An introduction to the Atavist's general approach to health, in question and answer format. Basically, eat your vegetables!
Why do you care about what we eat and how we exercise? If we’re living in good communities, like you want, why does it matter?
Healthy individuals make healthy communities, and healthy communities support individuals’ health. Our personal health affects our community in many ways - bad health can make us anxious and put us in a bad mood, for one thing, and sick individuals can't contribute as much to their communities, despite their desire. For their part, participation in a community has been shown to lower stress in its members, and the economies of consumption that community can create allow for individuals to be able to afford better quality products, which can raise our health outcomes.
Additionally, health and diet play such an integral role in society that it’s impossible to talk about creating a better society without talking about creating better health for individuals. Much of what’s wrong with the modern world is reflected in the way we produce and consume food - if you start pulling on the strings of what’s wrong in our diet, you end up unraveling more than just our waistbands.
What’s so bad about the modern diet?
Too many things for any one answer. In general, the modern diet is shaped by corporatism - by what corporations have figured out that they can sell us to make money on, rather than what actually makes us work and feel better. Food has become a commodity, rather than an organic relationship with the world. Bovine and porcine lives are squeezed and devalued in service of the bottom line. Foods are created in laboratories, then loaded up with sugar and salt to trick our brains into thinking that we’re eating something tasteful. I could go on.
But there must be one thing that’s the cause of it all?
It’s tempting to blame agriculture. Before agriculture was developed, humans lived as nomadic communities of hunter-gatherers, eating fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. Our bodies didn’t evolve to eat the vast numbers of grains and sugars that agriculture is so good at producing, so it’s not surprising that eating those things isn’t necessarily good for our health.
So this is the paleo diet, right? We should try to eat like cavemen?
Yes and no. Yes, our model follows the ideas of 'paleo' diets (though there are a large number of paleo-like diets out there in the media right now that differ in various ways). But no, it’s not possible to really eat like a caveman, and that's not what paleo diets are really about. The meats and vegetables we have access to are different from what was available to our ancestors, for one thing, and for another there was no singular diet followed by cavemen. Generally, it’s more important to eat whole, real foods, rather than the chemical-laden products from faceless corporations. This is really difficult, especially because the food corporations have been so good at getting us addicted to their products. We feel real anxiety when we try to cut them out, and just as we need to be generous in considering other people's approach to sexuality, we need to be generous and forgiving in considering the foods that people think they need.
But that means cooking! And I’m busy. Can’t I just order in a salad?
You could certainly make a worse decision. And it’s true, it’s difficult to eat healthily when you’re busy. That’s one of the ways a strong community makes it easier to be healthy - by utilizing economies of scale in consumption. It’s only marginally harder to cook for eight than it is for four, and marginally harder to cook for 20 than it is for 10. Communities can easily produce a lot of their own food, as well. In any community, you’re likely to find at least a couple people who really enjoy gardening, and just like with cooking, there are economies of scale in gardening.
Gardening? But that’s just like farming! And you said farming was bad!
The switch to agriculture may have been the Copernican revolution that derailed an otherwise stable human way of life, but we can’t go back to hunting and gathering. For one thing, there are too many people and not enough wild, fruitful land to live off of. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to include wild foods in our diet, but for most of us it would be impossible to fully support ourselves wildly. And even for those of us who do live near enough natural resources, the folk knowledge that allowed hunter-gatherers to live easily off of the land is, for the most part, lost to us. Maybe at some point in the future it will become more feasible, but for now it is not. So we can look to our evolutionary history for guidance as to how we should live, but we can’t, and shouldn’t, try to repeat it.
You mean loincloths are never coming back in style?
Probably not. But if they do we promise we'll sell them here.