THE ORIGINAL FAST FOOD FREAKS
In Berkley in February 1986, at a symposium on "Diet and Human Evolution: From Foraging to Fast Foods," Richard Wrangham, PhD, professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, spoke on "The Original Fast Food Freaks: A Primate Background to Human Diet." What follows is based on his talk.
Fifty million years ago the first primates were tiny insect eaters. Other primates developed long, sharp teeth that enabled them to eat leaves and cellulose; they had a low metabolic rate and huge stomachs, for the slow bacterial fermentation of the cellulose. Some monkeys ate fruit supplemented with insects. They, and other primates, can eat fruits containing toxins that we cannot handle (plants contain many toxic compounds that give them "chemical protection" and reduce their digestibility). Unlike other primates, we humans have relatively fast gut passage of foods and relatively low digesting-surface area compared with our nutrient-absorbing area. Also, humans are slower than monkeys at metabolizing toxins in drugs.
Professor Wrangham pointed out that there is a strong negative correlation between tooth size and brain size. Over a period of three or four million years, the teeth of our hominid ancestors became smaller and their brains larger. Energy-wise, the brain is by far the most extravagant body organ. Our brain is only one fortieth (2.5 percent) of our body weight, yet it consumes one-fifth (20 percent) of all our energy. As the brain requires energy constantly, early humans needed foods that stored efficiently in their bodies for the times of food scarcity and for the great distances traveled to find fruits, roots, and seeds, as well as meats.
Then and now, the animal with the largest brain compared with its size eats the most concentrated and toxin-free foods and tends to have low, rounded molars topped with thick enamel – for example, bears, among carnivores, and ourselves, among the primates. For this wonderful brain development, Professor Wrangham said, the "supreme human characteristic is specialization for finding energy-rich foods."
Finally, Professor Wrangham’s concluding recitation:
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We remind our readers that lipids or fats specifically needed for the brain are unstable and are therefore destroyed in processed foods and that these fats are overwhelmed by the saturated storage fats in our domesticated animals.* However, the meats from many wild game animals are available. We can purchase fresh ocean fish and we can order carefully refrigerated raw organic nuts.
* See "Structural versus Storage Fats" in NOHA NEWS, Vol. XII, No. 1, Winter 1987, and "The Fish and Game Diet" in NOHA NEWS, Vol. XI, No. 4, Fall 1986.
Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XII, No. 3, Summer 1987, pages 2-3.