Inuit only ate meat right? Wrong, the Inuit have an extensive variety of plant foods as well, documented in this wonderful ethnography...
An old lady about half my size almost pushed me into a bucket of fish today. I had just wanted in to Isaacson and Stein and I was kind of disoriented. I felt like I hadn't walked into a fish shop, but a school of fish already organized in a way I could hardly comprehend. Immigrants from around the world, Chicago old-timers with heavy accents, cooks from restaurants, and a few random confused white people circling bins of every possible fish I could imagine. Mainly whole fish, of course. I didn't ask questions, I just tried to figure out what to do and how I could obtain some fish without getting fish goo all over my clothes and shoes. One thing I've learned from traveling is just try your best to do what everyone else is doing. I saw a woman reach for a bin labeled "gloves" and grabbing plastic bags. I did the same.
I escaped with a bad of whole head-on smelt for less than $2.00. The French Market nearby had smelt too, in a less chaotic environment, but missing the heads and for twice the price. Sorry, but as I've written before, I think the head is an essential part of the experience. You should look your tiny tiny fish in the eye before devouring it.
But it's a typical case of culinary creep for me. Because you can't have smelt without homemade aioli. And I can't seem to make that without destroying my tiny kitchen with some mixture of oil and duck fat. I'm almost tempted to go to DMK burger bar and try to buy their aioli because the chef says it's made with only olive oil, a rarity in the world of Hellman's.
I'll definitely be back at Issacson and Stein because I just got a new cookbook I'm kind of excited about. I've already written about Ferran Adria's influence on fine dining, but The Family Meal focuses on the kind of relatively-simple meals shared by the staff "family" at elBulli. Not "fancy" like the food served to the restauarant's visitors, but still elegant and tasty.
Being Spanish, there are lots of great fish recipes here that I'm looking forward to try. Most of them feature the whole fish, though he also has a good recipe for fish stocks and several recipes that feature it. Interestingly enough, a lot of the recipes are already gluten-free, even the baked goods. Spain already had a history of using ground almonds in cakes. But a lot of the desserts of just simple fruits and custards.
The only depressing thing about buying fish in Chicago is that so few options are local. Which is stupid since Chicago happens to be right on Lake Michigan. My father gets some amazing fish from the lake, including salmon, but I'm more concerned about the pollution than I am from ocean fish. The last advisory I read said to remove as much fat and organs as possible, AKA all the good stuff, from fish caught from the lake. Mercury and PCB pollution sucks. Imagine- I would be able to walk just a few blocks and get fish for almost nothing if we hadn't messed the ecosystem up so much.
I think The Family Meal is exactly what American fine-dining chef Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home should have been. Family Meal has better pictures, showing each recipe step-by-step, which is important for those of us who don't have much experience with things like cooking with whole fish (though this is quite funny since so many of my family is fisherman, but I was too picky when I lived around them). Also, Keller's cookbook contained lots of canola oil, which I'm not a fan of and is also somewhat mystifying considering that olive oil is now produced in Keller's home state of California. In Spain, almost everything is cooked with olive oil (and I was surprised to see that studies there show you can fry in it without damaging it, which is probably a testament to the protective effect of antioxidants) as a "neutral" oil, but in the United States, the flavor of olive oil is not considered neutral.
Anyway, after I bought the smelts, I headed to Publican Quality Meats, where the owner, Paul Kahan, was holding court. He looked the part of a butcher, because he is one, but he's also a chef and owner of several of Chicago's best restaurants. It's awesome to walk into a shop where everyone who works there seems to like the same things you do. Like offal. And authentic fish sauce. It's worth the price. After chatting with one of the butchers about blood, I walked out with my Red Boat fish sauce, heart, blood sausage, and Pok Pok drinking vinegar.
I've also been shopping at The Butcher and The Larder. Their liver pate is truly excellent and they will cut some great marrow bones for you to go. So far there isn't much in NYC that I miss, except the Asian food in Queens and the raw offal/meat at Takashi.
And my meatshare buying club. I've not started it up because I haven't had the time, my own family's farm isn't producing that much, and I was super lucky to have Spring Lake Farm to work with there. Seems like the market for lamb and goat, my typical starting point for shares, is much tighter here. So far all the farm's I've contacted have been sold out, but I guess I need to be more systematic and do a day of calling.
I will say that if you are in Chicago and you want to try lamb, it's easy enough to find Mint Creek Farm's stuff at farmer's markets and specialty shops. A lot of people tell me that they don't like lamb. And I understand, because a lot of it does have that acquired "gamey" taste going on that Americans don't really like. The New Zealand lamb at Whole Foods is a perfect example of that gamieness. But Mint Creek farm doesn't have any gamey taste and it's delicious, if a bit expensive. I recommend the Italian Sausages.
In my last post on the subject of Dr. Jack Kruse, AKA, The Quilt, I briefly touched on the misuse of the ideas of quantum theory. Not long after, the WSJ had an excellent article on the mis-use of that subject.
Actually, it's pretty interesting because I agree that both the mis-use of evolutionary biology and quantum science aren't that bad, because they show that people really are interested in science. They are just suseptible to bad science, which isn't a surprise considering the abysmal state of scientific education in this country. Only about 4 in 10 Americans actually believe that evolution is a real thing.
Well, here is some background for new readers. My original post confused some people who do not post on Paleohacks, where my rivalry with Dr. Kruse has a very long history.
The question of what drives popular interest in such evolutionary fantasies is a difficult one. Frequently, they are bundled in with good advice, further increasing credibility among laymen. They contrast with legitimate evolutionary biology in that they contain simple and often epic “just so” narratives that appeal to people, in contrast with the complexities and fervent debates in the academic study of human evolution.
An example of one such internet popularizer is the aforementioned Dr. Jack Kruse, a Tennessee neurosurgeon and dentist who started plying a “paleo” diet and lifestyle program called the Leptin RX Reset on various popular paleo diet websites (particularly Mark’s Daily Apple, which is ranked 2000 on the Alexa web traffic rating system in the US, and Paleohacks, which is ranked 8000) in 2010. Calling himself “The Quilt,” his posts quickly became some of the most popular on these sites. In June of 2011, he launched his own website, containing a blog and his master “Quilt” manifesto and cracked Alexa’s top 100,000 sites in the US within months, hitting 26,581 in March 2012. He gained a further audience from the online Paleo Summit, where his talk was among the most popular and where many people learned about the next part of his Leptin RX Reset program, the Cold Thermogenesis Protocol (CT). Then he was a keynote speaker at PaleoFX, an Austin paleo conference sponsored by The Ancestral Health Society that drew many of the movement’s most popular speakers. In the fall of 2012, he will be a panelist on a debate about “safe starches” at the Ancestral Health Society’s main conference, the Ancestral Health Symposium.
Evolution is central to Dr. Kruse’s ideas and recommendations. In a comment to reader he explained “ Adapting evolutionary biology to what we learn makes us a better physician not matter what we do.” His writings contain many references to human evolutionary origins and how his readers can use them to improve their health in a modern context. Many of his readers have reported success from using his recommendations, but is the evolutionary basis behind them sound?
During a panel at PaleoFX in Austin Dr. Kruse said
Only humans who fail to listen to evolutions rule book of engagement die. You can eat a banana in the winter and feel fine but Mother Nature says it’s impossible………therefore we ought not to do it. I will follow her lead over a diet book guru or the opinions of a bunch of people who let their thoughts subjugate their genes. Feelings and thoughts do not trump neural biochemistry …
But his writings reveal a more ambivalent view of evolution. On one hand, on one blog post he says that “The speed of evolutionary change has far out stripped the ability of our paleolithic genes to catch up.#” But in his Quilt manifesto he outlines an extremely plastic view “A human is the only animal that can actually change its DNA just by thinking. Moreover, what we really think is just a biologic secretion. No different than any hormone released by the pituitary gland. Thinking is… well it is a meme that hijacks our brain’s chemistry. Any one thought can alter our genetic and biologic purpose in life.#” Therein lies an essential paradox- on one hand our genes are “paleolithic,” but on the other they are malleable simply by thinking differently. Perhaps it is just part of our genes that are “paleolithic.” For example, he refers to our brains being neolithic and able to “subjugate” our paleo genes, with negative consequences: "our neolithic brains allow us to make decisions that subjugate out paleolithic genes all too often.”
The idea that human genetics have not changed since the end of the Paleolithic roughly 10,000 years ago and that they are mismatched to the modern neolithic environment is a common one in paleo diet circles. Unfortunately, its origin can be traced back to academia and it lives on as a popular principle despite the fact that it has been the subject of considerable controversy in evolutionary biology. A common citation in paleo books is to An evolutionary perspective enhances understanding of human nutritional requirements, a paper written by Boyd Eaton, Melvin Konner, and Marjorie Shostak in 1996:
Geneticists believe that the increased human number and mobility associated with civilization have produced more, not less, inertia in the gene pool and that when the humans of 3000-10,000 years ago (depending on locality) began to take up agriculture, they were, in essence, the same biological organisms as humans are today (Neel 1994).
More recent research has come to the opposite conclusion, as newer statistical genetics models have actually found that human evolution has accelerated greatly in the past 40,000 years, certainly not freezing with the advent of agriculture. However, along with many other paleo authors, Dr. Kruse is still of the less dynamic mindset, writing that “Evolutionary pressures are selected for by the environments of our ancestors were exposed to and not for what we face today.”
n academic anthropology, new discoveries in archaeology and rapid advances in genetics have spawned a discipline in which textbooks are outdated as soon as they are published. Human origins are constantly under debate, which means that even if scientific education were adequate in the US, it is fairly hard for anyone to keep up. But even a basic outdated education on the topic would help a layman be critical of several pop-science fringe evolutionary theories that have cropped up, such as the “aquatic ape” theory. Why do such theories become popular? As anthropologist Jim Moore put it:
Even among scientists, as we've seen with Hoyle, there are times when assertions are put forth which are poorly drawn, yet, because they strike a chord, often of wishful thinking, they catch on and are repeated. Yet refuting them can be an exercise in futility. A good scientific review and critique is a lot of work, and takes a lot of time. But it's far easier to pop off with a theory that's poorly researched than it is to accurately go over all the things that the original theorist should've, and to provide a point by point refutation.
In the case of the Aquatic Ape theory, Jim Moore did a major service by creating a website to refute it, since as he elucidates there, there is very little incentive for academics to engage in debates with popular pseudoscientific theories, since they are so focused on doing their own original research for the benefit of their careers.
This is unfortunate, because pseudoscience has great power to shape the public’s consciousness. As anthropologist John Hawks puts it:
Is the Aquatic Ape Theory fairly described as pseudoscience? Every statement of natural causes is potentially scientific. What distinguishes science from pseudoscience is social. Pseudoscience is supported by assertions of authority, by rejection or ignorance of pertinent tests, by supporters who take on the trappings of scientific argument without accepting science's basic rules of refutation and replication. Pseudoscience is driven by charismatic personalities who do not answer direct questions. When held by those in power, like Lysenkoism, it destroys honest scientific inquiry. When held by a minority, it pleads persecution.
In a world where many people are unhappy and unhealthy despite our scientific advances, the idea that conventional science is wrong can be quite appealing. It allows people to buy into fringe pseudoscience for which little evidence exists and not question the lack of evidence.
Dr. Kruse has a new interesting spin on the "paleo" diet, though whether his approach is "paleolithic" is up for debate. His spin on the evolutionary approach lately has emphasized cold. Why?
Considering that 90% of the earth’s current biome lives in extreme conditions on our own planet today still, we might need to consider that what we think is “our normal environment” is not so normal for most of life on our planet or our evolutionary history. Life on Earth evolved in an environment much like we see on Titan today; in a deep ocean frozen solid at its surface with the capability of life buried deep with in it. The only escape was due to ejectants of water vapor from super heated water from underwater volcano’s. All these things are present today on Earth’s crust too. There is one major difference now between the two. We are warmer today than life began. There are others, but when one looks at Titan we see a frozen giant moon with a monsterous ocean beneath it.
This creates an issue of whether or not Dr. Kruse is even promoting a paleo diet or if instead he is promoting a Archean diet. But if he is referring to the Archean, it is mystifying that he emphasizes cold, considering that the Archean was probably warmer than today. Dr. Kruse has "references" on his blog, but I would challenge anyone to tie the meandering list on his blog post with any actual "facts" in his writing, like that cold promotes autophagy or that Neuropeptide Y is downregulated in cold weather.
Either way, debates as to the origin of life on Earth are still happening, with some (but not a consensus!) emphasizing the possibility that colder temperatures were the ideal place for single-celled life forms to originate. Dr. Kruse believes this is important because “life first adapted to extreme environments and then was naturally selected and adapted to a cyclic warming trend on our planets crust over time.” But he seems to believe that this adaptation was somehow incomplete: “Our hominid species may have adapted during this warming trend, but the DNA we inherited came from animals that were cold adapted.” Did DNA not adapt during this warming trend even through our hominin ancestors themselves adapted? It seems strange since Dr. Kruse believes that “One thought might just alter your DNA!”
Instead, he believes that these adaptations were mostly epigenetic, once again appealing to the idea that he knows more than conventional science “We know today that the power of epigenetics dictates a lot more about newer generations adaptations than we even knew ten years ago.” While epigenetics has become an important field, it is clear that a species adaptation to changing environments involves both epigenetic and genetic adaptations. Unfortunately, epigenetic is an appealing buzzword, which has been co-opted to absurdity. Dr. Kruse says that the warm paleoclimate that our primate ancestors were exposed to might not matter as much as we think it does because we might still carry an epigenetic imprint from the cold that engulfed Earth 3-4 billion years ago:
The modern science of epigenetics shows that who we came from and what they faced has a direct biologic effect upon subsequent generations DNA and phenotypes. It is crystal clear today, but the biologic implications remain unexplored in all modern day literature. What is happening on Titan maybe like opening up a blackhole back to a reality that used to be our own. The ability to see Earth at life’s evolutionary beginning.
This is confusing, because while here he blames epigenetic relics, in other writings he blames static genetics: “ The speed of evolutionary change has far out stripped the ability of our paleolithic genes to catch up. This mismatch causes major problems for modern humans.” Dr. Kruse seems to want to have it both ways.
The idea that epigenetic relics from billions of years ago are affecting us today is questionable, since the latest evidence shows that epigenetic changes are not stable enough to carry on from thirty generations and certainly not from 3-4 billion years ago. Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne has addressed people who hype up the evolutionary significance of epigenetics: “ There are a handful of examples showing that environmentally-induced changes can be passed from one generation to the next. In nearly all of these examples, the changes disappear after one or two generations, so they couldn’t effect permanent evolutionary change.“ This is in direct opposition to Dr. Kruse’s view of how evolution works:
I think evolution found that epigenetic modifications to be quite effective way to pass on environemental information to succeeding generations. So successful that it became a backbone law of genomic functioning. Evolution follows fractal patterning. So it is also highly conserved in all species. Today that appears to be true too.
While epigenetics has indeed led to important new understandings, it is less of a game-changer than Dr. Kruse presents: “Evolution uses epigenetics to determine adaptation to environments. We have discarded the strict definition of genetic determinism that came from Watson and Crick, as founders of DNA.” As evolutionary biologist Rama S. Singh succinctly put it:
While the new discoveries of the laws of developmental transformations are enriching our knowledge of the intricate relationship between genotype and phenotype, the findings of epigenetic inheritance do not challenge the basic tenets of the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, as other than producing new variation no new processes of evolutionary change have been added to the ones we already know — mutation, migration, selection, and drift
Unfortunately, Dr. Kruse’s erroneous beliefs on human evolution have wide-ranging consequences holistically on his philosophy and recommendations, since it causes him to believe in conservation of many traits for which there is no evidence of conservation in Hominidae. Daniel F. Melia, professor of Celtic studies, recently wrote an article about characteristics of bad books that promote pseudoscience in his discipline. One of these characteristics is “Confident conclusions are often the result of chains of circumstance and supposition so long that even remembering their origin points while reading the books is difficult.” It’s easy to see that here and it shows how particularly ingenious this characteristic is since it makes anyone who tries to criticize the absurdities wade through the mire, further dis-incentivizing criticism.
A reasoning that Dr. Kruse uses for carbohydrate restriction is that epigenetics has sped up: “epigenetics has sped up and you eat a warm climate diet you by definition increase mitochondrial ROS that slowly kills you” A search of the scientific literature and academic databases found zero papers on epigenetics speeding up in modern humans. His article cites Wikipedia and himself.
The phenomena he blames on an epigenetic speed up also often do not have known epigenetic causes.
This is more fuel or proof that the “metabolic trap door” I found makes all starches less safe when they are eaten outside how our circadian biology accounts for them in our sped up systems. Evolution power laws has sped up too simultaneously to compound the issue. This explains why kids today are huge and bigger than their preceding genrations. It explains also why they reach puberty faster today.
Scientists are not sure what is causing earlier puberty(NYtimes article yesterday). If Dr. Kruse really knows, he should be eligible for a Nobel prize. It’s also interesting because paleo authors are often quick to point out that Paleolithic humans were bigger and stronger than modern humans because of their healthier diets and lifestyles. Yet Dr. Kruse is portraying this phenomenon as a bad thing, which begs the question as to why the paleolithic humans were bigger. Were they eating too many carbs? Why modern humans are catching up to paleolithic humans in terms of height is a matter of debate, but the best theory is it has to do with greater access to calories and less malnutrition stress.
Overall, on the issue of genetics and epigenetics, Dr. Kruse seems willing to rewrite definitions and build a pseudoscientific narrative that has little basis in reality. It shows that new scientific discoveries that become buzzwords in the public consciousness are very easy to manipulate in order to build such narratives. They make them sound scientific and cutting-edge, when in reality they are empty and devoid of factual basis.
I have MUCH more to write on this subject, including more on the evolution of mammals, hibernation, and hominin adaptations to cold. Also, a history of how he did not invent most of the regimens his followers praise so highly, as well as the actual non-pseudoscience evolutionary biology reasons that they work for those people.
The New York Times recently announced a contest to write an essay on why it's OK to eat meat. They made it clear that entries that engage in the naturalistic fallacy and a smattering of other silly common arguments would not be acceptable. Some people wrote me to ask if I would enter.
I will not. In order to argue that it is OK to eat meat from an ethical standpoint, you must establish philosophically that animals do not possess the right not to be eaten by humans. In 600 words. And to a panel of judges that is biased to say the least. This is a philosophical and ethical question, the the judges should be experts in those areas. Instead, you have Michael Pollan, who is a journalist, Jonathan Safran Foer, who is primarily a fiction author who wrote a popular non-fiction book about meat called Eating Animals that is anti-meat, Mark Bittman, who is a cookbook author who has branched out into frequently ill-informed food policy blogging. Mark Bittman eats meat, but it's clear he hates himself for it. Peter Singer IS a philosopher, but only represents utilitarianism, and certainly already has his mind made up about meat since he has been outspoken about this issue for many decades at this point. Andrew Light is of the pragmatist school from what I gather and seems ambivalent(pdf of a book on animals and pragmatism) on the issue. He is a pescatarian.
So you not only have a few totally unqualified people, but mainly people who already are biased on the issue. And those that are qualified do not represent the full spectrum of philosophical schools involved in this debate. So you have to convince mainly people who are already convinced...in 600 words. In many ways I am a masochist, but it's not that extreme.
Hey, at least i'm not complaining that the panel is stacked wrongly because of what's between the judge's legs like the vegan second wave feminists are. They are asking for people EVEN LESS qualified, just because they are women and vegan, like Kathy Freston, who writes unscientific garbage for the Huff Post.
Also, an addendum, if you are entering this contest, your most serious opponent is probably Peter Singer, who has been arguing about this for DECADES. I strongly recommend reading his works, particularly since he's written some books for a laymen audience, such as The Ethics of What We Eat. Peter Carruthers, another philospher, has a book online that opposes some of his most important ideas.
When I was first becoming a foodie in college I decided to switch my major to food science. I registered for most of the required basic science courses, as well as the intro class for majors. Unfortunately that class is why I'm not a food scientist. It was taught by a former head food scientist from Kraft and you could have retitled it "how to sell massive and ever increasing amounts of garbage commodity foods to Americans." I remember in one lab we toured they were making crispy puffs out of some soy byproduct that they told us would otherwise go to waste. I ate my bag and went back for more, but I otherwise remember nothing about that "food."
Some of my friends in neuroscience study how to prevent addiction, food scientists at these labs were studying how to encourage it. The End of Overeating documents their extremely successful methods.
I decided food science was not for me and ended up not switching my major. In fact, I decided that food science was evil and I wanted nothing to do with it.
But is food science going to be saved? Since I've started getting into modernist haute cuisine, I've noticed a movement from within to turn food science back into quality rather than selling people mass quantities of commodities. Ferran Adria of elBulli was an early pioneer of using food science in the haute cuisine kitchen and Harold McGee brought food science to conscientious home cooks through On Food and Cooking. Now Ferran has retired from the restaurant business to teach a form of food science known as "culinary physics" at Harvard and research gastronomy there. Super rich internet entrepreneur Nathan Myhrvold funded the development of the "bible" of Modernist Cuisine, using his millions to assemble a team of chefs and scientists to figure out how to perfect food as an aesthetic experience. Here is a Ted talk from one of the authors, Chris Young, a biochemist.
And now there is a new open-access academic journal called Flavor that had an article that caught my eye yesterday: Seaweeds for umami flavor in the New Nordic Cuisine. Turns out it's a collaboration between a physicist at the University of Southern Denmark and the Nordic Food Lab, which was started by Rene Redzepi, who runs the restaurant Noma. Noma took the mantle of "best restaurant in the world" after Ferran entered academia. I suppose Rene is trying to do academia and restaurants at once, with some successful results from his own Nordic Food Lab.
I think now that the concept of "food reward" has come into popular consciousness in the evolutionary blogosphere, some people have confused high "food reward" with good. That's the interesting part- foods that are high "food reward" are not often particularly aesthetically pleasing. They are not "good" in any way. Few writers are going to wax poetic on a cheeto the way you can about ikura or fine wine. High food reward foods stimulate compulsion. They hit the parts of the brain that make you want to eat more.
As I wrote about in my Paleolithic Post-Modernist Cuisine post, Ferran conceptualized food that hit not only the taste buds, but also had intellectual value " in which other elements come into play, such as sense of humour, irony, provocation, childhood memories, or -- a very important point."
A major difference between the modernist cuisine* type of food science and the food science that has led to the creation of bran flakes and Cheetos is that the former is all about quality, whereas the later places more of an emphasis on creating foods people want to eat more of.
When your ingredients cost as much as $6000 a lb, the last thing you want to do is create dishes that make the eater crave more. I remember eating one of the rarest mollusks in the world, abalone, at Manresa. It was a tiny tiny sliver, but I'll remember more about it than I'll ever remember about the fried chicken I used to binge on in the dining hall in college.
This is why I think it's vital for the neuroscientists who study food reward to collaborate with the nascent scientists of the modern gastronomy movement. While I think Whole Health Source is one of the best blogs out there, the low-reward food diet seems kind of harsh to me.
"Eat only single ingredients with no flavorings added. No spices, herbs, salt, added sweeteners, added fats, etc. If you eat a potato, eat it plain." When I have tried a diet like that, it triggers anhedonia and I can't keep it up. I also simply don't think that "low-reward" has to mean miserable food. Reward is about triggering a system of compulsion, not about aesthetic reward.
Stephan says that "You may initially feel deprived, but you should become more satisfied by simple food over time." But I think for those of use who are very hedonic, this is unrealistic and why would I want to give up the pleasures of truly luxurious food if I don't have to? Maybe it's because I come from a family of people unusually attuned to risk and pleasure seeking and my dopamine receptors are insane.
The dishes I have eaten from the kitchens of the modern gastronomists have plenty of flavor and aesthetic reward. But they do not leave me craving more. They are not dishes that stimulate compulsion, but appreciation of beauty, complexity, and the unique flavors of each quality ingredient.
Here is a "dish" I ate at a 14-course meal at ElIdeas here in Chicago. It was titled "roe - katsuobushi / tapioca / coconut." katsuobushi is also known as "bonito fish" and is one of the foundations of traditional dashi, the broth that is the nucleus of Japanese cuisine. It is the quintessential "umani" ingredient, imparting savory flavors. But unlike purified umami, which is MSG, it has a complex heavy somewhat-fishy flavor. It's made of mackerel after all.
At ElIdeas the guests are invited to participate in the kitchen, where I happily saw that the chef was using the whole dried fish, shaving off flakes by hand. Most Japanese restaurants in the US use commercially-made "bonito flavored" flakes that are often mostly MSG. The real thing is not easy to find, it's not something you want to create a dish with where the eater will crave more, but one that highlights the unusual and rich flavors of each ingredient.
The food science that has dominated the industry and academia for so long is mainly concerned with making crap better. The new modernist food science is mainly concerned with getting the best out of wonderful things. I hope they can collaborate to work out culinary principles for food that tastes good AND doesn't hijack the senses in order to trigger compulsive eating. That's going to be hard, because everyone seems to have different triggers.
In my own kitchen, the practical applications of what I've learned from fancy food are pretty easy to spot. I cook with only the best ingredients and favor complex and unusual flavors, like spicy mustards, heavy misos, real high-quality fish sauce, seaweeds, and offal. Interestingly, haute cuisine shares elements and flavors with ancient peasant cuisine, probably because despite their divergent costs, they both have the same goal of making the most out of small amounts of things.
An simple recipe I enjoyed for breakfast today was Trader Joe's smoked wild salmon wrapped in roasted seaweed (I used seasnax), drizzled with some spicy mustard. Delicious, pretty, and satisfying.
* I would note that this movement is seperate from the gastropub and new american food movements, which often do feature compulsive little snacks like fries with aioli
I've written before on how the typical "paleo" paradigm didn't fix my digestive problems. That's because paleo divides things into good and bad in a somewhat arbitrary manner. The reality is that good and bad are relative to the functioning of your body and your individual biology. As Dr. Ayers said in his latest post:
This suggests that the problem is somehow in the intolerant person, even though there are no genes for food intolerance and very few cases of food intolerance result from an immune reaction. Food intolerance is actually the inability of an individual's incomplete gut flora to digest certain types of food.*
The question becomes whether or not you can figure out which foods you are intolerant of and then whether or not you can become more tolerant. Your malfunctioning gut bacteria probably don't care about whether or not a food is "paleo" or not.
This becomes clear now that an army of paleo cookbooks have been published that contain nut and coconut flours. My family has discovered the hard way that these flours can be quite harsh on the digestive system. My mother told me she reacted terribly to some coconut flour baked goods she made, but not to plain old bread. I found that I reacted to both about the same, which meant that both seemed to lead to cramping and bloating. That's not really surprising, since it seems fructans are my main enemy.
Almond and coconut are "paleo" ....why? Because they are not seeds (actually, they are technically seeds, which is pretty hilarious that people don't think of them as such) and grains? Even though there is ample evidence for seed and grain consumption in the actual Paleolithic. And almond and coconut share many of the properties that some "paleo" advocates claim are the problem with grains, such as high levels of phytic acids and potentially-reactive lectins and other proteins.
For example, Robb Wolf tweeted that he didn't think grains could be a "safe starch" because there are some papers on various immune-system reactions to them. But I can find papers on very similar reactions to our sacred cow. I'm sure in some parallel vegan circle-jerk twitterverse, Dr. Dean Ornish is tweeting those papers to confirm his follower's various biases, but as I wrote about sialic acid from meat, not everyone reacts this way. And in particular, I don't think healthy people are as likely to have such dysfunctional immune responses to food, but Westerners raised on crap in a "hygienic" environment are very vulnerable.
My mantra is that a sick person can react to ANYTHING. And a very healthy person can tolerate a lot of terrible things. I always like to remember the story of Mithridates VI of Pontus, who was so paranoid about being poisoned that he took small doses of various poisons in order to accustom his body to them (hormesis perhaps). When he was defeated by Pompey, he tried to commit suicide by poison, but couldn't because he was immune to what he had on hand. So he had to have his bodyguard execute him by sword. He is immortalized in an excellent poem by A. E. Housman
There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all the springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
–I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.
– A. E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad
I love the line "the many-venomed earth" and it's one that has struck with me often as I study science, along with Tennyson's "Nature, red in tooth and claw" from In Memoriam.
Interestingly, through self-experimentation I've found that I do not just OK, but much better eating things made with rice and certain pseudograins. My skin improves when I eat finely sifted fermented buckwheat (a pseudograin) and I have much more energy and digestive stability when I have some rice in my diet.
I also think some of these gluten-free grain-free things are pretty much torture to cook, requiring all kinds of fruit/vegetable purees or five million eggs to produce something even somewhat appetizing. And I don't have any particular interest in eating things that are only somewhat appetizing unless they are exceptionally nutritious.
Sometimes I get asked what my diet is like and that's a hard question to answer. I'll go through periods where I cook some particular ingredient over and over again, and then I kind of forget about it for awhile. It's like that with buckwheat for me. Perhaps the craving has something to do with buckwheat being particularly rich in magnesium?
Lately, one of my favorite meals is buckwheat pancakes with delicious toppings. My method for making buckwheat pancakes is that I sift the flour and then soak it for a day in sour whey or sour cream. Then I mix in an egg and cook it in fat of some sort. This one I topped with bacon-wrapped elk, REAL lingonberries (not the jam from IKEA, I bought them frozen at Erickson's Delicatessen and they are very sour, so they work very well with savory dishes), and seaweed.
* I also agree with Mat Lalonde that reactions to specific proteins can be an issue, though the two things are somewhat interconnected
I've been wearing minimalist/barefoot type shoes to exercise in for a few years now. But the thing is that I live a pretty active lifestyle on a day to day basis. In my urban environment, I often walk anywhere from 2000 to 8000 steps a day, involving climbing lots of stairs and sometimes running so I don't miss the train.
So I like to have an everyday shoe that has the same qualities as the shoes I wear to Crossfit/run. Unfortunately, my everyday clothes don't go very well with the typical minimalistic shoes on the market. I like to wear a lot of skirts and dresses, for example, and my closet tends to be divided into two categories: avant garde and extremely girly. My Footskins go OK with the former, but at this point they are significantly worn down and I mainly wear them for exercise. For the latter, I like to wear something a bit more elegant. Ballet flats are a good option, but honestly, most aren't built terribly well. I had some from Dexter that were completely flat and flexible that I bought in high school, but after I started exercising in barefoot/minimalist shoes, my feet sort of shrunk and they didn't fit anymore, especially since they don't have a strap. I already almost lost them running for the subway.
Other design flaws I've seen in similar flats include small annoying heels, stiffness, narrow cramped toe boxes, and chafing at the heels. I ordered some of the Cole Haan Nike Free flats (which they don't seem to make anymore) from Zappos, but returned them because they chafed. So I was pretty happy to see that Merrell came out with some ballet flats called the Merrell Wonder Glove.
I made a short clip of them, but couldn't really do a full video because the lighting in my apartment is so terrible, as is my camera:
As you can see, they are extremely flexible. What you can't see is how lightweight they are. I also like how they manage to look elegant, but the toebox is ample enough. After I made this video, I had to go meet some friends and I realized I was going to miss the train if I didn't hustle. So I ran. And they performed beautifully. To contrast, I own some Chinese "Kung Fu" Slippers (like these but with a floral pattern) that are also flexible and lightweight, but perform terribly if you try to run. They cost $1 in Chinatown, so I fully expect them to fall apart at any moment, even if they are a cute addition to the wardrobe.
I hadn't been as happy with the previous shoe I bought from Merrell, the Pure Glove, which was admittedly an impulse buy when I was in North Florida at their outlet store and needed some new shoes since it was warmer than I expected it to be in December there. They were OK for what I needed them for, which was hiking around the beach, but they are kind of in the no man's land where they aren't cute enough to wear with my everyday clothes and don't perform as well as my Vibrams, Vivo Barefoots, or even my Footskins for exercise since they are relatively clunky and inflexible. I hear it gets better if you "break them in," but with so many options that don't need that...why bother?
My main concern is the leather. I'm worried about scuffing it or ruining it in the rain. But we'll see. I realize I never reviewed my winter boots, the Cushe Cabin Fever (zero-drop, so no hell, but the soles are still a little thicker than I would like), mainly because Chicago didn't have very inclement weather this winter, but they are made of leather and do fine in the little rain/snow I encountered, so maybe the Merrells do too? With random downpours haunting the next few days, we'll see what happens.
Here's hoping Merrell comes out with some seriously elegant winter boots someday.
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
How is it possible to have so many brilliant meals in such a short span of time? I thought about that as I ate at one Sister, a small private supper club run by brilliant up and comer Iliana Regan. A couple across the table mused that it might be because in NYC people have to spend so much on rent that they don't have the money for food this luxurious and labor-intensive. Either way, this meal was certainly the rival of my meal at Next. It reminded me a bit of Manresa in California in the use of innovative local seasonal ingredients, but I felt the dishes here were more complex. It had Next elBulli beaten on pacing and overall coherence too. I found the "sweet world" desserts of Next elBulli to be cloying and jarring, whereas here, the desserts blend quite seamlessly and blur the lines between sweet and savory across the menu. I didn't take photos, probably because I saw that the professional photographer had done such a fantastic job that it would be kind of pointless for me to try.
The dish with butternut squash, lobster, anise, and cashew milk was one of my favorites. In a way it was a little like the carrot-coconut foam at Next, but far more subtle and complex. While I would never hope to replicate the dish perfectly, I will definitely consider the use of cashew milk in savory dishes in the future. There was also a beautiful little liver mousse with a perfect dusting of fennel pollen, a tiny food-jewel that melted in my mouth. I adored the amaranth with smoked duck sausage and brussel sprouts. Amaranth, a pseudo-grain, has been stuck in the vegetarian ghetto in America for too long, it was nice to see what seemed to be a broth-related umami did to it, which made it into almost a silky savory custard.
Also, who knew that local deer could work so well with cherries and homemade ricotta? What a fantastic little "dessert," particularly with the molecular gastronomy touch of the smoke in the jar that wisped out as you ate the treat.
Iliana does her own dry-aging of meat in her small urban kitchen, which is quite impressive. Even in the winter she is also growing a variety of small fresh sprouts to add color and freshness to her dishes.
Take a look at the "steak" dish- dry aged ribeye, succulent colorful green broccoli, and an incredible buttermilk savory custard with bonito flakes. Why am I not making more savory custards? I would say they are better than sweet custards anyway.
But my favorite dish was probably the smoked oysters, served in a beautiful bounty of foraged wild things and eaten alongside a spicy marshmallow with unctuous marshmallows and flavors of juniper. It was a dish that was eminently sexy and primal. A lot of the food here reminded me of some of the experiments I did when I lived on the edges of the woodland in Sweden.
I loved all the uses of broths/dashis too, there were so many kinds, which highlighted the fact that besides being healthy, they are a major foundation for tasty cuisine.
For me, this style of cuisine uses so many ingredients in small amounts that I didn't worry about intolerances, but there was a guest at the table that didn't eat seafood and Iliana adapted the menu for him.
If you have some cash + time, this is a menu well worth checking out. I saw on her FB page that she has some last-minute openings for the spring menu.
I've been listening to a little bit of the Paleo Summit and today I listened to Nora Gedgauda's presentation on "safe" starches. You can still catch it for another hour or so I think, but let's just say it wasn't my favorite presentation in the world.
If you've read this blog long enough, you know I have an interest in fiber. One thing that is interesting about early "paleo" books, Boyd Eaton's 1989 The Paleolithic Prescription, is that they recommend an absurd amount of fiber. That's partially because some estimates of fiber intake based on fossilized poo, known as coprolites, were just simply absurd, as high as 150 grams a day, which no known human culture even approaches. So I've spent a little time arguing against that, because the coprolite analysis for fiber isn't even very accurate in the first place.
So when I hear more info about coprolites, my ears perk up, particularly if it's totally outside the realm of anything I've ever heard. In Nora's presentation she cites a paper that she says shows that a wide-ranging sample of paleolithic coprolites shows that they weren't eating any plants. What?
So I tracked down this paper. Turns out it's not a paper, it's an article in a magazine, though I admit that Scientific American is definitely a quality magazine.
So your homework assignment for the night is to read the "paper" and figure out where it says any of what Nora says at all
Spoiler: it doesn't say any of those things at all. Nope, none. Hilariously, a lot of the article is in fact devoted to the Pecos basin hunter-gatherers I've written about, but they didn't live in the Paleolithic and they ate a massive amount of various plants.
Bonus point: find ANY paper that supports what Nora says.
Nora is trying to fight Paul Jaminet's mainly bio-chem based arguments about starches with anthropology, but she doesn't have much ammo. The idea that homo sapiens was forged in some kind of arctic ice age goes against all the existing genetic and archeological evidence that exists. When we are talking about the influence of the last ice age on homo sapiens, it's more about forests dying off and becoming grasslands and savannas, than people plunged into some polar darkness in which they could only eat mammoth.
Nora then cites the isotopic evidence. Nope, she doesn't cite one of the many papers on the subject, she cites Dr. Eades, who is an MD, not an anthropologist. Probably because in those papers they try to make it clear that isotope analysis cannot tell us that ancient hominids were eating like foxes. It can simply tell us the trophic level of the protein consumed, which is similar to foxes in SOME cases, but we are not foxes. We are large-brained primates with the ability to eat a vast variety of foods, so the trophic level cannot rule out other foods being consumed, nor can it tell us the amount of protein in the diet. John Hawks put up an assortment of posts on isotopic analysis in response to an email from Chris Masterjohn.
As for the ketogenic babies, I think babies are really the reason that most humans can adapt better to ketosis than most other mammals, which I learned from Stephen Cunnane's excellent book Human Brain Evolution: Influence of Freshwater and Marine Food Resources:
There are two key advantages to having ketone bodies as the main alternative fuel to glucose for the human brain. First, humans normally have signifi cant body fat stores, so there is an abundant supply of fatty acids to make ketones. Second, using ketones to meet part of the brain ’ s energy requirement when food availability is intermittent frees up some glucose for other uses and greatly reduces both the risk of detrimental muscle breakdown during glucose synthesis, as well as compromised function of other cells dependent on glucose, that is, red blood cells. One interesting attribute of ketone uptake by the brain is that it is four to fi ve times faster in newborns and infants than in adults (Robinson and Williamson, 1980 ; Cremer, 1982 ). Hence, in a sense, the efficient use of ketones by the infant brain means that it arguably has a better fuel reserve than the adult brain. Although the role of ketones as a fuel reserve is important, in infants, they are more than just a reserve brain fuel – they are also the main substrate for brain lipid synthesis (see Baby Fat – The Reserve for Brain Lipids section).
I have hypothesized that evolution of a greater capacity to make ketones coevolved with human brain expansion (Cunnane, 2005a ). This increasing capacity was directly linked to evolving fatty acid reserves in body fat stores during fetal and neonatal development . To both expand brain size and increase its sophistication so remarkably would have required a reliable and copious energy supply for a very long period of time, probably at least a million, if not two million, years. Initially, and up to a point, the energy needs of a somewhat larger hominin brain could be met by glucose and short - term glucose reserves such as glycogen and glucose synthesis from amino acids. As hominins slowly began to evolve larger brains after having acquired a more secure and abundant food supply, further brain expansion would have depended on evolving signifi cant fat stores and having reliable and rapid access to the fuel in those fat stores. Fat stores were necessary but were still not suffi cient without a coincident increase in the capacity for ketogenesis. This unique combination of outstanding fuel store in body fat as well as rapid and abundant availability of ketones as a brain fuel that could seamlessly replace glucose was the key fuel reserve for expanding the hominin brain, a reserve that was apparently not available to other land - based mammals, including nonhuman primates.
But I don't think that means it's optimal for adults. If anything, it's possible adult's ability to be in ketosis is a relic from infancy. Perhaps that's why some people seem to do better on ketosis than others, because like lactase persistence, the persistence of that ability varies from person to person. But I don't really know, it's just an idea and unlike some people I don't claim to know what everyone else should eat.
As for the Inuit not eating plants, it's 2012 and I think there is enough information on the internet available, like my own blog posts, that put that misconception to bed.
No, but people take this stuff seriously, as you can see in the comments:
As far as Nora's presentation goes, it's backed up by more science and understanding of human physiology than any of the pro-carb messages I've seen.
If you want to listen to a better talk, I'd suggest Mat Lalonde's. I wish he'd write a book. We know paleo can work, science can help us figure out why and knowing why can help us target variations of the diet to individuals. I firmly believe that a successful diet involves acknowledging the normal distribution and trying to "pin the tail on the donkey" to find your place there (or your range dependent on other variables) through self-experimentation and other tools. It's clear he does that in his own life, so he's talking the talk and walking the walk. I do differ in opinion in that I have tended to think that issues with grains aren't issues with proteins, but issues with carbohydrate malabsorption. But I'm open to both ideas being right.
Most importantly, Mat calls us to be rigorous in our use of scientific evidence, which is something many other speakers at the Paleo Summit seem to be unable to do. Their readers, who do not have access to academic journals by and large, take them seriously without ever knowing the truth.
As for the idea that those of us who are skeptical of the anti-starch stance just being addicts, I really do laugh because I remember a comment a militant vegan relative of mine posted on the blog. He accused me of making up evidence for meat being healthy just because I think it's so tasty. Ha. Anyone who knows me knows that when I started trying "paleo" diets, I did not like meat very much, though I do like it now.
As for starch, the idea that I'd be addicted to the mediocre bland peasant-like tastes of things like cassava or green plantain is absurd. I really challenge anyone who thinks such things are addictive to go to their nearest ethnic market and purchse a true yam. Then boil it and eat it plain. Have fun!
If I promoted a diet based on what I crave, it would be based around caviar, bone marrow, and butter. Through, it is quite funny that all of those things are quite good for you.
A couple of months ago I tangled with Dr. Rosedale, a prominent low-carb advocate who was talking about how his diet is better than the Kitavan diet at improving markers of longevity, like lowering leptin levels. It's kind of hard to refute that since there is no study utilizing the Kitavan diet in non-Kitavans and seeing how it improves leptin levels that I know of, but it made me curious to see some cross-cultural data on Leptin. I collected an assortment of things, just for fun (let me know in the comments if you have any interesting data I should add):
|Culture||Leptin level in ng/dl||Sex||Age mean unless otherwise indicated||Sample Size|
|Kitavan||1.4||M||40 and younger||42|
|Kitavan||1.7||M||60 and over||39|
|Swedish||3.4||M||40 and younger||29|
|Kitavan||3.9||F||60 and over||14|
|Kitavan||5.7||F||40 and younger||11|
|Swedish||6.3||M||60 and over||40|
|Rosedale Diet Study After||8.21||MF||57.6||31|
|Swedish||11.3||F||40 and younger||33|
|Rosedale Diet Study Before||16.51||MF||57.6||31|
1. There is a serious error on the data in this paper, as it's reported in mg/dl, which I hope is an error and they meant to put ng/dl, because if you convert the mg/dl to ng/dl it's an impossible value.
Rosedale's assertion that his diet works better than any other diet in improving longevity markers, but as you can see, Leptin is all over the place, which could be due to diet, genes, or environment (for example the extremely cold harsh Siberian environment). In the process of putting this table together, I corresponded with some of the authors of these papers and also found the aforementioned potential mistake in Rosedale's paper. One of the author's of the Siberian papers confirmed that the Buryats no longer eat a traditional diet and in fact eat quite a bit of bread. I discussed the diet of the the Ache with one of the paper's authors and it is particularly unusual since unlike most tropical foragers, the Ache have regular access to game that is very very high in fat, but they also gather a significant amount of starch.
Either way, neither culture is particularly renowned for longevity. In fact, the data on leptin and longevity is somewhat inconsistent, some studies showing heavier women with higher leptin levels live longer. Leptin levels are highly sexually dimorphic, which is why I prefer seeing data separated by sex. And the raw vegans have some low leptin levels, but the paper is mainly about how terrible their bone density is.
And of course, Rosedale's paper does not show that his diet is the optimal one for optimizing this marker, simply that it improved it in a very small short study.
More later, but what do you think of this data?