9

votes

How has humanity thrived since the advent of agriculture

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created August 23, 2011 at 4:38 PM

I was asked this question at a cookout last weekend, and I think I answered it with a few good points, but would like to hear how everyone else would respond? In 2 million years + of evolution, we were still living in caves. In a blip on the evolutionary timeline, since the advent of agriculture, how have we have gone from living in caves, to the world we live in today, if grains and dairy are so harmful?

67460907f9d818f56e1ef4c846317386

(504)

on December 28, 2011
at 05:27 PM

Oops, I meant Jack lived to 96, but he lived well, details...

67460907f9d818f56e1ef4c846317386

(504)

on December 28, 2011
at 05:26 PM

Art De Vany and Mark Sisson seem to be doing amazing on the diet, better than anyone I know on CW. And while Jack Lalanne was a vocal proponent of CW, I know for a fact he stuck mostly to meat and vegetables and intermittently fasted every day eating at noon and 8pm, he lived to 98. The Okinawans enjoyed a relatively high fat diet with generous amounts of meat, moderate starch and lots of veggies and they are renowned for their longevity. So while there isn't heaps of data, I'm seeing a definite correlation, we seem to have more data on our side than anyone else for that matter.

4e184df9c1ed38f61febc5d6cf031921

(5005)

on December 19, 2011
at 11:18 PM

Spot on. Grains were not ubiquitous as they are now. As a child in the UK I ate a little bread, a lot of chips (fries?) cooked in beef fat and meat and veg. Now it seems to be all wheat and sugar.

Fb67dc30cead043d1d13ea503a3044dc

(3280)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:54 PM

Nice graphic, that drives your point home. Thank you for that. :)

Fb67dc30cead043d1d13ea503a3044dc

(3280)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:45 PM

Superb answer, Alexgrace. This is why I come to PH -- good learnin'.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:40 PM

So if we start thriving how long can we expect to live? And is paleo diet the answer to longevity? There are not enough population statistics to go on, so it's Cordain (or pick your favorite) versus every other alternative. A religious question more than anything.

Ec7cb2a7a68655954a01f03e95be1383

(1453)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:31 PM

yeah, civilization and oppression go hand in hand. Hierarchical societies, class divisions, slavery, a ruling minority against the masses. We are all fucked up.

Ec7cb2a7a68655954a01f03e95be1383

(1453)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:31 PM

yeah, civilization and oppression go hand in hand. Hierachical societies, class divisions, slavery, a ruling minority against the masses. We are all fucked up. Damn it.

Medium avatar

(39821)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:25 PM

Anna: Your first point is an interesting one that I hadn't considered.

C796170f6af6f9b9afbf31f4550d1d84

(345)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:15 PM

Thank you Rose for editing my gigantic bold font! It got stuck like that. Although I am sure that it was operator error. :)

3aea514b680d01bfd7573d74517946a7

(11996)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:10 PM

Good pithy explanation, and nice graphics, too.

3aea514b680d01bfd7573d74517946a7

(11996)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:09 PM

The pound sign/hash mark before the numbers makes the text after it bold (#).

Medium avatar

(10611)

on December 19, 2011
at 09:51 PM

Superman and kryptonite did it.

C796170f6af6f9b9afbf31f4550d1d84

(345)

on December 19, 2011
at 09:46 PM

why is the font so large, what did I do?

1dd1d4bde5b46b4c90efeadea3a96a75

(180)

on November 02, 2011
at 11:08 PM

More food with less effort I would say is false - I've read traditional hunter gatherers as well as our paleo ancestors had far more leisure time. The life of a hunter - find 1 medium sized game a day to feed your family. The life of a farmer - toil dawn til dusk. It's very likely humans turned to agriculture once we had over hunted and caused the extinction of the animals providing our foods. It's not surprising considering us (smarter?) humans today are doing the same thing to worldwide fish stocks which are expected to collapse completely within 30 years.

1dd1d4bde5b46b4c90efeadea3a96a75

(180)

on November 02, 2011
at 11:00 PM

'Collaborating' may not be the best word to use, it makes it sounds like we were all working together. The advent of civilization also allowed for the creation of classes of political and warrior elite. The vast majority of people were either slaves or indentured servants 'allowed' to work lands in exchange for taxes. It's only been the last 200 or so years where the average person has truly been afforded some freedom, and even now there continues to be a tiny majority that controls the vast majority of wealth (ie isn't it 2% control 50% of the world's wealth, and the top 10% control 90%?)

7c9f81d68c78de1a31eab9c91c17b4b8

on August 25, 2011
at 03:25 AM

Not bad for a minarchist football player.

Medium avatar

(5639)

on August 24, 2011
at 06:26 PM

I like this answer alot, because people always ask, "Well if we've been eating this stuff for the past 10,000 years why are we only recently becoming obese and disease-ridden?"

7c9f81d68c78de1a31eab9c91c17b4b8

on August 24, 2011
at 04:12 PM

ahhhh ha ha. I like your question but your handle gave me a great chuckle.

03fa485bfd54734522755f47a5e6597e

(3944)

on August 24, 2011
at 11:03 AM

Absolutely. Even as recently as 1980, growing up on a Midwestern farm, my diet was much different from the SAD. A typical meal covered the four food groups, with a meat, a starch (lots of potatoes, because we grew those), a vegetable, and some dairy. When we ate cereal for breakfast, it was a non-frosted variety and we weren't allowed to put much sugar on it. Food was fried in lard. Yes, we also ate bread and macaroni and Velveeta and a few other things from the store, and my mom baked a lot of desserts, but refined carbs and vegetable oils didn't dominate our diet like they do for most today.

03fa485bfd54734522755f47a5e6597e

(3944)

on August 24, 2011
at 10:56 AM

I was raised on a farm and hope to die on one too. Agriculture doesn't *have to be* bad, but the agriculture *industry*, like any other industry, often can be.

3aea514b680d01bfd7573d74517946a7

(11996)

on August 23, 2011
at 04:41 PM

Our population has exploded, due to an explosion of resources (that is, agriculture). Whether individual health is thriving or not is a matter of debate.

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11 Answers

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8
67460907f9d818f56e1ef4c846317386

on August 23, 2011
at 04:54 PM

Well grains and agriculture may have been harmful to the individual human when it comes to long term health and longevity, but the truth is it was vital to the explosion we experienced as species. It allowed us to live in concentrated areas because we no longer had to travel around to find food, and then we could support a larger population in a smaller area for the same reason. This led to team work, tens to hundreds to thousands of people collaborating together with the same means to an end in mind. Great civilizations began to emerge and we never looked back.

Considering the fact the previous to this cavemen had to constantly find food, kill it, butcher it, stay warm, avoid predators and so on, this was obviously a huge jump. When you're constantly stressed to provide for your family and the pack, it can add up. And any one thing can kill you whether it be the flu or a grizzly bear. I'm sure our ancestors were elated to discover agriculture, must of been like winning the lottery. I'll bet they WEREN'T thinking, "hmmmm, maybe these aren't so healthy for us" :P.

So to answer your question it was an advance in human civilization, it was the start of human civilization. It hasn't truly been until the last couple hundred years that some humans have started to think, "hmmmm, maybe these aren't so healthy for us," and that is only because we have such cushy long lived lives that we now have time to care.

So agriculture was a positive adaption if you consider modern life a good thing. But that is the thing about adapting, you can always do it again and improve on something. And I think now is the time for humans to reassess things and take another step in the right direction. A step backwards maybe ;).

1dd1d4bde5b46b4c90efeadea3a96a75

(180)

on November 02, 2011
at 11:00 PM

'Collaborating' may not be the best word to use, it makes it sounds like we were all working together. The advent of civilization also allowed for the creation of classes of political and warrior elite. The vast majority of people were either slaves or indentured servants 'allowed' to work lands in exchange for taxes. It's only been the last 200 or so years where the average person has truly been afforded some freedom, and even now there continues to be a tiny majority that controls the vast majority of wealth (ie isn't it 2% control 50% of the world's wealth, and the top 10% control 90%?)

Ec7cb2a7a68655954a01f03e95be1383

(1453)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:31 PM

yeah, civilization and oppression go hand in hand. Hierarchical societies, class divisions, slavery, a ruling minority against the masses. We are all fucked up.

Ec7cb2a7a68655954a01f03e95be1383

(1453)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:31 PM

yeah, civilization and oppression go hand in hand. Hierachical societies, class divisions, slavery, a ruling minority against the masses. We are all fucked up. Damn it.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:40 PM

So if we start thriving how long can we expect to live? And is paleo diet the answer to longevity? There are not enough population statistics to go on, so it's Cordain (or pick your favorite) versus every other alternative. A religious question more than anything.

67460907f9d818f56e1ef4c846317386

(504)

on December 28, 2011
at 05:27 PM

Oops, I meant Jack lived to 96, but he lived well, details...

67460907f9d818f56e1ef4c846317386

(504)

on December 28, 2011
at 05:26 PM

Art De Vany and Mark Sisson seem to be doing amazing on the diet, better than anyone I know on CW. And while Jack Lalanne was a vocal proponent of CW, I know for a fact he stuck mostly to meat and vegetables and intermittently fasted every day eating at noon and 8pm, he lived to 98. The Okinawans enjoyed a relatively high fat diet with generous amounts of meat, moderate starch and lots of veggies and they are renowned for their longevity. So while there isn't heaps of data, I'm seeing a definite correlation, we seem to have more data on our side than anyone else for that matter.

8
D8795130729e173cfe9f3e2f6353becd

(446)

on August 24, 2011
at 10:42 AM

Because, historically, "neolithic" diets were not as grain-based as they have been in the last sixty years.

This is something that is hardly ever pointed out about grain consumption: historically, people really did not eat a lot of grains unless they were very poor (and this really only applies to certain geographical areas, as the poor in London during the 19th century lived on oysters and eels as they were stupidly cheap). Yes, people ate bread, but, historically, bread was a far different product to what we buy today: less sweet, very heavy and dense, weighed a ton, very difficult to eat much of it, required water to get down.

What you find if you look at sources that reveal dietary information for the 19th century back to the 12th in Western Europe is that those in classes above the peasant class eat a lot of meat, fish, offal and eggs (way more than people today), and grain products are not very highly used (bread and pastry, and that is about it -- indeed, pastry is more of a structural tool than anything else). And where there are prohibitions on flesh foods, such as on fast days in monasteries, they get round this by eating animal foetuses (I kid you not).

However, we live in an environment today where there is wheat or some grain derivative in almost everything. This situation has never really existed before, ever -- it is like some uber-neolithic grain madness that has been sprung upon us.

So really, prior to the lipid hypothesis gaining traction, many people ate what we might call "semi-paleo" diets anyway. Here in Britain, a cooked breakfast and "meat and two veg" for dinner was a common working class daily diet prior to about 1970. My own great grandfather's special weekly "treat" wasn't a cake or anything like that, he used to get an ounce of tripe and eat it with vinegar.

So, in short, the reason why we have gone from living in caves to the world we live in today, considering that grains and dairy are so harmful, is pretty simple. Our ancestors didn't really eat a lot of grains, not compared to people in the West today.

Medium avatar

(5639)

on August 24, 2011
at 06:26 PM

I like this answer alot, because people always ask, "Well if we've been eating this stuff for the past 10,000 years why are we only recently becoming obese and disease-ridden?"

03fa485bfd54734522755f47a5e6597e

(3944)

on August 24, 2011
at 11:03 AM

Absolutely. Even as recently as 1980, growing up on a Midwestern farm, my diet was much different from the SAD. A typical meal covered the four food groups, with a meat, a starch (lots of potatoes, because we grew those), a vegetable, and some dairy. When we ate cereal for breakfast, it was a non-frosted variety and we weren't allowed to put much sugar on it. Food was fried in lard. Yes, we also ate bread and macaroni and Velveeta and a few other things from the store, and my mom baked a lot of desserts, but refined carbs and vegetable oils didn't dominate our diet like they do for most today.

4e184df9c1ed38f61febc5d6cf031921

(5005)

on December 19, 2011
at 11:18 PM

Spot on. Grains were not ubiquitous as they are now. As a child in the UK I ate a little bread, a lot of chips (fries?) cooked in beef fat and meat and veg. Now it seems to be all wheat and sugar.

Fb67dc30cead043d1d13ea503a3044dc

(3280)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:45 PM

Superb answer, Alexgrace. This is why I come to PH -- good learnin'.

8
A968087cc1dd66d480749c02e4619ef4

(20436)

on August 23, 2011
at 04:48 PM

Agriculture supports many more people per unit of land. Population exploded due to living in one place (no need to limit babies if you don't have to carry them everywhere).

At the genome/population level, agricuture is a great success. The best thing since sliced bread. (Oh, wait, it IS sliced bread.)

But at the level of the individual, maybe not so good. But who cares if you get diabetes as long as you are capable of reproducing? (Just expanding on Rose's comment)

7
0c939bdddc3d8f8ef923ba8a72aeda71

on August 25, 2011
at 02:42 AM

It wasn't agriculture as such that allowed humanity to thrive, but rather the ever-expanding division of labor that came with a more settled, propertied, individualistic human society.

Expanded division of labor > greater specialization > technological development > increased gains from trade > long-distance trade > emerging markets and money > arithmetic, complex written language, common law > civilization.

As hunter-gatherers, we could mostly only benefit from direct interaction with people we personally knew:

how-has-humanity-thrived-since-the-advent-of-agriculture

With the onset of civilization (money, markets, common law, long-distance trade, etc.) we were able to capture ever-increasing benefits from indirect interaction with many more people than we could ever personally know:

how-has-humanity-thrived-since-the-advent-of-agriculture

...I made an anthropology/economics primer thing on this here.

7c9f81d68c78de1a31eab9c91c17b4b8

on August 25, 2011
at 03:25 AM

Not bad for a minarchist football player.

Fb67dc30cead043d1d13ea503a3044dc

(3280)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:54 PM

Nice graphic, that drives your point home. Thank you for that. :)

3aea514b680d01bfd7573d74517946a7

(11996)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:10 PM

Good pithy explanation, and nice graphics, too.

6
1d9af5db8833413037be3ac48964714f

on August 24, 2011
at 12:43 AM

The most drastic damage to health seems to come with modern industrial diets. If this movement were only focused on traditional Weston A. Price style eating patterns, lots of us would still be far healthier than we were with our previous ways of eating. In fact, I think that most traditional diets can probably be almost as healthy as pure paleo, if you haven't already damaged your metabolism.

For those many of us with decades-long histories of damaging our bodies by eating modern diets, it seems likely to me that the best compensation is to cut out all of the foods that are tolerated in traditional agricultural societies within the context of an otherwise healthy lifestyle. Once you are messed up, a healthier diet will only take you so far--you'll need to really cut out the toxins. Once you've fixed those problems, you may be able to re-introduce some traditional agricultural foods.

5
D3ff004d4a0c42b67cc2c49a5ee9c0f3

(5801)

on August 23, 2011
at 04:54 PM

The problems of grain and dairy become apparent around 40, and although health can be on a downward trajectory, there is still the high probability of another 20 - 25 years of productive life.

In 65 years or more of productive life, there is plenty of time to successfully raise children and invent new things that improve the quality and quantity of life. Invention builds on invention and increases the rate of invention (larger pool to gather ideas from).

If you are speaking strictly health, clean drinking water, a functional sewer system, and washing hands has more to do with the health of a city than practically anything else.

3
7c9f81d68c78de1a31eab9c91c17b4b8

on August 24, 2011
at 04:02 PM

Well the Mesopotamian culture and fall is a great example. They discovered irrigation...which was vital to agricultural crops. After time, the soil became toxic due to the salts that were left from evaporation. The plants could not grow. (They did not have Monsanto's Roundup.)The over-populated areas became under-fed and war easily ravaged them.

In present day, genetically engineering foods to increase their salt tolerance is one approach used to combat salinization of the lands.

Like us, the Mesopotamians "thrived" with the advent of agriculture. Our demise is maybe more complicated and will surely be drawn out longer--but as a result what will our food look like in 100-200 years? Will EVERYTHING come in a shiny package and filled with soy and corn products? Will I-phones, medical advances and cleaner fuel sources matter when we're dying of diabetes, heart disease and auto-immune diseases of all kinds?

I guess we'll find out.

1
C796170f6af6f9b9afbf31f4550d1d84

(345)

on December 19, 2011
at 09:44 PM

Two more possible points to consider:

  1. extremely lean woman often stop menstruating, which really cuts back on population growth. Adding something to the diet which allows woman to gain a little weight probably resulted in a more fertility. More viable offspring likely too as the the quantity of breast milk was more abundant as well.

  2. Grains probably keep us from being as healthy as we could be, but it the adulteration of grain products that make our society fat and sick. Corn is the primary grain culprit. Corn syrup with kill you faster than wheat ever would. The body is weakened by processed sugars like superman and kryptonite.

Eating candy bad chewing bones good.

C796170f6af6f9b9afbf31f4550d1d84

(345)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:15 PM

Thank you Rose for editing my gigantic bold font! It got stuck like that. Although I am sure that it was operator error. :)

Medium avatar

(10611)

on December 19, 2011
at 09:51 PM

Superman and kryptonite did it.

C796170f6af6f9b9afbf31f4550d1d84

(345)

on December 19, 2011
at 09:46 PM

why is the font so large, what did I do?

3aea514b680d01bfd7573d74517946a7

(11996)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:09 PM

The pound sign/hash mark before the numbers makes the text after it bold (#).

Medium avatar

(39821)

on December 19, 2011
at 10:25 PM

Anna: Your first point is an interesting one that I hadn't considered.

1
8e1876a74536739ecf7bef97d5d97b76

(747)

on August 23, 2011
at 05:10 PM

IMO- Agriculture is not bad. Maybe I'm biased since I'm born, raised, educated and will die as a member of the Agricultural Industry.

03fa485bfd54734522755f47a5e6597e

(3944)

on August 24, 2011
at 10:56 AM

I was raised on a farm and hope to die on one too. Agriculture doesn't *have to be* bad, but the agriculture *industry*, like any other industry, often can be.

0
1d0497f8781845ab371b479455bfee8e

(11157)

on August 23, 2011
at 05:16 PM

Farming > Yields more food with less effort > Supports concentrated populace > Large groups of people living together year-round > Disease & contamination > Affects quality of life > Shortens life span

The effect of grains & dairy on human health isn't necessarily direct (allergies notwithstanding), rather it was the static living situation which humans adapted to in order to maintain crops and livestock that contributed to their poorer quality of life.

1dd1d4bde5b46b4c90efeadea3a96a75

(180)

on November 02, 2011
at 11:08 PM

More food with less effort I would say is false - I've read traditional hunter gatherers as well as our paleo ancestors had far more leisure time. The life of a hunter - find 1 medium sized game a day to feed your family. The life of a farmer - toil dawn til dusk. It's very likely humans turned to agriculture once we had over hunted and caused the extinction of the animals providing our foods. It's not surprising considering us (smarter?) humans today are doing the same thing to worldwide fish stocks which are expected to collapse completely within 30 years.

0
Medium avatar

(10611)

on August 23, 2011
at 05:07 PM

Dietary portability allows us to live anywhere.

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