ancient-landscape

Eating like a Hunter Gatherer in the Modern World

For most of human history, we’ve been feral beings. Roaming the lands, scavenging for food, and hunting prey large and small. Then something drastic happened. We decided to start farming the land, planting crops that were once sparse and hard to come by. Now, these same crops were on our doorstep and often in abundance.

Living in abundance sounds great – and it was – up until the last few decades when food quality and the necessary food macros and ratios started to shift dramatically (and not in a good way). Through many micro lifestyle changes such as food choices, we’ve managed to unleash a barrage of chronic diseases that has now led almost 40% of the US population to have and live with at least one chronic illness

If we want to avoid the health issues of today, I think we need to start living like our ancestors—no not our grandparents or even our great grandparents– I’m talking about the ancient ones. Let’s become a hunter-gatherer again. Since hunter-gathers are already part of our lineage, our genetics are already adapted for that type of lifestyle (at least for a large majority of humans). Our genetics have not yet adapted to KFC and Ben and Jerrys – and let’s not let them, either! 

To become a hunter-gatherer, you need to look at all aspects of your life – not just the hunting and the gathers. So let’s get into it.

Please note that this post is a personal exploration of the potential benefits of learning from history. By no means is it a prescription, and by no means am I a doctor. When making any changes in your life, ensure you discuss them with your doctor. Many of the situations are theorized and hard to prove, but I’ve used logic to try to discern the facts.

Food

Imagine how the world used to look in the Paleolithic era. No buildings and definitely no crop fields sprawling further than the eye can see. All the animals would truly be wild, performing the only tasks they knew how: eat, survive, and procreate. We were once part of these lands where – like the animals – we relied upon mother nature to serve up foods for our species to survive.

The lands were continuously changing, with fruits and vegetables only coming around at certain times of the year. They would look very different to the plants that we eat today. Many would have been less sweet and even bitter, accounting for their potent nutritional qualities.

Many animals would migrate large distances, and we would follow them in our nomadic lives.

The animals we hunted would have been superior in specific ways, but we were lucky to grow large brains capable of logical decisions and foresight. Hunting prey like deer would have been a long, drawn-out process of slowly stalking the animal for hours until it fell from exhaustion. Whereas taking down larger prey would have required teamwork and wit. 

As you can see, there are a few significant points to take from this. 

  • Fruits and vegetables were consumed seasonally.
  • There would have been a large variety of plants we relied upon for our nutrition.
  • Hunting animals was a long, challenging, and arduous task.

Fast forward to today, with grocery stores and modern agriculture, abundance is everywhere – and shopping for food can hardly be called arduous.

Back in the modern world?

The adoption of agriculture birthed the theory of a permanent home. It brought relative stability and security. For much of our past, agriculture was performed at a small scale and mostly in harmony with the environment. But now we see a significant change in practice of agriculture and farming.

With the increasing use of monocropping (fields sowed with only one type of plant), deforestation, massive pesticide and herbicide usage –it’s hard to say we’re now living “harmoniously” with the mother earth. It seems like mother nature is striking back right where it hurts; our health.

Monocropping is not only destroying our soil; it’s harming our bodies. Maize, Soy, and Wheat are the most commonly farmed crops in the US (you could also argue cotton), and much of this crop is used to fatten up farmed animals at the feedlot. We have also reduced the diversity of these crops by concentrating production on certain products like high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, and processed wheat.

On the animal agriculture side, farmed animals’ population makes up 60% of the world’s mammals population, humans account 34% which leaves very few wild mammals. [1]

These farmed animals are brought to market as fast as possible to line our shelves with vast quantities of meat, ready for us to eat day in and day out. Meaning, we hardly have to lift a finger to earn our food.

The Disconnect

Thinking back to the hunter-gatherers and our genetic lineage, there would have been zero chance of consuming the quantities of corn, soy, and wheat that occur in today’s world. 

Not to mention, the plants we know today are a far cry from what they used to be. We’ve gradually, and in recent years, not so gradually manipulated the plants to produce qualities we desire or think is “best”. Whether it be for taste, aesthetics, ease of growing, and more, none of these aspects sound particularly bad — until you realize we’ve bred many beneficial compounds out of plants just to suit our sweet taste or lust for a perfectly round tomato. All that is to say, we have lost a lot of nutrient density.

My next point has to do with the sheer quantity of food that would not have been available to our ancestors. Even when those crops were available, they would have been eaten for short periods during the year when the plant is in season. 

With animals, the hunt would have likely lasted days.  Meaning they weren’t eating meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And when the animal was finally caught, it would have been a natural animal, not pumped up on human cultivated corn or soy. They would have eaten every last part of the animal favoring the organs for the nutrient density. Tell me, when was the last time you ate organ meat? 

Eating like a Hunter-Gatherer

By now, I hope you’ll understand why you might want to (re)adopt a hunter-gatherer-like diet. Here are a few tips to help you on your way. 

  • Eat foods seasonally.
  • Consume a wide variety of plants
  • Don’t be afraid of bitter tastes.
  • Consume wild or wild like organ meats (grass-fed organic)
  • Reduce meat consumption
  • Opt for nutrient density

All these points probably line up with many modern concepts you’ve heard elsewhere about adopting a healthy diet. Hopefully, this helps you make more sense of it now that you understand where we came from and how our genetics evolved. 

So next time you’re at the grocery store, ask yourself. What would a hunter-gatherer eat?

In Part II of the Hunter Gatherer series, I’m going to dive into movement. Do you think hunter-gatherers at desks all day? Obvious, no. So why do we continue to think it’s ok? Read about it here!