Nut Wars, Part 3
- Created on Tuesday, 25 September 2012 04:43
The Nut War continues on the McDougall forum, and I see that my friend Dr. Joel Fuhrman made a very polite posting. I tell you: he is a nice guy, truly a gentle, kind person- more so than myself, I'll admit. I wouldn't mince words with these people. I'll say that again that demonizing fats, and especially wholesome plant fats like nuts, is not just wrong, but insane. It's insane because there isn't a smidgen of evidence against nuts. The evidence shows that they are protective of health in every way, warding off disease, building strong bones, helping to maintain optimal weight, protecting the heart- including not just the arteries but even the heart rhythm, and more.
What it really comes down to among these people is a starch cult. They glorify starch. They really think that starch is the only thing you should eat- besides succulent fruits and vegetables. Starch for breakfast, starch for lunch, and starch for supper. And what is the basis for this starch worship? Mainly it comes to the idea that agrarian societies, past and present, have lived on starch-based diets. First, note that they exaggerate the extent to which it is true. For example, Dr. McDougall often refers to the Japanese eating rice and vegetables, and he doesn't mention the fact that they are, and always have been, big fish eaters. They are also the biggest egg eaters in the world- and by far. Japan is the only country in the world where per capita egg consumption is greater than 300 eggs per year. But, you would never know that from listening to Dr. McDougall.
There is no country or geographical culture of people in the world that live exclusively on starches and fruits and vegetables. There hasn't been and there couldn't be, at least not until the latter half of the 20th century. And that's because Vitamin B12 wasn't even discovered until the 1950s- after my birth. And the special importance that Vitamin B12 has to vegetarians did not become fully known and disseminated until the 1970s. The only reason strict veganism is possible at all is becaues of technology: the availability of Vitamin B12 supplements.
Now keep in mind that I am still very enthused about a plant-based diet. I don't think there is any good reason- in this day and age, with all the plant food we have available yearround- to eat a lot of animal food. However, I also realize that in a state of nature, Man was not and is not a total vegetarian. And he is certanily not a natural granavore.
There is a mistake the McDougalites make which is similar to the one that the paleos make. The paleos point to the hunter/gatherer past (with an emphasis on the hunting) with the idea that we should continue to eat that way because of a biological mandate. But, the fact that some humans relied so heavily on meat back then had more to do with practical considerations than anything biological. For those in northern lattitudes, there was an ice age going. There was very little plant food, and for much of the year: none. You either ate meat or you died. And even in warm places, there wasn't always an abundance of plant food. I live in Central Texas, and we never had an ice age here. And the landscape never goes completely asleep here in the winter. There are trees and plants that never become dormant. But nevertheless, there isn't a whole lot of plant food that grows spontaneously. There are the native pecans. There are wild blackberries in the Spring. There is a wild mustang grape that grows profusely, though it's not very sweet. And there is a native Texas persimmon that is sweet, but there's not much to it- mostly pit and skin and just a thin layer of fruit. There may be some wild greens that a person could eat. I know we get dandelions, which are an edible green. But all in all, there isn't a lot of spontaneous plant food. Even though it's mostly warm here, you'd have a hard time getting by on plants alone. And all the native tribes relied heavily on animal foods, meaning that they ate much more animal food than plant food.
Again, I want to emphasize that the capacity to be a strict vegan exists only because of scientific knowledge and technology. Under primitive conditions, forget about it; it wasn't remotely possible. But even if it had been possible, there just wasn't that much plant food available. Throughout the natural world, there was much more plant food that prey animals could eat than what humans could eat directly. It was true then, and it's true now. You can complain to God if you want, but that's just the way it is and always has been.
But then agriculture came along, and that changed everything- for the worse, according to the paleos. They bemoan the very fact that starches, especially grains, became important in the human diet under agriculture. Why did starches take such a prominent place in agriculture? Why did starches take a larger place in agricuture than nuts? There were practical reasons:
Grains grow in a single season. It goes from planting to harvesting in a few short months.
But, if you plant a pecan in the ground, it could take 12 years or more to start bearing. And there is a whole lot that can go wrong in that 12 years: all kinds of diseases, insects, fungus, webworm, cankers, etc. It's a very iffy thing. And just think about the complexity of it economically. It takes a lot of accumulated capital to invest in pecan orchards because many years pass before you get any return. But,in primordial times, there was no accumulated capital. When did pecan orcharding start? Commercial propagation didn't begin until the late 1800s.
Grains also have the advantage of being storable. Nuts are high in oil, which can go rancid. And there was no refrigeration in the early days of agriculture. There was no refrigeration uuntil quite recently. For that reason, it was more practgical to grow grain than nuts.
And there were also accidents of fate. Wheat got started because it was a grass that animals could graze on. I used to live in Yorktown, Texas where farmers would grow wheat and rye all winter for livestock to graze on. It was some clever prehistoric person who figured out how to convert this grass seed into human food.
The point is that subsistence agriculture gravitated towards starches for practical reasons that had nothing to do with human nutrition. There was no biological mandate to rely heavily on starches, just as there was no biological mandate for the cavemen to rely heavily on meat. Both "evolved" out of practical necessity due to existing circumstances. We shall continue.