The Impact of Adaptation and Food Variability in the Evolution of Mankind

Topics: Adaptation

Adaptation and Variability of Food Consumption

Evolution is an elusive subject because it often means different things in different contexts. The term “evolution” is invariably linked to adaptation. Adaptation is the link that creates variability among populations. The variability seen among the human species causes both positive and negative effects. An example of a positive effect of variability is the heterozygote advantage, which stems from and occurs on a variation in genetic code due to certain parental DNA contributions This can help to protect against certain diseases.

There are also issues associated with human variabilities such as how the phphenotypeis presented which can lead to cultural issues such as racism. The difference in an adaptation and the responding opinion to that adaptation forms the basis of how individuals live their daily lives.

Adaptations occur when organisms are subjected to selective pressures over time that allows them to become more “fit” to thrive in the environment in which they live. This idea of “fitness” can be skewed because “to be fit” is generally associated with positivity or positive aspects of adaptation.

When evolutionary forces such as natural selection, genetic drift, and gene flow occur, they do not always produce favorable results. Occasionally the results may be favorable at the time, but technological or environmental changes may cause an organism’s “fitness” to quickly become maladaptive. The evolution and adaptations associated with food consumption are prime examples f  how adaptation occurs as well as how it can become maladaptive. Food evolution also exemplifies how maladaptations are remedied with modern technology, as well as how modern technology contributes to maladaptations.

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Food consumption is an essential part of life and survival. Adaptations associated with food become inevitable as a species progresses through generations and time. There are two approaches to take when discussing food-related adaptations. The first perspective is through nutritional adaptation, which can range from how nutrition is absorbed to how food is processto to better access the nutrients within it. The second perspective stems from metabolic adaptations, which relate to how quickly or slowly the body processes nutrients, which can ultimately influence an individual’s morphology and bodily processes.

The current American diet exemplifies the path a trait may take to inadvertently become maladaptive. Today people suffer from a condition known as diabetes, a metabolic disease that is a trait that causes the inability to process insulin within the human body. The original trait may have originated as a craving for sugar, which in turn causes the body to produce insulin. The need for sugar was generated in hunter-gatherer ancestors to encourage them to subconsciously gather enough to eat. During times of plenty within hunter-gatherer societies of the past, the insulin would have helped individuals break down and store excess sugar for times when food was not as abundant. In times when food was not as abundant as modern-day, the need for sugar would not have become harmful, because food bounty balanced food scarcity, and insulin levels would not have become out of control.

With technological advances, those with metabolic conditions such as diabetescano monitor their health and treat symptoms. Technology is not always such a positive influence, however. Lactase persistence is a strange mixture of technology and marketing. There is one gene, LAC, with two major alleles that codes a human’s ability to process the enzyme found in milk called lactose. This enzyme is necessary to process and break down milk sugar, which is referred to as lactose. Most mammals experience lactase restriction once they progress to adulthood because there is no longer a need to survive off their mother’s milk. Humans have effectively switched the mammalian trend for lactase persistence. In humans, lactase persistence (coded by “P”) is dominant while lactase restriction (coded by “r”) is recessive. There are many hypotheshypothesesding that clad why it initially came to be. Among the most popular hypothesis resides the culture-history idea, which describes that lactase persistence arrived with increased pastoralism.

Regardless of how lactase persistence initially adapted, the adaptation has persevered throughout time because it has been encouraged and reinforced by technology. For example, cow milk is often advertised as necessary to a successful human diet, when it is not necessary at all. It is especially heavily advertised to children in school with “Got Milk?” campaigns and parents of children who are attempting to ensure their child has the correct nutrition. Much of this has to do with the dairy industry advertising milk as a needed substance. Since people profit off of milk consumption, advertising for milk makes sense since it is a product. Lactase persistence may have begun as an adaptation due to cultural shift naturalization or vitamin necessity, but it has only been maintained through technology and advertising. Another influence on an individual’s daily diet stems from how food is produced. The world is often classified into portions that have enough food and other portions that generally do not have enough food. These boundaries often double as country borders. Countries can be determined as “first world” or “third world” nations depending upon what level of food availability and level of agricultural production they have. The terms “first world” and “third world” nations have also recently been reclassified as “developed” or “developing” nations.

Developed nations often have large-scale agriculture productions, whereas developing nations generally have less organized agriculture practices. The rise of organized agriculture comes with incredible costs and benefits. The rapid increase in population is an example of both a cost and a benefit. On one hathe nd, the increased population is viewed as a positive factor when people can sustain themselves and others with more food security. Over popOverpopulationrimental side effects, such as scarcity of resources and rapid spread of disease. The mass production associated with agriculture is also known to damage certain aspects of the environment. This can be seen through transportation methods that use fossil fuels, such as large semi-trucks, as well as the massive amount of water that many plant operations utilize.

A continual debate surrounds the notion of agriculture arguing whether or not agriculture is a positive or negative aspect of life. Agriculture is a type of nutritional adaptation that can easily lead to metabolic adaptations. By farming in mass quantities, humans can access nutrients that were otherwise inaccessible to their hunter-gatherer ancestors. Agriculture also opens the opportunity for food processing, where which not has been able to have been done in the past. Agriculture appears on a continual spectrum, where hunter-gatherer societies of the past were likely to have little to no organized domestication of plants and animals. On the other end of the scale, today agriculture has become a heavily industrialized and mass-produced process.

The negative effects, such as overpopulation and environmental pollution as a result of mass production may be able to be avoided if agriculture was scaled back. It may not be a matter of getting rid of animal and plant domestication completely, but rather finding a balance so that the negative effects do not outweigh the good. People often speak of a “perfect diet” in context to what foods may benefit the general human population. The truth in terms of evolution and adaptation is that there is no perfect diet for any general population – there are only well-tailored diets for specific individuals who live at certain times. A large amount of variability between each individual, in combination with the variability between populations, does not allow for a generalized diet for the human species as a whole. There is a “time-lapse” effect when it comes to human death because technology has begun to move faster than human adaptation and natural evolutionary forces. The prime example of this has happened with the metabolic maladaptation of diabetes.

The “time-lapse” for human adaptation could cause serious problems in the future, as it has proven to cause problems in the present. With any sort of diet, it is important to consider how the diet today may affect future health, but people generally only consider their future heal or their offspring’s health. The diets of today could be affecting nutritional and metabolic adaptations much further down the road- possibly hundreds to thousands of years from now, or even further in the future. Today, many people residing in developed nations partake in diets that are extremely high in fat, sugar, and salt. We could easily see the human species adapt to accommodate a diet including these things, much of which is found in items such as fast food. By the time the adaptations occur, which would take many generations, the food humans are eating may no longer be high in fat, sugar, and salt, therefore creating another maladaptive trait. Adaptation cannot seem to catch up with modern technology, but technology could begin to predict adaptation.

Adaptation and variability are traced through food consumption patterns throughout time. Perspectives of nutritional and metabolic adaptations exemplify how adaptations can cause variability among populations. While certain aspects of adaptations can cause an increase in fitness positively, aspects of nutritional adaptation such as agriculture appear to have gone too far and become harmful to humans and the environment surrounding them. Traits associated with metabolic adaptations can also become maladaptive, combating the general idea that “fitness” is a positive increase. Technology will continue to be a large influencing factor in adaptation. With a better conscious effort, modern technology can be better utilized to predict and account for future adaptations that may occur beyond the current generation. If more accountability is placed on the current nutritional and metabolic standing of the human diet and less personal gain is placed on food consumption and agriculture, generations in the far distant future may benefit greatly.

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The Impact of Adaptation and Food Variability in the Evolution of Mankind. (2022, Jun 16). Retrieved from

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