The difference between hunting for your dinner and shopping for it is writ in the reminder of how easy life in the modern Western world.
It is so easy most just take it for granted:
Crawl out of a warm bed in the morning. Take a hot shower. Get dressed. Hop in the SUV. Hit the coffee drive-through. Head for the office. Slide into a seat in a comfortable, temperature-controlled office.
There are still people who work in the cold and wet, but 60 percent of workers today steer a desk, once blue-collar jobs like farming are rapidly automating, and even where the work is hard, it isn’t as hard as it once was.
Who swings a hammer on a construction site anymore if a nail-gun is handy, and a nail-gun is usually handy.
Our bodies tell a story about how long this evolution has been going on.
Voxeu.org – the research organ for the Europe-based Centre for Economic Policy Research – in 2010 reported that the weight of U.S. “18-year-old men increased by some 13 kilograms (28.5 pounds) during the course of the Twentieth Century but half of that increase took place among those born before World War II. Hence, these data indicate that a considerable increase in weight had already taken place by the time the first (U.S.) national survey was taken in 1959-1962.”
The policy group was responding to the first reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of an American epidemic of obesity.
“The official view propagated by the Centre (six) for Disease Control is that in the U.S. the epidemic appeared rather suddenly in the 1980s,” wrote University of Munich professor John Komlos and colleague Mark Brabec. “We believe this view is misleading.”
They based their conclusions on old records of weights and heights for cadets at U.S. military academies. The cadets were getting taller and heavier long before the CDC noted the expanding size of Americans, they said.
The taller part has been linked to better nutrition. The heavier part is tied to stuffing more calories of food into our bodies than our largely sedentary bodies can burn. They convert the excess calories to fat.
Whenever the exact start of this, all sources agree too many Americans have now supersized themselves.
It was tracking the latest data from the CDC portraying a nation the eats too much and engages in physical work too little because we can, because grabbing food (forget our history as hunter/gatherers and accept that we’re now grabbers) is easy; because our prevalent forms of entertainment and intellectual engagement (like whatever form of computer you are now reading) encourage us to spend huge amounts of time sitting; and because those fossil fuels many believe are now threatening our life on the planet made so many things easier.
Where once we walked, we now drive even if that might not be in our best interests in the long term. Residents of drive cities have lifespans as much as 20 years shorter than walk cities, according to Dan Buettner, a journalist, author and founder of Blue Zones, an organization dedicated to trying to bring non-motorized movement back to communities to lower healthcare costs, improve individual health and productivity, and lower stress levels.
What Buettner proposes is to alter behavior by going to back to the future to get people up and moving.
“It is absolute delusion to think that we can convince 330 million Americans—three quarters of whom have already admitted they are not doing enough physical activity—to start exercising more,” he told the website Quartzy. “We have been trying this for 70 years and we still have 70 percent of Americans who are obese or overweight. It is not working.
“If you’re walking more than about 45 minutes a day, you’re getting 90 percent of the physical activity value of training for a marathon. So when you are addressing populations, you want to make it easy for them.”
Walking is what the hunter-gatherers from which we sprang had to do to stay alive. They had to use their legs on a regular basis to get to where they could find food. They had to carry with them the basics of survival to set up a camp wherever they stopped.
It was not easy.
A man thinks about this sort of thing a couple hours into a slogging around in a marsh behind a Labrador retriever who likes to practice waterfowl hunting as a form of upland bird shooting. A man thinks about it more (not to mention the extra pounds he could afford to lose) wallowing home through thigh-deep water with a backpack full of fat mallards with the wind blowing the rain sideways and the best of gear unable to keep out all the moisture.
A pimple on the continuum
It wasn’t all that long ago that even in this country people had to do this sort of thing just to survive. The modern American lifestyle is a tiny blip in time. Homo sapiens date back 300,000 to 350,000 years.
And most of the things we think of as normal has appeared in the last 200 years.
It took us at least 299,800 years to get from the cave to the first Ford Model T rolling off the assembly line, more than 299,900 before TV become common in American homes, more than 299,950 before the TRS-80 (commonly called the “Trash 80”) revolutionized American newsroom by allowing journalists to transmit stories via phone lines in the lead up to the beginning of the internet that first wired together a whole world of information and then took it wireless.
Today the things gadgets do for us are endless: Steer your car down the freeway. Turn your lights, appliances and other electronic devices on and off at the sound of your voice. Allow you to shop stores around the world from the comfort of your living room.
For those in jobs that allow them to work from home, about all they physically need to do these days is walk to the door to pick up the food and other goods delivered in response to their online orders and make occasional use of the bathroom.
It is simply mindboggling how the world has changed since crude oil began to replace whale oil in the 1850s – less than 200 years ago.
The shift saved the whales from extinction, but more than that it fueled the start of big technological changes that just kept building upon each other until we got to where we are now:
In a place where a hunter miles from the nearest telephone line can take a photo with a palm-size computer that began its evolution as a cellular phone and then transmit that photo across the continent with the push of a button.
But one thing hasn’t changed. The sense of fulfillment at having put dinner on the table probably isn’t much different now than it was then.