This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
Last year I paid a visit to Miya's Sushi, in New Haven, a restaurant that tries* to be sustainable
We are aware that the restaurant industry has a very harmful impact on the environment; in particular, the traditional cuisine of sushi is destroying our oceans. Therefore, we try to maintain a restaurant in as ecologically responsible manner as possible. We do our best to not use ingredients that are either overfished or that in their production have a negative impact on the environment. As a result, half of our vast menu is vegetable-centered; the other half does not utilize traditional sushi ingredients such as Toro, Bluefin Tuna, Big Eye Tuna, certain Yellowfin, Unagi, Red Snapper, Maine Sea Urchin, Octopus, and so on. Instead, we’ve created dishes that include unconventional sushi ingredients such as Catfish, which, unlike the farming of many farmed fish, are grown in confined ponds that make it virtually impossible to cross-contaminate other species or destroy the aquatic ecosystem around them.
I was reminded of it because on a popular Facebook group called International Paleo Movement Group, there was an argument between me and Lana, the admin of Ethical Omnivore Movement, a facebook page where she posts various articles and other information.
Lana thinks it is unacceptable to eat any seafood ever because we need to give our damaged oceans a rest. That there is no such thing as sustainable seafood. She was promoting a film called Sea the Truth, which is produced by the Dutch animal rights party.
They also produced Meat the Truth and I think here it's where we find parallels between many tactics that animal rights activists use to discourage omnivory. The main tactic is to highlight parts of the industry that is destructive and then also highlight incidences where corrupt governments and NGOs labeled meat or fish sustainable where it wasn't. The implication is that the entire industry is bad and it is impossible to buy sustainable versions of these products. With the growth of the local food movement, in meat at least, this position has become untenable since a growing number of people have personal relationships with the farms they buy from and see that not all meat is produced in the way portrayed by these documentaries. So they also increasingly ally themselves with other arguments that appeal to self-interest such as that meat or fish is all full of toxins or will clog your arteries and kill you slowly.
They also attack small producers, trying the best they can to find small producers that are poorly run in order to undermine consumer's confidence that they can find good products or to highlight the idea that even small producers can have a negative effect on the environment such as Meat the Truth's emphasis on methane that even grass-fed cows produce.
They want you to firmly believe that there is never an acceptable meat or seafood to buy.
When this kind of stuff gets incorporated by the paleo movement, it becomes even worse since so many people in this movement are rabidly anti-government and anti-agriculture. Fish farming? It has the word farming in it, so it must be always bad. Government monitoring and regulation of fish stocks? Nope, because a lot of governments are corrupt. I don't even know what solution they are proposing. Lana simply said people who eat fish are being selfish and small picture and we have to personally change in order to save the ocean.
Given that the ocean is the commons and in general owned by no one (a more sophisticated libertarian argument would attack lack of ownership), and that we can't assume that rest of the world's population is willing to give up seafood because of animal rights films, unfortunately the main viable solutions will be on a global policy level. Which definitely is difficult considering the capture of governments by industry interests, but the consensus on individual action is that it is ineffective at even making a dent on global problems like ocean health or climate change. I think even the makers of these films understand that. Marianne Thieme, the Dutch politician that helms these films, is a big supporter of bans for things she doesn't like, not trying to guilt consumers into making different buying choices. The Dutch understand this more than most people with their multiculturalism struggles. Marianne, knowing that many of the things she opposes are deeply culturally embedded, has backed bans on Kosher and Halal slaughter for example.
I'm not saying that small local solutions aren't important, but they will fail if they rely on the commons and the commons are not protected. A good example was efforts in the Gulf to develop sustainable fisheries that were stymied by the oil spill there.
The reality on fish and meat is that it's not all black and white, that the presence of bad apples shouldn't tarnish efforts to reform the industry, develop alternatives, and lobby for regulations or other methods that protect the commons for everyone. Some methods of harvest will need to be banned like trawling (some countries have already banned them) and some species will require harvest moratoriums.
Sustainable solutions do mean we have to consume less of certain things and not consume others at all, which is why arguments about emissions from grass-fed cows and other similar arguments can be so deceptive. Methods like pastured cattle raising are less productive, which means higher prices for consumers. Even though I get my beef at a very good price, it is still more expensive than factory-farmed beef. Which means the average consumer will buy and eat less. There are costs, but they are worth it in order to support functioning ecosystems that can produce all kinds of foods for future generations.
Of course when you are dealing with a wild animal things get harder. You have to have sophisticated monitoring in place in order to determine what can be taken sustainably. You have to accept that some years you might not be able to hand out any tags for animals or harvest quotas. It's possible that the best solution for some of these stocks is to treat them a bit like we started treating land hunting in the US after overhunting became an issue: we heavily regulated it, de-commercialized most of it. If you want a deer, you can go out and get it yourself with a tag given out by the government. This method has already been applied to abalone in California. You have to dive to get wild abalone. Given that this is kind of dangerous, sustainable abalone farms have been developed for the commercial market.
Back at Miya's, I thought most of our sushi tasted very good. The menu describes the production method, harvesting method, and a little bit about each fish. Well, maybe not a little bit. One of our complaints was that the menu was the length of a small novel, which made it difficult to actually decide what to order. I'm not going to pretend that my own choices or even your choices can save populations of fish. For every bluefin tuna I chose not to consume, there is a consumer in a developing economy who probably just got his or her first paycheck and is going to probably order fish without looking at their "seafood watch list" card. Solving ocean problems requires large scale policy solutions, not telling a relatively well-off educated person in New York City that they are selfish for eating grouper like Lana was doing on IPMG.
But I do think those of us in the food industry, whether its writers, chefs, or grocers can make a small dent by promoting good products and leaving bad ones off the menu. Good products might not reach everyone, but they provide business models that can be used around the world and generate demand that might spur development of similar production/harvesting elsewhere.
We hear a lot of endangered seafood, but what about marine species that are pests? That are invasive and negatively impact ecosystems? These are ideal to consume, we just need to make sure that we are purposefully overharvesting and not replenishing. And that we accept that if we are successful, these things won't be on the menu anymore. Jackson Lander's Eating Aliens highlights some of these species. Miya's has a tasting menu of invasives.
There are also conservation success stories that have been so successful that these species flood the market, which is the case with lobster right now.
I also think that we need to embrace some forms of aquaculture. This isn't black and white either. There are bad fish farms. Maybe right now most fish farms are bad, but there are good systems that are being developed right now. Development of fish feed for aquaculture that is not itself wild harvested and is not also species inappropriate grain pap is a major issue right now. We need to look at systems that farm seafood at every level of the ecosystem, from aquatic plants to brine shrimp. I visited an aquaponics operation here at the Plant in Chicago recently and there were farming herbivorous Tilapia there. Unfortunately, with most of their diet being grain, consuming them has almost none of the benefits of consuming wild fish. Innovations in the production of DHA-rich algae could be a possible solution. Closed salt-water fish production systems are already being developed. I have had an interest in aquaculture for some time and would very much like to produce freshwater prawns on my family's farm.
Also, I can't help but notice Lake Michigan in my backyard, which is full of fish. Maybe someday once the remediation is done, we can get pollution under control so we can consume fish out of their more often. I eat fish my father catches from there sometimes, but try not to consume it very often.
Either way, we can't let ourselves be derailed by sexy documentaries and books created by people who have other motivations, namely the end of omnivory, in mind. Even as a niche market, we can drive the development of better solutions.
I recommend the book Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe which takes a look at the current state of the fish industry. It's a short read and free of extremism. When buying seafood, I would recommend Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch website. You can even print out a card to take with you to restaurants and the grocery store. They use several criteria to determine which seafood are good choices. The ideal choices come from healthy populations which only what can be replenished is harvested, using methods that do not damage the ecosystem. The ideal fishery is managed in a way that preserves and maintains the marine habitat. You can read more here. You should also take toxin levels into account like mercury and PCBs. If you take fish oil, consider switching to algae-based DHA or source your oil carefully, as much fish oil production is currently unsustainable. I used to buy Marine Stewardship Council certified fish, but based on their approval of fisheries that use trawling, I do not believe they are a trustworthy source of information.
I treat buying seafood the way I treat buying anything. There is a wrong way to produce things. There is contamination everywhere. But if I ditched anything that was possibly bad, I'd have nothing to eat. Instead, I look for and support the best I can find. This requires me to ask questions and be knowledgeable. With sardines for example, there are two main fisheries. One is threatened (Atlantic), the other thrives (Pacific).
Personally, I've never been crazy about fish oil. I think the benefits have been exaggerated and there might actually be some negative health effects to high consumption.
I never ever ate fish until I was about 20, when I first started trying to use diet to treat my health problems. I hated fish and remember drenching it in spices to choke it down. But now I actually appreciate the taste of many fish and think it is a very important element in the flavors of my cooking. The main seafood items in my kitchen are:
I really would like to find a better source for shrimp. When I see wild caught Oregon shrimp at Whole Foods, I definitely buy them. Since fraud is an issue, I would suggest finding a reputable fish monger and buying whole easily-identifiable fish.
So no, I don't think the solution to our ocean's problems is to leave them alone. Good fisheries are stewards of the ocean and by relying on the ocean for food, our stake in the matter is much higher. Good community fisheries can even mount effective resistant about threats like undersea drilling. I also think it's important to preserve traditional healthy livelihoods and work with small local community fisheries to adapt their traditions to new global challenges as best as we can, a sentiment Lana does not share. To her it's black and white- there is no fish from the ocean that is acceptable to eat. I won't be liking "Ethical Omnivore Movement" any time soon on Facebook. It's time for a rational omnivore movement.
* they had no information at the time I dined there on the sustainability of the rest of the menu, such as the vegetables or the grains.
An old lady about half my size almost pushed me into a bucket of fish today. I had just wanted in to Isaacson and Stein and I was kind of disoriented. I felt like I hadn't walked into a fish shop, but a school of fish already organized in a way I could hardly comprehend. Immigrants from around the world, Chicago old-timers with heavy accents, cooks from restaurants, and a few random confused white people circling bins of every possible fish I could imagine. Mainly whole fish, of course. I didn't ask questions, I just tried to figure out what to do and how I could obtain some fish without getting fish goo all over my clothes and shoes. One thing I've learned from traveling is just try your best to do what everyone else is doing. I saw a woman reach for a bin labeled "gloves" and grabbing plastic bags. I did the same.
I escaped with a bad of whole head-on smelt for less than $2.00. The French Market nearby had smelt too, in a less chaotic environment, but missing the heads and for twice the price. Sorry, but as I've written before, I think the head is an essential part of the experience. You should look your tiny tiny fish in the eye before devouring it.
But it's a typical case of culinary creep for me. Because you can't have smelt without homemade aioli. And I can't seem to make that without destroying my tiny kitchen with some mixture of oil and duck fat. I'm almost tempted to go to DMK burger bar and try to buy their aioli because the chef says it's made with only olive oil, a rarity in the world of Hellman's.
I'll definitely be back at Issacson and Stein because I just got a new cookbook I'm kind of excited about. I've already written about Ferran Adria's influence on fine dining, but The Family Meal focuses on the kind of relatively-simple meals shared by the staff "family" at elBulli. Not "fancy" like the food served to the restauarant's visitors, but still elegant and tasty.
Being Spanish, there are lots of great fish recipes here that I'm looking forward to try. Most of them feature the whole fish, though he also has a good recipe for fish stocks and several recipes that feature it. Interestingly enough, a lot of the recipes are already gluten-free, even the baked goods. Spain already had a history of using ground almonds in cakes. But a lot of the desserts of just simple fruits and custards.
The only depressing thing about buying fish in Chicago is that so few options are local. Which is stupid since Chicago happens to be right on Lake Michigan. My father gets some amazing fish from the lake, including salmon, but I'm more concerned about the pollution than I am from ocean fish. The last advisory I read said to remove as much fat and organs as possible, AKA all the good stuff, from fish caught from the lake. Mercury and PCB pollution sucks. Imagine- I would be able to walk just a few blocks and get fish for almost nothing if we hadn't messed the ecosystem up so much.
I think The Family Meal is exactly what American fine-dining chef Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home should have been. Family Meal has better pictures, showing each recipe step-by-step, which is important for those of us who don't have much experience with things like cooking with whole fish (though this is quite funny since so many of my family is fisherman, but I was too picky when I lived around them). Also, Keller's cookbook contained lots of canola oil, which I'm not a fan of and is also somewhat mystifying considering that olive oil is now produced in Keller's home state of California. In Spain, almost everything is cooked with olive oil (and I was surprised to see that studies there show you can fry in it without damaging it, which is probably a testament to the protective effect of antioxidants) as a "neutral" oil, but in the United States, the flavor of olive oil is not considered neutral.
Anyway, after I bought the smelts, I headed to Publican Quality Meats, where the owner, Paul Kahan, was holding court. He looked the part of a butcher, because he is one, but he's also a chef and owner of several of Chicago's best restaurants. It's awesome to walk into a shop where everyone who works there seems to like the same things you do. Like offal. And authentic fish sauce. It's worth the price. After chatting with one of the butchers about blood, I walked out with my Red Boat fish sauce, heart, blood sausage, and Pok Pok drinking vinegar.
I've also been shopping at The Butcher and The Larder. Their liver pate is truly excellent and they will cut some great marrow bones for you to go. So far there isn't much in NYC that I miss, except the Asian food in Queens and the raw offal/meat at Takashi.
And my meatshare buying club. I've not started it up because I haven't had the time, my own family's farm isn't producing that much, and I was super lucky to have Spring Lake Farm to work with there. Seems like the market for lamb and goat, my typical starting point for shares, is much tighter here. So far all the farm's I've contacted have been sold out, but I guess I need to be more systematic and do a day of calling.
I will say that if you are in Chicago and you want to try lamb, it's easy enough to find Mint Creek Farm's stuff at farmer's markets and specialty shops. A lot of people tell me that they don't like lamb. And I understand, because a lot of it does have that acquired "gamey" taste going on that Americans don't really like. The New Zealand lamb at Whole Foods is a perfect example of that gamieness. But Mint Creek farm doesn't have any gamey taste and it's delicious, if a bit expensive. I recommend the Italian Sausages.
Last month someone posted saying asking if I might have issues with anxiety/depression that might really be at the root of my stomach problems rather than diet. It's interesting because I once thought that to be the case, but if it was I seem to have de-coupled the issues. When I first started getting healthy, my main goal was to be stable enough health-wise to study abroad, a goal I met and indeed I did study for a year in Uppsala. But even there when I was stressed I would get stomach issues.
The past few weeks have been rough personally, but the amazing thing is that my problems have not been compounded by severe stomach issues like they were in the past. I think that while I have had other troubles, I am thrilled to have a achieved a degree of resiliency that I didn't think was possible for myself. I think the things that have gotten me through this time are utilizing simple gentle cooking methods. I told myself that it's OK to not eat perfectly, but that's not an excuse to survive on ice cream.
I was very grateful that I have a bag of Haiga rice. It is more expensive that normal rice, but it is more nutritious that white or brown rice. It has more of the rice germ, but not the hull. So it's digestible without being soaked.
In my experience I need very little of this to be full. I make it in my handy rice cooker. I first learned about rice cookers when I lived in grad student housing that provided me with a large private room...but no kitchen. Most of the other people there were exchange students from Taiwan, China, and Korea. They all had rice cookers. You can cook great meals with just an electrical outlet at your disposal. It's important to get one with a steamer to make your meal complete. In the past when I was grain-free I boiled roots in the rice container, but now I just put in some haiga rice. In the steamer you can put all kinds of things. Most roots and vegetables steam well. You can also steam sausage, fish, and Korean egg custard (I just put the custard in a dish and put the dish in the middle of the steamer). I love steaming sausage because it usually bursts a little and drips on top of the rice. I have also made a few other random things in the steamer like bucket dumplings and idlis.
I can't give you a recipe for a buckwheat dumplings, because I made mine up. I first had such a thing when I was at Himalayan Yak. They told me not to order the buckwheat thing (maybe it wasn't even a dumpling) because it was not something Westerners liked, but I don't know what they were talking about because it was delicious. They served it with TONS of butter and a stew of some sort made with goat liver and heart. If anyone knows what this is called I would be grateful :) It's not on their normal menu. Either way, if you can make it into a ball, you can steam it. I usually soak the locally grown buckwheat flour overnight in some water and it works OK. The butter is required :) I'm fascinated by the diversity of cuisines in Nepal...seems like there are at least five different regional cuisines.
I just put the stuff in, flip the switch, and go do other things. When I'm done I mix it all together and add random stuff like pickled vegetables, chutney, sambal oelek, seaweed, and raw egg yolks.
Also, of course I use my slow cooker. I find that Korean recipes work really well in a slow cooker and I get a lot of ideas at local Korean places. They are some of the few restaurants in the city where they still make bone stocks and cook meat on the bone. I've had old Bulgarian ladies tell me their MSG-laden bouillon is "traditional," but the Koreans know better. You can't make something like Seolleongtang without real bone stock. It's made with ox bones that are boiled for hours and hours. Properly, they should be boiled for days.
While I am not going to live in NYC much longer, I'm very grateful for the diversity and how it has inspired me to learn and develop ways of eating that are as resilient as the cultures they came from. Thanks to the internet, I really don't need to live here to enjoy such food anyway....
Yesterday I face two cooking fears: small fish and frying. I was at the Union Square Farmer's market with a paleo friend yesterday. At the Blue Moon fishery booth I was about to get some sort of inoffensive seafood, maybe scallops. But then I saw my friend order something that was an unappetizing pinkish grey. It was monkfish liver. Not to be outdone in the adventurous eating department, I looked for something slightly more appetizing. My eyes alighted on a barrel of small iridescent blue fish with pearly eggs spilling out of their guts.
"What are those?" I asked. The fisherman answered "sparing." I had no idea what that was, but I ordered half a pound. It was a mere $2, but instantly I felt regret. What would I do with those? I'd never even heard of sparing.
Apparently they are smelt. Which I'd heard of, but never tasted. When I visited Madrid last year I had many fresh delicious sardines and anchovies, which I found much tastier than the canned varieties, but since then I haven't eaten many tiny fish.
I didn't eat fish until I was 18 or so and didn't cook it until I was 19. My family always ate fish, but I thought it was absolutely disgusting and only fit for cats. I forced myself to eat fish when I went paleo because of the convincing literature on the health benefits. I definitely didn't like it and pretty much did my best to drown it in heavily-spiced sauces. Since then I've tried different types of fish slowly and always with trepidation. I've fallen in love with shellfish, but my relationship with oily fish is a little less stable. I usually try fish for the first time at restaurants, because at least they sort of know what they are doing...right?
Either way, I was stuck with these smelt and wasn't about to waste them. According to my Google searches...eating the whole thing was recommended. Pretty scary...the thought of eyeballs and brains and ugh.
Per some tips on paleohacks, I washed and dried the smelt, then dipped then in egg, and then in a mixture of coconut flour, almond meal, and my favorite spices. I'm pretty cautious about frying, but a good method I've found is just to use lots of heat, but protect yourself with a lid from the popping oil. I fried the fish in a couple of tablespoons of ghee until they were crispy. Then I seasoned then with a dash of salt and a pinch of lime.
And I ate them. I'd never eaten a whole entire fish before, but these were delicious. I totally forgot about eyeballs and other nasty bits. They were crispy and mild. I dipped some in my delicious homemade mayo and they were perfect. It's great to add another healthy, cheap, and fairly easy food to my recipe box!
Hmm, I guess my previous post made it seem like I am callous about fish. But I care greatly about fish as species and as important parts of our ecosystem. While I certainly wouldn't go out of the way to kill a fish cruelly, the ecology is the most important part for me. Before I switched into agricultural development economics, I nearly finished a degree in environmental economics.
Most of my classmates in my courses then were studying for degrees in ecology, which spurred me to also take some ecology classes. I continued to dabble in that field, taking a few classes every year. The ecological worldview had a huge impact on me, causing me to view animals not as individuals, but as members of an ecological entity. When I worked with bees this was especially important. My entomology professor always cautioned us against personifying bees.
I understood why. Viewing the queen as some sort of well...queen in the human sense obscured her true role in the colony. The same went for the individual bees. The more I appreciated their complex and amazing behavior, the more I learned to respect them as a colony rather than a group of individuals with individual interests. In a bee hive, their decisions always prioritized the colony.
On the subject of fish, I always chose fish that are the most sustainable and healthy for humans. Sometimes that conflicts with the welfare of individual fish, sometimes it doesn't, but either way my priorities are clear for healthy ecology for them and me.
A good book that really cemented my desire to avoid fish like farmed salmon or those harvested by trawling was Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe. If you don't want to read an entire book on the subject, this Salon interview captures some of the main points of the book.
Salmon from these farms tends to be full of persistent organic pollutants, [some of which] are highly carcinogenic. Salmon farmers grind up smaller fish like anchovies, sardines and anchoveta to make the pellets -- all of which should be going to feed humans, not making deluxe fish, especially in the context of food riots -- and salmon farms have been proven to spread disease and parasites like sea lice to wild fish populations, among them sea trout in Ireland and wild salmon in British Columbia
A while back I read an article mentioning a book called Prehistoric Cookery. It had some interesting ideas, so I bought the book.
Unfortunately the book is really a tiny little coffee table book. I was hoping for something more substantial, but it did get me thinking about ancient mesolithic and iron age diets of the Celts.
Scotland and Ireland are disproportionately affected by alcoholism, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and celiac disease. For some time there was a theory that this was because Celts are descended from a "Celtic Fringe" of more recent hunter-gatherers similar to the Finnish and Sami fringe further north. Recently, that theory was seriously questioned by genetic research that showed that Celts are most likely descendants of Middle Eastern neolithic farmers, mixed with perhaps some local hunter-gatherer stock.
It's really quite amazing how ignorant even scientific professionals are about the history of food, such as Colin T. Campbell or the professor in the article about Prehistoric Cookery, Brian Radcliffe, who claims
“The main lesson is that as humans we need a huge variety of food from a range of different sources and food groups, ” he says. “We can see from early man’s experience that it is not good enough to rely upon single sources and single groups of foods because they did not give them the nutrients they needed.
Ugh. First of all, he obviously hasn't read the book he is commenting on, which clearly shows the wide variety of foods consumed by the Celts ranging from fish roe to nettles to berries. Also, he doesn't seem to know about the many groups of indigenous peoples who rely on flesh and are healthy.
The author of Prehistoric Cookery makes some of the same mistakes, saying that "like studied hunter-gatherers" the diet of ancient Celts would have been 80% plants, which is NOT true. Hunter-gathers studied get most of their calories from meat. Isotope studies indicate that the Celtic diet in the Iron Age was very high in meat.
Mesolithic Celts seem to have eaten deer and wild boar. Their remains are typically on the shoreline, where they left shell middens and probably ate seaweed, roe, and whole fish. Early grains cultivated were mainly oats. Barley and early forms of wheat swept in later, but oats remained very important. Perhaps that is why their teeth in the Medieval period were better than the more wheat-centric English.
Weston A. Price visited the Isle of Lewis in Scotland and found that the natives were remarkably healthy and had beautiful teeth despite their "limited" diet. A diet of fish and oats might seem limited to us, but they ate parts of the fish that we typically don't:
An important and highly relished article of diet has been baked cod's head stuffed with chopped cod's liver and oatmeal.
I do think it's important to note that the oat eaters of the mesolithic were just not as healthy as their hunter-gatherer ancestors. Their bones were smaller and less sturdy. Traditional agrarian diets aren't bad, but I still don't believe they are optimal.
Here are some foods that I would definitely like to eat more of from Prehistoric Cookery include:
The traditional bread was nearly flat and rather tough. It's interesting because since breads persist in Scandinavia. A local NYC bakery does the real thing. The Celts also fermented their oats.
On the subject of Ireland, it's also good to note that of course the potato was introduced very late. It spurred population increases that ended up being disastrous when the potato famine hit. Before potatoes were introduced, the diet of the Irish probably resembled that of the Masai, as they also relied on their cattle herds for both dairy and meat.
Cattle blood, not potatoes for Cuchulainn
"I'm going to Florida. I'll stop my vitamin D because I'm going to lay in the sun."
Wrong. 90% of adults over 40 years old have lost the majority of their ability to activate vitamin D in the skin. A typical response might be an increase in blood level from 25 to 35 ng/ml--a 10 ng increase with a dark brown tan.
This 2007 study found YUP’IK ESKIMOS who consumed the most traditional foods obtained on average 1232iu/D from food
This underscores the fact that the foods such arctic people ate were quite different from what we can get on the grocery store. For example, the seabirds that the Yupik eat consume lichen, which means more vitamin D than chicken.
Another comment noted that rural Belgian women retain the ability to use sunlight, but those in a polluted urban environment did not. Either way, this reminds me of the response to the thyroid post where some commenters said their problems failed to respond to dietary iodine. Perhaps because of thyroid toxins in our environment? Maybe even the paleo diet can't overcome the reality that it's not just our food that is awash in chemicals, but the entire environment. Furthermore, our food is different. It's just reality that domestic meat is different than wild meat and our soils have been depleted of nutrients. Supplementing shouldn't be seen as something only people on an inadequate diet need.
If you want to see some beautiful photos of traditional fish eating in a Gwich'in camp, look here, though keep in mind that at the time these pictures were taken, this tribe was eating modern foods.
Lately health blogger Matt Stone has been creating a bit of a controversy in paleo circles by blaming thyroid issues on low carbing. There is no question that many long term low carbers and paleo dieters suffer from thyroid issues . Why? Arctic cultures like the Inuit, Koyoukon, Yupik, Sami, and many others have a traditional diet that is very low in carbohydrates. Many people have written about how healthy they are despite following a diet that's not exactly the USDA food pyramid.
I think it's pretty clear that the problems people are having are not due to a lack of cornbread. What all the healthy arctic people had in common was that they consumed a wealth of marine foods ranging from seal liver to seaweed. Marine foods have nutrients all of us could benefit from. Traditional cultures not only ate fish, they ate whole fish: fish eyes, liver, and bones. This stuff is a hard sell to those of us who grew up eating the typical American diet, but it's definitely worth getting used to eating, as the arctic explorers did.
Until I was twenty seven I had the belief about myself that I could not eat fish and felt certain that its taste was obnoxious to me. I thought it an interesting peculiarity and assumed that everyone else would think so and there were few things I told about so often as the fact that I was peculiar in that I could not eat fish. I think I might have lost the notion sooner if it had not formed such an excellent topic of conversation
I've said it many times: if your paleo or low carb diet is a bunch of ground meat and some chicken breasts, you probably need to rethink things. As far as the carb controversy, it's a rather old one. The Weston A. Price Foundation has been criticizing the paleo diet for not including traditional dairy and fermented grain/legume products. In his books food ecologist Gary Nabhan recounts how Native American tribes like the Pima never suffered from obesity on their traditional high carb diet. Born To Run recounts the impressive athletic fears of the corn-loving Tarahumara tribe. The yam eating Kitavans don't have too many problems either.
But the paleo diet is about more than just not being obese. Plenty of people follow it to heal from autoimmune conditions and damage from eating the Standard American Diet. Others follow it to improve athletic performance. The truth is that while traditional agrarian cultures didn't have type II diabetes epidemics, the healthiest bones that anthropologists have found were those of coastal foragers. As Dr. Kurt Harris says "tolerated is not optimal."
Raw flesh might sound scary, but every traditional healthy culture studied by Weston A. Price ate at least some raw animal products. I was reminded of that when I dug up this article from the Washington Post about raw meat eating in Siberia. Raw meat also has a following in NYC too and I know several people who subsist on over 50% raw. I started doing raw foods as a vegan, but I gradually moved over to raw meat when I found that raw veganism made me feel malnourished and fatigued. That was a time in my life when I had been a little wild and I had probably done some damage to my stomach. I found raw meat, eggs, and fish was about the only thing that I could eat that didn't make me feel like crap. I never fell ill during this time.
Why don't I eat raw anymore? Well, I certainly eat plenty of raw foods still, primarily oysters, fish, and some grass fed meat. But raw is expensive because you really have to be careful about sourcing and you absorb fewer calories per gram of meat according to Richard Wrangham's book Catching Fire. I'm also a foodie at heart and once my stomach was healed, it was hard for me to find a reason not to eat delicious cooked food. But the raw paleos have some good arguments for their way of eating and it is definitely beneficial to eat some raw food even if it's just an oyster or two.
There has also been lots of buzz about carnivore-only diets in the paleo community lately. Such diets are traditional and there are numerous instances of healthy peoples like the Inuit who ate that way. Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson was perhaps one of the first urban NYC cavemen when he frequented Greenwich Village Salons back in the 1930s. Studying the Inuit, he was amazed to find that there were healthy despite eating a diet of almost 100% flesh. Back in the States, he did a study where he and another explorer agreed to eat only meat for a year to prove anyone could be healthy on such a diet. The diet was a success and he remains an idol to the carnivore community. I suggest everyone check out his excellent books.
I think though that while such diets can be successful, they are not paleo (there is no evidence of completely carnivorous pre-neolithic cultures) and not necessarily appropriate for everyone. In the long term, Inuit suffer from osteoporosis, probably because of excessive amounts of protein. There are some genetic differences that appear to allow them to eat their diet more successfully. Carnivore is just one option to investigate if other diets don't work, but it can be a difficult road and perhaps it's not so optimal for the long term.
Either way, there is much we can learn from cultures like the Inuit. Here are several rules I have gleaned
In the mainstream scientific community there is a consensus that there was a major dietary shift that occurred in our evolution which allowed us, as humans, to have the large energy-hungry brains we have now. The most largely accepted theory is that it was hunting down large predators on the savanna. The Wrangham hypothesis that it was cooked tubers is getting press lately because he has a book out. But there is another theory that I think deserves a look: that our move from chimpanzee-like primate to humans was when we started living by the waterside. That would account for why the human brain seems to run on omega-3 fatty acids that are so abundant in seafood.
Anecdotal, but the diet I have settled on is most like what early humans dwelling by the waterside might have eaten. I personally gravitate towards water: I'm a good swimmer and when I think about processing a rabbit or digging in the ground for tubers vs. grabbing a fish and a coconut....well I think most early humans would have picked the latter. Note that I'm not advocating the discredited aquatic ape theory, which theorized an ape ancestor that had gills and fins.
While we fully agree that the structural, cognitive and visual development of the brain requires adequate amounts of certain nutrients including DHA (Crawford and Sinclair 1972), we think the initial shift might have included more abundant and easily obtainable DHA-rich sources such as shellfish, crayfish, fish, turtles, birds and eggs (Broadhurst et al. 1998). Since the primary source of DHA is algae and plankton, it is abundant in the marine and lacustrine food chains, but almost absent in the meat, fats and offal associated with carnivore remains (Broadhurst et al. 2002). Other brain-selective nutrients are also more abundant in aquatic than in terrestrial milieus. This is notably the case for brain-selective minerals such as iron, copper, zinc,selenium, and iodine (Table 5). Of all the major food groups, shellfish requires the least amount (900 grams) to meet the minimum requirement for all five minerals, and is also the food group for which these requirements are most evenly distributed. Eggs (2500 grams) and fish (3500 grams), both more abundant at the waterside than in terrestrial environments, are next, while 5000 grams of meat, five times more than shellfish, would be needed to meet the minimum daily requirements for all five minerals (Table 5). Iodine especially is more abundant in littoral food chains than terrestrial food chains, and before the iodinisation of drinking-water and salt, hypothyroidy caused by iodine deficiency resulted in mental retardation and cretinism in millions of humans who lived away from the coasts....
Humans have about ten times as much subcutaneous fat as most terrestrial mammals and non-human primates including chimpanzees, and in this respect they approach ‘lean’ aquatics such as fin whales