Hunter Gatherer

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

Buy Now

Tough Mudder not…tough enough

I received the following email from the Tough Mudder team yesterday.  The main feedback?  Make it tougher, longer (it wasn’t a full 7 miles), and create more and longer obstacles.  Full email below.  (Apparently TM and I use the same shade of grey.)  You can see my prior comments on the race and actions shots

I’d like to know what percentage of runners finish a marathon?  What about triathlons?  Not the elite races, just the ones for the general population.

The bottom line: If they want the race to be tough, some people are not going to be able to finish.


Red meat for paleos

The conventional wisdom continues to crumble.  Today is red meat’s day in the sun.  Read the WSJ article here.  

"A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that the heart risk long associated with red meat comes mostly from processed varieties such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs and cold cuts—and not from steak, hamburgers and other non-processed cuts.

The finding is surprising because both types of red meat are high in saturated fat, a substance believed to be partly responsible for the increased risk of heart disease."

This is the second study in recent months where saturated fat has started to clear its good name.  The conclusion?

"A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD."

Dr. Eades wisely remains cautious of any of these studies, even when it’s in line with your viewpoint (especially then).

The Harvard study points to salt as the culprit — but more sound advice might be: minimize processed foods of any kind in your diet.


(Thanks to David and T.J. for the pointers.)

Assorted links

1. Tanning is associated with optimal Vitamin D status and higher bone mineral density.  (NOTE: But as one commenter pointed out, most tanning salons try to sell you UVA, when this paper is talking about UVB.  Don’t rush to the solarium.)  And this:

"There is increased concern about skin cancer, which has created a fear of causative sunlight exposure (9 –12). Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It should be recognized that most melanomas occur in areas that are not exposed to the sun (13) and that it is the number of lifetime sunburn experiences, the number of moles, and red hair that increase the risk of this deadly disease (12)."

2. Melissa McEwen’s poetic description of learning to hunt, dress, butcher, and eat deer

"We carved the body cavity through and through, leaving bare ribs skinless so the light could shine through. The digestive system we left for the vultures, as it belongs to them. I read recently about one of the earliest religious sites, Göbekli Tepe, a marvel considering that hunter-gatherers had no cities, but they bothered to build this temple carved with vultures, lions, and other predators of humans dead…and alive. Some theorize that the hunter-gatherers left their dead here to be eaten by these fierce flesh eating creatures. The word for this is "excarnate," which is very beautiful to me, the idea of sharing your body with other carnivores. I think of then as a time when none owned another, except in death when it was an honor to be consumed and melded with others."

3. Tyler Cowen responds to fears that food markets will be turbulent in years ahead

4. Reasons for optimism: perch in downtown Milwaukee and tilapia in Colorado

5. I’ll be in DC this weekend, and I’m looking forward to the well-regarded Mitsitam Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian. 

"Mitsitam (pronounced Mit-see-tum) means “let’s eat” in the Piscataway and Delaware language. The 350-seat restaurant is essentially an extension of the museum, specializing in authentic Native American cuisine. The seasonal menu changes on each equinox and solstice and is divided among five Native American regions: Northern Woodlands, Northwest Coast, Great Plains, Meso America and South America."

Why I went to the tanning salon this winter

Part of paleo is about experimentation and discovery.  This winter I started experimenting with going to the solarium….better known as the tanning salon.  That’s right, I went to the tanning salon.  Really courting medical controversy here.  So here’s why I went.

My initial reason was to get a base layer and avoid a sunburn in Mexico.  I had signed up for the MovNat course in Mexico in mid-January, and it seemed prudent to get a base layer to make it less likely I would burn in Mexico.  Sun burns are what cause the most damage to your skin and most increase your chances of skin cancer.  My sessions were purposefully short duration (<7 minutes) and low intensity, and so I needed to do a few of them before I got a noticeable tan.

Healthy Vitamin D levels decrease your overall chances of getting cancer.  My reading of the literature indicated that 1) it’s extremely difficult to get sufficient Vitamin D from food and even supplements, 2) the deadly forms of skin cancer are more rare than generally thought, 3) they don’t seem connected to sun exposure per se (sun burns are the more likely culprit), and 4) and your higher chances of getting skin cancer are far outweighed by the cancers you avoid by getting enough Vitamin D.  Use of a tanning bed — with the right UV frequencies — has also been shown to increase Vitamin D levels.  As for a few more wrinkles as I get older, that seems to be true, but I just don’t care.  For an excellent overview of what we know about the sun, Vitamin D, and cancer, watch this video by Dr. Michael Holick at BU.  (He doesn’t endorse tanning.)

My mood improved immediately.  I don’t know what to say, it just did away with the winter doldrums.  The first time I went was in early January in New York City.

Now, would it better to get moderate sun exposure?  Yes.  Would it be better to have a UV solution in winter that mimicked natural sun light? Yes. Is it a good idea to go to the tanning salon to get burnt to a crisp in 10 minutes?  No, of course not. 

Who could benefit most from going to the solarium?  People with dark skin.  Dark-skinned people are adapted for an equatorial environment with enormously high sun exposure all year round.  It’s as if they are wearing high SPF skin block all the time.  They need more sun to generate the same amount of Vitamin D as a fair-skinner person.  So black people who live in high latitudes or who live near the equator but are covered up all the time are particularly at risk.  Bad news for burqas — blocking out the sun is causing rickets and osteoporosis in Middle Eastern women.  From the abstract:  

"Despite ample sunshine, the Middle East (15°-36°N) and Africa (35°S-37°N), register the highest rates of rickets worldwide. This is in large part explained by limited sun exposure due to cultural practices and prolonged breast feeding without vitamin D supplementation in the Middle East, and by dark skin colour and calcium deficiency, rather than vitamin D deficiency, in several countries in Africa. Both regions also have a high prevalence for hypovitaminosis D, the latency disease for osteoporosis, and the main focus of this discussion."
Wouldn’t it be ironic if the first tax enacted as part of the health care plan was actually counter-productive?  I’d be willing to wager that the 10% tax on tanning salons caused a net decrease in the health of African-Americans.  (Not sure how many actually go.)
Anyhow, here’s to a little experimentation.  I’m sure I’ll have a few more posts on this taboo subject in the days to come.



No, not that can kind of bonobos.  The men’s apparel company Bonobos.  Who have a pair of pants dubbed the "Meanderthals".  From the description:

"These black wool pants are about you, the urban caveman. Sleek. Simple. Lethal. Bootcut. Borne from millenia of harsh evolution and a few careful weeks of intelligent design, the Meanderthals ruthlessly cut down to the basics.

Not since the old-school Savage have we seen such a versatile bullet in the modern man’s closet. The Meanderthals pair well with a plain white dress shirt, light pastels or a bear skin on top.

Unlike its namesake however, these pants work even in warmer climes. The tropical wool provides an ideal drape to take you from cocktail party to raiding party. These pants were last seen 30,000 years ago – don’t wait another 30,000 to get your hands on them."

Urban caveman….hmmm….sounds a lot like a NYT Style Section piece a few months back.  You can buy them here.  If you’re interested, contact me and I’ll see if I can get a little discount.

Putting the “gather” back in hunter-gatherer

We’ve talked a lot about hunting recently.  The hunting part of hunting and gathering always steals all the glory — the thrill of the pursuit, the danger, and of course, the killing.  Men have a tendency to forget about the gathering — less thrilling perhaps, but no less important.  (Plus, there’s plenty of death and killing if you eat the wrong plant, or use plant poisons as weapons.)  So let’s do some gathering.

I love these old pictures of me in my aunt’s garden in Michigan.  Notice the date stamp: October, 1988.  I’m five years old.  On the left, I am wearing the most kick-ass t-shirt sporting some Emperor penguins.  Pointing down, like "Look, these radishes came from down in the ground!"  On the right, the bunches of carrots are bigger than I am.


I have the good fortune to have some rooftop space at my apartment in Manhattan.  Last summer, we set up a rooftop garden.  Automatic sprinklers and everything.  But right now it’s a total mess.  Here are a few photos from last year.  Not everything we grew was "perfectly paleo", but hell, we grew it ourselves and that’s saying a lot for four dudes living in Manhattan.



Does poor health cause crime?

From the New York Times:

"Looking at records from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, they have found evidence that shorter men are 20 to 30 percent more likely to end up in prison than their taller counterparts, and that obesity and physical attractiveness are linked to crime."

The article is interesting throughout, so read the whole thing.  

It’s unclear to what extent the effects are purely relative — for example, there will always be shorter people in any population, so will those people be more prone to criminality even if they are tall or healthy in the absolute?  Or perhaps it matters whether your traits are valued in the labor market, and there is some evidence for that:

"In [the 19th century] increased body weight was associated with a lower risk of crime. In the 21st century, though, in which service jobs are much more common, Mr. Price found that being overweight was linked to a higher risk of crime."

But you can bet that body weight was a lot lower back in the 19th century, and a higher body weight may have indicated vitality, not disability.  Being underweight may have indicated lower health. 

The bottom line: Health has real implications for our society beyond just health care costs.

The wisdom of Nassim Taleb

Some of the most memorable turns of phrase are aphorisms.  Ben Franklin had many:

A penny saved is a penny earned.

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

A good aphorism is a tool that help people make sense of the world in simple and easy to remember ways.

Enter Nassim Taleb: former financial trader, author, philosopher, and now, aphorist.   Nassim is on Twitter exclusively writing aphorisms.  Many of his aphorisms concern paleo.  I’ve included a selection below.  Have a look, and vote on your favorite in the comments.


Technology’s double punishment is to make us both age prematurely and live longer.
Deficits are similar to carbs: the more you eat, the hungrier you get.
You have a real life when most of what you fear has the titillating prospect of adventure.
The only objective definition of aging is when a person starts to discuss aging.
Social media are antisocial, health foods are empirically unhealthy, knowledge workers are ignorant, & social sciences aren’t scientific
If you know, in the morning, what your day looks like with any precision, you are a little bit dead -the more precision, the more dead.

Technology is the unrelenting mollification of man, that self-inflicted injury…
The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.
In nature we never repeat the same motion. In captivity (office, gym, commute, sports), life is just repetitive stress injury. No randomness
Before checking the news today, check how much the 400-700 hours of nongossip media exposure in 2007 helped you make sense of 2008, etc.
Atheism/materialism means treating the dead as if they were unborn. I won’t. By respecting the sacred you reinvent religion.
I wonder if a lion (or a cannibal) would pay a high premium for free-range humans.
Modernity: We created youth without heroism, age without wisdom, and life without grandeur.
And I’ll add one that I wrote:
Domestication is both the seed and the fruit of civilization.
Want to give it a try?  As Nassim puts it, a good maxim should 1) surprise you, 2) be true, and 3) be symmetric (one assertion, one negation) or rhythmic.


Locavore Hunter seminar in NYC this weekend

Jackson Landers is back in town with a Slow Food event this Saturday from 1-4pm.  This is for anyone who wants to learn about hunting for locavores, but doesn’t have the time or money to travel to Virginia for a full weekend.  I went to this a couple months ago, and I highly recommend it.  You’ll learn a lot even if you don’t plan on hunting in the near future.

I also asked Jackson about my recent link to cattle and deer tending to align north-south.  Like always, he had a few sharp thoughts.  The ability to sense the magnetic field may be correct, but there might be other associated explanations, such as wind direction:

"I’d like to see them line up that data with the direction of the wind and see if there is a correlation.  It is advantageous to face into the wind while feeding, and certainly whitetails are known to favor bedding down facing into the wind.  Given the fact that our magnetic poles are aligned more or less with our rotational poles that produce cold air, I think that they really need to make sure that this isn’t just a response to wind rather than magnetic alignment per se.

Broadly, I would expect some slight variation around the world depending on proximity to mountain ranges if wind is figuring into it.  For example, in North America we are exceptionally prone to winds from the north because our major mountain ranges run from north to to south and thus allow weather systems to come straight down without anything impeding them.  This is actually unusual  – Europe and Asia have ranges that run east to west.  It is one of the things that makes North America an evolutionary challenge for animals because even in temperate areas they have to be capable of surviving occasional blasts of cold air for weeks on end.  

So to test the wind hypothesis, I would look for slight regional variation among animals within a few miles of mountain ranges that go east/west."

I can’t help but point out that a typical vegan or vegetarian would almost never know information like this because they tend to recuse themselves from nature’s working.  A typical meat-eater wouldn’t know it either.  But a locavore hunter is not only healthy, but also understands how animals think and how nature works.

Assorted links: Evolution in action

1. Cattle and deer evolved the compass before humans invented it.

2. Mark Sisson has a wonderful post on what we can learn from dogs.

3. The original New York Times review of Darwin’s The Origin of the Species.  (via Marginal Revolution)