Tag Archives: Africa

The Ability to Drink Milk is an Evolutionary Advantage

There is an interesting article making its way around the interwebs these days telling you to throw away the milk ‘cuz it’s baaad for you ‘cuz lotsa folks got the lactose intolerance.

This is inaccurate and misleading information.  It’s really a vegetarian activist and animal rights argument masquerading as a health warning, making use of fake science in an attempt to add credence to a false premise that milk is bad for us.  They probably made up their statistics, but only about 10% of Americans are lactose intolerant, though virtually all Chinese and “full-blood” Native Americans are.

In reality there is a fascinating evolutionary story in play here.  You see, most humans can only digest lactose (milk sugar) as infants and young children by producing an enzyme called lactase.  At a certain age after childhood the gene that promotes lactase production switches off.  There is no scientific evidence that this is because milk is bad for the adult human.  It’s just generally unnecessary and does not provide any benefit in pre-agricultural societies since their dietary requirements can be met with meats and other resources found in the environment.

Milk consumption was only necessary to keep the child alive long enough to begin eating the bodies of animals rather than from the body of their mother.  Since there is apparently not any need or benefit to be able to digest lactose beyond childhood, there was never a need or function for an adaptation that allows humans to produce lactase beyond childhood.  It didn’t help us live longer or have more sex in our nomadic hunter-gatherer environment.

That’s just kind of the way evolutionary adaptations work.  They typically only serve the function that is needed to keep the individual alive long enough to procreate as often as possible and create as many genetic replications as possible (also called babies).

Probably around 7,000 years ago amongst European and African cattle-herding populations there occurred in an individual a genetic mutation.  No big deal; everything that makes any life-form different from a single-celled organism is the result of a genetic mutation.  This particular mutation allowed for our bodies to continue producing lactase as adults.

This mutation provided an evolutionary advantage by increasing the “fitness” of the individual so that he lived longer than most others and produced more progeny than those without this mutation.  Since they were now herding cattle they had access to milk in proportions unlike you’d find while chasing wild antelope.  It is plausible that there may have been food shortages of some sort that helped these milk-drinkers to outlive and outbreed less healthy people without the mutation.  It could have just provided for a healthier person in general, without any starvation drama.  Regardless, the ability to derive nutrition from more places is an advantage that can increase the evolutionary fitness of the species.

All the numbers disparities and mumbo jumbo of the vegetarians is not so cleverly presented to look like drinking milk is some freakish and “unnatural” thing because most humans do not have the genetic adaptation to produce lactase beyond childhood.  In reality, people of European and African descent have a somewhat unique genetic adaptation that allows us to derive nutritional benefit from milk well past our childhood, and this is an evolutionary advantage.   Enjoy it.

Quick Reference: Berkley

Note: I will give the author at “I waste so much time” credit for one thing: growth hormones in milk are a genuine concern, but then again harmful chemical additives in our food is a problem even when discussing Brussels sprouts.  Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Rastafari, Zion and a Religious Irony

Fans of Reggae music understand how intimately tied it is to the Rastafarian movement from which it was born.  Rastafari is a religion, a philosophy, a way of life and a social movement.  Depending on whom you ask regarding the nature of Rasta, you’ll get a different combination of these basic premises.

Rastafari emerged from the poor black communities of Jamaica in the 1930s.  The roots of the ideology lie heavily in the collective experience of slavery and Marcus Garvey’s back to Africa movement.  The poor religious people in the shanty towns of Jamaica may not have known much about world history, but they understood the Old Testament stories referring to Egypt and Ethiopia were taking place in Africa; that mystical homeland that legend had endowed with mythic stature.

In 1930 an Ethiopian nobleman Ras Tafari was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia, taking the name Haile Selassie I, the “Conquering Lion of Judah.”  A small group of Jamaican faithful saw this as the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Revelation 5:5.

One of the elders said to me, “Don not weep.  The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals.”

rasta-flag1
Rastafarian Flag

                          

Immediately a religion converged exalting Selassie as the second coming of Jah (God), and the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.  They called themselves Rastafarians, taking the Emperor’s pre-coronation name.

Rastafarians adopted the Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox epic, the Kebra Negast as a scripture.  This book explains how the Ethiopian people are descended from the Israelites.  The story depicts the courtship of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba who, according to the text had a son named Menelik.  Menelik was raised in Ethiopia with his mother.  After visiting his father Solomon in Israel once, Menelik returned to Ethiopia with a population of Israelites under the protection of the Ark of the Covenant which they brought with them.  For these reasons Rastafarians consider themselves to be the true Israelites and Ethiopia to be the true Zion, rather than Israel; the Zion of Judaism and Western Christianity.

For the past several hundred years in Ethiopia there lived a community of black African Jews called Beta Israel, isolated from the greater influence of Rabbinic Judaism.  Rastas pointed to this community as evidence supporting their legend of an Ethiopian Zion.  After Salassie I visited Jamaica in 1960 waves of Rastas began immigrating to Ethiopia where they founded Shashemene Village.  The lost Israelites had begun their repatriation to Zion.

An ironic twist in this epic came in 1970 when the nation of Israel enacted the Law of Return, giving Jews and Jewish descendants the right to immigrate to Israel and gain Israeli citizenship.  The Beta Israel quickly sought their right to return to their traditional homeland.  During the 1980s civil war broke out in Ethiopia and famine struck the nation, threatening the Beta Israel community’s survival.  In 1984 in an effort to rescue the exiled Jews, the government of Israel executed Operation Moses; evacuating thousands of Beta Israel and repatriated them to Israel.  In 1991, Israel’s Operation Solomon brought the remaining Beta Israel to Israel.  The entire Beta Israel community, numbering 120,000 people now lives in Israel.  The lost Israelites have returned to Zion.