HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Vegetarians craving bacon/pork? Nutritional explanation?

I call myself a vegetarian because I don't eat meat 99% of the time. However, every once and a while, I see some bacon/sausage/al pastor taco, and feel like I simply must eat it. I usually do, and feel fine for the next month or several weeks until the next pork craving. Is there some weird nutritional explanation for this? Or is it purely gustatory?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Casual but frequent observation does suggest that vegetarians fall off the wagon when bacon more than any other meat is in their path, though burgers run a close second.

    3 Replies
    1. re: tatamagouche

      One of my friends who has been a vegetarian for 25 years says the only meat items he still misses (and craves) after all that time are prosciutto and bacon.

      1. re: DanaB

        My vegetarian friend calls bacon the 'gateway meat'.

        1. re: Sooeygun

          a friends daughter said to me "bacon, the vegetarian's downfall" - i said "not downfall, salvation"

    2. Your body telling you what it wants: an old friend and colleague worked with Guaymi Indians in a remote part of Panama in the 60s. He mostly ate local foods. Whenever he got a food shipment in, he found that he literally lapped up the oil the sardines were packed in prior to eating the sardines themselves. He had never done that previously and was always amused and a bit chagrined after.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        I was vegetarian for 13 years, and I believe in the "your body tells you what it needs" theory, but I don't think bacon really falls into that category. Maybe your body is craving protein, yes, but bacon definitely isn't the best-for-you protein. (And if you follow the "body tells you" theory, your body would tell you to want what's GOOD for you.)

        So I think it is, as you say, "purely gustatory." Or, if you want to get Proustian about it, you're craving the flavor, and the memories it represents.

        There's nothing wrong with any of that. You just can't easily wrap it up as a 'necessity' if you're trying to be a strict vegetarian, because that's cheating.

        1. re: mudster

          I need pork. My body tells me that. Bacon is good. So are pork chops. With the bone in. I really like good pork rinds. There is nothing like bacon drippings for cooking. Lard makes the very best biscuits. A ham hock is a necessity for Red Beans and Rice. Natural casings work best for sausages but loose sausage is fine sometimes. Patés and terrines are always better with pork. Serious weakness for rillettes. Good BBQ. Chopped. Or crusty ribs. A good Carolina pig pullin'.
          How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
          If I were marooned on a desert island and I could wish for one thing, it would be a pregnant sow. Pigs in the US have average litters of 10, you know. That would keep me going just fine.

          1. re: mudster

            I read Sam's post as being a reference to the fat in bacon, NOT the protein....

            1. re: mudster

              if there was much truth to the old saw about the body craving what it needs, we wouldn't see 4 year olds 'addicted' to soft drinks, and the tremendous percentage of obese adults in the US population. . . . .
              we'd all be craving green vegetables and unprocessed fresh foods.
              instead, the evidence shows, that, as a population, we appear to be craving high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and colors, transfats, saturated fats, enormous amounts of salt, etc.

          2. Bodies crave fat - pork supplies it in the most succulent manner.

            1. My hypothesis, "Your body telling you what it wants" was speculative and based on the anecdotal experience of a friend and not on any body of evidence whatsoever. having said that, my friend did find it odd that he craved oil, albeit during a time when his dietry fats were extremely low due to the Guaymi diet.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                My sister was a vegetarian for a very long time. Every few months she would find herself literally dreaming about meat and would have just a little bit - most often pork of some kind. She has since added local, humanely raised/butchered meat into her diet but always followed the "your body telling you what it wants" theory for herself and interpreted her dreams of meat as just that.

              2. I'm guessing, but it's probably a complex of things. Warning: Mild geekiness ahead.

                Fat is the most calorie dense food; our ancestors often didn't know when they would eat next so we are attracted to it. Smell is a primal sense; it's the oldest one and the perception of it takes place in the "limbic" system, where emotions are processed. (All the other senses go through the "thalamus".) Unlike other senses smell directly invokes emotions associated with the smell, which is why when we smell food it's such an strong experiance.

                I don't know why we are attracted to smoky flavors. It is likely something hard wired about them. People that cooked meats killed bacteria, mold, fungus, etc. in the meat, allowing for a healthier life and a better chance at passing on their genes. Since eating smoked food and a build up of lot of body fat often result in diseases later in life, I like this explanation from Dr. Steve Harris: http://yarchive.net/med/smoked.html

                1. You're low on your daily requirement of nitrates and sodium.

                  Suck it up and take one for the team ... go to town on the piggies and do it in style. Garnish some conchita pibil with bacon bits and spoon it over a thick slab of pork chops, and have it with a side of a couple of sausage links.

                  1. There is a simple explanation for this. BACON IS AWESOME!!!!!


                    1. I very rarely eat meat - and I find the smell of bacon and pork nauseating. I do, however, occasionally crave tongue (pig or beef).
                      How wierd is that?

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Peg

                        I have no cravings for tongue (yuck!) but definitely agree on the bacon and pork.

                        A woman in my old office was on Atkins and used to microwave eggs and bacon for breakfast. Most mornings my office mates would find me with my head over the waste basket. It was most unpleasant. Fortunately I'm vegetarian and don't have to worry about friends/family trying to feed me bacon!

                        1. re: Peg

                          On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd put it at about 7.8.

                        2. I am the furthest thing from a vegetarian, and my body constantly craves pork(ribs, shoulder, butt, chops, loin, bacon). I couldnt imagine a diet that prohibited me from eating pork. What would my smoker do 99% of the time..

                          1. I think the reason this is happening is because you continually give into the craving. As with any type of diet (not dietING), cravings for things you used to eat take time to disappear. If you give into the craving, you're not really getting it out of your system. Yeah, bacon smells great, but if you enjoy eating it every now and again, why don't you just give up the "vegetarian" lifestyle and do what you enjoy?

                            1. I think some of it might be "gustatory", but really I do have to say that sometimes your body just tells you to eat something you need--natural animal protein, which is why I toy with the idea of vegan/vegetarianism, but would never really seriously consider it. An all vegetable diet is not good(nor was the human body designed for a vegetarian diet, much like dogs, lions, and wolves) for the body/mind, to get your protein needs you would need to consume massive amounts of legumes, nuts, beans, etc. plus some sort of complex complimentary carb so that your body could absorb the plant protein. Meat protein of some sort whether fish, red meat, pork, poultry, etc. is necessary for adequate nutrition although a diet high in vegetables is highly desirable for obvious health benefits. Also it's been shown in studies that animal protein keeps your mind sharp.

                              1. I know it's not the same, but I believe Bac-Os are actually vegan, if that would take the edge off and alleviate any crisis of conscience.

                                That being said, like tatamagouche said, bacon seems to be the temptress of most vegetarians I know. I've catered weddings where those who gave me the most grief about having abundant "veggie options" also scarfed down their fair share of bacon-wrapped scallops. So, it does seem to be the temptation that brings people back to the omnivorous side.

                                I think it's just a smell/taste associated with satisfaction, home, gluttony, etc. For me anyway.

                                1. I don't eat meat and I regularly get the statement from people "oh I couldn't do that, don't you ever just crave a big juicy steak???" no..i don't. however i also didn't give up meat because i was forced to...i wasn't a big lover of the stuff last going off, and my way of eating was not really limited to the meat and potatoes variety anyway.

                                  That being said, the smell of cooking bacon or a roasting chicken still gets me...the difference being is that while the smell is great...the thought of actually EATING it is another story. (and i know what i'd be in for.....about two years ago a restaurant mixed up two burrito meals and i accidentally ate a big bite of chicken, and i can tell you it tasted absolutely NOTHING like i'd remembered or expected...it tasted like what feathers smell like or something...yes weird i know)

                                  One thing i have noticed though, is ever since i gave up eating meat, my love of anything smoked has increased big time. smoked cheeses, smoked paprika, smoked sea salt...etc etc...... i also love smokey flavors in scotch and scotch ales, as well as smokey tasting teas.

                                  1. Try some Morningstar Farms "bacon" ;)

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: marilees

                                      :( can't get it where i live.....

                                    2. count me in the "your body's telling you what it needs" camp.

                                      i was a vegetarian for 21 years. the mere thought of meat or poultry made me queasy, and the smell...gag. well, about 9 months ago i was diagnosed with severe gluten intolerance [which finally explained the digestive hell in which i had been living for my entire adult life]. obviously the first thing i did was give up gluten completely. very soon after, once all the gluten was cleared from my system and my body had begun to heal, i started having raging cravings for red meat. it was surreal. instead of making me gag, the smell of cooking meat made me ravenously hungry, and i literally had dreams about grilling hamburgers. i waited it out for a few days, but it continued to intensify, so i finally decided to go for it.

                                      best burger i've ever eaten in my entire life.

                                      i slept soundly through the night for the first time in years, and woke up feeling rested, invigorated, and satisfied. since that day, i have welcomed meat back into my diet with open arms.

                                      i really believe that once my damaged tissues were no longer compromised & suppressed by the assault of gluten on my system, my body was able to tell me what it was craving nutritionally. i've always been conscious of keeping my protein intake high through vegetarian sources, but each protein has a unique amino acid composition, and i think i was craving the ones i hadn't been getting.

                                      i gotta say, i love being a carnivore again!

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                        goodhealth, you are an omnivore. You strike me as being very far from the meat-madness carnivores who are all the rage these days.

                                        1. re: lagatta

                                          those people are also omnivores. as are people who choose not to eat meat. being a vegetarian is not the same as being an herbivore. choosing to eat only meat does not make one a carnivore.

                                          1. re: thew

                                            Linguistically correct, though that's not how it's commonly used. In that strict sense, all humans are omnivores by definition since our natural diet includes both flora and fauna, regardless of what subset of foods we CHOOSE to eat.

                                            So what's the appropriate parallel term to vegetarian for those who eat only meat? Carnitarian?

                                          2. re: lagatta

                                            You strike me as being very far from the meat-madness carnivores who are all the rage these days.
                                            you're correct...but i'm still a carnivore, though more facultative than obligate.

                                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                              you eat NO vegetable matter? no coffee? no Sugar? no Bread?

                                              1. re: thew

                                                It doesn't matter what a person does or doesn't eat, they're an omnivore. Carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore, given no other qualifiers, refer to what an animal's digestive tract is designed to digest. Carnivores need not eat exclusively animal matter, however, just as herbivores need not eat exclusively vegetable matter. Most examples of both classes do not eat exclusively one or the other.

                                                1. re: gadfly

                                                  thats what i said above, already

                                        2. I do not know enough about pork/ bacon that calls to you but I am also a vegetarian (now trying a vegan diet) and the only times I have craved red meat are when I am iron deficient. Just as I crave ginger ale when I have an upset stomach and oranges when I have a cold. In fact, when I start craving red meat now, after many years of not eating it, I start increasing my iron intake right away.

                                          1. Well i'm not vegetarian at all, but can happily subside on a cheese/bread diet for weeks, but when i'm feeling sick enough that it influences my appetite (hardly ever happens even w/fever, etc.) I always creave fruits, esp. citrus.
                                            and of course if you overdo really rich foods (which fall into oil/fat category or lots of umami) i always want simple salads.
                                            so maybe reverse is happening for you? (i was vegetarian for 4 years but my diet was far from healthy -- mostly carbs, and my off the wagon food was fried shrimps (not even good ones!))

                                            1. Try eating Bacon Bits, they're Vegan, try a bacon substitute, or try smoke flavoring on tofu or setian. One of these options may satiate your cravings of bacon/pork. Pork is such a bland meat and usually flavored with high sodium sauces. Maybe it's the sodium you crave.

                                              Before I became a vegetarian, I wouldn't eat Pork. After 3 yrs of no meat, I went back to being a regular omnivore and finally tried pork. Now it's a constant craving. One more option I can suggest is to make a whole package of bacon, eat it all by yourself. This should make you sick enough that you'll never want to eat bacon again.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: fluxsterpinx

                                                Just curious - what caused you to look for or stumble across a three-year old thread? I sometimes search for one thing and something interesting comes up. Was that what brought this old thread up to the top?

                                                Anyway, I read it and I can't imagine that it needs to be anything other than smells and tastes fantastic. Same reason I crave cheesecake. Nobody's body NEEDS cheesecake...or pizza...or whatever your indulgence is. Need has nothing to do with it!

                                              2. if bodies actually only craved things because they were needed there would be little obesity, need for insulin, and a million other ills we deal with all the time.

                                                you crave it because it's good.

                                                1. Just finished reading a book My Side of The Mountain where the boy was living in a tree in a kind of Thoreau thing he would crave dirt and bark for certain nutrients.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: girloftheworld

                                                    I loved that book - read it when I was 10 or 11. I still remember him boiling water in a pot made out of a leaf (was it skunk cabbage?).

                                                    Anyway, to the bacon question. I stopped eating meat in 1982. But I still very much like the smell of bacon. On occasion, I've accidentally eaten it (once in Vienna, where some idiot chef snuck it into my cream of broccoli soup for some unfathomable reason), and it made me pretty queasy. So my nose may like/need/crave it, but my gut emphatically does not.

                                                    1. re: girloftheworld

                                                      Ditto that book thought! Sam, his name was, I think, and he got a craving for liver once, remember, when he and his owl were both feeling wobbly. Fixed them up, too.

                                                    2. Bacon, a/k/a Vitamin B. It is (read: "..still is, evolution is not finished with us") in our DNA. Smoke and salt preserve, ergo our preferences for those qualities were selected for good health. Fats nourish at more than twice the rate of carbohydrates or proteins; ditto. Add in millenia of hungry little ones awakening to tendrils of baconsmoke... Think about how we talk about financial success even now--"...bringing home the bacon", "..cut a fat hog", etc., etc.

                                                      There may be good ecological or moral, even (in modern times) health, reasons to be vegetarian. But meat, fat, pork, and yes, bacon is part of humankind and cannot be wished away. It's primal.

                                                      18 Replies
                                                      1. re: kaleokahu

                                                        I am a Jew that never craves bacon, can't stand the smell of it, nor pork cooking - to me it has an iron like smell. It's obviously not part of humankind nor primal!!

                                                        A vegetarian diet is not necessarily a healthy diet, and being a meat eater is not necessarily unhealthy.

                                                        1. re: smartie

                                                          i'm a jew that adores all pork products.

                                                          1. re: thew

                                                            That's cuz pork is f'ing tasty!

                                                            1. re: pdxgastro

                                                              i'd go so far as to say fucking tasty

                                                          2. re: smartie

                                                            Aloha, smartie:

                                                            With respect, our evolution as a species of pork eaters predates any religious dietary restrictions by millions of years. Your dislike (avoidance?) of pork is no refutation that it is a primal thing deeply rooted in humankind.

                                                            But hey, I admire anyone who has the discipline to deny him/herself something as tasty as bacon.


                                                            1. re: kaleokahu

                                                              My avoidance of bacon doesn't take any discipline at all. It's pretty much analogous to someone else's avoidance of brussels sprouts, or tofu, or parmesan-in-the-green-can. I think bacon tastes bad. My restrictions aren't religious or moral. They're aesthetic. But they're real. I agree that we have evolved to enjoy fat, salt, and sugar. But I can get any or all of that without meat.

                                                              1. re: small h

                                                                Hi, small h: "...fat, salt, and sugar. But I can get any or all of that without meat."

                                                                And it sounds like you *do*. Are you vegetarian? Or is it just bacon that offends your aesthetic? You undoubtedly know more than I do about this, but is it more often the case that when people go vegetarian, it's not about the horrible taste of meat? I thought the taste aversion develops after adjustment to the vegetarian way...


                                                                1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                  i can't speak for small h, but i was a vegetarian for 21 years, and part of what sent me on that path was, in fact, the actual taste of meat. something about it, in that particular, defining moment, was just thoroughly unpleasant to me...and the more i thought about it, the further it escalated until everything about it - the taste, the texture, the smell, the idea of *what* it was - just turned my stomach.

                                                                  i do eat meat again, but rather infrequently (particularly compared to the average American)...and at certain moments when i'm not in the mood for it, the thought of how it would taste right then can still turn my stomach.

                                                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                                    Hi, goodhealthgourmet:

                                                                    Sure, a meat eater can have a defining moment that keeps them away from eating certain things. My dad had a meatpacking business, and even so, I learned quickly that mutton and I didn't get along. Likewise with semi-gamey venison. It might not just be taste or texture, either--kinda hard as a kid to enjoy the steer you raised in FFA.

                                                                    Let me ask you a question: Have you ever sat down at a restaurant "in the mood" for meat, ordered, and then be put off by what was served?


                                                                    1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                      i have, but it was usually because the meat was inedibly gristly, so in those cases it was primarily about texture, not flavor.

                                                                  2. re: kaleokahu

                                                                    I eat fish, but no meat or poultry. Today I'm calling myself a multivore.

                                                                    I'm sure that many vegetarians follow the path you describe: stop eating meat for health or moral reasons, then get grossed out by it. I stopped because I spent a summer not eating meat. It was nothing I set out to do; it just happened. After that, I tried to start eating it again, but I just didn't like it anymore. It was as if my body simply decided that meat wasn't food.

                                                                  3. re: small h

                                                                    but being jewish then was a red herring

                                                                    1. re: thew

                                                                      I think you're confusing me with smartie. Our screen names do kinda look alike.

                                                                2. re: smartie

                                                                  to me it has an iron like smell. It's obviously not part of humankind nor primal!!
                                                                  without iron in your body you wouldn't be here...

                                                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                                    I went through a bout of exercised induced anemia. Not a good thing. Getting up from a chair, or the bed, was a chore.

                                                                    My doctor had me on so much Fe supplements initially that I thought I could eventually audition to become Iron Man's sidekick.

                                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                      i was anemic for my entire life until age 35. nothing helped - not supplements, not iron-rich food...turns out it was my undiagnosed Celiac disease - all those years of intestinal damage had compromised my ability to absorb iron. one year after going GF, my Fe levels were in the normal range for the first time since i was a toddler.

                                                                  2. re: smartie

                                                                    Not to say that I buy the premise that you're arguing against, but an n of 1 doesn't mean it isn't true, it could simply be that you're an outlier

                                                                    1. re: smartie

                                                                      smartie, there are a lot of Askenazi Jewish jokes about this "under rabbinical supervision" for pork and seafood. I also have friends in Paris who are not-very-observant Maghrebi Muslims and "ils craquent" (they cave in) to pork-based charcuterie. That said, nowadays there is a lot of excellent kosher and halal charcuterie with no trace of pork, but it obviously isn't vegetarian.

                                                                  3. There are a lot of claims being made here that these cravings may have some kind of evolutionary basis. These claims seem fairly common in society at large as well. To be blunt, anyone with any understanding of the biological mechanisms of evolution would find such claims to be absurd. That's not how evolution works, and even if it did work that way, nothing in the human evolutionary experience would have created a craving for processed pork products.

                                                                    These cravings are psychological, plain and simple. Like anything else psychological, they are a product of an uncountable number of factors interacting with each other in myriad ways. Some of these factors are genetic, while some are experiential, and the ratio between these two things is not only unique to the individual, it is in a constant flux, though one that trends more toward experience as life moves along.

                                                                    In this case, it sounds to me like you like it, and your inner longing for it grows over time until you feel you need it and satiate that desire, restarting that process. I have always been the same way with bad science fiction movies, and I'm 100% positive my body doesn't need those and that cavemen never watched them.

                                                                    24 Replies
                                                                    1. re: gadfly

                                                                      Hi, gadfly:

                                                                      "[N]othing in the human evolutionary experience would have created a craving for processed pork products."

                                                                      Meat (here pork), fat, smoke and salt have no place in human evolutionary experience? Nevermind, I found the answer:

                                                                      "To be blunt, anyone with any understanding of the biological mechanisms of evolution would find such claims to be absurd."


                                                                      1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                        Meat was a part of the diet of the earliest humans, as well as many of our pre-human ancestors. Humans have been cooking meat for roughly half of the time they've been on the earth, but nothing about cooking or the use of fire is instinctual. The earliest known methods of cooking would also not have produced a smoky flavor in the foods being cooked.

                                                                        While a craving for salt in a characteristic inherent to all mammals, the addition of salt to food is not common to the human evolutionary experience, as it is not something that has developed as a part of all cooking cultures. Those cultures in which it has developed have been doing it for well under 1% of human history. They've been curing meats for even less time than this, and there are even fewer cultures curing meats than there are using salt in cooking.

                                                                        The meats eaten by humans for well over 99% of human history were very lean. Most of the fat in the human diet during that time would have come from nuts. Even from the dawn of agriculture up to the industrial era (the agricultural era accounting for about 0.5% of human history, and not being something held by humanity in common) most of our meat has been lean, and most of our dietary fat has come from vegetable sources. There are, of course, many exceptions to this, as pastoralists relying primarily on meat for sustenance have been around since near the dawn of agriculture, and hunter gatherers relying primarily on meat have been around for at least 50,000 years.

                                                                        Humanity has to have held something in common for roughly the last 100,000 years for it to be considered as potentially being an evolutionary trait. Even when we have held something in common for that long, the chances of it actually having made its way into our DNA are 1 in 1,000,000, but that's getting into the biological mechanisms of evolution.

                                                                        1. re: gadfly

                                                                          if eating meat with a smokey flavor gave some advantage then those with a propensity for it would gradulay outbreed those who genetically thought it didn,t and it would get bred into the gene pool

                                                                          very few gatherer hunter societies ate primarily ate meat

                                                                          1. re: gadfly

                                                                            Aloha, gadfly:

                                                                            "The earliest known methods of cooking would also not have produced a smoky flavor in the foods being cooked."

                                                                            That would be cooking by fire, which most anthropologists consider has been happening for a quarter million years now, give or take. But there is ambiguous evidence of cooking with fire as far back as 2.3 million years. Where there's fire, there's smoke. Even foods pit-cooked in neolithic rangi and imu get smoke flavor.

                                                                            As to salt, it may well be that there is little ancient (back past 10,000 years or so) acheological evidence of humans harvesting salt in proper *saltworks* But that earliest evidence is hardly indicative of when humans started salting their foods. It could not have been lost upon coastal peoples (and the inland ones with whom they had contact), that natural salt deposits--or dips into seawater--met their needs *and*, with smoke and fire, left their camps with edible food a little longer.

                                                                            Regarding meats being leaner "back when", yes, of course. But what that means is pretty meaningless. Try eating a plate of lean brains, sometime. Wild boar is lean, but it's not that lean in the belly. Let's see, what did mastadons and hares, seals and fish, and fowl have under their skins?

                                                                            I'm no geneticist, but natural selections for fatter diets and salt, and smoke preservatives (and the means to provide them) seem quite obvious. Still, it's safer to plant corn than risk being stomped by a bison. And then there's that problem of supply...

                                                                            1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                              we discuss this again and again. we indeed have a genetic propensity for fats, salts and sweets - as these things are difficult to obtain out on the savannah, and contain needed nutrients &tc. those who had a sweet/fat/salt tooth were healthier and bred more than those who did not, and passed on the trait(s). eventually those traits because dominant across teh gene pool as more and more surviving offspring became successful breeders themselves. that is how natural selection works -

                                                                              survival of the fittest is really survival of the sexiest

                                                                                1. re: thew

                                                                                  In response to both this and your post above in reply to me, this is certainly logical. But I'm confident I don't need to tell you that just because something is logical does not mean it is truth. Your explanation of evolution is essentially the one posited by Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. It's a very interesting read, but it hasn't been considered important in the scientific community for nearly 100 years as anything more than a piece of our history.

                                                                                  It would be impossible to give an explanation of evolution in this space that would be even remotely adequate. The introductory text I used when I taught the subject in the 80's is over 500 pages long, and I don't think it's possible to do the subject justice or to develop even a basic understanding in a shorter treatment. But the salient points here would be these: almost all genetic mutations passed on through evolutionary mechanisms are done so accidentally, and are of no benefit to a species; and the beneficial characteristics possessed by a certain organism which survives over another of its species are usually only beneficial over a very brief time frame.

                                                                                  More importantly, while we do have a genetic predisposition towards sugars, fats, and salt, this has no correlation to human evolution. These characteristics have probably been present in the mammalian lineage since the earliest synapsids, roughly 300 million years ago. If not, they have at least been present since the time of the most recent common ancestor of placental mammals, which is no more recent than 125 million years ago. I can't really speak with more certainty than that, as eutheria are the only within chordata that I have extensively studied (well, also galliformes and anseriformes, collectively fowl, but that's neither here nor there). Regardless, the propensity for these things is much, much older than humanity, or even primates, and is present in nearly all mammals. Give a french fry to a rabbit, and you'll see what I mean.

                                                                                  Now, while sugars would indeed have been difficult for early man to obtain - and, for these purposes, let's limit our definition of early man to the period from the divergence of our lineage from that of the pan genus to the earliest post most recent common ancestor migration of humans out of Africa, as this is the only period of evolutionary history that is specific to all human beings and no other animals - fats were not so difficult to come by. Our knowledge of the diet of humans over the million years before the migration out of Africa is very thorough, and while it gets less thorough as you go back through each of the four million years before that, we still know enough about the environment of the time and the purposes of the tools used, in addition to having much evidence from middens, to know that nuts were in great abundance through the range of early man and formed the backbone of their diets. In the case of true homo sapiens, we know this diet ranged from 3000 to 6000 calories in adults (the lower end for a small childless females, the upper end for large males and pregnant or breastfeeding females) and that about 60% of these calories came from fatty nuts.

                                                                                  Also, a little bit on sex selection: it's relevant in evolution, but ceases to be relevant at a certain point in human evolution. We can't pinpoint exactly when, but likely around the point that the earliest members of the homo genus mastered fire, human tribes took on a very egalitarian structure. One of the greatest evolutionary benefits to the homo genus from that point forward was that, within a tribe, every single member was a breeder, and that bonded pairs devoted so much attention to child rearing. Fossil records from this period indicate that individual tribes devoted energy to the survival of their weak and injured members even when this was to the potential detriment of the tribe's survival. From then on, which genetic traits carried on has almost nothing to do with individual fitness, and almost everything to do with which societies survived. As often as not, this was simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time. When it wasn't, it usually was not a function of genetic traits, but of societal knowledge being passed on. For example, it's very clear that language was of enormous evolutionary benefit, but contemporary human beings have no more inherent genetic capability for language than the earliest humans did. We have simply passed on more and more complex language over time. Isolate a child from that for their first few years and they'll be no more capable of developing language skills than a chimpanzee is.

                                                                                  Oh, also it's only partly true to say that very few hunter gatherer cultures ate mostly meat. Over the broad historical perspective, this is true. But for long periods of human history, most importantly the last major glaciation (or what is usually inaccurately referred to as the last ice age), the majority of humans on the earth have derived the majority of their calories from meat.

                                                                                  1. re: gadfly

                                                                                    And this is one of the things I love about Chowhound - the depth of our communal knowledge pool. Thanks, gadfly!

                                                                                    1. re: BobB

                                                                                      You're very welcome. I quite like how much I can learn about food here, and I wish I had more to contribute on food centric topics. Contributing a little scientific knowledge here and there is the least I can do.

                                                                                    2. re: gadfly

                                                                                      i stuck to the short for for a reason, but:

                                                                                      yes mutations happen at random. but they generally do not propagate through the gene pool if they do not provide some sort of advantage to the sitaution as it is on the ground at that moment.


                                                                                      the time since sex selection became irrelevant to human evolution is a spit in the bucket compared to the time before - hominid, prehominid and primate

                                                                                      1. re: thew

                                                                                        No, most mutations that carry on do so entirely by accident. Most are not advantageous, but either neutral, or, more rarely, detrimental. It's not as if mutations are rare, or happen one at a time. Ever person - or animal, or plant, etc. - has hundreds or even thousands of genes that they inherit from their parents in mutated form. Only one of these needs to be successful for it to take root because of a survival of the fittest situation, while the rest just come along for the ride. These can combine in unexpected ways over successive generations. But this is also only one mechanism of evolution. Mutations are often selected for that are not advantageous or even just carried along with an advantageous gene. Sometimes, mutations get carried along for millions of years that serve no purpose, or are detrimental, only to mutate again and again thousands of times to eventually become advantageous in a process reliant largely on the luck that there was no bottleneck in those millions of years before the mutation became a true adaptation. This is how legs and wings are widely thought to have first developed. But as often as not, the characteristics that make a species unique have evolved for no good reason at all. Consider birds of paradise. Their unique mating rituals and the male features that are used to attract mates are at best of neutral benefit to survival. The males that get to breed are those with the prettiest plumage and the best dancing skills, not those who are actually the best at the day to day work of survival. This is sexual selection functioning on parameters that have nothing to do with fitness, and this is something we see happening again and again throughout nature.

                                                                                        The way that you seem to be defining sex selection, the way that Darwin defined natural selection, as dependent on individual fitness, is merely one actor in a cast of thousands, and it hasn't played a leading role in human evolution for any of the period of time in which the characteristics that make us human have developed. Certainly, some of our traits are a product of this mechanism. It's hard to believe that the thumb or our upright stance did not come about for this reason, though there is still a healthy amount of debate on this topic. But, if we examine chimpanzees, it is clear that individual survival fitness plays no role in their continuing evolution. The one male in a particular group that does the majority of the breeding is usually one of the poorest at basic chimpanzee survival skills like remembering where to find food, tool use, and fending off predators. What allows him to dominate the other males is a propensity for what, in humans, we would term psychotic behavior. Stronger males will submit to him because they fear his recklessness. Many primatologists feel that chimpanzees are becoming progressively less intelligent and less fit to survive overall due to this. They very certainly have a smaller brain and a much smaller range than the homini ancestors we share with chimpanzees.

                                                                                        Because of the complex nature of animal societies, individual fitness selection's role is generally limited, as with humans and chimpanzees, but it is a much more major factor in more solitary animals, or in species with solitary males, in more simple animals, in pure predators, and in prey animals. The species it plays the most substantial role in tend to be specialists, like cheetahs and their gazelle prey. In some animals, like the African elephant, it plays a role because, while males mate essentially at will when they come across females, the females being generally unable to ward them off, both competition with other males and how long a male's lifespan is determine the number of times he will be able to mate. But, this is severely limited by the fact that the largest males are the most successful in competing against other males over a particular female, but generally live shorter lives, and often, due to their great weight, injure a female during mating. Their offspring then die, as the injured mother is not able to adequately care for them. Even in animals where individual fitness is a more major factor in natural selection, there are too many other factors and the interplay between them all is too delicate for this to have been considered as the driving force in evolution at least since I was an undergrad in the late 50's.

                                                                                    3. re: thew

                                                                                      Well, it could be. Alas many Indigenous populations here in Canada (and elsewhere in the Americas) are afflicted with severe and even morbid obesity, but if you look at photos of their ancestors a hundred years ago, they were very buff indeed!

                                                                                    4. re: kaleokahu

                                                                                      Cooking through the heat of a fire and cooking over a fire are two very different things. To begin with, I'm not sure where you're getting the data that says cooking is only a quarter of a million years old. The earliest cooking implements are about that old, which could mean this is around when we started cooking over a fire, but evidence of cooked foods is far older than this. There have been many charred animal bones found with distinctive hand axe markings that are between 1 and 2 million years old - it's very difficult to date burnt remains with a high level of accuracy - and many of these have been in middens. While it's likely that the absolute earliest humans to realize that it's way easier to extract marrow from a cooked bone than a raw one figured this out from scavenging the remains of antelope that were killed in brush fire, and it's not possible to establish at what point the transition to intentional cooking occurred, it definitely did not take over a million years for humans who long since mastered fired to put 2 and 2 together.

                                                                                      From the fossil record we know that humans were using indirect cooking methods for hundreds of thousands if not millions of years before they were cooking over fires. The two main methods would have been burying food and pushing burned embers over the dirt covering the food, and using rocks heated in a fire in a variety of ways to heat foods. Neither of these puts food into contact with smoke. I can't say I know anything about rangi or imu, but the time from the start of the neolithic era to today accounts for less than a half of a percent of human history, and started at least 70,000 years after the most recent common ancestor of all humans. It can't be looked at as a factor in evolution.

                                                                                      And the understanding of when salt came into play has nothing to do with the earliest evidence. We all know that salting could have been taking place long before the earliest salt vessels we have found were made. But we also know that human access to salt before the last 20,000 years was incredibly limited. Coastal and island people are a real rarity before the end of the last major glaciation. Coastlines were the absolute last terrain to be settled by humans; even deserts came first. Our oldest evidence or salt use actually shows up in desert peoples, who also were the first with both a need and effective means to preserve meat.

                                                                                      More importantly, there's no reason for us to believe that, before the advent of agriculture, meat preservation was widely practiced, except in the coldest areas of human habitation where salt was neither accessible nor needed. We have a pretty good understanding of the behavior and diet of early human hunter gatherers. When they acquired meat, they consumed it right then, often even building the fire to cook it at the spot of the kill. Before the development of more advanced weaponry during the last major glaciation, it would have been a poor decision not to do so, as humans had no real defense against their kill being taken by other predators and scavengers.

                                                                                      The leanness of meat is perfectly relevant. It's also relevant that, before our most recent common ancestor, we weren't eating wild boar, mastodons, hares, seals, or fowl. We may have had a very limited amount of fish in our diets, but evidence for this is scant. Our meat came primarily in two forms, antelope and warthog. Despite their similarity in appearance to pigs, warthogs are very lean and taste nothing like pork. It's not possible, in any sense, for a craving to be genetically coded into humans if they weren't even eating it that far back.

                                                                                      And genetic selection for liking smoked things is not only counter to the evidence - it's not something that is held in common by all humans, smoky flavor being valued in some cultures and reviled in others - it makes no sense. It could, of course, have occurred completely by accident, but it definitely has no evolutionary benefit. Smoke is a very poor preservative when taking into account the particular foodborne diseases early humans needed to worry about.

                                                                                      There is, of course, no denying, despite all that, that humans, like all mammals, have an inherent taste for salt, sugar, and fat. This does not, however, equate, even remotely, to an evolutionary craving for processed pork. Those who crave processed pork, and I count myself in their number, have learned that it tastes good to them. This makes any craving for these psychological, plain and simple. Whether or not they fulfill deeper cravings is irrelevant to this, as not only do cravings not at all have to relate to actual biological need, but there are plenty of foods which would fulfill the biological need much better - ice cream or salted peanuts being two easy examples - that aren't what is being craved here.

                                                                                      1. re: gadfly

                                                                                        Hi, Gadfly:

                                                                                        Gee, thanks for the exposition. Lots of interesting and counterintuitive stuff in there. Not much uncertainty, though.

                                                                                        "The two main methods would have been burying food and pushing burned embers over the dirt covering the food, and using rocks heated in a fire in a variety of ways to heat foods. Neither of these puts food into contact with smoke."

                                                                                        Ummm, for the imu, the rocks go *in* the pit and they stay there. The fire is below. Even after it is smothered with vegetation, food, vegetation and earth, smokey is how the food comes out. Also, you said earlier that the earliest methods of cooking did not impart smoke flavor. Do you really believe that first charred antelope or warthog had no smoke? And what is the evidence that man's first (intentionally) cooked meal was not over fire? It beggars belief that the earth oven would predate the open fire by hundreds of thousands of years. And what would be the archeological evidence *now* of Ugg and Crog having tucked some wind-dried smoked meat away for a future meal? Absence of evidence, perhaps...

                                                                                        And no reason to believe in meat preservation before agriculture? Hundreds of pounds of mastadon meat and marrow wasn't eaten at one sitting. Aren't there sites where preservation of mastadon in fresh water was clearly practiced? All those thousands of generations of wind and fire and meat, and no one understood and practiced smoke's powers of preservation?

                                                                                        No real coastal inhabitation prior to the glaciers last receding? What about Morocco 120,000 Years BP, Israel 100,000 Years BP, India 70,000 Years BP, China 50,000 Years BP, 40,000 Years BP, Philippines 30,000 Years BP? Maybe even Brazil, 55,000 Years BP?

                                                                                        1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                                          Follow a tribe of Bushmen - who live a lifestyle more or less universally agreed upon by those who study human evolution as being incredibly close to that of the earliest homo sapiens, and are also genetically closer to these than is any other human group - around for a week and you'll understand why they don't save any meat. With a lifestyle that difficult and active, you eat what you find as soon as you find it. They can all eat enormous amounts of food in one sitting, and storing those calories in your own body is more efficient than storing them as preserved meat which needs to be hauled around as you go about your 20+ miles of daily hunting and gathering.

                                                                                          Preserved meat is great when you get out of the harsh environments humanity grew up in and to more plentiful lands. As I said, in colder climates, it occurred earlier, largely because of the megafauna appearing on our menu that were never part of the diet of homo sapiens until the migration out of Africa. Preservation in the more glacial environments where humans were more reliant on meat for calories was easy: leave it outside, out of the sun.

                                                                                          An imu clearly works differently than the earliest known cooking methods. We have found clearly dug pits dating back over 500,000 years containing char marked rocks - that is, they clearly had been heated in a fire - but no separate burned matter, indicating that no burning materials were put in the pit. The method is still used widely by hunter gatherers in Africa today, and they generally let the fire completely burn to ash before pushing the rocks into a pit. Charred rocks going back over a million years covered in traces of animal proteins - indicating meat had been cooked directly on a hot rock, go back even father. In cultures that still practice this technique, the stones are either removed from the fire first, or they wait until the embers cool down enough to clear the first away from the area of the stone. The more common method than the hot rocks, however, today and going back to over a million years back, was to bury the material to be cooked and build a fire on top of this, or build the fire first first and brush the embers on top of the dirt covering the pit..

                                                                                          We say with a great deal of certainly that heating over a fire developed much later because this requires complex tools which are not only not in the archaeological record until you get into the last 100,000 years or so, but are more advanced than anything in the archaeological record before then. We can't dismiss the notion that many an early human tried just depositing a warthog carcass right on top of some burning wood, but they'd likely have learned pretty quickly that by the time this all cooled down enough to retrieve the meat safely, much of the meat was rendered inedible, and almost all of the fat was cooked away.

                                                                                          Cooking the bones directly on burning embers is not unlikely, but I've done this many times myself, and the marrow takes on no smoky characteristic whatsoever. It's also worth noting that when we talk about smoky flavor, we're thinking of burning wood. There wasn't a huge supply of wood around in the environment inhabited by early man, and he lacked the tools to harvest more or split logs. While wood was still a common material for fires, it was hardly the only one. The evidence shows that they burned anything they could find, from brush to dung. Cooking over wood fires is a lot less common worldwide and historically than your average Westerner believes, simply because the smoke of the actual combustible materials many cultures have relied on give food a terrible taste.

                                                                                          It's easy to think that, because the smell of smoke makes so many of our mouths water, this is some genetically inherited characteristic. But when a baby or someone from a culture where foods are not smoked smells smoke, they don't get hungry. They generally think, "Oh shit! Something is on fire!" You and I just learned, very early in life, to associate that smell, and the flavor, with delicious food, rather than danger.

                                                                                          1. re: gadfly

                                                                                            Hi, gadfly:

                                                                                            Thanks again. I must be slow--or to Occam-bound--because a few of these things make little sense to me.

                                                                                            First, I never thought of a stick being a complex tool before, but it'd sure be handy for killing things, moving hot rocks out of a fire (that you won't need to move lots of times), skewering and smoking meat over those fires that they started, etc.... Archeologists haven't found many 500,000 year-old old burnt sticks, I bet. I can see how rocks'd be more prevalent in the record.

                                                                                            Second, if it was so unsafe to be dragging one's partially roasting warthog away from a fire (by is parts that *aren't* in the fire), how safe was it to drag away hot rocks that were entirely *in* the fire?

                                                                                            Third, I'm not saying dung-smoked warthog tastes better than kiawe-smoked fat pig, but I'm pretty sure dung-smoked warthog tastes better than completely rancid (or no) meat.

                                                                                            Fourth, a firepit burned *completely* to ash before the rocks go in is not going to be any good for heating the rocks. If, as you say, the rocks go on the hot firepit and the meat is simply perched on the rocks, there is still some combustion going on, and some smoke going in.

                                                                                            Fifth, since fuel was at a premium, why *would* we now be finding skewer sticks and "separate burned matter"? One would think anything combustible would have been burnt completely to ash as matters of heat, protection and home economy rather than scrounging for more. If you eat it all at once, why not burn it all at once, too?

                                                                                            Sixth, it sounds like some preserved meat would be handy in harsh environments, too. Do Bushmen ever carry water?

                                                                                            Finally, I find the smoke association you draw is a little too simple. I think it is entirely possible that your hypothetical baby *MAY* indirectly associate the smell of smoke with human community, its foods (even if not technically smoked), its warmth and security. I submit that coming out of cold, dark danger into a safe, comfortable community with food can make one *very* hungry, and that thousands of generations of that association can get "into" us, perhaps in ways that have not yet been adequately explained.

                                                                                            1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                                              Definitely anecdotal. When I was training for a triathlon and doing 3-4 hours of cardio every day, all I could think of was getting my fingers moist and dipping it into the jar of salt and then licking off the salt. The other thing I did was make a hard boil egg, cover it with salt from the salt shaker and lick it off.....if salt wasn't so readily available I probably would've been at the salt lick with the deer! Now that I'm not doing all that sweating (I work out alot less now), I don't have the same salt cravings. So, I have to go with the "my body tells me what I need" theory.

                                                                                              1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                                                Lots of burnt sticks far older than that have been found. Fires leave one of the clearest and most recognizable traces of any human activity. But skewering and smoking meat how exactly? As a spit maybe? A spit requires supports, making this a multi-part tool, and pretty complex. We developed things like this around the same time we started building shelters, as the two idea are very similar, technologically. Or do you mean simply holding a stick over the fire? That's really great, if you have a cutting tool, like a knife, to section the meat into manageable pieces, but such cutting tools were very late developments, and were never even developed in parts of the world.

                                                                                                It's not at all unsafe to push a hot rock with a stick into a pit, or even to clear away still hot embers from the rock to use the rock itself as a cooking surface. These are common things many tribal cultures still do today, that i've been fortunate enough to see with my own eyes. It's one of the simplest processes imaginable.

                                                                                                I'm not sure what rancidity has to do with this. Once again, the storage of meat is a relatively late development in human history. Smoking also does not prevent rancidity. Even if this was somehow both logical and relevant, I'm not sure how early man eating dung or even brush smoked meats would somehow translate to a taste for wood smoked meats.

                                                                                                I never said anything about a fire pit. The fire did not go in the pit. It still doesn't in any culture I'm familiar with living in the areas of Africa which were the only home to homo sapiens for over ten times as long as they've lived in any other area of the world.

                                                                                                Again, burned material leave very clear traces. They're one of the easiest things to analyze, right down to the exact material that was burned, even to such a degree of specificity that if it's dung, we know what animal the dung came from, and often what that animal had eaten.

                                                                                                I'm not sure how preserved meat is handy in harsh environments. The nice things about savanna and desert environments is that while food can be difficult to find, the relatively stable nature of things means that food sources are remarkably steady. It's dry today, and you know it's going to be dry tomorrow. The flora and fauna of the region deal with this just fine.

                                                                                                And some Bushmen carry water, but this was adapted from the Bantu tribes that pushed them out of most of their original range. Most that carry water have also adopted Bantu pastoralism. The rest do not carry water, and early man certainly did not do so until very late in his development. There simply isn't a need to. They know their homelands incredibly well, and have memorized a vast number of fresh water locations across the hundreds of square miles they hunt and gather in. More importantly, the majority of their water is provided through the food they eat. Caloric needs rise much more sharply with high levels of activity than does the need for water. Thus, given a diet of identical foods, a person who needs to consume 5000 calories in a day will need to consume less water than a person consuming 2000 calories in a day - unless of course the foods are very dry or very salty, which the foods in question are not.

                                                                                                And no, very young infants react to the smell of smoke with anxiety. This has been very thoroughly studied for a relatively long time. Any positive association is learned over time, though infants do learn such things very quickly. It is still debated by many whether we have a true ancestral fear of fire, or if the anxiety in the infants is merely the product of the irritating quality of smoke. I find the latter much more likely, but the former is bolstered by the fact that smoke makes anxiety levels rise across nearly any animal which has no experience with fire, and does so to a much greater degree in adult animals than other nasal irritants.

                                                                                                1. re: gadfly

                                                                                                  Hi, gadfly:

                                                                                                  This is your field, not mine, but you DID say above that 1-2 million years ago we had hand axes. And you DID say that we have 500K and older "dug pits".

                                                                                                  Is there any evidence in the record of roasted nuts?

                                                                                                  Obviously, branches can be broken and stripped by hand for use as skewers.

                                                                                                  I submit that between the fire-hardened stick and hand axes, dismemberment (and even some skinning) was not some quantum technological leap. And therefore skewering and roasting chunks of meat on sticks probably only required fire, a hand and soft ground into which to sink the skewer stick. No cantilevered or suspended spits required.

                                                                                                  I wasn't as much urging the unsafe nature of moving hot rocks as I was pointing out that it's probably less safe than dragging a carcass out of a burned-down firepit, after you said the latter was unsafe.

                                                                                                  What rancidity has to do with it related to your comments about nasty flavors. I merely suggested that nasty smoke flavor would probably be preferable to totally rotten meat. I didn't mean to suggest that smoking alone would prevent rancidity, but smoking does have some preservative utility, and may have extended the time for which the meat remained untainted enough to eat.

                                                                                                  I am surprised that organic fuels burnt completely to ashes one time in situ at the kills and then subjected to the elements and groundwater for millions of years can survive to be identified--or located to be identified. Charcoal perhaps. How would the paleontologist distinguish between the charcoal or ash at such a site from the ash from any other fire in the same general timeframe?

                                                                                                  It seems so much of peering back that far really does have a large basis in what is *not* found, e.g., coastal sites that may now be underwater, materials that have decomposed to utterly unidentifiable forms, etc.


                                                                                                  1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                                                    I've never seen any evidence of roasted nuts, but I can't say there isn't any. I can, however, say that this would be pretty unusual behavior for hunter gatherers of the type that humans were before they left Africa. In that life, you find food, you eat it. This is not only necessary to maintain energy levels to continue hunting ad gathering, it's the most efficient possible behavior. It's that simple.

                                                                                                    I'm not sure what else there is to say about this skewered meat idea. It might seem obvious to you, but you probably can't remember a point in your life when you weren't exposed to skewered meats. There's no suggestion in the fossil record and no one in the field putting forward the idea that early man did this. It just doesn't make any sense when all the factors and all the evidence are taken into consideration. Likewise, the idea of storing food might seem obvious to you, but it's not a natural decision for most animals, including humans, to make. It's just a rare behavior in nature, and even without the evidence against it, it wouldn't make sense to assume early man was doing this.

                                                                                                    It's not hard to identify what burnt material are. Nothing burns that completely, and most things that would form important pieces of evidence don't decompose to totally unrecognizable materials. This kind of testing is one of the most elementary areas of the field. We could even do this pretty easily with what limited technology we had in the 60's. Today it's a cakewalk.

                                                                                                    As for the absence of evidence, feel free to think this, but you're completely writing off a whole field of science by doing so. You'd probably be shocked at how much evidence we've collected, and how much we can tell by examining this, and how much we can tell by relating this to extant human cultures. Considering how well forensic investigators are able to piece together the exact events that occurred at a crime scene, it's not hard to understand how easily we can gain such general understandings from fossil evidence. We can even do this with animals, and they haven't left much more behind than their bones.

                                                                                                    As for the insistence that we might just not have found the evidence for coastal dwelling early humans, there is a fringe in the field that believes this. Their conjectural evidence is mostly ridiculous, and they are, for the most part, the laughingstock of the field. Read up on the Aquatic Ape theory if you want to know more. Early man having inhabited coastlines just doesn't make any sense at all. To start with, there's no reason we wouldn't have found evidence. Coastal environments are often the most effective at preserving evidence, while the coastline has indeed moved in and out over the course of human history, it's been farther in from where it is now for a larger chunk of human history than it has been farther out. Most of time it was farther out from where it is now was over the last 110,000 years, when the evolution of humanity as a whole was very nearly complete.

                                                                                                    The only species wide changes after this point came through the bottleneck around the time of the most recent common ancestor - popularly referred to as y chromosomal Adam in the media. This individual and his kin are known with near total certainty to have lived far inland. The natural environment of humans is savanna and desert. Animals tend to stick to the environment they evolved to be suited to. It is only major technological advances that have allowed humans to do otherwise. There is little food that would have been available for early humans to eat along coastlines. Nets, bows, and spears useful to catching fish are very recent innovations - throwing spears of any kind are not only very recent, but are not common to all of humanity. Add to this the harsh and unpredictable weather of the coasts, which more primitive humans simply could not have survived, and it starts to take fantastic stretches of the imagination to keep the claim up. There may very well have been early humans that gave it a try, but they wouldn't have lasted long and we definitely do not descend from them. As a whole species, we came of age on the savanna primarily, and it wasn't until we split off and started to leave Africa that we ever lived anywhere substantially different.

                                                                                                    1. re: gadfly

                                                                                                      Hi, gadfly:

                                                                                                      Hmmmm, again very interesting.

                                                                                                      The history of science teaches that there are many instances of one paradigm's dominance falling abruptly to another, and early proponents of theories under a new paradigm being ridiculed for their heresies. And as Prof. Nassim Taleb points out in "Black Swan", the more expert the ridiculER, oftentimes the more grevious and consequential the errors. The ridiculEE is often ostracized and dies a pariah and laughingstock (e.g., Halen Bretz and his Lake Missoula "theory"). A similar shift may be happening now with the prevailing currents/winds theories about the settlement patterns in Polynesia, Vancouver Island and Peru--it could easily come to pass that much of what is today laughable contains a great deal of truth.

                                                                                                      I am limited in my knowledge of Bushmen culture, so I do not know, but you have painted a picture of hunter/gatherer bands who immediately eat what they kill/gather at the site. Does this not require infants and children to be present or very close by the best hunters, not 20+ miles away? Under this picture, wouldn't there need be a new cooking fire at each kill site? Wouldn't any infants, children and the infirm--indeed all stragglers in the train--hunger if not starve? If the cooking fires are used but one time, fueled by whatever's at hand and simply built at the surface atop the food as you suggest, why *wouldn't* all the ash be cast to the winds (and much of it dispersed by the act of opening the oven)? And even if the combustion remnants somehow didn't blow or erode away, how (but for some tell-tale circle or bed of time-buried rocks--which aren't even required for this method, BTW) would you distinguish the remnants from those of natural brushfires? Perhaps equally important, how would one know where to dig, and if N = hundreds of millions of different 1-time sites, how many excavations and analyses do you make? Under these premises, 50 or 100 or 1,000 greasy-rock-identifiable samples out of 100,000,000 possibles seems a short peg on which to hang a whole set of conclusions.

                                                                                                      "It's [storing food] just a rare behavior in nature, and even without the evidence against it, it wouldn't make sense to assume early man was doing this."

                                                                                                      Really? Would we not have had the instructive examples of the animals around us that store food by various methods? African ground squirrels cache-bury maize seeds, and cheetahs cache carcasses in trees, correct? Don't jackals, hyenas and vultures all cache? Any more vulnerable predator or opportunist species (birds, canines, small felines foxes, etc.) would have a strong incentive to cache if they could not eat, carry or defend their leftovers. Why would we be any different? For that matter, why wouldn't we have learned to cache through doing our own pilfering of animal caches?

                                                                                                      Cache hoarding surplus food across a human hunting range (at least on the way "out" on an expedition) would probably be an effective extender of that range, even considering animal pilferage. Have there been no pit sites excavated where evidence of unconsumed tissues have also been found?

                                                                                                      As for coastal living, if the coastline has been further out for more of our history than further in, it follows that many potential coastal sites are submerged, and even dry riverine sites are probably flooded or eroded away. What is no longer in the Oldupai or other places buried under volcanic ash layers and naturally exposed? What minuscule portion of possible sites is so buried and then re-exposed?

                                                                                                      "There is little food that would have been available for early humans to eat along coastlines." I don't know enough zoology to call BS on this, but I find it incredible if there were not clams, oysters, mussels, crabs, edible seaweeds, coconuts, roots and fruit, invertebrates, etc., etc, in such abundance as to make the savanna, the alone the desert, seem like... well... a desert. And if the "savanna us" was downing warthog and antelope for our fires, why not also game along the coasts?

                                                                                                      1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                                                        Honestly, at this point, I'm just going to have to say, you seem interested enough in this and emotionally invested enough in your ideas that your best bet is to take a course in human evolution, or at the very least buy a book about it. I can't really recommend one unfortunately, as I don't know of a decent one that doesn't assume the reader has at least a bachelor's degree in biology.

                                                                                                        I understand very well that there is this public perception that the winds are always changing in science, and that old theories that were once consensus are always being overturned. As someone who has, at various points, needed to work with elected officials, whose faith in science is often virtually nonexistent, particularly in the more rural areas my work has often taken me, I've spent much of my life trying to dispel this notion, because it simply doesn't have even a grain of truth in it. New theories are almost always built on old ones, and new evidence almost always strengthens the consensus. When it does not, it often adds a new facet to our knowledge rather than displacing old knowledge. Theories are constantly being disproven, but these are almost never - and I'm hedging by saying almost, because in my 5+ decades as a scientist I don't know of a single example, but I suppose it's possible there is one somewhere - consesus. They're theories on an issue that is still hotly contested. These issues you are bringing up haven't been contested for decades. They are settled issues. There are few people out there more skeptical than the scientific community. We don't take lightly an assertion that something is absolutely true, and consensus is only reached when the data is both overwhelming and multi-faceted.

                                                                                                        These questions are getting increasingly irrelevant, so I'll try to answer them as briefly as possible, and if you have any follow up, I'd urge you to do some reading from reputable academic sources.

                                                                                                        The entire community, infants and the elderly included, in a pure hunter gatherer culture goes along for gathering excursions, which become hunts when prey makes an appearance. These hunts rarely go on for more than five miles, as most animals other than humans will begin to die of heat exhaustion after running this far, but ten is not unheard of. This is also not a straight line distance, as zigzaging and doubling back are a part of the evasion tactics of all prey animals. Generally the kill is made within a few miles of where the hunters departed the group. I'll admit I was oversimplifying in saying the kill is eaten on the spot. Not all spots are suitable for cooking. If they're close to camp, they may return there to cook, but they also have a network of areas frequently used as cooking sites spread throughout their gathering range. The most important fact is that every ounce of meat on the animal is consumed as soon as possible after the kill.

                                                                                                        Within the initial few weeks of an infant's life it will often be kept at camp, as much because the mother is recovering as because the infant can't be brought along. Food will be brought back for the mother in this case. Given the size of these tribes and the large spacing between births - a woman of this lifestyle is not able to give birth more frequently than every two years, and usually not before the age of 18, and generally will only have 2-3 children - most of the time there is no new mother waiting at camp. Similarly, in the final few weeks of life, the infirm may not join the group - and it is only ever a few weeks, as the infirm die quickly in such a lifestyle. Food will be brought back for them, which they typically will refuse. It is rare that for either a new mother or an infirm individual the tribe will bring meat back, however, as most tribes do not consider it to be the best food for weak individuals. This, of course, varies from culture to culture.

                                                                                                        I'm pretty sure anyone who has ever built a campfire knows it leaves obvious evidence behind, even if you let it burn out on its own. This evidence is much smaller than a brushfire, though really we wouldn't go looking for fire remnants without first having found other signs that this would be a potential site for excavation. It helps that rather early on in our history some groups of humans figured out what a good idea it is to bury a spent fire, though it doesn't seem all tribes did this, as we have found many that weren't buried. The way that archaeologists identify where to excavate is mostly a mystery to me, but their success rate in identifying sites is rather stunning.

                                                                                                        Yes, there are indeed plenty of animals that store food. They're still a rarity. It's an unusual behavior in the animal kingdom, and it typically evolves over a long period in a whole group, rather than just an individual species. It's even more rare in animals that do not live in nests or burrows. To my knowledge, there are no primates aside from humans that store food, and food storage is not held in common by all humans today, indicating that it probably never has been. All signs point to this being a learned behavior, not an inherent trait.

                                                                                                        As I said, the coastlines have been farther in, not farther out, than where they are now, for most of human history. Even during many of the major periods of glaciation, they were farther in than they are now. They were indeed farther out during the almost entirely irrelevant period of time from 110,000 years ago to 10,000 years ago, during which our ancestors first left Africa.

                                                                                                        There are some, very rare, abundant coastlines in the world with very easily accessible food. As far as I know, none of them are continental, and none of them are anywhere near our common ancestral homelands. Even in recent history in this portion of sub-Saharan Africa, the number of known, primitive, coastal peoples is remarkably small, and they were far more advanced than anything seen 100,000 years ago. Coastlines are among the most difficult terrains in the world, with only mountains being more difficult. I suppose to most people this might seem odd, but there simply isn't an environment humans are more suited to than savanna. Savannas have the highest concentration of calorically dense foods suited to human needs which do not require advanced technology to harvest. I don't know of any coastal people that has survived without fishing being a way they gathered food. Plenty of coastal peoples have relied more on shellfish, but all the ones I know of also relied on agriculture, and they also fished. Perhaps to someone from an island culture this seems shocking, but it's really pretty basic.

                                                                                                        Perhaps the easiest way to understand this is to understand that changes in culture and technology generally always occur due to a stress being placed on its constituent members. The least advanced pre-contact human groups on the earth nearly all came from the savanna. The culture and technology of the Bushmen hasn't changed much at all since well before our ancestors left Africa, because they had no need for it to. It might be a harsh and difficult day to day existence, but on the whole survival from generation to generation is rather easy. While island cultures were becoming some of the most advanced in the world, savanna cultures were staying remarkably primitive, because they had no reason not to. Their 500,000 year old technologies got them through the day at least as well as the state of the art technologies of the rest of the world. And they still do.

                                                                                                        1. re: gadfly

                                                                                                          Hi, gadfly:

                                                                                                          No, not any real emotional investment on my part. I think I might be able to soldier through a text that presumes undergraduate biology.

                                                                                                          I like science, I really do, and I'm not "writing off" any bit of it. I'm not one of those chortling readers of, e.g., diametrically opposed health studies who takes them as indictments or for a lack of knowledge. But I think science's establishments and priesthoods can sometimes act and think in ways inimical to scientific progress. Certitude, I have found, is one of the early warning signs.

                                                                                                          With respect, science's history is full of paradigm shifts. The abrupt, complete ones are not common, yes, but they are there. And heterodoxy in science IS frequently ridiculed and stifled, which can bump up the Richter scale if and when the shift happens.

                                                                                                          Much of what I thought I'd learned on this topic came from you, thanks. I did not know that when you wrote of hunters covering >20 miles in a day that their infants, women and children always tagged along. Likewise I did not know that ash and charcoal from a cooking fire can be easily differentiated from the same products from the same fuel bunt in a natural fire the day or year after. And I learned that even though there are plenty of species (even African ones) that cache food, they're still rare. And that the cheetah that puts her kill in a tree has to teach her kittens to do the same (or that we did not learn it from her). But I guess I most value learning that human evolution was complete 110,000 years ago; I would have thought it hadn't stopped, even for Bushmen.

                                                                                                          I actually have built many campfires where no discernible trace remains. And not all of them were on riverbanks or below high tide. I've even cooked places where there'd been natural fires.

                                                                                                          I guess where I'll leave it is that you're comfortable and certain that the first meat cookery 2 million years ago was free from direct fire and smoke. To me that is the closest thing to an a priori synthetic falsehood I have ever imagined.

                                                                                                          1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                                                            He displays great knowledge; and thus, maybe he deftly chose his humorous username.

                                                                                                            gad·fly Noun
                                                                                                            1. A fly that bites livestock, esp. a horsefly, warble fly, or botfly.
                                                                                                            2. A person, esp. ONE WHO PROVOKES OTHERS INTO ACTION BY CRITICISM.

                                                                                                            Definition 2 is synonymous with "Internet troll" ... anyone? anyone?

                                                                                                            All joking aside, though... and I'm definitely NOT saying that gadfly is annoying. He is not annoying. He is informative, and I happily read all of his posts.

                                                                                                            Gadfly might be failing to realize that not all people are aware of the need to distinguish between evolution, genetic traits, and "behavior being passed down through the generations to offspring" a.k.a. "teaching".
                                                                                                            e.g.: Brown Hair is not a product of evolution, "it's just genetics."

                                                                                                            Gadfly might simply be stating:
                                                                                                            If a human gene which produces a euphoric response from smelling smoked foods exists and subsists from the original-accidental mutation in humans today, that same gene's mutation-date cannot be determined by studying the fossil record. Thankfully, no one is expecting anyone to achieve this tremendous feat.

                                                                                                            G: "Now, while sugars would indeed have been difficult for early man to obtain ..."
                                                                                                            ME: Humans from whom we have descended had, and still have, access to sugars via fruits, sugary vegetables and cane plants - i.e.: berries, tree fruit, beets and carrots.

                                                                                                            G: "No, most mutations that carry on do so entirely by accident."
                                                                                                            ME: They most-certainly are not intentional. While being obvious truth, this borders on tautology; and I fail to see the correlation to the OP.

                                                                                                            G: "Preserved meat is great when you get out of the harsh environments humanity grew up in and to more plentiful lands."
                                                                                                            ME: Most likely, humans with the "bacon smells good gene" descended from THESE humans in the more plentiful lands and not the bushmen who stayed in the less plentiful lands who lack the "bacon smells good gene".

                                                                                                            Did today's humans "get" ALL of our genes from the humans in the fossil record?

                                                                                                            I would consider that genes might exist that predispose humans to certain types of behavior (smoking foods) and that these genes are passed to offspring and thus are a part of genetic mutation and not evolution towards a new species; but of course, the isolated tribal cultures and bushmen wouldn't be passed these genes from across oceans and time.
                                                                                                            Predisposition to tastes and sensory stimulus are also results of the aging process.
                                                                                                            Getting more granular, different humans within the same family develop different acquired tastes.

                                                                                                            Surely and since mutation has happened in isolated geographical areas, all humans cannot be expected to share all genetic traits as other humans. This can be reached through inductive reasoning by comparing skin colors of humans from different societies. The genes from those societies would not spread to offspring without "missionaries."

                                                                                2. Cravings could have numerous explanations, both physiological and psychological. The reason one person might crave a certain food could be completely different from the reason somebody else craves it. So it is completely possible several of the explanations offered here might be valid. But one possibility on a physiological level that no one has examined is that your body could be craving saturated fats. While saturated fats have gotten a bad reputation, and in most cases rightly so, the body can't do completely without them. Saturated fats are used to build cell membranes and comprise a large component of very important hormones. They are also the preferred fuel for your heart and a number of other tissues. If you consume no saturated fats, your body is forced to make them, although not always completely successfully. So small amounts of saturated fat could be a dietary necessity. With regard to bacon, that's probably from a physiological point of view the only thing a vegetarian could be craving in the bacon- most likely not the protein. However, not all saturated fats are created equal. If you crave and need some saturated fat, much better to go spread some coconut oil on a piece of bread or cook it into something. The whole argument of why coconut oil is a "good saturated fat" as opposed to a bad one is complex, and still the subject of debate. A Google search will turn up much information. The debate on the relative merits and shortcomings of many foods will no doubt be still going on when many of us reading this are long six-feet under. However, from either a health or a vegetarian point of view, you are certainly better off with a small amount of coconut oil than sodium-nitrated pork fat.

                                                                                  disclaimer: I own no stock in any company involved in the manufacturer or sale of coconut oil, nor am I involved directly or indirectly in doing business in any way with any company that manufactures or sells coconut oil.

                                                                                  1. I find that I don't really like pork and never crave it (although bacon is too delicious to not crave), and I've always thought spending part of my childhood in a Muslim country, where you had to go to an isolated, sectioned-off part of the store for non-halal food, may have been part of it.

                                                                                    1. An interesting experiment would be to bring some bacon to isolated and bacon-less societies and observe if the people there like the smell and like the bacon.