good. But they publish a lot of science, especially new science, some of which does not hold up.

And teeth do indicate diet, at least that's what I've always studied and read. It is one of the main archaeological metrics we have of hominid history and ancestry. Teeth tell a huge story. Especially diet.

I haven't read the whole article yet (low BW here), but I am skeptical, as should everybody else. This is a bold claim. I would like to see how it pans out with other data and peer review.

Maybe hominids ate mostly veggies, and some meat. That would even be reasonable given what we know. We know from health studies that veggies are good.

But I suspect it's likely that hominids always ate some meat. And during the ice ages in Europe, their diet was substantially meat.

I just don't think that this one paper decides this once and for all. It looks to be an interesting take on the issue, but it will need time and review to decide this.

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Response to longship (Reply #11)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 02:05 AM

18. There's a trick to being an omnivore...

That trick is that plants are easy to catch, and animals aren't. Bears for instance, are omnivores; aside from polar bears (who have a really high starvation rate, even before this global warming problem) they mainly subsist on plant life. Most meat they eat is either small animals, eggs, insects, or carrion. They'll opportunistically take larger prey of course, but given the choice between picking rotten salmon off the rocks, or risking getting kicked in the face by a moose, bears will eat the dead fish.

Our ancestors undoubtedly followed the same rubric. Even with weapons, hunting was dangerous (witness all the broken bones among neanderthal remains). The kill would attract other critters that enjoyed meat as well - and nothing can ruin your deer like an angsty wolverine, let me tell you.

we undoubtedly ate meat whenever we could get it into our mouths, but much of what we ate probably came from relatively unimpressive sources - insects for instance; locusts in africa, various water flies in marshes, grubs in the jungle... Fish and mollusks would be a major source of protien for shore-dwellers. Rodents, bird egs, reptiles, and carrion making up most of the difference, and every now and then, a large game animal...

My guess is that larger animals were probably the prefered option only when the human group was running low on all the other stuff the critters provided; gut, sinew, hide, bone, and fat all have plenty of uses for a survival society. Going through all that trouble just for a steak isn't likely to cut it, when you can just peel back some bark for some yummy, crunchy roasted beetles.

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Response to Scootaloo (Reply #18)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 03:10 AM

19. Oh, oh, oh, yes. Insects!

Many hominids ate insects. Some still do today. Very high in protein. And according to entomologists, tasty. Just ask Bug Girl a PhD in the field. Her claim is that it's a badge of honor to have eaten their object of study. I pity those studying ticks and... (horrors) bed bugs.

Bug Girl says bugs are tasty.

Nice response. But I don't think bugs are vegetarian approved.

BTW, I am not a vegetarian. Just interested in the OP.

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Response to Scootaloo (Reply #18)

Sat Jan 12, 2013, 02:22 PM

31. Good post.

I'm in the camp that we totally overrate how much our ancestors depended on meat during that period.

Before we domesticated animals we hunted on our own two feet. Quite a task to take down a large animal, on foot, with flint spears. Not saying they didn't, but like you say, it wasn't as common an occurrence as we think it was & definitely required a group effort.

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Response to LeftyMom (Original post)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 12:48 AM

3. I really don't believe that. Even chimpanzees eat meat and always have.

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Response to demosincebirth (Reply #3)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 12:54 AM

7. That's addressed in the article. Chimps get about 3% of their diet from meat,

which is the most of any close relative to humans.

None of this is new information, I swear this "paleo" diet crap would not have taken hold if they taught anything about human evolution in most people's science classes.

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Response to LeftyMom (Reply #7)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 01:49 AM

16. If we were Neanderthals, it might have some validity

But then they got plenty of vegetable matter out of the guts of the animals they killed (waste not want not!) just as the Inuit and other arctic people do when they take rabbits and caribou. basically they were carnivores because there was fuck-all else to eat where they lived.

H. sapiens is an opportunist. Effectively, we're scavengers, just like the other major plains primate, the baboon. Basically, you live out in the savannah, and "what's for dinner" is "whatever I find that is vaguely edible." Plants have the advantage of neither running away nor being surrounded by hyenas. So our ancestors probably ate a lot of plants (and probably contributed a fair share of ape meat to the diet of hyenas, to judge from remains in Africa and Asia)

The up points of the paleo diet are just common sense stuff - it limits your sugar and sodium intake quite a bit, and given how much sugar and salt is crammed into most of our food these days, this is something most people should be looking at doing on their own. But... It's easy to accomplish without pretending you're eating a caveman diet.

hell the premise is flawed because human physiology has changed quite a bit since the advent of agriculture; we've become more gracile, our jaws are smaller (thus the problem of wisdom teeth), our digestive tracts handle uncooked foods poorly (the "raw diet" people are wrong too, in other words) and at least among people descended from Old World agricultural societies, lactose tolerance is rampant.

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Response to LeftyMom (Original post)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 12:49 AM

4. I stopped eating meat January of this year...

So, when I go out now I realize that we have become a meat obsessed culture. There are several places I can't really eat at all, mostly fast food, unless I just want fries for dinner and that's a no go for me. Leanne Chins is also out, I went in one day thinking they would have at least one vegetarian main dish, but I didn't see anything suitable. Even most salads have some kind of meat in them usually chicken. The Cheese Cake Factory has some decent options (although the black bean patty I got was pretty soggy), Au Bon Pain has a nice black bean sandwich No. 33 on the menu, I also like Pita Pit at the Mall of America, and last but not least Chipolte's black bean burrito, the pinto beans are cooked with lard so that's a no go.

I am trying to eat more fruits and veggies as well. But, I am having a hard time with finding the balance of what I can tolerate.

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Response to Kalidurga (Reply #4)

Sat Aug 4, 2012, 12:47 PM

24. Its really difficult eating out at most places.

Usually there is one thing on the menu that has no meat in it. But before I became vegetarian I truly did not notice that the menus were so meat-dependent. At fast food places even the breakfasts usually have sausage or bacon. Most of the salads have chicken or shrimp added. Its like people can't eat a single meal without meat, ever.

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Response to undeterred (Reply #24)

Sat Aug 4, 2012, 02:40 PM

25. So, true I didn't notice the meat dependence either.

I had vegetarians tell me this in a vague sort of way. They didn't complain about not being able to find food easily when they go out though. I think because they had been vegetarians so long that they had forgotten how difficult the first couple of years were or something. It is a real shocker. I don't think it is an accident. I think deep pockets somewhere are pushing this dependence.

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Response to undeterred (Reply #24)

Sat Aug 4, 2012, 03:41 PM

28. California Pizza Kitchen used to have this lovely salad

with Napa cabbage, edamame, shredded carrot, chunks of avacado & a yummy ginger tofu dressing. You could order it with shrimp or chicken for extra, but veg was default. They changed it. Now the default is with shrimp or chicken. You frequently have to remind them to charge less for it & you always have to check your order (I do carry out) to make sure they didn't screw up & give you the default.

They lost me as a customer because of that. I used to eat 3 of those salads a week & now - zero.

on edit: I've written to them three times asking them to offer baked tofu as an option & never even got a response.

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Response to Kalidurga (Reply #4)

Sat Aug 4, 2012, 03:34 PM

27. Just start watching "Restaurant Impossible" & "Bar Rescue"

& you won't want to ever eat out again.

Problem solved!




on edit: I'm veg & can relate.

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Response to CrispyQ (Reply #27)

Sat Aug 4, 2012, 03:47 PM

29. I just found out that there is a vegan/vegetarian meetup group in my city.

They have outings together all the time. Of course I live in a city where there are a lot of vegetarians and health conscious people. I signed up for a couple of events right away. I guess if a group approaches a restaurant and asks for a vegetarian meal they are more likely to put something together for us.

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Response to LeftyMom (Original post)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 12:53 AM

6. Interesting. We're like monkeys, so we probably should eat like them.

I've been following the paleo diet subject for a while now. I appreciate the post. I've got something to think about now. Maybe I'm overdoing the protein.

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Response to Gregorian (Reply #6)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 01:01 AM

8. Yeah, "paleo" really leans on misunderstandings about human origins.

I'm no expert- I took a few anthropology classes because I needed science credits and I'm awful at math- but what we can tell about human ancestors' diets from their teeth seems to suggest that moves toward specialization were not generally associated with long term survival. I suspect the early inclination to look at early humans as big hunters and meat eaters follows from two things: bones and such tend to leave long term traces while plant matter doesn't, so until we were able to look at chemical traces in teeth and such the evidence that was most obvious would be evidence of carnivorousness, and a cultural bias toward meat eating and hunting as manifestations of manliness that prevented looking at contrary evidence.

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Response to LeftyMom (Original post)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 01:01 AM

9. With the occasional bugs, birds and mice. nt

 

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Response to LeftyMom (Original post)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 01:02 AM

10. Nice. Good luck dealing with the idiots.

Nutrition, et al completely lost on them. Oh well.

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Response to drokhole (Reply #13)

Mon Aug 27, 2012, 02:04 AM

30. as I understand it, B12 is stored in the body for a long time

So a very occasional meal of meat or fish would last someone a long time. Also isn't it found in dirt?

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Response to LeftyMom (Original post)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 01:21 AM

14. The "paleo diet" people are a joke

Inspection of coproliths at paleo excavation sites have shown that no only were they largely (but not exclusively) vegetarian, they ate anything that wouldn't poison them and a little that did, eating bark, grasses and other low quality food in lean times as well as a huge variety of lower quality foodstuffs in good times. They ate grubs and insects as much of the non vegetarian diet. Meat was very rarely eaten.

I'll believe the Paleo diet people aren't a joke when they dine on foods that were considered too nutritionally low quality to be farmed plus some nice fat termites and tree sap instead of going to the supermarket and floating through the produce and meat aisle like they're doing Something Important.

Honestly, if you want to see how they ate, go stay with the bushmen in the Kalahari for a few months. They're still largely living that way, although they do use civilized foodstuffs when they can afford them because the native diet is quite poor in many nutrients.

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Response to Warpy (Reply #14)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 01:55 AM

17. Exactly my thoughts.

"Okay, you want to eat like our ancestors? Fast for a week, then go harvest stuff from the nearest tract of woods. Try to avoid killer mushrooms. You don't eat anything you don't find in the woods."

when I see paleo-diet people pulling like Bear Grylls without a camera crew, and sucking down mice, acorns, and grubs, I'll give 'em the props they want.

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Response to LeftyMom (Original post)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 06:54 AM

20. I've read several of the Paleo Diet books

Mainly for recipe ideas. Anything nutrition oriented interests me - as does this article. My beef with it (pardon the pun) - is that it has already been done. Look up Carol Sinclair's The Anti-IBS diet - she wrote her experience down 20 years ago. And the anti inflammatory diet concept stole from that starting about ten years ago.

It's important to note that when I refer to diet - I'm not speaking in terms of weight reduction. I'm in the realm of HEALTH.

Those of us that struggled with Auto Immune Spectrum diseases never have just one. They always come in clusters. Those clusters come with drugs - think Enbrel for my Ankylosing which causes cancer in exchange for stopping the damage to the spine and hips created by the inflammation. Follow that with NSAIDS (make your stomach bleed) and Cyclobenzaprine (which is a muscle relaxer on the market known as Flexerall) and add a bunch of other crap to your cocktail and point blank - you can't get out of your own way.

What the Paleo Diets don't touch on are the organisms in our stomaches that can get out of control. Klebsiella is a good one - or a bad one in my case. And they don't have the reader START with science of allergy and intolerance testing.

When my AS first flared after seven years of undiagnosed IBS and the diagnosis ghetto of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome I was lucky to find a Rheumy who looked at EVERYTHING. And we started with an MRI if the spine and hips and next was allergy testing. Not going to list them all but they start with corn and go all the way to preservatives and gluten intolerance.

I now no longer give myself a shot each week that causes cancer and is made of mice waste . . . I don't take any drugs other Han a Pre Natal vitamin. I treat myself under a GP and Rheumy care with food.

Our ancestors did not sit down and have a roasted grass fed non antibiotic and steroid filled roasted chicken for dinner every night! No one is saying they did in the Paleo books. But they also didn't survive on hummus and bread.

A beans, bean sprouts diet will make me inflame to the point of not being able to move my head beyond a 45 degree angle and up. They are protein - but they are also starch. Rice is pure starch - as is wheat. I can eat those things - once a week at most.
But they are staples in a vegetarian diet.

If I don't eat grass fed meats - ditto beans. A steady week of that and I ache.

There is nothing wrong with lean grass fed bison steak, spinach, and broccoli being on the dinner plate. It's hard to get people to understand that. I don't expect anyone who has not struggled with the severe effects of an auto immune disease to understand that vegetables and protein are my religion - along with home made yogurt. Or cooking from scratch. Because it is the only way to know what is truly in your food.

But I think whether one is a Carnivore or Vegetarian - we can all agree that regardless of what ancient era in the human history we select our ancestors did not die from NOT eating things like:
Hamburger Helper
Donuts
Hostess fruit pies
Yoplait yogurt with fake fruit jelly and twenty preservatives
Cheetos, corn chips, pretzels
Kraft Mac and cheese
McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell
Cake, cookies, brownies
Fish sticks in breading
Chik- Fil-A (never heard of it prior to this week and was disgusted by the so-called nutritional content of that garbage)
Hot pockets
Bread - show me this oven they had in any eras - didn't exist.


Add to the list! I don't think Robb Wolf is the guru of all gurus - nor do I think Carol Sinclair is. But if you go to an A.S. support group - you'll find those that live with inflammation that can kill or rather livED with it - can say there's value in what many who have said might work.

The by product of what the original post calls Paleo and I call a rip off of the anti inflammatory method is weight loss. How can you NOT lose weight when you aren't eating a sandwich, pretzels, and apple for lunch everyday and instead eating four cups of spinach, raw red cabbage, strawberries, RAW walnuts, and cubed grilled chicken (always free range) with dressing made from scratch? You are too full and full of energy for that afternoon fat, starch, preservative laden sleeve of Chips Ahoy.

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Response to JustAnotherGen (Reply #20)

Thu Jul 26, 2012, 04:31 PM

21. Hot Pockets!



-p

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Response to LeftyMom (Original post)

Mon Jul 30, 2012, 01:59 PM

22. This writer cannot be too knowledgeable.

A glaring error I found: Collectively, anthropologists have spent many a career attempting to hone in on the diets of our most recent ancestors.

"hone in"? It should be "home in." Hone means to sharpen. There were some others, but this one was just so wrong.

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Response to LeftyMom (Original post)

Wed Aug 1, 2012, 05:18 PM

23. Old Indian word - "Vegetarian: bad hunter"

 

I've been vegetarian for over 20 years and that's one of my favorite sayings.

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Response to LeftyMom (Original post)

Sat Aug 4, 2012, 02:42 PM

26. Veggies

run slower!

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Response to LeftyMom (Original post)

Mon Jan 14, 2013, 10:54 AM

32. speaking as an antropologist ( I have a BA)

Most early people simply ate what they could find to eat. So they ate a lot of plant foods. Most of them also ate meat when they could get it. But it takes a lot of calories to hunt game. Lots of areas don't have plant foods available during the cold months. Meat was a staple then. But lots of people also starved during the winter.

I don't eat animal products for moral reasons.

Then I found out that not eating processed food or animal based food really had a wonderful effect on my overall health. I feel so much better and have energy for the first time that I can ever remember.

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