Hunter Gatherer

Brimming with ideas and a fascinating read. STEVEN PINKER, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University

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Why Hunter-Gatherers?

How do you keep a wild animal healthy?

Say that you're a zoo-keeper in a zoo, and your job is to keep the animals happy and healthy — what would you do?  Put them all in the same pen and feed them all dog chow?  No.  You would replicate each animal's natural habitat as closely as possible, and feed them the diet that they would naturally eat in the wild.  Feed raw meat to the lions, rodents to the snakes, and bamboo to the pandas.  Give the monkeys trees to climb and give the birds space to fly.  Make the penguin house cold, and the reptile house hot.  Animals thrive in their natural habitat.  They are healthier, often live longer, and fall sick less frequently.  And the same general principle applies to human beings: to be happy and healthy, we should eat, move, and live in ways that resemble our ancestral habitat.

Re-creating the natural human habitat

But what is the natural human habitat?  For most of human history on this earth, humans lived as hunter-gatherers in the wild.  Wild humans, living in the wild.  And we were good at it.  We survived on flat grassy savannahs and on the sides of steep mountains, in parched deserts and in drenched rain forests, next to the sea and far inland, on the hot equator and in the eternal winter of the Arctic.

We accomplished all this without the help of domesticated plants and animals — just using language, smarts, tools, and a little teamwork.  But ten thousand years ago, we started to tame the wilderness: the Agricultural Revolution.  The Agricultural Revolution ushered in a new set of foods into the human diet that previously had no place.  We domesticated wild grains, turning them into wheat, corn, and rice.  We domesticated wolves into loyal companions, and bred wild animals and raised them for their meat and milk.  And at the same time that human civilization began to flourish, individual human health began to worsen.

Hunter-gatherers were healthy

More and more evidence suggests that hunter-gatherers were tall, strong, and healthy.  And that shorter lifespans were due to violence, infection, and other causes of death that do not afflict modern people — plenty of hunter-gatherers lived long lives free of "Diseases of Civilization", like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.  This blog will cover evidence (for and against) the idea that modern humans would be healthier if we ate the types of foods that existed in the wild before the advent of agriculture.

Health should be simple

Here is a simple way to understand how to be healthy.  This is the shortest history of humanity you'll ever read.  Three words: wild, domesticated, industrial.
  • Wild: Humans lived as hunter-gatherers in the wild (~1-2 million years, including recent ancestors)
  • Domesticated: Humans domesticated plants and animals during the Agricultural Revolution, and lived as farmers and herders (~10k years)
  • Industrial: Humans built the industrial food system and started eating processed foods (~100 years or fewer)

Nearly all conventional health authorities recommend that you move from an Industrial Diet (processed foods, soda, Pop Tarts) to a traditional Farmer's Diet (whole grains, dairy, organic).  It's a good first step.  I'm simply recommending that we go one step further back in time, to a Hunter-Gatherer Diet.