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Thread: Medieval Europeans were primal too! page

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    mdlaw's Avatar
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    Medieval Europeans were primal too!

    Primal Fuel
    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!

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    Grol's Avatar
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    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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    Velocity's Avatar
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    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.

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    Quote 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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    milehigh's Avatar
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    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.

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    ommmmaggie's Avatar
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    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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    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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    milehigh's Avatar
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    Quote 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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    Harry's Avatar
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    Quote 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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    Quote 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 at 01:18 PM.

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