Cavemen and Calculus

I have a team member with a propensity for out of left field utterances.  A recent one got me thinking, especially as it matched a theme I’d been exploring for that presentation at Peking University I mentioned in the previous post.  It went something like this:

“We’re still cavemen trying to live in a 21st century world”

And one of my themes in myPeking speech was about the rate of change in my lifetime, how it is accelerating and methods of learning to cope with the problems this causes.

Whilst I don’t consider myself a caveman, there are times when the rapid rate of change happening everywhere I look does make me wonder if we, homo sapiens, are ready for it from an evolutionary standpoint.  Let’s face it, the human body is not built to withstand travelling above a certain speed.  We are soft flesh over a breakable skeleton.  Yet here we are, able to buy and drive cars that can travel well in excess of that certain speed.

Much of what we do, a caveman would recognise: we live in caves, albeit called houses and with air conditioning; we wear furs, although the clothes we wear come from mammoth stores, as opposed to a woolly mammoth; and we still eat nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables – although what Mrs Cro Magnon’s opinion of supermarkets would be, I dread to think.  So we’re still doing all the same things the cavemen did, we’re just more sophisticated in how we go about it.  We can devise changes in technology far faster than Mother Nature can in humans by evolution, so it’s no wonder the two are increasingly out of step.

How has this rate of change affected our food?

Well, we no longer grow just enough for the nuclear family unit using the family back yard.  Our hunting range is no longer the area determined by how far we can walk in one or two days.  Within my “hunting grounds” are several supermarkets, where I can gather produce that comes not just from a farm up north but from a farm in Zimbabwe if I happen to be in the mood for snow peas.  Even the local farmers’ market has produce from further afield than one day’s walk.

What this increase of distance means is that I no longer know what happened to that produce from the minute the seed went into the ground until it turned up on my plate – because I wasn’t the one doing any of the steps.  As an urban dweller, unless I go for a long road trip, I don’t even see the farmer’s field on a regular basis.  I have no control or input into the produce until I choose to purchase it.

So how do I know my food is safe to eat?


I trust that the food safety systems in place are, well, in place.  And that they are robust and fit for purpose.  All the way along the supply chain.  A very long supply chain in some instances.  Take potatoes, for example.  It’s not that long ago potatoes only came in hessian sacks with half the farmer’s soil still clinging to them.  Now look what you can forage for:

How many steps in the supply chain did these prepacks of fresh chips take to get to the shelf?

With compliance costs added on at every single one – or at least there should have been if the food safety protocols required to maintain my trust were followed to the letter.

Does the sale price at the end reflect the effort that went into getting it there?  I think that might be a discussion for another day.

How do I know that this food is right for me to eat?  What extras have been added during the process of getting it from farm to plate safely?  And in good condition? Can my caveman digestive system cope with highly processed foods?

Given the wealth of research into the obesity epidemic facing the developed (and developing) world that appears to be pointing to our love of processed foods as being a contributor, it would seem obvious that the 21st century caveman needs caveman food, that is, fresh produce.

But in this sophisticated, high tech world we’ve advanced ourselves to, how do we make fresh produce appealing and valued?

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