Friday, November 5, 2010

Bad Idea Fridays: Bonobo Diet

I was raised by former hippies, so when I have a bad idea, I don't stifle it like a normal person. I do science to it, and C comes home to find a terrible mess and a wife with a slightly perplexed expression. How do you know that it's a bad idea until you try it? Common sense is just an excuse for laziness.

But since I'm getting older and wiser, I will recognize that some of these ideas are likely to be... unwise. Then, I will do them anyways. I will write a post about them. Who doesn't read blogs for the schadenfreude?


In recent years, there's been a rash of dietary nostalgia. Michael Pollan- who I am somewhat ambivalent about, despite naming my blog after one of his ideas- says you shouldn't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't eat. My family already had that policy, but that's because she possibly poisoned her first husband. Before that, there was the What Would Jesus Eat diet- basically a Mediterranean thing, looting the moldering WWJD corpse for one more dollar. And now, now there's the Caveman diet. It's based on a very 1960s version of Paleolithic life, interestingly enough. I would have expected more quail and rabbit and partially mature eggs- possibly the odd lizard- and an absurd emphasis on radical shifts in food based on the season. They seem to eat a lot of ground beef. But the principle- that your body evolved eating certain things, so possibly you should eat like that now- that seems interesting.

But come on, the stuff they're referring to is 100,000 years old, tops. You might grab a couple of extra enzymes to break down gluten and lactose, but you still have the intestines- and general biochemistry- of a chimp. Thus, the bonobo diet.

My goal- to spend one day eating a reasonable approximation of a chimp- or bonobo's- natural diet. This is probably a bad idea.

First things first- I am bad at finding termites. Even when I'm getting paid to look under rocks, I don't find many. And I'm pretty sure that I'm not willing to eat them without someone telling me that they are cuisine. Dried shrimp though- they're in the same... Phylum. I don't think I can do any better on short notice. I will also not hunt bush babies. Dialium is closely related to Phaseolus- so, I'll eat some dry turtle beans. (Don't worry about my teeth- the preferred method is to let them sit in the cheek until they disintegrate.) Ficus is easy- I bought some figs. I'll bet that will be the tastiest part of this experiment. Chimps apparently extract moisture from a whole range of herbs in families I don't know- but there's a fleshy Brassicaceae in there, and an honest to goodness wild parsley. No drinking water. As for the other fruits that are the backbone of the chimpanzee diet- Lost Crops of Africa calls Pancovia laurentii "so delicious in its native state that there was no reason to domesticate it." All the other fruits are apparently not eaten by humans. I've found some polite treatises on not buying these rain forest woods- but that's all. Double figs, then.


I didn't make it past lunch.

I started off well enough. I ate a couple of figs, (it's kinda past the best part of fig season) a couple of dried shrimp (Not bad, and made me popular with the cats. Odoriferous though.) I finished with a couple of kale stems (very chewy) and a large handful of parsley (good for shrimp breath). Apparently chimps hold a wad of vegetation in one cheek, masticate it slowly, and suck out the resulting moisture. This is as disgusting as it sounds. I tried it at work- after one minute, I realized that I couldn't continue to do this once my coworkers arrived- green drool is not professional. After three, I spat out my cud and made myself some tea. My jaw muscles ached.

Fine, yes, chimps have significantly larger and stronger jaw muscles. I knew that. And the huge cheeks are apparent from pictures. I didn't know there was a reason. All my reading about primates covers how they are just like us. Freaking deceptive evolutionary biologists.

So I figured I'd try sucking on two or three beans with my tiny cheeks. Let me tell you- raw beans taste gross. And there's a point where you can crunch them with your teeth or swallow them whole- my saliva enzymes never get them soft enough to chew safely. Or not after 45 minutes.

I ate some more figs. They're kinda tasteless in November. Also they make my tongue swell. I don't know if that's a me thing. Eventually- in a point familiar to anyone who's ever been on a "Eat all the X you like and lose weight"- I was desperately hungry and completely unwilling to eat a fig.

I went home for lunch. I ate a couple of dried shrimp. Then the cat explained- through interpretive dance- that he could eat those shrimp, and I could eat something else. So I did. I had a grilled cheese sandwich on wheat bread with a glass of Coke. Haha, evolutionary biology.

This diet was definitely a bad idea. I may have the intestines of a chimp, but I have a puny human jaw and weak human teeth and itty-bitty human cheeks. Also, I grew up in a world with ample calories. Eating no calorie dense foods makes me very very cross. I can't think of one good aspect of this idea.

Oh, apparently I now have the perfect cat treat.

1 comment:

  1. This is a fantastic idea for a series. It's the angry, bastard child of humor and lifestyle blogs!