It’s putrid, it’s paleo, and it’s good for you by Jeremy Cherfas (Eat This Podcast)
How do you get your vitamin C where no fruit and veg will grow?
As our ancestors moved north out of Africa, and especially as they found themselves in climates that supported less gathering and more hunting, they were faced with an acute nutritional problem: scurvy. Humans are one of the few mammals that cannot manufacture this vital little chemical compound (others being the guinea pig and fruit bats). If there are no fruit and veg around, where will that vitamin C come from?
That’s a question that puzzled John Speth, an archaeologist and Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He found clues in the accounts of sailors and explorers shipwrecked in the Arctic. Those who, often literally, turned their noses up at the “disgusting” diet of the locals sometimes paid with their lives. Those who ate what the locals ate lived to tell the tale. John Speth told me the tale of how he came to propose the idea that putrid meat and fish may have been a key part of Neanderthal and modern human diet during the Palaeolithic.
As always a brilliant episode from Jeremy.
There’s quite a lot to unpack here and I’m sure there’s a few days of research papers to read to even begin to scratch the surface of some of what’s going on here with regard to the disgust portion of the program.
One of the things that strikes me offhand within the conversation of botulism and its increase when Arctic peoples went from traditional life ways to more modern ones are related stories I’ve heard, even recently, from researchers who are looking for replacement antibiotics for evolving superbugs. Often their go-to place for searching for them is in the dirt which can be found all around us. I’m curious if there’s not only specific chemistry (perhaps anaerobic or even affected by temperature) but even antibiotics found in the ground which are killing microbes which could cause these types of sickness? Of course, with extreme cold usually comes frozen ground and permafrost which may make burying foods for fermenting more difficult. I’m curious how and were native peoples were doing their burying to give an idea for what may have been happening to protect them.
Another piece which dovetails with this one is a story I heard yesterday morning on NPR as I woke up. Entitled To Get Calcium, Navajos Burn Juniper Branches To Eat The Ash, it also covered the similar idea that native peoples had methods for fulfilling their dietary needs in unique ways.
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Author: Chris Aldrich
I’m a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, theoretical mathematics, and big history.
I’m also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.
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