Hunter Gatherer

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

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Hunting dogs getting back to nature

It’s not just humans who are learning how to hunt again.  Dogs are too.  The New York Times has a great article on dog-owners teaching their domesticated and pampered hounds how to hunt again.

“We were at the Fun Field Trial here, a hunting training program held in the spring for dogs that have never hunted but whose breeds were created to do so. …

The number of so-called instinct-performance tests to measure a dog’s hunting and herding skills has increased 39 percent over the past two years, totaling 1,549 in 2009, according to the American Kennel Club. Many are geared toward pets and owners who have never hunted.”

However, pampered dogs seem to be having the same problems as overly-domesticated humans.

“That’s the problem with our domesticated dogs,” said Mr. Stern, a psychologist from Long Island. “They smell our pizza. They don’t smell the rabbits anymore,” he said, adding, “If we had put a steak in the woods, that might have worked.”

Most of the dogs loved it, even if their instincts had been dulled by modern living.  Read the full article here, interesting throughout.

More and more pet owners are realizing that their dogs (and cats) aren’t adapted to processed food.  Here’s a dog food company called “B.G.“, which stands for “Before Grain”.  Their tagline: “…the way food was supposed to be, Before Grain got involved.”

Do I need to draw all the parallels?  Think this general approach might work with humans?

Spencer Wells on the Daily Show

When it rains, it pours.

Check out Jon Stewart’s terrific interview last night with National Geographic explorer-in-residence, Spencer Wells. Talking about his new book, Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization. I gotta say, it’s nice when National Geographic backs you up.  Though Colbert and I beat Stewart and Wells to the punch.

Have a look.



Barefoot Ken Bob clinic

Legendary barefoot runner, Barefoot Ken Bob, hosted a clinic in Central Park this week with Barefoot Runners NYC.  Awesome turnout — more than 50 people showed up.  We’re officially a movement.  Here are a few things I learned, followed by a photo album.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             On Barefoot Ken Bob (BKB):

  • BKB has run 76 marathons barefoot
  • Completed his first barefoot marathon (second overall) at age 42 — you don’t have to be young to make a change!
  • He also ran it in 1998, long before it was ever fashionable
  • BKB: "I have no exceptional athletic ability."
  • 55 years old and still going strong


On running:

  • BKB explained why barefoot running was a practical solution to a problem he had — blistering and sore feet after his first marathon.
  • Cultures where people grow up barefoot don’t have all the foot problems we have today: plantar fasciitis, flat feet, pronation, shin splints, you name it.
  • Listen to your feet — minimal shoes are better than modern running shoes, but they still dull the signal from your feet.  Pain is a signal of what not to do. Learn proper form barefoot on a hard surface — then if you need to, put on footwear.
  • Start with shorter distances, use a short stride (fast cadence), don’t be afraid to bend your knees, keep your spine and head straight, and get a slight forward lean by keeping your hips forward
  • To find your sweet spot, particularly in bending your knees, you need to go past your sweet spot.  Try bending them too much and then scale it back.
  • Don’t be afraid to put your heel down once you land on your forefoot.  New VFF runners are staying on their toes so much and running so far that they burn out their calves, and once those recover, they get stress fractures on the tops of their feet (as my cousin-in-law can attest)
  • Experiment.  Start trying different forms and see how your body responds.
  • To learn more from the man himself, check out his summer tour (scroll down for full list).  


BKB liked to emphasize that he is not a coach — he’s a runner.  Well, that doesn’t do him justice.  He’s an example and an inspiration for what is possible.  BKB mentioned to me that this movement wouldn’t be possible without the internet.  (Born to Run was pretty nice too.)  And the internet enabled more people than ever to learn from risk-takers and entrepreneurs like Barefoot Ken Bob.  

Long may you run.

Updates: barefoot running clinics, hunting, raw milk…and Eliot Spitzer

It’s been a busy week.

1. On Wednesday, 70+ people turned out for a barefoot running clinic in Central Park put on by RunBare founder, Michael Sandler.   Awesome turnout — that was over a third of our meetup group.  (We even caught the attention of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and his wife, who were walking by and stopped to figure out why all these odd people were doing running around without their shoes.)  Michael, along with his co-founder and fiancee Jessica Lee, is the author of the recently released Barefoot Running, available for sale now.  I’ll be posting a review, plus photos of the event soon.


2. Tomorrow we’ve got another barefoot running clinic in Central Park put on by none other than Barefoot Ken Bob himself.   For those who don’t know Ken Bob, he is a legendary barefoot marathoner with an even more legendary beard.  Details and RSVP here.  Everyone is a beginner at barefoot running — these clinics are a great opportunity for beginner’s to get a little guidance and instruction.


3. I went up to Vermont this weekend and got my hunter’s safety certification.  Good in all 50 states (and Canada).  I am utterly enthralled by the idea of bringing down a moose and having to eat, freeze, and give away 700 pounds of meat.


4. On the way back from Vermont, I stopped by a local farm and picked up some raw milk, grass-fed beef, and pastured eggs.  I’m not a milk-drinker, but I thought I would give raw milk a try.  Definitely tastes full fat (I grew up on skim milk), but the taste wasn’t as shockingly different as expected.  Not sure if I’m supposed to travel with raw milk across states lines.  Maybe it’s illegal?  The pastured eggs are a totally different color when I cook them up — the yolk is much darker.


The Colbert Bump: lactose-intolerant women with celiac

So if you saw my Colbert Report interview, then you heard some of my comments about dating women in New York City.  Too many vegetarians, too many sugar addicts.  (This gourmet cupcake trend cannot die too soon.  The more expensive they are, the easier it is to justify them as a special occasion.)

Near the end of the interview, Colbert and I joked about how my ideal woman is a meat-eating, lactose-intolerant celiac.  And this is where I got my "Colbert Bump".  If you watch Colbert regularly, you know that the Colbert Bump is the boost in popularity that guests receive soon after their appearance — in book sales, politics, whatever.   Well, my bump was in emails from "celiac chicks" (as my gmail label is called).  I received emails from celiac women not only from all over the country, but all over the world.  It was pretty crazy.   The first wave of emails was from women who saw the show.  The next wave was from women whose friends had seen the interview, sent it to them, and physically forced them to email me.  This did wonderful things for my ego.

But what was amazing about all these emails was how many of them commented that they had never viewed celiac as a positive trait.  It was a disease, a condition, a debilitation.  Yet when you take a step back and look and the broad sweep of human history, you realize that eating grains is a relatively recent development.  Taking the long view, not eating grains is actually quite normal.  And so this evolutionary perspective was a way to create a positive, normal identity.  And in some ways, not just to feel normal, but to feel superior.  As crazy as it may sound, celiacs are actually lucky to have a body that clearly tells them what not to eat.  Pretty cool.  I used to casually smoke in college — "I only smoke when I drink" — but I never became a regular smoker because my body rejected it.  I’d get sinus infections if I went through a whole pack myself.  This ended up being a good thing.  Kind of like celiac.

If you view celiac as an abnormal condition, then you try to "eat normally", by buying all sorts of gluten-free imitation products…many of them just as heavily processed and unhealthy as the real thing.  But if you view celiac as a useful signal from your body about what’s healthy, then you can create a new normal.  This message came through loud and clear in the emails I received, which was totally awesome and unexpected.

Anyhow, to all you celiac chicks, I’ve been seeing someone I met about two hours after the Colbert taping, so I’ve been slow to reply.  But my comment was only partially in jest.  Most folks thought it was funny that I might prefer someone with a "disease" like celiac, but everyone would agree that it’s good to date someone who holds similar fundamental values as you do.  Food and health are a big part of that.  The prior girl I went out with ate pizza and Sprite and that’s about it.  A few weeks in, she asked me, "If I still eat the way I do a few years from now, are we still going to be going out?"  I paused, looked at her, and simply said: "No."   (Honestly, I think telling her no just made her like me more.)

Keep up the good work, celiac chicks.

Laboratory meat

From time to time, I see articles on the promise of "cultured meat" — or meat grown in a laboratory from stem cells.  Here is the latest, about a little non-profit called New Harvest:

"Matheny’s meat starts in a lab, where scientists extract stem cells from animal muscles. The cells are placed in a nutrient bath to develop and then on plastic scaffolding that allows them to form into strips as they multiply. Mark Post, a professor of tissue engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, may be close to realizing New Harvest’s vision. Post’s lab is producing 2 mm thick strips that are almost an inch long and a quarter-inch wide. Pack enough together, and you’ve got a meal."

They’re still having some issues though:

"One problem is flavor. Post hasn’t tasted his own handiwork because he says he’s averse to eating his experiments. But he’s been told by those who have that it doesn’t taste like the real thing."

No shit.  Look, I’m all for scientific and technological progress that will help 6+ billion people live on this planet.  And the first halting steps of discovery are always easy to ridicule.  But I am enormously skeptical that this type of effort is going to produce anything resembling real food.

  • Even grass-fed cattle and factory farm cattle have different nutritional profiles.  Same genetic programming + different food intake = different gene expression.  No wonder lab protein doesn’t taste like meat.  
  • Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food details the 150-year history of trying to manufacture breast milk with formula.  And it’s 150 years of hubris in which we’ve done everything we could to avoid learning how complex real food actually is.
  • These scientists fall prey to nutritionism, or reducing complex food to its constituent parts.  They’re just trying to grow muscle protein, plain and simple.  But what about fat?  And all the other amazing vitamins and nutrients found in meat and seafood?  (Oh, the research grant didn’t cover fat so we didn’t grow it.)
  • Look at some of the other "meat substitutes" that they’re hailing.   Mostly soy products.  Mostly bad for you.  And being grown using fossil fuels in vast monocultures.  Take a look at  on New Harvest’s homepage for their vision of the future.  Vegetarian Utopia:

  • Even if you get people to go veg, it’s not exactly helping to create a better, alternative food system for the vast majority of people who are never going to give up meat…or even switch to meat substitutes.  The meat-eaters will think it’s gross, and the vegetarians and vegans who care are going to be too grossed out by lab meat.

Here’s a taste of New Harvest’s views on meat:

"Despite its popularity, meat — both in its production and in its consumption — has a number of adverse effects on human health, environmental quality, and animal welfare. These include: diseases associated with the over-consumption of animal fats; meat-borne pathogens and contaminants; antibiotic-resistant bacteria due to the routine use of antibiotics in livestock; inefficient use of resources in cycling grains and water through animals to produce protein; soil, air, and water pollution from farm animal wastes; and inhumane treatment of farm animals. As meat consumption continues to increase, worldwide, these problems are now a global concern."

The environmental and ethical problems are all issues with factory farming, not meat consumption, per se.  Regarding health, I wonder if they saw the recent findings on red meat.

New Harvest’s solution to factory farming is to remove the farm and leave the factory.  Blueprints below:

(Thanks to Pablo for the pointer.)

Alcohol and the seeds of agriculture

Most people assume that humans first domesticated grains for food — but what if we first domesticated grains for drink?  Beer, specifically.  That’s one suggestion of the new book by Patrick McGovern, Uncorking the Past.

Wild grains would have been time-intensive to harvest, difficult to process into an edible form, and would have been poor in nutrient quality relative to other available foods — so why try?  McGovern suggests that grains may have been valued for purposes of intoxication first, and only later as a source of food.  Der Spiegel has the details:

"Archaeologists have long pondered the question of which came first, bread or beer. McGovern surmises that these prehistoric humans didn’t initially have the ability to master the very complicated process of brewing beer. However, they were even more incapable of baking bread, for which wild grains are extremely unsuitable. They would have had first to separate the tiny grains from the chaff, with a yield hardly worth the great effort. If anything, the earliest bakers probably made nothing more than a barely palatable type of rough bread, containing the unwanted addition of the grain’s many husks."

"As early as around 9,000 years ago, long before the invention of the wheel, inhabitants of the Neolithic village Jiahu in China were brewing a type of mead with an alcohol content of 10 percent…"

"Lacking any knowledge of chemistry, prehistoric humans eager for the intoxicating effects of alcohol apparently mixed clumps of rice with saliva in their mouths to break down the starches in the grain and convert them into malt sugar. These pioneering brewers would then spit the chewed up rice into their brew. Husks and yeasty foam floated on top of the liquid, so they used long straws to drink from narrow necked jugs. Alcohol is still consumed this way in some regions of China."

McGovern is a bio-molecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania.  (That’s a fancy name for Alcohol Studies.)  McGovern uses trace residues from pottery found at ancient archaeological sites to identify the ingredients.

Even better, McGovern and Dogfish Head Brewery teamed up to recreate some of the earliest alcoholic beverages ever discovered.  Dogfish Head now offers three beers as part of their Ancient Ales line.  Check out each beer’s homepage for additional background.

Theobroma – Based on pottery fragments in Honduras from 1,200 BC, the earliest known example of using cocoa for human consumption.

Midas Touch – Based on ingredients found in the tomb of Kind Midas and an ancient Turkish recipe.

Chateau Jiahu – Based on jars found in a Neolithic village in China 9,000 years ago.

For a bit more background on the brewing story, try here.  

(Thanks to Christal for the pointer.)


Did paleolithic hunters cause global cooling?

 A recent article in New Scientist asks, "Did early hunters cause climate change?"  

"When hunters arrived in North America and drove mammoths and other large mammals to extinction, the methane balance of the atmosphere could have changed as a result, triggering the global cool spell that followed. The large grazing animals would have produced copious amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from their digestive systems. They vanished about 13,000 years ago."

The skeptics take issue with the paper for a few reasons.

  1. Temperature is highly correlated with methane, including during this period, and changes in temperatures could well be causing changes in methane levels (which fluctuate naturally).  Since most methane comes from fermentation in wetlands, temperature changes could slow or quicken the fermentation process.
  2. The methane drop is quickly followed by an even higher rise in methane.  It’s not as if the megafauna came back to life, though it’s possible that other factors caused the rise.
  3. Using the IPCC’s own assumptions about methane forcing and the methane estimates in the paper, the estimated global temperature change from the mass extinction is 0.08 degrees C.  Yeah, so hardly anything.

Read the whole broadside here.  Note: the tone is less formal than an academic journal, but they open source their methods so anyone can check it.


(Thanks to @melbournian for the New Scientist article.)

Beer and inflammation

Does anyone else get inflammation from drinking beer?  It’s pretty typical to wake up with a swollen face after a six, seven, eight beer night.  Puffy cheeks, eyes, nose looking back at you in the mirror.  But how about even after a beer or two?  I’ve noticed for a long time that even after one beer I feel inflammation in my sinuses, clogging up my breathing and making my voice sound a bit more nasal.  Sexy.

I’m going to be posting more about alcohol this week, so stay tuned.

Why I love (people who love) grass-fed beef

Because once you understand why cattle are healthiest eating their natural diet, it’s hard to turn around and say the same isn’t true about humans.  It’s just a debate over what foods are natural to humans.