The Ancestral Diet and the Modern Diet
My hometown of Port Angeles is located approximately 15 miles from a famous archeological dig, the Manis Mastodon Site, unearthed in 1977. According to the scientific journal “Science”, this location is the oldest human settlement the Western Hemisphere found to date. There, tools and artifacts have been dated back to 13,800 years ago, older than the Clovis Site in New Mexico by 1000 years. The dig at the Manis Mastodon site uncovered the remains of bison, caribou, and elk, but the nearly 14,000 year old mastodon remains the big attraction at the visitor’s center.
I recall reading about the discovery in the local newspaper when it was first publicized, trying to imagine the early humans’ relationship to this beast. It was found with a spear point embedded in its rib, confirming for archaeologists that humans were indeed hunting in this area at that time.
I was reminded of the old joke about how to eat an elephant, which I have referred to many times in my life when faced with a large, daunting project. Breaking things down into smaller pieces makes them manageable.
So close to my home there is an actual historical settlement where people literally “ate the elephant” for survival. Just south of Sequim, Washington, lays ample evidence of the known origins of a traditional diet in the Western Hemisphere.
The Native American indigenous people survived many millennia before the arrival of the European settlers to “the New World.” Tribal nations across the country consumed the food that was available to them, and it is well documented that there was an abundance of animal fat and protein in the primitive diet.
Less obvious, perhaps, is the fact that nobody was getting their cholesterol checked on a regular basis. 14,000 years ago, people functioned without knowing their blood pressure or their resting heart rate. Yet, they managed to survive as a culture for thousands of years. Of course, the food was devoid of pesticides and herbicides; what today we would refer to as a totally organic diet. The carbohydrates that were consumed by early humans were in their complex form, since refined carbohydrates would not exist for another 13,400 years.
We do a different sort of hunting now. In the 21st Century, conscientious shoppers spend a lot of time reading the labels on the food for sale at the grocery store. For those who are interested in health, the goal of the hunt is to find a nutrient-rich, high quality organic food supply. Today, this type of food can seem more elusive than a mastodon. As consumers we must decipher, from reading labels on packages, whether or not the contents are something we really want to put into our mouths.
The Native American ancestors who occupied the area 14 millennia ago had no such worries. Whatever maladies they may have suffered as a culture, cancer was probably not one of them. Now we live in a world where it comes as no surprise to learn that almost everything we have been eating, breathing or cleaning with is a known or possible carcinogen. While regulatory agencies try to limit the exposure of the known carcinogens that we consume, these limits often come only after decades of exposure to the offending substance.
Big agribusiness and the chemical industry have now introduced over 80,000 new artificial chemicals into our food supply and environment. Much of this is done without sufficient testing to evaluate the risks of exposing the population to potential threats. Regulatory agencies have explained that extensive safety studies are not practical; it would be too expensive and it would slow the progress of new products to the market.
While you and I may believe that delaying the marketing of new chemicals is a great idea, it is likely that DuPont and Dow Chemical do not. Rather than proving the safety of a new product prior to introduction to the public, the product must be proven to be unsafe before it is “pulled” from the market. In the meantime, we are all exposed to it. This is not the recipe for another 14,000 years of survival.