Tuesday, May 7, 2019

"Perception versus facts": What is the future for sustainable food? The case for prospective thinking (UH)

Food is any substance consumed that provides energy and nutrition to our body and brain, and thus influences human development over a lifespan and over generations. (Some claim that our food preferences influence the climate. But the question is, is it true, and if so: to what extent?)

Current findings suggest that our ancestors started to eat bone marrow [and brain] some three and a half million years ago (Kemeny, 2019).
Marrow and brains, meanwhile, are locked inside bones and stay fresh longer. These highly nutritional parts are also a precursor to the fatty acids involved with brain and eye development. And more easily than flesh-meat, bones could be carried away from carcass sites, safe from predators.
This adds to previous data showing that our ancestors were consuming animal source food ~ 2.6 million years ago (Pobiner, 2013Sahnouni et al. 2018 (popular by Gibbons, 2018); Zaraska, 2016) during a change in the climate - from the Pliocene to the Pleistocene (Brigham-Grette et al., 2013Filippelli & Flores, 2009).
The Pliocene and the Pleistocene oceans are completely different in terms of circulation, biological productivity, and upwelling states. The Pliocene ocean, from low to high latitudes, was characterized by temperatures ~3 °C higher than today's ocean temperatures. Based on continental and oceanic studies, the atmosphere had ~30% higher CO2 concentrations than pre-Industrial Holocene levels. In the Pacific Ocean, it appears that a “permanent” El Niño state prevailed, with a reduction in the east-west pressure gradient affecting wind regimes and heat distribution (Fillipelli & Flores, p. 959). 
Bone marrow and meat are nutritiously denser compared to vegetables, and as a consequence, this 'new' diet gave evolution a boost. To cut a long story short, this new diet explains the expansion of their brains from 450 ccs to 930 ccs, and further to our current size ~1300 cc (Pringle, 2016).
Inside this spacious braincase, an estimated 100 billion neurons processed information and transmitted it along nearly 165,000 kilometers of myelinated nerve fibers and across some 0.15 quadrillion synapses. “And if you look at what this correlates with in the archaeological record,” says Dean Falk, a paleoneurologist at Florida State University, “there does seem to be an association between brain size and technology or intellectual productivity.” 
The expansion, from the occipital lobe and forward, gave room for new mental faculties, for example, the executive functions which deals with mental operations like goal-setting, planning for goal attainment, elaboration of scenarios forward in time, and combining/melding mental abstractions into new concepts - creativity (Diamond, 2013; Gallistel, 2017; Gilbert & Wilson, 2007;  Ingvar, 1985; Locke & Latham, 2002Österberg, 2012; Schacter & Addis, 2007; Schacter, Addis & Buckner, 2007; Szpunar et al. 2014Wynn, Coolidge & Bright, 2009).
The established archaeological doctrine states that humans first began baking bread about 10,000 years ago. That was a pivotal time in our evolution. Humans gave up their nomadic way of life, settled down and began farming and growing cereals. Once they had various grains handy, they began milling them into flour and making bread. In other words, until now we thought that our ancestors were farmers first and bakers second. But Arranz-Otaegui's breadcrumbs predate the advent of agriculture by at least 4,000 years. That means that our ancestors were bakers first —and learned to farm afterwards (Zeldovich, 2018).
Archaeological findings from modern-day Jordan in the Middle East reveal that hunters and gatherers baked bread some 14 400 years ago (Arranz-Otaegui, Gonzalez Carretero, Ramsey, Fuller, & Richter, 2018).
Making bread is a labor-intensive process that involves removing husks, grinding cereals, kneading the dough and then baking it. The fact that our ancestors were willing to invest so much effort into the prehistoric pastry suggests that they considered bread a special treat. Baking bread could have been reserved for special occasions or to impress important guests. The people's desire to indulge more often may have prompted them to begin cultivating cereals (Zeldovich, 2018).
Adding to that, Liu et al. (2018) claim to have discovered traces of beer production, dating some 13 000 years back in time:
The results of the analyses indicate that the Natufians exploited at least seven plant taxa, including wheat or barley, oat, legumes and bast fibers (including flax). They packed plant-foods, including malted wheat/barley, in fiber-made containers and stored them in boulder mortars. They used bedrock mortars for pounding and cooking plant-foods, including brewing wheat/barley-based beer likely served in ritual feasts ca. 13,000 years ago. These innovations predated the appearance of domesticated cereals by several millennia in the Near East.
Together, these findings suggest 'baking & brewing' predated farming by several thousand years. But why would people use their 'super-mind' and invest time and effort to produce something that was less nutritious compared to animal fat and meat?

Some years ago, a local food supplier testified that some hours before closing, people would return to the store for snacks and sodas. He smiled when he said that these products were the lion's share of the company's profit (He had his Jaguar parked behind the store). It's a demonstration of the vulnerability of our newly founded, or expanded, executive functions - how it easily becomes victims of emotional PRIMEs which sometimes leads to dysrationalia (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979Stanovich, 2015).

So when the climate changed again, this time from the Pleistocene to the Holocene some 11 700 years ago (becoming warmer and more stable), it's likely to suggest that these cravings for treats - blood-glucose raising bread and beer - was the driving force behind the introduction of agriculture in south-east Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). They just wanted more.

Agriculture was a game-changer. When our ancestors, who for millions of years lived as meat-eating hunters and gatherers, settled to develop this new lifestyle, it wasn't an immediate success story. It took its toll on health, it transformed societies from egalitarian to hierarchical and divided humans into a number of societal roles still present in modern societies: guards, priests, administrators and so forth (Kohler et al. 2017; Mummert et al. 2011).

Even so, agriculture spread in all directions. To the land between the rivers - Mesopotamia or modern-day Iraq, were also written languages - cuneiform - emerged (~6000 BCE) introducing bureaucracy to keep track of grain and stuff. Cuneiform was also the language used to communicate the first doomsday prophecy ~1750 BC in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Gilgamesh story later transformed into monotheism (you may have heard about this guy who was commanded by God to build a ship because of a flood. His original name was Utnapishtim). Since the beginning of our current era, creativity has brought about some  ~200 doomsday prophets predicting the end of the world. Often by the prospect of a flood.

Agriculture also spread to the Pontic-Caspian steppes to the shepherd people called Yamnaya (Kurgans), who buried their relatives in pits and used innovations like the wheel and the wagon.
The indigenous people suffered from diseases or were killed, and those who arrived began a demographic, cultural and political dominance (Kristian Kristiansen, professor of Archaeology at Gotheburg university, in the Swedish popular science journal Forskning och Framsteg).
Like in any honor culture, the ownership was passed from father to the eldest son. That meant the younger sons of Yamnaya/Kurgan had to do what Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors would do almost 4500 years later - explore new territories. Besides spreading technological innovations during their travels, the Yamnayas brought diseases and cultural domination to northern Europe and later to Fennocandia (the southern areas surrounding the Baltic sea).

After Medieval times (including the Dark ages), societal progress began with the Renaissance, escalating in the transition to Enlightenment, where democracy and literacy soared and poverty plunged (Pinker, 2018; Pinker's TED talk about the book).

In the 1600s, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), Swedish mysticist/theologian, claimed to have had dreams and visions that he believed transported him directly into heaven and a deeper understanding about how people should prepare for the second coming of Jesus:
Drawing on the passage in Genesis (1:29-31) in which God Institute a vegan diet, Swedenborg said that meat-eating corresponds to the fall from grace in the Garden of Eden and was, therefore, the point of entry of sin and suffering into the world” (Phelps, p. 149).
In 1817 the Swedenborgian Church of North America was established, "and 1845, when the movement toward Swedenborg was in full tide, George Bush, professor of Hebrew and Oriental Literature in the University of the City of New York and long a favorite oracle of the orthodox church, was converted and took the lead of it" (John Humphrey Noyes (1811-1886), Letters: 1867). 

In 1830, William Millet (1782-1849) is said to have started the Adventist movement by projecting the second coming of Jesus somewhere around 1843-44. The failure of the prophecy led to the Great Disappointment and the formation of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church

Sylvester Graham (Graham Crackers; 1794-1851), like Swedenborg, promoted a plant-based 'Garden-of-Eden' diet, and in 1850 he, together with  Alcott, William Metcalfe (1788-1862), Russell Trall, founded the American Vegetarian Society.
The meeting was called by William Metcalfe who had led a migration of 40 members of the Bible Christian Church from England to Philadelphia in 1817, all abstainers from flesh foods. By 1830 Sylvester Graham (picture right) and William Alcott MD were also following the meatless diet. Metcalfe soon heard about the formation of the Vegetarian Society in Britain in 1847, and about the new word 'Vegetarian' now being used. He contacted Graham and Alcott and arranged the New York gathering” (IVU).
Seventh-Day Adventist church was formally established in 1863, following the religious zeitgeist to promote a Garden-Eden, plant-based, diet in preparation for the second coming of Jesus. Ellen G. White (1827-1915), one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist movement, argued that meat, milk, and butter were responsible for 'carnal urges' - impure thoughts in men. 
John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943) was one of the early founders of Adventist health work. His development of breakfast cereals as a health food led to the founding of Kellogg's by his brother William (Wikipedia). 
New stuff: See and listen to Belinda Fettke - 'The Evolution of Plant-Based Dietary Guidelines' (~20 minutes).

In England, Dr. John Yudkin (1910-1995), among others performed experimental research, showing a connection between the consumption of sugar and other carbohydrates with high Glycemic Index (GI), and welfare diseases like metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes (Yudkin, 1972). (Llewellyn Smith, J. (2014). John Yudkin: the man who tried to warn us about sugar). New Stuff: Dr. Tim Noakes (IT’S THE INSULIN RESISTANCE, STUPID: PART 1).

But instead of following Yudkin, and many other experimental researchers, an epidemiologist named Ancel Keys (1904-2004) stole the show. Key's was influenced by Haqvin Malmros (1895-1995), a Swedish biochemist, who proposed something called the diet-heart hypothesis. Malmros joined forces with Key's who launched the Seven Countries Study (Two samples in Finland, one of which was Karelia, thus, the North Karelia Project) (Leslie, 2016). The Seven Countries study evolved into Eatwellplate, following the meme that probably was culturally rooted since the first bite of bread. This message was recently re-iterated by another epidemiologist, Willet et al. 2019, with sponsorship from Welcome Trust as well as an organization founded by Scandinavian hospitality mogul Petter Stordalen, probably as a gift to his second wife Gunhild.

Criticism against these plant-based initiatives has been extensive (Blythman, 2019; Ede, 2019; Harcombe, 2019a, 2019b; Hauver, 2019Kendall, 2019; Leroy & Cohen, 2019; Leslie, 2016Mitloehner, 2018Reed, 2019; Teicholz, 20142019). Most likely because of the causal link between consumption of sugar and other refined, processed, and ultra-processed carbohydrates and welfare diseases like obesity, metabolic syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), type 2 diabetes, and so forth (Hall et al, 2019Lustig, 2017Paschos & Paletas, 2009Yudkin, 1972).
Also popular scientific presentations in Business Insider (Brueck, 2019a). There's evidence for the first time that processed foods like muffins and quesadillas cause us to eat about 500 more calories every day; (Brueck, 2019). Processed foods make us fatter, lead to cancer, and are linked with early death. But what exactly is processed food?

The food that opened the door for our species (Homo sapiens), is still the best choice if we want to sustain our health (Dehghan et a. 2017; Howard et al. 2006; Prentice et al, 2017Ramsden, 2016).

What about the link between diet and climate? Abandoning real food in favor of the Garden-of-Eden alternative will have NO significant impact on climate emissions (White & Hall, 2017).

The idea that we should abstain from animal source food seems to be caused by some psychological fallacies (cognitive biases), like Confirmation bias and/or Groupthink.

In addition, watch: Dr. Andrew MenteDr. Nadir Ali's presentation on the connection between fat and cholesterol, and Dr. Zoë Harcombe - 'What about fiber?

Also read: Will conformity about food preferences and collapse anxiety suppress viewpoint diversity at universities?


  1. An excellent overview of how the dietary aberration of vegetarianism arose.

  2. Excellent article, too bad those who read it already know most of what needs to be known, while those most in need of this info will never see it.