How our greatest fuel source became our greatest health threat

The things we eat, how we eat, and the reasons we eat have fundamentally changed.

For most of the history of life, food was scarce. It was our most valuable resource, the one thing that gave us the energy we needed to survive.

Now our survival is less of an issue, and fossil fuels provide the energy for most of the work that we do in life.

Energy is abundant. Food no longer fulfills that role. So what does that mean? This story explores how our relationship with food has changed.

How has this affected our health, the way we eat, and the way we move?

As a bonus, here’s a short video that features Patrick Harrington, the bike messenger from the podcast:

Patrick Harrington needs food to fuel his work. This has changed the way he thinks about what he eats.


Greg Wray, Professor, Duke University: The Wray Lab

Kelly Brownell, Director, Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity: Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity

Karen Erickson, Dietician, UNC Weight Research: UNC Weight Research

Patrick Harrington, Owner, Velocity Bicycle Couriers: Velocity Bicycle Couriers

The global obesity pandemic: shaped by global drivers and local environments. Boyd A Swinburn, Gary Sacks, Kevin D Hall, Klim McPherson, Diane T Finegood, Marjory L Moodie, Steven L Gortmaker The Lancet 27 August 2011 (Volume 378 Issue 9793 Pages 804-814 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60813-1)

Podcast Music by Michael Linder

Video music by Adam Lindquist



  1. Roy Reichle
    May 19, 2013

    The idea presented about exercise and needlessly burning calories falls into the erroneous mindset that exercise is only there to burn calories in the context of weight control. Exercise is also there to improve muscular and neurological function. People exercise and stretch to improve and preserve mobility. They run on treadmills to improve lung and cardiovascular function. All of these contribute to the ability to live a better, more fulfilling life. I appreciate that you may have neglected these aspects of exercise because they either didn’t fit into your time constraints or worked against your argument, but what also happens is people will get the idea that exercise is illogical in itself, and I already have a difficult time convincing people of exercise’s benefits. Please don’t undermine that part of the health and fitness industry that is sincerely trying to keep people healthy.

    • admin
      May 19, 2013

      Hi Roy,

      Don’t get me wrong, I love exercise! I do it all the time. I’m just inviting people to think about exercise in a different way than how it is often portrayed in the popular media. Specifically, this idea that working out is a mandatory part of life, and that not working out (and becoming fat) is a moral failure. The purpose of this story was to show people that it is natural and normal (from a genetic behavioral perspective) to not want to move if not necessary, and to want to consume as much energy as possible. That said, once we understand why we behave the way we do, then hopefully for some people, it will be easier to approach healthy eating and physical activity, understanding that it’s ok if it’s hard. It’s ok that you don’t feel like the people you see in the commercial when you hop on the treadmill or join a fitness class. It’s not laziness and gluttony that make people not want to work out and to eat a lot, respectively. It’s in our nature. Conversely, it’s also in our nature to move naturally throughout the day, of course, but the environment we’ve built for ourselves makes that a lot harder to do.

      I sincerely hope that this story doesn’t come across as anti-exercise. If anything, I want people to view exercise and physical activity as a great and enjoyable privilege, that our bodies work best when being physically active, and that food does not have to be an enemy–it can be a valuable and enjoyable fuel that can help us move more, and enjoy the health benefits that come with an active lifestyle.

      I understand your concern, and I applaud your work. I worked in the health and fitness industry for eight years myself, and I know there’s a lot of great people doing great work. I also understand that some people need a different approach to nutrition and physical activity than the one often promoted by the industry. I’ve tried to offer that here.

      Thanks for your comment.


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