What is the Healthiest Diet for the Human Animal? Further Reading-Book Review

Book Review:
'The Primal Feast: Food, Sex, Foraging, and Love'
by Susan Allport

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'The Primal Feast: Food, Sex, Foraging, and Love' Allport, Susan.
Harmony Books, New York 2000. ISBN: 0-609-60149-0
Hardcover. Published March 2000, publication price $US23.
Body of the work 245 pages, bibliography 9 pages, index 5 pages.
This thoughtful and reflective book is written in anecdotal style, but draws extensively on the primary literature on hunter gather behaviour, behavioural ecology and psychology - and more, of course.
It starts, more or less, with discussing the imperative of all organisms - eat. More than this, forage efficiently, don't waste energy in finding and meeting basic metabolic needs to grow and reproduce. Knowing this central imperative, Susan Allport applies it to the crucial period of the last common ancestor, just before apes and humans diverged. Drawing on the studies of African chimpanzee populations in Africa, she teases out a plausible evolutionary explaination of the different sexual and pairing motives of men and women, the part food may have played in this 'dance', and the uneasy alliance we maintain as a result.
The natural history of foraging, hunting, intertwined with mating and the tension between individual and group behaviour is followed from these primal ancestors, through todays remmnant hunter gatherers, through the beginnings of agriculture, and to todays techno-agricultural world.
Along the way, the myth of the hunter gatherer idyllic lifestyle is exploded, as well as the myth of monogamy as evolutionarily  'normal' except as a device for particular ecological circumstances.
The issue of which foods are 'natural' is woven throuhout the book. Importantly, the author de-pedastels any given wild harvested diet as 'ideal', but emphasises human dietary plasticity and the very patchy spread of resources in the natural world. This patchiness comes into conflict with the very success of human dietary plasticity, and provides interesting arguements for the origin of agriculture.
We are used to looking for a single explaination for phenomena. Susan Allport provides entertaining and defensible mosaics of behaviours and circumstances, nicely illustrated in story and anecdote, stiffened with reference to science results ( the only minor gripe is that there are no subscripts to link to a specific reference in the quite extensive bibliography), that taken together give a thought provoking and fascinating insight into appropriate diet, the relationship of the sexes to food, and what food now is.
Besides being a good read, the particular value of this work is its reach back to the formalisation of Australopithicine to explain not only what we eat, but the influence of foraging on mating and social structure, and how our present lives are still directed by these evolutionary relationships, even if overlain with the cultural conditioning of the group and climate we happen to be born into.
It is the only easily accessible book I know of that take an intertwined species-ecology and species behaviour view of human evolution, and then reflects it onto modern behaviours and attitudes -whether explicit or taken for granted.

© Copyright 2000 UHIS