This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
A few years back, a government agency promoting the American agrarian ideal shipped baby chickens and piglets to Koyukon Indian villagers- people who have been hunters, trappers, and fishers all their lives. Some folks took to the notion, built pens, raised healthy pigs and successful flocks, and eventually found eggs under their hens. That's when things started going awry. After watching the chickens grow, many couldn't bring themselves to eat the eggs, and it was even worse to think of dining on the birds or pigs. "People felt like they'd be eating their own children," a Koyukon woman told me. "A lot of them said, from now on they would only eat wild game they got by hunting. It felt a lot better that way.
That's from the excellent Heart and Blood by Richard K. Nelson. I actually recommend this book more to former vegans than I do The Vegetarian Myth, because it's an incredibly well written eco-humanistic journey through our place in nature. I've been meaning to give it one big post, but it's hard to do because it's such an amazing book...so I guess I'll keep doing posts about it until I keep thinking about it.
Having experience with farming, I can say that there are animal husbandry methods that make me uncomfortable. People make much ago about foie gras, but they would find other more common methods just as distasteful if they were exposed to them. But they aren't. People live in a fantasy land where Bessie the cow gets retired to Green Acres when her milk production goes down and chickens die a painless death for McNuggets.
Knowing what I know about human evolution, my uncomfortableness with animal husbandry makes sense. Paleolithic humans may have kept animals, but only as allies like dogs, not as future food. With the domestication of animals comes the issue of killing something you raised yourself, that often bears some resemblance physically or behavioral to your pets and children.
I've had this problem in particular with goats. Domestic goats, unlike sheep or chickens, often crave human contact and react towards humans in a way similar to dogs. I think most of my readers would have a hard time slaughtering a domestic goat, even if they have pretensions against sentimentality. I've known goat dairy farmers to cry when sending away the male kids who have been born so they can be raised for meat. Although this disconnect and unhappiness among farmers has certainly gotten worse since the USDA mandated all slaughter for sale for non-poultry animals be done in a USDA inspected slaughterhouse that is usually unpleasant and far away from the farm.
I think it's partially a recognition of this inappropriate relationship that humans now have with animals that more and more people are interested in hunting from former vegans to Betty Fussell, an 82-year old NYC food writer who I met at a hunting workshop.
Surprisingly enough, many people write to me asking what I eat and where I get it. I think it's boring, but I guess it's useful for many people, especially if you live in NYC. I haven't been good at posting the rest of my week, but here are some things I've been eating!
What delicious foods have you been eating lately? Where are you getting your ingredients?
Whenever I see an online argument between animal rights vegans and apostates/omnivores, they animal rights vegans claim that it's possible for anyone to be healthy as a vegan. I definitely think it's possible for many people to do veganism and I know several vegans who look and feel fine after doing veganism for several decades. But I know just as many who suffered on a vegan diet no matter what they did.
For an animal rights vegan you just have to keep trying because meat is murder and it's just not acceptable to eat even if you are sick. Whenever you present the list of things that just aren't in a plant based diet they retort that you can easily supplement those things.
Nutritionism at its finest. I respect nutrition science, but it's really in its infancy. There is so much that isn't known. Real whole foods are complex and synergistic. I'm happy there are now supplements to help those who chose to be vegan, but I refuse to accept the notion that veganism is the optimal diet that works for everyone. Maybe in the future when we know everything about nutrition and can put it in a pill, but that's not now.
Things have gotten better for vegans, but that speaks much to the juvenile status of nutrition research. Two decades ago the only supplement that was a known need was b-12, now thanks to scientific research we now know that vegans should supplement DHA as well. Who knows what the next discovery is? (ironically, all these discoveries were made at least in part by animal testing). If you are a vegan now, who really knows what you aren't getting? I think the best strategy for vegans is to supplement everything that is found in meat and that is not found in plants or that is found in lesser quality/quantity. whether or not the research is yet ironclad.
But my own goal has never been to just feel fine. I wanted to heal my illness, which I did on paleo and which was miserable on veganism. As a humanist I also wanted a diet that made me feel really good as a human. I confess I never was a animal rightist, which I feel to be a anti-humanist philosophy. As a humanist, I will always pick humans, like my grandmother who is alive because of a pig valve, over animals. Technology might someday replace the need for animals, but that's not on the radar right now.
I also would like to have truly healthy children and I think the research on prenatal nutrition and veganism is very small, but already points to serious problems. I'm going to place my bets on millions of years of human evolution rather than the tip of the iceburg we know about nutrition.
The nutrient I would like to feature today is taurine. Vegans say that the human body does a good job of synthesizing it and indeed we are able to make it ourselves. But is everyone able to make it in the correct quantities? And is the average amount we can synthesize enough? I would say definitely no on the first count and perhaps no on the second.
What is taurine? This article has a great summary. Taurine is an amino acid which is actually the most abundent intracellular amino acid in the human body. It is involved in many important and varied roles in the body from the metabolism to the blood to skeletal muscles to the heart. Here are a few:
Some scientists consider its consuming essential, other do not since healthy adults seem to be able to make it.
The average daily synthesis in adults ranges between 0.4-1.0 mmol (50-125 mg)1; under stress the synthesis capacity may be impaired; therewith some authors consider taurine as a conditionally essential amino acid, whereas for others it remains nonessential
Interestingly women synthesize it less efficiently and have higher incidences of conditions that may be caused by taurine deficiency like gallstones.
Taurine seems to be especially important for developing fetuses and infants
In the embryo, taurine deficiency has been associated with various lesions, e.g. cardiomyopathy, retinal degeneration and growth retardation. Taurine is probably an essential amino acid for neonates; due to enzymatic immaturity they have a limited capacity for its synthesis, and due to the immature kidney there is a relative inability to conserve taurine.
Other people who are probably not able to synthesize it include those with kidney and liver diseases and dysfunctions. It's not conditional for these people, it's essential. More research needs to be done on the effect of other illnesses on taurine synthesis.
What about healthy adults? This interesting study shows that even they might be affected by low taurine levels. Apparently vegetarians often have some "platelet hyperaggregability" which is a risk factor in thrombosis (dangerous blood clots), episodic vertigo, dizziness, and sudden deafness. This make sense, as platelets are rich in taurine. The authors say "Taurine is just one of a number of nutrients found almost solely in animal products – “carninutrients” – which are rational candidates for supplementation in vegans." Studies on vegans show that their taurine levels are much lower (earlier studies showed normal levels, but they made lab mistakes that messed up the data as explained here, which invalidates this study on taurine metabolism during reproduction), but I wonder if many omnivores are also too low on taurine as well.
The best sources are dark meats, with higher levels in raw meats, and seafoods like mussels and clams. Many omnivores don't eat these things. Growing up, I certainly didn't. Personally, I think it's an extreme stretch to give rights to mussels, so if you object to meat, why not eat those? Even Peter Singer admits that eating things like scallops might be OK.
Supplementation of taurine might be advisable, but there is some evidence that the supplement can exacerbate Psoriasis whereas the ingestion of taurine rich foods like turkey has not been shown to cause this problem. It shows the weakness in studies that just use isolated nutrients and also points to the fact that while suppplements can help people who want to do sub-optimal diets, there ain't nothing like the real thing...yet.
Addendum: Here is an interesting study that shows idiotic bias towards veganism. The summary reports vegan breast milk has similar (but still lower) levels of mean taurine as omnivore milk. But if you download the whole article you get a different picture. First of all, it seems they make a pretty idiotic mistake in their charts and I'm surprised it got published- the chart for breast milk claims to be in nmol/l contrasting with other papers that use nmol/ml. It makes their values basically nonsensical. Either way, the omnivore mean is 427. The vegan mean? 227, which is a statistically significant difference. Wanna bet the authors of this paper are vegan? The problem with vegan studies is there aren't many done, there aren't big populations of vegans, and the papers and studies done tend to be authored by vegans. Another major problem is that some scientists don't recognize that things like ADHD and crooked teeth are possible caused by poor prenatal or early childhood nutrition, but as science bolsters this connection perhaps we will see more interesting studies.
Another thing to think about is what the omnivore women were eating. If they were eating a standard American diet perhaps they were taurine deficient compared to women eating real foods. In this other paper, Relationship between fatty acid compositions and taurine concentration in breast milk from Chinese rural mothers, it states that breast milk concentrations of taurine in Swedish and Ethiopian mothers was 761 and 667 respectively. The Chinese rural mothers had levels lower than the vegans in that study. The same was found in rural Mexican women.
I would venture to predict that if there ever were second or third generation vegans, their breast milk would have much lower levels. There is strong evidence for transgenerational effects of taurine deficiency, which also points to the fact that vegans aren't the only ones who should be thinking of taurine.
It's not easy finding good chicken. In America, chicken has become almost like tofu in its blandness. It's a boring food for picky eaters who want something both low in fat and flavor. It doesn't have to be this way. A good chicken has its own flavor and holds up favorably to a good steak in deliciousness.
While poultry isn't my favorite meat, is is affordable´and relatively easy to cook well. I've bought several types of chickens this year and plan to buy more in the interests of um...research? Yes, if you are buying truly different types of breeds and production styles, the taste difference can be quite dramatic.
A good example is the cult Bo Bo chicken. I know...what the heck is a Bo Bo? It's merely a brand of premium chickens primarily raised for the traditional Chinese market. There is a stigma that meat in ethnic food is poor quality and perhaps that is true. This NYTimes article on Bo Bo notes that some Chinese restaurants reserve the high quality dark meat for Chinese customers and leave the low quality frozen white junk for other customers. Kind of bad, but also kind of hilarious. I remember when I, like most Americans, thought the white meat was the "good" meat. It's only good if you are adverse to flavor and fat, which I admit I was.
I picked up a cornish cross Bo Bo chicken at the Park Slope Co-op. Next time I'll definitely pick up their more unusual breeds, but they are much more expensive. The chickens sold at the PSFC are headless, but when Bo Bo is selling to the Chinese market they leave the heads on, as it is preferred by Chinese Buddhists to have an intact animal for prayer and to gauge the quality. Another thing they sell is stew hens. It seems like a waste of meat, but a stew hen goes intact into the stock pot. It's not a waste since the broth becomes potently flavorful and nutritious. Stew hens are typically last season's egg layers (yes vegetarians, your eggs = chicken death) and their flesh is too tough for eating. I suspect David Chang of Momofuku uses Bo Bo stew hens for his ramen broth since they are affordable and high quality. You can't get them at PSFC yet, but I think you might see them soon since stock making might be the next hipster food trend after canning has run its course.
My headless chicken had a surprise though. Tucked instead the chest cavity were the chicken's impressively muscular feet. This chicken had definitely been running around. My boyfriend was helping me and was at first shocked by how large and ugly the feet were. I was delighted. They went in the stock pot with some other chicken bones, shallots, garlic, kombu, carrots, peppercorns, and some bacon ends. The resulting stock jelled perfectly, which is a marker of high quality stock. Also present was the liver. I made a paste by heating creamed coconut and mixing into it some crushed ginger, chopped cilantro, jalapeno, and red pepper curry paste (no PUFAS, just lemongrass, garlic, hot red pepper, etc.). I sauteed the liver in that and then added lime juice. It was a fairly tasty snack. Sadly, the heart was absent and I was confused with the packet of something pink that was in the chest cavity...no idea what it was at all.
The legs and thighs of the chicken were absolutely delicious! They were full of a rich meaty flavor and just needed some salt and pepper. The wings though were a little gamey and I just don't like breast anymore, though I don't have the heart to simply throw it in the stock pot.
I'm curious to try their black chicken next...or maybe their guinea hen...there are so many types of chicken to try, it's a good thing most are delicious!
The first NYC paleo skillshare was a BLAST! Over twenty people gathered at the Sanocki bro's awesome apartment at Union Square to discuss, learn, and most importantly- EAT!
We learned about how to make a basic and tasty bone stock. Why bother with bones? Bones stocks are a great source of calcium, which can be hard to get on the paleo diet, as well as other vital nutrients. They are also simple to make and easy to digest, which is perfect if you are recovering from illnesses like leaky gut. For the foodies out there, bone stock is an essential part of every great chef's kitchen, providing the savory "umani" flavor in everything from silky mashed root vegetables to delicious soups.
Why Broth is Beautiful by the Weston A. Price Foundation is a great article that further elucidates the healing properties of a good broth
Bones by Jennifer McLagen is an excellent cookbook that instructs on how to make basic broths and provides great recipes to use broth and other meaty bones. My basic broth recipe is from this cookbook...but
I modified it because I like to do Asian recipes. Most of my modifications are inspired by the Momofuku cookbook by David Chang which is a great cookbook that showcases how a fine restaurant like Momofuku utilizes bones, as well as lard.
Basic Bone Stock
The Bones: I use all the bones that come through my kitchen. Chicken bones are many people's favorites and whenever I roast a chicken I save the skeleton to make a delicious chicken soup. Veal bones are probably the second most prized, being extremely savory and flavorful. But all bones are useful. The stock we made in class had bison and pork bones. Don't worry about leftover flesh or other things hanging on the bones- this enhances flavor! In fact, Momofuku, which has plenty of money for ingredients, uses whole chickens to make their ramen broth. Roasting the bones enhances their flavor through the maillard reaction, which is in simple terms responsible the delicious savory flavor in seared and roasted foods. Roasting is optional, but delicious.
Acid: Draw out the minerals in the bones more effectively by adding your favorite acidic ingredient. Lemon juice is a versatile favorite, vinegars are also delicious, and when I am making a Mexican or Asian-inspired soup I often use lime juice.
Vegetables: Vegetables add flavor and nutrition to a stock. Stock is the perfect use for the trimmings of vegetables that have flavor, but that aren't delicious on their own. The tops of leeks, herb stems, carrot tops, celeriac stems, and other kitchen "waste" are perfect ingredients in stocks, but don't be afraid to buy vegetables specifically to make stock with. Vegetables to avoid in stocks include members of the cruciferous family, like cabbage and broccoli, which have many bitter compounds. I would in general avoid anything that's very bitter like beet stems. Members of the allium family- onions, leeks, shallots, garlic, and scallions, are particularly prized in stock. Carrots and celery/celeriac tops add a delicious fresh flavor.
Flavor enhancers: Bits of smoked meat (Momofuku uses bacon), mushrooms, bay leaves and peppercorns are my favorites.
Iodine hack: Iodine is a nutrient essential for thyroid health. Most people get it in processed salty foods that have it as an additive to the salt, but on the paleo diet you won't be eating much of that. The additive form is also inferior to the natural form found in marine foods. To add iodine to your stock and enhance digestibility, pick up a seaweed called kombu and add a stick or two to your stock.
First, we cut up the leeks, scallions, shallots, and garlic, making them into a "bed" on the roasting pan. On this bed we placed some pork bones from Aberdeen Hill Farms, which I purchased at the Park Slope Co-op, and some bison bones bought at Union Square Farmers Market. We roasted this at 435 F for an hour, then placed it in a large stock pot with our dried mushrooms, kombu I bought from The New Amsterdam Market, pepper, some parsley stems, and fresh squeezed lemon juice. We covered this with water and brought it to a boil. After that, we turned it down and let it simmer.
Stock should simmer for a long time. If you don't feel comfortable leaving a pot on your stove simmering for 12 hours, a crockpot is a wise investment. I put the stock into the crockpot and set it to high.
After your stock has been simmering for some time, skim off any "scum" on the surface, strain out the bones and vegetable remnants, and put it in your fridge, in a jar ideally. After it cools you should have excess fat floating on the top. Discard this or use it as an ingredient. I would taste it first, as some stock fat isn't so tasty.
Finished touch: Salt makes a big difference in terms of flavor. If you are using the stock soon, salt it to taste. If you want to freeze it for future use DON'T SALT- you should reduce it by boiling it down. Then you can put it in icecube trays and use it later.
So now you have some delicious stock! Serve it as a broth soup or puree in your favorite roasted vegetables. I like to stick a pumpkin in my crockpot on low overnight until it's soft and just scoop out the flesh and mix with the broth and my favorite flavorings. I also use stock to make restaurant-quality brown sauces, gravies (sub out flour and use coconut flour which you can purchase at many health food stores like the Park Slope Co-op or online) and mashed root vegetables.
Chicken hearts are cheap, healthy, and can be tasty, but when most people buy a whole chicken they throw the heart out along with the rest of the giblets. That's a shame because of the giblets, hearts are perhaps the easiest to make tasty. If you didn't grow up eating offal foods like liver, you might have a tough time with their earthy mineral flavor. I personally don't really like that flavor, but it can be muted with acidic and spicy ingredients.
I was originally looking for calves heart, but not wanting to make a trip to every butcher in the city, I settled for the first heart I saw at Union Square, which was chicken hearts. They came attached to the livers, but they were easily detached. The sinews and clots might look gross, but they are easily removed. Just as much of that as you can to reveal the muscle.
Chicken hearts can be found in Japanese cuisine. In class I mentioned the temple of chicken offal, Yakitori Totto, which is in Midtown. They serve organic chicken hearts on a skewer! Mmm! Great and open late. I heard that this is one of Anthony Bourdain's favorite late night eats.
I marinated the chicken hearts using the method Fergus Henderson uses in The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating for calves heart. The night before the class I sliced the hearts into bite sized pieces and put them in a jar with a "health splash of balsamic vinegar," some coarse sea salt, ground black pepper, and some hot pepper. They were simple to cook, I just grilled them in a bit of lard. A perfect appetizer for adventurous guests.
I guess since I mentioned lard, I might as well recap our short talk about it. Our host Matt showed us his homemade lard. He got fatback from a local farmer and rendered it over low heat. The biggest mistake with rendering lard is boiling it, which can ruin it. I personally like to render lard from pork belly, since I LOVE pork belly anyway. I just put it in the crock pot on low overnight and the fat renders out. The pork belly is seasoned and crisped and the bonus is this wonderful cooking fat. Momofuku uses a similar method to obtain belly and cooking fat.
We talked about how great lard is-high in saturated fat that holds up well to heat. Coconut oil is another good choice, which is easier to find. I also obtained some excellent lard from my membership in The Piggery CSA.
Yum! Those bones might look boring, but that white stuff is delicious nutritious FAT. In fact, there is a theory that this fat is what fueled the large brain development in our early meat eating ape ancestors. Scavenged muscle meat is kind of gross, but if they cracked a bone, delicious and perfectly good fat would be the reward.
Marrow bones were popular in Victorian times, often given as a healing food for invalids. Their popularity waned and you could get them free in many places, but in the past decade there has been increased interest in the gourmet world. That was spurred by chefs like Fergus Henderson, who wrote the aforementioned The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating. His book celebrates quality local carefully raised meat by not wasting any of it. On this side of the pond, his disciple Anthony Bourdain has also done his part to glorify "the nasty bits." The foreward to the American version of this cookbook is written by him.
I'm very grateful for these chefs, but also kind of annoyed at how expensive marrow bones have gotten. They are still very cheap, but you can't get them for free any more. They are easy to find at butchers like The Meat Hook, Dicksons Farmstand Meats, the farmer's market, and sometimes Whole Foods. If the store you shop in doesn't know what marrow bones are, you need to find a new place to shop because anyone versed in meat should at least know them. The bones used in class were bison bones from the Union Square Farmers Market. Henderson uses veal bones, which are great, but the bones of any large ruminant are all good.
His most famous recipe is probably the parsley and bone marrow salad, which we made. This salad basically uses the delicious silky fat as a dressing. It uses flat leaf parley as a salad leaf, which is perfect because it is milder than its curly leaved cousin, but still wonderfully fresh and bright tasting.
Marrow bones are SO easy to cook. In fact, I've even cooked them in a toaster oven. But Vlad pointed out that you don't even need to cook them. We passed around a bone and some brave people in our class ate the marrow raw and enjoyed it. I like the taste of cooked marrow though. I put the bones in at 425. The point is to melt the fat so it can go on the salad.
In the meantime, I picked the leaves from the stems of a bunch of parsley (the stems went in the stock), thinly sliced a shallot (Henderson calls for two, but I prefer just one), squeezed on some lemon juice, and added some capers. Henderson, like me, doesn't seem to care for fussy recipes. Basic ingredients are all you need and you can adjust things to taste. Henderson does warn you to be careful about not putting in too many capers....but don't forget them! I had never had capers until last year and despite their ugly measly appearance, they do add an important zing to many dishes.
After the fat in the bones was melted (be sure to cook them on something that can collect this), I took them out and using a spoon and a knife, put the delicious globs of fat and the drippings from the pan on the parsley mixture. I added some salt and pepper to taste. People really seemed to enjoy this recipe! It combines fatty indulgence with vegetal freshness.
You can learn more about the nutritional properties of marrow bones here.
What is paleo?
This class was a good reminder that approaches to paleo can be diverse and it's important to think about your food. Sarah made a delicious split pea soup, but many questioned whether legumes were OK. Legumes can be very high in antinutrients(these can interfere with nutrient absorption and irritate your gut) and Loren Cordain warns against them. But most of us aren't 100% paleo. What is in your off percentage? Whole foods like peas are certainly much better than candy bars. I'm 100% real food and 100% into using evolution to guide my choices, but sometimes I crave some legumes. The best way to prepare them is by soaking and fermentation. Nourishing Traditions is the bible for that, providing instructions handed down through the ages that minimize harmful substances in legumes and maximize their nutrition (Sally Fallon, the author, will be speaking in NYC next week!). One thing I enjoy occasionally are dosas and idlis. Stephen from Whole Health Source has a great post about these. I make them over two days, one day to soak the legume, fenugreek seeds, and rice (you can use any variety, I have used split peas, red rice, black rice...), the next to ferment. My crockpot instructions warned me not to leave food in the pot on "warm" as that can encourage bacterial growth. YES! I love bacterial growth. In India, where dosas and idlis were invented, they don't need this as the climate is warm, but here you do. I grind the soaked mixture in a food professor with water to make a thin batter and put it in the crock pot on warm. If you are successful, you should get a sour smell some hours later. Sour = good. If it smells bad, just cut your losses and throw it away. Once it is sour enough, I either steam to make idlis or fry in coconut oil to make dosa pancakes. Paleo? No way, so I don't eat them that often. Real food? Yes.
Potatoes also came up? Are potatoes paleo? Paleo blogger Don says yes, others say NO way. They do have lots of carbs and nightshades have some anti-nutrients that may be harmful (though scientific studies on this are sparse). I say that it's best to avoid tubers and nightshades at first. Carbs can feed bad bacteria, so if you have stomach problems, stick with low net carb until your stomach feels better. I added in potatoes and peppers about a year after going paleo and never had any ill effects. I am happy to enjoy spicy Thai food and mashed potatoes again, but I recognize that some people feel better without these foods and other people gain weight on them.
If you have questions about paleo ingredients, I strongly suggest visiting Paleohacks.com.
Non- ruminants are much more subject to passing on the ratio they get in their diets. So the unhealthiest beef has a 6:3 ratio as good or better than pastured free range bug-eating chicken, and fowl fat from industrial operations is like eating vegetable oil.
That's something good to remember. I had a roommate who was a poultry scientist and I learned lots about chicken feed from him. It's nearly impossible to raise modern breeds of chicken...or any chicken for market weights without using lots and lots of grains, seeds, and legumes. Same goes for hogs. I've updated paleo foods in light of this.
While feedlot beef might have gorged on grains at the end of their lives, they spent much of their lives relying on grass. If I am at a restaurant and the choice is between chicken of dubious origin and beef of dubious origin, I pick beef. Lamb is an even better choice.
When I'm dining with friends who could give a damn about local or paleo food, I try to steer them towards Middle Eastern or Indian restaurants that might use Halal meat. There isn't much terribly special about it, except they are likely to serve lamb and the is likely to be from New Zealand (major producer of halal meats) and thus grass fed. Don Wiss pointed this out at in the forums at Eating Paleo in NYC.
I was struck by the wonderful oddness of this -- a deer accepting human company, even going out of her way to be with me. After all, I am a hunter. On most days, I eat the flesh of her kind. Because of this I was somewhat embarrassed, as if I'd taken advantage of her naivete. I wondered if gaining such closeness with deer would make hunting difficult for me, but this didn't seem likely . I had always loved deer, not only as wild, beautiful creatures but also as a source of my own existence; as animals who elevate my senses, enrich my spirit, and nourish my body. My feeling towards deer were wholly unlike the attitude that cows are simply beef on the hoof or that wheat is nothing more than unprocessed flour.
From Heart and Blood by Richard K. Nelson. I'm a quarter through this book and LOVING it.
Is eating a fish the same as eating a goat? I would eat both, but the way I relate to these two foods is very different. Food is definitely more than just macronutrients or a list of foods we evolved to eat. Food has social, ethical, spiritual, and psychological aspects too.
Arguing that meat is nutritious doesn't hold much weight to someone who is sentimental about animals. And I don't use sentimental in a derogatory way. Most of us do have sentiments about animals whether it's because of pets or Disney.
Even I have trouble slaughtering animals. The Vegetarian Myth argument that eating grassfed animals leads to higher net welfare doesn't hold much water when you realize that the adorable baby male goats on your professor's farm that are so friendly are going to die. This video addresses the ambivalence even farmers hardened by rural life have about slaughter. Though personally I feel much of the problem comes because the government has regulated large animal slaughter off the farm, which is harder on both people and animals.
At this point I've done slaughter myself. It's not fun, but I was perfectly comfortable eating animals after the slaughter. However, some of the other people in my class told me that it confirmed their desire to be vegetarians.
I read both Eating Animals and The Face On Your Plate. I definitely agree they both obscure the truth about the economics of agriculture AND human nutrition, but it's hard not to react negatively towards the sting videos of slaughter house abuse.
It's also hard to see a dog as a pig as a rat as a boy. There are definitely differences in the way we psychologically and spiritually relate to other animals that in my opinion are above net welfare calculations.
Both fish and meat have protein, but I relate to these two foods very different. When I buy meat I am careful to buy it from a local farmer I know. I ask what it ate and where it lived. I use the meat with reverence, making sure note to waste anything. When I buy fish I do research on mercury and environmental impact, but I could care less about how it lived or died.
just isn't this.
You have to do some fancy counterintuitive ethics to prove otherwise. And this fact does effect how I think about my food.
I'm reading a few good books about man/and woman the hunter and I will definitely post more on this subject.
It's a total misconception that the paleo diet is a meaty diet. The paleo diet recognizes the unique place of meat in our evolution and its power to nourish and heal. However, the paleo diet does not need to involve any more meat than the average American already eats. In fact, it can include less. Some days I don't eat any meat, I eat fish or the remnants of meat cooked the day before in the form of stock or rendered fat. Paleolithic people ate meat when they could, but they probably also would have had meatless days.
Since I pretty much only eat local meat from farmers I grow, it would be financially impossible to eat zero carb. I also think it's unnecessary and possibly harmful, as Don at Primal Wisdom has underscored in several of his posts. You also really don't need that much protein, though certainly more than some raw vegans would have you believe.
That's OK...there are probably hundreds of vegetables, fruits, and nuts I can draw on to make delicious meals free from stomach-irritating grains. Here is what I ate tonight. It looks vegetarian, but actually the taste and nutritional value have been boosted by the power of chicken confit. One chicken became many many meals. I saved the leftover fat and then made stock with the bones. It's a good example of how thrifty paleo cooking can be.
A reporter asked me how I reconcile working for an sustainable agriculture/environmental organization with paleo. Well, for those of you not in the know, there has been a BIG move towards meat in this world as experts have recognized that locally raised pastured meat is WAY more sustainable than some quinoa grown with oil based fertilizer in another country or some factory processed soy burger. I've written plenty about this. Very few experts in agriculture are vegans. Most people promoting plant based diets as "green" have a degree in English and not much common agrarian sense.
But I also eat my meat more sustainably than most because I eat offal, ALL the fat, and the bones. If I don't I feel bad. Farmers worked hard and animals gave their lives to bring me my food, after all.
Here are some potatoes roasted in the fat + some kale sauteed in the fat with garlic. Yum. Some paleos around potatoes because of the insulin response, but I am not paleo for weight loss or insulin problems, so I eat them. Here is a great post about paleo and potatoes.
How about some squash curry? Butternut squash sauteed in some fat with some hand ground garam masala. Then I threw in some local frozen tomato puree, the stock, some hot peppers, some ground ginger, and simmered it until the squash was soft.
Or some mushrooms simmered in the stock then finished with the fat?
My boyfriend doesn't like to eat much meat, so meals like this are perfect for us. Filling, delicious, and the vitamins and minerals were more bioavailable because they were consumed with fat. We also ate a beet salad with walnuts. Overall the amount of meat I ate today was smaller than a deck of cards. I'll probably have more meat tomorrow, but it's unrealistic to think that paleolithic man would have had a good hunt every day.
I can't forget my rule of thumb for vegetables: always a 1:1 or more ratio of fat to vegetables :)
I love conferences, but strangely enough I never leave them feeling very happy. I guess that's because the type of learning that I value so much, which happens at these conferences, is also the kind that brings up tough questions about everything.
I'm not even sure where to start talking about my experience at Stone Barns because there was so much packed in to those two days. I'd been to Stone Barns before to tour the farming operations. I was particularly impressed with the pigs, which they forage in the lush forest. I remember not being very impressed with the broiler (that's meat) chickens though. They were nearly featherless and pathetic looking, almost like giant walking carcasses with tiny heads and black beady reptilian eyes. They were on pasture in movable coops, but they clustered together looking bored. They were nothing like the egg layers a few pastures over with their beautiful plumage and curious expressions. I had just met the Cornish Cross, the variety of chicken we are all familiar with without even knowing it.
Its neat white carcass with plump oversized breasts is pretty much what all of us are eating when we eat chicken. It's interesting that Stone Barns would opt for this type of chicken rather than a more hardy heritage breed, but it underscores the fact that local/organic agriculture is diverse and includes plenty of people concerned with business ideals. And in most business calculations, the Cornish Cross wins. It might even be more sustainable because it converts feed into meat better than any other bird which isn't sullied with pigmented feathers or weird muscling.
But it's a bird that doesn't have much personality and I've heard pasture farmers complain bitterly that they would rather die on a hot summer day then walk a few meters to get water.
I think it's too bad that these days Jonathan Safran Foer is the voice saturating the media with questions about eating meat. It's good that people are thinking about it, but too bad that someone with relatively limited agricultural experience is the dominant voice.
I was reading this interview with him this morning:
MJ: Another thing I wanted to ask you about is hunting. Do you think hunting is a more humane alternative to factory farms?
Jonathan: How is it humane? In a slaughterhouse they all go really quickly -- hunting they don't
MJ: Well, it's humane in that the animal has led a good life up until the time of death.
JSF: But that doesn't make hunting good. It makes the fact that the animal had a good life up to that point good. And those aren't our choices. I'd rather get lethal injection than be hanged, but actually I'd rather have neither. People often set up these false choices, these false dichotomies, and it's not like we have to do either of them.
I thought about that as I slaughtered my first chicken. It's pretty hard to say that an animal's death will be one way on another. Many hunters are able to kill animals instantaneously and many of those working in slaughterhouses make painful mistakes.
And maybe it's not very scientific, but I think there is something wrong about eating food from an animal that is so far away from actually being an animal. As my chicken struggled weakly to escape, I thought about how it would never ever survive in the wild. It was more machine than animal.
I thought about being a vegetarian over the next few days. In the past I've been dismissive of that choice because the egg layers on Stone Barns go through that exact same slaughterhouse when their time is up. But those egg layers sure looked more vital.
There is also the issue of health. I personally struggled on a grain and legume heavy diet as a vegetarian. I dabbled in raw veganism and my stomach problems subsided, but I had very little energy. Finally, I added in meat to that diet and felt great. In fact I was able to go off medication that doctors told me I would have to take for the rest of my life.
It would be nice to stop having to buy expensive grass fed animals and just pick up a package of tofu and a bag of beans, but until I find more foods that are vegetarian and don't obliterate my stomach, this will remain a reality. The food they served us at the conference was 95% vegetarian....I unfortunately felt quite sick from it, which was the only complaint I would levy about the experience.
And there are other realities too, such as how crops are supposed to be fertilized. The farmers on the conference told me universally that their goal was to have a sustainable system where grass feeds animals and animals feed the grass (and other crops) through compost. Without this compost where is the fertilizer going to come from?
Fossil fuels. Luckily, Wes Jackson of the Land Institute was there at dinner to tell us what fossil fuel fertilizer has wrought: the giant "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico.
People ask me how we are supposed to feed everyone with the kind of diet I eat. First I tell them that I hope others don't have my own limitations, but Wes Jackson made the valid point that feeding people and animals with annual grains isn't going so well either. His plan as a geneticist is to develop perennial wheat, sorghum, and sunflower because perennial grains do not require environmentally devastating fertilizers and tillage.
Perennial grain agriculture already exists though, it just requires grazing animals since humans can't eat those grasses. And farmers in the room worried aloud about the possibility of Jackson's crops becoming super weeds. It's, after all, naturally-bred crops, not GMOs, that have become super weeds in the past.
Besides that, the archaeological evidence is that dependence on grains has been deleterious to human health. The bones of excessively grain-dependent humans (including ourselves) are warped with deformities, though some of those are now accepted as normal such as the inability of our jaws to accommodate our wisdom teeth.
There are many alternatives to grains though. According to a A Movable Feast: Ten Millennia of Food Globalization by Kenneth Kiple, some of the healthiest bones archaeologists have found were the Native Americans on the coast of California who ate primarily seafood and acorns. In the permaculture workshops by Connor Stedman and Ethan Roland, we learned about such treecrops and farmers who are trying to revive tree-based agriculture.
Coming home, I feel like a diet that is right for me would include animals that lived with dignity, as well as a diverse variety of local vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Death is only one day and while it's important to debate it, I strongly disagree with Foer that hunting is not a good choice. Wild game is healthier for humans and the environment, especially given problems with invasive species (wild boar) and overpopulation (deer because humans have pushed out predators).
The argument that vegetarianism is the most sustainable diet falls apart in the face of the realities of agriculture. Whether it's pigs or potatoes, modern agriculture is unsustainable. The world already has the capacity (though through unsustainable grain agriculture) to feed everyone decently even if us Americans continue to chow down on chicken, but unfortunately hunger is a problem of access rather than capacity.
Stone Barns Pigs live in the forest and eat compost
The animals I eat do not eat human-food anyway, they eat grass( or trash in the case of pigs). Farmer Steffen Schneider of Hawthorne Valley farms discussed livestocks role in his Biodynamic Livestock Nutrition class. Steffen's farm is a closed system where his cattle produce all his fertilizer- that for the grass they eat and enough additional to fertilize all his vegetable crops as well. As a biodynamic farmer he is constantly thinking about his animals, body and soul, and how to nourish them so they can nourish his land and the humans that live on it.
The argument about cruelty is truly a more difficult one and why I believe everyone who chooses to eat meat should confront the blood-splattered walls of a slaughterhouse at some point.
Even though I'm not squeamish, it was definitely a difficult experience. The first animals I ever processed were these wild rabbits up on a farm in Wisconsin. It surprised me for exactly the opposite reasons the chicken slaughter did. It was fairly bloodless and it felt like these animals were part of a harvest rather than an act of violence. They lived their own lives on the farm and were full of muscle because of it.
It's a very different process to shoot an animal compared to putting the chickens upside down in "kill cones" so their heads struck out and slitting their throats. As I eviscerated them I found they had almost no muscle and tiny underdeveloped organs. They didn't fight or run. How much vitalty can one expect to get from eating such an animal? I don't regret learning about how to slaughter them, but it makes me think twice about ordering chicken wings again.
In the end my diet is not about individual animals though, it is about what sort of food system I want to support. A vegan diet can definitely support a food system that is damaging and unsustainable as a whole and a carnivorous diet can support one that isn't. Carnivore and herbivore is a false dichotomy.
Hailing farms such as Dan Barber's Blue Hill as a paragon of the "goodness of farms," Foer went as far to say that Barber "..treats his animals better than I treat my dog." And still, Foer would "not endorse these kinds of farms," because even the most conscientious farms are part of the "system" of meat-eating, which is generally wrong. As an analogy,
It's not the system of meat eating I support, it's the system of sunlight, grass, and good compost that I support, rather than oil, synthetic fertilizer, and soil erosion.