The question of whether or not agriculture has been of benefit to humanity is one that periodically crosses my mind. Yes, our lives are far more comfortable. I admit that there are many aspects of our way of living which agriculture has afforded us that I would be loathed to give up. Nearly everything we know in our experience exists because of agriculture. But there is at least one thing that seems to have eluded us as we’ve reached the peak of our agrarian society, vibrant health. We are beset with diseases, most of which exist because of our dependence on agriculture for sustenance. Georgia Pellegrini believes that we’ve also
dumb because of agriculture. Ms. Pellegrini who is a chef, hunter and the author of the book “Girl Hunter“, wrote an interesting opinion piece “Why hunting and gathering makes us smarter and thinner“. She calls hunting and gathering”…the Great Forage — the real dance between predator and prey that fostered our intelligence”. Is she advocating a complete return to the Paleo diet lifestyle of hunting and gathering?
First Ms. Pellegrini explains how we became intelligent, enough so that we could make complex weapons and plan hunts:
There is debate as to when in history we became true omnivores, but it is likely we began by scavenging dead animals. It allowed us to take in more calories than we spent to find the food.
Our ability to climb grew as a way to steal kills stashed in trees, as did our ability to run fast.
We had to know when our prey—and our competitors—slept, grazed, watered, changed locations, mated, and bore young. It all required analysis, observation, and cunning as we learned to imitate and outwit other species.
And ultimately, we had to fight other meat eaters.
This required us to develop tools, weapons and plans to defend ourselves. Even today, the very act of being alive requires us, by definition, to also know how to survive or perish. But hunting and gathering taught us more than survival—it taught us that bringing food back to the tribe and feeding the community, particularly the women who were then more fertile, elevated our position in the world. Hunting and gathering not only taught us how to stay alive, it was an act that made us more human.
This makes a great argument when faced with vegans who claim humans were never meant to eat meat. Had we remained vegetarians as our ancestors were over 2 million years ago, we would not have become human.
But when we took up agriculture everything changed for us.
By cultivating crops that were most productive, we simplified our diet into a few basic commodities—mostly grains. We domesticated animals and transformed them—altering them to fit our purposes, and in the process altered our lifestyle further.
Today we idealize our domesticity and our agrarian achievements as a sign that we have evolved, when the truth is that it has put us fundamentally out of touch with more basic forces of nature. The consequences of that shift are far reaching.
With the adoption of agriculture we have limited ourselves to a few foods, not the variety that our Paleo ancestors enjoyed as hunter-gatherers:
We once ate a wider range of seeds, fruits and nuts along with animal and vegetable protein. After the adoption of an agrarian, settled life, there was less time for hunting and gathering those things.
Today, corn, corn-fed meat and corn based processed foods, coupled with our sedentary lives has led to countless diseases specific to developed nations. It has become so dramatic that anthropologists and authors Marjorie Shostak and Melvin Konner (co-authors with S. Boyd Eaton of ““) suggest the key to solving our health problems is looking at the differences between our diet and that of our ancestors who instinctively pursued the food best suited to our genes.
The return to hunting and gathering more of our food offers the opportunity for a more diverse and natural diet. Wild meat is simply healthier. The fat in industrial beef and pigs is notorious because the intramuscular saturated fat—‘marbling’—characteristic of grain fed cattle, is an artificial product of domestication that does not exist in nature. Long-chain fatty acids, found in greater abundance in wild meat, are necessary for brain development. These come from structural rather than adipose fat. Most domestic cattle often lack access to an adequate variety of seeds and leaves to make an optimum proportion of structural fats.
Here is where Ms. Pellegrini makes her point that we’ve lost some intelligence since we no longer follow the Paleo diet lifestyle of hunting and gathering.
And what about our intelligence today? All I have to do is look at the difference between me and my grandmother, or me and my father.
I have been blessed with a top-shelf education, yet I am still less knowledgeable and self-sufficient in the natural world than they are.
I have grown up in a world that increasingly views land as a commodity that belongs to us, rather than to our environment.
Our level of ‘civility’ is determined by how well we tame our land.
What is civility to my generation? It has become the information highway, social networks, addiction to entertainment, and ‘virtual’ reality—all sedentary pastimes. The values of a more ‘in touch’ humanity that existed in my grandmother’s day is considered eccentric to today’s population.
Modern life has masked our need for diverse, wild communities, but it does not end it.
Undoubtedly being hunter-gatherers made us what we are. But it is also undeniable that we have lost something of the intelligence we had as when we followed the Paleo diet lifestyle of hunting and gathering. I suspect that very few of us today would be able to survive well or at all if we needed to return to such a way of life. I don’t believe that Georgia Pellegrini is advocating that we return to the tribal life of our ancestors, but the warning that our culture has taken us so far from our roots should be heeded. It’s time to wake up from the spell that agriculture has us under and reconnect to the life that is all around us. Hunting and gathering might be a good way to start….
How would you reconnect to your deep roots? What activity would you take up to get there? Please leave your comments below. Please share this article on Facebook and Twitter too. Thank you!