The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ray Comfort Vs. the Acorn

If you spend much time on the internet, you've likely heard of Ray "banana man" Comfort and Kirk "what ever happened to my career" Cameron's rather wacky claim that the existence of bananas prove creationism. They focus on the features of a banana that make it an allegedly "perfect food" - it's shape, the fact that it can be peeled, etc. etc. (all the time ignoring that the banana as we know it is the result of a long period of domestication and artificial selection).

Which leads me to think of another food, one that is extremely nutritious, has proved to be a reliable staple of the people of California for centuries. Also, if Comfort and Cameron thought that the banana was natural proof of the existence of a god, then this food is proof that said god has a really warped sense of humor. I am speaking, of course, of the acorn.

See, if Comfort and Cameron (why does that sound like a '70s exploitation film - perhaps Inglorious Comfort and Cameron?) had been right (and not ignored the fruit's long history of domestication) and the banana's ease of eating and nutritional content was proof of the existence of a divine force, what would we make of a food such as the acorn that is highly nutritious, but toxic unless processed in just the right way, requires extensive time and energy to process for edibility, and essentially takes over the settlement system and economies of people who are dependent on them (thus putting them at severe risk of starvation during lean acorn years)?

People in California began to use the acorn as a primary food source during the terminal Late Period or the early Middle Period (after 3,000 BC, also called the Middle Archaic Period). The reason why they did so is open to question*, but it probably wasn't convenience. Gathering acorns is labor intensive, requiring the involvement of most (if not all) of the community in many cultures. Processing the acorns is difficult manual labor, requiring the pounding of acorns into an oily flour that is then intensively rinsed to remove the toxic acids that make the unprocessed acorn useless as a food.

And then one has to wonder how people discovered that the acorn could be made edible in the first place. After all, it's toxic in its natural state. Were they trying to do someone in only to discover that they had produced a decent food?** That must have been frustrating.

Regardless, if Mother, Juggs, Comfort and Cameron honestly thought that the banana was perfect evidence of the existence of a god, then it seems only reasonable to assume that the acorn is evidence of a truly twisted sense of humor or straight-up vindictiveness on the part of that deity. After all, to hide nutrition in poison and require such devotion and labor to extract it...well, that' just plain nasty and twisted.

Ironically, this line of reasoning works better to justify the beliefs of Christian fringe sects that believe that the Native Americans were the fallen tribes of Israel than to support Faster Comfort and Cameron Kill Kill's own evangelical protestantism. I hope that gets pointed out to them some day.

*The hypothesis that I am personally most sympathetic to is that a number of events and climatic changes at the end of the Early Period resulted in resource stress. The acorn was known, and occasionally used, before this time, but the difficulties in obtaining and processing it made it an unattractive food source. Suddenly, with either an overabundance of people or an underabundance of food, or both, going through the efforts to make use of the acorn became very much worth it. However, this likely resulted in shifting the settlement patterns (people needed to be able to be near the acorns during harvest time), changing the labor patterns (people needed to provide time and effort to harvesting the acorns and processing them - time and effort that would once have been spent on very different activities), and probably altered the arrangement of power within the culture (ethnographically, many cultures regarded acorns and the processing facilities - streams and mortars - as women's property, thus making the entire society and settlement system dependent on women's property).

**For those who are going to tell me what I already know - that hunter-gatherers tend to have fairly sophisticated methods for finding nutrition in their environment, and that it only requires a basic knowledge of how plants work to figure out how people would have discovered the nutritious value of an acorn - I can only say: relax! It's a joke!


DEEN said...

One of the first rebuttals to the banana video that I've seen, used the pineapple as a counterexample. I can't seem to locate the video anymore, unfortunately.

Kay said...

Hmm... and what about avacado? Isn't that proof that if there is a God, he hates us and wants us to suffer?

Patricia said...

And one of my favourites, the delicious artichoke.

Tyson said...

How about the cocunut...not user friendly at all , and it has the nasty characteristic of killing people on occassion ( Via head trauma ) .

Anthroslug said...

Really, the counter-examples abound. I'm partial to the acorn largely due to my line of work, but all of the above are good example s(except for the avocado - evidence that something in the universe wants us to eat delicious stuff).

Cycle Ninja said...

Never mind the plant life being poisonous or hard-shelled; a buffalo will trample you if you're not careful. THAT's a dangerous food source.

Anthroslug said...

So, then, in addition to (probably unintentionally) endorsing the LDS church, Comfort and Cameron are endorsing vegetarianism. I love it.

Anonymous said...

"discover that they had produced a decent food?"

Acorn from different species of oak have vastly different palatabilites when they are unprocessed. There is at least one species, native to the SW US that is edible, even tasty, in its natural state.

Anthroslug said...

Anonymous - thanks for the info. In California, where I work, while there is certainly variation, I know of no species that is edible unprocessed.