Seth Roberts dug up some 1935 research that discusses the prevalence of fermented fish and oils in the Eskimo/Inuit diet. That research in combination with the observed “Inuit Paradox” (The Inuit diet consisting almost entirely of meat and Omega-3 rich fish fat) incited further research into the cardiovascular benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids. Roberts point, which he’s made before regarding Weston Price’s findings, is that little attention has been paid to the fermented aspect of these ancient human diets.
As someone who regularly reads numerous blogs that discuss evolutionary fitness, diet, paleo-diets, etc., I can attest that Roberts is right: the fermented food angle is overwhelmingly ignored by people who should know better, with the notable exception of Stephen at Whole Health Source (Maybe one or two others have mentioned fermented foods in passing, but it is overwhelmingly given short shrift).
When I say the Paleo/evohealth pundits should know better, I mean that it just makes intuitive sense (whether the back-fitting story is ultimately true or not) that, prior to refrigeration and other modern food preservation technologies, human beings would have been forced to eat fermented foods. This would be for no other reason than the fact that (for example) a band of humans probably couldn’t polish off a wooly mammoth in one sitting. There would be leftovers; and no way were these hunter-gatherers going to let that hard-earned food go to waste!
Apply the same concept to fruits and vegetables ripening at a certain times of the year as well as other food-timing problems and you reach the unavoidable conclusion that human beings must have regularly eaten rotten or semi-rotten foods.
I suspect Seth Roberts is on to something.
[At first, Stefansson didn’t want to eat decayed fish.] While it is good form [in America] to eat decayed milk products and decayed game [well, well], it is very bad form to eat decayed fish. . . . If it is almost a mark of social distinction to be able to eat strong cheeses with a straight face and smelly birds with relish, why is it necessarily a low taste to be fond of decaying fish? On that basis of philosophy, though with several qualms, I tried the rotten fish one day, and if memory serves, liked it better than my first taste of Camembert. During the next weeks I became fond of rotten fish.
So Eskimos ate fermented whale oil and a lot of rotten fish. (”A lot” because if they didn’t eat a lot of it, Steffanson wouldn’t have felt pressure to eat it.) I had no idea that Americans used to eat decayed game.