For many of us who go on a Paleo diet, binging on grains leaves us feeling horrible the next day. I wonder, then, why did early humans adopt this food in the first place?
I understand that after the agricultural revolution, a growing and dense population demanded a calorically-dense and plentiful food. However, this wasn't a problem before the agricultural revolution.
Many Paleos describe the Paleolithic Era as a time of plenty - people were healthy and free and game animals were everywhere. If they're right then humans had no reason begin cultivating grains. Any thoughts?
I think this is a great question (+1). I will take a slightly different route from the other good answers already posted
Chris Masterjohn has just written an article for WAPF which somewhat touches upon this. Check it out - http://www.westonaprice.org/blogs/cmasterjohn/2011/06/12/understanding-weston-price-on-primitive-wisdom-ancient-doesnt-cut-it/
Here is another related (older) article from Peter at Hyperlipid regarding the Kitavins. Population growth limited by available resources, yet continued maintenance of a healthy population - go figure! http://high-fat-nutrition.blogspot.com/2007/06/living-on-isolated-island-of-kitava.html
Also, I think as has been discussed here, fecundity vs optimal health are two related, but clearly distinct, topics. 10,000 years later we are still reproducing. Epigenetics will perhaps have the last say.
There are lots of reasons. An important one is this: Grain allows storage of food over months or years and relatively higher concentrations of people under one central ruler or religious ideology. That means that grain-based civilizations can conquer and expand into areas previously inhabited by hunter-gatherers. Eventually, the HGs are pushed out or assimilated.
Grains (particularly gluten containing grains) stimulate the opiate receptors. So we started eating grains because they made us high. And they were so addictive that we started agriculture so that we could always have them.
I watch a lot of bad TV (it's a way for me to relax after thinking hard all day at work - so don't judge me), two shows that I used to watch were A&E's "Intervention", and MTV's (I think) "Dr. Drew's Celebrity Rehab". It's interesting to watch them because they deal with both sides of the drug addiction - trying to convince someone they have a problem and need rehab, and then watching the rehab process. After watching a number of these shows you can easily see a pattern of behavior in addicts. What's really interesting is that is see these same patterns in people when both trying to convince them to give up grains and then what happens to them as they're going through withdrawal. It's eerie how similar it is to drug addiction.
They store well.
I was thinking about this earlier - a lot of the things that store well aren't very good for us. Someone mentioning peanut butter elsewhere started the thought. It seems like most of the things that are best for us are highly perishable! Quite a conundrum.
Well, there's a couple assumptions here that don't necessarily pan out. 1) That everyone feels like crap the day after eating grains (I don't for example) and 2) That game animals were plenty during paleolithic times.
Speaking to the game animals, yes there were tons around. Doesn't mean they were easy to hunt, nor that there were tons around during the deep winter. Grains don't run away from you, and you can store them for the lean times.
The paleolithic era may have been an era of plenty, but for how long? As human populations expanded, we arguably hunted several large game animals to extinction, or near extinction. When those food sources were no longer adequate to sustain the population, we obviously had to look elsewhere.
We can argue today that we can manage livestock to some degree, such that our meat sources are sustainable. But how did paleolithic man manage sustainable agriculture, let alone sustainable hunting practices, without curbing population growth? They didn't.
I think the best way to answer this Q is to think about in terms of group competition - i.e., evolution on the level of group selection. The non-grain-eaters must stay in tribes of about 150 or less (see Robin Dunbar on where this number comes from). The grain-eaters, in contrast, are able to establish much larger groups, which also requires the development of more sophisticated forms of social organization (and perhaps the evolution of enhanced social cognition), which in turn will translate into more effective war capabilities. Thus when Group <150 faces the more organized and sophisticated Group >>150, the latter wins, and this keeps happening until the Group <150s are nearly wiped out wherever Group >>150s exist.
I found a pretty good article about the topic The Natural History of Wheat.
I suspect the reason would be directly related to the creation of stationary communities but that is based on my recall of old college classes in ancient societies.
People made whatever food they could in order to survive. Ancient people weren't worried about insulin response and irritable bowel syndrome, they were worried about survival. If they could figure out how to grow and/or harvest grains, they had a stable food supply.
There are a LOT of people in the world that eat grains every day and don't feel bad. I wouldn't assume that, because you feel bad when you eat them, that all human kind has had the same response.
Most cultures only became cultures because of a stable source of food that was based on grains. Wheat, barley, rice, corn, and other grains were all staples of many cultures. There are no examples (that I'm aware of) of hunter-gatherer cultures that developed significant technology, governance, etc. When you think of the great cultures of humankind such as the Babylonians, Mayans, etc. throughout history, they all had grains as a source of food.
Is Sprouted Wheat Any Better? 3 Answers