Why are we so fat in rural settings? – Part 3 – Our Ancestry!

Prince Edward Island, where I live, has a very high obesity rate. So do many rural parts of America and of cource the rest of Atlantic Canada.

We have looked at why there is an physical environmental difference between cities and the rural and we have looked at the social environment where our friends influence how we look.

But why is the rate of obesity and related illness SO MUCH worse in certain types of rural settings? Now we are going to look at who we are as people.

The issue here is in our ancestral heritage. Those of us who live in rural Canada and the rural US tend to come from a heritage that is only recently exposed to agriculture.

PEI and Atlantic Canada are settled mainly by Scots Irish. So is the large Appalachian region of the US. It is mainly here in Canada and there in thje US that obesity and related poor health is the worst. Why?

The answer is that we are Gaels.

Gaels, are the Hunter Gatherers of Europe who got pushed to the edge of the continent by the new farmers.

Scan -  Map of Europe, Racial, 1935 Literary Digest Atlas of the World

Look at the thin sliver on the far left of Scotland and Ireland. That is the edge. We were pushed here like so many other Hunter Gatherers have been pushed to the edge where the land is marginal and not suitable for farming.

That is the edge – where the land is the poorest – where life is really tough and so are the people. It is where we come from and here is why this is important when we ask abut why so many of us are so fat today.

For the answer is this. We are the people in Europe with the least exposure to agricultural food. We are the least adapted. We are the most at risk of all Europeans to an adverse reaction to the agricultural diet.

For this diet is new when we look at evolutionary time lines. We have ALL come from a Hunter Gatherer past that extends back for millions of years.

We mainly ate meat, fish and plants. We never ate grains, dairy or beans. Imagine milking a wild auroch!

The maximum time that any human group has had to adapt to agriculture – what I call the “Modern Diet” would likely be 6,000 years ago. Here is new evidence on when agriculture began in England. In Evolutionary terms this is yesterday. Some Europeans have made a partial adaptation – but even this is lost by middle age.

The key point to bear in mind is that we are designed to be healthy and fit – PROVIDED – we live the plan that evolution has worked out with us.


As with all hunter gatherers, we did very well on our ancestral diet.

This engraving is of a Mi’Maq made in the 1800th century. This is what most adults would have looked like before they adopted our diet and way of life.


Here is a 60 year old Kitavan Chief who has never been exposed to our diet – see the similarity in body?Kitavans have no diseases of modern civilization.


Here is the late great singer Israel Kamakawi’ole just before his death. He is an example of the kind of reaction a recent hunter gatherer can have to the modern diet. He shares the same kind of Pacific hunter gatherer heritage to the Kitavan.

The closer you are to a hunter gatherer past – the more vulnerable you are to reacting badly to the modern diet. This recent exposure to the modern diet is a powerful force in why so many in the First Nations community have such a risk of Type 2 Diabetes and related illness and why the Gaels run them a close second.

So what to do?

So if you are of First Nations or Inuit heritage with maybe 150 years maximum exposure – the western diet of mainly grains, dairy and so sugar is toxic. It is also why alcohol is such a problem as is sugar – for they affect the brain in the same way. They are the same.

If you are a Gael – you are next on the list of at risk. Note the importance of sugar and alcohol in our way of life too. We are very attracted to it.

When I say Modern Diet – I mean bread/grains, dairy and legumes. The Industrial Diet is a separate category and is even more a disaster for us.

If we were to go back to eating a diet that was comprised of the traditional foods – mainly real meat and real fish and seasonal plants and fruit, we would be the ancestral groups most likely to “heal”. Even better, we stand a chance of doing what the Kitavan Chief has done. Plateau our aging in mid life.

Here is Dr Michael Rose on this great opportunity for us. Thesis 52

The irony is that while we are the most at risk – we have the best chance of reacting well to a shift back to the traditional diet.

Me 2 years ago – pre diabetic and a typical middle aged Gael on the modern diet.

It has taken me 6 months only to undergo a radical change for the better. For when I say “We” I am  Gael too from Ayr. I started to feel better after 3 months. I think in 5 years I will have got myself back to a metabolism of my heritage.

This then is a huge health opportunity. The First Nations and the Gaels are really suffering. Medicine has not arrested our decline. But by going home to who we are can heal us.

But there is a huge BUT. A BUT that I will deal with in my next post.

The BUT is this. We Gaels and First Nations’ Peoples have lost confidence in our culture and our tribes. We don’t fit into the Industrial World. WE think and others think that this makes us failures. We don’t want 9 – 5. We don’t want to make work the centre of who we are. We hate regimen. We hate offices – we want to be outside.

We were were never farmers and so never were serfs or slaves. We lived according to the time of nature not the clock. But of course farmers were ideally suited to becoming indistrial serfs – no change at all in how they lived.

We will explore this tommorrow. We will ask – “who is the greater fool?” – We will look at how the web and a new economy might enable us to bring back a hunter gatherer way of life in a modern context.

We will look at our tribal values and traditions – respect for our elders and for women – our love of music and the dance – our love of art – our love for our children – our deep respect for nature and sense of connection to it – our eternal view of time and see these as the values that all men and women need if our species is to survive what our industrial culture has done to us and the planet.

By Going Home we might give our kids a chance.

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4 Responses to Why are we so fat in rural settings? – Part 3 – Our Ancestry!

  1. Gumby says:

    I think your history book is missing a few pages. The gaels and celts were pushed to the western extremities of the British isles long after they adopted farming as a way of life. They were not hunter/gatherers when increasing amounts of Anglo Saxon peoples settled in Britain and later the Norse. In fact were already farming long before the time of the Roman invasion 2000 years ago. Yes they did hunt but it wasnt the main way they provided food for themselves.

    • robpatrob says:

      Yes they were farming at some time by then but very late in the game. Farming in England took off about 2000 BC. What happened in all other places where farming took off was the the non farmers were co-opted, killed or pushed off the land. This may be why the Gaels ended up at the edge where the farming was so poor. You see the same in Brittany and Cornwall – all Gaels too. All edge societies on the poorest land in the region.

      Have you been to any of these places? They are the last place you can farm well in. Yes you can grow some crops but you cannot rely on them – the land and the weather are to harsh. Even today in Wales, people struggle to run sheep. No one would chose to live there at first.

      Some hunter gatherers will not assimilate. I spent ime in Botswana where the last of the Bushmen held onto to their traditional life. They did not always live in the central Kalahari but were pushed there as were I suspect the Gaels.

      In reality – there are no History books for the pre Roman era. Even the Romans did not know what went on that far north. So we have to use patterns.

      My key point is that Gaels are very late into the modern diet – As such they are the least adapted of all Europeans. As such they are most at risk as we can see with our own eyes and our own bodies.

      My related point is that your ancestral heritage has a bearing on your ability to be well on a diet.

      We can see that all aboriginal people – those that were hunter gatherers in the last 200 years – are being decimated by our diet.

      Understanding this – is surely a first step to doing something effective about it other than blaming them for being fat and ill and abused by alcohol.

      Is this not worthwhile?

  2. Gumby says:

    To answer your last point first, yes it is worthwhile. I just think it is stretching things a bit far to make a special case for Gaels on a par with first nation/aboriginal peoples.

    The evidence for farming and when it started in Britain suggests it was in place before Celtic settlement, 4500 BC in parts of Scotland and later in England. There are various theories over why the celts became displaced, sheer weight of numbers of invaders, their bronze vs iron age technology and others.
    Yes I have been to these places. I reside in the UK and regularly visit Scotland and Wales. In the far north of Wales you will find hill farms largely given over to sheep raising. It is a hard life but not impossible, even for an outsider. You may enjoy reading Thomas Firbanks “I bought a Mountain”, the story of a Canadian with no farming experience who made a success of running a Welsh hill farm in the 1930s with no farming experience As far as the rest of the country is concerned parts of it are very fertile, the Normans for instance, rewarded their nobles after the battle of Hastings with huge tracts of land in places such as Pembrokeshire where they married locals (this area is still welsh speaking. This area is still known for incomers buying smallholdings to live off the land . John Seymours “I”m a stranger here myself” is probably the best known example. His 60 acre farm is now run as a school for self supporters.

    Your ancestral homeland Ayrshire has some of the richest soil in Scotland and is prime agricultural land. I believe the real deterioration in the health of traditional Celtic peoples only began to occur after the clearances in the 18th Century when landowners realised they could be more wealthy by turning their tenant farmers off the land and using the land for sheep and the wool trade. This lead to many highlanders becoming crofters or impoverished and either emigrating (either overseas or to the growing cities), starving or joining the army where where they were highly valued due to their warrior culture. The ones that stayed on in the marginal mountain and coastal environments then lived off crofting (usually a mixture of fishing and small scale farming) They still remained healthy, witness W A Prices account of how impressed he was with the strength and physique of the islanders in the outer hebrides that he met in the 1930s. Its different now! Those residing in isolated areas with no access to modern foods remained very healthy due to their access fresh sea food and what we would now call organic produce. Not as good as a typical HG diet but better than the western diet we have come to know.

    Anyway I will finish by saying I really like your blog and website, please regard me as a fan. You provide some very interesting reading on subjects I find fascinating.

    • robpatrob says:

      You add so much and thank you – I wish I knew your name.

      My own family came out with Wolf’s army as a result of what you describe so well. They “stupidly” got into the fur trade instead of banking or beer! The young men would spend the year in the woods, the middle group in Montreal and the old men in places like Bristol. The Bay hired Orkney men as only they were tough enough to work up there.

      Is not crofting a form of HG? Certainly the diet was ideal. All that oily fish! I love herring kippers etc myself. I suspect that in peak oil, wool and sheep will once again become very important and mutton will return as a staple – as a boy in the UK in the 50’s we had it at least once a week.

      More from me later today – you will see where I am really going with this then and next week when I look at how agriculture itself has driven a social system that is not good for us and that as we confront it’s collapse (Peak Oil etc) a new economy based on working with nature will be our only chance and that those who are more culturally inclined to be HG’s have a chance of pulling ahead.

      You see immediately that we were all warrior cultures – I think that this personal and so human world was beaten down by ag and then the industrial world. I will make the case that the principles of the personal will form the foundation of the next economy

      Love to know more about you and your life Rob

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