Link to Essay: http://www.allrandall.com/Collura_Chapter.pdf
This essay questions the fundamental basis of our health crazes. Collura discusses our obsession with the return to the garden of Eden for humans. We are trying to find a simple solution for the complex issue of how to nourish ourselves. New diets all claim to have the perfect balance of foods for our bodies, but this article discusses how there can never be one solution. Right now we assume that there is diet that can lead us to a long healthy life, but it all depends. No diet will grant us the longest healthiest life. Our diets were not perfect in the past, and though we are engineering better food, our diets are far from perfect now.
Randall Collura got his PhD from Harvard University in Biological Anthropology. More information on his endeavors can be found on his website: http://www.allrandall.com/Welcome.html. His specialty is not nutrition, but he does provide great points about our species today trying to find miracle diets.
Collura’s essay, “What Is Our Natural Diet And Should We Really Care?” provides a zoomed out view of the issues with our diets. Vegetarianism comes with a broader look at our world, empathizing with the suffering of animals, promoting mindful eating. Being a vegetarian often means promoting natural foods and alternatives as being the best for our bodies. This is a broader look at the scope of eating than simply just moving through life unaware, just eating what is supplied to you. But this article provides an even wider look at what we eat by questioning a very huge underlying issue. We are essentially blind to what is supplied to us anyway. What we eat today is not natural in the sense that everything has an added human touch.
Indeed, one could argue that no diet consisting of today’s foods is really natural–and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Over the last 10,000 years we have not only changed what foods we eat but have changed the foods themselves. Someone from the Paleolithic wouldn’t recognize most of the fruits and vegetables in our supermarkets. Artificial selection (people choosing only certain seeds, usually from the best plants, to be sown the following year) has produced foods lower in fiber, sweeter and larger than their natural relatives. They have also been selected to contain lower amounts of compounds that plants produce to thwart herbivores such as tannins, alkaloids and oxalates.
Our tomatoes have anti-freeze genes from fish and our carrots are now orange instead of purple. To advocate for a natural diet is extremely difficult because we have altered the nature of almost every food to increase its value to us. This is definitely not a bad thing for us though. Our modifications to foods have allowed our lifespans and our healthy years to increase dramatically, but this is also much of the reason behind overpopulation (though world hunger is still unbelievably rampant). The fact that these foods are not the natural ones that were produced by nature has a whole slew of environment effects that I cannot cover without going into apocalyptic alarm mode.
Another great point that Collura brings up about our diets today is that we are engineering many foods and fortifying foods under the assumption that people will not be able to get all the vitamins and minerals they need without the extra supplements put into foods. This is part of the reason for our longer and healthier lives and bigger bodies than ever before.
It’s curious how the traditional dietetic community will harp on the lack of vitamin B12 in a vegan diet–implying that without supplements it is inherently deficient and restrictive–while ignoring the many vitamin and mineral supplements added to common foods (iodine in salt, B vitamins in grain products, vitamin D in milk, calcium in many foods, etc.). Do these important additions make “standard” mixed diets inherently deficient and restrictive? Deficiencies of certain nutrients may have been a common feature of existence throughout human evolution or they might be the result of very recent changes in food processing technologies and lifestyle or both.
Overall, we can see that we are chasing a difficult dream. Our natural diets were lost to agriculture long ago and no one person has the perfect diet to fit every human. The debate over what is healthiest for humans may be an impossible feat. Debating over whether meat is good for us or not is also under the category of health crazes that we cannot settle.
Collura R. What Is Our Natural Diet And Should We Really Care?. In: Sapontzis S, ed. Food for Thought: The Debate over Eating Meat. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books; 2004