Over the past year, my four-year-old daughter has systematically assessed the caloric value hidden in every cabinet of our kitchen. She knows where the fruit is, the candy, the sugar and the salt. She has launched several commendable, but failed, assaults on the refrigerator, but it's only a matter of time before she finds the right combination of chair position and leverage.
Two decades ago, one of my professors noted that, in most hunter-gatherer societies, children are self-sufficient by age five. That is, they can catch and kill or collect their own food, start a fire, cook it, build a temporary shelter for themselves and be familiar with all the local places to get water.
Whenever I tell this to parents and children, they laugh. It's true, the world is filled with dangers today just as it was back in our ancestral past, just different ones. Parents are still needed to keep their kids safe. But I think parents laugh because they know most kids would live off of candy and french fries if they could. Kids laugh, because they know they'd be living large off of candy and french fries.
It's such a strange concept, that our markets are filled with foods we shouldn't eat, that our restaurants make food that is bad for us, that we are bombarded with ads for foods that would make us sick if we ate what they asked.
This is the exact opposite of what we spent the first 100,000 years of our species doing, namely, eat everything that was edible and energy-efficient. I sometimes imagine, when I'm at the store, that I have some of these tribal five-year-olds with me, staring down the long aisles and telling them that, despite all the energy and expense to make all this food and put it on the shelves, they're not supposed to eat any of it because it isn't good for them. After they stopped laughing, they would turn and say "that is completely insane." And they'd be right.
With a Perspective, this is Mike Newland.
Mike Newland is an archaeologist with the Anthropological Studies Center at Sonoma State University.