Fast forward to the present and we find ourselves in a well-fed country, where starvation is almost unheard of. The vast majority of Americans will never know the throbbing pangs of hunger, but they're well acquainted with the discomfort of a brimming, bloated belly.
In this modern age of plenty, we no longer worry about what to eat. Now, we agonize over what not to eat. Since starvation is no longer a threat to our survival, food itself is the new hazard. And born from the luxury of a full stomach, anti-science and alarmist beliefs have grown into prominence.
Outspoken activists urge us to avoid all manner of eatable evils -- dairy, gluten, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for example. Live life "dairy-free," "gluten-free," or "GMO-free," they declare. I never realized that milk, bread, and corn had me in chains.
Critics of dairy argue that it's linked to heart disease, prostate cancer, obesity, and other health problems. These statements are overblown and often supported with small studies that apply only to those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to milk. Make no mistake, if you're allergic to dairy or are lactose intolerant, you shouldn't eat or drink dairy. But for the rest of us, it's probably okay.
For most people, gluten is just fine as well. There's nothing inherently bad about it. Moreover, gluten-free diets aren't necessarily healthier, nor do they aid in weight loss. If you're concerned that you may have a gluten intolerance, have your doctor test for Celiac's Disease. A recent study also showed that gluten sensitivity in people without Celiac's could be an issue, but the underlying causes are not yet understood.
GMOs are similarly innocuous, according to the scientific organizations whose job it is to mold good science into informed policy. The American Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Science, the World Health Organization, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency are a few of the many respected agencies backing GMOs, basing their support on the best, most reputable data that scientists have to offer.
Whether it's dairy-free, gluten-free, or GMO-free, pseudoscientific dietary fads have given rise to a cadre of firm believers who will contend that -- whatever their solution -- it instantly made them "feel better." Yes, I'm sure that placebo is working wonders.
Frankly, I'm happy for the people who've discovered their dietary niche. But, I also have a message for the crusaders out there: dismount off your high horses, stop nit-picking scientific studies, and quit trying to convert the masses. Be more like Novak Djokovic, the tennis champion whose meteoric ascendance began after his transition to a gluten-free diet. "Gluten is good," he says. "It just might not be good for you."
Fair enough. But personally, I prefer the scientifically supported route, concurrently in step with humanity's evolutionarily-selected omnivory. Eat a little bit of everything, even the "bad" stuff, all in moderation. Don't forget to stay active, as well!
Or you can choose the pseudoscientific path of the alarmist: Stringently avoid dairy (unless it's raw), gluten (even if you're not a Celiac), GMOs (Frankenfoods, oh my!), and especially anything that's processed. That leaves a very slim selection of food, but at least you'll be safe from whatever there is to be afraid of.
Allow me to recommend a delicious staple for this persnickety diet: lentil soup. Organic, of course!
(Lentil soup is actually amazingly healthy and delicious.)
(Image: Evil Cabbage via Shutterstock)