In Eating Small Portions, There's More to Gain Than Just Your Health

Thinking about eating less could help us be healthier, create a more sustainable environment, and reduce animal cruelty. Smaller portions can go a long way.

“Eat less you pig” is a t-shirt James McWilliams of Pacific Standard received with a simple, offensive health message. It resonated with McWilliams, and it has made him think how we're debating the details of food all wrong. It's our gluttony that's damaging us -- and in more ways than just our health.

People enjoy discussing the politics of their plate—are you eating organic, free-range foods (with no GMOs)? Like all of these little points will add up to a healthier you and a better world if we make these demands. McWilliams is of the mind that no matter how it was farmed and fed, the startling fact is that we eat too much. 

Daily caloric intake has increase 24.5 percent between 1970 and 2000 in Americans that's a majority of 3,000 calories per day—way over the recommended 2,000 calorie suggested limit. McWilliams points to this fact as a cause for the obesity epidemic that's changing the everything from our health to crash test dummies. Even if you eat a paleo-strict diet, you can still over-eat.

He also points to eating less as a solution to some environmental concerns. Less food intake means less food output. We eat more yogurt, meat, cheese, and all of these products emit greenhouse gases, according to a recent study. Beef is a major contributor to greenhouse gases ( around 36 percent). If we chose to eat more veggies, though, in addition to eating the recommended 2,000 calories a day, emissions would go down significantly. Martin Heller of U-M's Center for Sustainable Systems, stated plainly:

"The take-home message is that health and environmental agendas are not aligned in the current dietary recommendations.”

Just consuming less—no matter what it is that you eat—will be better for you than eating more of everything. McWilliams brings up a 25 year study done on primates that found monkeys eating about 30 percent less lived longer and had fewer age-related diseases. Though, it's important to mention that the study was inconclusive.

“We go on endlessly about a 'balanced diet,' interpreting what that actually means in a million different ways. But the one thing we can definitively measure and keep track of—how much we eat—could have critical health consequences, too.”

If American's cut back on diet, it would mean less animals being slaughtered--a major win for animal rights groups. People's habits would finally line up with their morals, seeing as 75 percent of Americans agreed we should “eliminate all forms of animal cruelty and suffering,” according to a U.S. The Humane Resource Council's survey. There's a gap in what we want to happen and the things we're doing (or not doing) to make it happen.

Then McWilliams touches on the people who can't afford to think about GMOs, diets, or their carbon footprint. The poorest of us in America that eat and eat out of the fear of scarcity. For them it's not about eating less, but socio-economic justice.

“If the most effective start we can initiate is to eat less food—and I think it is—we need to look beyond the fact that we eat like pigs—or even that we eat pigs—to the underlying causes of that desperate gluttony. What we’ll discover is that, for all our angst over food, the politics of the plate is, alas, really just politics.”

 Read more at Pacific Standard

Photo Credit: ileela/Shutterstock

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

Surprising Science
  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.