You Can’t Trust the Experts: Were Our Ancestors Vegetarians?

Proposed evolution of the human trophic level during the Pleistocene

Biologist Rob Dunn argues in Scientific American (the oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the United States!) that our ancestors were (mostly) vegetarian. Dunn says that “[o]ur guts are remarkably similar to those of chimpanzees and orangutans … which are, in turn, not so very different from those of most monkeys” and since most monkeys are mostly herbivorous, our ancestors must have been mostly herbivorous, too. He then adds, “If you want a justification for eating a meaty ‘paleodiet’ … the search should be for evidence that some aspect of our bodies evolved in such a way as to be better able to deal with extra meat…. It could be there, as of yet undetected.”

Such evidence, as it so happens, is undetected, but only by Rob Dunn. As a recent article points out, our high stomach acidity, low insulin sensitivity, long small intestines, small colons, and adaptations to spear-throwing, endurance running, and lengthy fasting—among other things—are adaptations to carnivory. Not only were our ancestors not vegetarians, they were hypercarnivores for hundreds of thousands of years. In fact, they ate so much fatty meat that they hunted many animals to extinction.

You may ask how all this biological evidence was “undetected” by a professional biologist. The simplest answer is: You can’t trust the experts.

You Can’t Trust the Experts: “Cut Medicine in Half”

[O]ur main problem in health policy is a huge overemphasis on medicine. The U.S. spends one sixth of national income on medicine, more than on all manufacturing. But … we see at best only weak aggregate relations between health and medicine…. Cutting half of medical spending would seem to cost little in health, and yet would free up vast resources for other health and utility gains. To their shame, health experts have not said this loudly and clearly enough. … [M]edicine has played at best a minor role in our increased lifespans over the centuries.… [W]e could cut U.S. medical spending in half without substantial net health costs.… This would give us the equivalent of an 8% pay raise.

Robin Hanson, “Cut Medicine in Half”

Universal health and universal health care have hardly anything to do with each other. Eat, sleep, and exercise accordingly.

Natural Toxins

[A]round 15% of cancer-related deaths are due to natural toxins in our diet…. Take the case of celery. Celery produces potent toxins to prevent animals and insects from eating it. Organically produced celery has more natural toxins than celery treated with pesticides. Why? Celery is in an arms race with predators: It has to produce ever more potent toxins to survive, because natural selection is producing predators that have resistance to its toxins. … So, organically produced celery may actually be more dangerous than celery treated with pesticides.

Allen Buchanan

Oh eeh ooh killer tofu indeed.

Ditch the organic produce. Eat meat.

You Can’t Trust the Experts: Brace Yourselves, Braces Are Coming

No dentist necessary

The New York Times:

On a Friday in August, I met with an anthropologist named Janet Monge in a ground-floor classroom at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. … Since the early 1990s, she has been the keeper of one of the world’s largest and most geographically diverse collections of ancient skulls, housed at the University of Pennsylvania. … In a plastic container, Monge had placed skulls from the Middle East, West Africa, Eastern Europe and beyond. When I asked her if she’d ever seen an ancient specimen with crooked teeth, she didn’t hesitate: “No, not one. Ever.” Most of the skulls in the Penn collection date from a 40,000-year period starting late in the Stone Age and ending around 300 years ago, yet “they all have an edge-to-edge bite,” “robust” jaws and “perfect” occlusion, Monge said.

But then, in specimens from people who lived two centuries ago or less, Monge noted a striking change: The edge-to-edge bite completely disappears, and malocclusion suddenly runs rampant. She pointed to a skull on a nearby shelf — that of a woman who lived in 19th-century North America. Unlike the ancient skulls, this postindustrial woman’s maxilla was crinkled and small; the teeth that remained sat crammed together. “I always told my students, ‘Something happened 200 years ago and nobody has an edge-to-edge bite anymore — and I have no freaking idea why,’” Monge said.

(Related. Related. Related—see especially Figures 53-57 in Chapter X.)

In this case, as in many others, “Progress” has created a problem instead of solving one. Preindustrial people without dentists, braces, toothpaste, etc. had better teeth and jaw development than we do.

What’s the root (pun intended) of the problem? There are probably a few factors at play—the two orthodontists rather unfairly smeared in the NYT article above hint at some of them. Cutlery may also be a factor. As with most health issues, however, diet is almost certainly the key. Especially for children, whose jaws and teeth are still developing. (And brains. And bones. And everything else. Raise your kids on fatty meat!)

(Did your orthodontist ever mention that people didn’t used to need braces? Would orthodontists make more or less money if that fact became widely known? You can’t always trust the experts!)

You Can’t Trust the Experts: The Food Pyramid

Rizzo and Whitman on the food pyramid (via Bryan Caplan):

Light describes some of the notable differences between the unpublished food pyramid and the final version. The number of recommended servings of fresh fruits and vegetables fell from 5–9 to 2–3, while the recommended servings of whole-grain breads and cereals rose from 3–4 to 6–11. … Light further notes that white-flour baked goods, which the experts had placed at the pyramid’s peak for items to be eaten sparingly, had been moved to the pyramid’s base…. In recent years, many have begun to reevaluate the conventional wisdom that emphasizes caloric restriction and reduced fat intake, instead arguing for restriction of carbohydrates and greater consumption of protein and fat.

More on the food pyramid. As that article notes, we’ve known low-carb can treat diabetes for a long time—in fact, since the 1700s. Science doesn’t always make progress, especially when it’s politicized, and nutrition has been deeply politicized.