Open Future HealthOut of Africa - The Development of Agriculture

The Egyptians were the first society to try and live on a diet high in grains. Everywhere else the supply of meat was critical. It should be noted for most of mankind, the meat or fish eaten didn't come from a market, it was self caught and self killed. Only in the last 600 years did some societies develop laws against killing "wild animals" on the basis that they belonged to the king. In England and much of Europe 300 years ago, meat was scarce for the poor. In contrast in the USA, meat was essentially free and available for everyone, even slaves.

The following is my commentary, a reconstruction, written from my own notes, and may not be entirely as accurate as I (or Dr Noakes) would like. (Text in dark green is my own addition.)

The Development of Human Brains - High Fat Diets

Video Eight and Video Nine

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The exploitation of coastal resources is thought to have been key in allowing early humans to move across the globe. Along this coastal fringe, a person could gather enough food for the day in about two hours.

The sea level was relatively low, for a period of about 50,000 years, beginning say 150,000 years ago, and for a period after the last ice age, 20,000 years ago, while people were confined to areas close to the warmth of the sea, and to the food from the sea, they were able to travel along the coastal fringe of Africa, India and Asia, and even into coastal areas on the Mediterranean Sea. At some stage they also crossed to North America.

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The authors of the book "The Sheltering Desert: a classic tail of escape and survival in the Namib desert." explain very well the importance of fat in the human diet. These two men were Germans, and when WWII began they didn't want to be interned, so they chose to live off the land in the desert. They took "shelter" there.

They speak of hearing a legend about the Bushmen who live on the edge of the Namib desert, and the idea that heaven is a place were there is plenty of fat to drink.

The 'Bushmen' are the oldest inhabitants of southern Africa, where they are commonly known as Bushmen, San, Khwe or as the Basarwa.

They are good marksmen and use small bows and tiny, unflighted arrows whose barbs are smeared with poison from the larvae of Chrysomelidae beetles. Most prized is the eland, the largest antelope in southern Africa, which is significant not only because of its size but it also because of its fat. This fat is very important to the diet of the Bushmen, and also they believe it has supernatural potency.

A ritual is held where the boy is told how to track an eland and how the eland will fall once shot with an arrow. He becomes an adult when he kills his first large antelope, preferably an eland. The eland is skinned and the fat from the eland's' throat and collar bone is made into a broth. This broth has great potency.

As part of the marriage ritual, the man gives the fat from the eland's' heart to the girls' parents. At a later stage the girl is anointed with eland fat.

Early spring, a hot dry period following a cool dry winter, is the hardest season, after autumn nuts are exhausted, villages concentrate around the water holes, and most plants are dead or dormant. Meat is the critical food in the dry months, when wildlife can never range far from receding waters.

8-9Fat of the Land
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Viljalmar Stefansson spent almost 10 years living with the Inuit. He wrote several books, including the three illustrated. Stefansson learnt that you could live a very healthy life eating only meat and fat, as the Inuit do for months at a time. He became a strong proponent of a diet that contained a lot more fat, especially because it was protective of our teeth. The Inuit on their natural diet have zero tooth decay.

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In the text to the right Stefansson writes about the availability of sugar in the human diet. As we've made a decision to reduce our fat intake we've taken to eating much more sugar.

Stefansson also wrote about the feeding habits of polar bears. When a bear kills a seal, the first thing it does is to eat the thick layer of fat along the seal's back. Polar bears can live entirely on seal fat.

It was the access to seafood that made the survival of primitive humans possible, and we've retained the ability to respond strongly to that diet even today. In a study by French researchers, Brourre and Paquotte, published in 2008, it was demonstrated that seafood, shellfish and finfish, was particularly good at supplying all the nutriments our brains need for health.

8-11Marine Study
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It was exposure to marine foods at Pinnacle Point, 150,000 years ago that allowed the development of the large brain, which is characteristic of human beings. The dietary and genetic characteristics of Homo sapiens were established at that time and remain fundamental to our health and welfare today. A diet of small animals and seafood probably lacked the fat needed for a balanced diet.

As far as we know, there were several hominin groups, and only the hominin for this area, survived to become Homo sapiens. So times must have been hard and this population especially advantaged, by location and good fortune.

As the population grew, there was more an more pressure on the environment supplying the food. This was particularly so for the largest and fattest animals. They were the most desirable food supply and populations were often wiped out by over-hunting.

The Development of Agriculture - High Carbohydrate Diets

Video Nine

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Agriculture became important about 12000 years ago. Wheat growing became important in Persia and spread across Europe. We don't know why that happened, but people were clearly responding to climate warming, and were able to move away from the sea into the fertile inland valleys.

At first they would live in the traditional way, by hunting, following the migration of animals. Later by nomadic herding their own flocks. The formation of permanent settlements and agriculture is a recent development on this timeline.

Maize to South Africa
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Maize has become the dominant food for South Africans. How did that happen? Maize came from South America, and it was spread across the world by Portuguese traders some 500 years ago. In South Africa both wheat and maize were introduced crops. European farmers preferred wheat which was a cash crop. The indigenous population adopted maize as their staple food if the supply of animal foods was scarce. I can't be sure what the indigenous population were eating prior to 1914, but only 2.25% of the cropping area was planted in maize. Cattle were highly prized and indigenous groups who owned large numbers of cattle were wealthy and secure.

After 1914 things changed. The mining towns developed, creating a big demand for maize as a cash crop. New American maize varieties became available, adopted first by the black farmers, but also later by the white farmers. This change was driven by the government offering cheap finance and price support in the effort to create efficient markets.

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In the 1930's and 1940's the government encouraged the production of maize on an industrial scale. White farmers became the major producers of maize for the market and black farmers produced mainly subsistence maize.

By the 1950's it was readily agreed that maize was the staple food for people in the townships, and that high carbohydrate diets were desirable for the population. That assumption is seen in the recommended diet for South Africans. I question the validity of that idea. This advice completely ignores human history and what foods people are best adapted to eat. Maize is a very recent addition to our food supply.

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Egyptians were the first people to eat the sort of diet we now recommend. From the Middle East we get the idea that bread is the staff of life. If the diet we now recommend is a healthy diet, the Egyptians should have been healthy. We know from records that obesity was a problem, men developed distinct breasts, their teeth were poor and they suffered from heart disease. The first heart attacks are described in ancient Egypt.

In ancient Egypt we have evidence that a diet based on wholegrains, with vegetables, fruit, fish and fowl was not a healthy diet. I suspect that they would also have diabetes. We can't argue that it's industrialized food or sugar that's causing their problems, because they didn't have any.

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There is also evidence that over the last 5000 years the stature of modern people has decreased and that the brain is smaller, dropping from 144g to 138g for men and from 141g to 132g for women. Human stature also declined when we adopted grains as a key element in our diet. At the same time seafood has become a small part of the diet. Farming has not been the great benefit to mankind that people often assume.

Human stature and brain size has only recovered in the last 100 years. One of the key books in human nutrition was written by Weston Price, an American dentist who in his professional practice had noted the decline in the quality of the mouth structure and teeth of the patients he was treating. He decided to find the source of that problem by traveling the world looking for people who had healthy facial features and teeth. Price gives us many examples of people with wide faces and prefect teeth.

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Plains Indians in the USA, borrowed horses from the Spaniards and became expert bison hunters. In the 1830's they were amongst the tallest people in the world. Height is an excellent marker of the quality of your diet. George Catlin painted these two Indians in 1830. These people lived on game, mostly buffalo. They were tall powerful and lean. There diet had no source of grains or sugar, or olive oil. There diet was high in saturated fats.

Painting Catlin
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With the coming of the European, the hunger to control the land and subjugate the Indians, the bison were wiped out, often as deliberate policy. Without their food source and confined to the reservation, the decline in health to the plains Indians was assured. But we don't address that. Obesity suddenly appears in a previously healthy population. We deny that the change in diet caused health problems we now see.

So in South Africa, is there a similar story?

The Xhosa Wars (also known as the Cape Frontier Wars, Kaffir Wars or "Africa's 100 Years War"), were a series of nine wars or flare-ups (from 1779 to 1879) between the Xhosa tribes and European settlers in what is now the Eastern Cape in South Africa. The inevitable result was that the Xhosa lost land to the Europeans, little by little. A desperate act leading tho the end of Xhosa power began in 1856.

(From Wikipedia) In April 1856 the 16-year-old Xhosa prophetess Nongqawuse began to declare that she had received a message from the Xhosa people's ancestors, promising deliverance from their hardships. She preached that the ancestors would return from the afterlife in huge numbers, drive all Europeans into the sea, and give the Xhosa bounteous gifts of horses, sheep, goats, dogs, fowls, and all manner of clothing and food in great amounts. On condition that the Xhosa first destroyed all their means of subsistence. They needed to kill all of their cattle and burn all of their crops.

The cattle killings continued into 1858, leading to the starvation of thousands. Disease was also spread from the cattle killings. This gave the settlers power over the remainder of the Xhosa nation who were often forced to turn to the colonists for food, blankets and other relief.

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In KwaZulu-Natal, the Zulu were estimated to have 5 million Nguni Cattle. Anglo-Zulu War was fought in 1879, there were also battles with the Boers. This resulted in the loss of lands, the confiscation of cattle and the killing of cattle. To top that off the rinderpest disease arrived in 1897 and destroyed 85% of the Zulu cattle.

The cattle disease rinderpest, came to Africa from Somalia in 1887. It arrived in South Africa in 1896, and it decimated the cattle of the tribal groups. The loss of the cattle caused great hardship and starvation. This forced many indigenous South Africans to seek work in the townships because without their livestock, life was not viable in the village. Here is the source of the notion that the staple diet in South Africa is maize. That wasn't true except in very recent times.

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