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Ray Mears on hunting and meat

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There was another episode of Ray Mears’ Wild Food on television last night. It’s one of the repeat run of a series that was on last year that I mentioned with respect to native people removing the oxalates from foods before eating them.

I was rather smug about seeing that particular episode at the time as members of the Weston A. Price “we know everything about native food and you are just vitamin deficient that’s why you can’t eat these glorious natural wholefoods” Foundation had busily been telling me, well, exactly that.

Last night’s episode of Ray Mears’ was one I’d missed last year. This episode included information on making biscuits out of grains and seeds, digging up burdock roots to bake, picking wild berries with special combs, and actually hunting deer. My partner and I have mocked Mears in the past for all the effort and hard work he puts into gathering small amounts of carbohydrates to eat when he could go out and spear something calorific and then take a nap in the sun – so we gave a cheer when he actually went out and uh – got someone to shoot a deer with a shotgun for him. Perhaps we aren’t being fair to Mears – he has always emphasised the importance of meat to the native diet, but there are only so many programs you can make about hunting and cooking meat compared to foraging around for carbohydrates.

Mears’ portrayal of the meat eating process was rather different than that given me by members of WAPF, who last year rather clung on to the bizarre idea that we all ate our meat ‘well hung’ in paeleolithic times. Mears immediately gutted the meat and removed the liver, which he cooked directly on the campfire.

There are two things that are often done. A lot of the cultures in Northern Europe will when they’ve got the animal, will bleed it and drink the blood straight away and there’s carbohydrate in that [blood glucose] and it gives them energy. And then the other thing they do is they take the liver and they cook the liver […] as a hunter’s cut and of course you inspect a liver to make sure that there are no signs of disease […] and the way that’s cooked is straight on the fire. – Ray Mears

Mears described this as the hunter’s prize. He does not describe it as something given to pregnant mothers.

It makes good sense that they start with the liver as their first food doesn’t it because liver is full of glycogen and […] vitamins – Gordon Hillman

This is very true, because as rigor mortis sets in the glycogen is used up in anaerobic respiration and converted to lactic acid. ATP hydrolyses and this stiffens the muscles which causes the rigor. Then over the next twelve to forty eight hours proteolytic enzymes degrade the proteins to the extent that the body becomes soft again – this is known as autolysis. When liver is eaten so freshly on a kill site, it has not had chance to autolyse and does not contain amines.

At moments like this I think back to what I’ve seen elsewhere. In the Kalahari I’ve seen young boys come out to join the men at the kill site when they cook the liver just so they can taste the liver because it’s a special thing because they are hunters and for the bushmen hunting is everything. And amongst the Hadza in Africa I’ve seen them kill a small deer with bows, make a fire and cook everything, cook the liver like this, cook the whole animal, and everyone sits around and they take even the rib bones and they cook them and they crunch them in their teeth to get the marrow out. – Ray Mears

After eating the liver, the hunters would take the meat back to camp. Under normal circumstances one could imagine a camp of thirty or so people getting through most of a carcass. When Maasai eat meat, they can get through a couple of pounds in one go. But there will always be spare meat. At this point Mears describes getting the carcass into the shade and away from flies – something that must be hard to do in Africa.

Mears describes air-drying the meat – he created a wigwam of leaves and set up a small smoky fire beneath it, then butterflied the meat up into long thin strips and hung them on sticks inside this wigwam. When the wind blew it contributed to the drying process, but when the wind stopped blowing, the smoke helped to preserve the meat. Obviously despite this kind of preservation, the finished jerky would still have been eaten quite quickly in comparison to the six-months-to-two-years range that is tradition for today’s Parma ham. Once dried, of course, jerky can be stored relatively indefinitely without degrading.

When I had my amine argument with WAPF last year, they were insistent that meat was hung and that it was “even fermented to make it more nutritious”. Mears has yet to describe any fermenting process of any fruits, vegetables or meats done by any native people – probably because fermenting with the exception of milk is relatively rare. He describes how some berries like cowberries are kept and used as preservatives for meat however.

It should be obvious that there is a notion of priority here – native people did not go out of their way to ferment foods and dry meats (and thus increase the amine content) just for the hell of it, they did it as a matter of survival. Most meat was eaten extremely fresh, not three weeks old like we eat it, and what was not eaten fresh was preserved for relatively short periods until the next batch of fresh meat came along. When foods were fermented they were not fermented to make them more nutritious (it has to be said the amount of nutrition gained from fermenting is really quite small), they were fermented to preserve the food, and were usually eaten in the early winter when the autumn glut was over.

Mears finished the program by cooking what was left of his venison, which must have been hanging for all of twenty four hours, underground in a fire pit of hot stones. He added some burdock roots and that was it – just deer and burdock roots, no fancy herbs, no berries, no green vegetables.


Written by alienrobotgirl

8 October, 2007 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Historical Diets

Mrs Beeton's bland diet for mother and baby

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As Nature has placed in the bosom of the mother the natural food of her offspring, it must be self-evident to every reflecting woman, that it becomes her duty to study, as far as lies in her power, to keep that reservoir of nourishment in as pure and invigorating a condition as possible; for she must remember that the quantity is no proof of the quality of this aliment.

The mother, while suckling, as a general rule, should avoid all sedentary occupations, take regular exercise, keep her mind as lively and pleasingly occupied as possible, especially by music and singing. Her diet should be light and nutritious, with a proper sufficiency of animal food, and of that kind which yields the largest amount of nourishment; and, unless the digestion is naturally strong, vegetables and fruit should form a very small proportion of the general dietary, and such preparations as broths, gruels, arrowroot, &c., still less. Tapioca, or ground-rice pudding, made with several eggs, may be taken freely; but all slops and thin potations, such as that delusion called chicken-broth, should be avoided, as yielding a very small amount of nutriment, and a large proportion of flatulence. All purely stimulants should be avoided as much as possible, especially spirits, unless taken for some special object, and that medicinally; but as a part of the dietary they should be carefully shunned. Lactation is always an exhausting process, and as the child increases in size and strength, the drain upon the mother becomes great and depressing. Then something more even than an abundant diet is required to keep the mind and body up to a standard sufficiently healthy to admit of a constant and nutritious secretion being performed without detriment to the physical integrity of the mother, or injury to the child who imbibes it; and as stimulants are inadmissible, if not positively injurious, the substitute required is to be found in malt liquor. To the lady accustomed to her Madeira and sherry, this may appear a very vulgar potation for a delicate young mother to take instead of the more subtle and condensed elegance of wine; but as we are writing from experience, and with the avowed object of imparting useful facts and beneficial remedies to our readers, we allow no social distinctions to interfere with our legitimate object.

We have already said that the suckling mother should avoid stimulants, especially spirituous ones; and though something of this sort is absolutely necessary to support her strength during the exhausting process, it should be rather of a tonic than of a stimulating character; and as all wines contain a large percentage of brandy, they are on that account less beneficial than the pure juice of the fermented grape might be. But there is another consideration to be taken into account on this subject; the mother has not only to think of herself, but also of her infant. Now wines, especially port wine, very often—indeed, most frequently—affect the baby’s bowels, and what might have been grateful to the mother becomes thus a source of pain and irritation to the child afterwards. Sherry is less open to this objection than other wines, yet still it very frequently does influence the second participator, or the child whose mother has taken it.

The nine or twelve months a woman usually suckles must be, to some extent, to most mothers, a period of privation and penance, and unless she is deaf to the cries of her baby, and insensible to its kicks and plunges, and will not see in such muscular evidences the griping pains that rack her child, she will avoid every article that can remotely affect the little being who draws its sustenance from her. She will see that the babe is acutely affected by all that in any way influences her, and willingly curtail her own enjoyments, rather than see her infant rendered feverish, irritable, and uncomfortable. As the best tonic, then, and the most efficacious indirect stimulant that a mother can take at such times, there is no potation equal to porter and stout, or, what is better still, an equal part of porter and stout. Ale, except for a few constitutions, is too subtle and too sweet, generally causing acidity or heartburn, and stout alone is too potent to admit of a full draught, from its proneness to affect the head; and quantity, as well as moderate strength, is required to make the draught effectual; the equal mixture, therefore, of stout and porter yields all the properties desired or desirable as a medicinal agent for this purpose.

Independently of its invigorating influence on the constitution, porter exerts a marked and specific effect on the secretion of milk; more powerful in exciting an abundant supply of that fluid than any other article within the range of the physician’s art; and, in cases of deficient quantity, is the most certain, speedy, and the healthiest means that can be employed to insure a quick and abundant flow. In cases where malt liquor produces flatulency, a few grains of the “carbonate of soda” may advantageously be added to each glass immediately before drinking, which will have the effect of neutralizing any acidity that may be in the porter at the time, and will also prevent its after-disagreement with the stomach. The quantity to be taken must depend upon the natural strength of the mother, the age and demand made by the infant on the parent, and other causes; but the amount should vary from one to two pints a day, never taking less than half a pint at a time, which should be repeated three or four times a day.

We have said that the period of suckling is a season of penance to the mother, but this is not invariably the case; and, as so much must depend upon the natural strength of the stomach, and its power of assimilating all kinds of food into healthy chyle, it is impossible to define exceptions. Where a woman feels she can eat any kind of food, without inconvenience or detriment, she should live during her suckling as she did before; but, as a general rule, we are bound to advise all mothers to abstain from such articles as pickles, fruits, cucumbers, and all acid and slowly digestible foods, unless they wish for restless nights and crying infants.

As regards exercise and amusement, we would certainly neither prohibit a mother’s dancing, going to a theatre, nor even from attending an assembly. The first, however, is the best indoor recreation she can take, and a young mother will do well to often amuse herself in the nursery with this most excellent means of healthful circulation. The only precaution necessary is to avoid letting the child suck the milk that has lain long in the breast, or is heated by excessive action.

Every mother who can, should be provided with a breast-pump, or glass tube, to draw off the superabundance that has been accumulating in her absence from the child, or the first gush excited by undue exertion: the subsequent supply of milk will be secreted under the invigorating influence of a previous healthy stimulus.

As the first milk that is secreted contains a large amount of the saline elements, and is thin and innutritious, it is most admirably adapted for the purpose Nature designed it to fulfil,—that of an aperient; but which, unfortunately, it is seldom permitted, in our artificial mode of living, to perform.

So opposed are we to the objectionable plan of physicking new-born children, that, unless for positive illness, we would much rather advise that medicine should be administered through the mother for the first eight or ten weeks of its existence. This practice, which few mothers will object to, is easily effected by the parent, when such a course is necessary for the child, taking either a dose of castor-oil, half an ounce of tasteless salts (the phosphate of soda), one or two teaspoonfuls of magnesia, a dose of lenitive electuary, manna, or any mild and simple aperient, which, almost before it can have taken effect on herself, will exhibit its action on her child.

One of the most common errors that mothers fall into while suckling their children, is that of fancying they are always hungry, and consequently overfeeding them; and with this, the great mistake of applying the child to the breast on every occasion of its crying, without investigating the cause of its complaint, and, under the belief that it wants food, putting the nipple into its crying mouth, until the infant turns in revulsion and petulance from what it should accept with eagerness and joy. At such times, a few teaspoonfuls of water, slightly chilled, will often instantly pacify a crying and restless child, who has turned in loathing from the offered breast; or, after imbibing a few drops, and finding it not what nature craved, throws back its head in disgust, and cries more petulantly than before. In such a case as this, the young mother, grieved at her baby’s rejection of the tempting present, and distressed at its cries, and in terror of some injury, over and over ransacks its clothes, believing some insecure pin can alone be the cause of such sharp complaining, an accident that, from her own care in dressing, however, is seldom or ever the case.

These abrupt cries of the child, if they do not proceed from thirst, which a little water will relieve, not unfrequently occur from some unequal pressure, a fold or twist in the “roller,” or some constriction round the tender body. If this is suspected, the mother must not be content with merely slackening the strings; the child should be undressed, and the creases and folds of the hot skin, especially those about the thighs and groins, examined, to see that no powder has caked, and, becoming hard, irritated the parts. The violet powder should be dusted freely over all, to cool the skin, and everything put on fresh and smooth. If such precautions have not afforded relief, and, in addition to the crying, the child plunges or draws up its legs, the mother may be assured some cause of irritation exists in the stomach or bowels,—either acidity in the latter or distension from overfeeding in the former; but, from whichever cause, the child should be “opened” before the fire, and a heated napkin applied all over the abdomen, the infant being occasionally elevated to a sitting position, and while gently jolted on the knee, the back should be lightly patted with the hand.

Should the mother have any reason to apprehend that the cause of inconvenience proceeds from the bladder—a not unfrequent source of pain,—the napkin is to be dipped in hot water, squeezed out, and immediately applied over the part, and repeated every eight or ten minutes, for several times in succession, either till the natural relief is afforded, or a cessation of pain allows of its discontinuance. The pain that young infants often suffer, and the crying that results from it, is, as we have already said, frequently caused by the mother inconsiderately overfeeding her child, and is produced by the pain of distension, and the mechanical pressure of a larger quantity of fluid in the stomach than the gastric juice can convert into cheese and digest.

Some children are stronger in the enduring power of the stomach than others, and get rid of the excess by vomiting, concluding every process of suckling by an emission of milk and curd. Such children are called by nurses “thriving children;” and generally they are so, simply because their digestion is good, and they have the power of expelling with impunity that superabundance of aliment which in others is a source of distension, flatulence, and pain.

The length of time an infant should be suckled must depend much on the health and strength of the child, and the health of the mother, and the quantity and quality of her milk; though, when all circumstances are favourable, it should never be less than nine, nor exceed fifteen months; but perhaps the true time will be found in the medium between both. But of this we may be sure, that Nature never ordained a child to live on suction after having endowed it with teeth to bite and to grind; and nothing is more out of place and unseemly than to hear a child, with a set of twenty teeth, ask for “the breast.”

The practice of protracted wet-nursing is hurtful to the mother, by keeping up an uncalled-for, and, after the proper time, an unhealthy drain on her system, while the child either derives no benefit from what it no longer requires, or it produces a positive injury on its constitution. After the period when Nature has ordained the child shall live by other means, the secretion of milk becomes thin and deteriorated, showing in the flabby flesh and puny features of the child both its loss of nutritious properties and the want of more stimulating aliment.

Though we have said that twelve months is about the medium time a baby should be suckled, we by no means wish to imply that a child should be fed exclusively on milk for its first year; quite the reverse; the infant can hardly be too soon made independent of the mother. Thus, should illness assail her, her milk fail, or any domestic cause abruptly cut off the natural supply, the child having been annealed to an artificial diet, its life might be safely carried on without seeking for a wet-nurse, and without the slightest danger to its system.

The advantage to the mother of early accustoming the child to artificial food is as considerable to herself as beneficial to her infant; the demand on her physical strength in the first instance will be less severe and exhausting, the child will sleep longer on a less rapidly digestible aliment, and yield to both more quiet nights, and the mother will be more at liberty to go out for business or pleasure, another means of sustenance being at hand till her return. Besides these advantages, by a judicious blending of the two systems of feeding, the infant will acquire greater constitutional strength, so that, if attacked by sickness or disease, it will have a much greater chance of resisting its virulence than if dependent alone on the mother, whose milk, affected by fatigue and the natural anxiety of the parent for her offspring, is at such a time neither good in its properties nor likely to be beneficial to the patient.

All that we have further to say on suckling is an advice to mothers, that if they wish to keep a sound and unchapped nipple, and possibly avoid what is called a “broken breast,” never to put it up with a wet nipple, but always to have a soft handkerchief in readiness, and the moment that delicate part is drawn from the child’s mouth, to dry it carefully of the milk and saliva that moisten it; and, further, to make a practice of suckling from each breast alternately. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, CHAPTER 42 – THE REARING, MANAGEMENT, AND DISEASES OF INFANCY AND CHILDHOOD, “THE MILK” paragraphs 2472-2490

The articles generally employed as food for infants consist of arrowroot, bread, flour, baked flour, prepared groats, farinaceous food, biscuit-powder, biscuits, tops-and-bottoms, and semolina, or manna croup, as it is otherwise called, which, like tapioca, is the prepared pith of certain vegetable substances. Of this list the least efficacious, though, perhaps, the most believed in, is arrowroot, which only as a mere agent, for change, and then only for a very short time, should ever be employed as a means of diet to infancy or childhood. It is a thin, flatulent, and innutritious food, and incapable of supporting infantine life with energy. Bread, though the universal régime with the labouring poor, where the infant’s stomach and digestive powers are a reflex, in miniature, of the father’s, should never be given to an infant under three months, and, even then, however finely beaten up and smoothly made, is a very questionable diet. Flour, when well boiled, though infinitely better than arrowroot, is still only a kind of fermentative paste, that counteracts its own good by after-acidity and flatulence. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, CHAPTER 42 – THE REARING, MANAGEMENT, AND DISEASES OF INFANCY AND CHILDHOOD, “FOOD, AND ITS PREPARATION” paragraph 2499

Mrs Beeton recommends foods such as tapioca, semolina and porridge made up with water, milk, eggs, and sugar.

Many persons entertain a belief that cow’s milk is hurtful to infants, and, consequently, refrain from giving it; but this is a very great mistake, for both sugar and milk should form a large portion of every meal an infant takes. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, CHAPTER 42 – THE REARING, MANAGEMENT, AND DISEASES OF INFANCY AND CHILDHOOD, “FOOD, AND ITS PREPARATION” paragraph 2508

The situation and character of thrush show at once that the cause is some irritation of the mucous membrane, and can proceed only from the nature and quality of the food. Before weaning, this must be looked for in the mother, and the condition of the milk; after that time, in the crude and indigestible nature of the food given. In either case, this exciting cause of the disease must be at once stopped. When it proceeds from the mother, it is always best to begin by physicking the infant through the parent; that is to say, let the parent first take the medicine, which will sufficiently affect the child through the milk: this plan has the double object of benefiting the patient and, at the same time, correcting the state of the mother, and improving the condition of her milk. In the other case, when the child is being fed by hand, then proceed by totally altering the style of aliment given, and substituting farinaceous food, custards, blanc-mange, and ground-rice puddings. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, CHAPTER 42 – THE REARING, MANAGEMENT, AND DISEASES OF INFANCY AND CHILDHOOD, “THRUSH, AND ITS TREATMENT” paragraph 2528

So here we have it, the famous Mrs Beeton writing in 1860 or thereabouts and attributing crying, upset stomach, and thrush in babies to the diet of the mother. Her recommendations are to feed bland food to both mother and child. In other words, low chemical food.

My sister and I both had colic when we were babies. This is not surprising as it is common in food chemical intolerant children. Around 10-15% of babies are thought to get colic. Colic is defined as lengthy periods of crying and apparent discomfort or digestive problems in babies. Doctors have no idea what causes colic. Sometimes they will even deny that babies, though they appear to be in pain, are in actual pain.

Any fact sheet on colic will express different theories about its causes. For example colic is often attributed to “lactose intolerance” (NHS factsheet). Other factsheets speculate: “Can a mother’s diet make colic worse? Some doctors think that if a baby is breastfed and the mother eats food that can cause gas, this may cause colic or make it worse. Food and drinks that produce lots of gas include: orange juice, vegetables, especially onions and cabbage, fruit such as apples and plums, spicy food, products containing caffeine, such as chocolate, coffee and tea.” (Netdoctor factsheet).

What a shame doctors don’t read Mrs Beeton.

Written by alienrobotgirl

9 August, 2007 at 12:56 pm

Posted in Historical Diets

A sick Inuit woman

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I have a copy of Writing on Ice: The Ethnographic Notebooks of Vilhjalmur Stefansson. When Stefansson was studying the Eskimo, Inuit and Native Americans of the arctic, they were still largely in their natural state. Some areas had been affected by fur trade with the white man, or whaling, some white man’s food was eaten in some parts, but largely not preferred, and often when gifted was thrown away by the natives. Infectious diseases had spread into the arctic, and there are frequent complaints of individual natives becoming sick throughout the book:

March 28: […] Illness. Nanyavuk says that before the ships (whalers) came there were some epidemics, but between times few were ever sick; no prevalence of swellings and running sores as now and colds were less frequent and less severe at any rate. He thinks there “were no colds.” This corresponds pretty well with our present observations of the Eastern Eskimo. Stefansson-Anderson Expedition (1908-1912) p.303

Is this romantic yearning for better days, or an accurate portrayal of native life? The natives harbour all kinds of strange superstitions, some of which make sense, and some are completely nonsensical. Some tribes believe liver is poisonous and do not eat it, whilst others do. There are some extraordinarily complex superstitions about food:

July 3: […] Paniulak tells that formerly when a man killed a wolf he ate no warm food four days, if it was a male wolf and five if it was a female. When he got into the house after killing the wolf, he would take a stone hammer (an old one preferably or necessarily) and shout four times in the fireplace or near it, “O-ho!” Four times if wolf a male; strike five times and shout five times if a female. Stefansson-Anderson Expedition (1908-1912) p.167

February 20: […] Beliefs. Pannigabluk when small was forbidden to eat at the same meal, berries and seal meat, especially if fresh. They habitually ate berries with old seal oil, but must not use fresh. Grown people feared this prohibition less than children. Tannaumirk says he was forbidden to eat bowhead whale, meat, skin, or oil, while his labret holes were healing. Stefansson-Anderson Expedition (1908-1912) p.246

March 2: […] Beliefs. One of the lobes of a caribou liver is called “the thumb” (kublua). Mothers that are bringing up young sons should eat this […]. When the boy grows a man and hunts deer, the bands will circle about him in a curve shaped like the outside (margin) of this lobe. This will give him a chance to kill many at once, while if his mother had not taken the precaution to eat this lobe, the deer might have run straight away from him. Stefansson-Anderson Expedition (1908-1912) p.247

March 9: […] Beliefs. Pannigabluk says Nogatogmiut and Killirk women might not eat the inside membrane of the ribs (i.e., the membrane covering the side of the rib that is towards the intestines or lungs), of mountain sheep or brown bears. They might eat the meat of no part of a sheep that was front of the eighth rib, counted from behind, except as follows: the leg back of a plane bisecting each from leg from the middle of the shoulder blade to the middle of the hoof, and the meat above a horizontal plane bisecting the neck vertebrae from the head to the trunk, i.e. they must not eat the head, ventral halves of the front legs, ventral portion of neck, or any part of the back vertebrae behind the neck and front of the eighth rib counted from behind. They were forbidden also the heart, that part of the intestinal fat that is near the pelvis, and any part of the pelvis itself. They were, however, allowed the kidneys and kidney fat. When eating lungs they must be careful not to eat any of the bronchial tubes. They were not allowed to eat any sheep marrow. A man might eat any part of a sheep. Children of both sexes ate all parts; the first menses put a girl in a class with the women. Women were allowed to eat any part of a caribou, except during menses, when they must not eat caribou heads. […] Stefansson-Anderson Expedition (1908-1912) p.249

Why these complex superstitions about meat? The superstition above is followed only by two tribes. Is this because the meat contains something harmful for women, or that men want to eat it? Or is it pure fantasy, like some of the other native beliefs?

The natives largely eat meat, which is almost always boiled, but also a lot of fish, some of which is eaten raw, some boiled, and some rotten. Stefansson describes the “rotten” or fermented fish as having a flavour like cheese, and savours this flavour. He also describes the pleasant flavour of meat that has slightly “turned”. It is not unduly rotten – some fish that is apparently truly rotten is fed to the dogs. Most people in our society today don’t react to cheese, just the minority of us who are very sensitive. Remember in this landscape, everything is frozen or near-frozen. Their frozen caches of meat and fish are often stolen by the dogs or by wolverines. In some warmer parts fish is buried in the ground to ferment, but that does not do for the area Stefansson is in, since it would simply freeze. In these cold temperatures, histamine would not form quickly, though glutamates might. Failsafers usually tolerate meat that has been frozen for a month.

They have diseases of old age:

February 19: […] Theories of disease. Tannaumirk says either men or dogs may lose their gall. In that case they become ill and usually die; the symptoms are […] inability to close the mouth, unwillingness to eat, staggering gate and later inability to stand up. Stefansson-Anderson Expedition (1908-1912) p.246

To me, this sounds like Alzheimer’s.

Amongst the natives there are individuals who are different. One individual is beset by strange attacks of fear:

February 18: […] Tannaumirk visits traps, which are long ago snow covered. […] T. came home before sundown; did not visit farthest trap – one set by Billy at his deer kill of February 10. Gave fear of turnnurat as his reason but would not say he had special reason for fear – only that he “felt afraid.” Pannigabluk says he has had several such fear-spells this winter. After dark tonight refuses to go outdoors even for ca. moment alone. […] Stefansson-Anderson Expedition (1908-1912) p.246

One individual is restless, perhaps even hyperactive:

January 12: Takpuk is said to be going insane. He is so restless that he has to be traveling or moving all the time. Got tired of waiting for crowd of dancers (who hang around Wainwright four days) and came back to his deer herd. Behaving as he does would not be remarked among the whites, but is considered abnormal here. Stefansson-Anderson Expedition (1908-1912) p.157

This individual reminds me of my maternal grandfather, who cannot sit still either! Remember these are natives that are barely touched by white man’s food, who still eat a very nutritious native diet:

July 28: Diseases. Woman today complained of her heart being so bad it hurt her ribs, and said she got that way after most meals, first her heart would get bad, then her liver, and both “wanted to come up in her throat.” Stefansson-Anderson Expedition (1908-1912) p.169

Being master butchers, they seem aware of the difference between stomach and heart, so this would not be acid reflux. A woman whose heart pounds after she eats slightly fermented meat, perhaps? This woman somehow relates her symptoms to her liver. There is no context given for this woman. No evidence that she was raised on white man’s foods – she is amongst true natives and seems to be a true native like the rest.

Written by alienrobotgirl

21 February, 2007 at 11:26 am

Posted in Historical Diets

Poor Sam Pepys' furious bouts of itching

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Poor Samuel Pepys seems troubled sometimes by his food.

and to Mr. Hollyard, and took some pills of him and a note under his hand to drink wine with my beere, without which I was obliged, by my private vowe, to drink none a good while, and have strictly observed it, and by my drinking of small beere and not eating, I am so mightily troubled with wind, that I know not what to do almost. […] we sat down and eat a bit of dinner fetched from the cooke’s [a cookshop, takeaway] Wednesday 19 August 1663

Having taken some mysterious pills, stopped drinking beer, and eaten out at a cook’s shop, he gets excessively cross the next day:

Up betimes and to my office (having first been angry with my brother John, and in the heat of my sudden passion called him Asse and coxcomb, for which I am sorry, it being but for leaving the key of his chamber with a spring lock within side of his door) Thursday 20 August 1663

Anyone can get nasty reaction when they stop drinking too much alcohol. But what about Pepys’ mysterious bouts of itching?

Up (my underlip being mightily swelled, I know not how but by overrubbing it, it itching) Saturday 9 January 1663/64

Pepys’ itching is a veritable ongoing saga:

Whether the wind and the cold did cause it or no I know not, but having been this day or two mightily troubled with an itching all over my body which I took to be a louse or two that might bite me, I found this afternoon that all my body is inflamed, and my face in a sad redness and swelling and pimpled, so that I was before we had done walking not only sick but ashamed of myself to see myself so changed in my countenance, so that after we had thus talked we parted and I walked home with much ado (Captn. Ferrers with me as far as Ludgate Hill towards Mr. Moore at the Wardrobe), the ways being so full of ice and water by peoples’ trampling. At last got home and to bed presently, and had a very bad night of it, in great pain in my stomach, and in great fever. Sunday 8 February 1662/63

Could not rise and go to the Duke, as I should have done with the rest, but keep my bed and by the Apothecary’s advice, Mr. Battersby, I am to sweat soundly, and that will carry all this matter away which nature would of itself eject, but they will assist nature, it being some disorder given the blood, but by what I know not, unless it be by my late quantitys of Dantzic-girkins that I have eaten. Monday 9 February 1662/63

Could Pepys possibly have picked a higher chemical food than pickled gherkins to have a reaction to? Not only are gherkins excessively high in salicylates, these gherkins are pickled and imported – probably full of histamine and other amines, and possibly sulphites, which have been used to preserve food and wine since Roman times. Foods were widely adulterated with dubious substances designed to preserve or extend them in Pepys’ day, partly in order to overcome the difficulties and delays in getting food from the countryside to the town in due time, and partly to make a more handsome profit (nothing has really changed then).

In the morning most of my disease, that is, itching and pimples, were gone. In the morning visited by Mr. Coventry and others, and very glad I am to see that I am so much inquired after and my sickness taken notice of as I did. I keep my bed all day and sweat again at night, by which I expect to be very well to-morrow.
Tuesday 10 February 1662/63

Because we detox through the skin as well as the liver, kidneys and intestines, Pepys’ apothecary issued sound advice (unlike his advice to drink wine and beer together). Sadly Pepys is repeatedly troubled by this problem:

Thence home again by water presently, and with a bad dinner, being not looked for, to the office, and there we sat, and then Captn. Cocke and I upon his hemp accounts till 9 at night, and then, I not very well, home to supper and to bed. My late distemper of heat and itching being come upon me again, so that I must think of sweating again as I did before. Tuesday 24 February 1662/63

So to my wife, who waited my coming at my Lord’s lodgings, and took her up and by coach home, where no sooner come but to bed, finding myself just in the same condition I was lately by the extreme cold weather, my pores stopt and so my body all inflamed and itching. So keeping myself warm and provoking myself to a moderate sweat, and so somewhat better in the morning Monday 30 March 1663

What’s curious about Pepys’ bouts of itching is that they seem to occur when he wouldn’t have been getting enough vitamin D:

My pill I took last night worked very well, and I lay long in bed and sweat to get away the itching all about my body from head to foot, which is beginning again as it did the last winter, and I find after I am up that it is abated. Sunday 6 September 1663

Wonder two readers of the blog:

Was any substance added to the pickling solution, such as alum? Can recall, as a wee tyke, eating “quantitys” of ripe strawberries, and coming out in hives—-aka Aqua’s “urticaria.” Comments

Dantzic-girkins: Polish King Michael said to have died of a “surfeit of gherkins” in 1673. Comments

So here we have it. Itching reactions to food in 1663, long before refined carbohydrates, and long before the age of tartrazine and nasty antioxidants. Pepys was a rich man who ate a hearty diet of hams, birds, bread, beer and, apparently, pickled vegetables.

Written by alienrobotgirl

21 February, 2007 at 10:44 am

Posted in Historical Diets

Prehistoric Brits ate like wolves

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Regina Wilshire posted a short press item published in Discover Magazine. I found a slightly longer version, one cached from a now expired page. It’s here to preserve the content online:

By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Sep. 5 The 7,700-year-old remains of a woman, nicknamed the Lady of Trent, reveal that she ate nearly as much meat as a wolf, according to a press release from the Archaeological Consultancy of the University of Sheffield in England.

The finding suggests meat played a more important role in the diet of Middle Stone Age, or Mesolithic (about 10,000-5,000 years ago) humans in the region that is now England than previously thought. Before now, it was thought that even meat eaters rounded out their diet with gatherer fare, like vegetables and nuts, and fish and shellfish, according to the report, released last week.

A thighbone belonging to the Lady of Trent became the focus of study when the fairly well- preserved bone was found in a dried-up channel of the River Trent. Scientists at Bradford University measured the bone for nitrogen and carbon levels. From the measurements it was determined that this lady was quite a carnivore. Glyn Davies, senior project archaeologist at the Archaeological Consultancy, explained, “The results of the testing gave a (nitrogen) figure of 9.3 for the human bone. As a comparison, cattle would have a figure of about 6 and a carnivore like a wolf would give a figure of around 10.”

He added, “This suggests that the individual here had a very high proportion of meat in (her) diet.”

Supporting his conclusion were several animal bones found near the human remains. One was a bone, which had cut marks most likely from butchering and skinning, according to Davies. Additionally, a wild cattle vertebra was found, along with two ribs from large mammals, such as other deer or cattle, which also possessed cut marks from defleshing.

Debate still exists as to whether or not prehistoric Europeans moved between coastal and inland sites, Davies said. However, since the Lady of Trent hadn’t enjoyed a fish dinner for many years, her reliance on meat suggests Stone Age humans may have stayed put more often than thought.

Andrew Myers, an archaeologist with the Derbyshire County Council who has recently undertaken a review of the Mesolithic in England’s east Midlands, was not entirely surprised “that terrestrial animals provided the main source of dietary protein.”

But he was astonished by the extent to which land meats dominated over other potential sources, like vegetable and nut proteins.

Myers agreed with Davies that the Lady of Trent’s meat-heavy diet indicates Mesolithic man may have been less nomadic than previously believed.

“If (the Lady of Trent’s) movements were so restricted that she had not been to coastal areas (for the last 10-12 years of her life),” said Myers, “this could suggest that the differing dietary strategies of inland and coastal groups may have been reinforced or sustained by some degree of group territoriality.” Prehistoric Brits Ate Like Wolves

There’s also an older press release in the British Archaeology Magazine, dating from 2002 citing the same evidence:

The thighbone of a woman who died about 7,700 years ago, found in a dried-up channel of the River Trent in Nottinghamshire, has undermined some of the cherished clichés of the Mesolithic era. The poor lady, it seems, never saw the sea, and never ate a shellfish or perhaps even a hazelnut in her life.

It is sometimes argued that Mesolithic people in Britain generally stuck to the coastlines, while the ubiquitous hazelnuts and shellfish shells found at campsites have produced a standard view of Mesolithic diet. The Lady of the Trent, by contrast, ate almost nothing but meat – and none of it came from the sea.

Stable isotope analysis – a laboratory technique for measuring the source of protein in bone – conducted by Mike Richards of Bradford University found that the woman’s diet was virtually as meat-rich as that of a carnivorous wild animal. Nitrogen levels were measured as 9.3, on a scale running from herbivore cattle at 6 to carnivore wolves at about 10. Carbon levels showed that her diet had been purely terrestrial, involving no marine food.

The bone, radiocarbon dated to between about 5735-5630 BC, was excavated from a gravel quarry at Staythorpe near Newark by Glyn Davies of the Sheffield University-based unit, ARCUS. Mesolithic human bones are exceptionally rare in Britain, and its discovery in a former channel of the Trent may lend support to the theory that bodies were disposed of in ‘sacred’ rivers – either floated on rafts or thrown directly into the water. A collection of Neolithic skulls was found in the Trent a few years ago.

Close to the thigh bone, archaeologists found a group of butchered Mesolithic animal bones, including aurochs, roe deer and otter. Elsewhere, in a river channel dating to the Bronze Age, a cut-marked deer antler was found which had been used as raw material for tools. The 7,700-year-old woman who ate like a wolf

An aurochs (yes that grammar is right) is a type of extinct cattle with large horns. However, I’m more intrigued by the idea of eating an otter. I expect they are quite fatty.

I keep saying this, and people always scoff at me, even (in fact, especially) on the Weston A. Price Foundation groups. The reason we are food chemical intolerant as a species is not because there is something terribly wrong with a small minority of us, but because we evolved to eat fresh meat and little else.

It’s also quite nice to note that the tests were performed on the remains of a female. Seems she didn’t do very much gathering after all. I wonder if she caught her own otters? We don’t know anything about paleolithic gender roles, but we do know that extrapolating from property owning neolithic societies is a dangerous mistake. Since childcare was probably a shared responsibility, if I lived in a tribe of about thirty people, even if I had a couple of kids I don’t think it would preclude me from catching otters .

Written by alienrobotgirl

9 February, 2007 at 7:06 pm

Posted in Historical Diets

Cheeky yams and oxalates

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Here in the UK, I’ve been watching “Ray Mear’s Wild Food” on BBC2 on Sunday nights. This is a series in which Mears goes out, meets a few natives, and spends his time trying to figure out what food Paleo (or Neo) man ate. Most of the series has been about foraging – perhaps an unintentional emphasis, but there’s really not much to hunting: man see, man kill, man eat… He’s tried spear fishing (he wasn’t very good at it), cooking eggs on a fire, eating goat with some Kalahari Bushmen, crocodile with some aborigines, and tonight he roasted a boar. Something I realised about roasting a whole boar is that when you start slicing, you’ll mostly be eating crackling and fat – not muscle meat. One other point is that when he has been with native groups, they have NOT hung their meat. The baby crocodile was killed when it was found, then taken home when gathering had finished and eaten with some yams. The goat was slaughtered immediately prior to being eaten.

One interesting thing I noted was that at no point did he try to cook or eat leafy greens! The emphasis was definitely on starch for energy. He’s tried gathering and processing berries twice – one resulted in a “highly nutritious” fruit pulp that tasted so disgusting it couldn’t be drunk, and the other time he made fruit leathers and proceeded to eat some that were three years old and “still good” (wonder if they gave him a headache). His copresenter gathered some herbs at one point, complaining that they were needed in order to give the “bland native diet” some flavour!

A couple of weeks ago Mears was with some Australian aborigines. On that day, their diet consisted of starchy water lily heads, a small crocodile(?), and a lot of yams. A sort of aboriginal Sunday lunch. He also did the whole widgety grub thing. There were two types of yams – regular yams, and “cheeky yams”. I don’t know how truly “native” in diet these aborigines really were. Most of them were elderly and looked in very poor shape – wasted limbs and large bellies. Apparently alcoholism is a real problem amongst the aboriginal communities, but this is besides the point.

Mears described how the cheeky yams were poisonous and needed processing before they were eaten. The aborigines put the yams into a fire, buried them, and baked them for about an hour. Then they used modified snail shells to grate the yams into woven baskets, which were then suspended on sticks in a running stream and left for 24 hours. At this point the poison had leached out and the yams were edible. I want to emphasise that this was not a soak or a ferment – it was necessary for running water to be used. At the time Mears didn’t care to mention what the poison was, but today he tried an experiment with a different wild root by processing it in the same way then having it tested to see whether it was safe to eat. The poison in common turned out to be oxalate. It seems native people knew about oxalate and knew how to process it out of their foods.

Written by alienrobotgirl

4 February, 2007 at 7:55 pm

Posted in Historical Diets

To make a slipcoat cheese

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Take five quarts of new Milk from the Cow, and one quart of Water, and one spoonful of Runnet, and stirre it together, and let it stand till it doth come, then lay your Cheese cloth into the Vate, and let the Whey soak out of it self; when you have taken it all up, lay a cloth on the top of it, and one pound weight for one hour, then lay two pound for one hour more, then turn him when he hath stood two houres, lay three pound on him for an hour more, then take him out of the Vate, and let him lie two or three houres, and then salt him on both sides, when he is salt enough, take a clean cloth and wipe him dry, then let him lie on a day or a night, then put Nettles under and upon him, and change them once a day, if you find any Mouse turd wipe it off, the Cheese will come to his eating in eight or nine dayes. To make a slipcoat Cheese

This is an example of a fresh cheese from a website of 17th century recipes. Other cheese recipes on the site are very different to what we consider cheese today. They seem to consist of using rennet to separate the curds and whey and then using the curds immediately in recipes, or mixing egg whites and cream and calling the result “cheese”.

The fruit and vegetable recipes are very unusual. Most of the vegetables in them are unfamiliar for example, burdocks, mallows, rosebuds, gillyflowers, hops, purslaine, artichokes, quinces. Samuel Pepys’ diary is also of interest. No one seems to have a definitive answer on how many fruit and vegetables people ate.

Written by alienrobotgirl

1 February, 2007 at 5:06 pm

Posted in Historical Diets