H-G Food Procurement Strategies

In the Incestral Health Community, HG stands for Hunter-Gatherer.  If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times over the years:  humans are hunter-gatherers at heart.  True enough.  We are, after all, animals and at some ancient point we behaved just like any other wild animal seeking sustenance.  

Fast forward, and most in the IHC think Jared Diamond was correct when he wrote The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race.  In that 1987 article, Diamond lays out his case for why human domestication of both plants and animals for food was not, as is commonly held, progress for our species after all.  In keeping with the HG acronym, the human transition from Hunter-Gatherer to Herder-Gardener has been nothing short of a disaster according to Diamond.

Of course the irony is totally lost on the paleos as they sit down to a meal of prime rib topped with ghee and that kale and avocado salad on the side.  Perhaps some 90% cacao with coconut butter to round out the meal ...

Harvest from a Three Sisters Garden
direct image link
But the paleo community is often rife with misrepresentations of other HG food procurement strategies.  While these folks would prefer you to focus on the select few northern tribes that were pure hunter gatherers, it would be safe to say that most of the tribes native to the Americas were Hunter-Gardeners.  

They are almost universally described as agriculturalists, who also hunted.  Where they didn't garden, in many cases it was because wild "crops" were so abundant as to not require deliberate cultivation -- berries, wild rice, potatoes, mesquite, cactus fruits, and so much more.  In some cases, one could argue that human activity helped the wild plant life proliferate.   There are also hybrid strategies of deliberate planting followed by long periods of abandonment after which humans returned to reap what they had sown -- for better or worse.  

And then we have the Masai who represent a less prevalent strategy:  Herder-Gatherer.  Nomadic peoples "domesticated" animals but transported them with them ... a lifestyle that paired well with opportunistic gathering.  Of note, the Masai diet is based on "renewable animal resources", e.g. milk.   Meat was not a mainstay according to the first-hand literature as this would obviously require killing the animal.  Note that in the realm of procuring animal food, I would include fishing and trapping under the broad term "hunting".  Likewise, I would extend my term "herding" (so I can use an h-word) to include all raising, etc. of animals for meat, dairy or eggs.

Transitions ...

Primitive humans, like all wild animals, hunted and/or gathered to survive.  Such strategies would have been driven -- consciously or not -- by maximizing nutrients (e.g. calories!) obtained, balanced by the amount of energy expended in the procurement effort.    The transition to other H-G strategies would have been influenced by the need to transition and the availability of alternate strategies combined with the ease with which said strategies could be implemented.  

I have no intention of discussing Diamond's ideas in any depth (feel free in comments!), but to paraphrase from the article as to why the Kalahari bushmen had not adopted the agricultural ways of their neighbors, it is because sustenance from mongongo nuts is apparently abundant.  So imagine these bushmen were still isolated from other cultures and the availability of mongongo nuts began to wane.  The bushmen could move to where mongongo nuts could be found in abundance, they could seek out other food sources to replace the mongongo nuts, or .... perhaps ... find ways to assist the production of more nuts.    What would be difficult to imagine, is the bushmen selecting an entirely different plant species and deciding -- hey, I think we'll grow that for food!

What I'm getting at here is that there wasn't some switch flipped 10,000 years ago.  Whatever species of plants humans began to cultivate, or animals they began to domesticate, would have been species humans were accustomed to consuming as food before hand.  It is a myth that grain would not have been abundant enough in the wild to harvest ... that it would be too labor intensive for the calorie yield.  I discussed recently the gathering of wild rice by those indigenous to what is now the Minnesota region of the US.    This tradition is carried out still today and while "wild" a certain amount of cultivation is involved in modern times.

Diagonally across the globe in Mozambique, starch granules from sorghum have been found on grinding tools dating back at least 100,000 years.  I use the comma so there is no confusion as to the number of zeros there.  While the promoters of paleoistic fantasies try to explain away evidence of grains and legumes as humans having used these plants for bedding or fires (for warmth, not cooking apparently), this processing can pretty much be consistent with only one thing:  sorghum was a food for ancient humans.  It is the logical progression for humans to have consumed this food in the wild and later recognized that they could actively grow this plant for food.  Interestingly paleo starch expert Paul Jaminet refers to this knowledge in Perfect Health Diet (Kindle Locations 4457-4467), after identifying grains and legumes as toxic!
... sorghum grain residues have also been found on stone tools at a site in Mozambique, Africa, dating to 103,000 B.C. 14 Middle Stone Age Africans used sorghum grasses for bedding, kindling, and (possibly) baskets and may have prepared and cooked sorghum grains, though there is no direct evidence of this.
Where's the direct evidence for the former?  I don't contest this, but why the qualifier on the latter, when one would be hard pressed to come up with another explanation for grain starch granules on tools!
However, Paleolithic diets were much less toxic than modern diets for several reasons:
1. Paleolithic hunter-gatherers ate a much wider variety of plant foods— hundreds of species 15 rather than a handful as in Western diets— so the quantity of any one toxin was far lower. Since “the dose makes the poison,” this reduces the toxicity of the diet.
While it is not possible to know the proportional composition of diets, sorghum starches dominated the starch types found on these tools.  
2. The most toxic foods in the modern diet were not available:
Grains and legumes were eaten seasonally, not stored for year-round consumption. Nor were they eaten in quantity even when in season: since grains require laborious processing and cooking, they may have been backup or “starvation” foods.
Sorry, but what is Paul's evidence for any of this last paragraph.  The red-bolded statement is frankly laughable.  Didn't he read Good Calories, Bad Calories?

There is little reason to presume that the agricultural staples post the agricultural transition were randomly chosen plants previously foreign to human consumption.   Rather, it is logical to look to the plants humans have historically cultivated, for clues as to the wild plants humans would have gathered and eaten.

But They're Not The Same ...

This is a common phrase used to dismiss modern nutritive plant foods.  True.  But it is a stretch to then blame grains, legumes, fruits and tubers for modern ills due to their nutritive starch and sugar content.   Those primitive plant foods were much higher in indigestible fibers.  Which explains the modern cravings for celery and kale ...

In seriousness ... Humans are opportunistic, intelligent omnivores.  Humans have engaged in a broad range of H-G food procurement strategies depending on environmental circumstances and needs to not only survive, but thrive.  There is NO evidence to support the paleoist version of human dietary history that paints grains and legumes as foods to which our genome is not adapted, or worse, to label them as "not food".  


David Pete said…
And why is the domestication of animals fine (provided its grass fed of course), but the domestication of plants- oh the toxic horror!
MacSmiley said…
• Grains and legumes were eaten seasonally, not stored for year-round consumption. Nor were they eaten in quantity even when in season: since grains require laborious processing and cooking, they may have been backup or “starvation” foods.

There's so much #FAIL in that paragraph, it's hard to believe you can even tolerate its occupation of your bandwidth.

Dried beans and grains were not stored?? Just like today! But don't tell my pantry.
carbsane said…
In the early papers, Codain and company spend significant time on the differing nutrient profile of wild animals vs. domesticated. So yeah, it's yet another hypocritical stance.
carbsane said…
I had recently come across the Mozambique paper and thought to myself, let me check my PHD to see if Paul acknowledged this. I was expecting the labor intensive and not all that abundant arguments, I wasn't expecting the utterly absurd paragraph there. It is hard to believe such nonsense survived two prior editions of the book! Even Taubes, in his zeal to thwart the "prosperity and abundance" arguments about obesity, mentions the storehouses of grain the Pima had. How he misses this undermining his main theory of obesity is another story, but storing grain and beans? Not rocket science.
charles grashow said…

"Now, certain animals can adapt to chemical defenses, given enough time and exposure. Birds, for example, are wild seed-and-grain-eaters. They’ve adapted to the lectins given their steady exposure to them. Primal folks eat a lot of eggs. I’m one of them, and I probably eat them five days out of the week. But how long have we been eating eggs year-round? The first fowl domestication probably occurred 8,000 years ago in Thailand with the red junglefowl, but I imagine year-round egg production took a bit longer to perfect. Have we adapted to year-round egg consumption?

I’m not sure. Egg white allergy is relatively common, ranging from between 1.6-3.2% of the population. According to Cordain, it’s the second most common food allergy. That, plus the inherent purpose of the egg white itself, makes me suspect that there is something there.

"Seasonality merely limited historical access to eggs, which in turn limited our ability to develop universal adaptations to egg whites. That’s it. Frying up a scramble in the dead of winter may not be historically accurate, but who the hell cares?"
charles grashow said…

Ancient Israelite cuisine
"Wild species of barley and emmer wheat were domesticated and cultivated in the Jordan River Valley as early as the 9th millennium BCE.[5]"
charles grashow said…
Jared Diamond

River Rance said…
Part of my US Military training included a period (short) of living off the land; night drop and see you in 4 days, and the DI's laughed and said we were to hunt and gather,for nutrition...it was awful. This Scientific American article probably hasn't set to well with Paleo fantasies. I regret, Jimmy Moore, Mark S and Robb W weren't in my re-con training company to experience hunting & gathering just like Grok, no butter, no grass fed beef, no Paleo Brownies either! Sheeeet.

carbsane said…
Eggs, nuts, seafood = three paleo foods high on every allergist's list of culprits.
MacSmiley said…
You just reminded me of that McCandless guy who ran away to live in the Alaskan wilderness. Starved to death despite hunting and gathering.

Man said…
Hey all!
The "paleo diet" is just that, a diet. It is not meant to emulate a paleo lifestyle but a diet in terms of nutrients. The "primal blueprint" also adds some lifestyle tweaks (sunshine, movement, sleep, stress management, etc). While i don't give a crap about these "prescriptions", they are attempts at improving something. The way they are promoted, debated, etc, is most of the time idiotic, and lots of myths and fables abound. I have been reading some forums and blogs for a while now, and one thing you can't change is human behavior. The only positive thing I see is that individuals seem to wake up to the realization that what their life is about (lifestyle, habits, diets, activities, etc) is maybe not optimal, that maybe there are things each one of us can do to improve health and enjoyment at being alive. But like anything else, everything is distorted, corrupted and misinterpreted, whether on purpose or not. We are on our own.

@Carbsane: thanks for a great blog by the way! Rally enjoyed your no-nonsense and analytical / critical approach to all those "healthy alternatives"! Keep on doing it.
Screennamerequired said…
I'm pretty sure that stored grains and seeds are more "paleo" or "ancesteral than clarrified butted and protein shake mixes.
John Smith said…
I bet you lost weight like a mojo
River Rance said…
That's funny, great insight! Yes, i think so.
Man said…
100% with you.
Jane Karlsson said…
"Now, certain animals can adapt to chemical defenses, given enough time
and exposure. Birds ... [have] adapted to the lectins given their steady exposure to them."

This is a good illustration of Paleo thinking. Birds needed 'steady exposure' to grain lectins in order to 'adapt' to them. The implication is that humans have not been exposed to grains for long enough.

Actually lectins get taken up into enterocytes and delivered to lysosomes for breakdown. Nothing about this process needed special evolution.
carbsane said…
I never understood the full nature of Taubes' influence on paleo until Seth Roberts' death and the tributes to him at AHS14. These are available on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLvz1IcZRktDGUa_RTLuuA9XlFvUwceyGf

It reminded me of the first AHS in 2011, when I had no clue just what a mess of things "ancestral" and "paleo" is. In the end, I'm a bad stalker after all ;-) But the strong low carb presence of Taubes, Naughton, Eenfeldt, Eades, Feinman, and on and on was likely due to Seth and Aaron more than anyone else in the loop. Even though I don't think Seth was a low carber (Aaron is or was when we interacted on PaleoHacks).

What's so bizarre is that Taubes & Eades are hardly paleo in the end.
MacSmiley said…
I somehow stumbled onto one of Dean's posts yesterday and came across a comment by Paul about "Dr" Mercola:


I'm persuaded that [Mercola] honestly believes in the products he endorses. I don't think he always finds the truth, but that is a common flaw. I don't consider him a doctor, but a businessman, and I think honest belief in the products he pushes is a more appropriate test of integrity than conformity to evidence-based medicine."

Interesting that an astrophysicist would discount conformity to evidence as a touchstone for integrity.
MacSmiley said…
Funny how Payleos rail against lectins in grains and legumes (which are mostly deactivated by cooking) and forget about the lectins in raw nuts/seeds, eating them in large quantities.
Thomas said…
I went through Army SERE in the 1990s, It included a full week in an evasion exercise trying to live off the land in NC in November. Zero to eat the entire time. We all lost around 15-20 lbs.
Rosie May said…
I've just been reading about a 29 year old man who decided to go and live off the land as survivalist in Scotland for a year, it's so sad that he was found dead in a bothy, a kind of stone built mountain hut for hikers. He'd been on survival courses and was a big fan of Bear Grylls. A member of the local mountain rescue team said even the best survival experts would have a hard time living off the land in Scotland in winter.
Catweazle said…
Watch the movie "Nanook of the North", its on youtube and you understand that even the best hunters can fail in the wild.
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Sanjeev Sharma said…
puh-lease ... Are you SERIOUSLY arguing that girdles, sous vides and mexican restaurants are not paleo?

And for the other guy, as we all know, pathological science in support of personal bias is totally paleo.
Sanjeev Sharma said…
> honest belief in the products

Best way to protect commercial relationships? cloak them in non-falsifiable BS. Nice dodge bub, well played.

AND ... Since they can completely believe in the moral rectitude of whatever they do, no psychopath who ever lived lacked integrity ...
Sanjeev Sharma said…
> without the domestic bliss of suburbia and the SUV.

and no deodorant

and no sewage systems

and washing/cleaning one's anus with the same hands one uses to eat, pick one's nose and m*st*rb*te, with no soap or antibacterial liquid in sight

Lighthouse Keeper said…
Indeed, there may be a few primal screams coming from the woods as the wrong type of gut bacteria hits home, but if the Paleo theme park is deemed to be a success , ie. nobody dies, wouldn't it be nice to see one created for the ultra low carbers?
It could be called Ketoworld and somewhat disneyesque, imagine the daily parade with staff dressed as blocks of Kerrygold, avacados and giant Ketostix led by characters wearing huge papier mache carnival heads of Taubes and Jimmy Moore.
MacSmiley said…
Yup. I'm pretty sure Hitler certainly believed in the moral rectitude of his actions.
carbsane said…
I wish I'd paid closer attention far sooner.

Paul relishes EVERY BIT OF CONTROVERSY from charlatans and hucksters like Mercola and Moore. His is a mission to make money plain and simple. Don't know why he left astrophysics (no money?) but apparently economics didn't pan out and neither did the relationship economics game.

Early on he said to me he wouldn't mind going the way of Taubes from a financial POV but w/o the mangled science. He's more like Taubes in the latter way now than the former, but he's catching up.
Thomas said…
"Don't know why he left astrophysics (no money?)" Not as talented nor engaging as Neil De Grasse Tyson?
Richard Arppe said…
Evelyn, did you see the interview with the best kept secret of the dairy lobby? A renown Dutch epidemiologist Martijn B Katan sheds some light to the recent SFA controversy and provides a compelling evidence why we ought to steer away from dairy fat. Greger did 2 videos on these.
MacSmiley said…
Ketoworld. Bwwaahhhaahaaaa!! ROFL!!
Pff! Polemic masquerading as science.
Pedro said…
You lost that weight, because you got no carbs at that time.
Man said…

Stop being obtuse, they lost weight because food was very scarce. You move most of the time seeking food and you don't get enough, regardless of the food type -> weight loss guarantied! Nothing to do with carbs.
Richard Arppe said…
Just an interview, the science part comes here, probably goes way above your head:
John Smith said…
When I want to get my hunter-gatherer on I go to Costco and hit the free sample stations
Pedro said…
I should have written 'irony off' at the end of my comment.
probably goes way above your head:

I love it when you go all insutling on me.

Unfortunately the link you refer to is weak on the science and is little more than yet more polemic. It rehashes a load of stuff that has been analysed and reanalysed over and over again. And, as usual, it refers to a bunch of cohort studies which are almost always flawed because of the confounding factors.

But hey, don't let that stop you guzzling those seed oils.
Bris Vegas said…
McCandless died from eating a poisonous plant he had initially identified as edible. He eventually realised his mistake (according to his diary) but it was too late.
Richard Arppe said…
Katan et al pinpointed to modeling studies showing mathematically that 24-dietary recall leads of null-assosication between SFA intake and serum cholesterol levels due to regression dilution bias. If we cannot tie SFA intake to cholesterol levels we should not expect to see SFA influencing the CHD risk. They thus concluded that the notion of SFA having no bearing CHD drawn on the data chosen by Siri-Tarino & Co is flawed. I personally this was very scientific. This is what scientists do discuss the data and its problems. I also wonder what makes you think I insult you. You claim that Katan's claims were polemic. It's obvious you know about diet-heart as much the ones who propose Intelligent Design know about evolutionary biology. No insult.
It's obvious you know about diet-heart as much the ones who propose
Intelligent Design know about evolutionary biology. No insult.

ROFL. Yeah, right. Nice one, bro'.
carbsane said…
A semi-metabolic ward, randomized-controlled clinical trial of almost 800 subjects to start demonstrated pretty definitively the relationship between SFA intake and "cholesterol" levels (LDL and TC). Their total fat intake and caloric intake was kept constant. The population was not obese.
MacSmiley said…
From the Wikipedia article under "Cause of Death":

In Into the Wild, Krakauer suggested two factors may have contributed to McCandless's death. First, he offered that McCandless was running the risk of a phenomenon known as "rabbit starvation" due to increased activity, compared with the leanness of the game he was hunting.[12] Krakauer also speculated that McCandless might have been poisoned by a toxic alkaloid called swainsonine, by ingesting seeds (Hedysarum alpinum or Hedysarum mackenzii) containing the toxin, or maybe by a mold that grows on them (Rhizoctonia leguminicola). Swainsonine inhibits metabolism of glycoproteins, which causes starvation despite ample caloric intake.[13]
However, an article in Men's Journalstated that extensive laboratory testing showed there were no toxins or alkaloids present in the H. alpinumseeds McCandless had been eating. Dr. Thomas Clausen, the chair of the chemistry and biochemistry department at UAF said "I tore that plant apart. There were no toxins. No alkaloids. I'd eat it myself."[14] Analysis of the wild sweet peas, given as the cause of Chris's death in Sean Penn's film, turned up no toxic compounds and there is not a single account in modern medical literature of anyone being poisoned by this species of plant.[9] As one journalist put it: "He didn't find a way out of the bush, couldn't catch enough food to survive, and simply starved to death."[14]

In 2013, a new hypothesis was proposed. Ronald Hamilton, a retired bookbinder at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and published author,[13]suggested a link between the symptoms described by McCandless and the poisoning of Jewish prisoners in the Nazi concentration camp in Vapniarca. He put forward the proposal that McCandless starved to death because he was suffering from paralysis in his legs, induced by lathyrism, which prevented him from gathering food or hiking out.[15] Lathyrism may be caused by ODAP poisoning from seeds of Hedysarum alpinum (commonly called wild potato). The ODAP, a toxic protein, hadn't been detected by the previous studies of the seeds because they had suspected a toxic alkaloid, rather than a protein, and nobody had previously suspected that Hedysarum alpinumseeds contained this toxin. The protein would be relatively harmless to someone who is well-fed and on a normal diet, but toxic to someone who is malnourished, physically stressed, and on an irregular and insufficient diet, as McCandless was.[16] McCandless' field guide did not warn of any dangers of eating the seeds, which were not yet known to be toxic. Krakauer suspects this is the meaning of McCandless' journal entry of 30 July, which states "EXTREMELY WEAK. FAULT OF POT[ATO] SEED. MUCH TROUBLE JUST TO STAND UP. STARVING. GREAT JEOPARDY."[17]

In September 2013, Krakauer published an article in The New Yorker following up the claims of Ronald Hamilton.[13] A sample of Hedysarum alpinum's fresh seeds were sent to a laboratory for HPLC analysis. Results indicated that the seeds contained .394 per cent beta-ODAP by weight, a concentration well within the levels known to cause lathyrism in humans.[citation needed] The article notes that while occasional ingestion of foodstuffs containing ODAP is not hazardous for healthy individuals eating a balanced diet, "individuals suffering from malnutrition, stress, and acute hunger are especially sensitive to ODAP, and are thus highly susceptible to the incapacitating effects of lathyrism after ingesting the neurotoxin."[13]Krakauer also points out that McCandless' guidebook had no warnings against eating the seeds of Hedysarum alpinum, as the plant was generally believed to be safe to eat.

Poisoned or not, McCandless's death still comes down to starvation.
MacSmiley said…
Have you read the Wikipedia entry on this movie?
Richard Arppe said…
Exactly, Evelyn. The fact that SFA is a potent elevating fatty acid (independent of weight gain) is established as thoroughly as it can be. Katan et al talk about regression dilution bias, another issue that skews the association is a large, intrinsic baseline variation in serum cholesterol levels for any given intake level of SFA. This is called inter-individual variation. For example, if you have 100 people eating the Dean Ornish diet, the total cholesterol levels can be anything from 90 to 200, likewise if you have 100 people eating the paleo diet, a random individual out of the 100 may have TC cholesterol anywhere between 150-400. However, the median TC cholesterol levels of the group who eats the Dean Ornish fare will be around 125-135 and the median TC cholesterol levels for the paleo group will be substantially higher. Jacobs et al showed mathematically already in 1979 that epidemiological surveys are prone to show null for SFA and cholesterol levels because of inter-individual variation (this was obviously not an issue for the 7CS since it utilized medians for all the 16 cohorts :)
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