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May 18, 2009

Food, Mood, Cooking, Evo-Bio

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* A podcast inteview with the brilliant Gregory Cochran. Access all five parts of our own recent interview with Cochran here. Buy "The 10,000 Year Explosion," the fascinating book Greg wrote with Henry Harpending, here.

* Maybe people would do better if they skipped the "therapy" thing and just got onto a yoga mat.

* Are dogs more like people than chimps are? "In my view, pet dogs can be regarded in many respects as 'preverbal infants in canine's clothing'," says a researcher.

* Who's happy?

* Alex Birch thinks you should start cooking for yourself.

* Tom Naughton has begun posting some outtakes from his superb and very entertaining low-carb documentary "Fat Head." Excellent and informative stuff. Read our interviews with Tom here, here, and here.

* Fab info enlighteningly presented:



posted by Michael at May 18, 2009


Totally agree that people would do better with yoga than with therapy. Maybe a little therapy after a nice yoga session in the beginning, because at that point you're in the perfect state, highly aware (physically and mentally), relaxed and energized. I know, hippy crap. If fucking works.

Posted by: JV on May 18, 2009 1:52 PM

"In my view, pet dogs can be regarded in many respects as 'preverbal infants in canine's clothing'," says a researcher."

Exactly why I don't want a dog. I've raised preverbal infants, and will happily deal with them again when (if) I have grandkids.

Posted by: Steve W on May 18, 2009 3:02 PM

"...and old men tend to be happier than old women."

Sure, because the old women tend to be cooking and cleaning for the old men.

Posted by: Steve W on May 18, 2009 3:05 PM

Concerning aging: there has been a fascinating ongoing study of a group of Harvard undergraduates of the class of '35 or '36. Which means they, those still living, are in their 80s now.

Anyway, I saw a short interview with the academic who has devoted his whole life to this "longitudinal" study. He said one thing that rang totally true to me. The time of maximum stress in the lives of these men was the period between ages 25 and 35. They had youth, health and great energy. So what was the problem? The problem was terror: terror that they would not make it, that they would not achieve the position in life commensurate with their internal standard of what constituted success. This was the cause of immense stress. And unhappiness. By age 45 they had made it, most of them, and much greater happiness followed. Those who didn't make it? Well, some cracked, cracked utterly, to the point of suicide. But most had gained enough distance from themselves by that age to be able to come to grips with their lesser status.

I really think this is the key to the happiness of older men. The battle has been fought. You've won or lost. The sea is much less choppy.

Posted by: ricpic on May 18, 2009 7:42 PM

I'm 26. I can definitely relate to what ricpic said regarding the stresses of being in between 25-35.

Posted by: t;hehova on May 18, 2009 11:16 PM

Maybe people would do better if they skipped the "therapy" thing and just got onto a yoga mat.

Regarding the whole "psychotherapy" business, is there actually any scientific evidence that anything sold under this moniker has any validity and usefulness at all? This yoga stuff from the Time article seems like just another chapter in the grand tradition of faddish "psychotherapeutic" charlatanism that was started by Freud more than a century ago. Honestly, I can't think of any other academically respectable field that is filled with superstition and blatant pseudoscientific quackery to such an extent, but I am curious if some valid insights or useful procedures could perhaps be filtered out of the whole rotten heap of nonsense.

Posted by: Vladimir on May 19, 2009 12:24 AM

On the topic of happiness and aging, if you want to enjoy your happy old age, you'd better cut out the sugar. When researchers study centenarians or other long-lived people, that's one of the recurring findings: no sugar in the diet.

Posted by: agnostic on May 19, 2009 12:44 AM

"This yoga stuff" is basically physical exercise, so don't worry Vlad, you can do it and not turn gay, commie or both.

Posted by: JV on May 19, 2009 2:09 AM

"Centenarians all cut out sugar?"
Starting from the oldest:

Jeanne Calment: Oft remarked for her deep enjoyment of Chocolate and Port Wine.
Shigechiyo Izumi: Drank Brown Sugar Shochu everyday
Sarah Knauss: Loved to eat chocolate turtles (and potato chips for that matter)

Those are just the three oldest people ever, so why bother going through more?

Not to mention that in the Okinawan Centenarian Study, one of the largest of it's kind, found Okinawan Sweet Potato as part of the staple diet for most people in it's study. (just a short version, not the full report)

Boiled down? Living to a ripe old age is the result of good genetics, not stuffing yourself with food (be it fat or carb, balanced or unbalanced) and having an active life.
Surprise, surprise.

Another foolish myth destroyed by data, eh?

Posted by: Spike Gomes on May 19, 2009 2:32 AM


"This yoga stuff" is basically physical exercise, so don't worry Vlad, you can do it and not turn gay, commie or both.

Um, yes, but the article is about the supposed beneficial effects of "yoga therapy" on all sorts of mental conditions, from stress and depression to PTSD and schizophrenia. These are some mighty strong claims, and considering the whole history of psychotherapy, which can be safely described as a long tradition of pseudoscience and quackery (except perhaps for a few occasional findings of empirically validated methods), I certainly wouldn't give any benefit of the doubt to the newest fad in such an area. Of course, the New Age claptrap about the "layers of consciousness" and the like doesn't help either.

What I find sadly ironic when I read articles like the above one from Time is that people who fall for these fads would probably scoff at their ancestors who put similar faith in the healing power of, say, the relics of saints. Plus ├ža change...

Posted by: Vladimir on May 19, 2009 2:53 AM

I think linking dogs to 16-month-old kids does a disservice to the special qualities of a good dog.

I do wonder about the source of a dog's "courage." I've taken my 14 pound dog to the beach and called her as I was standing in 3-foot breakers and she makes an attempt to get out to me.

She's a very peaceful dog who will stop playing/fighting with you if you say "ouch." When she thought my girlfriend was being menaced by a 180-pound guy, she bit him. She then ran into the bathroom and hid by the toilet shaking which gives you an idea how much it took for her to make the initial attack. You gotta love that kind of loyalty.


Posted by: sN on May 19, 2009 3:49 AM

Spunk, it's no wonder you flunked out of school with cherry-picking that would be embarrassing even in a sophomore term paper.

Okinawans don't rely on sweet potatoes -- they rely on boatloads of pork, along with fish stock. The report explains that the old people have very low levels of oxidation of lipids in the blood -- which is primarily caused by increasing the carb content of your diet, and kept in check by increasing any fat other than omega-6 polyunsaturated in the diet. Nice try, though.

A brief trip to WalMart will show you what happens to true sweet tooths.

Posted by: agnostic on May 19, 2009 3:51 AM

Btw, as a devoted humanitarian, I figured I'd pass along some dietary advice that'll help with your persistent suicidal thoughts -- cholesterol below 160 is a strong predictor of depression and suicide.

So, have some sardines and hard-boiled eggs, and maybe you can end up making something of yourself, kid.

Posted by: agnostic on May 19, 2009 4:07 AM


Your utter ignorance of history is showing again.

Okinawa was/is reknown for it's pork dishes, though it wasn't until the 1950s when it became common table fare outside festivals/holidays and the households of pechin and other landowners.

In fact Okinawa was best known for having the poorest people in all Japan well into the Meiji and even Taisho and Showa. Not like Appalachian poor, like famine and forced migration to Micronesia poor.

Secondly, if you've ever eaten rafute (the famous Okinawan pork dish, it's fairly slathered in a sauce made of awamori and... you guessed it, brown sugar.

Thirdly, I love how you accuse me of cherry picking data when I quote from the largest study of centenarians ever conducted. I didn't deny that the Okinawans eat pork fat and fatty tuna belly. They do. They also eat loads of sweet potatos. No matter what you say, it's as much part of their traditional diet as pork is (along with horror of horrors pressed sugar cane juice and brown sugar)

This study, which again, I mention is the largest of it's kind conducted over a long period with very exacting detail, says nothing about a lack of dietary sugar having anything to do with Okinawan longevity.

I'll take the best scientific minds of Japan doing extensive years of long fieldwork over some guy who thinks science is asking loaded questions and sifting arbitrary search engine results between posting pictures of underage camwhores lifted off of jailbait pic sites.

Fourthly, you're the one who made the claim that researchers say "No sugar is key" in all research on the subject. I posted the main damn study on it, and such a claim nowhere to be found, in fact it's indirectly contradicted by the findings of the traditional Okinawan diet. I bet if I dug up the New England Centenarian study, it wouldn't be there either.

In light of that, the pattern of anecdotal evidence from just the three oldest people *ever* (not a handpicked selection of centenarians, but just a tick-off list of the top three) is just gravy, or perhaps sweet sauce on top of stewed Okinawan Pork, if you will.

Face it.
You're full of shit and have as much scientific credibility on the subject of diet as Velikovsky does on Astrophysics, and I don't need to call you silly names or publicly post your personal medical history to discredit you as the unread, ignorant poltroon who believes anonymous online braggadocio can make an adequate substitute for basic methodological competence and getting facts straight.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on May 19, 2009 11:16 AM

Boys, boys -- Your antler-clacking has the female visitors cheering like the crowd at Chippendale's. But, just for fun, why not see if you can disagree vigorously while remaining at least halfway civil? It's a fun skill to master in its own right, and it can also make life oh so much easier.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 19, 2009 11:45 AM

Yep, that is right on the money. I'm 45, and so so much happier than I was even 5 years ago. I spent way too much time obsessing over crap that never amounted to anything when I was in my 20s & 30s. Now I feel like I've had an enormous burden lifted. My wife has also gone through this transition.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on May 19, 2009 1:38 PM

Spike Gomes:

I didn't deny that the Okinawans eat pork fat and fatty tuna belly. They do. They also eat loads of sweet potatos. No matter what you say, it's as much part of their traditional diet as pork is (along with horror of horrors pressed sugar cane juice and brown sugar)

I don't know anything about the traditional diet of Okinawans, but Agnostic's claim that pork has been their traditional staple food strikes me as utterly absurd. Such an idea might come only from someone who has no clue about what agriculture used to look like before the modern industrial farming. Having meat of any sort as the staple food has traditionally been possible only for hunter-gatherers and inhabitants of huge, sparsely populated lands suitable for extensive cattle farming (like e.g. beef in Argentina). The idea that enough pigs could be raised by peasants in a small island like Okinawa to make it a staple dish is outright silly.

In my native corner of Eastern Europe, pigs would traditionally be slaughtered and roasted only for a few major occasions each year (i.e. holidays and weddings), and the whole village would slaughter pigs en masse in the fall to produce sausages, bacon, etc. for the winter. There was certainly no pork on the table regularly for ordinary peasants. The customs in Okinawa have probably been different, especially considering the climate, but there's no way they could possibly grow more pigs per capita.

Posted by: Vladimir on May 19, 2009 3:09 PM

Some ultra-serious working dogs:


Posted by: icr on May 19, 2009 6:39 PM


Do note that I'm quite able to be civil in my disagreements with others here and in other places. Can you say the same as to the other person involved looking at his posting history? Remember what he called your choice in computers for no reason at all?

My initial response was also civil. I only went nasty after he posted my personal information as an afterthought yet again on a thread where it has no bearing at all.

Put yourself in my shoes, MB. Would you be able to remain completely civil if your unrelated personal dirty laundry from years ago got dumped out wherever and whenever you dared to contradict the findings of someone?

I am aware of the whole "Well, he started it." tone of this reply, however, I frankly think he's punching much farther below the belt than I am, and I'm holding back on sinking to that level.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on May 19, 2009 7:37 PM

Vladimir, there's an interesting story in Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour about Basques slaughtering a pig (a big boar) for a feast. It was a hugely difficult business, and it was obvious that it wasn't the kind of thing that was done daily.

So it sounds to me like your pork-as-staple-is-fracking-absurd point is backed up by even modern-day difficulties at making it such.

Posted by: PatrickH on May 19, 2009 8:48 PM


Vladimir, there's an interesting story in Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour about Basques slaughtering a pig (a big boar) for a feast. It was a hugely difficult business, and it was obvious that it wasn't the kind of thing that was done daily.

Actually, back in the fatherland (Bosnia/Croatia), I've been present to several such occasions myself, so I know very well what it looks like. :) It's indeed very labor-intensive. During the regular yearly pig slaughter in the fall, numerous family members and friends gather at the house at which the slaughter is done that day, so that the work can be completed in one day, and people rotate helping each other through the slaughter season. Despite lots of work, it's a cheerful and enjoyable occasion, and the work progresses in a relaxed atmosphere, with plenty of food, drinking, and merriment. If you want to see what it looks like in practice (and you're not squeamish), google for "Moldavian pig slaughter" any you'll get a website with some nice pictures and commentary (I'm not from there, but it's very similar in the Balkans). Sadly, the EU-mandated regulations will likely put an end to this custom in the near future.

From the economic perspective of traditional peasants, there are two ways in which pigs are useful. First, sometimes individual pigs are slaughtered ad hoc to provide meat for a festivity (Christmas, Easter, a wedding in the family, the feast day of an important saint, etc.). This is usually done with sucklings, not the fattened larger pigs, and it's a luxury reserved for a handful of special occasions, not a part of the regular diet. Second, grown pigs are fattened through the year, with substantial investment into their feeding, and slaughtered before the winter. These pigs are made mostly into ham, bacon, sausages, and other non-perishable products to enhance the otherwise poor winter diet. You'd be amazed how almost every part of the pig except the bones and hooves can be made into something edible (and in fact, quite delicious).

Thus, fresh pork has traditionally been a luxury, not a part of the staple diet. In a non-industrial society, pigs are very expensive to feed, and there's no way ordinary peasants could feast on pork regularly. Even those pigs that are regularly fattened and slaughtered in the fall season are an investment for the production of non-perishable supplies, not sources of fresh pork. What I wrote holds for the traditional life of European peasants, but I'm sure it's similar in other places where pigs are grown.

Posted by: Vladimir on May 19, 2009 11:28 PM

Recently, folks wanted a commenter (Chris White, I believe?) and Shouting Thomas to have a drink together. I'd like to see Spike and Agnostic have a drink together, break the bottles on the bar and go at it.
Blowhard Gladiators.

I get valuable information from seeing a person's vicious side if they have one.

Oh and I got a hundred bucks on Spike.
"Gut the bastard" (just kidding).


Posted by: sN on May 19, 2009 11:41 PM


The pigs are a bit smaller on Okinawa, and pickling was the only way to preserve anything long past slaughtering time, so the stuff that ended up not being immediately used was stuff like ears, trotters, snouts and the like. Hardly the fat rich portions. The process was communal and happened at various points in the year.

I've been around slaughtered hogs before (wild though, not domesticated). Folks don't know what a pain the ass it is to drain the blood from them and gut them. Delaguan is delicious, though. I'm sure Shouting Thomas can back me up on that one.


I don't fight anymore, and I'm not often in situations when I'm tempted to. You get over it as you age, as 99% of the time it was some stupid crap, and the concussion on the last one nearly killed me. It doesn't help that I'm bad at it. Got my ass handed to me everytime it happened. We can't all be like PA, ya know? I had the misfortune of getting the Filipino/Chinese physical build rather than the Hawaiian/Portuguese side.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on May 20, 2009 9:32 AM

"...and old men tend to be happier than old women."

Old women can't have children.
Old men can but needn't.

Posted by: dearieme on May 20, 2009 1:50 PM

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