Our companionship started when, frustrated with my weight and diet, I wondered what gorillas ate. I figured gorillas would know what was proper food for us primates, so I googled, “What can gorillas teach us about weight loss?” Sure enough, the first item on the list answered exactly that question… in light of obesity epidemics in developing nations.
My gorilla, it turns out, eats about 50 pounds of food a day, 97% of it plant life from as many as 200 species. The little protein he gets comes from termites, grubs, and other insects. The fat in his diet is nearly non-existent. He rarely drinks water because the water in his food appears to be enough. He may reach 200 to 400 pounds, but his percentage body fat is lower than that of elite human athletes.
When you contrast him with modern humans, some differences are especially telling. All of his foods are unprocessed, and almost two-thirds of our calories come from processed foods. His are fiber and nutrient-dense, and ours grow more calorie-dense year by year. Compared to his 97% plant diet, 12% of our calories come from fruit and vegetables. He has to work for his food by foraging. Almost a third of us eat at least one meal a day cooked by someone else away from home. He doesn’t know anything about oil or flour. Since the 1950s, the average American’s consumption of oil and refined grain has increased by 67%.
From the first moment I met my gorilla, he stood beside me at every snack and meal.
I’d say, “Would you eat this?”
“If it were available, hell yes!” then he adds, “But we don’t have cheetos. Those celery stalks, carrots, green peppers, and grape tomatoes look like treats to me. What’s wrong with those?”
“Nothing,” I’d say, “They’re just boring.”
“According to whom?” he’d ask.
Sugar and spice and everything nice fills my diet, and, though I am a vegetarian who only occasionally eats fish, I actually don’t like vegetables much. My gorilla does not understand me and is always shaking his head at my strange ways. Don’t get me wrong, he doesn’t judge—if I left a case of Pepsi cans in the bush and taught him how to pull the tab, he’d drink them dry—but I confuse him. From his perspective, I’m strange and new and, sometimes, completely senseless. I find myself trying to preserve his innocence. I want him to think me a worthy primate.
I’ve been eating much better lately and appreciating the bounty I experience every day. My gorilla is adapting too—he gets bored with a cheeto-free diet—but, so far, I’ve been able to control his exposure to the modern American diet.
That’s a good thing, and I hope to continue being his role model… or maybe it’s the other way around.