Stop Using Cavemen as an Excuse for Your Fad Diet

Illustration for article titled Stop Using Cavemen as an Excuse for Your Fad Diet

Anthropologists have uncovered "unambiguous evidence" in South Africa that our Homo erectus grandpas were cooking their food as far back as one million years ago. Previous to this discovery, the earliest conclusive evidence of deliberate, human-controlled fires dated back only about 400,000 years. Now, I know what you're thinking: How do I know it wasn't just spontaneously-combusted bat guano?


Don't worry, they covered that. Take it away, science:

Studying thin sections of the sediment blocks under a microscope, the scientists observed lots of ashed plant remains and tiny fragments of burned bone. Further analysis of the thin sections using Fourier transform infrared microspectroscopy, which reveals molecular structure, showed that some of the bones had been heated to temperatures of around 500 degrees Celsius. Preliminary data suggest that leaves and grasses, rather than wood, fueled these ancient fires.

Ha ha, jerky raw food people (I mean specifically the ones who are jerks, not the ones who are not jerks)! Ha ha. To be clear, I don't have anything against raw food diets objectively—I happen to eat a lot of raw fruits and vegetables these days because I like them. If a person chooses a raw food diet and finds that it affects their health in positive ways, I'm all for that. On principle, I 100% do not care what anyone else eats. But I do care about judgmental condescension shrouded in pseudo-science—the idea that certain behaviors are "healthier" or "more natural" because "that's how the cavemen did it." That's some bullshit that you hear all the time, from raw- and/or paleo-foodists and those barefoot people and the strident anti-monogamists. And I really honestly don't give a shit what any of those groups want to eat/wear/fuck, but can we just PLEASE leave the "cavemen" out of it?

Because do you know what the cavemen started doing as soon as they had the ability to cook their food? They started cooking their fucking food. And, some anthropologists suspect, it worked out pretty well for us. Here's the Atlantic on the theories of anthropologist Richard Wrangham:

No way, he argued, could raw food have provided the calories necessary for the development of the human brain. Its digestion alone requires too much energy. But cooked food changed everything. It's much easier to digest, freeing up energy to fuel our brains, not our guts. "The extra energy gave the first cooks biological advantages," he wrote. "They survived and reproduced better than before. Their genes spread. Their bodies responded by biologically adapting to cooked food, shaped by natural selection to take maximum advantage of the new diet. There were changes in anatomy, physiology, ecology, life history, psychology and society."

Culture and agriculture are part of what make us who we are as humans. We're not "cavemen" anymore. And things like the "caveman diet" are basically culinary libertarianism—wouldn't it be great and more "natural" if everyone could just live off the land, taking what they need and fending for themselves? Well, congratulations on having the time and energy to obsess over things like that, but not everyone has the resources to hunt down an emu between their day at the hedge fund and their evening Crossfit appointment. Or the time and money to buy a dehydrator to turn raw flax and almond-meal patties into "tortillas." Most people just need a fucking sandwich.

Humanity isn't static—you can't just be okay with all development up until the invention of the sarong, and then declare all post-sarong technology to be "unnatural." Sure, cavemen didn't have shoes. Until they invented fucking shoes! (You know what else they didn't have? Discarded hypodermic needles. Broken glass. Used condoms.) They also didn't have antibiotics, refrigeration, written languages, wheels, patchouli, the internet, and NOT LIVING IN A ROCK WITH A HOLE IN IT. But I don't see anyone giving any of that up in the name of "health." Hey, why not install a live gibbon in your fridge so you have to fight it to get to your bison jerky? Just like nature!


If we're going down that road, then okay! According to history, we were only supposed to have ONE cell. God, you people and your multi-cellular privilege. Ever since I became a primordial soupist, my IBS has totally cleared up (mainly because I don't have intestines anymore—just cytoplasm).

Image by Jim Cooke.


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I don’t understand the backlash against using evolutionary psychology to help understand which diets work for which people. I mean, I live on Diet Coke and martinis because my ancestors were primitive Caucasians living in early Manhattan during the Prebrooklyn Period. It’s science.