Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Mental Health Blogging

Dr. Sanity's round-up of the psychosphere is up. Assistant Village Idiot has a post on when Christian and nutritional myths collide that I found quite interesting:

Things like this just make me crazy. A quote from The Maker's Diet, by Jordan S. Rubin.

"History reveals that the healthiest people in the world were generally the most primitive people as well! Our ancestors rarely died from the diet-and lifestyle-related illnesses that kill most modern people before their time, mainly because they ate more healthfully and had more active lifestyles. (p. 32)"

I don't know anything about the value of Rubin's subsequent advise on diet. And I'm not going to find out either, because this is so amazingly stupid that I won't trust a single thing I read from this point forward.

They died young. Their "lifestyle" consisted of brutal labor and frequent malnutrition. Before 1700, life expectancies were in the 30's worldwide. As recently as 1900, the life expectancy in America was 46 -- and that was the highest in the world. Certainly the many deaths in childhood, and the many deaths in childbirth cut down the average, but do the math. A life expectancy of 35 means way less than half are living to age 70.

Yes, it must be nice to rewrite history in a way that makes the primitive lifestyle seem full of life and health. Sorry, but I would rather be alive today eating a Big Mac and frequenting a cardiac surgeon than to have been subjected to the brutal labor and spartan diet plan of my ancestors.


Blogger windrago said...

umm a tasty b.mac. How I couldn't agree with you Dr!?!!

6:33 PM, March 07, 2006  
Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

Gee, thanks. Fogel's "Escape From Hunger and Premature Death 1700-2100" is recommended.

Related anecdote: Son #2 worked last summer in the orphanage his younger brothers come from. He is giving a presentation about the experience at his college, for the people who gave him some of the money to go. He wanted to serve them authentic Romanian snacks. We all suggested Fanta, but our other ideas got more and more ridiculous. I eventually suggested the bread spread with pig fat eaten in the peasant villages. Son #4 also laughed, but added "Hey, it kept me alive for a year." Sadly, it's true. The year before his bio father dropped them off at the orphanage, Chris pretty much did have to scrounge for every meal.

7:28 PM, March 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First Richard Cohen, now this. Is there a Carnival of Idiocy on the web yet?

7:51 PM, March 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once had a classmate who frequently waxed poetic about the idyllic lifestyle of our ancestors and how the evil capitalists and conservatives were leading us down the path towards destruction. Now, I'm usually in a good mood. Known for it, actually. That one day, though, I was in a bad mood. My knee hurt, my foot hurt, and I was cold. I asked her if she would be content to drop out of college, spend all of her time doing housework, cooking, cleaning animals, and caring for the 8+ babies that people used to be forced to have just to ensure one or two surviving past infancy. I was actually a bit rude (for me, this is a big deal) and said, "That's the 'good old days' you're always one about." Some people laughed, others were annoyed, she didn't talk to me again. In retrospect, this was a good thing, lol.

9:59 PM, March 07, 2006  
Blogger Steven said...

"Our ancestors rarely died from the diet-and lifestyle-related illnesses that kill most modern people before their time, mainly because they" -- died long before diet-and-lifestyle-related illnesses could get them.

(Actually, this guy has about a third of a point. Assuming by "primitive" we're talking hunter-gatherers, our primitive ancestors had better health than the agriculturally-based societies managed until the 20th Century. Low population density and a lack of domesticated animals to serve as a disease resevoir meant disease was realtively uncommon. Starvation was rarer because a society dependent on one staple crop is much more vulnerable to a sudden affliction attacking that single food source than a society with multiple calorie sources is to an affliction affecting one of its food sources. And the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, overall, took much less labor than farming. Children under five dropped like flies, women died in childbirth with high regularity, wound infections were very dangerous, and the chance of dying from violent interactions with other people was incredibly high -- but except for the last, the same was true to the same degree in agricultural societies. The only advantage agriculture had was that it was able to support many more people per acre than hunter-gatherers could -- and so the agriculturalists were able to win wars with superior numbers and take over the world.)

11:11 PM, March 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anybody ever have a toothache? I have two words for people who wax poetic about past eras. "Modern dentistry."

8:04 AM, March 08, 2006  
Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

I frequently agree with jw, so I am reluctant to take him on too hard here. But the point is -- no, not really. There was never a time and place when most people had abundant, or even enough food year-round. If you lived to be 40, you would have gone through at least one, and likely two, periods of serious shortage, resulting in starvation for some. I think most commenters are agreeing with my central point, but not the extremity of my description. I stand by it. It really was that bad.

When food increases in an area, the population grows, not the average caloric intake. That is terribly sad, perhaps, but seems to be how we collectively decide to act. Only the cultural changes since 1700 have reversed that.

9:29 AM, March 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being eaten by leopards may be a lifestyle, but it's hardly a lifestyle choice. As the fossils of some of our earlier ancestors show, we used to be on both sides of the predator-prey interaction.

9:37 AM, March 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a lot of foolishness of this sort around. Another similar fad is the marketing of unpasturized milk as "more healthy." When you mention diseases like undulent fever (Brucellosis), they've never even heard of it.

9:55 AM, March 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JW speaks of "at the remaining set of neolithics to get a good idea of the most primitives"

The problem with that reasoning is that remaining neolithics are isolated in reservations, preserves, etc. and beyond the borders of such small territories are huge numbers of people with vaccines and antibiotics, thus shielding them from the diseases spread by human migration. Then there is the action of missionaries, the WHO, and other aid organizations to bring them modern medicine, food in famine, etc. The life expectency and health of remaining neolithics is "subsidized" by efforts of moderns. Even when there's no interaction, because of modern society, an isolated village deep in the Amazon will never face the prospect of a smallpox carrier wandering into their midst.

11:55 AM, March 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People who long for the good old days do have a choice. It is possible to buy some land and live as primitivly as one wishes. (The same is true for communists/socialists. If you think it's so great go start a commune.) By all means, go live as you wish and LEAVE ME ALONE!

12:57 PM, March 08, 2006  
Blogger DADvocate said...

Public health practices (clean drinking water, sewage treatment, vaccination, etc.) have done as much for longivity as medical science according Ivan Illich in "The Medical Nemesis." We don't hear of typhoid, tetanus, polio, cholera, scarlet fever, etc. much any more.

I'm especially glad to having been born in this era as, due to a childhood injury and a congenital intestinal problem, I probably wouldn't have lived to adulthood. As it is I not only survived but played sports, slept in warm beds, and enjoyed excellent health thanks to the medical professions.

2:42 PM, March 08, 2006  
Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

"What did the Flintstones use for defibrilators?"


8:53 PM, March 08, 2006  
Blogger El Jefe Maximo said...

Several years back, I spent some time in Central Arkansas, and visited a State Park where there was a logging display.

The place was located at the edge of a forest that had once been logged, the bed for the little railroad that ran trees to the mill out ,and supplies in, was still there. The area had last been worked in the 1920's.

Looking at the trees, at the pre-modern saws, axes and equipment, and thinking how much of the work had been performed by raw muscle power, rather than machine, I can still remember how profoundly thankful I was that it wasn't me working in that forest, in those days.

10:04 PM, March 08, 2006  
Blogger pst314 said...

Another of the characteristics of tribal life which these nostalgia-besotted folks forget: War. Wars were frequent and deadly. A far, far larger fraction of primitive populations died from war than did even 20th century Westerners who fought two world wars and suffered genocides.

9:35 PM, March 09, 2006  
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