A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to stumble on the work of Daniel Vitalis. He encourages us to ReWild ourselves and bring us closer to our wild, authentic self. In a way it’s hard (and yet so simple) to convey his intentions so I encourage you to check out his ReWild Yourself! Magazine and explore this exciting concept for yourself. Bringing in experts on food and exercise etc Daniel absolutely challenges our world view – how we’ve been domesticated as a species and what we need to do to return to our authentic existence. Of course you can take this as far as you want – from eating bugs to foraging for food. Or like me you can ease yourself into the concepts – I cracked my first coconut at the weekend and have set up my desk so that I stand rather than sit. Here is an exercise from Daniel – I am sure it will prove food for thought…
Let’s Play A Game
You — the reader — are cordially invited to participate in the following thought experiment. It begins with the premise that you have arrived at the rather far-flung, if not outright exotic decision to bring a wild ape — more specifically a West African chimpanzee — home with you, to live out its life in your own personally owned zoo.
I know, this is a stretch…
All of the logistical arrangements have been made to bring the animal to you, leaving you with nothing more to do but decide how you will set up this animal’s habitat and diet. This leads you to the question, as well as the heart of our inquiry; how do you decide what kind of food and environment you will choose to maintain the health of this animal’s body and mind?
Lets start with the obvious…
Perhaps the first place to look would be the chimpanzee’s natural habitat, and by that I mean the environment that it is most adapted to. Whether we believe in a creation, an evolution, or some synthesis of the two, it would be difficult to describe the bodies and behaviors of wild living things as anything but miraculously suited — some would call this fit — for the place of their habitation. Each is a perfect reciprocal counterpart to the biospheric niche’s from which they originate. It seems a reasonable conclusion then, that the natural environment of our imaginary simian friend would become the template from which we base our zoo’s habitat design.
Tree trunks and branches — to allow for the arboreal locomotion (a fun and scientific way to describe the way apes move through the forest canopy) — might feature prominently in our artificial habitat. These too would allow for nesting areas high above the ground, much like those in which chimpanzees naturally sleep.
Perhaps we would adorn our simulated landscape with plants that are found in habitats natural to the chimpanzee, as these would contain many phytochemical compounds to which the species has been exposed for countless generations, many of which, through ingestion, help to maintain their health. We might also regulate the light and temperature to replicate the rhythms to which this creature is so well adapted.
So too might we look to the wild chimpanzee for clues about what to feed our wild relative. A diet rich in tropical fruits, as it is with the wild form, would provide (at least in approximation) the foundational basis for the species-specific dietary needs of this primate.
Now the absurd…
You are now — just as cordially as before — invited to the sequel, that being the second portion of our thought experiment. Imagine our chimpanzee guest not in its wild home, nor in the artifice of habitat we’ve just designed to approximate that wild home, but rather in an environment akin to the one we have created for ourselves. Perhaps a hotel room is an amusing place to start, with its stuffy air, carpeted floors, and windows that do not open — and of course its layer upon layer of disinfectant spray (which has been accumulating daily on its every accessible surface). Substitute highly processed, pesticide laden, genetically modified foods for its natural diet, with its enhanced, over-sufficiency of calories and its diminished or even altogether absent nutrients. Substitute bleached and fluoridated water for the clean flowing streams of its forest home. Wake it each morning with an alarm, stimulate it to function at peak mental activity for hours on end, and send it to bed each night in near mental and emotional exhaustion. Reduce its ability to express its natural physical capacities, removing any obstacles of interest, and restricting the rest of its body to spine curling chairs and spring-loaded beds. Remove it from natural sunlight and instead replace this with the dim ambiance of artificial lamps — whose light shines on well after the natural rhythmic cycle of daylight has ended. Dress it in clothing that further restricts the mobility of the joints of the hips and shoulders and cinch its abdomen in a belt that, even if slightly, restricts its abdominal breathing. Play endless loops of meaningless television sitcoms, complete with laugh-tracks, for its near constant entertainment (hypnosis?). Expose it daily to thousands of synthetic chemicals to which it has no biological history, including refined heavy metal isotopes, radiological waste, pesticides and other endocrine disrupting petrochemicals. Induce the stress of near-constant scarcity of — and fierce competition for — resources that are no longer freely available to forage, but instead must be slaved after. Should any health issues arise, simply medicate symptoms with synthetic pharmaceutical drugs until this or any expression of physical or emotional distress is muted.
The outrageousness of the above paragraph is of course an exercise in the obvious. What outcome would we expect to see in our primate prisoner? We would likely, if not assuredly, expect a decline in the overall health and emotional state of our little cousin.
You are an ape.