Review of “Not By Bread Alone” By Vilhjalmur Stefansson

by EDITOR on August 13, 2009

Stefansson Book Review

Not By Bread Alone(a book promoting a cooked, all-animal-food-diet including dairy and eggs):-

The introduction appears to make a side reference to a theory that Vilhjalmur Stefansson made about “Blond Eskimoes”. That theory suggested that some Icelandic Vikings had mixed with some of the Eskimoes of Greenland. However, subsequent genetic studies have shown this theory to be quite wrong. Indeed,Stefansson was accused of fraud by many anthropologists at the time, over this issue.

The next chapter focuses on the evolution of the human diet. Stefansson mentions the standard explanation, that due to changes in climate etc., our hominid ancestors turned to meat-eating. He also mentions the scavenger-theory.Stefansson claims that, prior to the advent of agriculture in the Neolithic, that it was only in the tropics that plant-food was available in quantity. He then refers to a claim by Carl Lumholtz that Australian Aborigines in Northern Australia lived mainly on animal food, and only subsisted on plant-foods when animal-food was unavailable. However, standard descriptions of  Aboriginal diets do make it clear that plant-foods formed a standard part of their diet, although animal-foods did figure more prominently than plant-foods.

Then Stefansson makes a rather misleading claim. He suggests that since milk from lactating mammals originally evolved from blood, that dairy was therefore a perfectly healthy food being just “modified blood”. This is a very strange claim, given that Stefansson based his experiences largely on the Eskimoes, which weren’t known to include any dairy at all in their diet. But also, milk, along with grains, is a notoriously unhealthy Neolithic food, to which the vast majority of people in the world have food-intolerances/allergies towards, so the claim that humans are fully adapted to dairy is absurd.

In the 2nd chapter, Stefansson relates how Eskimoes are so adapted to cold that they find the heat of summer to be most awkward. He also concedes that the Eskimoes would eat berries and other plant-food in the summer(and store them in oil during the winter), partly because they liked the taste but also those plant-foods were a way to avoid famine if animal-food sources became scarce at any time. He also mentions that they ate the fermented plant-matter in the stomachs of animals.

Stefansson goes on further to explain that Eskimoes within their dwellings actually lived with almost tropical temperatures due to the heat of oil-lamps etc.Interestingly, he points out that Eskimo custom was to not mix eating food with water at the same time.

Stefansson describes the diet of the Eskimo tribe he lived with as consisting of 50% caribou, 30% fish, 10% seal meat amd 5-10% made up of ploar bear, rabbits,birds, and eggs. He mentions that the eskimoes feel no need to use sauces for their meats and that they prefer the heads of the fish and animals they eat to other parts.

Stefansson mentions how the Eskimoes he lived with also preferred the kidneys, heart intestinal fat and, especially, marrow.Liver, sweetbreads, lungs and tenderloin are generally given to the dogs.Stefansson also mentions, interestingly, that marrow from the upper leg(humerus and femur) is hard and tallowy at room-temperature while the marrow from the lower leg is soft and creamy. The Eskimoes, apparently, preferred to cook the harder marrow, but preferred to eat the softer marrow in raw form.

Then Stefansson goes on to claim an unorthodox idea that wild caribou actually start gain decent amounts of fat-layers during winter, and that they gain less in summer because of mosquitoes. Yet, most others view wild animals as actually losing fat-layers during winter.

One common claim in dietary circles is the notion that the Eskimoes regularly ate the fish-bones. This is one that Stefansson disagrees with, pointing out how the Eskimoes he lived with mostly just threw their fish-bones to the dogs.

(It is interesting to note that, according to Stefansson, the Eskimoes didn’t go in for either jerky or pemmican. Those two foods were, instead, eaten by the forest Indians).

Stefansson then makes a very dubious claim re the issue of raw versus cooked. He grudgingly admits that the Eskimoes ate way more raw meats than people further south. But then he claims that if one were to compare standard, western diets with that of the Eskimo diet, that the standard western diet would actually contain a higher percentage of raw (and less-cooked) food. This is clearly dead wrong. For one thing, he mentions occasional raw-dairy-consumption by Westerners, but, nowadays, there is far less consumption of raw dairy by comparison to Stefansson’s time. Plus,  modern Westerners go in mostly for foods which are cooked at far higher temperatures(re frying etc.) than the Eskimoes are used to with their traditional diets – indeed, the Eskimoes mostly just boil their foods, as Stefansson admitted.

My view is that Stefansson peddled this misguided view of his  that cooked meat was supposedly superior to raw meat  mainly because he was using the Inuit diet as an example which had a hefty raw-meat component in it and he realised that people in Western countries would be repulsed at the notion of eating raw meats. So he promoted the notion of cooked-meat being OK so as to get more dietary converts.

In chapter 3, Stefansson goes to describe the standard dietary beliefs of his time. The first common belief was that a healthy diet had to be varied as people exposed to the same foods over and over again, would eventually feel tired of and repulsed by the same old foods eaten again and again.

The 2nd belief that Stefansson tackles is the notion that the less meat one ate, the healthier one would be. Specifically mentioned by Stefansson is the belief that a diet without vegetables/fruit would inevitably lead to scurvy, and that too much meat-intake would lead to protein-poisoning by damaging the kidneys.

The 3rd belief Stefansson tackles is the notion that salt was needed to promote health or be necessary for health.Stefansson points out how the claims about salt were backed up by references to various wars fought over salt-mines etc., and that herbivorous animals are ravenous for salt.Stefansson, quite rightly, points out how many wars have been similiarly fought over non-dietary items like tobacco, so that it’s absurd to suggest that salt was essential for diet.Plus, he mentions how deer in Maine don’t ever feel the need to eat salt, unlike their deer cousins in Montana, and yet they are still perfectly healthy.

(The trouble with claims re salt being needed for health is that salt is basically a Neolithic food. Palaeo peoples didn’t have access to salt-mines etc. Salt is, admittedly, very useful for preserving meats, and would have been a necessity in Neolithic times, but evidence from palaeoanthropologists shows that salt was not a Palaeolithic staple. Also, salt, IMO, is mainly used as a way to preserve meats rather than as a healthy additive – plus, salt(and other spices) have been used by numerous past civilisations in order to cover up the lack of taste of cooked foods).

In chapter 3, Stefansson recounts his time spent with the Eskimoes. He admits that boiling animal food was much better, for taste reasons, than any other form of cooking.But Stefansson claimed, that, at first, he longed for salt in his meals and that he initally loathed “high-fish”(ie aged raw fish).However, after a while, given that many people in the west had  a hankering for smelly, aged cheeses and rotting game-birds, he realised that “high-fish” couldn’t be that bad and found he liked the taste.Interestingly, Stefansson never got used to the taste of aged raw meat. In my own case, I found that the taste of high-fish was foul whereas the taste of aged, raw (organ)meat(high-meat) was, mostly,  fine. So, that’s just a question of taste.

What I find interesting is that Stefansson relates how much more preferable high-meat/high-fish was to the Indians/Eskimoes than any other kind of meat. This makes sense as high-meat/high-fish is aged by enzymes/bacteria in such a way that it is much easier to digest than even fresh, raw meat/fish.

Stefansson then points out how faecal matter is much smaller on a meat-only diet than when eating a mixed diet. Many RVAFers have noticed this, too. He then goes on to explain why people get indigestion and other side-effects during transition,claiming that the bacteria in the gut change when switching from a meat-only to a mixed diet(and vice-versa) thus resulting in malabsorption etc. in the mean-time. He also refers to another common claim, that the enzymes need time to adjust to a different diet(it’s claimed that enzyme-adjustment takes only a few days).However, Stefansson claims a common figure of  3 to 4 weeks for full adjustment to a raw-meat-only diet, so, IMO, if someone is experiencing difficulties/health-problems  beyond that stage, it would be better to switch back to a mixed diet.

In chapter 4, Stefansson goes on to describe the Bellevue Experiment. He describes the limitations imposed on the experiment such as the idea of excluding eggs and dairy from the trial, so as to show the superiority of meat. He talks about how the first 3 weeks involved eating standard diet involving vegetables etc.He mentions doing a lean-meat diet for a few days, and experiencing diarrhea and general discomfort, something RVAFers have also experienced when eating too lean meats. He duly regained health when going back to fatty meats.

At this stage, I should make clear that there are many misconceptions made by cooked, zero-carbers that the Bellevue experiment involved no consumption of any organ-meats or that they always ate meat that was cooked. In actual fact, there is plenty of evidence that they sometimes ate raw animal foods(eg:- raw marrow:-  “”The meat was usually cooked lightly and the bone marrow eaten raw.”
) and on page 70 of my edition of Not By Bread Alone, Stefansson, for example, admits his recovery from a lean-meat diet was aided by the consumption of eating brains cooked in bacon-fat, among many other such examples. So, these claims by cooked zero-carbers are just urban legends of no validity.Incidentally, Stefansson relates about how he sometimes had indigestion  on his all-meat diet, usually caused by eating too much fat. So, too little or too much fat is presumably a bad idea on an all-meat diet.Oh, and Stefansson also mentions how he preferred his meats medium-well-done while Anderson preferred them medium-cooked.

Stefansson then goes on to relate that his exercise regime was light, like that of an average businessman.He also mentions that, due to his work, he was forced to go and travel, unsupervised, throughout the USA, with him admitting that  his co-experimentee, Anderson, was rigidly supervised over 13 weeks and Stefansson for only 3 weeks. This lack of supervision is problematic as it reduces the value and significance of the study. Admittedly, though, it is extremely difficult to supervise people on extreme diets for such a long period as an entire year.

Stefansson’s regime forbade the consumption of fried chicken, but not broiled chicken, as the frying might have been in butter or olive-oil.He does admit that he ate eggs while travelling but claims it was only on a dozen occasions during that year.Anderson didn’t have to travel so didn’t, apparently, break his dietary regime in that way.

2 exceptions allowed Stefansson and Anderson was the consumption of coffee and tea.This was allowed as the scientists had determined that coffee contained no appreciable amounts of vitamin C. Though, given the plant-based nature of tea and coffee, I can’t see how it would be acceptable on a study that was supposed to prove that only meats were healthy.

Stefansson admits he ate chicken bones during the experiment, but points out that Eskimo tribes which feed on seals and eat no bones at all, have no calcium-deficiencies. This claim is borne out by another study on vegetarian-oriented Bantu women which also showed that one doesn’t need high levels of calcium in the diet:-

He then goes on to mention Anderson’s difficulties when forced to eat a fat-heavy all-meat diet and then a diet with very small amounts of vegetables, for a period of 3 weeks. Anderson, then, either at the time(or later?) experienced a mild, brief attack of pneumonia, as there was an outbreak in the hospital at Bellevue.

Then Stefansson tries to make some wild claims to support his notion that the usual experience of people not liking to eat meat-heavy diets in hotter countries. He grudgingly admits that all cases of tribes eating all-meat diets are in Arctic areas with none existing in tropical countries, but then makes claims re Australians and others preferring meats to veg, but this by no means, validates a 100% all-meat diet.And he ignores the plentiful evidence of tribes and others eating plant-heavy diets. He then cites Irish myth and the Bible as supporting a meat-heavy diet, but the Bible, being written by numerous different co-authors, has also been used by vegans to similiarly justify a vegetarian diet, so that’s misleading.

Stefansson then claims that a diet consisting of a mixture of fatty and lean meats is NOT a high protein diet, though he admits that his protein-intake was a little above average. He also claims a boost in optimism and stamina and a resulting loss of weight to normal levels as a result of an all-meat diet.He does admit that the Eskimoes do look rather squat and rotund in photographs but claims that this is an erroneous impression and that they look slim when naked.

Last in chapter 4, Stefansson then makes some very dodgy claims that eating raw meat or organ-meats on an all-meat diet is not necessary. His claims re the Eskimoes hardly touching the organ-meats or giving most organs to their dogs is easily discounted by simple reading of numerous anthropologists and explorers such as Weston-Price et al, who agree that the Eskimoes did indeed eat a wide variety of organ-meats.

Stefansson’s claim that the Eskimoes ate less raw, overall, than Western populations, as an overall percentage of their diet is also a little flawed, especially nowadays when many people hardly even touch raw fruit or raw veg, but at least he admits that the Eskimoes do eat a plenty of raw meats, though, unlike other anthropologists, he erroneously tries to claim that the Eskimoes preferred cooked over raw food – given the well-known Inuit fascination with aged, raw “high-meats”, this is obviously false. Stefansson then claims that  meat cooked only to “medium/well-done” provides enough means to avoid scurvy and that such meat provides enough nutrients to sustain life. Obviously,in the 1930s, while they had plenty of studies confirming the damage done by cooked-animal-food-consumption, there wasn’t any specific information as yet on heat-created toxins such as advanced glycation end products, so it’s understandable why Stefansson only addressed the issue of nutrients lost by cooking.

In chapter 5, Stefansson does make a good point about the Eskimoes being not subject to dental caries, and that is supported by Weston-Price’s own account. Stefansson also mentions the complete immunity of Icelanders to dental caries before they went in for modern diets.Given the prevalence of dental caries in populations eating high levels of plant-foods, there may well be good reason to accept Stefansson’s explanation that an all-meat diet or meat-heavy diet  is the only solid guarantee against dental caries.

Then Stefansson attacks a common myth claimed by dentists that frequent chewing by native tribes is the real reason for their having good dental health. He rightly points out that most Eskimoes, at the time, generally didn’t have to chew their meats hardly at all, and especially not in the case of raw meats/fish, so that this is a non-issue, and that good dental health has far more to do with a good diet. Stefansson does admit that the Eskimo teeth, while generally free of caries, are frequently worn down, but points out that the Eskimoes eat a lot of sand-infested fish etc. and that such grit wears down the teeth. He also points out how chewing is more needed when on a plant-heavy diet.

Last in chapter 5, Stefansson mentions the usual claim that all humans worldwide couldn’t switch to an all-meat diet as there wouldn’t be enough food around. I question that, myself, but Stefansson, apparently, believed it.

In chapter 6, Stefansson looks for more justification for following an all-meat diet by citing the Bible and other ancient sources, yet again. He claims that the offering of fatty animals for sacrifice to the gods meant that the fatty animals must have been the most prized food – yet, frankly, that could be just due to the relative greater rarity of such fatty animals in those ancient societies. Plus, he overlooks the fact that plant-foods were also offered up as sacrifices by various ancient societies.Stefansson then goes on to describe the evolution of the modern diet, and mentions, for example, the admittedly bizarre notion of many Westerners that it’s OK to buy fruit out of season(ie imported from abroad).

Stefansson then goes on to describe a preference for fatty meats, among some tribes around the world. He then, repetitively, attacks the commonly held belief/experience that eating meats is a bad idea in a hot climate(due to feeling too hot afterwards). Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to accept that it is a given fact that intake of plant-foods in a human diet greatly increases as one nears the Equator, so his attempts to portray an all-meat diet as natural/normal for all humans(even outside the Arctic) is a failure.

In chapter 7, Stefansson tells the history of scurvy and cites 1 example of how the consumption of fresh meat(fresh fish in this case) cured some cases of scurvy on an expedition by a man called Munk.

Chapter 8 has Stefansson talking about scurvy in modern times and mentions another example of scurvy being cured by eating fresh meat. He claims that the Shackleton expedition was better protected from scurvy than Scott’s expedition was, as the former were forced to depend on seals and penguins for their foods after a certain point.

In chapter 9, Stefansson describes the early history of pemmican and how important it was during the era of colonisation/exploration. He cites the incredible length of time the pemmican can be preserved for. He also mentions that marrow fat is the best quality fat for use in pemmican. Unfortunately, pemmican is not only not raw(with the fat component being rendered for purposes of increased preservation) but full of very unhealthy heated, oxidised fats and other heat-created toxins which are very harmful in the long run.

In the last chapter, Stefansson talks about the flaws in the old,flawed theory that fats only burned in the presence of carbohydrates.

(For more detailed info, read Stefansson’s expansion of “Not By Bread Alone”, which is called “The Fat of the Land”.

(Stefansson, incidentally, died of a stroke at the age of 82).


Previous post:

Next post: