No matter what your political opinion is of food stamps, if you stand on the side of real food, this article about buying "gourmet" food on food stamps and the comments are a bit incendiary.
Apparently people are having the audacity to buy food that tastes good and is appropriate for humans, like wild fish and rabbit. Egads, don't they know poor people should be eating beans?
At nearly every food justice conference I go to I hear that. I'll go from one seminar on raising heritage poultry for fancy restaurants to another seminar on how we can save all the poor people from obesity by teaching them to cook dried beans bought in bulk. At the same conference where we talk in the livestock feed seminar about feeding cattle diets appropriate for their species, no one every questions whether beans are good food for humans. And while we talk about heirloom lettuce and fatty Ossabow pigs, we forget to acknowledge that desire for good tasting things is universal among humans.
Either way, the reason that wild fish and decent meat are out of reach from poor people is due to artificial distortions in our economy and how we live.
This weekend I went to Jackson Lander's locavore hunting seminar. He puts delicious nutritious wild meat on his family's table for just the cost of a gun and ammo. Just like my dirt poor ancestors did in Arkansas and Lousiana. They ate rabbit, turtle, venison, crawfish... the kind of food you get at gourmet restaurants these days. Back then poor people weren't obese and my ancestors lived into their 80s despite the tough conditions they endured.
I can tell you that campaigns to get beloved "veggies" and vegetable gardens into low income schools have their merits, but they will probably do little to alter the overall dietary makeup. Lettuce has vitamins and minerals, but little in the way of calories. Beans? With bacon they are pretty good, but most do gooders are advocating a vegetarian diet that would probably send most people with tastebuds back to KFC.
Teaching low income people to butchers, hunt (deer in particular are overpopulated in most areas), fish, and raise animals for food would go a long way in altering their diets as while as providing them valuable and in-demand skills for jobs.
But we already knew that...."teach a man to fish..."
If you live in NYC, you should definitely check out this week's Paleo Kitchen Skillshare. It's an event where we will be sharing crazy paleo kitchen skillz for optimizing your diet and making delicious food.
I've also been getting lots of comments asking how I cook certain things. I thought I'd also share some basic techniques for those of you not able to make this week's skillshare:
- Save your "pickle juice": If you buy good quality lacto-fermented pickles/sauerkraut, make sure to save the juice leftover. You can use it instead of whey in pickle recipes like this one for ginger carrots.
- Fat rendering cooking method: I cook pork belly this way since it is fatty enough to be delicious even if you have rendered some fat out. That rendered fat can be used later in other recipes like those in the Momofuku cookbook or in confit. The way I do this is by putting the pork belly or fatback in the crock pot overnight on low. To eat the delicious belly, simply brown it after cooking and season it with salt and pepper.
- Cooking in wine: most people seem to know this, but I didn't. I never cared for wine, so I always ignored it in recipes. Woe is me...restaurants use wine for a good reason! Last night I braised a lamb shank in red wine in the crock pot on low overnight. It was AMAZING. Cooking in wine also protects delicate fats since the wine contains antioxidants.
Last weekend the fridge at work was left ajar, which was overall a complete disaster. But I did notice that a jug of apple cider was bulging. Aha! A sign of fermentation. I poured it into a glass. It was fizzy and smelled kind of alcoholic. I took a swig. It was fairly tasty, though later I realized I didn't need the alcohol at 11 AM.
A few years ago I would have been aghast at eating "spoiled" food like that, but since becoming intimate with fermentation, I am much more daring. The fridge is a recent invention and our ancestors might not have had the luxury to turn up their noses at food that's a little...um...off? But "off" sort of implies the food is bad, when actually in many cases it's good.
The status of fermentation in the paleo diet is controversial. Many paleo books do not mention it and Cordain's Paleo Diet newsletter recently knocked kombucha for containing acetic acid and yeast (they also said it causes metabolic acidosis...of which there is one case in the medical literature and the person in question also had other serious problems).
That's nonsense. Our our bodies are full of yeast and acetic-acid producing bacteria and our natural environment would have also been rich in these. Think about the life of a hunter-gatherer. From birth to death they are surrounded by dirt. Of course this is bad when you have a wound that gets infected, but this immersion in dirty nature probably means their bodies are more biodiverse than ours.
Contrast that with my birth, which was a C-section done in a clean environment. Science shows that C-sections alter gut bacteria, which is bad news, because largely the species established when you are young are the ones that stay with you for the rest of your life. There is plenty of science supporting the Hygiene Hypothesis, which posits that children growing up in clean environments have higher incidences of allergies, asthma, and other diseases of civilization. There is emerging evidence that gut bacteria plays a role in metabolic syndrome as well.
There is no question in my mind that our modern gut biodiversity caused by our divorce from dirt is a bad thing.
Having a history of stomach problems, managing my gut bacteria is important to me. I do it two ways: not eating foods that seem to encourage the proliferation of misery-causing bacteria and then balancing my bacteria with probiotic foods. "Cleansing" is a bad idea because it gets rid of both bad and good bacteria and irritates the gut...and an irritated gut can't be a good habitat.
A few times since starting the paleo diet I've gone off the band wagon. My IBS soon returns with a vengeance. I can tell the wrong bacteria are having a feast at my expense. My strategy for getting it under control borrows a lot from the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which treats colitis by reducing such fermentation. Last time this problem happened, after a week of staying up late to plan a food event and then eating lots of carby sugary food at the event, I calmed things down by eating zero carb for a week. I particularly enjoyed a tonic of egg yolks cooked in bone broth.
Soon my stomach was feeling much better, but I don't think zero carb completely solves the situation. I think fermented foods are the missing link, providing valuable bacteria and truly digestible nutrients.
While the scientific studies show that it's very hard and perhaps impossible to add new species to your gut, probiotics can still have an effect, though it will go away if you discontinue them. Furthermore, fermented foods often are simply easier for your body to digest and contain many beneficial bioavilable nutrients.
That brings me to Wild Fermentation, which was really a groundbreaking book for me. It taught me to embrace and take advantage of wild crazy bacteria.
This book is of the post-vegan canon. Sandor was a vegan, but a serious health problem propelled him to become omnivorous. In his case, it was AIDS.
But Wild Fermentation contains a wide variety of ferments suitable for all diets. The exception is meat ferments, which he does himself, but does not include instructions for in his book. He refers readers to The Indigenous Fermented Food of the Sudan, which apparently tells of how the Sudanese ferment meat nose to tail. Unfortunately that book seems to be unaffordable.
That's OK with me actually...I'm not sure meat fermentation is something I want to dabble in right now. The main ferment I consume is lacto-fermented vegetables. It's quite funny because just a few years ago I wouldn't have eaten pickles or sauerkraut if you paid me. I think my tastebuds were to put it lightly, shallow from years of consuming industrial food lacking in complexity. I admittedly had to force myself to eat my first batches of pickled vegetables, but at this point I LOVE them. They are tangy and delicious. The best part is that I now crave sour foods rather than sweet foods.
Pickled ginger carrots vs. Snickers? I'll take the former. The variety of flavors, the spicy and sour ginger with the tart carrots, is just superior.
An important thing I learned from this book was the distinction between vinegar preservation and lacto-fermentation. You can make pickles by just putting some cucumbers in vinegar, but they will not have the same health-giving or flavor properties as vegetables that have been fermented.
Sandor particularly praises sauerkraut: he talks about a study that shows that it is much richer in cancer-fighting compounds than plain old cabbage. I personally find that the best sauerkraut is made in a heavy crock with a water seal that allows the cabbage to breath, but doesn't allow mold to get in. Luckily, I have access to one, but if I didn't I would make kimchi, which is just as tasty and more resistant to mold. However, Sandor says not to worry too much about mold, as it seems to be a surface phenomonon that doesn't affect the overall welfare of the cabbage buried beneath the brine.
One of the joys I experienced when I first ate Korean food was all the delicious pickled vegetables they bring you. I realized after my first Korean meal that you really can pickle almost any robust vegetable. Vegetable fermentation has become trendy in NYC and the local farmer's markets are full of pickled beets, radishes, onions, carrots, peppers, and silky wonderful mushrooms. The most surprising pickle I had recently was pickled beet stems, which is a revelation since I usually throw those away. The pickling process had muted the bitterness, but preserved the crunchiness and added a rhubarb-like tartness.
Some of the other ferments Sandor addresses are less relevant to the paleo diet, but great if you eat grains to get the full nutrition out of them. Kefir is relevant to everybody since you can make it from ruminant milk, nut milk, and anything that has fermentable sugars like coconut water.
Overall, my digestion feels better when I consume fermented foods and I have noticed that my seasonal allergies are much better. But of course, the main reason to eat them is that they are delicious and nourishing.
Hmm, I guess my previous post made it seem like I am callous about fish. But I care greatly about fish as species and as important parts of our ecosystem. While I certainly wouldn't go out of the way to kill a fish cruelly, the ecology is the most important part for me. Before I switched into agricultural development economics, I nearly finished a degree in environmental economics.
Most of my classmates in my courses then were studying for degrees in ecology, which spurred me to also take some ecology classes. I continued to dabble in that field, taking a few classes every year. The ecological worldview had a huge impact on me, causing me to view animals not as individuals, but as members of an ecological entity. When I worked with bees this was especially important. My entomology professor always cautioned us against personifying bees.
I understood why. Viewing the queen as some sort of well...queen in the human sense obscured her true role in the colony. The same went for the individual bees. The more I appreciated their complex and amazing behavior, the more I learned to respect them as a colony rather than a group of individuals with individual interests. In a bee hive, their decisions always prioritized the colony.
On the subject of fish, I always chose fish that are the most sustainable and healthy for humans. Sometimes that conflicts with the welfare of individual fish, sometimes it doesn't, but either way my priorities are clear for healthy ecology for them and me.
A good book that really cemented my desire to avoid fish like farmed salmon or those harvested by trawling was Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe. If you don't want to read an entire book on the subject, this Salon interview captures some of the main points of the book.
Salmon from these farms tends to be full of persistent organic pollutants, [some of which] are highly carcinogenic. Salmon farmers grind up smaller fish like anchovies, sardines and anchoveta to make the pellets -- all of which should be going to feed humans, not making deluxe fish, especially in the context of food riots -- and salmon farms have been proven to spread disease and parasites like sea lice to wild fish populations, among them sea trout in Ireland and wild salmon in British Columbia
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.
Two years back I started sending my dad a paleo article or two every once in awhile. My dad was really into exercise, but despite exercising every day he was having a tough time with his weight. It's no wonder. Growing up I remember he would take us out to the infamous Cici's All You Can Eat Pizza where well...we would eat amounts of sugar and junk that I shudder to look back on.
With exercise not working, he decided to read up on Art De Vany and Gary Taubes He found it was a simple diet that made sense to him logically. I write lots on this blog that is about adding in neglected foods or tweaking nutrient ratios, but my father is testament to the simple formula of meat, seafoods, vegetables, and fruit. He said he didn't do anything fancy, because he was already used to cooking and eating meat. Giving up sugar was hard, but the hardest part was giving up foods that are seen as healthy like fruit juice. Primal Body Primal Mind, which I gave to him after I read it, helped him realize the problems with fructose.
So far he has lost 50 lbs, his athletic performance is better, and he doesn't have GERD anymore. I think Art De Vany in particular is a great role model. In an age when older men are portrayed as overweight and bumbling (a la Family Guy or The Simpsons), Art has aged gracefully and retained his masculinity.
It's interesting because he started the diet after I left home, so many of our eating habits are different, but either way we are both testaments to the importance of eating nutrient dense HUMAN food and ditching sugar.
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 :)
Nina Planck's Real Food is an excellent primer for ditching industrial crap and eating wholesome nourishing foods, so I was excited to read Real Food for Mother and Baby. No, i'm not planning on having a baby anytime soon, but if you are planning on having a baby ever, it's important to start planning when you are young. In this book she makes the point that when you are having a baby, it is drawing on fat stores laid many years before. What kinds of fats do you want going into your future children?
Nina Planck is of the Weston A. Price school of thought and is not a paleo dieter, but since there is no paleo baby book currently and WAPF has some intersection, lots of this advice might be useful for prospective paleo parents.
Her fertility chapter is particularly good. Her four fertility rules are: be an omnivore, eat good fats, eat seafood, and don't eat carbage. The most important nutrients for boosting and maintaining fertility are:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B 12
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K2
Isn't it nutritionism to reduce it to nutrients? No, because our modern diets are so deficient that to get these naturally has to be learned. Most Americans get their folate and iodine from enriched bread and salt. You have to be aware and willing to adjust your diet to get them on the paleo diet. She also emphasizes the importance of MEN getting these nutrients too and points out all the studies that show that the quality and quantity of most modern men's sperm has decreased. For men the most important nutrients are antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, iron, DHA, selenium, and zine. It's a good excuse for future moms and dads to go enjoy some oysters together and then...well, you get the picture. The missing part of this chapter is information on recovering your fertility after taking the pill FOREVER, as many modern women do.
The prenatal chapter is less useful, as it talks mostly about how much trouble she had complying with the WAPF prescriptions and how she drank alcohol because the risk isn't *that* high. Hmm. The information on morning sickness is interesting though. Apparently it's a universal thing from !Kung hunter-gatherer women to modern women and is an evolutionary adaptation. Even more useful is the information on iron. Boy I wish I had known this with I was in college and had IBS. Once I had anemia and I was given an iron supplement. My stomach practically exploded! Nina points out how excessive Iron can feed bad bacteria in the gut. Many doctors give pregnant women iron supplements, but there is strong evidence that the decline in iron concentration is a natural adaptation to protect women from infection.
Her childbirth chapter goes even less well. She really really wants to have a "natural" childbirth, but ends up needing a C-section because of the unusual position of her baby. I wish she had gone into more detail about why she wanted such a natural childbirth in the first place, since so many people think the concept is woo. But there are good reasons to not want a C-section and birth where your baby is immediately taken away to a ward, one of them is that it permanently alters the gut ecosystem and another is that it can affect the release of bonding hormones, which is discussed in detail in the Continuum Concept.
BTW I think the idea that life for paleolithic woman was HORRIBLE because of pregnancy is garbage. Clearly, many many many women, almost all of our ancestors, gave birth without a problem. It was painful and some women did die, but I'm personally sick of hearing paleo detractors go on and on about it. Paleo diet is a diet and a thought paradigm, not a reenactment club. The fact that so many women gave birth in harsh environments is a testament to their health. It can unfortunately take generations of eating better to fully recover that strength in the form of better-formed pelvic bones that many of us lack these days.
The breastfeeding chapter is very interesting. Nina is a former low-fat vegetarian and presents valuable information on why that is NOT a good choice for nursing mothers. The smoking gun is the level of DHA, the important omega-3 fat, are .10% in vegans and the desirable level is .35%. So many vegans have told me "well, if things like DHA are so important, how come vegans can have babies?" Possible vs. optimal. Reminds me of this article by prominent raw vegan Shazzie:
The truth is, though I'd love to see it, I have never once seen a 100% raw 100% vegan 100% unsupplemented child past breastfeeding age who has no tooth decay and is the correct weight and height for their age. Not one. Ever. On the other hand, I have, since 2001 seen countless raw vegan unsupplemented children spanning several countries with growth, teeth and mental disorders. Now, don't ask, because I will not name names, ever. I have cried at the child who was so retarded he barely moved (he since recovered on a cooked vegetarian diet, perhaps with some fish in the early stages). My heart has sank at the tiny girl on YouTube who has hardly any top teeth due to visible decay. My heart has wept when I've received letters from mothers who "just couldn't raise their children raw vegan", no matter how much they wanted to, even though they followed the advice of "experts" to the letter. And I've been puzzled as to why the raw food community covers these issues up time and time again. "Is it just me"? I've often wondered?
I understand why. This book is good, but it also highlights the extremely difficult struggle to have healthy children in a modern urban environment. After reading this book, I vowed that if I have children I would want to have a supportive community first.
Nina tries to feed her baby healthy, but doesn't seem to want the other moms to think she is a weirdo, so she lets her baby have crackers and bread. Soon enough, that's all baby Julian wants to eat.
There are good arguments for not turning children into pariahs with "weird" diets, but you should be able to feed a non-talking baby whatever you want. If anything, this exposes a flaw in WAPF. Adults know that fermented properly prepared grains are the only healthy grains, but a baby doesn't. It doesn't matter if you are feeding your baby the best bread ever, you are still giving it a taste for bread. It's too bad, because Nina recognizes that grains are unnecessary and even detrimental for young babies. With the culture against you, I think it's important to at least get in the best possible nutrition before kids realize the social status of cake. And this will happen.
I suspect a major problem is her friends, who she mentions don't think twice before feeding their kids white flour. I hope the paleo community is big enough when I have kids, so I don't have to worry about mothers in my playgroup who think not giving your kids cupcakes on their birthday is a human rights violation. I notice wealthy NYC children noshing on crackers and pretzels all the time. Most of them frankly look sickly- dark circles, crooked teeth, and pinched poorly forced facial features. Many of them have allergies. With all the obsession with fancy strollers and birthing classes, you'd think parents would figure out that dietary quality matters.
I also have to wonder about prenatal yoga. This is SO trendy in cities like NYC and Nina participates in it. Her quest for a natural childbirth is thwarted because her baby is in a strange position and has to have a C-section. Hmmm, maybe contorting our adult bodies into unnatural positions isn't good for us. I definitely wouldn't do prenatal yoga...or any other type of yoga.
Another New York problem rears its head. Nina has to work, so she has to hire a nanny. Early humans would have relied on family members to pick up the slack, but in today's sad isolated world, grandma lives 500 miles away and you have to pay someone who isn't related to you or a permanent part of your life...yet who will have a permanent influence. I remember when I worked at a camp and some children were picked up at 5 by nannies. They would look jealously at the children picked up by their mothers and grandmothers. Many would cry. Some of these nannied children had speech difficulties because their nannies didn't speak English well. There is also the inevitable loss of tradition as children are raised by strangers. I understand that some poor women have to send their children to daycare because their work feeds their family, but Nina Planck is not poor and later in the book they buy a second home. (The Two Income Trap is a great book about why you shouldn't depend on both incomes anyway.)
There is an evolutionary reason why women live so long- because long lived women increased the odds that their children's offspring would survive by caring for them and teaching them. The children benefited the elders too- providing them with interaction and mental stimulation. How many of us have grandparents languishing in far away nursing homes instead? It's an unfortunate cycle- grandma's bad diet makes her physically unable to help, so children are instead sent to daycare where they eat junk instead of grandma's homemade food. Of course plenty of grandmas are isolated from their families not because of health, but because of our culture of age stratification that sends them to Arizona or Florida instead of integrating them in a community.
The NY trap of high rents forces women to wait for decades to have their first child and to not be able to even raise it because they have to go back to work. Paleo-minded women are going to have to buck that trend. It's not romanticization- there are clear benefits to not waiting until you are 35 and to not farming out your child's care.
Overall I think this book is a good primer, but one of these days some paleo mama will come out with a book that's even better.