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Pig Penury


Smita Nordwall
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Mixed Dal (moong, masoor, urad with ghee, cumin seeds. ginger, garlic, onion, chillies and tomatoes), braised okra with tomatoes (peanut oil, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, dried chillies, coriander seeds and greens, turmeric), cucumber, tomato and onion with lime juice and salt. Pickles and lots of brown jasmine rice. Delicious, but so "unhealthy", these traditional diets with all those grains and little or no meat. Here's the requisite photo:

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Ohhhhh. A billion or so Indians would strongly disagree with you Eric. I am not one of them. I eat the wonderful foods of my childhood while my Mom is here in the Summer to cook for me. Add homemade fresh rotis to the mix and it is deadly. And despite being almost 95% vegetarian during that time, I invariably gain weight. Yeeesh!

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Ohhhhh. A billion or so Indians would strongly disagree with you Eric. I am not one of them. I eat the wonderful foods of my childhood while my Mom is here in the Summer to cook for me. Add homemade fresh rotis to the mix and it is deadly. And despite being almost 95% vegetarian during that time, I invariably gain weight. Yeeesh! 

I was being somewhat sarcastic. Most (all) of the world eats a grain based diet and has for at least 3000, if not 10,000 years (or longer). The fact that there are over 6 billion people in the world now shows that evolution has favored this diet. Only in the wealthiest of nations could a diet eschewing grains even be possible. An all meat and vegetable diet is the emperor's diet.

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I being somewhat sarcastic. Most (all) of the world eats a grain based diet and has for at least 3000, if not 10,000 years (or longer). The fact that there are over 6 billion people in the world now shows that evolution has favored this diet. Only in wealthiest of nations could a diet eschewing grains even be possible. An all meat and vegetable diet is the emperor's diet.

And for all but the last 50, those billions did manual labor 6-7 days a week, 10-12 hours a day. Regardless of our diet, sitting on our asses in front of a computer is what is making us fat.

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And for all but the last 50, those billions did manual labor 6-7 days a week, 10-12 hours a day. Regardless of our diet, sitting on our asses in front of a computer is what is making us fat.

This is overstated. In agrarian societies there might be work to do 6 to 7 days a week, often more than 12 hours a day, but not all year long. In between periods of long, hard work, though, idle agricultural laborers were prevented from growing fat by being kept in penury.

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This is overstated. In agrarian societies there might be work to do 6 to 7 days a week, often more than 12 hours a day, but not all year long. In between periods of long, hard work, though, idle agricultural laborers were prevented from growing fat by being kept in penury.

Unless the agrarians were farming rice or other tropical crops.  Summer growing seasons are temperate phenomena.

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Unless the agrarians were farming rice or other tropical crops.  Summer growing seasons are temperate phenomena.   

I have an academic background in English history. I know nothing of rice, but I do suspect a lot of tropical societies have traditionally been more gatherers than cultivators, and living on bananas or breadfruit probably doesn't involve a lot of 12-hour days of hard physical labor.

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My doctor tells me that I am mildly anemic, so I should eat more meat, I guess, but that's not the food that I crave- I love rice, & would like to eat it everyday (w/ a bit of fish /chicken & veg) but since I'm also prediabetic, I know I should limit my carbs. I suppose the real answer is to move my butt more (& get back to manual labor), & then I wouldn't have to worry as much about what I eat....walking out in the yard to pick those last few cherry tomatoes just doesn't cut it.

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I have an academic background in English history. I know nothing of rice, but I do suspect a lot of tropical societies have traditionally been more gatherers than cultivators, and living on bananas or breadfruit probably doesn't involve a lot of 12-hour days of hard physical labor.

Guess again. On both points. :)

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I've gotten in trouble previously for oversimplifying and being misunderstood, but what the heck.   First, bananas and breadfruit are not wild plant foods to be gathered, but are domesticated species that were carefully bred over centuries, if not millennia, to produce specific characteristics that the cultivators wanted.  Banana culture, as an example, is one of the hottest, dirtiest, hardest jobs on the planet, in large part because they can no longer reproduce by seeds, so you must take cuttings from budding sprouts and have young plants constantly growing in succession to replace the larger ones that will die after fruiting.  When a plant dies, you have to cut it up (with stone tools) and heft it out of your field so it won't spread disease.  You don't get to plant a banana plant or two and lie in a hammock the rest of your life.  Also keep in mind that tropical forest garden plots are not located right next to living areas, so you have to hike several kilometers through the forest just to get to where you work, then you must heft your produce onto your back and carry it on the return to your home.  This is after clearing your fields of trees and other vegetation with stone tools and fire, a job that is also ongoing because of the poor nature of tropical soils and the need for frequent crop rotation to keep yields high (the major reason for tropical deforestation, other than ranching.)    Breadfruit may be a little easier in terms of plant food resource longevity, but try hiking out to your trees, then making poi with a wooden mortar and pestle.  You'd have Lance Armstrong's legs and Linda Hamilton's arms in no time at all.

Second, hunting/gathering/fishing groups are mobile, and must move across the landscape to follow fruiting plant communities as they reach maturity.  So gather up all your things and all your kids, put them on your back, and start walking, or even jogging a bit.  It's not easy by any means, and to illustrate that point, consider that one of the first explanatory models for the persistence of agriculture was the increase in leisure time over groups that subsist on wild foods.  It's a bit easier when you get to live in one place all year, but imagine having to do everything by hand.  Clear the fields with stone tools and fire, carry the fertilizer and spread it by hand, plant seeds with digging sticks, all by hand, weed your fields, all by hand...  Also consider working in areas where you might need to terrace fields and maintain the terrace integrity (by hand), or build irrigation canals and maintain them (by hand).

My Grandparents were farmers, and I can tell you, the physical labor was there all year round.  Plant, cultivate, harvest, store, mend fence, prune trees, butcher hogs, fix that damn fence again, retrieve the cow that got out of the field because of the broken fence, cut and split firewood, etc.  Mechanized agriculture has become the behemoth it is because those of us who enjoy the benefits of not having to dedicate our lives to producing our own food are willing to pay someone else to do that for us.  We who don't farm are lucky to be able to do what we want with our time, but we are, as a society, not learning very quickly that we must still care for our bodies in ways other than simply eating certain foods.

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Despite all of that exercise, or more likely because of it, human life expectancy was very short as described by LPerry. I would never have made it as a farmer. At my fittest, in my early twenties, during a time when my husband and I had cut down trees and built a rather large log house by hand, I lasted about three hours picking apples.

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This is overstated. In agrarian societies there might be work to do 6 to 7 days a week, often more than 12 hours a day, but not all year long. In between periods of long, hard work, though, idle agricultural laborers were prevented from growing fat by being kept in penury.

Economists and bureaucrats who ventured out into the countryside after the Revolution were horrified to find that the work force disappeared between fall and spring. The fields were deserted from Flanders to Provence. Villages and even small towns were silent, with barely a column of smoke to reveal a human presence. As soon as the weather turned cold, people all over France shut themselves away and practiced the forgotten art of doing nothing at all for months on end.

In the mountains, the tradition of seasonal sloth was ancient and pervasive. "Seven months of winter, five months of hell," they said in the Alps. When the "hell" of unremitting toil was over, the human beings settled in with their cows and pigs. They lowered their metabolic rate to prevent hunger from exhausting supplies. If someone died during the seven months of winter, the corpse was stored on the roof under a blanket of snow until spring thawed the ground, allowing a grave to be dug and a priest to reach the village.

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Despite all of that exercise, or more likely because of it, human life expectancy was very short as described by LPerry. I would never have made it as a farmer. At my fittest, in my early twenties, during a time when my husband and I had cut down trees and built a rather large log house by hand, I lasted about three hours picking apples.

I think I have you beat, as one of my first jobs, I picked scuppernong grapes as a teenager-I'm quite susceptible to heat, & I lasted half a day. I then got a job working in an ice cream parlor. Now, as an older gardener, I go out early in the morning & later in the evening. If I had to grow all, or most of my food, I'd be toast. Most of us are so far removed from how our food is produced.

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At my fittest, in my early twenties, during a time when my husband and I had cut down trees and built a rather large log house by hand, I lasted about three hours picking apples.

When I was a little kid, 7 or 8 years old, living in Germany, there were extensive woods around where my family lived that were full of wild strawberries. My brother and sister and I used to go out strawberry-picking for hours and hours during the season. The next time I picked strawberries was this past spring, more than fifty years later, at a farm in the Shenandoah Valley. About twenty minutes of strawberry-picking left me almost crippled, with about a quart of fruit and an aching back that kept me from standing up straight for two hours. There may well be advantages that come with age, but sometimes they're hard to discern.

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Is it really age, or is it inactivity?  I run and cycle with guys in their 70s, and they are in as good shape, or even better shape, than I am, often putting me to shame as I huff and puff up hills after them.  I've also gone out hiking with friends in their 20s and 30s, and they can't keep up.  Fortunately, for those who don't want to chase old guys, it looks like all you really have to do to make things a great deal better for your health is walk.  Knowing that it will help me keep my mental capacity intact is the biggest driver for my fitness activities. 

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