The most common argument you hear for a particular way of eating is that it’s what humans were “meant” to eat.
To illustrate my point, consider the following three quotes from three evangelizers of their particular style of diet.
Mark Sisson, paleo champion, on the dangers of grains:
Some animals are clearly adapted to grain consumption. Birds, rodents, and some insects can deal with the anti-nutrients. Humans, however, cannot. Perhaps if grains represented a significant portion of our ancestral dietary history, things might be a bit different
Dr. McDougall on the supremacy of the Vegan diet:
Every animal has an ideal diet. Meat is an ideal food for my pointy-toothed carnivorous cats and my powerful-jawed omnivorous dog. Cows and cockatoos are herbivores, and would soon sicken on a diet of meat. The same happens with people when they consume a meat-centered diet.
And finally, the natural benefits of going raw:
Now, after only three years, it seems so absolutely logical, natural and obvious. I need no science, research or specialists to convince me that the raw food diet is what I want to eat for the rest of my life!
I think these narratives sound very convincing when you analyze them on their own, but there’s a huge dietary X factor which negate their ubiquity: cooking!
Someone on the paleo diet would tell you we weren’t meant to eat grains because of all the phytates and lectins that are put on them to discourage their use by other predators. A vegan would point out how a cat instinctively likes raw meat but we find it repulsive. A raw foodist would point out how enzymes are broken down once they’re heated past 115 degrees, thus making our food less nutritious.
If you take these observations as the arbiters of diet truth, they lose credibility when you evaluate the way cooking has shaped the way humans eat food.
The Lifestyle Change That Rocked the World
Cooking isn’t “modern” in the least bit. It’s at least 300,000 years old, and has possibly been around for than 1.5 million.
In the Origin of Species Charles Darwin thought it was the adaptation besides language that allowed man to expand like he has.
In the fossil record the presence of fires corresponds to most of the behavioral changes that made hominids distinctly human. Physiologically we began to look less like modified chimps and more like we do today when fire began to show up. Our jaws shrank, intestines shortened, and we got a lot bigger, presumably because our access to calories greatly expanded and had to go through less work to digest our calories.
Cooking Promotes Cooperation and Civilization
It was also good for sexual equality. The size differences between the genders began to equalize because everyone had more egalitarian access to calories. Cooking extends the length of time between food processing and food eating and creates caloric surplus that can be saved for later periods. As a result humans likely had to create a more delicate division of labor to allow food to be harvested, processed, and protected from theft. The caloric surplus likely allowed humans to increase their meat consumption since an excess of calories would have been needed for small bands of people to consistently engage in a high-risk high-reward activity like big game hunting. Most of the anthropological record supports this assumption.
I don’t mean to delve into the minutiae of evo-psych, but I merely want to make a point that cooking is one of the deepest, most human things people do. Most of our cultural mores are built around food, its use is omni-present in all populations, and it radically changes the nature of what’s “natural” and “un-natural”, and makes lots
Grains and their nasty pesticides become de-natured. A raw piece of meat goes from disgusting to savory. And a whole host of previously unedible plantstuffs become harmless or beneficial.
And it creates a big, wide blurred line between what we should and should not eat. And that’s great! In many ways it takes a lot of the anguish out of healthy eating.
Are bananas good for you or bad for you? Are all carbs evil? Does eating meat always beget cancer?
No! Relax, and just eat your damn food.