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(Paleolithic Diet vs. Vegetarianism--continued, Part 2A)

Fire and Cooking in Human Evolution,
Rates of Genetic Adaptation to Change,
Hunter-Gatherers, and Diseases in the Wild

Part 2 of our Visit with Ward Nicholson
Copyright © 1998 by Ward Nicholson. All rights reserved.
Contact author for permission to republish.

First published in the printed version of Chet Day's HEALTH & BEYOND newsletter,
December 1996. Chet's website is located at:

See clickable TABLE OF CONTENTS for Part 2.
(HIGHLY RECOMMENDED in order to find what you want
quickly, as interview is lengthy.)

Note: Be sure to check the [Updates to Part 2] before prematurely attributing
specific views to the author based only on the original section of this interview,
which was first published in 1996. In the original article, asterisks have been
inserted to mark points about which the author's views may have changed somewhat.
A quick outline of the updates can be found in the Table of Contents.

I N T R O D U C T O R Y   R E M A R K S

The text of the interview is republished here much as it originally appeared in Chet Day's Health & Beyond newsletter, with a few small modifications necessary for the present web version. See the introductory remarks to Part 1 of the interview for specifics.

For those unfamiliar, the term "Natural Hygiene," which appears periodically in these interviews, is a health philosophy emphasizing a diet of mostly raw-food vegetarianism, primarily fruits, vegetables, and nuts, although for revisionists eating some cooked food, it can also include significant supplementary amounts of grains, legumes, and tubers.

Ward transferred coordinatorship of the Natural Hygiene M2M to long-time member Bob Avery in 1997, and is no longer associated with the Natural Hygiene movement. To learn more about the N.H. M2M (now called the Natural Health M2M), or for information about getting a sample copy, you can find out more here.

Knowledge gap in vegetarian community
about evolutionary data/implications

Health & Beyond: In Part 1 of our interview, you discussed the extensive evidence showing that primitive human beings as well as almost all of the primates today have included animal foods such as flesh or insects in their diets. Why haven't Natural Hygienists and other vegetarians looked into all this information?

Ward Nicholson: My guess is that: (1) Most aren't aware that paleoanthropologists have by now assembled a considerable amount of data about our evolutionary past related to diet. But more importantly, I think it has to do with psychological barriers, such as: (2) Many Hygienists assume they don't have to look because the subjective "animal model" for raw-food naturalism makes it "obvious" what our natural diet is, and therefore the paleontologists' evidence must therefore be in error, or biased by present cultural eating practices. Or: (3) They don't want to look, perhaps because they're afraid of what they might see.

Many Hygienists identify the system mostly with certain dietary details, even though the system itself flows from principles independent of those details. I think in spite of what most Natural Hygienists will tell you, they are really more wedded to certain specific details of the Hygienic system that remain prevalent (i.e., raw-food vegetarianism, food combining, etc.) than they are truly concerned with whether those details follow logically from underlying Hygienic principles. The basic principle of Natural Hygiene is that the body is a self-maintaining, self-regulating, self-repairing organism that naturally maintains its own health when it is given food and other living conditions appropriate to its natural biological adaptation.

In and of itself, this does not tell you what foods to eat. That has to be determined by a review of the best evidence we have available. So while the principles of Hygiene as a logical system do not change, our knowledge of the appropriate details that follow from those principles may and probably will change from time to time--since science is a process of systematically elucidating more "known" information from what used to be unknown. Thus the accuracy of our knowledge is to some extent time-based, dependent on the accumulation of evidence to provide a more inclusive view of "truth" which unfortunately is probably never absolute, but--as far as human beings are concerned--relative to the state of our knowledge. Science simply tries to bridge the knowledge gap. And a hallmark of closing the knowledge gap through scientific discovery is openness to change and refinements based on the accumulation of evidence. Open-mindedness is really openness to change. Just memorizing details doesn't mean much in and of itself. It's how that information is organized, or seen, or interpreted, or related to, that means something.

Hygienic and vegan diets are a significant restriction of the diet(s) on which humans evolved. What's interesting to me is that the evolutionary diet is not so starkly different from the Hygienic diet. Much of it validates important elements of the Hygienic view. It is very similar in terms of getting plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, some nuts and seeds, and so forth, except for the addition of the smaller role of flesh and other amounts of animal food (at least compared to the much larger role of plant foods) in the diet. It's one exception. We have actually done fairly well in approximating humanity's "natural" or "original" diet, except we have been in error about this particular item, and gotten exceedingly fundamentalist about it when there is nothing in the body of Hygienic principles themselves that would outlaw meat if it's in our evolutionary adaptation.

Avowed Shelton loyalists are actually the ones who have most ignored his primary directive. But for some reason, even though Natural Hygiene is not based on any "ethical" basis for vegetarianism (officially at least), this particular item seems to completely freak most Hygienists out. Somehow we have made a religion out of dietary details that have been the hand-me-downs of past Hygienists working with limited scientific information. They did the best they could given the knowledge they had available to them then, and we should be grateful for their hard work. But today the rank and file of Natural Hygiene has largely forgotten Herbert Shelton's rallying cry, "Let us have the truth, though the heavens fall."

Natural Hygiene was alive and vital in Shelton's time because he was actively keeping abreast of scientific knowledge and aware of the need to modify his previous views if scientific advances showed them to be inadequate. But since Shelton retired from the scene, many people in the mainstream of Hygiene have begun to let their ideas stagnate and become fossilized. The rest of the dietary world is beginning to pass us by in terms of scientific knowledge.

Only two insights remain that are still somewhat unique to Natural Hygiene. As I see it, there remain only two things Natural Hygiene grasps that the rest of the more progressive camps in the dietary world still don't:

But the newer branch of science called "darwinian medicine" is slowly beginning (albeit with certain missteps) to grasp the principle of self-healing, or probably more correctly, at least the understanding that degenerative diseases arise as a result of behavior departing from what our evolutionary past has adapted us to. They see the negative side of how departing from our natural diet and environment can result in degenerative disease, but they do not understand that the reverse--regenerating health by returning to our pristine diet and lifestyle, without drugs or other "crutches"--is also possible, again, within certain limits, but those limits are less than most people believe.

In some ways, though, Hygiene now resembles a religion as much as it does science, because people seem to want "eternal" truths they can grab onto with absolute certainty. Unfortunately, however, knowledge does not work that way. Truth may not change, but our knowledge of it certainly does as our awareness of it shifts or expands. Once again: The principles of Hygiene may not change, but the details will always be subject to refinement.


(The Rift in the Natural Hygiene Movement Over Raw vs. Cooked Foods)

Return to beginning of interviews



GO TO PART 1 - Setting the Record Straight on Humanity's Prehistoric Diet and Ape Diets

GO TO PART 2 - Fire and Cooking in Human Evolution

GO TO PART 3 - The Psychology of Idealistic Diets / Successes & Failures of Vegetarian Diets

Back to Frank Talk by Long-Time Insiders

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