Let’s begin with a question: “What did nature intend for us to eat?”
Within our book and on this blog-site, we frequently refer to the natural diet for our species. A reader has asked me to clarify exactly what I mean by “natural,” as that word can mean different things to different people. For example, we see many highly processed, packaged, and very unhealthy foods with the two words “All Natural” on the label. So, it’s understandable that many might wonder, as did Frances, exactly what do I mean when I talk about the “natural diet for our species. Here is what she wrote:
I am troubled by your use of the word “natural” in your phrase “natural diet for our species”. I would prefer you to replace it with the word “optimal” or perhaps “healthful”. The term “natural” does not have a very precise meaning and I fear that your headline use of the word exposes Colin Campbell’s message to needless criticism. We all have our own idea of what is natural.
My reply: You are so right; I should have made this clarification long before. When I say natural diet, I am talking about what Mother Nature intended for us to eat. All species were designed by nature to consume the kind of food that will promote their own health and enable them to survive and reproduce. No one has to tell animals in the wild what they should be eating; it comes natural for them.
In other words, all animals have a natural diet. Lions and wolves naturally consume other animals after they chase them down and kill them. Predator fish consume many species of smaller fish. Some amphibians eat nothing but insects, and so on.
But the strongest animals in the world: the elephant, hippo, rhino, horse, zebra, giraffe and gorilla — consume almost nothing but raw plants. Because that’s what nature intended for them to eat.
And that last one (along with the chimpanzee) has a DNA that is almost identical to that of humans — giving us a real big clue as to what we should be eating or, in other words, the “natural” diet for our species.
Instead, because of our cognitive niche, we have chosen to eat other foods, like meat — that we first hunted and later domesticated. We would not have been able to survive in the colder climates if we depended only on plants. But that doesn’t mean we evolved to that unnatural diet for our species.
That “cave man” diet consisting of an occasional piece of meat from a hunted and killed animal has morphed (not evolved) into a grossly unnatural diet for our species — with lots of meat, dairy, eggs, fish and/or highly processed foods with almost every meal.We now know from a preponderance of evidence that our typical Western diet is extremely harmful (to us and the planet), incredibly wasteful (land, water, & energy), and frighteningly cruel to billions of innocent “food” animals. Finally, in addition to all of the above…
We now know that this way of eating is grossly unsustainable.
How so? Not enough land, not enough water, not enough fossil fuel resources to continue producing it and not enough money to pay for the horrendous toll it has taken on our health. Regardless what humans have been eating for the past few thousand years, we have never eaten meat and dairy at the grossly unsustainable pace that we are eating it today in the Western world. And I certainly don”t believe that we have “evolved” to that typical Western diet.
One clue: That “unnatural” diet is literally killing us — cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, etc. And, even if we had evolved to that diet, there is no way we can return to that quaint, small farm, feeding model; it’s simply unsustainable in a world full of seven billion people.
To me, after learning about all of this madness back in 2003, I experienced a “blinding flash of the obvious” — We’re eating the wrong food!
After 4 billion years of life on this planet and millions of species; humankind has distinguished itself as the ONLY species in history to eat a diet that nature did not intend for us to eat. Of course, now we have many other species eating an unnatural diet as well: all of those animals that we have domesticated for our food — and our pets.
So what’s it going to take to get us back on track? I figure we’re about one billion blinding flashes away from turning around the deadly trend that the human race has established in the past century (a mere blink of history.)
As the 2009 movie HOME pointed out in the message that Glenn Close so movingly reported: “In just the past fifty years, the human race has inflicted more damage on the fragile harmony of nature than did all of the humans on this planet for the past 200,000 years COMBINED.”
Now, all of that damage wasn’t caused by what we’re eating, but a very hefty portion of it was: You see, our meat-based diet (per calorie) requires 20 times more land, 20 times more energy and 20 times more water than a diet consisting of whole, plant-based foods.
If some of this information disturbs you, maybe you’ll soon have your own blinding flash; if you do, please share your experience and your knowledge with others that you care about. Click here to read about My own “blinding flash of the obvious” in 2003.
Finally, if you would like to hear more about how we got into this ridiculous mess in the first place, you might enjoy my 2007 article describing what I would have told my loved ones about this topic if I had only thirty minutes to live. It is featured on the “Big Picture” page of this website and is entitled:
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Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from Amazon.com
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- Healthy Eating, Healthy World, The “big picture” about food (our book)
- An essential scientific resource: The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell
- Dr. McDougall’s new book, The Starch Solution, with lots of great recipes.
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Blogging daily at hpjmh.com…from the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.
—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation