THE BLOG
08/01/2014 05:23 EDT | Updated 10/01/2014 05:59 EDT

How to Eat Meat Like a Neanderthal

Eating the mountain way would mean we eat meat, but only top-quality, from small-scale local producers with animal welfare at heart. Yes, it costs more so we eat a lot less. We return to minimal meat consumption, just as history and mountains demonstrate humans have done in their most natural state for many thousands of years.

TOM MCHUGH via Getty Images

Food is a passionate and political issue in the Central Apennine Mountains of Italy. There is the belief that those of us in developed countries with an average income must exercise the privilege of choice. Being lucky enough to have a choice about food means it is our political duty to exercise it. Therefore we don't have to support mass production of food saturated with chemicals, life-extension agents, hormones, pesticides etc. We can't turn back the clock and produce our own foods. Yet we have the possibility to eat wisely.

The Central Apennine high altitude shepherd communities retained their ancient dietary traditions unchanged until the 1960s. European mountain shepherds have a history of being free and outside of society. They were perceived to have an especially intimate relationship with nature, and often to have the ability to heal animals and men through their knowledge of plants, derived from their hunter-gatherer tradition.

An interesting aspect of their diet is how they ate meat seldom and would rather wait for a sheep to be ill or injured before eating it. Meat was reserved for funerals and festivals. Compare this to our daily consumption of meat...Most of us North Americans were brought up to believe eating meat is good for you, and from the 1950s onward meat was usually in two of the three meals per day. While vegetarianism gains popularity and evidences health benefits, I argue the majority of people still believe it is natural for us to eat meat daily because humans have a history of being hearty carnivores. Lodged in the back of our minds is a stereotype vision of the "cave man," our heavy meat eating ancestor.

Interestingly new research is revealing that Neanderthal man may have been quite different from what we have imagined. Previously Neanderthal man was perceived to have an extremely high meat (protein) diet as our stereotype idea suggests. Yet now new dietary research is being conducted by analyzing particles from dental calculus -- in other words mineralized tooth plaque.

In July, in Elsevier Quaternary Science Review, Buck and Stringer report that Neanderthals gave considerable importance to vegetable foods and may have eaten some plants for health purposes. This new dental calculus analysis is presenting evidence of the importance of vegetable foods, and evidence of the regular consumption of cooked plants, and heat-cracked grains. Many calculus studies of Neanderthals demonstrate low levels of meat consumption. This suggests sophistication in diet beyond anything we have considered.

Mountains cultures evidence a different way of eating because their altitudinal variations and gradients have made them unsuitable for industrialized farming and mass production of foods. They by-passed the mistakes we made. As our population grows and the Western ecological footprint of each individual gets heavier, we need to learn from these mountain people and get back in touch with our ancient dietary traditions.

Eating the mountain way would mean we eat meat, but only top-quality, from small-scale local producers with animal welfare at heart. Yes, it costs more so we eat a lot less. We return to minimal meat consumption, just as history and mountains demonstrate humans have done in their most natural state for many thousands of years.

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