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I am a politically-progressive, ethically-herbivorous anthropoid pursuing a paleontology education in the Los Angeles Basin. I am largely nocturnal, have rarely been photographed, and cannot thrive in captivity.

18 January 2011

Pistols At Dawn, Permavegan!

Jonathan Maxson, author of the excellent blog The Permavegan, stopped by my Comments section a few weeks back, to offer up a gentlemanly challenge. By way of acceptance, I am re-posting his entire comment here, for the benefit of those who missed it the first time around.
Thank you, Geologizer, for a great blog. About two-thirds of the way through a long post I recently authored, under the article subheading "Fallback Food of Last Resort," I introduced my quick take on the argument that a plant-based diet is most definitely the natural diet of Homo sapiens.

I am looking for a worthy "opponent" to help me refine (or discard) my fallback food of last resort (FFLR) hypothesis in a leisurely and friendly cross-blog debate.

My ideal opponent is an insightful, independent, cutting-edge thinker in a field like paleoveganology who is favorably disposed toward vegan ethics but scientifically skeptical about vegan claims such as the FFLR. My ideal opponent (which is really too strong a word; open source peer review is much closer) will not be influenced one way or the other by my activism in the fields of energy descent, climate change, monetary reform, and degrowth, but will keep the discussion squarely focused on the scientific evidence for and against FFLR.

In addition to the FFLR article sub-section and my post on carbon isotope analysis of australopiths, I have read - but much too quickly - perhaps fifty articles and two hundred abstracts relating to this subject. I did all of this research in the spring of 2010, and wrote up a number of notes, the gist of which is that the expensive tissue hypothesis is extremely unlikely to support a meat-intensive diet as the driver of human brain evolution, but is entirely consistent with a carbohydrate-intensive diet. I have not been able to write up my FFLR hypothesis because I am working simultaneously across too many other more pressing research and advocacy fronts to maintain it as an independent line of critical inquiry. However, I think I could tackle it efficiently, effectively, and enjoyably through dialogue with a competent and intellectually gracious devil's advocate.

If this proposal interests you, please feel free to respond with a post on your own blog addressing however many holes in FFLR you would like to start with, and we can take it from there as our schedules allow.

Thanks again for a great blog, and regardless of what you decide about my proposal, I wish you all the best as you continue with your writing on PaleoVeganology. 
And here is the full text of "Fallback Food Of Last Resort," for those who don't wish to read the entire long post he's referring to:
The underlying myth of the livestock propagandists - that it is in our biology to kill animals for food - is far from unassailable.  The mere existence of meat consumption as a cultural trait, even from the very beginning of our technological experimentation, is not evidence that it confers a health benefit relative to a plant-based diet. Nor does it mean we need meat to survive when other, better foods are available.  It is simply evidence that meat-eating was a dietary choice our ancestors took late in the evolution of our species.  They created a meat-eating culture, and they passed it down to us, but we need to be very clear that it is a cultural inheritance, not a biological dependence - and it's certainly not an inheritance we're obligated to pass on.
Humans are not adapted to a structural dependence on meat.  The evidence is much more compelling that we inherited an immunological resistance to meat-related pathogenecity that allowed us to survive on meat as a fallback food during times when superior plant-foods were not available.  The revolution in our worldview now taking place is the exact opposite of the Man the Grass-Fed Locavore propaganda promoted by Lierre Keith, Simon Fairlie, and other emissaries of the Weston Price Foundation.  The crux of our humanity is much more likely to be a set of veganic permaculture skills, defensive capabilities, empathic social intelligence, and a higher level of amylase in our saliva than any other primate before us.  These adaptations, amplified with cooking technology, allowed our ancestors to feed their brains with copious amounts of nutrient-dense carbonhydrates from starchy tubers and rhizomes growing at the edges between woodland, savannah, meadow, and waterway.

We did not evolve hands and a bipedal structure to exhaust our precious energy chasing game.  I believe we evolved these appendages to defend our kin-groups from attack by predators; to harvest tubers, berries, shoots, mushrooms, seeds, sprouts, nuts and plant-based materials of all kinds; and to sustain other rudimentary forms of human culture.  We evolved as prey, not predator, and it is in our nature to flee or fight when attacked, but not to hunt animals for our food.  For most of our evolution we avoided meat because of its intrinsic incompatibility with our physiology and its tremendous pathogenecity.  But meat-scavenging in a time of scarcity most likely created the evolutionary bottleneck(s) through which our lineage developed sufficient immunological and digestive tolerance to this otherwise toxic substance.  That doesn't mean it's an appropriate staple for a physiology built on a base of seventy million years of herbivorism.  Meat and animal products are a fallback food of last resort.

This may sound like wild-eyed fantasizing to you, but as we work our way through all the ins and outs of this food fight, I believe it will prove a much more plausible read of the scientific literature than the Man the Grass-Fed Locavore meme propagated by the livestock industry.
I will post my responses to this challenge in the next few days. This post signals my acceptance of Permavegan's offer, on his terms. Stay tuned.

02 January 2011

Deep Time & The Sanctity Of Death

"Life," John Lennon once quipped, "is what happens while you're busy making plans." I had the truth of that witticism driven somberly home for me this holiday when, in the midst of revelry and blog-planning, I learned that my father has died.

Everyone puts their grief into a context. Here is mine. It's a eulogy that should have been given at my Dad's funeral, but that I hadn't thought through clearly at the time:

"I have not come to mourn, but to celebrate. My Dad has not simply died, nor has he 'passed away.' He has become my ancestor, and that is a wondrous thing to be.

Of course, I am deeply saddened by his death. It will be a long time before I can reconcile myself to a world without his consciousness in it. But my sadness is tempered by the knowledge that death is not a curse, a punishment or a negative. It is not something that's wrong with the universe. It's a natural thing, and yet much more profound than that.

Death, much more than life, is the root source of the universe's strength and diversity. Much more than life, it shapes us and molds us into who we are. Death is something to be honored.

Every one of us here today, and every other person who's ever lived -- indeed, every being that has ever lived, and every rock and every river and every star and planet and every drop of water in the universe today -- is made of elements forged in hearts of dying stars. The oxygen in our lungs, the calcium in our bones, the carbon in our DNA: all of them are the 13-billion-year-old offspring of stars that died in gargantuan explosions and scattered their mass across the universe. We are star-stuff, and without the deaths of the first generation of stars, nothing else could exist anywhere.

Mountains die, too. Over millions of years, they erode down to bedrock, their sediments blending with the detritus of dead organisms to become life-giving soil.

And in that soil are nurtured the mightiest trees, held tall and strong by their dead parts: bark and wood.

When we were just a ball of cells in the womb, our ability to grow heads and hands and arms and legs depended on certain fetal cells dying at the right time, in the right way. Without that programmed cell death, we -- and all other life -- would remain just balls of cells, forever.

When our brains are developing, millions of neuron cells die and get replaced by new synaptic pathways. Without that neuron death, we'd be unable to think, or feel.

And then there's cancer, which has become for many of us the very symbol of death's ravages. Yet, cancer is actually caused by the absence of death. When certain cells fail to die, they become cysts and tumors that ravage their neighbors, sucking up resources and refusing to die. Within our bodies, death is the enemy of cancer.

Knowing all this, I cannot be someone who sees death as a curse. Know all this, I have come to see death as a creative force at all levels of existence, from the most ancient of stars to the tiniest of cells. Death, to me, is a sacred thing, as sacred as life. Death makes life strong. Death is holy.

I have my Dad to thank for this insight. It was he who sat me down to watch Carl Sagan's Cosmos every week when I was a kid. That's where I first learned that I am star-stuff, and the lesson stuck with me.

Thanks, Dad.

That is why I have come to honor Dad's death, not mourn it. For Dad has joined the ranks of the stars and the mountains and the countless species who died before him, who recycled their essence into the life we have today. He has become an ancestor, and that is the most honorable accomplishment of all.

Why should I mourn that?