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The Cattail’s Outta the Bag

Posted By Mark Sisson On October 21, 2010 @ 10:13 am In Research Analysis | 171 Comments

It’s official: we’re closing up shop. They found The Bread. They still haven’t found the flying saucer from Area 51, or the second shooter on the grassy knoll, but they found The Bread.

A crack team of European archaeologists has finally uncovered the evidence that Eades, Cordain, DeVany, Nikoley, I, and a ton of other bloggers have been pooling our incomes together to suppress for years. That supplement and book stuff I sell? It’s actually a (undeclared) non-profit operation devoted to buttressing the final meager thread supporting this whole Primal/paleo thing. And it was working, too, despite our recent setbacks. See, we’ve been taking a lot of hits as of late:

The flurry surrounding the China Study [7]. Boy, we really lost that round, huh?

The emergence of a hyper intelligent, intellectually rigorous, banana-obsessed, fruitarian hominid splinter species with a powerful online presence, before which I find myself cowering.

The piddling sales of both my books [8] and Robb Wolf’s book [9].

The complete and utter failure of numerous community efforts, like the Ancestral Health Symposium [10], Paleohacks [11], or the inaugural NYC Barefoot Run [12]. Not to mention the poor showing of the MDA community [13] during this year’s 30-Day Challenge. Talk about ghost towns!

Vegetarians winning the heart disease wars [14], yet again. (I didn’t say what they won, did I?)

But through all this and all that, we could still rely on that single thread to support and maintain the veil of delusion surrounding our movement. Just as long as they didn’t find out that our ancestors were using stone grinders 30,000 years ago to process wild roots, rhizomes, corms, and the occasional seed into Bisquik, we could go on in blissful ignorance. Well, they did find the evidence [15]. Our best efforts were for naught. And now we “fans of the so-called Paleolithic diet”, who, I’m told, “[frown] on carbohydrate-laden foods like bread and cereal, and… eat only lean meat, vegetables, and fruit,” must grapple with our world crashing down around us. I don’t know about you, but I’m headed down to the local IHOP for endless pancakes. I don’t have to hide anymore. I’m free.

Seriously, though: are people really surprised by this finding? Think about what you know about humans for a second. Humans will sample, experiment with, and nibble on just about anything remotely palatable or edible in their environment. Little kids put all sorts of stuff in their mouths. Adults go crazy for the latest ethnic food fad. We are curious, orally-fixated creatures, especially when it comes to new types of food. How do you think we got here? You think those early Fertile Crescent farmers woke up on January 1st, 10,000 BC, dropped the spear, and picked up the shovel, ushering in the perfectly organized amber waves of grain?


Up close, history is messy and random. The further you are from it, the neater it looks. When most people think of the World Wars, it’s all big events. Momentous, sweeping occasions. Great men. Countries falling, balances shifting. Stuff you can put on a syllabus and teach in half a semester. The big picture. But there are millions upon millions of individual lives and experiences for which we must also account. A father’s only son going off to war, lovers parting ways, an orphaned child trying to make it in a Jewish ghetto – these are the nitty gritty details that accompany the sweeping narratives, and indeed make them real. We just don’t hear about them all that often.

This Paleolithic “bread” business is the same to me. (By the way, I love how the popular news headlines reference bread when the word “bread” isn’t used a single time in the actual study.) It’s the nitty gritty. It doesn’t shake the core of my beliefs, or whatever nonsense your vegan friend who sent you the link is probably anticipating (hoping); it merely paints a stronger, more vivid, more complete picture of our ancestors’ meandering, exploratory journey toward where we find ourselves today. I love that it came out. It’s fascinating to get an intimate vision of Grok [16]’s daily life.

As for the “vegetal matter” in question, there’s nothing really surprising or groundbreaking to discuss. Of the nine varieties of “starch grain” (the term “grain” having as much to do with grass feed here as it does in the word migraine) discovered on the grinding equipment, seven were roots or rhizomes. If you’re anything like me, you already eat a fair amount of root material: carrots, radishes, cassava, turmeric, turnips, parsnips, to name a few. Rhizomes aren’t quite as common in the modern diet, but they include things like groundnut and cattail (which was the most prevalent starch residue found on the sites in question, actually). And, since both roots and rhizomes, by definition, “self-defend” by embedding themselves in the ground, chemical antinutrients really aren’t necessary. There were remains of a seed, too, and that of a “caryopsis,” which is another word for a grain. The grain hailed from Brachypodium ramosum, a fairly common grass variety that doesn’t seem to have any nutritional data available online. I’ll keep looking, though. So, while I suppose we can’t rule out that our ancestors were playing with small amounts of grain that may have harbored lectins [17] or gluten [18]-ish compounds, we do know that they were a minor player in our overall dietary regimen. Remember: this cereal agriculture stuff had to get started somewhere, sometime.

Of course, as Melissa points out [19], the evidence [20], based on bone isotope data, points pretty clearly to animal protein taking precedent in early man’s diet.

What are your thoughts? Does this “discovery” dissuade you from avoiding grains? Or, more likely, have friends and family been eagerly forwarding you various permutations of the paper with “Aha!” in the subject line?

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[7] China Study: http://rawfoodsos.com/category/china-study/

[8] my books: http://www.amazon.com/Primal-Blueprint-Reprogram-effortless-boundless/dp/0982207700/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264614663&sr=8-1

[9] Robb Wolf’s book: http://www.amazon.com/Paleo-Solution-Original-Human-Diet/dp/0982565844/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_c

[10] Ancestral Health Symposium: http://ancestryfoundation.org/

[11] Paleohacks: http://paleohacks.com/

[12] inaugural NYC Barefoot Run: http://hunter-gatherer.com/blog/thank-you-amazing-inaugural-new-york-city-barefoot-run

[13] poor showing of the MDA community: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/take-the-30-day-challenge/

[14] winning the heart disease wars: http://www.themedguru.com/20100926/newsfeature/vegetarian-indians-more-likely-suffer-heart-disease-study-86140640.html

[15] they did find the evidence: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/19/science/19bread.html?_r=1

[16] Grok: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/about-2/who-is-grok/

[17] lectins: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/lectins/

[18] gluten: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/gluten-celiac-disease/

[19] Melissa points out: http://huntgatherlove.com/content/fun-headlines-did-paleolithic-people-eat-grains

[20] evidence: http://www.springerlink.com/content/n2871q7u63170045/

[21] Primal Blueprint Books: http://www.primalblueprint.com/category/Books_and_Media?utm_source=mda_sidebar&utm_medium=banner&utm_campaign=sidebar_like_article_books

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