Neanderthal DNA is why I ❤ ❤ ❤ meat

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Source: 23andMe email header image

In a very unexpected twist in my relationship with at-home ancestry kits, I recently received an email letting me know that I am part Neanderthal. Or more specifically, that I have more Neanderthal DNA than 97% of the company’s customers.

I found this intriguing, so after finishing my afternoon hunt, I lit a fire and settled onto my woolly mammoth fur rug to more deeply ponder this revelation. Having read Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, I know that contrary to popular understanding, Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens did not exist in serial; rather, they co-existed for a period and “canoodled,” thus intermingling genes. Neanderthals as a distinct species ultimately went extinct, while their DNA continued to exist within Homo Sapiens.

It has been reported that East Asians have the highest presence of Neanderthal DNA, while other reports indicate that most people have about 3 percent. So while everything lines up, and really this email yielded no new news, it led me to wonder whether this information was the “missing link” (pun very much intended) to my personal ponderings about survival of the fittest and how it is that I am here in this world.

More specifically, I wonder how my clearly subpar genes were able to hoodwink time and science, effectively circumnavigating Darwin’s laws of evolution. The prehistoric version of me should certainly have perished. My near-blind, pre-Lasik nearsightedness would have made me oblivious to predators. My flat feet and bad knee would have reduced my ability to effectively flee.

And then there’s just the whole host of other unpleasant bodily quirks that would have undermined my ability to safely be in this prehistoric world: excessive sweating in weird parts of my body, super fast metabolism and spontaneous fainting, just to name a few. How the human manifestations of all these bodily imperfections could execute evolutionary arbitrage — proving a theory of survival of the unfittest that anthropologists should really look into — resulting in this body of work (yours truly) is truly baffling to me.

I’ve heard that all vestigial body parts are the remnants of features that disappeared as we evolved when they no longer served the original purpose— like our tailbone, which is the leftover from the tails we all used to have, or bangs, which used to protect our eyes from dust and smoke. I was told by my dentist that I never developed wisdom teeth, which she said makes me more evolved (her words)— a fact that I often lord over ye many-toothed hoi polloi.

However, I have a hard time understanding the benefit an overly sweaty face would have offered prehistoric me: moisture streaming into my eyes, temporarily blinding me as I fled the jaws of a Tyrannosaurus Rex (or a really scary palm tree. It’s unclear — like, literally. My eyesight is so bad and everything is so blurry!)

One might suggest that extra sweat could actually have aphrodisiac benefits, like the wafting of personal musk that brings all the boys to one’s yard. But I’m fairly certain that my caveman suitors would have taken one look at me, my deficiencies suggesting challenges impeding basic survival, and grunted a hard pass.

In fact, the only present-day attribute that I can line up with my Neanderthal ancestry is my deep desire for meat. Reports indicate that Neanderthals were located in areas with little or less predictable access to vegetation. In a feast-or-famine scenario, they learned to survive on proteins and in some cases seafood to stay satiated for longer. Perhaps this is how my ancestral line has managed to survived to the point of me-here-today.

This would also explain Asians’ love of meat and seafood, and proclivity towards Korean BBQ and other all-you-can-eat scenarios. In an Asian household, you are brought up knowing that buffet is no joke. You train for it (by barely eating the day of), you dress for it (my choice: overalls or other stretchy materials, and definitely NO JEANS because they are WAY TOO CONSTRICTIVE), and you maximize for ROI using every available advantage (like using your Asian youthfulness to claim to be 8 years old even though you’re well into your teens).

[Oh! Light bulb! Maybe the sweaty face is meant to keep faces moist and FOREVER YOUTHFUL… so that we can always claim to be children… for EXTENDED ACCESS to PROTEIN. Omg — biology works in mysterious ways!]

Finally, there is also a recent report of the discovery of a prehistoric female hunter, proving that women were in fact out in the field, bringing home the proverbial (and literal) bacon. They weren’t sitting at home preparing quinoa as anthropology books (or vegan influencers) would have us believe.

So the next time I flat tire you to cut in front of you at the buffet line and then clean out the Dungeness crab legs and cocktail shrimp, it’s not because of greed or gluttony or the fact that I fasted for the last 16 hours and I got at least 2 inches of loose overalls to fill.

It’s because of science and genetics and pre-programmed behavior. I am deeply in tune with my Neanderthal instincts and I’m fattening up for the winter… or fall… or just the next 12 hours until my next meal (goddamnit, Asian metabolism!)

I do it so my cavepeople genes can SURVIVE.

Though the possibility seems bleak at this point in time, Steph Kong hopes that she and buffets can be reunited in a post-COVID world. Steph at a buffet is like that magic trick where the magician pours water into a cone and it disappears. Except instead of a cone, it’s Steph’s mouth and instead of water, it’s coconut battered fried shrimp. Audiences around the world, in witnessing the spectacle, are wowed, wondering, “Where does it all go?”

Product marketer living and working in San Francisco. These thoughts and ideas are all my own.

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