Nine years ago I made one of the most consequential decisions of my life—I switched to the so-called Paleo Diet (“paleo” is a bit misleading, as I explain in the post). Had I not done so, I would certainly have contributed to the rising obesity statistics for the United States. Within six months of switching to Paleo diet I lost 20 pounds before equilibrating at my current weight. But weight is actually the least important thing. Much more important was a dramatic improvement of my general health I experienced in the months since switching. I feel better today than ten years ago, despite being (obviously enough) ten years older.
The major change was eating much higher on the food chain. The only way to get protein on a purely plant-based diet is to eat grains and pulses, which means wheat and beans. But those are precisely the foods elimination of which resulted in my health improvement. I sometimes unknowingly consume small amounts of wheat, when a restaurant chef uses flour for the sauce (despite explicit entreaties not do so). The next day I know that I had been poisoned.
The other thing is that it’s not just protein deficiency. Your body doesn’t need that much protein. The biggest problem with purely plant diet is that you don’t get enough healthful fat. Instead you end up poisoning yourself with seed oils. See Fatty Foods Are Good for Your Health and More Reasons to Eat Fat
This is why I watch with increasing alarm the current trend to “cancel” meat. Last year the town of Cambridge, home of one of two best universities in UK, banned meat [correction: as several readers pointed out it was not the town of Cambridge, but the University removing beef and lamb from its cafeterias; my apologies for the incorrect statement!]. So Cambridge is now off my list of places to go to (fortunately, I visited it years ago, when it was still safe for carnivores). I am very worried that the veganism tide will continue spreading, leaving us carnivores on reservations (or even driving people following Paleo diet to extinction).
Somebody is sure to immediately accuse me that I don’t care about the environment. Au contraire. Some of the most depressing environments that I’ve seen are giant agricultural fields (e.g. driving through Iowa) .
Compare it to what they looked like before:
My favorite environment is savanna such as this one in Namibia.
This is where I would love to live, if it were practically possible. These are the aesthetically beautiful and ecologically diverse environments that would be replaced with crop monocultures to enable “eating lower on the food chain”.
Actually, recently there has been a quiet trend in America towards replacing crop fields with grasslands. Some of it is done by non-profit organizations, like the American Bison Society.They want more of America to look like this:
And there are individual farmers who switch to ranching. Watch this great movie at Carbon Cowboys.
The case for shortening the food chain is based on bad science. Eating animals (not just muscle, but also fat and organs) is bad for your health? Bullshit. It’s what made us human. It’s bad for environment? Check out this response by James Rebanks to Cambridge University banning meat:
Thanks @Cambridge_Uni for banning my grass-fed beef – how about addressing the primary causes of climate change, divesting your investment portfolio of fossil fuel burning activities, & changing your 17,000 hectares of fairly sterile arable land?
These are my fields
Show me yours pic.twitter.com/Eyf5mh9goM
— James Rebanks (@herdyshepherd1) September 13, 2019
And there is another unintended consequence of switching to plant-based diet, that I haven’t seen much discussion of. After my switch to Paleo diet, I noticed, with surprise, that my cognitive abilities improved. My thinking became clearer and, most strikingly, my social intelligence became more acute. This is, of course, completely “anecdotal” as we say in science. But it turns out that there is a sound scientific basis for this. Several controlled experiments conducted in juvenile prisons (for example) discovered that inmates whose diet was supplemented with Omega-3 were much more socially adequate than those in the control condition. Of course, the best source of Omega-3 is grass-fed ruminants. Or seafood, but we have sadly polluted the world ocean with heavy metals, so eating too much fish can result in arsenic poisoning.
In retrospect, these findings make a lot of sense. After all, humans evolved to become the “smartest animal on Earth” by switching from largely plant-based diet to a diet emphasizing carnivory. This is the only way to evolve (and maintain) large human brains and high social intelligence.
Can you please point to a source for “town of Cambridge banned meat”? All I can find is references to Cambridge *University* removing beef and lamb from its menus (as early as 2016?): https://thetab.com/uk/cambridge/2019/09/24/farmers-outrage-at-cambridge-universitys-beef-and-lamb-ban-126292https://www.hospitalityandcateringnews.com/2020/11/oxford-university-beef-ban/ https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-49637723 . Searching the Sainsbury’s stock checker suggests beef is available there … https://help.sainsburys.co.uk/help/stockchecker/
Grass-fed ruminants might have ALA but not much EPA or DHA. ALA is an inferior omega-3 also found in flax seed oil.
The main negative effect of veganism would be on the environment, due to population explosion. Woke vegans are right when they observe that more acres are needed to feed a person with meat. But this is good. Veganism would transform the Earth into a huge India, a country whose environment is an unmitigated disaster. It would complete the work of Norman Borlaug, who did more to destroy the environment than any other human being.
I’ve also moved away from vegatable oils for cooking.
and have gone full Keto. Have lost 25 lbs in 3 months.
No new exercising. My skin is smoother. Memory is better.
Sleep is better. BP is down.
Professor Turchin, glad to hear you are feeling healthy and vital these days. In your 2012 post you mentioned you gave up beer and drink 2-3 cups of coffee in the morning. Has this continued? If so, how do you know that doesn’t account for most or all of your realized health improvements? My own anecdotal experience is that if I stop consuming alcohol, avoid processed foods, and eat ample fruit and veg I feel remarkably better. I’m not opposed to eating animals and fat, but I am skeptical that a diet centered on animal consumption is a panacea for human health.
Further, I’m all for grass fed beef and restoring roaming buffalo to the great plains, but the reality is much of our beef comes from CAFOs and cleared Brazilian rain forests. How realistic is it that we could make any kind of switch to sustainable meat consumption at scale? Could we feed 7.8 billion people with a post-neolithic diet?
Dan (General Ecology student 2003)
From the research I have done regarding meat eating benefits, if I recall, it was the over abundance of calories that enabled the increase in the brain sizes and chequeando development over many generations.
As I am not your equal in Intelligence, I would not be bold to debate, but respectfully challenge you to research your assumptions further.
I admire you for your advances in clio dynamics. I hope that your studies in paleo diet awaken you to new discoveries.
Lastly, I applaud you on venturing into better pastoral practices. I encourage you to research work on feeding everyone by David C. Denkenberger
Grateful for your mind
Important thoughts, I have had a similar negative experience when eating a grain based diet; plus I eat more veggies when eating animal foods. Thanks for posting this.
I personally favor the EAT-Lancet diet – eat only small amounts of meat and large amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Im glad you have experimented with different diets. To say a meat diet is better than vegan diet just stirs the pot. A balanced diet , a diet adapted to ones environment, and ones behavior is the goal.
In todays world, the food and water supply is important for humans.Mass producing animals for slaughter I believe is not sustainable or healthy. Meat and dairy consumption in the first world is out of balance. If interested please review / experiment with a macrobiotic diet.
Hi all, I am posting the comment from Nick Thorp. The system didn’t allow it through because of the number of links.
First of all, it was Cambridge University that removed meat from its menus, not the “town of Cambridge”. However, I completely agree that’s hypocritical of the university to take such action whilst continuing to invest in fossil fuels and triggering 10 times the amount of CO2 emissions due to air travel (https://www.countryside-alliance.org/news/2019/11/cambridge-university-red-meat-ban-flight-of-the-h). At least the former issue is now being addressed (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/oct/01/cambridge-university-divest-fossil-fuels-2030-climate), although too slowly for my liking, and the latter has become a moot point recently, at least temporarily. Hopefully institutions and businesses will all realise how much of the pre-Covid-19 business air travel was unnecessary.
Second, aren’t you ignoring the fact that arable land can produce much more food per acre than pastoral land?
At https://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/world-hunger-population-growth-ditching-meat/ you can read that one acre of land can produce 250lb of beef, or 50,000lb of potatoes, or 30,000lb of carrots. And that “plant-based agriculture grows 512% more pounds of food than animal-based agriculture on 69% of the mass of land that animal-based agriculture uses.” (https://humaneherald.files.wordpress.com/2017/12/animal-vs-plant-based-agriculture.pdf).
The situation is of course not quite that simple because not all pastoral land is suitable for crops, but the differences are so large as to make the general conclusion fairly safe.
I love eating meat, especially bacon and lamb chops, but a few years ago I watched a documentary called Cowspiracy, which is actually primarily focused on why the large environmental organisations such as Greenpeace don’t push for animal-free consumption models. During the documentary they visit a US cattle farm that claims to be sustainable – and it was, at that small scale. But the documentary presented calculations that claim that if we wanted to provide the entire US consumption of beef in that way, we’d have to cover the entire land mass of the US with such farms. Everything. So no forests, no cities, no orchards, no crops – all for beef. An absurd example of course, but an illustration of how sustainable on a small scale is not necessarily sustainable when taking the global perspective. Since watching that film I have drastically reduced my meat consumption with no ill-effects.
By the way, my personal view on why Greenpeace (for whom I used to volunteer before I decided to focus on local activism, concluding that the change has to come from the bottom up) don’t, or didn’t until recently, push vegetarianism is that they simply thought they’d lose too many supporters. They feel they can achieve more with wider public support and by compromising on this topic. It’s an ongoing debate within the organisation as far as I know.
And I haven’t even mentioned the massive consumption of water involved in the rearing and processing of cattle compared to arable farming.
As for Omega-3, and other healthy fats, there are alternatives to meat. Many fish contain high levels of Omega-3 (and if you’re worried about the heavy metals, perhaps we should focus on not polluting the oceans instead of writing them off as toxic), whilst walnuts, flax seeds and olive oil are all good sources.
Finally, on the subject of cereals, it’s a curious topic. My niece has recently discovered that she is unable to consume gluten. She had growing problems for years, finally narrowed it down, and now eating a slice of regular bread will make her blow up like a balloon. There’s been a huge rise in such intolerances over the last few decades (https://www.beyondceliac.org/research-news/is-celiac-disease-on-the-rise/) and there must be a reason. No doubt it’s a complex one. Hopefully someone is working on it because I feel for you when you describe the difficulties you experience, especially when eating out. It’s interesting you mention the increased food bill in one of your blog entries, as a result of eating more fresh fruit and vegetables. A friend of mine visited the US a few years ago (I live in Spain), and she said she was horrifed to discover the cost of an apple compared to a bag of potato chips or twinkies. Here in Europe we can eat fresh produce relatively cheaply – I wonder why it’s so expensive in the US. Perhaps some of the subsidies handed out to the wheat, soy and corn industries (https://www.vox.com/videos/2018/3/22/17152460/healthy-eating-expensive) should be redirected to leafier producers.
Anyway, thanks for the blog!
@Ben and others on Cambridge town versus University of Cambridge: you all are quite correct; mea culpa! I will add a clarification to the blog post.
@DanB and others who asked about my diet: Yes, I have pretty much settled into the new diet during the first year after switching. Coffee in the morning, no carbs until the evening meal, lower carbs by eliminating all grains and pulses and also reducing (but not eliminating) root vegetables (potatoes, carrots). Lots of green vegetables (fresh salad every day), some yellow (squash, asparagus) and fruits. And wine, of course. Intermittent fasting of 16 h once a week. It seems to be working well for me.
@Nick Thorp and others who asked about the long-term: ultimately, whatever route we go, there is a limit on how many people this planet can support. The extreme anti-utopia is 50 billion people living in multi-layer gigacities, eating Soylent Green., and experiencing wilderness only virtually. This would be sustainable, but not the world I’d like to live in. I agree that supporting even 8-9 billion people on this planet and keeping us all healthy and happy, leaving enough real estate for wilderness, is not sustainable. So we have to reduce our footprint on the world. I am not advocating any drastic measures. But average family size has been declining everywhere, not just in the wealthy countries. And it may sound sci-fi, but I fully expect emigration to start colonizing the Solar system by the end of the century. So we can bring the Earth population down to 4-5 billions, thus avoiding various anti-utopias.
Yes, my father lived to a ripe ol age of 91, and probably would have gone longer if not for the care he was receiving. He was a party-er, smoker and drinker in his younger years, but gave it up, still consuming meat, and meat fats, some grains, and plenty of garlic. He was born in Galitsia, and midgrated here when he was about 10. So he had very strong Ukrainian genes. So many people are afraid of the fat on meat, but yet, will consume oils in so many others ways. Me? I love the crispy fat on steak, lamb, and was brought up eating salt pork. So, I agree with your article, and say to people who shun meat and fat, it’s your choice, balance well, and stay healthy! Sincerely, Phyli (a friend of Luda’s)
I experienced the same anecdotal improvement when I became vegetarian. I have more energy and can put in longer hours. I still eat occasional dairy and eggs and I supplement with omega-3 a few times a week. I could try to describe my diet, but I think my recipes are pretty good, so I am collecting them in a cookbook that I will try to remember to send this way when it is done. I would not be opposed to the idea of eating some meat to avoid supplements, but we already know that we can’t sustain U.S. levels of meat consumption for the entire world. Is this false? Underneath your paleo diet argument, it seems that there is a hidden supply-side fantasy that global population will decline, instead of continuing the most obvious trend.
Doesn’t seem that anyone mentioned sugar. The processed food industry has been selling us addictive food for a long time. Chemicals abound. Over consumption leads to exercise and diet, another beneficiary of American modernity. The assisted living our technology gives us, means hamster wheels for us, treadmills, etc. The entire built-environment of Earth, the Technosphere, is unmanaged. It’s depleted state is unrecognized. In 1969 Buckminster Fuller told us it needed to be managed like the space ship it was. Nature’s solution to over consumption of the hinterlands is collapse of hubs. Their fragility is recognized too late. Since there are no peer planets for the discipline of Technospheric, a model is needed against which we can benchmark ourselves. Limits to Growth did that and overshoot has been calculated. We’ve been in total overshoot since 2006. So, against the Technospherics, back of the napkin model, we’ll have to shrink to sustainability. A great efficiency can be found in recognizing that warring over declining resources increases the scarcity problem and is a further waste of declining resources. In 1970, Alvin Toffler alerted us to Future Shock. Fifty years later we are in Future Trauma. David Fleming’s Surviving the Future is now a useful perspective. Food, shelter, clothing? We don’t want civilization lost to those absolute basics. The current state of depleted Nature won’t support much hunter-gathering. Yes, I am a hypocrite. Back-to-the-land tried in 1973. Had to go with the day job.
I suspect that the people who experience significant improvement in health and well-being on the paleo diet do so not so much because of the composition of their paleo diet but more because it largely eliminates refined carbs and highly processed foods, and perhaps in some cases specifically because it’s a way of eliminating gluten. There is plenty of evidence that the worst part of the modern diet is the high proportion of highly refined carbs, followed closely by hydrogenated fats… and in particular the combination thereof. Switching to a paleo diet eliminates these, but you can do the same while becoming a natural-food vegetarian!
Wheat, specifically gluten, may be problematic for some people, perhaps more so than widely acknowledged. But a diet based on brown rice and beans or lentils, combined with a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and nuts, is likely to have similar or greater beneficial effects in the short and medium term, and almost certainly will reduce the risk of cancer in the long term; the correlation between meat consumption and increased risk of cancer seems to be pretty solidly established. As for beans (or pulses in general), I know some paleo advocates single them out as containing “anti-nutrients”, but the evidence seems to be pretty thin.
Personally, I’m not a vegan, or even vegetarian, I do eat a lot of eggs and occasionally a little meat and fish. The eggs come from my own (completely free-range) production and I try to limit my meat consumption to my own animals or locally sourced… my rule of thumb is that I have to personally know the person who killed the animal to eat its meat.
I think Michael Pollan got it right: Eat real food, mostly plants.
Generally, yeah, and congratulations. The point about fat, specifically omega-3, is really important. We need to eat more insects, too. Good protein. We can get a lot of omega-3 fatty acids from nuts, notably walnuts. The one criticism is that humans clearly evolved as general foragers, eating fruits, leaves, nuts, seeds, and roots they could get, as well as animals, and plants are a lot higher percentage of the environment than animals. Early humans probably got about 10-20% of calories from animals.
OK, Paleo diet is better than the Standard American Diet! And your history is great! And you may have given us the tools to avoid the imminent destruction of western civilization! However, if I were in your position, I would look primarily at actual scientific research before plunging into broad conclusions about nutrition.
In general, I would suggest https://nutritionfacts.org/ as the best place to start, because Dr. Michael Greger reads the original scientific papers, and lots of them, including and especially those that contradict conventional vegan ideas. If you did that, it would give us some specifics to research and debate, as opposed to vague ideas based on articles from Time magazine. Check out Greger’s book “How Not to Die” (or his numerous videos and articles on the subject). I’d also suggest becoming familiar with what I would refer to as mainstream plant-based scientific ideas, e. g. T. Colin Campbell, John McDougall, Brenda Davis, Vesanto Melina, Joel Fuhrman, Caldwell Esselstyn, Dean Ornish, etc. etc. I may have missed it somewhere, but it doesn’t look like this blog has really engaged with the ideas of any of these people. If you want to engage on this issue, these are the people with whom I would suggest that you need to engage.
Here is a good defense of animal agriculture:
Raiten, D. J., L. H. Allen, J. L. Slavin, F. M. Mitloehner, G. J. Thoma, P. A. Haggerty and J. W. Finley (2020). “Understanding the Intersection of Climate/Environmental Change, Health, Agriculture, and Improved Nutrition: A Case Study on Micronutrient Nutrition and Animal Source Foods.” Current Developments in Nutrition 4(7).
Vegan here. From the outset, I should say that I am not proficient in environmental, health, or biological science so I may very well stand corrected on this. However, one issue with this blog post for me is that you often use examples of being plant-based where the people doing it aren’t doing a very good job. There are plant-based sources of omega-3, you can ban meat without being a hypocrite, and not every farmer uses damaging/unsustainable approaches to growing plants. While I agree that the things you mentioned are common and are problems that need addressing, they are not inherent to a plant-based lifestyle. In my opinion, a comparison between broad approaches like this should use the best practices from each side as well as where they might go in the future to determine which option is better or worse.
Have you considered that our Paleolithic ancestries didn’t actually eat a lot of meat, they mostly ate plants. And the meat they did eat was very different than what we have available. The types of fat found in wild game is very different than farm raised cattle. Also, you mentioned corn taking up so much land. Surely you’re aware that corn is used for feeding livestock and ethanol.
Do you think your positive health changes comes mostly from removing processed foods from your diet? Also, would encourage you to look into peer reviewed studies on the impact plant foods, specifically fiber (a carbohydrate), has on the gut microbiome (butyrate is a key term here). The research that has come out over the last decade is quite fascinating.
No mention of animal suffering. Why?
The major problem with American food is that it is so highly processed. Whole wheat and brown rice have not only far greater vitamin and mineral content, but also essential fiber and even fat. Those types of foods, combined with many fruits and vegetables, plus small amounts of fatty meat, are a very healthful way to eat. The B-complex vitamins in whole grain are considered brain food and are supportive of a healthy nervous system.
One issue I see missing here is insulin resistance and how much a diet that’s primarily carbohydrates contributes to it. Especially root vegetables, whole grains, rice and sugars.
While I understand that you need to do what’s best for your health, I’m extremely disappointed by the seeming lack of your usual sharp critical thinking here.
Your environmental argument makes no sense; most crops are grown to feed farm animals, so eating meat directly causes those large monoculture fields you dislike so much. The vast majority of soy grown worldwide is fed to animals.
If you are going to continue eating meat, I beg you to only eat organic: the majority of antibiotic resistance we’re seeing is driven by antibiotics to farm animals.
I also beg you to only eat free-range: the cramped conditions of most farm animals is almost certain to create another pandemic in the coming decades.
The meat industry is also a huge contributor to carbon emissions.
I understand that it may have brought you a lot of health benefits, but unfortunately it is simply impossible for the human race to continue eating meat at anywhere close to our current rates.
If anyone is feeling really bad about all this, but not bad enough to stop eating meat, consider makiing a regular donation to the Good Food Institute, a non profit who are trying to accelerate the progress of cultivated meat: the only way that humankind will be able to sustain any significant meat consumption in coming decades.
First of all, I would like to take the opportunity of replying to your post to thank you for your excellent and inspiring books. I am a biologist and I’ve always like history, your approach is precisely the kind of approach (quantitative, process-focused) I dreamt to see in history. I also think multidisciplinary approaches are the best to tackle difficult issues such as political instability, global warming, and so on…
It is great that you feel better since you’ve been on paleodiet. However, I don’t think paleodiet is the right solution for everyone.
My personal experience:
I’ve tried paleodiet for a year 12 years ago. I did not like it. Meat at breakfast, lunch and diner was not for me. Also, I used to buy high-quality meat not industrial meat, it was very expensive. Last, I had great difficulties in doing physical exercise and felt weak. I changed to a mostly plant-based diet in 2015 (mostly vegetarian, eating fish once a week = pesco-vegetarian). It is not easy because a plant-based diet is not eating just salad or the standard dishes without meat. You need to learn cooking all over again. I am now almost 50 and feel much better than before 2015 at all levels (cognitive, physical).
– The paleodiet was developed in the 70’s. It is not science-based and it is outdated.
– Eating red meat is not healthy. Fat from read meat is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Processed red meat is considered carcinogenic and read meat potentially carcinogenic by the WHO.
– Eating red meat is not sustainable. Many more arable lands are required for a meat-based diet than for a plant-based diet. 80% of the arable lands are currently used to grow and feed livestock (mostly cattle). There are more cattle than all terrestrial vertebrates combined (in biomass). Clearly it is impossible to have everyone eating on paleodiet all around the world.
– Eating red meat is bad for the environment. The red-meat production is currently responsible for a significant part of the destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity (Amazon forest is just one example) and for greenhouse gas release (they produce methane…).
– Paleodiet is a marketing name, which poorly relate to hunter-gatherer diet. Most of the time, hunter-gatherers were starving, eating mainly fruits and tubers. We are descendants of the men who started agriculture. Our genome is no longer adapted to the hunter-gatherer diet.
Most of what I say can be found in this article published in the Lancet:
Willett et al. (2019). Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Lancet (London, England), 393(10170), 447–492.
This article is very interesting. It presents a reference diet that optimizes both the health and environmental issues. The reference diet is flexible, it can includes meat (but in very low amount and preferably not red meat). The special case of the infants and elderly people are discussed.
I suggest this documentary:
It starts with the discovery that the gladiators, the professional athletes of the roman times, had a mostly plant-based diet. In particular they ate a lot of beans. Professional athletes who changed from regular diets (with meat) to plant-based diet share their experience. The documentary includes a lot of useful information about plant-based diet.
Large-scale bivalve farming off the coastal areas of the world would clean the ocean, provide us with beneficial proteins. Add to that seaweed, which would attract and feed herbivorous fish and in themselves are more nutritious than any land plants and probably more nutritious than land based meats. You get your healthy fats, protein, copper, selenium, zinc, iron.
Having the whole world live on grass-fed beef from cattle is clearly unsustainable (and will destroy the environment). But I expect that we’ll have test-tube meat that’s like the real thing soon enough. And yes, the world population will start to decline before I die (hope to live that long). And that likely will be a negative for the human race.
Oh, and Soylent can be delicious. Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it.
Leafy greens vegetables have alot of oxalate, meat has alot of phosphorus, red wine and coffee only accentuate the problem of things like kidney and gall stones. The human body has largely evolved since the paleolithic to be able to digest things like gluten and lactose, for a large segment of the population.
But honestly, I subscribe to the aquatic ape hypothesis and think we should consume more farmed fish, bivalves, and seaweed.
I don’t mean to change the subject, of course, but I wonder if Biden’s election will be the turning point in the structural demographic cycle after which the US will begin a long, slow improvement phase after decades of downhill slide.
Many vegans go to soy for their protein needs but soy has phyto-estrogens. As a breast cancer survivor, I am wary of phyto-estrogens. As to Norman Borlaug, it proves the addage “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Several comments compacted into one post, sorry.
Ten thousand years of unevenly spreading agriculture affecting different numbers in separated populations is not a very long time at all. As I remember my elementary population genetics, the amount of intermixture with non-agricultural populations (which does include significant interbreeding with pastoralists, not just hunter/gatherer bands,) would slow such hypothesized adaptation significantly. Only a powerful positive selection effect could operate so rapidly over such a wide scale. But there is no reason to suspect something so powerful in agricultural diets. Even selection for lactose tolerance hasn’t operated so widely as to transform the species. Any hints of Human Biodiversity thinking about differently adapted races should be rejected. The transitional phases of speciation seem to run more like a hundred thousand years than a mere ten thousand.
The aquatic ape hypothesis as presented (to my knowledge) sees the separation in the human lineage from other apes far too long ago. (There seems to be a tendency to put the evolution of man as far back as possible, apparently to keep “us” separate from the animals.) Humanity began separating from other hominid populations maybe 200 000 years ago, possibly 300 000 max. Again, when it comes to multiplication of species, there is a difference between terminus a quo and terminus ad quem. Fully modern humans, judging from the characteristic of relatively rapid change in tool kits, didn’t emerge until less than a 100 000 years ago, maybe even more like 70 000. (If you think fully modern humans would use the same basic tool kit for tens of thousands of years, I can only wonder why.) There are issues in the standard from-the-trees-down-to-the-savannahs scenarios. But like issues in the whole idea of multiplication of species, that isn’t evidence for aquatic ape any more than for creationism. (Habitat including rivers, lakes and swamps are not part of any aquatic ape hypothesis I know of.)
The experimental work done on creating self-contained environments, the notorious Biosphere project, suggests that the capacity to “colonize” space is entirely lacking, with no timeline in sight. Plus, I suspect there would need to be something like a pipeline carrying water into space to provide enough of a critical resource to even make a plausible effort at a system of bases. The problem is, although an orbital beanstalk is theoretically feasible, materials science is nowhere near capable to making a dynamical possibility a physical reality.
As to veganism? It seems to me that in a society where there is an intrinsic drive to absolute immiseration of the majority of the population—which seems to me to describe class society in general—there is an intrinsic drive for ideologies justifying this impoverishment of the masses. Veganism is not just a mysterious subjective desire not to eat anything with faces, nor even health food faddism, but at root about taking meat away from the masses. .
As to the healthfulness of veganism, it seems to me that quite aside from the difficulties of supplying a healthful vegan diet—walnuts for ten billion people?—the effects of veganism on children are likely pretty negative. And veganism for the sick, the wounded and the elderly strike me as likely cruel. As to the general notion that people must be eliminated to preserve the environment, well, a just form of population control is probably desirable. But at this point veganism is the pretty face of speculation about getting rid of population. I think Peter Frase’s term “exterminism” (from his Four Futures) would sum this aspect up nicely.
As to specific diets, the tendency to seek panaceas instead of acknowledging human variation in individuals (despite crazed ideas about differences in race,) is depressingly common.
Doubly sorry for double post!
“I don’t mean to change the subject, of course, but I wonder if Biden’s election will be the turning point in the structural demographic cycle after which the US will begin a long, slow improvement phase after decades of downhill slide”.
It’s pretty clear that Biden’s “election” is just a part of rocking the boat. Biden is even more decrepit than Chernenko.
BTW, Petr Valentinovich, consider not posting my previous comment… discussions about Biden probably won’t advance science at this point.
I’m just curious, are you afraid of American hunweibins?
(also don’t post this one)
Apparently, for each type of diet you can find a scientific article that justifies it. This is not surprising, because people obviously have different needs and different tolerances depending on their age, physical stress and smallest genetic details. For example, as many people don’t seem to know, the need for colories gradually decreases after the age of 40. Anyone who eats as much at 50 as they did at 25 will become dangerously fat – the type of diet almost no longer matters.
In discussions like these, it’s often not clear what the reference point for personal dietary choices should be: 1) the health of the planet, 2) personal wellness, or 3) living as long as possible.
Regarding the first goal, there is general agreement that land use and greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced – fastly. Extensive cattle farming is the opposite of this. There is no question at all that the consumption of four-legged animals should be reduced and all over-consumers of “red meat” must start first. With chicken meat, things look more favorable for meat eaters: Today, you can grow chicken meat with almost as few emissions as you can grow vegetables, as long as the chicken droppings are disposed of properly. (Vegetable farming and distribution also produces some emissions).
For the second goal (personal well-being), general advice can only be given superficially: “varied,” “little alcohol,” etc. Everyone can only try things out for themselves.
The third goal (living longer) is an interesting area of research. There seems to be agreement that eating only little (about just a handful) helps a lot. Likewise, coffee is associated with long life (one reason could be that coffee helps with autophagy of the cells, i.e. the self-cleaning of the cells). And many diet doctrines are favor lots of antioxidants.
My personal tip to the human society 😉 in the affluent countries would be: BUy less food, eat less, avoid trash-food and above all don’t throw away so much food (researchers assume that in the USA and Europe about 1/3 of the produced food ends up unused in the garbage).
I would assume that the future will still surprise us very much, also with regard to nutrition. The 21st century is expected to produce about 10,000 times more inventions (https://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns). Agriculture will improve greatly in quality and efficiency, possibly fully automated, so that food would have only distribution costs and could be made available to everyone for free. It depends mainly on bringing the energy costs down to almost zero – mankind would then have enough ideas what to do with it …
What are your thoughts on this?
If we can have cellular precision fermentation of healthy proteins and fats, why would we need to consume as much animal products as now?
Of all the things to raise alarm about, veganism? Really? I am disappointed at the lack of scientific rigor in this post.
Whatever negatives you associate with vegan lifestyle are trivial compared to the negatives of mass meat consumption, which I need not lay out here as they are well known.
Everyone has an anecdote. I went from obese to healthy weight by becoming vegan. It wasn’t even that difficult. I’d just been told it was difficult. Now I am healthier and feel better. Therefore meat-eating lowers your IQ. No?
Yes, I consume some plants whose growth is not great for the environment, but these same plants are produced in far larger quantities to raise the livestock you adore, livestock whose methane emissions cannot be ignored.
And not a word on animal suffering or the disgusting and dangerous conditions of meat production?
If the world were vegan, COVID-19 would not have been a thing. These pandemics always generate from animal consumption and trade, but no one talks about the simplest solution because to so many it is simply unthinkable to make such a lifestyle change.
I have seen several comments about artifical meat. You can already sense a big difference between free-range and industrial farm meat. What would be the benefit of artificial meat except for protein / calories? There are vitamin and mineral supplements which don’t match natural food in the absorption capability of the human body. Is this approach less harmfull to society as compared to one-child policy ? What will be next – Soylent Green ? One opens the door for the other and there is already an industry for food preparation from larvae and mature insects.
Global warming is a very good thing for the planet.
Historically, the biggest man-killers were droughts. Droughts happen more when the world is colder. A warmer world will be also be a more agriculturally productive one.
The Saharan Desert was a verdant, blooming garden when the world was just 1C warmer.
Wow! Suddenly, my credence on Cliodynamics totally dropped. Now that people sort of accept the “elite overproduction hypothesis”, it looks like Turchin is trying to find a new polemical subject?
This post totally ignores the basics, such as:
a) you’re not eating bison, but beef, and cos are not fed by virgin grasslands, but by planted pasture and agricultural production (such as that in the beautiful first pic), which is a quite inefficient way to get nutrients.
b) vegetarian diet trumps keto diet (and it’s suggests it trumps paleo diet, too) when it comes to losing weight – but that’s not so relevant, since what really makes you lose weight in the long-run is behavioral change, and you can attain that with any diet you actually follow: https://osf.io/preprints/nutrixiv/rdjfb/
c) Seriously, are we comparing a pic of an Iowa crop field with another one from an African savannah?
“ Modern humans began to cook plant starches, such as those from roots and tubers, as far back as 120,000 years ago”
…. so perhaps potato’s, and a few other things, should be included in the highly idealized ‘paleo diet’. To suggest that paleo human populations hadn’t already spent a few millennia digging around in the dirt with a stick looking for roots and tubers seems absurd.
akarlin March 11, 2021 at 7:20 am
Global warming is a very good thing for the planet…agriculturally more productive…etc
this comment is strange because while it is true that global warming is “agriculturally more productive”, it is so only in terms of faster plant growth and somewhat higher crop yields,
the nuritional profile of over 300 human food crops have dramatically decreased over the past 40 years as human induced atmospheric carbon forcing pushes out minerals and nutrients,
along with a concomitant decrease in protein production in plants, because in fact, plants are exponentially increasing their carbon intake.
i fail to see how this development is a positive outcome of runaway global warming, because even if run away global warming does marginally increase crop yields,
any gains made will be massively offset as millions of hectares of cropland become fallow, barren and unroductive (sorry vertical farming and gmos will not be scalable solutions due to time and political economy constraints),
and what farmlands remain will produce less nutritious food crops.
the upshot is that going forward , large scale farming will produce less food at a much lower nutritional profile(small scale farming will not yeild more nutritious crops either; too much carbon means more starchy plants regardless of scale or mode of production i.e. hydroponics or “organic” etc.)
turns out global warming is scale-free; but, al gore couldnt win his own state in 2000 against jr bush and they blamed ralph nader not the bush-clintones.
but really, since al gore’s movie, more carbon has been deposited on earth than since al gore was born until his movie came out,
rip gore vidal (my only and most favorite gore).
Thank you for your interesting essays. I have already translated this essay into Japanese.
I am Japanese and can digest seaweed, but my friend, an American, cannot. If he eats seaweed, he gets an upset stomach. Another friend of mine has a thin body weight and shape, with hardly any blood sugar spike, even though he consumes large amounts of carbohydrates on a daily basis.
As it relates to your research topic, “epigenetics” is often pointed out as one of the factors behind the impossibly rapid evolution of humans. It has also been suggested that the rapid “evolution” of digestion due to “epigenetics” of the gut environment has resulted in large individual differences in human digestion.
I found Tim Spector’s book, “The Diet Myth: The Real Science Behind What We Eat” very interesting. In this book, he talks about how people vary greatly in their digestion depending on the type of bacteria in their gut.
To what extent can human “nutrient digestion” be universalized? Or what are your thoughts on “epigenetics”? I would be happy to read your reflections sometime.