Nutritionists and physicians have started to question milk-drinking, suggesting that many consumers eat far too much dairy. Dr. Michael Klaper has even suggested that milk is just âbaby calf growth fluidâ, designed to âturn a 65 pound calf into a 400 pound cowâ, and that unless you have long ears and a tail, you should never drink the white stuff (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toZ7Mr-ClCE).
In other words, Dr. Klaper argues that cowÂŽs milk should be avoided because it was designed as calf food. But his reasoning is absurd reductionism, because most of what humans eat was meant to be something else, not people food. Wheat grains were intended to be seed, not flour. Honey is supposed to tide the hive over the lean season, not to be added to pastry. Fish certainly did not evolve so that people could make sushi.
Before agriculture, all humans were hunters-and-gatherers. They ate meat when they could (but seldom as much as people who get their food from the supermarket). They ate a bit of fat (wild animals can be pretty lean). Fish were part of the diet in many places and so were insects in a few areas where other sources of animal protein were scarce. Honey was occasionally on the menu, but no processed sugar. Some grains were eaten, but not much, because large-seeded grasses were not very common in the wild. The ancestral human diet was mostly fruit, nuts, roots, tubers and vegetables, and no milk.
This began to change about 8500 BC when wheat and a handful of other crops were dom
esticated in the Near East (Zohary et al. 2012). Studies at the site of Ăatal HĂŒyĂŒk, in what is now Turkey, suggest that farmers began to domesticate cattle at that same time. But the transition to agriculture was gradual, and early farmers still hunted; most of their meat still came from the wild. Livestock only began to provide most of the meat for Near Eastern farmers about 7500 BC, around 1000 years after the beginning of animal domestication (Helmer and Vigne 2007). It seems that then as now, farmers were adapting gradually, experimenting as they went.
Daniel Helmer (a specialist in the ancient Near East) and Jean-Denis Vigne (a zoo-archaeologist) suggest that during these early centuries of animal rearing, domestic animals were not kept so much for their meat, but for other products like traction, skin, hair, and manure, but most of all for milk. Archaeological evidence (especially remains of milk residues on pottery sherds) suggests that dairying was established by about 7000 BC in the Near East, and by about 5900-5700 BC in Britain, and in central Europe (Helmer and Vigne 2007).
Over the centuries, ancient farmers selected for cows that gave more milk. The modern dairy cow yields around 40 liters of milk a day during the first month of lactation, far more than the calf can drink. Milking allowed farmers to take food from their livestock every day, without killing the animals. The milk was rich in fat and protein, both of which were scarce in early agricultural diets.
There was one problem with ancient dairying; most people could not digest lactose, the natural sugar in milk. Human babies can digest the lactose in their mothersâ milk, but most lose this ability in adulthood.
Humans managed to eat milk products in two ways. One was to make cheese or other fermented products, where the yeast or lacto-bacteria broke down the lactose. The second way: some peoples evolved a genetic ability to absorb lactose, a trait governed by a single, dominant gene. Anthropologist William Durham asked why people would evolve the ability to digest fresh milk, if they could simply make it into easily digestible cheese. There must be a high adaptive advantage to being able to digest fresh milk, since in some populations, e.g. in Northern Europe, nearly 100% of the population has the genetic ability to digest fresh milk. It turns out that fresh milk is rich in vitamin D, which allows easy absorption of calcium. Durham reasons that this conferred a special advantage on people in cold countries, where they did not always get enough sunlight to synthesize their own vitamin D.
It is also possible that when people had been raising cows for centuries, and milk was abundant, people who could drink fresh milk were better fed than their neighbors, and so the milk-drinking gene spread through the population. That is my guess, but there is no doubt that the modern people who can drink milk are the ones whose ancestors tended cows in ancient Europe, Africa or South Asia.
If your ancestors were not dairying folks, you may be lactose intolerant. If you can drink milk, you can thank your forbearers who herded cows and put milk on the table.
Durham, William H. 1991 Coevolution: Genes, Culture and Human Diversity. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Pp. 228-259.
Helmer Daniel and Jean-Denis Vigne 2007 âWas Milk a âSecondary Productâ in the Old World Neolithisation Process? Its Role in the Domestication of Cattle, Sheep and Goats.â Anthropozoologica 42(2):9-40.
Zohary, Daniel, Maria Hopf and Ehud Weiss 2012 Domestication of Plants in the Old World: The Origin and Spread of Domesticated Plants in South-west Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean Basin (Fourth Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Access Agriculture has a small collection of videos for small-scale dairy farmers.
Related blog stories on the prehistory of food
In most countries, men and women have different styles of speaking. But is it possible for a community to have two completely different languages, one for men and one for women, not just for one generation, but sustained for a long time?
If such diglossia (a dual language system) is possible, imagine the decisions one would have to make while engaging with such a community. Makers of educational videos might have to make two soundtracks for a single community. An agricultural extensionist would have to choose which language to use for a talk.
As strange as it may seem, at least one society did come close to having two, gender-based languages, which were spoken over several generations. Â In the 17th century, the people of the Caribbean Island of Dominica told a story that they said took place some generations before the coming of the Europeans, when the islands of the Lesser Antilles had been inhabited by people who spoke an Arawak language. Then the islands were attacked by canoe-loads of men who spoke a Carib language. The invaders killed the local men, and then settled down with the women.
The two languages were extremely different, but the children born after the invasion grew up speaking both of them. All children learned the Arawak language of their mothers, but when the boys became teenagers they started spending more time with the men, and began to speak Carib among themselves. The Islanders developed a version of Carib that became a language for men only.
In 1665, Father Raymond Breton, a French missionary, published a two-volume dictionary of the language then spoken on the islands of Dominica and St. Vincent. The dictionary specified whether each word was used by men, or by women.
Various scholars have questioned the historical accuracy of the Carib invasion story. It is possible that the menâs language originated through trade or migration. Â We will never know if Carib men of the 13th century once rampaged across the island beaches, murdering Arawak men and capturing women. There is no historical or archaeological evidence for (or against) this story. Yet the linguistic data are well documented. There is no doubt that in the 1650s, over much of the Lesser Antilles, men and women spoke in two remarkably different codes. The two genders used the same sounds, and most of the same grammar, but menâs words were from Carib, and womenâs words were from Arawak. (The men could speak the womenâs language, and would speak it when socializing with women. The menâs language was only used between men).
If you could time travel to the Island of Dominica in the 17th century, and were able to speak the full range of menâs and womenâs languages, a talk with the whole community would sooner or later switch to the womenâs language, because it was everyoneâs first tongue.
In agricultural extension today, sometimes it helps to create a space where women can easily speak up, so that their concerns can be addressed. It is easy to start to think that men and women are very different, but it is also worth remembering that in some ways we are the same, and that language can unite us.
Allaire, Louis 1980 âOn the Historicity of Carib Migrations in the Lesser Antilles.â American Antiquity 45(2):238-245.
Boucher, Philip P. 2009 Cannibal Encounters: Europeans and Island Caribs, 1492â1763. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Davis, Dave D. and R. Christopher Goodwin 1990 âIsland Carib Origins: Evidence and Nonevidence.â American Antiquity 55(1):37-48.
Taylor, Douglas 1954 âDiachronic Note on the Carib Contribution to Island Carib.â International Journal of American Linguistics 20(1):28-33.
Taylor, Douglas R. and Berend J. Hoff 1980 âThe Linguistic Repertory of the Island-Carib in the Seventeenth Century: The Men’s Language: A Carib Pidgin?â Â International Journal of American Linguistics 46(4):301-312.
Watch a video on women in agricultural extension, here.
Some countries with deeply contrasting linguistic histories are now becoming literate in similar ways. In Nepal and Malawi reading is becoming more common, as governments set up more schools and encourage girls and boys to attend.
Unlike most of Africa and Asia, Nepal was never formally colonized. The British were content to recognize the kingdom and install a British ministry in 1840 to advise on key issues, especially foreign policy. And the British accepted Nepali soldiers, the famous Gurkhas, into the Indian army.
Malawi was colonized, but fairly late. The Scottish missionary-explorer, David Livingstone ambled across what is now Malawi in 1861. The first traders, the African Lakes Company, set up shop in 1878, in Blantyre, and military conquest was complete by 1890.
A countryâs literary tradition can be old or recent. Nepali has been written from the very start, since the language first evolved from Sanskrit, which itself had a sophisticated writing system by the second millennium BCE. The languages of Malawi (then called âNyasalandâ) were not written until the 1870s when Scottish missionaries devised scripts (âalphabetsâ) to translate the Bible. By the 1890s children were learning to read and write in mission schools. In Malawi, a literary heritage of thousands of years had been compressed into a single generation.
An old literary tradition is not necessarily a democratic one. In Nepal, as late as 1900, only 5% of the population could read. Government schools gradually improved. By 1951 the literacy rate was 39%, rising to 58% in 1991. Some of this effort was motivated by a policy to promote the Nepali language at the expense of the others spoken in the country, many of which are entirely unrelated to Nepali, linguistically.
In Malawi there were never enough mission schools to meet the demand from parents who wanted their children to study. Government schools expanded, especially after independence in 1963. The languages of Malawi are all Bantu tongues, and are all fairly closely related to one another. People learn to read in their own language (e.g. Tumbuka or Yao), besides Chichewa, which is the de facto national language.
The world literacy rate (the percentage of people over 15-years-old who can read), is 86% (83% for women). Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have some of the lowest literacy rates in the world: 65% for Nepal and almost the same for Malawi at 66%. Fewer women are literate, 55% in Nepal and just slightly more, 59%, in Malawi.
I was in Nepal and Malawi this year, and while the school systems are not over-funded, in both countries I was pleasantly surprised to see people reading, even in the countryside. Even people who didnât go to school usually have someone in the household who can read a document to them. In Nepal, shops advertise their wares in writing on the storefront, and in Malawi, roadside grain buyers scrawl their maize and bean prices onto signs, to attract farmer-sellers.
In both countries, when extensionists give farmers a piece of paper, their first reaction is to read it. There is room for improvement, e.g. schools need to be better resourced and more girls and women need to be included, but even in some of the poorest parts of the world many more people can read now than in their parentsâ day. This is an opportunity for communicating agriculture. It means that agencies can write fact sheets for farmers, as long as the writers can avoid jargon. While videos are an important way of reaching women, minorities and other disadvantaged groups, even a DVD of farmer learning videos is enhanced with a bit of writing, such as a cover with a title, and a menu so farmers can choose the videos they want to watch.
World literacy rates have improved so fast that it is much more common for young people to read than for elders (Roser and Ortiz-Ospina 2016). Letâs make sure that this generation of literate farmers has something appropriate to read about agricultural technology.
McCracken, John 2012 A History of Malawi: 1859-1966. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: James Currey. 485 pp.
Roser, Max and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina 2016 âLiteracyâ. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/literacy/
Whelpton, John 2005 A History of Nepal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 296 pp.
Vea la versiĂłn en espaĂ±ol a continuaciĂłn
I like to teach adults, because I learn as much from them as they learn from me.
Last week I taught a writing course to a group of Bolivians (mostly agronomists) in Anzaldo, a small town in Cochabamba department. During the five days, students write a fact sheet on a topic for farmers, and then take a draft to the villages, to gather the farmersâ comments. We call this a âfarmer peer reviewâ. Eric, Paul and I have used this simple method in many countries to get direct feedback from farmers to make the prose clearer and simplify the technology described in the fact sheet.
My eight students wrote five fact sheets. Juan Vallejos and Maura Lazarte co-authored one on how to prepare the seed of tarwi (the Andean lupine with the edible seeds) with practical tips for getting a bigger harvest from farmer-saved seed.
And on the second of August, Juan, Maura and the other adult students showed up in a village called Phinkina, holding a fact sheet in Spanish, written for Quechua-speaking farmers. We could have written the fact sheets in Quechua. Like any human language, Quechua can be written, but few people know how to read this native language. Quechua people who can read, are literate in Spanish.
As always, I had given the students three options.
First, invite the farmers to read the fact sheet.
Second option, if reviewers canât read, read the fact sheet out loud to them exactly as it is written.
Third, if the farmer canât understand the national language (in this case, Spanish), translate the fact sheet for her, word for word, into the local language (Quechua).
But sometimes adult students politely ignore your suggestions. In Phinkina, Juan and Maura went to visit a farmer and her two young daughters. Juan speaks fluent Quechua, and he started by asking the farmer if she would read the fact sheet. She said that she didnât read much, but that she understood some Spanish. But instead of translating the fact sheet, Juan read it to her, one sentence at a time, in Spanish, and then asked her in Quechua what the sentence was about. The farmer began to essentially translate each short sentence into Quechua. It was a systematic way to see which parts of the paper she understood and which phrases needed to be improved.
For example, the farmer explained that she did not understand the difference between âinsecticideâ and âfungicide.â
And she balked at the description of the dessicated grains. Farmers here say that the dried up grains are âsuckedâ (chupados) or âemptyâ (châusus).
Later that afternoon, in the neighboring village of Tijrasqa, I watched Maura use the same method to review the fact sheet with another farmer.
For example, when Maura read that the disease attacks in the âearly stagesâ of the plantâs life, the farmer didnât understand, so Maura explained it.
âWhy not say âjust when the plant comes up?ââ the farmer asked. Simple words are often the most powerful.
During the reading, this second farmer cradled a green, plastic bucket in her arm. Tarwi is one of the main crops here, so the fact sheet on tarwi seed held her attention.
A few steps away, children were dancing in the village school, to honor the memory of 2 August 1953, when the Agrarian Reform was signed, in nearby UcureĂ±a, in the Valle Alto.
The farmerâs bucket was full of chuchusmutâi, which is what tarwi grains are called when they are prepared as a snack food. The farmer had brought them to sell to the parents and teachers at the school. When the farmer finished reviewing the fact sheet she scooped out a generous bag full of chuchusmutâi and proudly handed it to us, as a gift, as though the fact sheet was valuable enough that she wanted to give us something in return.
But we had already been rewarded with the farmersâ suggestions. Later, all the students edited their fact sheets, taking their readersâ ideas on board. The students had learned a valuable lesson about writing for their audience. And I learned a new way to review fact sheets.
You can download fact sheets and videos at www.accessagriculture.org.
If you need help finding a fact sheet, write to me at email@example.com.
APRENDER DE LOS ESTUDIANTES
21 de agosto del 2016, por Jeff Bentley
Me gusta enseĂ±ar a los adultos, porque aprendemos los unos de los otros.
La semana pasada di un curso de redacciĂłn a un grupo de agrĂłnomos y otros profesionales en Anzaldo, un pueblo pequeĂ±o en el departamento de Cochabamba, Bolivia. Durante los cinco dĂas del curso, los estudiantes escriben hojas volantes para campesinos, y luego se las llevan a las comunidades, para recibir los comentarios de los comuneros. Es lo que llamamos una ârevisiĂłn por ĂĄrbitros agricultoresâ. Con Eric y Paul hemos usado este sencillo mĂ©todo en muchos paĂses para obtener la retroalimentaciĂłn directa de los agricultores, la cual nos ayuda a escribir con una prosa mĂĄs clara y simplificar la tecnologĂa que se describe en la hoja volante.
Esa semana, mis ocho estudiantes escribieron cinco hojas volantes. Juan Vallejos y Maura Lazarte eran los co-autores de una sobre cĂłmo preparar la semilla de tarwi (la lupina andina con las semillas comestibles). Incluyeron sugerencias prĂĄcticas sobre cĂłmo cosechar mĂĄs, con la semilla guardada por los agricultores.
AsĂ que el dos de agosto, Juan, Maura y los otros estudiantes adultos llegaron a la comunidad de Phinkina, llevando sus hojas volantes en castellano, escritas para campesinos que hablan quechua. PodrĂamos haber escrito las hojas volantes en quechua. Igual que todo idioma humano, el quechua se puede escribir, pero pocas personas saben leer este idioma nativo. Si alguien que habla quechua puede leer, lee en espaĂ±ol. Â Como siempre, a mis estudiantes adultos les di tres opciones.
Primero, invitar a los campesinos a leer la hoja volante.
Segunda opciĂłn, si los ĂĄrbitros no saben leer, lean la hoja volante para ellos en voz alta, tal como estĂĄ escrita.
Tercero, si la agricultora no entiende el idioma nacional (en este caso, espaĂ±ol), traduzca la hoja volante para ella, palabra por palabra, en el idioma local (quechua).
Felizmente, mis estudiantes adultos no siembre me hacen caso. En Phinkina, Juan y Maura visitaron a una campesina con sus dos hijitas. Juan habla fluidamente el quechua, y comenzĂł preguntando a la agricultora si estarĂa dispuesta a leer la hoja volante. Ella respondiĂł que no sabĂa leer mucho, pero que sĂ entendĂa algo del castellano. Pero en vez de traducir la hoja volante, Juan se la leyĂł, una oraciĂłn a la vez, en espaĂ±ol, y luego le preguntĂł en quechua de quĂ© se trataba la oraciĂłn. La agricultora empezĂł a mĂĄs o menos traducir las cortas oraciones al quechua. Era una manera sistemĂĄtica de ver quĂ© partes de la hoja volante ella entendĂa y cuĂĄles frases habĂa que mejorarse.
Por ejemplo, la agricultora explicĂł que no entendĂa la diferencia entre âinsecticidaâ y âfungicida.â
RechazĂł la descripciĂłn de los granos desecados. AquĂ los campesinos los llaman âchupadosâ o âchâususâ (vacĂos) a esos granos.
MĂĄs tarde, en la comunidad vecina de Tijrasqa, estuve presente cuando Maura usĂł el mismo mĂ©todo para revisar su hoja volante con otro agricultor.
Por ejemplo, cuando Maura leyĂł que la enfermedad ataca en las âprimeras etapasâ del cultivo, la agricultora no entendiĂł, asĂ que Maura se le explicĂł.
âÂżPor quĂ© no decir âapenas que salga la planta?ââ preguntĂł la agricultora. Las palabras mĂĄs sencillas frecuentemente son las mĂĄs poderosas.
Durante la lectura, esta segunda agricultora tenĂa en las manos un balde de plĂĄstico verde. Tarwi es uno de los cultivos principales aquĂ, por lo tanto la hoja volante le captĂł la atenciĂłn.
A unos pasos, los niĂ±os bailaban en su colegio, en honor a la memoria del 2 de agosto del 1953, cuando se firmĂł la Ley de la Reforma Agraria, no muy lejos de aquĂ, en UcureĂ±a, en el Valle Alto.
El balde estaba lleno de chuchusmutâi, que son los granos de tarwi preparados para comer como un bocadillo. La agricultora los habĂa traĂdo para vender a los pares y profesores del colegio. Cuando la agricultora terminĂł de revisar la hoja volante, llenĂł su tutuma de chuchusmutâi y orgullosamente nos regalĂł una porciĂłn generosa, como si la hoja volante fuera tan valiosa que ella querĂa agradecernos con algo.
Pero nosotros ya habĂamos sido premiados, con las sugerencias de la gente local. MĂĄs tarde, los estudiantes adultos editaron sus hojas volantes, tomando en cuenta las ideas de sus lectores. Los estudiantes aprendieron una lecciĂłn valiosa sobre cĂłmo escribir para su audiencia. Y yo aprendĂ una nueva manera de revisar las hojas volantes.
Se puede bajar hojas volantes y videos en la pĂĄgina www.accessagriculture.org.
Si le puedo ayudar a encontrar una hoja volante, escrĂbame al firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reefer (a marijuana cigarette) is the perfect example of a common word with an unknown origin. I heard Richard Diebold say this several times. He was an eminent historical linguist (and one of my mentors). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language noted that the etymology of âreeferâ was obscure, but that it might come from the phrase âto reef (i.e. roll up) a sail.â Diebold found this unconvincing. Iâve since learned where the word âreeferâ really does come from, but first, a bit of history.
Marijuana is an old crop, native to Central Asia, where it still grows wild (pictured), and cultivated in China at least 4500 years ago (Zohary et al 2012). It came to the Americas with the early colonists, and it was called âhempâ (or cĂĄĂ±amo, in Spanish). Hemp was grown for fiber, to make sails and rope. The word âmarijuanaâ or âmarihuanaâ is a Mexican invention, according to the authoritative Diccionario de la Real Academia de la Lengua EspaĂ±ola, a major reference for Spanish etymology.
Hemp and marijuana are the same species of plant, but there are many different varieties. In the USA, recreational marijuana arrived with Mexican immigrants in the 1920s, following the end of the catastrophic Mexican revolution. The word marijuana was loaned into American English about then. The word âreeferâ was well enough established to be used in the title of the 1936 propaganda film Reefer Madness, which sought to discourage marijuana smoking; the movie was so loaded with errors it became a classic in the annals of disinformation.
In Honduras in the 1980s, I realized that âreeferâ came from grifa, a synonym in Spanish for marijuana. I wanted to publish the idea, but I was too much of a coward to publish on an illegal crop. Spanish makes some sense as the origin of reefer. After all, some of the other words describing marijuana are also from Spanish: such as âsin semillaâ for seedless marijuana (female plants produced in isolation from male plants to produce lots of drug-rich resin), and âtokeâ for a hit, from toque.
I am only now getting up the nerve to write about reefer, and I am almost too late. By 2016 the American Heritage Dictionary has stopped repeating the old story about reefing up a shipâs sails, but it still says that the etymology of reefer is obscure. Wiktionary, a collaborative dictionary written by readers (www.wiktionary.org), does say that reefer is from grifa, but stops there. The Real Academia corroborates; âgrifaâ does mean marijuana, but only in the Americas. And thatâs where the books end.
The Honduran campesinos not only use âgrifaâ to mean marijuana. The term is rich in other meanings. As an adjective, âgrifoâ means ruffled, or fluffy, for example when weed seeds stick to your trouser legs after walking through a field of maize: one is said to âsalir de la milpa con el pantalĂłn grifo de mozote.â The verb engrifarse means to ruffle up oneâs own feathers, the way birds fluff up their feathers to look big.
So âgrifaâ (the feminine form of âgrifoâ) is a perfect way to describe a bud of marijuana, which is fluffy, feathery or ruffled. The word âgrifoâ in turn comes from standard Spanish, and it is the name of the mythical gryphon, with the head of a lion and the body of a ruffled eagle.
The other thing they say about marijuana in Honduras is that it turns your head grifo or fuzzy, which is a good reason not to smoke it, at least not every day.
I wish Diebold was still around to hear this story. He spoke Spanish well and would have appreciated the real origin of reefer. Crops need names and it was always going to be more likely that the etymology of reefer came from the land and farmers rather than from the sea and sailors.
Bentley, Jeffery W. 2001 Diccionario Campesino HondureĂ±o. Ceiba 42(2).
PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) 2014 âMarijuana Timeline.â PBS Frontline.
Zohary, Daniel, Maria Hopf and Ehud Weiss 2012 Domestication of Plants in the Old World: The Origin and Spread of Domesticated Plants in South-west Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean Basin (Fourth Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.