The advent of agriculture around 12,000 years ago created some fundamental changes in human beings’ diets.
Research points out that in homo-sapiens’ prehistory, during the nomadic hunter-gatherer period, our diet was far more varied, with more than 300 species of plants appeasing our appetites on a regular basis. In warm or temperate climates very little consumption of meat happened, whereas in colder climates, humans seem to have relied mostly on what they could find to avoid starving during the long winters of the ice age, usually having to feed on animals.
But as we see, in an abundant world and when having a choice, humans from those times always chose to consume mainly from the plant world. We can easily understand, when we consider that we evolved from fructivore or herbivore great apes, that when reasonably satiated, a bunch of strawberries will wet our appetite much more than a running chicken.
What pushed us from being nomads to settle down in order to cultivate fields is still subject for discussion to this day. Perhaps the need to create reserves to temper inclement climate variations, perhaps because the tribes became too big to move easily (though they seem to have split up into smaller units of a maximum of 150 members when growing too much), perhaps our ancestors found farming less labor-intensive than gathering? Consider that women and children, who were the main gatherers, sometimes walked more than 30 km a day around the camp to gather enough food for the day.
One thing is sure, agriculture seemed to pay off with the soon discovered ability to produce larger fruits and grain supplies. Surpluses were amassed in basic storage units and assuaged the worries of penury. But surpluses also gave rise to neighbors’ desires to plunder and steal them, while it empowered those who enjoyed abundance to hire soldiers to protect them, giving rise to the first organized wars in human history.
Now that there was more food security, diets became poorer in nutrients since the plethora of wild eatable plants gave way to a more limited number of species present in the meals. Grains took a larger place in the diet and milk and meat became more common, now that animals could be domesticated. Animals often lived in the same houses as human beings, making everyone (animals and humans alike) less healthy and more prone to share infections. Prehistoric men and women exchanged the external injuries they got as nomads for the infectious diseases they caught once settled in an agricultural community. Tooth decay made an appearance for the first time. People became more sedentary.
It is unclear as to whether people died
older as nomads or early farmers. The average seems to have been between 30 and
35 years old. But this average also includes 30% of infant mortality which
means that for each child who did not survive, an adult got to live to be 70
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