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How Cheese, Wheat and Alcohol Shaped Human Evolution (smithsonianmag.com)
86 points by onuralp 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments

And coffee. Much later, of course, but coffee took us out of our drunken state into a hightened sense of mental acuity.

And beer helps one get back to sleep at the end of it all.


Oh, yes the glorious battle of englightment- awaking from the beverages of medieval times. If only history was that clear cut.

It turns out coffee send some shizos into revolutionary overdrive, supresses anxiety and thus allows a mumbling bundle, to develop into a paranoia-ignoring, revolutionary zealot, capable to incite others- even though there exist no plan, not strategy and sometimes even quite progressive kings or queens, battling with trader aristocracys who want to keep the peasants uneducated.

TL,DR; New substances have funny side-effects.

PS: Also alcohol is my favourite suspect when it comes to the question- why did humanity settle down? Harvest the wild wheat and move on like a true nomad- or stay and grow it..

Nothing that ingenious and labourfull then a unwillingly sobber alcoholic. But it does not make for nice museum texts:

"Here we see the first settlements- men settled down, because they where thirsty and needed the wheat and barley, and a nomadic existance was cumbersome with all those earthen kegs to move around."

If you are interested in the link between human evolution and food, I highly recommend the documentary 'Cooked', by Michael Pollan: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5347906/

One of the things that bothers me most about modern food culture is the lack of reverence for the animal that was slaughtered for you to enjoy. With that said, I actually think he did a good job showing gratitude for the animal in that docu-series. Its the least meat eaters can do for themselves.

(I follow the plant-based diet)

How should I properly revere the plant that was killed for me to enjoy, if I followed the plant-based diet?

I'll respond to your tu quoque with some very relevant quotes.

Charles Darwin: "There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher animals in their mental faculties . . . The lower animals, like man, manifestly feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery."

Leo Tolstoy: "A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral."

Carl Sagan: "Humans–who enslave, castrate, experiment on, and fillet other animals–have had an understandable penchant for pretending animals do not feel pain. A sharp distinction between humans and “animals” is essential if we are to bend them to our will, make them work for us, wear them, eat them–without any disquieting tinges of guilt or regret. It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeelingly toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer. The behavior of other animals renders such pretensions specious. They are just too much like us."

I wonder how other carnivores would philosophize about their prey. And yes, humans obviously aren't obligate carnivores. But just as obviously, we aren't obligate herbivores either.

Well, we can’t really eat raw meat without getting sick and I don’t think raw meat is appetizing to many people. We’re kind of in a class of our own.

Another relevant quote:

Plutarch: “There is nobody that is willing to eat even a lifeless and a dead thing even as it is; so they boil it, and roast it, and alter it by fire and medicines, as it were, changing and quenching the slaughtered gore with thousands of sweet sauces, that the palate being thereby deceived may admit of such uncouth fare.”

I think the Japanese would have a word with you.

I've read somewhere that humankind started as scavengers. As a lover of dry aged meat, I'd wager to say that we not only can eat raw meat we also can eat pretty old raw meat (I prefer my steaks rare).

I like mine blue rare.

I suspect raw would be fine if the meat was actually fresh but there's always days between slaughter and plate, so the meat is effectively decomposing by the time we cook.

Another point is that the more you cook red meat, the higher the chance you'll get cancer.

My personal anecdote also tells me that the rarest the steak, the easier the digestion and the greater the benefits (muscle gain, workout performance and appetite control). I usually eat low-carb and near zero grains and cereals though. As always with personal anecdotes, YMMV.

> ell, we can’t really eat raw meat without getting sick and I don’t think raw meat is appetizing to many people. We’re kind of in a class of our own.

Few other animals have any kind of control over fire.

Steak tartare, raw eggs and sashimi are delicious.

Ummm, raw tuna is very tasty. Venison too.

Nothing of that answers what do you do to show gratitude for the plants you kill for your enjoyment. It's the least plant eaters can do for themselves. (A little step beyond that reverence would be trying not to be self-righteous).

I have my own garden. I gues meat eaters can raise their own meat?

Why do people think non-meat eaters are always self righteous. Does it offend you so much or cause that much dissonance that it leads to feelings of resentment?

Oh, don't be mistaken, I have plenty of vegetarian and vegan friends that aren't self-righteous. It wasn't an assumption based on putting you in a category, rather a commentary of the way you look down on others.

Slaughtering or mutilating the plants you raised yourself doesn't look like revering them too much. Looks like just raising them for your own satisfaction of tasting their flavor.

Me "I like the taste of meat."

so does everyone. That’s what makes it a noble cause.

mmm bacon

None of those were relevant to the question posed to you.

Look to the Native Americans. Or, at least some of them. Give thanks to things the world gives to you.

So plants don’t have feelings and animals do? That’s what I used to believe, but then I read this article: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/04/giant-viruses-found-a...

This got me thinking... How do we determine which organisms feel pain? Presence of a central nervous system? What about jellyfish or octopi or lobsters? Kingdom animalia? Why not bacteria or plants? They reproduce and have some sort of consciousness. Plants bend towards sunlight.

I used to consider myself Buddhist so I still don’t kill any living beings as a habit... not even mosquitos. But now that I think about it, I have no problems killing bacteria or viruses. I consume a lot of pea protein powder - mainly for aesthetic reasons - am I being unethical?

It's not a great solution, but it's the one that mostly sort of works for me: I tend to think of the evolutionary divergence tree as a bit of a family tree.

I absolutely would never eat our brothers/sisters in the hominids and apes/chimpanzees.

I've been growing increasingly concerned about our relationships with and our eating of our first cousins, the other mammals (pigs, cows, etc).

I'm less concerned about our second/third cousins the avian dinosaurs (chicken, turkey), and fish/crustaceans.

I don't worry about distant cousins in the plants, and fungi families.

Bacteria, viruses, insects are pretty far removed from us on the evolutionary family tree.

It's certainly complicated to think of it as a moral spectrum, with no easy/black-and-white answers, but that certainly seems to be the case. At some point I suppose you just have to make rules of thumb, and live with what makes you most comfortable/happy as best you see fit. Minimizing others' suffering is certainly a lofty goal, just don't mistake the perfect of "eliminate all suffering" with the good of "eliminate what suffering I can as best I am able".

I think that’s the conclusion I ultimately reached. At one point I have to choose my principles, or rules of thumb, and realize that objectively, they’re going to be arbitrary, and intimately connected to my own set of circumstances most of which I had no control over.

On that note, the cover of this very popular book makes my skin crawl: https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Her-Pig-Recipes-Stories/dp/00620...

Not because the pig is dead. I have no bacon if the pig is not dead. But because it's draped over her shoulders like a garland.

That's sort of the only ergonomic way for one person to carry a dressed animal of that size. It's just a fireman's carry.

I wouldn't particularly feel better if the person who murdered and ate me felt a sense of reverence for me.

Reverence isn’t for the dead. It’s for the living. If it’s true, it should influence your decisions, as it continues to do for me.

Would the appropriate way to show reverence for the animal be not slaughtering it?

Adding hollow lip service doesn't really seem like an improvement.

That’s why I said “Its the least meat eaters can do for themselves.”

True gratitude is not hollow lip service. It should influence behavior.

Sure, It makes no difference to the animal, but maybe it will cause someone to eat less of it or be more supportive of vegans/vegetarian efforts.

That's the thing though. The behavior change is to not eat meat. If I care so little for this thing that I'm willing to have it enslaved and slaughtered for my mild culinary amusement, what is there realistically to do other than pay hollow lip service? If we gave enough of a shit to do anything of substance, we just wouldn't eat the animals.

I'm still feeling guilty about how they shaped my weekend.

Putting Amazon affiliate links in forum posts is against their terms of service.

Props to the fungi making it happen.

ha yea the fungi really dont get enough credit. they did a lot to make the planet habitable back in the day before much else existed on land and then much later on you have mushrooms entering the early human's diet causing all sorts of eh, "trouble"

Can't wait for browsers to start blocking overlays

I'd like them to start blocking those pointless notification prompts too

just did this in chrome, settings, search notifications, toggle ask so it says 'Blocked'

I don't get why every site out there thinks I want notifications.

I like notifications for some websites though so don't want to block them fully. Facebook/Messenger spring to mind for notifications I actually want.

Looks like it can't be disabled for any of googles own products.

What did you expect from a browser made by an advertisement company?

Firefox just added the ability to disable these prompts in today's release.

It's not like people suffering from celiac's disease and eating gluten fail to thrive in our society. They still reproduce and raise families, most people do. How is evolution going to improve that situation?

The evolutionary selection pressure found in modern society is not the same as for most of human history. Celiac's was not a issue before agriculture (no wheat) and the genes responsible have been under negative selection since the rise of agriculture in Europe until about 100 years ago.

Agriculture was so recent that non-adaptive genes have not been fully removed from the population, nor have adaptive ones (like digesting lactose in adulthood) fully spread through the population. Humans were part way through a massive selective sweep (adaption to agriculture) when the industrial revolution happened. If this had taken 100,000 years rather than 10,000 years then Celiac's would have become almost non-existant.

In addition to lacking wheat pre-agriculture there's a reasonable amount of evidence that the modern increase is due to the elimination of gut parasites - previously the increased immune activity in the gut was beneficial (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4403024/).

There's also some research that suggests modern high-gluten wheat varieties have more of the proteins that trigger coeliac disease (https://www.nature.com/articles/srep44609)

> It's not like people suffering from celiac's disease and eating gluten fail to thrive in our society. They still reproduce and raise families, most people do.

I think that's an interesting empirical question. The question is the degree to which their genes propagate vs people without celiac disease. There seems to be a generic component to celiac disease, so obviously the effect can't be strong enough to wipe out the disease (and also worth remembering that there may be positive effects of those genes), but does it actually affect their evolutionary fitness to some degree? (and I think you'd find many people with celiac disease would say that it makes it difficult for them to thrive, in a more everyday use of the term 'thrive')

There are interesting world maps depicting [in]tolerance of various common foods: wheat, milk, alcohol, etc. Humans are adaptively omnivores - those intolerant of one food (when identified) can avoid it via plenty of alternatives.


Seeing as we're the only species on this planet that keeps the sick/weak/disabled alive to reproduce. It doesn't fair well in the long term.

In the long term we can correct all genetic faults with technology. Natural selection is a very crude tool.

What we have more of an issue is smart people are not having children, or not having as many as they can. The only resource in short supply on the planet is smart people.

But is intelligence a lethal mutation? Big picture perspective, nuclear arms and environmental degradation...

The Kurt Vonnegut novel "Galapagos" is about how natural selection selected against intelligence, and the resulting evolution of humans.


All of those things are a sign we need more, not less intelligence.

Given the current selective pressure against high intelligence it is not too wrong to say it is lethal genetic trait.

We are winners of natural selection. And we are not the only ones with compassion, actually. We are only ones with ability to help - maybe there is some evolutionary advantage in that.

Also the only one where the infertile & the dead can reproduce, sometimes together (in vitro + sperm donor). Natural selection has been dealt a mortal blow.

Hypothetically we've weakened the selection pressure against those traits, but they still have some impact.

A celiac who continues to eat gluten will not be at their best or healthiest. They will have an uphill battle in life compared to everyone else.

A celiac who stops eating gluten might spend more on food than other people, minorly impacting their life. (Or, maybe they eat more vegetables than average, and thus being celiac becomes an advantage!?)

On a massive population scale, they will on average have some fitness modifier, and their genes will still be selected for or against- just more slowly.

Just think of more severe conditions. There are many once-fatal or severely-debilitating conditions where we've enabled people to survive and possibly even reproduce- but the deck is still heavily stacked against them, and they do not on average tend to have large families with lots of successful kids. So a once-fatal trait becomes less severe, but it's still selected against.

Evolution doesn’t work like that, it’s not a force with goals except reproductive fitness. In this case our society compensates for their issues, and their reproductive fitness is maintained. In the wild they would disproportionately starve and die, and that would also be a valid evolutionary response. It may also be thst gluten intolerance doesn’t particularly matter to rates of reproduction before it kills you, outside of civilization. If what kills you does so after you pass your genes along, evolution doesn’t even notice.

There might be some hidden benefit too, such as with sickle cell and malaria, or more commonly the defective genes are part and parcel of a critical system.

Food intolerances could help discourage monoculturing, which is a pretty systemic risk to the food supply.

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