The difficulty of inventing a carnivorous diet that can lead to scurvy

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach pre-teens about ancient civilizations. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.


After all the reading I've done about toddler diets, I unthinkingly assumed that vegetables are a vital part of a human diet and based a fairly important worldbuilding detail on this. This turns out to not necessarily be true, so I had to do some delicate research into nutrient sources...

Fun Facts

  • Vitamin A is oil soluble, is also plentiful in the oils and livers of cold-water fishes and sea mammals.
  • The antioxidants obtained by eating the brain meat of a healthy animal are helpful in protecting the human brain and spinal cord from damage.
  • The main thing that vegetables provide that you can't get from meat is fiber, which helps with gut health.
  • Because vitamin C deficiency has become so rare, doctors often fail to diagnose it even when someone has all the classic symptoms: bleeding sores, gingivitus, bone pain, etc.
  • In the modern-day USA, scurvy is most common in socially isolated people, usually older men living alone.

Organs & Skin

Most animals can synthesize their own vitamin C in their livers, but primates, guinea pigs and bats need to get it from their diets or risk scurvy. Raw organ meat and whale skin are good sources, along with the better-known citrus fruits. [Read More]

Structural Motivations

The big reason scurvy took so long to understand was politics. If poor diet was blamed, instead of climate, then those responsible for the food stores were in trouble. It wasn't until the Select Committee of the House of Commons got involved in prison reform that scurvy was finally identified as a dietary deficiency: because the incentives finally aligned. They needed a cheap explanation for illness in the prisons instead of an expensive, politically damaging one. [Read More]

Psychological component

Although vitamin C supplementation seems like a simple medical intervention, some people have such a hard time overcoming the socioeconomic, psychologic, or intellectual difficulties they face that they might develop scurvy multiple times over their life, even in the developed world. Anorexia, autism, and alcoholism seem to be among the more frequently-mentioned contributing factors. [Read More]

Lean Proteins

Humans can't handle much more than 40% of their diet being protein; more can lead to a syndrome called "rabbit starvation" or "mal de caribou" because those types of meat have too little fat; if you eat a diet of only rabbit meat, for example, you could die even if you eat the organ meat. [Read More]

If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy my article about maritime empires.


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