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The Paleo Diet For Australopithecines: Approaching The Meat Of The Matter (Big Brains Require An Explanation, Part IV)
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March 4, 2012
1:31 pm
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Paleophil:

We're a long way from Wrangham yet!  He posits that cooking began at appx. 1.6 MYA, and we're only to perhaps 2.9 MYA just yet.  Of course, our ancestors' brain size was already increasing by 2.9 MYA (not to mention by 1.6 MYA), we had already started occupying habitats outside the forest, we were already eating meat -- and even the most optimistic archaeologists won't claim evidence for control of fire that far back.

There are many more conflicts between "Catching Fire" and the evidence -- but as I said earlier, I don't want to interrupt this narrative to debunk alternatives.  I'd rather present the current consensus interpretation first, so that we have something solid with which to compare the "cooked tuber hypothesis".

JS

March 4, 2012
3:29 pm
christopher
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wow
I just read all your articles of "why we are hungry".
I quit what i said about trying the potatoes thing.

I'm probably biased with potatoes, because i like them.
I had been in poverty. Some days we eated wheat (pasta and bread). I loved when we switched to rice or potatoes. And ocasional meat, with offals. And soups with bones. The potatoes were my staple food a few years, and i grew up healthy. So i'm a proof that potatoes are quite good. Living in a country with much beef consuption (argentina), i was resigned to not eat them. but now i can catch up.
look at this: feature=related
Most of the turists find it disgusting, but it's delicious.
Human diet is surprisingly varied across the world.

March 4, 2012
10:09 pm
Fmgd
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I remembered the whole food reward thing today, I think I found a breakthrough for it.

I had some sardines so I decided to boil their heads and tails together with a couple marrow bones and use it all to cook some rice.

As you'd expect the result was sardine-tasting rice. Thing is, I forgot all about the fish-bones. So there I had a pretty "strong" sadine-tasting rice with eggs and lots of pin bones.

The result was that you had to conciously chew on that rice and eat with extreme care, which of course made all it a lot harder to eat.

So yeah, instead of focusing only on "low reward", why not add high effort to your meals. Can you imagine bland mash potatoes loaded with these bones? There's no way you could overeat them even if your day had thirty-some hours.

March 5, 2012
1:12 am
Vizeet
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I am taking cue from this post. I think it is very difficult to create fire just like making tools so there has to be a phase in which our primates just started using natural occurring fire.

March 5, 2012
12:23 pm
Uncephalized
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JS: "If my impact on you ranks anywhere near Richard Dawkins, that's a great honor."

Different kind of impact. You're more in the genre of Daniel Quinn (although you tell a better story. than Quinn), making me think about people's place in the world, what people should be. They're important ideas in different ways.

March 5, 2012
3:37 pm
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christopher:

Chitterlings, chicharrones, chinchulín, tripas ... it's all intestines.  And I love me a good asado!

Potatoes are actually my favorite starch, since they're reasonably nutritious.  Many Irish lived on a 100% potato diet and were perfectly healthy -- right up until the famine.

Fmgd:

That's a great experiment!  As I've explained in the series, satiation is our estimate of future satiety based on the sensory experience of eating. As such, anything we do that makes us concentrate more on what we're eating is likely to increase satiation...and trying to pick bones out of rice certainly qualifies.

vizeet:

There is good evidence that you are probably correct, which I'll get to in future installments...and it explains a lot of things about the evidence we do have.

I think it's great that my readers are smart enough to get ahead of the narrative!

Uncephalized:

"They're important ideas in different ways."  Absolutely true...but they all tie together. 

If we want to talk about what humans should be, we must first understand what humans are.  To understand what humans are, we must understand how humans came to be.  Therefore, the modern Darwinian synthesis must be the foundation of any moral or political discourse. 

And, in my opinion, of any realistic story...I've always been bothered by questions like "When elves aren't busy being beautiful and noble and awesome, what do they eat?  Where are the farmer elves?"  Tolkein's work was fundamentally Catholic and ignored those questions, as do most fantasy writers.  Either that, or they go all "edgy" and wallow in nastiness. 

That's why TGC isn't a fantasy novel, despite containing gnolls and other fantastic creatures.

"although you tell a better story than Quinn"

Thanks for noticing.  If he deserves half a mil for Ishmael, I figure I deserve at least a few mil for TGC 🙂

JS

March 5, 2012
9:20 pm
Mike
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J.S. Please keep writing, I love the way that you spin a story so it makes sense for those of us with non-technical backgrounds. You make it so we can understand and explore on our own without being told what to think. After reading the Why We Are Hungry series and now this one I can't wait until my copy of the Gnoll Credo arrives.

March 6, 2012
1:18 am
Neal Matheson
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Hi J, sorry I didn't check the comments of this blog. I would have thought a new animal sharing the same (or similar) ecological niche might be one reason neanderthal couldn't weather the drop in temperatures and ecosystem cnange they saw at the end of their line.
I have often wondered how the elves got their bread too.

March 6, 2012
1:59 am
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Mike:

I'll keep doing my best to make science understandable.

Block out some uninterrupted time for TGC: it's an intense book.

Neal:

Do you have any idea what that animal might be?

"I have often wondered how the elves got their bread..." 

Orcs, too.  As far as I can tell, every orc is either in the military or on the Middle-Earth equivalent of a chain gang.  For that matter, what are all the creatures in Sauron's realm eating if the whole area is such a fiery wasteland?  Each other?

(Note that I'm not slagging on Tolkien's work: those sorts of details would have bogged down the story.  I'm just pointing out that LoTR is a movie set for an Epic Quest, not a functional universe people could actually live in.)

JS

March 6, 2012
3:39 am
garymar
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From the 1969 LOTR parody Bored of the Rings:

As with most mythical creatures who live in enchanted forests with no visible means of support, the elves ate rather frugally, and Frito was a little disappointed to find heaped on his plate a small mound of ground nuts, bark, and dirt.

March 6, 2012
7:58 am
eddie watts
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on the neanderthal point, having read the bbc article above just now, there is probably a combination of factors.
if they were bigger than H sapiens then they may have had a longer breeding cycle, so although they were more proficient in any conflict they would have recovered slower.

their culture may have been more introverted so they interbred with lower frequency, further reinforcing above.

also though simple fear of the different could have caused conflict easily enough, look at how we are now with those we see as "different" (by we i mean humanity as a whole, not individuals)

March 6, 2012
8:12 am
Neal Matheson
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Hi J that animal would be us, I'm not wild about tolkien but I remener he wrote that there were fields in mordor worked by slaves. I think he talked about food being shipped in too.
Neanderthal was bulkier but by no means bigger than H.sapiens. A neanderthal in a cage fight would be pretty bloody intimidating though. Off the top of my head I believe the view is that neanderthal matured earlier.
Ground nuts bark and dirt, low in food reward eh? ho ho ho

March 6, 2012
10:36 am
LeonRover
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"Many Irish lived on a 100% potato diet and were perfectly healthy — right up until the famine."

No, not 100%.

While potato was the predominant food of the cottier class, each family raised some hens, a pig or two and often a cow.

My judgement is that the diet was similar to the present-day Kitivans, 60-70% tubers. They used butter-milk, eggs, "bacon&cabbage" and so on for the other 30-35% of their diet. They also foraged for seasonal wild fruits and nuts, seaweed where appropriate and some shellfish.

They did not not eat bread: wheat was a cash crop for the British industrial worker.

The Scots had a similar reliance on the potato as did some other European countries. It was potato blight in two successive years that devastated Ireland's main food source.

There was blight in other parts of Europe, but nowhere as severe as that in Ireland.

As an aside, the 2nd and 3rd sons provided a proportion of the 19th century British Army vastly higher than that of the population of England. Recruiting officers wanted them.

March 6, 2012
12:27 pm
Vizeet
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I live in India and I have heard that many poor people in north India ate almost just potatoes during famine.
My diet have always been high in potatoes and I love them.

March 7, 2012
3:56 pm
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garymar:

Remember back when National Lampoon was funny?

eddie:

Most likely.  Tolerance for members of another species competing for your environmental niche would seem to be strongly selected out of the gene pool. 

Neal:

It's admittedly been a while since I read it...but those armies of Mordor are pretty big.  I figure Soylent Green had to have been a frequent menu item.

Neandertals were definitely bigger and heavier than H. sapiens sapiens of the time, though they were perhaps 6" shorter on average -- and we're reasonably sure that they did, in fact, mature more quickly than we did.

LeonRover:

According to the statistics I've seen, over 3 million Irish -- more than 1/3 of the population -- were wholly dependent on the potato for food at the beginning of the Great Famine.  This statistic is bolstered by the fact that over a million Irish died and over a million emigrated to escape it.

Note that Ireland still has not regained the population it had previous to "the bad times" -- and, in fact, its population continued to fall until 50 years ago.

Vizeet:

Unlike almost any other vegetable food, it's apparently possible to stay alive for extended periods on a 100% potato diet.  I wouldn't recommend it...but historically it's been done by many.

JS

March 9, 2012
5:53 am
LeonRover
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I have checked a number of sources.

The adverb "almost" usually qualifies the term "wholly dependent" and the phrase "as main source of food" usually follows "potato".

With that said, where a large proportion of a population suffers a loss of 2/3 rds of dietary intake, there is starvation and death.

As for "extended periods on a 100% potato diet", it does not include periods of time which include procreation. Most former vegetarians , including Loren Cordain, concur.

Between 1800 and 1840, the population grew by 3m from 5m. This growth depended on very early marriage and farm splitting.

Post famine, late marriage became the norm, the eldest son inherited and emigration took care of the difference between birth rate and death rate.

March 10, 2012
3:29 pm
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LeonRover:

The presence or absence of qualifications depends on which source you're reading.  I don't know enough about Irish history to make a firm judgment — and I'm certainly not advocating an all-potato diet!  I'm just pointing out that unlike an all-grain diet, which produces beriberi, pellagra, kwashiorkor, or some other deficiency disease in relatively short order, an all-potato diet contains reasonably complete protein and enough other nutrients to avoid deficiency diseases for quite a while.

That's the main reason the Irish population increased so dramatically AFAIK: not only are potatoes more productive per acre, they don't require nearly as much supplementary nutrition from other sources as the grain crops (e.g. oats) grown previously to the potato.  The combination led to the farm splitting you mention: farms that could only support one family on oats and sheep could suddenly support several on potatoes.

JS

March 10, 2012
8:23 pm
Jeffrey of Troy
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Bored of the Rings was great! "Some Animals" was always my fav chapter.

Hasn't been much to comment on, cuz we're all waiting to see where this train is headed..

March 11, 2012
3:15 pm
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Jeffrey:

We already know that it's headed to anatomically modern humans.  The interesting question is "by what route?"

Fortunately, by stopping at "anatomically modern" instead of "behaviorally modern" we simplify the problem dramatically...otherwise I'd be writing a textbook instead of a series of articles!

JS

March 12, 2012
10:45 am
Vizeet
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I think after humans settled down (because of agriculture or for whatever reason) intelligence may have become less important then learning. Isn't 10000 or so years enough to have some impact on our brains in this regard?

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