This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
A few months ago when my friends and were planning another themed dinner party, I submitted the idea for Mesopotamia on a whim and it was picked. So I delved a bit into cooking from the Fertile Crescent, where many foods we eat every day originate. There are "recipes" that exist from this time and place, in the form of tablets from Babylon in the Yale collection written in cuneiform. The problem is that these terse "recipes" have certain ingredients that have not been conclusively translated. Perhaps archeology will fill in the gaps. Archeologist Patrick McGovern, for example, used chemical analysis of pottery residue to reconstruct an ancient Phrygian drink and brew something similar for Dogfish Head called Midas Touch.
Jean Bottero published the most complete translation of the Yale Tablet recipes, but interestingly, food bloggers have contested some of his translations. Jean supposedly loved to cook, but perhaps held a French contempt for other cuisines, declaring the Yale Tablet recipes not fit for anyone except his "worst enemies."
It is interesting because a lot of the recipes are for broth and I've been been thinking about the influence French cooking has had on how many people make broths. I sometimes get emails about how I prepare broth and sometimes people are shocked I don't remove the fat from my broth. I leave it in the vast majority of the time.
But in traditional French cooking, which has influenced so much of the Western world, the fat is often removed in various ways such as skimming. This reaches its pinnacle in French consommé, in which egg whites are used to effectively remove the fat. That's cool, but I don't really feel the need to do that at home. I think this is partially because I have been so influenced by Korean food, in which broths are often purposefully cloudy or fatty.
The removal of fat is probably a recent development. The first broths ever made were probably made in the later paleolithic as part of a survival strategy known as grease processing. The very purpose of breaking and boiling bones was to probably acquire extra fat with the added bonus of the savory umami bones impart into liquid. I think a paleolithic human would be horrified by the process of consommé, which involves essentially wasting both the egg whites and a bunch of fat (though if you have a dog at home, they appreciate eating the leftover "fat raft").
Apparently Babylonian broths were similar to paleolithic and Korean broths, in that they were nice and fatty. If you don't like fat, you might call them greasy, but a good cook should be able to design the rest of the recipe in order to make them more balanced.
Similarly, whereas most modern cooks use purified salt, ancient cooks were probably more likely to cook with salted condiments (similar to fish sauce or soy sauce)and other foods like salt-fish or salt-pork. And probably if they were making beer, they were also making other fermented foods like pickles. Unfortunately, the fragments on the tablets don't have much information on the specifics of these things, but I would not be surprised if pickles or salt-cured foods were some of the unidentified ingredients like suhitinnu, though some believe there are spices or even vegetables.
Either way, it was an excuse to whip up some Middle Eastern ingredients that possibly have a long history. Harissa was out, because it relies on peppers, which didn't exist in Babylon since they came to this region of the world through the Columbian exchange. But like how Korea was making kimchi with other Ingrid before the Columbian exchange introduced peppers, it is likely the Babylonians made something like harissa, which is so good because it's essentially a bunch of delicious spices marinating together. I made my regular harissa recipe, but used more garlic and other spices: cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and caraway being the dominant ones (you can see what spices I have on my Trello board). I also made some delicious preserved lemons, though the Babylonians would have more likely had a type of citron.
One ingredient I had a lot of fun with was some tears of mastic I bought in Greektown here. I first had mastic in New York City at a goat ice cream shop (yes, really) called Victory Garden, where they used it to flavor soft serve ice cream. I have a strong affinity for evergreen flavors that evoke both forests and cathedrals, so I was addicted to mastic immediately. It is often sold as "tears", since it is the harvested resin of the mastic tree, and I bought the lowest grade small ones to experiment with. I ground them with a mortar and pestle and made some teas, which are supposed to be very good for your stomach lining, though you have to be careful when adding the mastic to liquid. If you don't add it slowly it literally turns to gum and you realize where humans probably got the idea for chewing gum. There is evidence that ancient humans chewed tree resins. But that doesn't bother me too much, it actually makes a rather nice gum, albeit with a fickle texture. Mastic has a very complex flavor, being both bitter and sweet, but that makes it actually rather perfect for balancing fatty foods.
The small mastic tears I use
I decided to make a goat leg since I had one in my freezer. I hadn't cooked one in a long time, so I googled for some recipes and found one that suggested marinating in beets in order to give an attractive red color. I thought I'd go one further and use the beets for the acidic component of the marinade as well by using some Scrumptious Pantry pickled beets I had in the fridge. Full disclosure is that Scrumptious Pantry invited me to the Localicious event at the Chicago Good Food Festival, but I've been buying their excellent products from the Green Grocer since I started shopping there. At Localicious I sampled many good local foods, like the genius Billy Sunday deviled eggs that had liver mousse whipped into the yolk, and cider from Red Streak. While I was getting some locally cured ham from the chef at Big Jones, my friend and I bumped into a man and we promptly apologized, only to realize it was Sandor Katz, who is largely considered a fermentation god. I love my copy of his Wild Fermentation. We chatted a bit and various things, including the excellent practice of marinating meat in pickles, which he has also tried with good results. God knows what marinating meat in pickles does, I get the impression that pickle juice is a much more complex in its actions than plain lemon or lime juice.
The rest of the goat leg marinade was Midas Touch beer, Wild Blossom mead, and good olive oil. The next day I made my spice/aromatic mixture, which was plenty of shallots, olive oil, garlic, preserved lemons, pistachios, sesame seeds, mastic, cinnamon, fennel, licorice, black pepper, fish sauce, cumin, dates, and fig vinegar processed until smooth and rubbed all over the leg. I braised the leg in the marinating liquid diluted with duck stock for a couple of hours. It was delicious- tender, red, meaty, earthy, slightly sweet, and highly aromatic. I served with some full-fat Greek yogurt mixed with sumac.
Thanks Jen Moran Photography!
I wish I could give exact ingredients to my recipes, but I usually improvise when I cook. I didn't grow up with fancy food- I loved Hot Pockets, Lunchables, Chick File A, and Kraft Handy Snacks. But I was lucky enough to spend a lot of my childhood outside in the woods. I think that helped me develop a "nose" for flavor, and flavor is as much about the nose as the mouth. I have found memories of sweet honeysuckle, crisp wild chives, pungent tulip trees, balmy pine needles, and the fragrant vines of wisteria. When I have my own children, I hope they can be as exposed to things like these as I was, as I think they are not just important in giving children an appreciation of nature, as to give them other sensory experiences that can help them appreciate many other things that draw on nature for inspiration later in life. If you didn't grow up in such an environment, I think educating yourself about flavors and just trying lots of diverse and interesting foods can help you learn to improvise. As far as educating yourself about flavor, I started a book recently called Taste What You're Missing which is written by a food developer who had to develop her palette as an adult on the job, and so far it's pretty good. Also, have plenty of spoons so you can taste while you are cooking and adjust. I tend to use at least seven different spoons a day, which makes me feel very glad I now have a dishwasher.
When people use the contact form on the bottom of this site, maybe they should take a few seconds and think about two things I don't tolerate very well, which are
Maybe don't send me that stuff, because I will post about it, and I will criticize it. Or maybe on the latter case, just leave the historical narrative out of your spiel if you can't waste more than an hour thinking about what it might actually imply.
One thing I really regret is when I first got healthy by eating a paleo diet, I thought that if everyone just ate like me, they could have a slim body like mine. It didn't seem that hard to me. So I became a zealot about it. But that process of being a zealot forced me to talk with a wide range of people about their experiences with food and health- from relatives to people I met at paleo meetups in real life. What shocked me were the people who ate like me, some of them ate "better" than me, and yet they were struggling with their weight. I even met people who gained weight on diets like mine. It was eye-opening.
And then there was the process of me discontinuing my strict diet, once when I moved to Europe, and next after I was having low blood pressure issues. I was talking to a friend who lost a lot of weight on paleo successfully and now works...making pizza. We were both joking how we have worried that we were going to suddenly gain a bunch of weight. But it never happens. It's not like we returned to a junk food diet, but I'm not going to turn down some ice cream or homemade pizza. And yet there are people right now turning down the kinds of things who can't seem to slim down. And then there are are fair number of people who slim down on diets full of paleo demonized foods like legumes and whole grains.
Some of them realize that health is about more than being slim, and while gaining weight might be a bad sign, the fact that they can lose a little and feel healthier is more than satisfying. Others however give up, disenchanted with the promises of a slim figure, dismissing it as just another fad diet.
Recently Jonathan Bailor sent me a contact email not once, but twice with his new "Slim is Simple" video to celebrate the creation of a non-profit devoted to distributing his educational material on healthy eating. I was surprised that so many got excited by this video. I criticized it on Twitter and some people were upset by that, saying it was a great educational tool and we need more such "simple" tools. No reason to be obsessed with scientific accuracy. Now I don't think I have that problem- I have recommended books that are quite imperfect on this blog many times from The Primal Blueprint to The Paleo Solution, but I don't recommend something unless I feel it has a useful and correct core.
Luckily I wasn't the only one who saw right through this video, Beth at Weight Maven, also posted a skeptical take on it. Evelyn has also written about Jonathan's other work before. I won't even get into his questionable calorie math that doesn't seem to bother with the fat that the correct equation takes maintence, which depends on body size, into account.
But I also would love to see more books that simplify eating without bordering on inaccurate propaganda like this video. I felt like I was watching a cult indoctrination film. Not only that, but it would seem its bolsters didn't even notice he's recommending a diet that is pretty different from the one they recommend- a diet based on three pillars of protein, fiber, and water. Eat as much as you want of those three things (maybe it helps that if you eat too much of the first two, you'll get diarrhea).
That's right- have as much protein as you want on this diet, have twice as much as normal, you'll be so satiated you'll supposedly forget about ice cream.I think this is exactly the kind of diet I coined the term "faileo" to describe (though sadly I feel this eventually contributed to a culture that somehow thinks you can guzzle as much coconut oil and bacon fat as you want, when I was kind of just trying to get people on board with more reasonable things like lamb shanks). The language is also exactly what many of us have tried to get away from, like the idea that we are "designed" for certain "clean" (an excessively moralistic word reminiscent of Kellogg and other health puritans) foods. Other foods, like starches and sugars (including most fruit- only citrus and berries are given a pass), will "clog our body."
But then I gets weird, because he says "almost everyone stayed healthy and fit without even trying until very recently" and the visuals for this are very interesting:
So we have an early bipedal ancestor, and than an Egyptian, and Pioneer, and someone who looks like they are from the 40s or 50s. Oh and a rather curvy person, who we presumably don't want to be...if only we knew what those Egyptians did. But Egyptians ate diet rich in bread and beer. Wait, I thought all these foods were the ones the video describes as "unnatural" and are responsible for our modern "clogs"? Hmm, well maybe we'll see about the pioneer woman. American pioneers had access to much more meat and fat than the average Ancient Egyptian, but they also ate things like biscuits and hoe cakes. 40s to the 60s? Well I collect cookbooks from those eras and they are certainly not full of an austere cuisine of protein, fiber, and water. Even if he had used the typical types of people that paleo dieters hold up as examples- the Hadza, The !Kung, the Kitavans, and other modern peoples who still live foraging lifestyles and remain very healthy, it would not make sense, because their diets contain a large amount of starch and even simple sugars.
Another use of history offender is Dr. Lustig in his new book Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. Others are more qualified to comment on the biochemistry errors in this book, but the food history in this book is so inaccurate that I wonder if publishers even bother to employ fact-checkers any more. His take on food history involves dividing ancient people into "hunters" mythic fat-burning intermittent fasting meat-guzzlers who "didn't know what a carbohydrate was and they didn't need to." The modern remnants are the Maasai and Inuit. Then there were the "gatherers" who ate carbohydrates and protein in the form of fruits and vegetables, "this is the basis for today's vegan diet. It is practiced in multiple cultures around the globe, because if you grow your own food, that's what's available." Yes...the vegan tribes of India, oh wait, there is no such thing. And has Lustig ever raised his own food or visited a farm? Where do you think most farmers are getting fertilizer from? Hint: it's not vegan.
And the Maasai, while they may sometimes be fat burners, are not a low-carb culture. As for ancient foragers, there is a reason they have been called hunter-gatherers, not hunters AND gatherers. In fact the vast majority of foraging peoples in the Ethnographic Atlas eat fairly mixed diets, the people who are primarily hunters or gatherers are exceptions.
But Lustig has to make up this false narrative so he can get to his all-encompassing theory of all our problems (and also because for some weird reason he wants to pander to both the Atkins and plant-based folks, a weird thread in this book), which is the "Omnivore's Curse"- "it wasn't until we became gourmets, eating fat and carbohydrate in the same meal, that our cells first felt the wrath of mitochondrial wear and tear." Apparently, with the advent of farming we started mixing fat and carbohydrates together in meals and thus we became diseased, because in nature there are no foods that have both things, which means somehow that we should take our lessons and cease our evil cooking of potatoes in butter. "This accounts for the appearance of metabolic disease with the advent of trade in the early seventeenth century; before that, food was still a function of what you killed or you grew yourself. Eventually, we became gourmands, eating fat and carbohydrate in the same food."
Reminds me of my maxim not to take advice on food from people who don't actually seem to like it very much. My friends and I have a historical eating club and this Saturday is our dinner based on ancient Mesopotamia. I still have some mead (liquid carbohydrates mmm) left over from our Viking dinner, though we might have some ancient beer as well. For dinner I am making lard-rubbed goat leg with cumin, mastic, coriander, mint, and ginger. There will be sides of roasted barley and roots. Yes, I will be mixing carbohydrates, fat, and protein in one meal, which presumably people have been doing since they have been cooking. Pottery dates well into the Paleolithic, and before that people probably used other containers to mix things together. We know they were cooking because they left residues of grease and boiled fruits and all sorts of other things. Because humans are curious creatures and some of us really do like to play with our food (though as Gary Nabhan has pointed out, there may be some evolutionary reasons some cultures adopted things like spices).
Some people cook less than others- for example the Hadza don't seem to cook very many "recipes" though they do mix baobab (which contains both fat and carbohydrate) with honey for a drink sometimes. It's funny that Lustig later mentions that Ancel Keys in his heart disease study left out populations like those in Tokelau- in Tokelau their diet is starch and coconut. If mixing fat and carbohydrate were an issue, we would have been the way we are now for a very long time. Not that I think ancient people were perfectly healthy- for example, both Egyptian and Inuit mummies show atherosclerosis, though back then it may have been caused by constant infections and cooking smoke inhalation rather than food and there is no evidence it caused any mummy's death. Lustig does also make a good point that heart disease was a problem in the 1930s, back before the "obesity epidemic".
When I think of my very slim (though probably wearing a corset) great-great grandmother pictured here, I don't think of diets based on protein, fiber, and water. I think of people who ate reasonable natural homemade food. The same food I eat now. I doubt she would have touched things like the Slim is Simple Peanut Butter Pie (which contains ingredients I actually do try to avoid: low-fat dairy, industrial whey protein isolate, and extremely high omega-6 peanut butter, cooked almond flour...he recommends leaving the honey out of the crust, which is funny because it's probably one of the healthier ingredients) with a ten foot pole.
She didn't count calories, and neither have I. As someone who eats made-from-scratch foods that are highly variable it would be pretty pointless for me to count calories, as it would be inaccurate. I know when I'm losing weight I have a calorie deficit though, even if it is going to not be possible to quantify it accurately. Some people find success with trying to do the math, but I always found it easier to try things that have been shown in studies to subconsciously reduce the amount of calories eaten. One of these is to eat a lot of protein, which is funny because that's one of Bailor's main strategies. Though it certainly never made me stop thinking of other foods, and I had significant energy issues when I was on the very high-protein, low fat, high fiber kind of diet Bailor advocates. Frankly, I felt sick and catatonic, but I guess his diet works for some people, and not for others, the same way some weight loss diets work for some and not for others. Because nothing to do with the human body is simple. Slim is not simple.
I want to explore the evolution of the evolutionary nutrition concept and how evolution was lost from it.
An early variant, The Stone Age Diet, by Walter L. Voegtlin, shows up in the record in 1975, but whether this carnivorous book is an ancestor of later variants is questionable, so it's hard to consider it an ancestor. A more likely candidate would be the paper written in 1985 by Dr. Boyd Eaton and Dr. Melvin Konner, Paleolithic nutrition. A consideration of its nature and current implications. While elements of the paper seem dated today, it was a pioneering collaboration between a medical doctor and a medical anthropologist.
This paper explored how evolutionary concepts could shed light on modern health problems. It was not just a paper about eating well, it was about eating well in the context of human beings having a long evolutionary history, one shared by many other species. And that the selection pressures faced during the long evolution of primitive species to humans could tell us things about diseases, particularly chronic degenerative diseases, humans face today. It was unapologetically a Darwinian paper. It has been cited 964 times.
Around this same time, in 1980, Paul Ewald, a zoologist, published Evolutionary biology and the treatment of signs and symptoms of infectious disease, which explored the implications of host-pathogen adaptations and the "potential importance of determining whether signs and symptoms are adaptations of the host, of the disease organism, both, or neither." The main focus was on acute disease. This paper is considered one of the first in Evolutionary Medicine.
Around this time, the Konner/Eaton team turned their work into a book for layman. Adding Konner's wife Marjorie Shostak to the slate of authors, in 1989 they published The Paleolithic Prescription: A Program of Diet & Exercise and a Design for Living. The book drew extensively from the fossil record of hominid evolution, as well as Konner and Shostak's own fieldwork with the !Kung, one of the last foraging societies that exists today (Shostak's books on this fieldwork are also a great read). It mentioned the word evolution 40 times. They also published a commentary together in 1989 Stone agers in the fast lane: chronic degenerative diseases in evolutionary perspective (PDF).
In 1991, evolutionary biologist George C. Williams and psychiatrist Randolph M. Nesse published a paper titled The Dawn of Darwinian Medicine, another pioneering work in Evolutionary Medicine that outlined methods for applying evolutionary biology to modern medicine, such as understanding "iron deficiency" as one of many potentially costly adaptations to a war between ancestral vertebrates and pathogens that has gone on for millions of years.
Many people seem to think that an adaptationist approach is based on the assumption that organisms are perfect. This is a misconception. It is true that the adaptionist holds the power of selection in high regard and is skeptical of explanations that take quick refuge in proposed defects in the organism. Paradoxically, however, the adaptationist is also particularly able to appreciate the adaptive compromises that are responsible for much disease. Walking upright has a price in back problems. The capacity for tissue repair has a price of cancer. The immune response has a price of immune disorders. The price of anxiety is panic disorder. In each case, natural selection has done the best it can, weighing benefits against costs. Wherever the balance point, however, there will be disease. The adaptationist does not view the body as a perfect creation, but as a bundle of compromises. By understanding them, we will better understand disease
The Eaton/Shostak/Konner team continued to refine their approach over time. The last paper they wrote together was An evolutionary perspective enhances understanding of human nutritional requirements in 1996, published after Shostak's death, along with her book recounting her last journey to visit the !Kung, Return to Nisa. 1996 also saw the publication of Nesse and Williams' book for layman about Evolutionary Medicine, Why We Get Sick (mentions evolution ~78 times).
Eaton and Konner started collaborating with exercise physiologist Loren Cordain and medical doctor Staffan Lindeberg. Cordain became particularly prolific on the subject, publishing a wide variety of academic papers and inspiring a Ray Audette's Neanderthin in 1998, which mentioned the word evolution 14 times. His own diet book, The Paleo Diet, was published in 2001 and mentions the word evolution roughly 11 times. Around this time you start to see intersection between the work originating from the Eaton/Konner paper and Evolutionary Medicine, with the original 1999 compilation Evolutionary Medicine edited by Wenda Trevathan containing Paleolithic nutrition Revisited by Konner, Eaton, and Boyd Eaton's son S. Boyd Eaton III. Nutrition was always part of both approaches and bringing them together influenced many later books and papers on the subject of evolutionary nutrition.
As you can see, the whole foundation of this was always Darwinian Evolution, the idea that humans share a common ancestor with all life forms.
Unfortunately, many Americans reject this. A recent survey found that only 39% of Americans accept evolution as fact. One of the reasons for this is in America, evolution has become politicized due to forms of powerful Evangelical Christianity that started promoting a reactionary anti-science form of Biblical Literalist Creationism (when I refer to Creationism, I refer to this) in the 1920s. Welding significant political power, they have managed to suppress the teaching of Darwinian evolution in public schools.
I have pointed out that Creationism and Creationists are harmful and incompatible with evolutionary nutrition. On Paleohacks, Karen from Paleo Periodical referred to this when she said: "I'm seeing the accusation that someone doesn't "believe" in evolution more and more, which strikes me as intolerably elitist (I say "believe" because I don't think evolution cares what you think about it)."
It's only elitist because Creationists have succeeding in making sure that most Americans are ignorant of evolution. There is no "believing" in evolution, there is accepting scientific evidence. And while you don't need to accept evolution to eat real food, evolution is the foundation of the paleolithic diet concept. So it is disturbing to see Creationists like Jimmy Moore framing debates within the paleo diet community. Over the past few years, he has moderated panels on paleolithic diet debates, published "state of the paleosphere" articles, and generally positioned himself as a person with clout in the "paleosphere." At some point he stopped just putting out podcasts with various paleo voices and instead stepped over a line into shepherding the paleo movement, which alienated many science-based paleo writers like Dr. Kurt Harris and many others, some who simply stopped describing themselves as "paleo" in lieu of a being part of a movement gutted of all meaning.
I do get hatemail for saying this and expect to get more. The latest letter said "Who cares if Jimmy Moore doesn’t believe in evolution? Truth is, there is not much to this Paleo “thing”. Exercise, eat like a caveman and reap incredible benefits." If you need a story about cavemen to tell you not to eat crap and that sprints are good exercise, I think we have a problem. There is already a "real food" movement among Christians. Go to Wise Traditions and you'll meet many of them, though a paleo dieter might have trouble convincing them of their common quasi-religious precept that grains are the devil. I think it's great when people start to eat real, whole foods. And there are many reasons to do so that have nothing to do with human evolution (even if a lot of the science behind them is based on evolutionary models).
But I also think that evolutionary models are important in biology and are the future of understanding what makes our bodies tick. It is more than about eating meat, fruit, and vegetables, it's can help us develop sophisticated treatment protocols for all kinds of diseases. It is sad for me to see that suppressed and stifled for marketing purposes. As Staffan Lindeberg said:
Why does the same thing happen to a piece of food after it has been swallowed by humans of different ethnicity? Why is the anatomy and physiology of the gut virtually identical in a Chinese and an African? Why do all human have the same endocrine system and metabolism? You know the answer: because we share an ancestor from way back when. The experts estimate that our latest shared ancestors lived around 200,000 years ago in Africa.
Before that, during millions of years of evolution, the digestion and metabolism of our primate ancestors had been fine-tuning how it uses the available food substances in the most beneficial manner possible. Nobody would doubt that the best food for the human species would be the kind of food that was available in those days, rather than those that were introduced long after the construction of our physiology. Funny that nutrition authorities never say it loud.
Our primate ancestors have been consuming fruit, vegetables, nuts and insects for 50 million years or more. Meat was successively added, with a probable increase around 2 million years ago. Underground storage organs (roots, tubers, bulbs, corms) possibly become staple foods 1-2 million years ago. The variability was large: single plant foods were rarely available in excess, which reduced the risk of adverse reactions to bioactive substances in plant foods.
I think loss of this is one of the reasons why more and more books are published on paleo that either contain nothing about evolution at all or have evolutionary narratives that seem pulled out of thin air. If the caveman stories are just stories, I suppose it doesn't matter to people much whether or not they resemble the Flintstones more than they do science. Paleo Diet guided by those who don't care about evolution is low-carb dressed up in a sexy leopard skin coat. By far, it's not Creationists who are wholly responsible for this, there is also a secular anti-intellectual slant that overemphasizes self-experimentation and scoffs at reading about science or at those who point out certain "facts" about evolution peddled by gurus are not based on anything but fiction.
The loss is ours, as the difference between caveman stories that tell us not to eat garbage and the adaptationist evolutionary approach is enormous. The former does rely on reenactment of some golden age in which humans lived according to our design. Is it any coincidence that this resembles the story of Adam and Eve? In contrast, the adaptationist approach is one in which species are constantly under pressure and must adapt. Some of these adaptations are imperfect and even costly. It is possible we can do even better by thwarting some of these adaptations through modern technology. Evolutionary medicine isn't just about eating like your ancestors, it's possibly about outrunning some of the adaptations that cause things like aging through pharmaceutical or even cybernetic augmentation. It's not regressive like some calls by various authors like Lierre Keith to give up our technology and return to the Stone Age, it's cutting edge, even daringly post-human.
We have the opportunity to be on the front lines to show that evolution is important to humans now, that evolution, by enhancing our understanding of ourselves, can improve the way we live.
Some have also accused me of discriminating against Christians. As far as I'm concerned, Jimmy is welcome to learn more about biology and join the millions of Christians who are not anti-science. I made that journey myself, having been educated in Creationism as a child, with such anti-science absurd books like It Couldn't Just Happen. I was reading the reviews for that book on Amazon and it's interesting how many other people grew up with that book, but later learned more about evolutionary biology. Some became disillusioned atheists, others realized you don't have to be a Creationist to be Christian. Christians have been fighting Creationism for a long time. A notable example is Orthodox Christian Theodosius Dobzhansky, who wrote the essay Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution in 1973 response to anti-evolution Creationists:
Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It does not. It is a blunder to mistake the Holy Scriptures for elementary textbooks of astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology. Only if symbols are construed to mean what they are not intended to mean can there arise imaginary, insoluble conflicts. ...the blunder leads to blasphemy: the Creator is accused of systematic deceitfulness.
It's funny awhile back someone recommended that I just attend some less extreme churches than the ones I grew up in, just to see what it's like to go to a church that doesn't spend time preaching against homosexuality or evolution. Because at that point, that was really the only Christianity I knew. I really enjoyed going to those churches and met a lot of wonderful people, people who generally do not take Genesis literally, people who do not reject evolutionary biology and in fact some who work as evolutionary biologists! I also have learned much about the history of Early Christianity through attending Orthodox churches and it was stunning to me to realize how divorced modern Evangelical Christianity is from those roots or understanding how the Bible was put together by humans. I also came to question many things "paleo" dieters accept almost religiously as facts. Did you know that the monks on Mount Athos live long lives free from modern disease thanks on a diet that is pretty much vegan and high in grains? It is possibly partially due to ancient Christian fasting traditions.
I think American Creationists (and people who think Christianity requires such nonsense) could use some history lessons on their religion, the Bible, and on life itself. As priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said "Is evolution a theory, a system, or a hypothesis? It is much more it is a general postulate to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems much henceforward bow and which they must satisfy in order to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light which illuminates all facts, a trajectory which all lines of though must follow this is what evolution is."
If you are interested in learning more about how human evolutionary origins shape us today, some great books for anyone to read are Your Inner Fish, Written in Stone, Why Evolution is True, Why We Get Sick, or Before the Dawn, especially if like me, you did not learn much about evolution in grade school. Talk Origins is also a good resource.
In academia, Evolutionary Medicine continues to thrive. It has a society and many different conferences. It is also too bad that so many interesting and relevant evolutionary medicine/nutrition resources are so expensive. Many books on the subject cost upwards of $100 each. Two extensive papers were just published on the subject. One is $45, thank goodness the other is free, which is very unusual. But why aren't these folks publishing writings for laymen like the original pioneers of evolutionary medicine and nutrition did? As we discover more and more about how humans evolved, books become outdated quickly, so perhaps they should consider blogging rather than books.
I'd love to see more writings for laymen by them and more writings not afraid to mention evolution and even to educate readers about it. I think such interactions would not only be beneficial for us, but for them, since I feel the online community in particular can generate hypotheses faster than in academic publishing. You can see some academic researchers, like anthropologist Miki Ben Dor, drawing on hypotheses that have primarily been pushed by the online community like the idea that larger amounts of fat might have been more important in hominid evolution than previously thought.
Edit: here is a great editorial written by Randolph Nesse and Detlev Ganten recently:
The human body is a living archive of evolution, written in our genes, cells, and organs. The line is continuous to the beginning of life on this planet, so nature is inherently conservative. Sequences that are ancient parts of our genomic heritage tend to persist. Those important for survival and reproduction change less over the eons, so genes important for basic functions are generally “old” genes. The basic mechanisms that regulate cellular metabolism, cell division, and gene duplication are fundamentally the same as those occurring in unicellular organisms at the beginning of life on earth 3.5 billion years ago. Likewise, the molecules, cellular functions, organs, complex organization of muscles, bones, sensory organs, and nerves in vertebrates derive in an unbroken line from ancestors millions of years ago. Much of modern man's biology dates back to the origins of life; a complete understanding of this biology can only be appreciated with an evolutionary perspective .
We are not "designed", we are "adapted," and adaptations can be incomplete and imperfect. It matters less what our ancestors ate, than what selective forces were at play and how we adapted to them. Such a paradigm can help us see the costs and benefits of something like getting large amounts of calories from meat, which humans are definitely not perfectly adapted to, which is possibly responsible for such diseases as hemochromotosis.
Edit: Also worth reading is evolutionary biologist Michael Rose's 55 Theses on using evolutionary biology to improve your health, particularly in understanding (and possibly beating) aging.
In a weird turn of events, I have had two ancient-Roman inspired meals in the past month. It started when my friends and I decided to have a dinner party inspired by Apicius, an ancient Roman cookbook considered by some to be the first real cookbook. A translation is available for free online.
I procrastinated in planning my recipe and realized pretty quickly that this was not going to be particularly easy, since this book was written well before the Columbian Exchange, which brought Europe the gifts of tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers, which I use often in my normal cooking. I was forced to experiment. I settled on a sausage recipe, but being a procrastinator, I knew I wasn't going to be able to make actual sausage or to smoke anything:
LUCANIAN SAUSAGE [or meat pudding] ARE MADE SIMILAR TO THE ABOVE: CRUSH PEPPER, CUMIN, SAVORY, RUE, PARSLEY, CONDIMENT, LAUREL BERRIES AND BROTH; MIX WITH FINELY CHOPPED [fresh Pork] AND POUND WELL WITH BROTH. TO THIS MIXTURE, BEING RICH, ADD WHOLE PEPPER AND NUTS. WHEN FILLING CASINGS CAREFULLY  PUSH THE MEAT THROUGH. HANG SAUSAGE UP TO SMOKE.
I also found it rather hard to find savory, laurel, or rue, so I substituted elements from other recipes. I didn't know what "Condiment" was, but I assumed it had to do with the famous Roman "garum," a type of fish sauce made from fermenting fish guts. When I took Latin in high school, I remember thinking that I couldn't imagine eating something so absolutely disgusting. Little did I know I would fall in love with Southeast Asian cuisine and by 25 I would be putting fish sauce on everything. I didn't have to worry about finding fish sauce, because I already had my lovely Red Boat fish sauce, even if it isn't exactly like garum.
The annoying thing about making up recipes on the fly is that I never write them down, so when I stumble upon something amazing I have trouble replicating it. This is one of those cases, but I will try to remember.
I had pork belly already from The Butcher and The Larder. I put some cubes of frozen chicken stock on the bottom of the crock pot, put in the pork belly, poured in some apple cider to cover, and then started spicing. I believe I used black pepper (I was pretending to be a rich Roman), cumin, bay leaves, coriander, a small spoon of honey, and quite a bit of fish sauce and a touch of fig vinegar. I cooked it on low overnight. I like to cool it and then slice it thin so I can brown it in a cast-iron skillet, but I didn't have time. Obviously it crumbled with I tried to slice it, but whatever. I heated up some lard, added more black pepper, cumin, and mustard seeds, and browned the belly until nice and crispy, seasoning it with fish sauce to taste. I then reduced the leftover liquid and cooked some pitted sour cherries in it with more of the fig vinegar. For the final dish, I layered on fresh mint and parsley. It was amazingly delicious.
Obviously, I didn't take this picture. Thanks Jen Moran Photography!
Someday I hope to replicate this dish again, going from the basic premises I always start with, which are: salty, sweet, and sour. It was obviously a little lazy because pork belly is like my culinary trump card, a dish I have been doing over and over again for several years now, so any variation I do is usually good.
The rest of the dishes at the party also had some similar flavors.
Thanks Jen Moran Photography!
From the couple who brought us egg baos (who need to do a blog post on it and all their amazing recipes *hint hint*), was an incredibly rice risotto made with pine nuts in the foreground. Saffron-spiced chickpeas were also delicious and I was very surprised at how good the eggs with pickled fish sauce were. Even the dessert made with roast peaches and fish sauce was delicious. There were also lamb ribs, cooked lettuce salad, honey roasted nut tarts, and many other wonderful dishes.
So when Chicago Foodies announced a dinner at Balena also inspired by Apicius, a bunch of us signed up for that too, particularly since I had read of chef Chris Pandel's experiments with making his own garum.
The dinner was held in a cool wine-cellar looking lair and the chef announced he had pretty much followed Apicius' recipes as closely as possible, with no refined sugar, salt, or flour. All cooking was done in their wood-fired oven. Garum was to stand in for salt. He said he was trying to do a fairly average middle class meal. The drink pairings were pretty interesting too. One was a gruit beer. Gruit was the main bittering option in ancient beers, before hops became widespread. There has been revived interest in gruit, partially because scientists have discovered that hops are probably far more estrogenic than even soy. Some say that hops are an ancient lust-reducing reformation conspiracy. But the German beer laws that enshrined hops came before the reformation and beer usually doesn't have enough hops to make a difference. Either way, there are several gruits on the craft brew market at this point. I have tried the Fraoch Heather Ale and I think some of Dogfish's "Ancient Ales" series are also gruits. I know I've had the Finnish Sah'Tea, which uses juniper berries.
Another drink was a super concentrated wine with amaro, which was diluted with water, since this is also what was done in Rome too. To drink undiluted wine was barbaric.
The food was interesting to say the least, but there were definitely some things that looked more delicious than they actually were and the lack of salt was kind of off-putting. The gooey sweetbreads and the onion-filled lamb brain "patina", which was like an omelet, were not my favorite offal dishes and it took some wine to get them down. I like my sweetbreads grilled...with lots of salt. Same for the boiled turnips. Turnips just aren't as good as potatoes anyway.
I was very surprised with how much I liked the boiled honey leeks and raw mackerel, which was very fresh and not fishy like many mackerel dishes. The mushroom cups in garum had a wonderful umami flavor. And you can't go wrong with goat cheese and figs.
stuff quail, the lighting here wasn't good for many pictures.
The next course was stuffed quail, which had an excellent egg-fish sauce topping. I was not thrilled with the mullet in vinegar, which was very fishy. Parts of the boiled pigs head were good, but I did miss the salt.
For dessert we had sweet sausages stuffed with berries, which were a bit too sweet for me. But the best thing in the meal was definitely the sweet cheese custard with star anise and peaches.
My dining companions and I all agreed it would be hard to overeat this kind of food. Even though some of the dishes were a bit "Spartan," I respect the chef's choice to not embellish them much to show us what Roman food was probably like. In my own cooking, I was glad I was forced to explore other flavors instead of falling back on tomatoes and peppers. And I really like that the elements of Apician Roman food: organ meats, a variety of meat and seafood, fresh herbs, and fish sauce.
When humans started transitioning towards agrarian ways of life around 10,000 years ago, it wasn't just the types of food that changed. It wasn't just about more reliance on grains and less on meat, but about a fundamental change in the food system. True hunter-gatherers literally live day to day, not storing any food for later use. Horticulturalists started manipulating the forest so that they could have living stores of certain things like cassava and also started fermenting various plant and animal foods. As the human species moved into the arctic (LATER ON in our evolutionary history, contrary to some polar pushers that are popular "paleo diet" authors) and started living in more marginal areas in general, we developed smoking and salting as methods of preservation.*
But with agrarianism came the widespread processing and long-term storage of foods, particularly grains and legumes.
This opened up humans to all kinds of new vulnerabilities from rancidity, molds, and bacterial contamination during storage. We've largely forgotten about these things because science has eliminated so many extreme acute examples. When was the last time you heard about someone getting ergotism? Ergotism is caused by a fungus that grows on rye. In the past, a contaminated harvest could terrorize entire towns. A lovely description from 857: "a Great plague of swollen blisters consumed the people by a loathsome rot, so that their limbs were loosened and fell off before death."
While antinutrients and rouge plant proteins tend to get a lot of focus in blaming such foods for the poor health of ancient agrarian populations, such contamination also probably played a role. In developing countries, aflatoxins, a type of mycotoxins, still remain a serious health issue. They are something to always be aware of when parsing epidemiological data from agrarian cultures.
While few people in the US seem to be suffering from gangrene because of mold, whether or not even low levels of contamination and rancidity are an issue remains debatable. Regulatory agencies have different standards for what is spoiled. In Europe, the standard for Patulin, a toxin produced by P. expansum that shows immune system damage in animal products, is 10 μg/kg for children's apple juice. The action level for the US FDA is 50 µg/kg.
In terms of rancidity, I notice a lot of industrial food producers are adding antioxidants like Vitamin E to oils vulnerable to oxidative damage, so someone is aware that it's a bad thing. But I think a lot of restaurants even exhaust the antioxidant additive's abilities by using the oil to fry stuff over and over again. In animal models at least, feeding oxidized fat is a great way to induce inflammation. There is mounting evidence they are a health threat for humans.
And possibly because such types of spoilage is relatively evolutionarily novel, most humans seem to be unable to detect it simply by taste or smell. This is made worse when one is used to consuming sub-par food. The Chicago Tribute today had an article that noted that many immigrants find US peanut butter tastes rancid, but to most of us it tastes delicious. Also a study showed that 44% of Americans actually preferred the taste of rancid olive oil.
Many people I've talked to report that they feel fine eating "bad" foods in Europe. I've had that experience myself and it's very interesting. It's perhaps a testament to the EU's higher standards.
When I think about the diet I eat now vs. the diet I ate in the past, one thing that stands out is that almost all of my food is now in the fridge or freezer rather than in my cabinets. My cabinets are actually just full of tea and underused ktichen appliances. Of course, solve one problem and another one pops up- there is a hypothesis that Crohns could be caused by bacteria that thrive in fridge temperatures.
*which have their own particular health risks that could make up an entire post
I was watching Dr. Who and I started thinking that to someone in the Middle Ages I would seem as strange as the Doctor does to us. I started thinking about violence and death throughout history because I've been reading Steven Pinker's latest book.
Think about this: I'm a 25-year old woman who has never seen anyone die, has seen only three people injured, has only known six people who died, has only held five babies and none of them were my own. What a huge anamoly in human history, what a sheltered person I am. If I had been born a thousand years ago, the odds are I would have seen many people die, including my own children. I may have seen my fathers, brothers, or husband die from wounds they suffered in battle or even from mundane accidents.
I think people tend to downplay how resilient people really were. For example, I bookmarked this page on Viking health awhile back, which mentioned some injuries from Sagas:
Eyjólf's men thrust at Gísli with spears until his guts fell out. Gísli bound his guts up in his shirt with a cord and continued fighting. When fights continued for a long time (for example Heiðarvíga saga chapter 31), a pause was called in the fighting to allow men to bind up their wounds.
Both the saga literature and forensic studies of skeletal remains show that people survived serious battle injuries and lived to fight again after their wounds healed. In chapter 23 of Víga-Glúms saga, Þórarinn was struck by a blow that cut through his shoulder such that his lungs fell out. He was bound up, and Halldóra watched over him until the battle was over. Þórarinn was carried home where his wounds were treated, and over the summer, he recovered.
Of course there is no skeletal evidence for disembowlment or other soft tissue injuries, but there is plenty of evidence that these people were beat up. There are skeletons with horrible injuries that show remodeling, which is evidence that the person survived the injury and their body healed it somewhat.
People also underwent surgeries in the Paleolithic. There are many skulls showing evidence for trepanning, a primitive form of BRAIN SURGERY. It's incredible, but people survived having holes drilled in their skulls while they were alive, though I think people underestimate how many ancients cultures had consciousness-altering drugs, so it may not have been as horrible as it sounded.
I was reading The Palaeopathology of Aboriginal Australians: Health and Disease across a Hunter-Gatherer Continent, which is an incredible book that really shows the true richness of foraging life on that harsh continent. One striking picture I came across was this one:
A photograph taken by Donald Thomson (1975) of a Central Australian Man with an amputated right leg who has taken to using a crutch.
The book describes several skeletons that show evidence of amputation. How was this done? It may not be completely accurate, but the book mentions the story of a Colonial Surgeon Worsnop:
At King George’s Sound [Western Australia} Mr Wollasron had a native visitor with only one leg; he had travelled ninety-six miles in that maimed state. On examination. the limb had been severed just below the knee, and charred by ﬁre, while about [5 cm) of calcined bone protruded through the ﬂesh. This bone was removed at once by saw, and a presentable stump was made On enquiry the native told him that in a tribal ﬁght a spear had struck his leg and penetrated the bone below the knee … He and his companions made a fire and dug a hole in the earth sufﬁciently large to admit his leg, and deep enough to allow the wounded part to be on a level with the surface of the ground. The limb was then surrounded with the live coals or charcoal, and kept replenished until the leg was literally burnt off.
So both these men were missing a leg and were in better shape than many two-legged people today.
Grains are evil. The people in the paleolithic didn't eat them. Amirite? Unfortunately, that hypothesis is contradicted by archeological evidence, but now there is genetic evidence that rice may have been domesticated earlier than thought.
Asian rice, Oryza sativa, is one of world's oldest and most important crop species. Rice is believed to have been domesticated ∼9,000 y ago, although debate on its origin remains contentious. A single-origin model suggests that two main subspecies of Asian rice, indica and japonica, were domesticated from the wild rice O. rufipogon. In contrast, the multiple independent domestication model proposes that these two major rice types were domesticated separately and in different parts of the species range of wild rice. This latter view has gained much support from the observation of strong genetic differentiation between indica and japonica as well as several phylogenetic studies of rice domestication. We reexamine the evolutionary history of domesticated rice by resequencing 630 gene fragments on chromosomes 8, 10, and 12 from a diverse set of wild and domesticated rice accessions. Using patterns of SNPs, we identify 20 putative selective sweeps on these chromosomes in cultivated rice. Demographic modeling based on these SNP data and a diffusion-based approach provide the strongest support for a single domestication origin of rice. Bayesian phylogenetic analyses implementing the multispecies coalescent and using previously published phylogenetic sequence datasets also point to a single origin of Asian domesticated rice. Finally, we date the origin of domestication at ∼8,200–13,500 y ago, depending on the molecular clock estimate that is used, which is consistent with known archaeological data that suggests rice was first cultivated at around this time in the Yangtze Valley of China.
13,500 is older than what many people consider to be the end of the paleolithic, though many consider the paleolithic era to be relative to the region and would characterize a culture eating rice 13,500 years ago to be mesolithic.
The molecular clock also has its share of controversy, as it is based on statistical modeling, but no more than other evidence we have used to build the concept of the paleolithic diet.
I have written about my success with rice and hope to write more about it soon. Maybe I should just start calling my diet the mesolithic diet...
As interesting as Venus-gate is, I don't think art from the paleolithic really tells us much about the health of the average person. Think of some famous artwork from our era, imagine there is a nuclear disaster and everything is destroyed except that piece of artwork. What incorrect conclusions would a society come to if they just had that piece of artwork? Humans have an incredible ability to see things in nothing. Like this "time traveler" discovered in an old photo.
But Venus isn't the only victim. Particularly since remember here there is no evidence that the Venus of Willendorf was a portrait of a person. It's not an n=1 situation, it's an n=0 situation. There is no way to prove that someone would have had to have been familiar with excess adiposity in order to create a figurine like that and certainly nothing you can draw from that single figurine that would suggest we should eat a low fat diet!
Another great example of grasping at straws to use art in paleopathology (the study of disease in archeological remains, though this is obviously stupid here since there ARE no remains, just random statues) is Male Genital Representation in Paleolithic Art: Erection and Circumcision Before History.
In this paper the authors suggest that various features of phallic figurines from the paleolithic suggest all sorts of pathologies such as phimosis. Furthermore, the authors saw that they show circumcision was practiced, though he admits reluctantly it they could also be retracted penises. There is a reason this isn't in the Journal of Physical Anthropology, but in Urology instead. Here is some of the diagnostic "evidence"
Why are the weird phallic pieces proof of phimosis but the drawings with giant phalli not proof that people back then had abnormally ginormous penises? Why would you assume any sort of anatomical correctness for these sort of things? Just because you didn't put a foreskin in your art doesn't mean they didn't have them. I can report that in bars in Europe where few men are circumcised, when people draw penises in the bathroom (co-ed bathrooms are rather unpleasant BTW), they look like those in Figure 5.
So yeah, using art to muse about what people were like back then is interesting. Using it to diagnose illness or make inferences about the population is just silly.
Edit: is it true that circumcision is practiced by at least 7 forager groups. Interesting.
Has anyone noticed that most modern dresses are basically glorified bags with elastic waists or something just bags that you are supposed to wear a belt around? Rarely do you have to shop based on waist measurements anymore. I suppose that's because fewer and fewer women have defined slim waists. Modern dresses provide lots of give or completely hide the waist. The result is ugly formless clothing that is unflattering even if you have a waist.
Bag or dress?
50s era dress I own with clearly defined femine waist
When people ask how I manage to fit into the vintage clothing I love, I simply tell them I eat "vintage" food- lard, whole milk, grassfed meat, wild fish, fermented vegetables... and nothing "non vintage." Of course in the past the quest for a waist sometimes went into extremes with tight corsets, but overall I strive for a natural but defined waist.
Maybe it's old-fashioned, but I suppose my main fitness goal is merely to fit into these lovely old dresses that I have invested in.
The past couple of posts I've gotten some comments implying I'm misandrist, which any man that actually knows me will confirm is untrue, but furthermore, would a misandrist own a cookbook called A Thousand Ways To Please A Husband With Bettina's Best Recipes?
Unfortunately, I can't link to this cookbook because it's very old. It's from 1917, but actually old cookbooks are a pretty cheap collectible. You can get some nice ones for less than $20 and they make great gifts. I suspect it's because many of them really show their age. American cooking has changed a lot and dare I say that it's better now? Yes, we eat a lot of junk these days, but it's possible to get cookbooks that have healthy AND flavorful recipes. Reading this cookbook, I get the feeling that if anything in it is healthy, it's an accident. As much as I love old things, I feel very lucky that we can evaluate them scientifically. **edit: someone just informed me that this book is available free on Google Books**
This cookbook was from a very strange era. It melds retro gender roles with a more modern emphasis on convenience, thrift, and simplicity. Back when I first got this cookbook, when I was a teenager, I never made anything from it because it had "exotic" ingredients like lard and tallow. Now I don't use it much because everything is bland and has white flour and sugar in it. It reminds me that while our health wasn't so bad back then compared to now, it was probably in the decline. There are wise traditions, but there are unwise traditions as well. I get the feeling that bread-crusted lamb chops are an unwise tradition. It's entirely possible to make unhealthy foods from scratch.
Though let's be honest, anyone who came home to these meals would probably be pretty happy. Each chapter has a trite little story as an intro that makes me very grateful that I am not as boring as Bettina, though her husband Bob is pretty lame too. Then there is a selection of recipes for each occasion. For example "A Sunday Dinner" has roast beef, brown potatoes, browned gravy, baked squash, and Devil's food cake with vanilla icing. Don't worry, it's not entirely woman's work. One progressive chapter is "Bob Makes Peanut Fudge." Don't worry, while Bob is making his manly candy, Bettina is at work on liver and bacon, fruit gems, creamed turnips, and apple sauce. In another chapter titled "Bob makes pop-overs"...Bob makes pop-overs, though really Bettina is making them when Bob comes into the kitchen and says "Let me help you with them, Bettina; this is one place where you can use my strong right arm."
Flour is added to EVERYTHING. The food actually reminds me a bit of what was served at the Baptist church potlucks my family went to when I was a child. The only thing missing is the Jello.
For Valentine's Day there is broiled steak, macaroni with tomatoes and green peppers, baked potatoes, bread, butter, and cornstarch fruit pudding. Probably the most hilarious menu is for Washington's Birthday
"Good bran bread," said Bob, reaching for another piece.
"I like that recipe," said Bettina, "and it is so easy to make."
"What have you been doing all day?" Bob asked, "Cooking?"
"No, indeed. Charlotte was here this afternoon and we made plans for the tea we are going to give at her house on Washington's birthday. Oh, Bob we have some of the best ideas for it! Our refreshments are to be served from the dining-room table, you know, and our central decoration is to be a three-cornered black hat filled with artificial red cherries...blah blah blah blah"
So what's on the final menu? Corned beef au gratin, baked tomatoes, apple sauce, cream pie, and GLUTEN BREAD. Yes, not just bread, but GLUTEN BREAD. Planning parties all day sounds nice though.
A little too much sugar here, which probably accounts for some of the gout men of this era suffered from (if you search Google books for this era you'll find several diabetic and uric-acid free cookbooks), but I've learned some lessons from the book. One of my major mistakes has been making extremely complicated multi-course meals. Bettina makes several simple things. She also often boils or steams things, which I didn't really do much until this year, but they are very simple and gentle cooking methods. Bettina occasionally uses a "fireless cooker," which was a primitive form of crockpot.
While I find Bettina annoying, I don't see her as a mere housewife. These days I'm sure she'd be gainfully employed as a party-planner or something. And while I don't think cooking is a "woman's role" I do personally enjoy cooking for men.
Please your stalkers with a freshly baked cake!
Bake then, even babies helped in the kitchen. Wait... that's not a baby....
Here is a recipe: Head lettuce with Roquefort Cheese Dressing
1 head of lettuce
1/4 a cup Roquefort cheese
Cream the cheese, add salt, pepper, and vinegar. Add the oil gradually. Mix well, shake thoroughly. Pour over the lettuce and serve.
I've really become a fan of retro salad dressing recently, particularly Green Goddess, even though that takes me a very long time to make since I make my own mayo.
Edit: Bettina's family recipes seems a lot better and it's also on Google Books for free. These smothered potatoes are calling me...