Last night I watched “How to live to a hundred” on the television. The argument put forth is that a traditionally based lifestyle helps keep people happy and healthy, that Food + Family + Fun [community] = Happiness. Whilst the ‘modern’ post-industrial economy of Western Europe is actually causing a range of modern diseases such as diabetes, cancer, food allergies and social diseases leading to mental health problems. I tend to agree, it backs my long held view that much of how modern society operates is really unhealthy and just seems loopy. It is why i have struggled to find my place in society. It is simply better to work with nature, rather than against it, the answer I believe lies in evolutionary biology.
The modern western diet differs from the traditional diet in a number of ways: It consists of high quantities of meat, often meat of poor quality produced industrially and intensively. Food is often processed and contains artificial compounds such as preservatives. This industrialisation of food means food is nutritionally poorer and lacks flavour, so often processed food contains high levels of salt and sugar to compensate for this lack of flavour, these high levels are beyond what the human body can cope with.
I have wittered on previously about the importance of acceptance for humans in society, family provides that. I’m living with my father at the moment and it is simply nice to share meals together at the kitchen table. One of the reasons I was unhappy in Surrey was because I had to eat meals by myself in the bedroom, which is simply wrong, but many people are thrust into this position by the economy. Due to economic diversification, people often have to move away from their family to take on jobs and one person abodes are expensive. This modern way of working detracts from humans ability to take pleasure from eating and sharing food as part of the enjoyment of eating.
It does annoy me sometimes that i took decisions at quite a young age that led me to be ‘mostly vegetarian’, rather than conform to the mainstream diet, as sometimes my father and I have to cook separately to stick to our dietary choices. This phenomena is compounded by food allergies and different diets, I don’t think most people know how to provide a meal that will satisfy everyone at the table, yet I feel it is important that everyone should know how to put on a collective meal. Having a collective meal is fun
Fun / Community
Cooking together and sharing food at the dinner table is an enjoyable social event. When I was working in the forests of Madagascar, the whole team would sit together for dinner, the conversation flowed and it was a hugely enjoyable experience, even if only to see what those on cooking duty had managed to produce from our limited resources (rice and beans, supplemented with mangoes or breadfruit that had been gathered during the day, we had zebu (type of cow) once in two months and that was a real celebration). Human beings are social animals and interactions between the local community are fun. There is a special something about an event that draws the whole community in, which offers something to everyone, this has value in ensuring communication between generations and social groups. The example is of summer fayres, where everyone comes to together to eat, play games, sing and dance together (and provide talking points about performances in the ladies over 40 sack race!), Fun and Community, where everyone is free and encouraged to make a fool of themselves is important. Sadly such community events are dying out as people retreat into only socialising in there own social circle.
It isn’t possible to go back to a time when people physically lived off the land with their family, socialised in the village and the wider world was the ‘here be dragons’ of faerie tales. However human beings lived for millenia in such societies, it is what our species evolved to cope with. I think the problem is partly that we are living lifestyles that genetically we are unsuited for. It’s only a few generations since many people no longer had physical labour jobs, a few generations since we began eating industrialised processed food and very recently since we now spend parts of our lives not in family units.
Many of the elements of a traditional lifestyle are possible, but often difficult. People claim not to have time to cook properly as they have to work long hours and may spend hours every day simply traveling to and from their place of work. People often don’t have the time or space to maintain a kitchen garden or a similar physical project. People sometimes don’t put the time and effort into maintaining family units and consequently that may fall apart.
Processed foods are I believe to blame for the rise in food allergies. Humans tend to like salty food as humans lived for millenia with low Sodium diets and more Sodium was required for health. Now our diets contain too much Sodium salt, this has health consequences as the body struggled to metabolise so much salt. Hence, processed foods are putting pressure on out metabolisms they haven’t had a chance to evolve with.
There is much talk of a establishing a work/life balance. In a traditional society, such an idea is absurd, as work involved your family and community, the family and community contributed to your work too. Post-industrial work is largely not like this so generating time for family, for social activities is paramount, however, the modern economy makes it harder and harder for people to find this time and hence people become unhealthy and less productive, it’s the crisis of the Western world in the 21st century.