This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
One of the most hilarious articles I've come across lately is by low-fat vegan diet promoter Dr. McDougall. It's titled The Paleo Diet Is Uncivilized (And Unhealthy and Untrue). Who the hell uses words like "uncivilized" these days? The whole time I was reading it, I imagined Dr. McDougall as a snobby British gentleman with a tophat and monocle, as well as a Richard Dawkins-like scowl, pontificating on the savages.
Part of the blame can be placed on Loren Cordain, who is the paleo diet paradigm that McDougall chooses to attack. You can tell that both are actually quite uncultured when it comes to food.
Dr. Cordain writes, “For most of us, the thought of eating organs is not only repulsive, but is also not practical as we simply do not have access to wild game.” (p 131). In addition to the usual beef, veal, pork, chicken, and fish, a Paleo follower is required to eat; alligator, bear, kangaroo, deer, rattlesnake, and wild boar are also on the menu. Mail-order suppliers for these wild animals are provided in his book.
More than half (55%) of a Paleo dieter’s food comes from lean meats, organ meats, fish, and seafood. (p 24) Eating wild animals is preferred, but grocery store-bought lean meat from cows, pigs, and chickens works, too. Bone marrow or brains of animals were both favorites of pre-civilization hunter-gathers. (p 27) For most of us the thought of eating bone marrow and brains is repulsive. But it gets worse.
Seriously what is wrong with these people and where do they live? Where I live in Chicago, there is LINE in the rain to eat at places that serve bone marrow and liver. The bone marrow at Au Cheval goes for around $20. In NYC, Montreal, San Francisco, London...any major city, these are common menu items. They are damn delicious and I refuse to take any dietary advice from people who clearly do not enjoy life. Although in my experience with such wretched diets, I eventually stopped desiring everything as I succumbed to being a catatonic libido-less appetite-less zombie.
Sorry, people in the centers of civilization are eating bone marrow, not disgusting veggie burgers or lean chicken breast and broccoli.
And does anyone else think it's hilarious that he says we should dismiss the paleolithic diet because there is some evidence for cannibalism and then says "Men and women following diets based on grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables have accomplished most of the great feats in history." His example? Genghis Khan. Yeah, because that guy never participated in bloodshed. Also we should refrain from eating any cuisines from cultures where people have resorted to cannibalism in hardship...which basically throws out almost all of them.
I'm all for starch, but like Genghis I'd love some butter on my potatoes.
But guess what? People like different things. They do well on different diets. I've met people who had success on McDougall's high-starch diets. But I guess it's hard to sell a dogma if you admit that.
Also this is a perfect example of how diet guru doctors are so manipulative. Even though McDougall is linking to sources, if you follow the trail, you will find many are not good sources. They are in scientific journals, but they are letters or commentary. Or they don't support his assertions.
I like to blog about a lot of fancy stuff, but in reality, it's not every day I'm making braised local grass-fed oxtails and wild caught sea bass. Life gets in the way. But that doesn't mean you have to totally lose all the benefits you would get from a top-notch diet. Over the years I've figured out how to degrade my diet gracefully.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post on mammals, primates have an evolutionary strategy that involves fallback foods. These are resources of low-preference that are eaten when preferred foods are not available. These foods allow primates to survive when things get rough.
I have my own fallback foods. They are for when I just don't have time to go to the butcher shop. Or I've worked so long that the idea of cooking a meal from scratch and then doing dishes seems daunting. These foods have to be
Since I moved to Chicago and Trader Joes is a normal grocery store instead of a series of endless loopy lines like it is in NYC, my fallback diet has been based on stuff from Trader Joes. Typically smoked wild salmon, Applewood sliced roast beef, pre-cooked beets, and random cheese and fruits. A typical meal like this would be a few slices of gouda, a clementine, a few slices of roast beef, some beets, and some of the wild salmon with mustard on rice crackers. I have to say that this tastes better than typical primate fallback foods like tree bark.
When I worked at an office last, it was next to a Fairway and often for lunch I'd just go to the deli and ask for a half pound of sliced roast beef, a half pound of cheese, and then buy some random pre-sliced fruits and vegetables. One time a coworker implied that eating a block of cheese might be a bad idea, but nothing ever happened to me.
The next level of degradation is a little riskier. It's when you are on holiday in France. Or it's Thanksgiving. Maybe you want to eat some things that are normally not part of your diet. There are good reasons that they are not part of your diet, but there are better reasons that you want to indulge. The things I think about here is
I made a silly graphic for paleohacks yesterday and weirdly, people were impressed. It was made with default Smartart in Powerpoint :)
I also recommend the Highbrow Paleo Guide to Binge Drinking.
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Becoming an ex-vegan is somewhat like becoming an ex-antiracist or an ex-antisexist -- you have to wonder just how unprejudiced the person was to begin with. I haven't read it, but the report Livestock's Long Shadow says that meat causes most of the world's problems. Don't tell me that there are different production methods, I can only think simplistically and can only consider one perfect diet, which is vegan. I am pretty sure this blog post and all things mentioned in it must have been sponsored by the nefarious Weston A. Price Foundation, an organization funded by wealthy zebra-ranching cabels.
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The way paleolithic people lived has to do with this story about how men who liked flank steak had the biggest left pectoral muscles and because of some famines that I think happened because life seemed really hard, the men with the big left pectoral muscles were more attractive to cavewomen. The Bellevue experiment, despite being one short experiment, totally showed us that we can maintain perfect health indefinitely on an all-meat diet. Only non-paleo plants contain toxins. Maybe you feel fine eating these non-paleo foods now, but you never know when you might erupt tiny panda-shaped cysts on your face. It could take decades. You'll suffer and you won't be able to go back and undo the damage.
Edit: Haha, Dr. Kurt Harris gave me a new one "I don't eat plants because Owsley Stanley told me not to. He made 5 million hits of acid, so he knows more about chemistry than you do."