There aren't many papers studying sex among foraging people, given that is a potentially taboo topic among all societies. But lately I stumbled upon this paper on the Aka, the pygmy tribe I have written about before. Jesse Bering wrote about how the paper describes a cultures where the homosexual orientation is unheard of. That's not surprising in a culture obsessed with fertility and could also have to do with unusually low levels of sexual dimorphism. What is really surprising to me about this paper is that the married Aka are actually having sex and lots of it:
This chart compares married Aka, with married Ngandu (nearby agriculturalists), and with married Americans.
We are a society obsessed with sex, but sexually unsatisfying marriages are almost a National joke.
When I posted this paper on Twitter though, people seemed most surprised that the men do not masturbate. Maybe they aren't masturbating because they are receiving all the real sex that they want and are in fact quite exhausted from it considering they have to do it several times a night and if they can't get it up their wives will divorce them. They fear this enough that they have developed several botanical viagras from local plants.
Just like the idea of not masturbating is foreign to Americans, the idea that married people aren't obligated to have sex is foreign to the Aka. And because American men generally don't get as much sex as they want, we have a multi-billion dollar industry that factory farms it for us: pornography, another thing many American men can't imagine living without. A large part of many porn-users sexuality is often compartmentalized into a private world of Incognito browser tabs. I wonder if more sexual people would tolerate relationships with people who don't seem to want much sex if it didn't exist.
As for why those people (mainly women) don't want much sex and think part of it is thinking sex needs to be an elaborate production each time and part of it is low-sex drive, which is often caused by poor nutrition. A stunning amount of women have never orgasmed before. The Orgasmic Diet is a low-carb diet supplemented with fish oil that some women have claimed has solved the low sex drive/no orgasm issue. I think the paleo diet probably works a lot better since it emphasizes a lot more libido-enhancing foods than just fish oil and forbids a lot of detrimental foods. Anecdotally I've heard people say a keto diet puts their libido into the stratosphere, but other people have told me it does the opposite.
I was reading the Weight Maven blog and she found this fascinating video series comparing the effects of processed food and pornography on the brain, which is worth watching (they also have a website with more info). It's an interesting new understanding on the phenomenon. We've moved away from understanding overeating as a moral failing and looking at it in terms of hyperstimuli that messes with our brain. That video does the same with our understanding of sexual hyperstimuli. It's probably worth saying though that pornography is better for society than habit of frequenting prostitutes that is more common in some agrarian cultures such as the Ngandu. Other cultures (the Masaai for example) have wife-sharing, which seems to have worked out well in the past, but since the advent of virulent STDs*, it has threatened some of these cultures with extinction.
* it's disputed when really threatening STDs really emerged. There are many ancient skeletons with lesions that could be syphilis, but they also could be a related non-STD disease called yaws. But there have been cases of really viruent STDs in wild animals. It's likely Tasmanian Devils will become extinct in the next few decades because of one.
Yesterday I wrote about the fact that an unpredictable over-powerful government and excessive regulations can quash the desire of young people to be creative and work hard.
I think there is an opportunity here for states and countries to attract more young people, both by fostering the flourishing of small businesses. While the Federal government unfortunately continues to grow in power, the fact is that some states are more free than other states.
This is a cool site where you can rank states based on freedom and weight things that you care about. New Hampshire and many Western (but not West coast) states rank pretty high no matter how you slide things.
New York ranks pretty badly. The fact we have so many innovative things here is a testament to the value of urban concentration, but even while I've lived here, I've seen many small businesses and small farms go under thanks to regulation or government persecution. That's one of many reasons I didn't want to build a business here. And one of the reasons I think upstate is so economically depressed and why many young folks in NYC consider themselves temporary residents.
This might seem small, but one of my favorite markets was the Greenpoint food market. It was full of interesting and innovative micro-businesses created in the "gig economy." I used to buy all kinds of interesting food and crafts there, until word got out and the health department shut it down because some food wasn't made in government-approved kitchens. You can argue about those regulations all day, but I think if they are going to have that kind of burden, there should be more public-funding for projects that help small businesses get around the extremely capital-intensive regulations. Some of these do exist already- there is a commercial kitchen you can rent in Long Island City and it has helped some of the businesses kicked out of the market go on to become legitimate.
I think that's also why the freedom rankings have some limitations, because there are states that rank kind of badly, but still manage to encourage innovation. Public funding towards things like kitchen incubators and agricultural extensions can make a difference, though it comes along with higher taxes. And individual towns even have the power to attract small food businesses, such as a town in Maine that declared food sovereignty.
Beyond our borders, I think small countries that are experiencing brain-drain or that are just developing might be posed to attract educated innovative immigrant "pioneers" through favorable policies. I already know some people my age who have moved to SE Asia and others that have invested in African countries like Rwanda (bad reputation, but the government is trying to rebuild). Unfortunately in Eastern Europe the EU is destroying freedom and the ability for Americans to invest, but perhaps that will be broken by their recent crisis since it's clear a lot of these countries really need investment. Iceland and parts of Canada are also contenders.
Of course this requires that young people be wiling to be pioneers and move somewhere new, but I figure that's something Americans are pretty decent at already.
Wisconsin 2022. Things have gotten bad since 2011. The economy recovered somewhat, employment didn't. Outsourcing, automation, productivity per person, and general economic stagnation have produced a dire economic situation, particularly among young people. The dream of productivity gains allowing people to work less has turned into a nightmare. It's more productive to have fewer employees than to let people work less. Few young people are getting married. Fertility is dropping. Resource prices, particularly for fossil fuels and synthetic fertilizer, just reached an all-time high.
What do things look like? I think in 2011 we are at a crossroads: how to could we deal with a potential "Lights in the tunnel" chronic structural unemployment situation? More and more, this looks like a future reality. A full-time job might not be available to everyone in the future. The job system might collapse.
What will we rely on then? I think this depends on the regulatory climate. I think a favorable realistic situation would be that more and more people become self-reliant for basic needs such as food. For income they rely on various odd jobs and gigs. I see many people moving towards this system right now, including me. Young people with part-time jobs have more time than money, so they are more likely to engage in things like urban homesteading. They cook more at home and care more about things like eating good food, spending time with their families, and exercising. They are likely to live longer than their wealthier hard-working Boomer parents.
Unfortunately, the government seems to want to ignore or quash this sort of thing. For example, a Wisconsin judge ruling in a raw milk case said: "Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice." He later went to work for Monsanto. Many government authorities are part of this revolving door that keeps the government in tune with corporations.
I wonder what sort of system that philosophy leads to? I'm afraid Martin Ford describes it in Lights in the Tunnel. It's a government-based economy where corporations produce everything and in order to keep the consumer system from collapsing (unemployed people are terrible consumers), people are supported by government subsidies that are tied to government-approved incentives. Ford isn't sure what those incentives would be, but thinks they might involve paying people to be eco-friendly or something. Sounds like a dystopia to me.
We are at a crossroads here. The Occupy Wall Street movement is a perfect example. I share OWS's distaste for the fact our government has largely been captured by a small number of elites and corporations. But what are we going to do about it? I have a feeling the government will put social programs in place to distract people from the fact it hasn't changed, that it's still captured. And those social programs are often cleverly disguised corporate subsidies. Notice they never fix the systems that are broken, they just pour more money into them. Universities fail to provide student with real skills, so let's pour more money into them so they can be the new beer and circus for the lost generation. Dairy farms failing? Put in place price supports and regulations that reinforce the failed high-capital industrial systems.
And then we have to "protect" people from everything under the sun, which is a great excuse for all manner of injustices. I wouldn't be surprised if by 2022 you can't buy non-irridiated raw meat at the grocery store because the government has to "protect" people who might not cook it properly.
I looked at it and thought that this is why my creativity is crippled. I am afraid. I am afraid to invest in the things I love, because I know they can be unjustly taken away. I'd rather just not have them in the first place than have my heart broken.
I've eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge and it has poisoned me. I've read Mad Sheep, which is about a farm family that worked hard to bring a rare breed of sheep to the United States and build a business around them, before the government seized and killed them all based on seriously doubtful science. I've read about Joel Salatin's struggle to build a business in a world of regulations designed for giant corporate farms. I've seen footage of armed raids on small farms because people sold things that the government doesn't approve of. I've had friends investigated by Animal Control and Ag & Markets, because someone reported them. Their business suffers no matter if the accusation is correct or not, and the accuser faces no consequences. They can't even know who the accuser was. I've known farmers who lost land to eminent domain because the government decided they weren't important enough.
Why should I bother to work hard? Or to plant walnut trees on our farm in Wisconsin that won't bear nuts for twenty years? What if in twenty years everything has been taken away? It's no wonder young people are occupying wall street insteading of getting out there and building new and interesting things.
So yes, I'd like to see the end of crony capitalism, but let's be careful what we ask the Leviathan for.
Wheat Belly is a strange book. I find it quite bizarre that it has so many ardent defenders. When I criticized an interview with the author. Dr. William Davis, a week ago, several people rushed to defend him and were angry that I would dare remark on something I haven't read. It's weird because his blog kind of fell off the paleo radar some time back when he started harping on about AGEs in butter, saturated fat being bad for you, and red meat causing colon cancer. This whole debate is a perfect example of why blogs have the potential to be so much better than non-fiction books. Wheat Belly contains ideas that have been extensively debated in the ancestral health blogosphere and found wanting, as well as ideas presented uncontroversially that are the subject of bitter controversies in the blogosphere at the moment*. Besides that, most of the good information here can easily be found in well-written blog posts by experts on their respective subjects.
But people told me I couldn't write about Davis' thesis without reading the book and attacked me for commenting on his interview, so I read it.
I'm glad to see Dr. Davis is on board with the idea that saturated fat and red meat are good for you, but just because someone loves meat and despises wheat doesn't mean we should add them to the canon of books that are valuable in the paleo community.
Unlike many other books I've reviewed positively that do belong in the canon, this book is marketed as a weight-loss diet book. The title is the first clue, with its emphasis on obesity. The subtitle is "lose the wheat, lose the weight, and find your path back to health." It's a mantra repeated again and again in the book, with very little proof to back it up. Wheat-free is not a weight loss diet and even Dr. Davis knows this. I know he does because he ends up recommending a low-carb paleo-ish diet. He says that gluten-free substitutes for things like bread and pasta will have effects similar to real bread and pasta. Hmm, so was wheat even really the issue in the first place? This book is essentially a re-packaged nouveau Atkins, with the wheat-free gimmick riding on the back of the growing gluten-free trend.
What is really striking about this book for me is how much it resembles vegan polemics, such as The China Study, Skinny Bitch, and Diet for a New America. Like those books, this book will initially have many converts, but it will not stand the tests of scientific scrutiny.
Nearly everyone in the paleo/ancestral health community eschews wheat. As I will expound on, there are many things that make wheat a food to avoid. Strangely enough, most of those things are absent from this book. Davis has built a elaborate mythology based on his own fringe theory about the unique evils of modern Dwarf wheat. It's a hypothesis, but it's too premature to have based a book on it. Because of this mythology, many of the problems with wheat that were first identified by pioneers like Dr. Staffan Lindeberg in his magnum opus Food and Western Disease are conspicuously absent. They have been replaced by rampant fear-mongering about technology and scare-stories.
God forbid we criticize the wheat of the old days, the wheat of the Bible, the wheat are our ancestors supposedly "thrived on." Sorry folks, I've seen skeletons from "thriving" ancestors, peasants from 1600 Swedish or farmers from 1500 Britain and I'm here to say that these toothless pock-marked stunted people were not exactly thriving.
Davis mentions Ötzi as an example of someone healthy because while they he ate the ancient wheat, he also ate lots of alkalizing veggies, which somehow made up for it. Missing is the mention of Ötzi's mouth full of tooth decay and stunting.
What a sexy man!
The other mummies are missing too, the Egyptian mummies who enjoyed ancient wheat, as well as health problems we are all familiar with today such as atherosclerosis, though whether it has to do with wheat is up for debate.
In the 10,000-year journey from innocent, low-yield, not-so-baking-friendly einkorn grass to high-yield, created-in-a-laboratory, unable-to-survive-in-the-wild, suited-to-modern-tastes dwarf wheat, we’ve witnessed a human engineered transformation that is no different than pumping livestock full of antibiotics and hormones while confining them in a factory warehouse. Perhaps we can recover from this catastrophe called agriculture, but a big first step is to recognize what we’ve done to this thing called “wheat.”
So based on paleopathology, I'm not on board with calling einkorn innocent, even the Bible has mixed feelings about it "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."
I'm also a little different from some in this sector of the blogosphere because I'm relatively pro-technology. I have a degree in agriculture, so telling me that a food is "herbicided, fertilized, cross-bred, gassed, and hybridized", "genetically altered", "unique proteins," or that wheat has "undergone extensive agricultural genetics-engineered changes" is hardly terrifying to me, as this describes almost all seeds on the market today. It seems to be anti-technology scare-mongering, preying on the agricultural ignorance of the average consumer. He cites a few studies that show that modern wheat has been bred to produce more potentially-allergenic proteins like gluten, but fails to cite any evidence that truly connects it with the problems he sees wheat causing. I can conceive that it might have to do with increased celiac, but the connection to bellies seems rather tenuous. He does cite some data showing that celiac disease is increasing in an American population, but what about places where it has decreased? The truth is there are many theories about increasing celiac disease (lack of breastfeeding, increased antibiotic use) and it's hard to know whether or not dwarf wheat is the issue, particularly considering the absence of studies on the subject.
And are we still talking about "alkalizing" foods? The whole idea that you have to balance "acidifying" and "basic" foods in your diet is quite popular among vegans as well and has been used to criticize paleo diets because they are full of "acidifying" foods.
What happens if acids from meat consumption are not counterbalanced by alkaline plants and the pH scales are tipped even more to the acidic side by grain products such as wheat? That’s when it gets ugly. Diet is then shifted sharply to that of an acid-rich situation. The result: a chronic acid burden that eats away at bone health.
Luckily for those of us not worrying about balancing our meat with vegetables, numerous studies have shown that protein can actually help improve bone density, whereas stereotypically alkalizing diets can lead to low bone mass. There is less focus on net acid load and more on adequate consumption of vitamins (like D) and minerals, as well as their bioavailability.
Bioavailability, a focus in most paleo books, is strangely missing from the pages of this book, which is a serious problem in my opinion. Paleo darling phytate is only mentioned in respect to soy. The myopic focus on wheat prevents Davis from seeing the bigger picture of digestive health, as high levels of phytate are common both to wheat and to some of the foods featured in his recipes such as quinoa flakes, pumpkin seeds, and various nut flours. The odds are wheat isn't bad for bones because it's "net acid," but because it hinders absorption of minerals through anti-nutritional factors, which include not only phytate, but fiber. Unfortunately, Davis is still on the fiber bandwagon:
This is, after all, how primitive hunter-gatherer cultures—the cultures that first taught us about the importance of dietary fiber—obtained their fiber: through plentiful consumption of plant foods, not bran cereals or other processed fiber sources. Fiber intake is therefore not a concern if wheat elimination is paired with increased consumption of healthy foods.
The problem is that the idea that "primitive" culture taught us that is rather outdated. It's not the fiber that matters, it's the gut health. Focus on fiber for the sake of fiber can decrease gut health and impair vitamin and mineral metabolism.
And while it is quite amusing that the glycemic index of whole grain bread was 72, the glycemic index is also quite controversial, and not just its relevance to health either. The thing is that since that 1981 value he uses was published, more data has been gathered on the glycemic index of whole grains and it's not always consistent. If there is something special about wheat spiking blood sugar, why do some wretched coarser breads measure in the low thirties and forties (lower than many fruits and sweet potatoes), and so many gluten free breads measure so much higher? Davis mentions that the latter is often made from extremely refined processed rice, tapioca, and corn. And thus we have the answer- highly digestible carbohydrates, no matter what their provenance, are high glycemic. And sadly for the sheeple who fall for anything whole grain, food scientists have been hard at work re-engineering "whole grain" bread so it's nice and soft, but still technically whole grain, despite the fact that it's refined carbs in brown clothing. However, now that they've realized people are on to them, they've changed track and are now vigoriously engineering low-glycemic starch, so I'm predicting in the next five years the GI of the average whole wheat bread will drop significantly.
Whether or not this actually matters is a subject of rather acrimonious debate of which others have written more expertly, but I'll just quote Lindeberg for now "However, the main cause of an individual’s inability to limit blood sugar rise after eating carbohydrates remains obscure, and it is questionable if dietary glucose/starch per se plays a causative role." It's curious that he cites the Kitavans as an example of an acne-free culture, when the glycemic index values for Pacific native starches range from 25 to 78. He must not have got the memo that says that if you are promoting a low-carb diet you have to make a jab about how the Kitavan data is flawed or irrelevant considering what a threat it is to the low-carb panacea diet being sold. Also, the idea that eating carbs like bread leads to AGE formation is a simplification of the issue at best.
One section is about gluten cerebral ataxia. Indeed, this is a terrible condition, but what does it have to do with the relevance of a gluten-free diet for the average person? It reminds me of scare-stories about beef or shellfish allergies in vegan polemics. Like the sodium azide in his interview that I criticized in my last post, it's a clever literary device- mention something scary about a food in juxtaposition with recommending that people not eat that food. It's clever because you don't actually do anything incorrect by saying directly that eating bad food causes scary thing or that scary thing has any real relevance to the consumption of bad food for the average person, but nevertheless, you get to scare people. In Skinny Bitch this is done with mad cow disease, an extremely rare condition which they mention in order to scare people away from eating meat.
You know all those studies that vegans love that say that meat causes all manner of ills? Think about how you react to those. Whenever I see them, I look to see if they've included industrial monstrosities like Slim Jims and Hormel Bacon or if they've been nice and separated out fresh meat from processed meat. In Wheat Belly, Davis usually mentions foods like Cinnabon, French crullers, or Dunkin’ Donuts when he is deriding wheat. I think the sicknesses people have from eating those foods can't be pinned on dwarf wheat. They are high-sugar, high-reward, highly processed, filled with additives, and often laced with omega-6 fats.
A Mayo Clinic/University of Iowa study of 215 obese celiac patients showed 27.5 pounds of weight loss in the first six months of a wheat-free diet.11 In another study, wheat elimination slashed the number of people classified as obese (body mass index, or BMI, 30 or greater) in half within a year.12 Oddly, investigators performing these studies usually attribute the weight loss of wheat- and gluten-free diets to lack of food variety. (Food variety, incidentally, can still be quite wide and wonderful after wheat is eliminated, as I will discuss.)
Well, maybe those researchers are right? In fact, the results fit in nicely with food reward theory. I would be more convinced that wheat were the issue if the people had lost their wheat belly while keeping their calories constant, but the truth is that they were eating fewer calories. As food scientists work to create perfect substitutes of Cinnabon without gluten, the gluten-free advantage will fade. And sadly, enterprising paleo folks who have come up will all manner of desserts utilizing rancid nut flours and fake sugar (such as the calorically dense banana-blueberry muffins featured in Wheat Belly) are likely to have similar issues. Sadly, there is no such thing as a healthy baked good.
My own experience with a wheat-free diet starts in 2006, when I was having terrible stomach problems. I eliminated wheat for a month, but the stomach issues actually got worse. It wasn't until I learned about the more holistic approach to gut health that I was able to eliminate them. I realized that wheat isn't just about gluten or glycemic index, but about irritating fibers and fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPS), a characteristic that wheat also shares with many other "healthy" foods like quinoa and broccoli. Don't get me wrong, I love a good salad, but plant foods are unfortunately something I have to consume with caution because of my chronic stomach problems. Incidentally, since I live in one of the exotic food capitals of the world, I have tried several heritage wheat varieties, including farro and einkorn, and it has taken me days to recover from eating them. I have a lot of bad things to say about modern food, but at least French bread leaves me relatively unscathed since it's comparatively low in gut-destroying bad bacteria-loving fibers. My experience has been far from his catchline "Eliminate the wheat, eliminate the problem."
Even if wheat doesn't upset your stomach, the evidence is mounting that wheat germ agglutinin lectin can exacerbate insulin resistance, abnormal gut permeability, and decreased bioavailability of important nutrients. I would caution that this is tentative evidence, based on many in-vitro and animal studies rather than human studies. More work needs to be done on this subject. Here is an interesting section from Lindeberg's book:
There are many indications that cereals and beans affect glucose metabolism by means of their glycoproteins. The best studied of these is wheat lectin (WGA), a highly stable substance which escapes digestion in the gastrointestinal tract1848. Thus, it passes the gut barrier and enters the bloodstream intact1461, and thereafter it binds to several hormone receptors including the insulin receptors and other tyrosine kinase receptors (the IGF-1 and EGF receptors)1900. The binding of wheat lectin to the insulin receptor is strong and long-lasting with high molecular efficiency, suggesting that it may hinder insulin to exert its effects for many hours353,354,705,1073,1459,1640,1641. Hence, it is theoretically capable of causing insulin resistance. Further, wheat lectin increases glycolysis (metabolic breakdown of glucose) 1986 as well as fat storage544, but in contrast to insulin, which has the same effects, it does not seem to stimulate protein synthesis1460, which is relevant since loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) has been suggested to worsen insulin sensitivity503. Rats that were fed Turkish beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) quickly lost 30% of their skeletal muscle mass, which is thought to be an effect of its lectin, phaseolus vulgaris agglutinin (PHA)1348
So perhaps there is something about wheat in its ability to degrade leptin and insulin sensitivity, but if it were based on WGA lectin it would be an issue of long-term systematic degradation rather than glycemic index. If you are just looking at the glycemic index, you might infer that if you butter the bread, halving it's GI, it's OK, but if you look at the lectin picture it's a little more suspicious. However, as you can see from the last sentence, it's not just wheat that can be a potential issue here, but every plant with bioactive lectins and that includes many seeds and nuts beloved by low-carbers.
And basing science on studies rather than clinical anecdotes has been one of the most important steps in scientific progress. Back when MDs ruled the scientific discourse with their clinical anecdotes, treatments such as bleeding people for sore throats (which killed George Washington) were rampant and doctors killed as many people as they saved. The advent of controlled trials and the scientific method have made modern medicine great. It's nice to hear about clinical experience and it can provide important hypotheses, but they can only tell us so much.
So what does our ancestral/paleo community embrace? Are we a big tent or a small tent? I like to optimistically view us as a big tent of skeptics and that's why I've stuck around. There are other "real food" movements that are far less skeptical and their conferences host people selling homeopathy and electromagnetic field-blocking bracelets. I think we can hold ourselves to a higher standard and not embrace every book that comes out that tarnishes a food we don't like or espouses a low-carb diet.
Refs from Lindeberg's book
353. Cuatrecasas, P. (1973) Interaction of wheat germ agglutinin and concanavalin A withisolated fat cells. Biochemistry 12, 1312–23
354. Cuatrecasas, P.&Tell, G.P. (1973) Insulin-like activity of concanavalin A and wheat germ agglutinin – direct interactions with insulin receptors. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 70, 485–9.
503. Evans, W.J. (1995) What is sarcopenia? J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 50 Spec No, 5–8.
544. Freed, D.L.J. (1991) Lectins in food: their importance in health and disease. J Nutr Med 2, 45–64.
705. Hedo, J.A., Harrison, L.C. & Roth, J. (1981) Binding of insulin receptors to lectins: evidence for common carbohydrate determinants on several membrane receptors. Biochemistry
1073. Livingston, J.N.&Purvis, B.J. (1981) The effects of wheat germ agglutinin on the adipocyte insulin receptor. Biochim Biophys Acta 678, 194–201
1348. Oliveira, J.T.A., Pusztai, A. & Grant, G. (1988) Changes in organs and tissues induced by feeding of purified kidney bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) lectins. Nutr Res 8, 943–7
1459. Purrello, F., Burnham, D.B. & Goldfine, I.D. (1983) Insulin receptor antiserum and plant lectins mimic the direct effects of insulin on nuclear envelope phosphorylation. Science 221, 462–4.
1460. Pusztai, A. (1993) Dietary lectins are metabolic signals for the gut and modulate immune and hormone functions. Eur J Clin Nutr 47, 691–9.
1461. Pusztai, A., Greer, F.&Grant, G. (1989) Specific uptake of dietary lectins into the systemic circulation of rats. Biochem Soc Trans 17, 481–2.
1640. Shechter, Y. (1983) Bound lectins that mimic insulin produce persistent insulin-like activities. Endocrinology 113, 1921–6.
1641. Shechter, Y. & Sela, B.A. (1981) Insulin-like effects of wax bean agglutinin in rat adipocytes. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 98, 367–73.
1848. Van Damme, E.J.M., Peumans, W.J., Pusztai, A. & Bardocz, S. (1998) Handbook of plant lectins: properties and biomedical applications. John Wiley, New York.
1986. Yevdokimova, N.Y. & Yefimov, A.S. (2001) Effects of wheat germ agglutinin and concanavalin A on the accumulation of glycosaminoglycans in pericellular matrix of human dermal fibroblasts. A comparison with insulin. Acta Biochim Pol 48, 563–72.
1900. Wang, X.Y., Bergdahl, K., Heijbel, A., Liljebris, C. & Bleasdale, J.E. (2001) Analysis of in vitro interactions of protein tyrosine phosphatase 1B with insulin receptors. Mol Cell Endocrinol 173, 109–20.
* arguments that have been rife with scientific references and data. Please don't tell me that they are somehow less rigorous than wheat belly, because they have just as many references and wheat belly is FULL of anecdotes.
In a world where college classes, particularly large impersonal introductory ones, are often more pricey than they are worth, it's wise to learn how to study on your own. My inbox is a huge mess, but I have gotten towards the bottom and found an email where Richard from Free the Animal asked about anthropology texts. Here are my favorites, most of them recommended to me by Professor Ralph Holloway:
The Human Career by Richard G. Klein is a pretty great all-around textbook with lots of theories, information, and pictures.
It does assume a basic knowledge of human evolution though, so if you are a beginner the Introduction to Physical Anthropology, How Humans Evolved, Primate Adaptation and Evolution, or The Emergence of Humans.
Of course these college textbooks are quite expensive, but if you read one and you read it well you are probably learning as much, if not more, than you would be taking an anthropology course. I think it is worth it to get the most recent editions because this field is so active right now and there have been a lot of very interesting recent revelations.
If you have any personal recommendations, let me know in the comments!
I've noticed people get kind of upset when you insult your parents. I think that's why homeschooling raises so many hackles whenever I mention it. When I was reading Bryan Caplan's Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, which argues that people worry too much about how much their parenting will affect how their children turn out. He quotes all these studies that seem to show that parenting doesn't matter. Unfortunately, almost all of them are studies done on contemporary Western people.
Who really raises children in contemporary Western societies? Where do children spend most of their waking hours? Time surveys show that many children spend as much time in school as with their parents and some children spend more. School is like a third (or second) parent.
I went to school first in pre-K, at a small Waldorfish school, when I was 5. That's a little late to start pre-K, but I was quite small and sickly for my age and it became evident I had some learning difficulties by the time I was in Kindergarten. We couldn't afford to keep sending me to private school and neither the private school nor the local public school provided very good special-ed programs for children who are intelligent, but think a little "differently" to put it nicely.
So I was homeschooled. Often portrayed as a smothering and isolating thing, I never experienced it this way. I did several sports (even though I didn't want to, but my parents said it was good for me), played outside every day for hours, was never bullied for being a nerd, read lots of books for fun, did lots of church activities, hung out with my grandma, played elaborate games with my sister, and generally wasn't very isolated. I didn't need special ed classes, my mother worked with me one on one and eventually I surpassed "normal" kids in standardized test scores. My mother wasn't much for laboratory chemicals, but luckily there were enough homeschooled kids in the area that I took lab science classes taught by a former schoolteacher once a week for several hours.
I first went to school when I was 15, to a "mixed income" public school in Georgia. It's weird because I have very little memory of that year, well, of learning anything. I was in normal classes at first, where I was bored, then I was shifted into the "gifted" program, which was much more engaging. I do remember my "tech ed" class which we spent goofing off on MS Paint and where our teacher would tell us stories about the slaughterhouse where he used to work. I vowed to become a vegetarian.
We went through metal detectors every day and we weren't allowed to carry backpacks when we were in the building because they said we might hide weapons in them, but people found ways to be violent anyway. I remember some boys pushed another boy into a window outside the auditorium and there was glass and blood everywhere. I found the environment demoralizing and oppressive. I got sick often.
Boy was it a culture shock when my family moved to Illinois and I went to a "public" school that's the kind that makes people believe in public schools. Ivy covered walls, rowing and sailing teams instead of gang fights, relative freedom, teachers with PhDs, classical literature…I got an excellent education there in literature, art, and history. I have no idea what happened in science, but I took honors chem my sophomore year and was unlucky enough to get the hardest teacher in the entire school. I received a C- and was told by the department head not to bother taking physics. Luckily, some incredibly kind science teachers later encouraged me and I found ways to get around my weaknesses and later earned As in all my chemistry courses in college. College was, in general, much easier for me than high school had been. I went to a large state school, so it was the kind of place where self-initiative, not obedience, was what was important. I was used to teaching myself things, so I did well. I graduated top of my class, compared to the 50% percentile I was in when I graduated high school.
Whether or not homeschooling makes kids antisocial or weird is a matter of intense argument, but my personality is strikingly similar to my sibling and relatives who have different schooling. If anything, I think regular school often makes weird kids still weird, but miserable for being weird. Throughout most of human history, kids spent time with other kids and other people of all ages. You put a group of thirty children of the same age with a solo female (usually) teacher and no wonder it's Lord of the Flies out there.
Some of those weird kids ultimately come to hate their third parent. I know because I've dated and been friends with many people who went to school and would want to homeschool their children.
But for other people, homeschooling is an insult and they treat it was immense hostility. I agree it's unsettling. It doesn't work for everyone, it's not always consistent (as if regular school is), people might be taught the "wrong" things, and doesn't ultimately provide a large-scale solution to the education problems that are plaguing the United States at this moment. It's quite similar to the bizarre objection to the Paleo diet, that it can't work for everyone in the world to eat "paleo," so there must be something wrong with it.
I think the only thing that homeschooling left me at a disadvantage with is that I failed to learn to obey. Not that I think it's really a bad thing, it just makes me unsuitable for certain jobs, religions, and other institutions. But I suppose there is still room left in the world for disobedient people since I do OK, even if I occasionally have to pause to bristle at the nonsense we have to endure.
I'll never forget the time in high school when I took Great Books, which had some student-led discussions as part of the curriculum. One I led was "Is homeschooling a good idea?" Almost everyone attacked it savagely. Then I revealed that I had been homeschooled. People were shocked. It's as if I had told them that bread wasn't good for them…
Some people have told me I should read the latest diet book craze, particularly since I am skeptical, but having read dozens of diet books for the purpose of reviewing them, I rarely derive any pleasure from them. It's also rare that I actually learn anything new from them and in fact they often infuriate me with their emphasis on weight loss and tendency to play fast and loose with science. I think that all you need to know about eating healthy can be found on the internet and reading should be something more intellectually illuminating.
One book I've been absolutely enamored with is 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. I knew about some of the ideas in this book already from courses I had taken in archeology and environmental science, but Charles C. Mann does a fantastic job using them to tantalize and shift pre-conceived notions about what the Americans were like in the past. It also touches on two of my favorite subjects: agricultural regression and agroforestry. Much like The Art of Not Being Governed, it challenges linear models of development, as well as Romantic ideals of the "noble savage" and "wilderness." I hope to do a full review of this.
I've also been re-reading Heart and Blood, one of my favorites, because I'd like to give it a full review as a more scientific and humanistic alternative to The Vegetarian Myth. I also have some pipe dreams about joining the hunting season, but they are pipe dreams since I haven't had much time for target practice and by the time I'm in the Midwest it will be rather late in the season. I've picked up a copy of my old hunting teacher Jackson Lander's Deer Hunting For Food.
I've also been reading The Lights in The Tunnel, which imagines a future in which most jobs are automated. It's available for free as a PDF. And The Last Child in the Woods, which is about the human need for nature and why our children's growing alienation from it is a huge problem. And The Tribal Imagination by Robin Fox. I'm probably also reading five million other books, but such is the burden of ADD. I just finished the complete stories of HP Lovecraft and most of Flannery O' Connor's short stories, which makes me sad, but I will find new short story collections to read.
Sick Societies is an interesting book, but in many ways it's scattershot. An anecdote out of context doesn't always illuminate whether or not a tradition is the cause of the "sickness," in this case botulism:
The Inuit practice of eating seal blubber raw rather than cooking it has caused an untold number of deaths from botulism, as has eating cattle that have died of anthrax, something that occurred in various parts of the world.
Most of the other "sick" traditions mentioned in this book are those involving less acute miseries, such as ridiculously inconvenient food taboos or genital mutilation. It seemed to me kind of inconceivable that people would have a food tradition that would make them vulnerable one of the most deadly types of food poisoning.
So when I came across this fascinating blog, Body Horrors, via Metafilter, I was excited to see a comprehensive post on the subject. Apparently the Inuit DO have some of the highest rates of botulism poisoning in the world and it is caused by traditional foods, but because they are not preparing them traditionally:
The researcher Nelson reported the preparation process quite evocatively in 1971:
“Meat is frequently kept for a considerable length of time and sometimes until it becomes semiputrid. This meat was kept in small underground pits, which the frozen subsoil rendered cold, but not cold enough to prevent the bluish fungus growth which completely covered the carcasses of the animals and the walls of the storerooms”.
The customary preparation process has since been modified from fermenting food in a buried clay pit, enclosed in a woven basket or sewn seal skin (known as a “poke”) for weeks or months at a time. Food is now stored in airtight, Western consumer goods such as plastic or glass jars, sealable plastic bags or even plastic buckets, and eaten shortly after in a week or month. Additionally, the food many be stored indoors, above ground or in the sun at milder, less optimal temperatures. This move towards storing meat in warmer, anaerobic settings for shorter lengths of time may expedite the fermentation process and, subsequently, enhance the risk of botulinum toxin production (5)....
Fermenting food is a delicate, complex process. As the Eskimo scholar Zona Spray notes, every step of the complex preparation process is carefully executed to ensure a highly acidic environment (3). She mentions that usually elders prepare such traditional foods and are better versed in the “oral history of health and sickness” than the younger generations. This strongly suggests that a failure to transmit traditional knowledge and customs may play an pivotal role in the use of different preservation materials and in skyrocketing incidences of botulism outbreaks in Alaska over the past 50 years (2)(5).
It's a good reminder that important aspects of traditions are often lost in translation to modernity.
Q: What extreme techniques are you talking about?
A: New strains have been generated using what the wheat industry proudly insists are “traditional breeding techniques,” though they involve processes like gamma irradiation and toxins such as sodium azide. The poison control people will tell you that if someone accidentally ingests sodium azide, you shouldn’t try to resuscitate the person because you could die, too, giving CPR. This is a highly toxic chemical.
But the plants generated from this technique (it's not just used for wheat) don't contain sodium azide...these techniques are used to accelerate mutation rate, so selective breeding projects that once took hundreds of years now that ten years: "The process leaves no residual radiation or other obvious marks of human intervention. It simply creates offspring that exhibit new characteristics." I guess your view on this depends on your intrinsic conservatism. But it's one of the techniques that has produced sustainable yield increases in the developing world without GE, expensive hybrid seeds, pesticides, or synthetic fertilizer.
I hope nobody told Dr. Davis that we used NPK fertilizer or animal poo to make plants grow faster. If you eat that stuff you could die too.
Don't get me wrong. I don't eat wheat. Even the good old fashioned Weston A Price fermented breads make my stomach malfunction, and yes even the most ancient wheat varieties do this to me. I also lost a good amount of weight removing it from my diet. But I prefer the paleo approach because it emphasis that wide variety of foods someone can be sensitive to, as well as the importance of good foods like fish roe, liver, and grass-fed beef. Paleo isn't just about demonizing wheat and frankly I know some serious Crossfitters who drink real beer with real wheat often and are very lean and have excellent blood lipids.
I'll get around to reviewing this book eventually, but from an agriculturalist's perspective I remain skeptical of it. In the past I've taken his blog less and less seriously because of his rather conventional views on meat:
Atkins Diet Common Errors: Excessive consumption of animal products–Non-restriction of fat often leads to over-reliance on animal products. Higher intakes of red meats (heme proteins?) have been strongly associated with increased risk for colon and other gastrointestinal tract cancers. It is not a fat issue; it is an animal product issue. We should consume less meat, more vegetables and other plant-sourced foods.
Today I got a spate of seemingly random animal rights trolls. Fly by night nonsense? Nope, apparently I was featured on the Freakonomics blog. Normally this would be an honor, since I was a fan of Freakonomics when I was an economics major in college, but nope, they let James McWilliams write another animal rights nonsense piece on their blog, one that references a post I made over a year ago. What does that have to do with economics? Hilariously enough, one of the major objections I have to magazines and blogs billing McWilliams as an agricultural writer is that he doesn't seem to know anything about agricultural economics. He is a historian who ruffles feathers because he condemns the locavore movement. Some troglo-free marketers only see the latter and are just happy to have someone pulling the hippies down to Earth, while forgetting that animals play an essential and irreplaceable role in our agricultural economy. When I saw McWilliams speak on a panel with real farmers, I saw him ignoring what they said, cherry picking quotes to rationalize his fantasy-future utopia of magic robot vegetable farms where they is no death (hilariously, growing mechanization of agriculture often leads to more deaths).
According to McWilliams, I am rationalizing unnecessary death. This is untrue. There is no way to rationalize any kind of death. The idea that some deaths are necessary and others are not is a quasi-religious way to look at the world. I was thrilled to see an animal rights philosopher, Joel Marks, admit that in the New York Times a few weeks ago:
In my case the plight of nonhuman animals at human hands became the great preoccupation. I could think of no greater atrocity than the confinement and slaughter of untold billions of innocent creatures for sustenance that can be provided through other, more humane diets.
In my most recent published book, I defended a particular moral theory – my own version of deontological ethics – and then “applied” that theory to defend a particular moral claim: that other animals have an inherent right not to be eaten or otherwise used by humans. Oddly enough, it was as I crossed the final “t” and dotted the final “i” of that monograph, that I underwent what I call my anti-epiphany.
A friend had been explaining to me the nature of her belief in God. At one point she likened divinity to the beauty of a sunset: the quality lay not in the sunset but in her relation to the sunset. I thought to myself: “Ah, if that is what she means, then I could believe in that kind of God. For when I think about the universe, I am filled with awe and wonder; if that feeling is God, then I am a believer.”
But then it hit me: is not morality like this God? In other words, could I believe that, say, the wrongness of a lie was any more intrinsic to an intentionally deceptive utterance than beauty was to a sunset or wonderfulness to the universe? Does it not make far more sense to suppose that all of these phenomena arise in my breast, that they are the responses of a particular sensibility to otherwise valueless events and entities?
So someone else might respond completely differently from me, such that for him or her, the lie was permissible, the sunset banal, the universe nothing but atoms and the void. Yet that prospect was so alien to my conception of morality that it was tantamount to there being no morality at all. For essential to morality is that its norms apply with equal legitimacy to everyone; moral relativism, it has always seemed to me, is an oxymoron. Hence I saw no escape from moral nihilism.
The dominoes continued to fall. I had thought I was a secularist because I conceived of right and wrong as standing on their own two feet, without prop or crutch from God. We should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, period. But this was a God too. It was the Godless God of secular morality, which commanded without commander – whose ways were thus even more mysterious than the God I did not believe in, who at least had the intelligible motive of rewarding us for doing what He wanted.
Unfortunately, complete moral relativism is just as silly as believing that it's immoral to kill animals. Morality does come from somewhere, and the evidence is that it comes our ancient tribal past where we evolved a moral sense in order to be able to cooperate with other humans beings as a community. Morality is about making our lives together better.
James McWilliams totally misses the point I was making in that post and in later posts that animal husbandry is something we have a tough time with because it's not part of our evolutionary heritage. I've been watching Human Planet, the gorgeous documentary about diverse human lifeways around the globe, and one of the most striking scenes is of a South American Indian woman breastfeeding a baby monkey. They ate that monkey's mother for dinner, but this baby monkey is a treasured pet. They don't eat the animals they raise, those animals are part of their tribe. The idea that eating meat is wrong because eating babies (argument from marginal cases) and our pet dogs is wrong is the kind of idea that only someone totally detached from innate human morals would put forth. We don't ban eating/killing babies because babies are sentient!
I was also making a point in that post that I didn't agree with how that farm was raising their animals, since they were perpetuating a breed that doesn't even have a sense of life and would die young even if you brought them to some kind of farm sanctuary. That's an industrial system dressed up in free-range clothing.
I never considered myself part of the "compassionate carnivore" movement. There is nothing special about my engagement with my food. My desire to slaughter my own animals doesn't have to do with reducing harm, but achieving independence from a dying industrial food system. And yes, that means using and eating animals. Fertilizers based on mining un-renewable resources aren't going to last forever.
If you are a visitor interested in learning more why I gave up veganism and debating animal rights, I suggest you head over to let them eat meat, a truly excellent site on the subject.