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Medieval Europeans were primal too!

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  • Medieval Europeans were primal too!

    Currently, I'm reading Collapse by Jared Diamond (one of my favorite authors- he deals a lot with the rise and fall of human groups, whether hunter gatherer tribes or massive empires. His writing has changed my perspective on everything from nutrition to social relationships to 21st century global politics. I whole heartedly recommend him to anyone here who likes the bigger picture behind the implications of the PB and our paleolithic pasts). It's largely about the factors that go into the titular "collapse" of societies, including overusing the land and localized climate change. I am finding the section on the Viking exploration and colonization from Norway all the way to North America particularly fascinating.

    Anyway, when we talk about those primal populations out there who buck the CW concerning carbs and fat and diet and nutrition, etc., it usually is a bit tough to relate to them on a lot of levels. They tend to be smaller and localized groups, often stone-age or barely above it, who never took part in the agricultural revolution. As someone of European descent, it's also tempting to think that maybe those groups like the Inuit and Masai are differently adapted than I am, because their ancestors never farmed, unlike those of us whose families hail from Europe, the Mideast, East and South Asia, Meso-America, etc.

    Well, that's why I love this gem on page 227 of my (well, my local public library's- respect!) edition of Collapse. "Dairy products alone were not enough to feed the 5,000 Norse inhabitants of Greenland... Contemporary Norwegian documents mentioned that most Greenland Norse never saw wheat, a piece of bread, or beer (brewed from barely) during their entire lives... If the Norse did grow any crops, they would have made only an extremely minor contribution to the diet, probably just as an occasional luxury food for a few chiefs and clergy. Instead, the main other component of the Greenland Norse diet was meat of wild animals, especially caribou and seals, consumed to a far greater extent than in Norway or Iceland."

    So, here we have a European population (descended from central Europeans like Germans who presumably had been farming for a long time), living on an entirely primal diet of milk, cheese, meat and animal fat. It's not like they were not exposed or adapted to the agricultural revolution- they came from Norway which had plenty of farms. Yet, they were able to live for centuries on a diet completely devoid of any kind of carbohydrates. So if you are ever told that the Inuit or Masai are an outlier population, isolated and uniquely adapted to their "unusual" diets and lifestyles. Medieval Europeans also were able to do just fine on a primal diet. Quick, who would you take in a fight? A Viking or a vegan? I know my pick...


    Slightly related note- what's the scoop on seal oil? I know nothing about it save having heard its an alternative to fish oil on an unrelated forum. It sounds kind of ecologically sketchy to me, but who knows. I believe the OP who mentioned it is Norwegian, so who knows how widely available this is.

    Anyway, thoughts? I love these kinds of discussions as my recent threads might demonstrate, and really appreciate feedback. Also, read Diamond's books, they are awesome!

  • #2
    Great book! I've read it once and skimmed through it repeatedly. Funny though, I was just reading today that in the upper paleolithic middle east, there's evidence of significant grain consumption. One of the reasons I don't care for the whole evolutionary model and relate best to Dr. Harris at PaNu is that since we have so much yet to learn, the broad assumptions made by Cordain and others are just that -- assumptions. I personally have little doubt that some paleo women figured out how to harbor and milk grazing animals deep in the fog of prehistory.

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    • #3
      The question I have is... yes, they survived for a few hundred years, but what was the generational time and the average life span?

      I remember reading Collapse in high school. At the time it bored me to tears. Took me a month to read it because 1) I found the idea of the book interesting and 2) by the time I realized how bored I was with it, I was far enough into it that my ever-present mindset of "finish what you start" kicked in and I stuck it out.
      Are you a college student, trying to navigate college while being Primal? Do you know any other PB college students on a tight budget? Heck, for that matter, are YOU trying to live Primal on a budget? Enroll at Primal University!

      For after all what is man in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either.
      -- Blaise Pascal

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Velocity View Post
        The question I have is... yes, they survived for a few hundred years, but what was the generational time and the average life span?

        I remember reading Collapse in high school. At the time it bored me to tears. Took me a month to read it because 1) I found the idea of the book interesting and 2) by the time I realized how bored I was with it, I was far enough into it that my ever-present mindset of "finish what you start" kicked in and I stuck it out.
        lifespan is not indicative of overall health. Modern medicine is able to keep very unhealthy people alive for a long time, a luxury that was not enjoyed by past civilizations. Our lifespan is the longest, yet we, as a generation, are the least healthy.

        OP: Great post! This was very interesting, thank you for taking the time to post, and inculde the excerpt! I am definetly going to read this book after I finish Immortal Milk http://www.immortalmilk.org/

        Grol----I have always thought that animal husbandry probably started much earlier than we think, especially milking.

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        • #5
          Interesting. I registered only to reply in this thread. I know that people from Iceland eat/ate alot of 'Skyr'. It's basically a sour-ish fat free yogurt - google it or go to Whole Foods. Apparently the Vikings brought it to Iceland, so I figure they consumed ample amounts of it too.

          Something that I find interesting is that dairy is always said to be bad for you (although I've read over at paleonu.com that 90% of the 'bad effects' can be avoided by not consuming grains, which the Norse people over at Greenland didn't, according to that book), but if you look closely, suddenly everything else is bad for you too. For instance, recently I discovered that some stuff in the nightshade family (peppers, to be specific) is bad for me. Now, I am not defending dairy in particular, but if you look closely enough, most of the stuff we consume is bad for us (slightly exaggerated, but you get the point?). I see people with no health issues eating grains all day long (my dad, for instance, and he is insanely strong too). That is not to say grains are in any way good, though. But it works for him.

          Obviously, over at Greenland they don't have access to alot of fruit, if any, so that's out of the question. If you had a cow, would you milk it and use it for whatever it's worth? Absolutely. In some other part of the world, they might not have cows, but perhaps a big field of rice. Would you consume that if it was pretty much the only thing you had at hand? Absolutely. My point being, people used what they had available, and even if, according to modern science, it is now considered unhealthy, they were generally thought to be strong and healthy. Some folks thrive on alot of carbs (possibly because they don't have access to much fat?), and some folks thrive on fat (again, perhaps they didn't have alot of carbs at hand). And as far as I know, both high carb and high fat have been/are considered to be healthy. It's just a matter of which side you pick and what piece of scientific paper you present. Hopefully I managed to get my point across, even if I should've been sleeping 5 hours ago.

          Now for a short story. That actually happened today. I don't like what they do to the milk before they ship them to the markets, and living in a small town surrounded by farms, I figured I'd get myself some good stuff. My dad was incidentally off to a farmer to get some pesticides for the backyard, so I tagged along. When I saw the cows on the green field, munching on grass, I thought to myself 'I don't even care if dairy is supposedly bad for me, it's delicous and it's natural for me to consume'. Anyways, I ended up with the farmer showing me how to tap unprocessed milk from his tank. And I can go there any time I want to get some fresh milk. And right now some friendly bacteria is slowly turning my awesome milk into yogurt. It's very cheap, it's very good, and Vikings ate it too, so why shouldn't I? Right now I just have to make due with what I have. I'll also acquire some raw milk when it is time (I think 'raw milk' is confused with non-pasteurized and homogenized milk. Raw milk is produced right after a cow gives birth, to feed the little one with extra nutritious milk)

          As for the seal oil, I know it's been a popular supplement instead of fish oil, at least in the fitness scene. However, recently it's become less common (perhaps because of price, or lack of seal) and replaced with fish oil.

          It appears I am more interested in culture than I thought. When you stop thinking about everything that could kill you and go take a look at cows chewing green grass, knowing that 'your people' have been drinking milk for ages, why the hell wouldn't you?

          Such a long post with a lot of nonsense. But at the end of the day I think what we need are guidelines, and not rules excluding or including specific a specific food, people have been making due with the food they have at hand for ages. People didn't use to have their plates filled with everything from avocados to beef liver.

          Sincerely,
          Norwegian

          PS, ignore any retarded spelling/grammar mistakes, I'm deadly tired as I'm writing this.

          Comment


          • #6
            Interesting post, I'll have to check out that book. I also found Weston Price's book "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration" to be a surprisingly engrossing read.

            Norwegian, when you say "raw milk is produced right after a cow gives birth..." are you referring to colostrum? That's the name I've heard for it here. I understand "raw milk" to simply be uncooked (i.e. unpasteurized) and/or unprocessed (i.e. homogenized) milk.

            Stats as of 3/1/12:
            5'10" female, 38 y/o
            Currently 140 lbs., approx 25% body fat
            WEIGHT GOAL: lose a bit more body fat and tighten up the rear end...basically, I want to look great naked. Everywhere else is looking great, but my ass/hips/thighs are being a bit stubborn. TMI?
            DAILY MACRO TARGETS: Cal: 1,857. Protein: 100g (400cal). Carb: 75g (300cal). Fat: 128g (1156cal).
            EXERCISE GOAL: incorporate 2-3 strength training sessions and 1 sprint session per week.

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            • #7
              The Greenlanders diet sounds good, - but I'm pretty certain that a LOT of poorer people in the UK, Germany and loads other places in Europe subsisted on grains (barley, rye, wheat) with legumes and very little meat. Pretty poor diet for them!

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              • #8
                Originally posted by ommmmaggie View Post
                Interesting post, I'll have to check out that book. I also found Weston Price's book "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration" to be a surprisingly engrossing read.

                Norwegian, when you say "raw milk is produced right after a cow gives birth..." are you referring to colostrum? That's the name I've heard for it here. I understand "raw milk" to simply be uncooked (i.e. unpasteurized) and/or unprocessed (i.e. homogenized) milk.
                I don't know too much about the actual stuff that goes on after calves are born, but I did some research and it appears you are correct. I guess we're just using different terms. Over here, 'raw milk' is the stuff you get after a calf is born, whereas unpasteurized etc. is just 'unprocessed'. Nevertheless, I am psyched to have access to a tank of unprocessed milk, it's absolutely delicious.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by breadsauce View Post
                  The Greenlanders diet sounds good, - but I'm pretty certain that a LOT of poorer people in the UK, Germany and loads other places in Europe subsisted on grains (barley, rye, wheat) with legumes and very little meat. Pretty poor diet for them!
                  Yes. Although supplemented with some eggs and cheese. In some countries, all game belonged to the king or lord. Not sure where besides England. They could get fish if they lived by streams or the ocean.

                  We have lots of misconceptions about the middle ages, including food and dining. Keep in mind that, although the nobility had first dibs on food, they also believed with all their hearts that when they got to the pearly gates, St. Peter would have a complete record of every time they were gluttonous or charitable. You might read about a medieval banquet having many courses. What you generally don't read is that the food was passed on down the line until the remainders were distributed to the poor.

                  Of course, the peasants ate every part of any animal they got their hands on. And they drank huge amounts of ale or beer, so maybe they didn't care what they ate.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Harry View Post
                    Yes. Although supplemented with some eggs and cheese. In some countries, all game belonged to the king or lord. Not sure where besides England. They could get fish if they lived by streams or the ocean.

                    We have lots of misconceptions about the middle ages, including food and dining. Keep in mind that, although the nobility had first dibs on food, they also believed with all their hearts that when they got to the pearly gates, St. Peter would have a complete record of every time they were gluttonous or charitable. You might read about a medieval banquet having many courses. What you generally don't read is that the food was passed on down the line until the remainders were distributed to the poor.

                    Of course, the peasants ate every part of any animal they got their hands on. And they drank huge amounts of ale or beer, so maybe they didn't care what they ate.
                    yes, the poor relied on cheese and butter heavily. Thats why so many eurepean cheeses were traditionally made in Abbeys by monks--because those were the poorest members of society and concentrated dairy provided them with much of their protein and fat(as well as extended milks shelf life significantly), and also because medieval christianity not only forbade sexual intercourse, but also meat-eating among its priests. Its funny which one was eventually discontinued because it was thought to be "unnatural"...
                    Last edited by lmyers04; 07-24-2010, 01:18 PM.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by lmyers04 View Post

                      Grol----I have always thought that animal husbandry probably started much earlier than we think, especially milking.
                      I've heard that Neanderthals were the first to farm animals and develop dairy.
                      A steak a day keeps the doctor away

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by mdlaw View Post
                        "... Contemporary Norwegian documents mentioned that most Greenland Norse never saw wheat, a piece of bread, or beer (brewed from barely) during their entire lives... If the Norse did grow any crops, they would have made only an extremely minor contribution to the diet, probably just as an occasional luxury food for a few chiefs and clergy. Instead, the main other component of the Greenland Norse diet was meat of wild animals, especially caribou and seals, consumed to a far greater extent than in Norway or Iceland."

                        So, here we have a European population ... living on [a] ... diet of milk, cheese, meat and animal fat.

                        ... Anyway, thoughts? ...
                        Likely the author is correct enough - he says he's quoting original documents.

                        Greenland was on the edge of the known world, so you wouldn't expect very advanced agriculture. The weather in the early Middle Ages was warmer than it is now, so Greenland was warm enough for dairy farming. (When the "Little Ice Age" hit, it was really the end of the colonization of Greenland.)

                        Somebody has put some interesting little scraps of Stefansson's online. Here he is on Iceland:

                        My first anthropological commission was from the Peabody Museum of Harvard University when they sent John W. Hasting and me to Iceland in 1905. We found in one place a medieval graveyard that was being cut away by the sea. Skulls were rolling about in the water at high tide, at low tide we gathered them and picked up scattered teeth here and there. As wind and water shifted the sands we found more and more teeth until there was a handful. Later we got permission to excavate the cemetery, and eventually we brought with us to Harvard a miscellaneous lot of bone which included 80 skull, and as said, a great many loose teeth.

                        The collection has been studied by dentists and physical anthropologists without the discovery of a single cavity in even one tooth.

                        The skulls in the Hastings-Stefansson collection represent persons of ordinary Icelandic blood. There were no aborigines in that island when the Irish discovered it some time before 700 A. D. When the Norsemen got there in 860 they found no people except the Irish. It is now variously estimated that in origin the Icelanders are from 10 percent to 30 percent Irish, 40 percent to 50 percent Norwegian, the remainder, perhaps 10 percent, from Scotland, England, Sweden, and Denmark.

                        None of the people whose blood went into the Icelandic stock are racially immune to tooth decay, nor are the modern Icelanders. Then why were the Icelanders of the Middle Ages immune?

                        An analysis of the various factors make it pretty clear that their food protected the teeth of the medieval Icelanders. The chief elements were fish, mutton, milk and milk products. There was a certain amount of beef and there may have been a little horse flesh, particularly in the earliest period of the graveyard. Cereals were little important and might be used for beer rather than porridge. Bread was negligible and so were all other elements from the vegetable kingdom, native or imported.
                        http://www.biblelife.org/stefansson3.htm

                        Greenland was, as it were, the next place on from Iceland.

                        I've read of Icelanders who used to dream of bread they saw it so rarely.

                        Now I don't know that bread such as was available in those days would give you dental caries, because it would probably be sourdough bread. (The millstone grit in mediaeval bread might wear your gnashers down over the years, if you ate a lot of it, however.) Weston Price found the Swiss in the Loetschental Valley to have near-perfect dentition, and sourdough rye bread was a staple of theirs. But, FWIW, the Icelanders of the early mediaeval period for the most part lacked bread.

                        It certainly makes the claim by the United States Government that people need to eat between 5 and 9 (I think I have the numbers right there) slices of bread a day look a bit silly when Icelanders managed very well on none. That's given as public health advice, but really one has to conclude it's advice given with one eye on the interests of cereal producers.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by lmyers04 View Post
                          medieval christianity not only forbade sexual intercourse, but also meat-eating among its priests.
                          The Roman/Western church forbade priests to marry. The Orthodox/Eastern Church didn't. The Western church had, more-or-less, to do as Charlemagne wished, and Charlemagne insisted that priests not be married. I believe he thought they should be totally occupied with their flocks rather than have a private life. However, the fact that priests in the Western Church after Charlemagne's time couldn't marry didn't mean they didn't have sexual intercourse: many just found compliant housekeepers.

                          naturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret
                          You may drive out Nature with a pitchfork, but she will always return, as Horace famously pointed out some centuries before that period.

                          http://www.humnet.ucla.edu/horaces-v...istle1.10.html

                          Meat-eating was not forbidden even in monasteries. There were fast days, on which you could not eat meat but only fish. However, when it comes down to it, if you look at what counted as "fish" for mediaevals wishing to circumvent dietary restrictions ... for example, some seabirds counted as fish. There were, besides, many exceptions. Some monasteries had dining rooms separate from their refectories built, and worked on the basis that "no monk can eat meat in the refectory on the fast day". However, he could in the other room.

                          There were strict orders, or orders that were strict at times in their history, but I think it's probably pretty safe to say that most monks were pretty well-fed. How well most priests as such fed is another question. Bishops were very wealthy and powerful men in those days - like having a job as the managing director of a very large company in our own day. They certainly did all right, and, of course, ate all right. As you went down the social scale, you would have found poorer clergymen. Parish priests in small villages probably lived and ate much like the peasantry. Langland who was a chantry priest seems to have barely scraped along - there's a sketch in Piers Plowman of a poor priest arriving late to a dinner to find some rather epicurean Franciscans have hoovered up everything going, including such delicacies as eggs fried in lard.

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