This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
This blog wouldn't exist if food wasn't important to me, but it amazes me how I can continue to have experiences relating to food that change my view of things. That's one of the reasons I haven't written a book. I'm just not there yet in terms of experience, even though I've made great improvements in my life and maintained them, there is still much to learn. How could I ever put the pen to the page knowing that my words would be a static representation of my views for months and even years?
Last year when I lived in New York City there was a little tiny diner on a remote corner of Long Island City, one of my favorite parts of the city. It's so close to Manhattan, but oddly desolate. Standing alone amidst the glittering lights of the city, with the roar of the highways in your ears, is a surreal Blade-runner esque experience. One that many people miss out on because of an irrational skepticism towards Queens, which has some of the best food in the city.
But M. Wells, that little diner, was special. And I ate there at exactly the right time. It's hard to explain, but it was during a time when I was trying very hard to make myself someone I wasn't for the sake of a relationship. I have an unfortunate predilection towards this whole "destiny" thing, perhaps that is just the way my mind works. It helps me craft narratives, but it also makes me try to craft my own life into a story sometimes, with signs and wonders guiding me. Doubts that don't fit the story often get ignored in the name of these destinies.
And there were many doubts about all kinds of things in this relationship, one of the major ones was that I had to adopt a particular religion in order to go forward with it, a religion that required very regular fasting from almost all animal products. There were many beautiful things about this religion and I felt drawn to it in many ways.
And I thought, well, I can do this. With all I knew then, compared to when I was vegan, I could make it work for me. But I was miserable. One priest told me I could try vegetarianism instead, but it didn't seem to help.
I might never know why. I was reading The Meat Fix recently, which is the story of a man who was vegan and suffered from terrible health problems which went away when he added meat to his diet. Why does this happen? There are so many potential explanations, but for me even supplementing with carnitine, taurine, b12, and DHA didn't make a difference. I was depressed all the time. I started having menstrual irregularities. My list of food sensitivities seemed to just keep growing and growing. All the sudden, for example, I was sensitive to shrimp, one of the few animal products legitimately allowed. One thing I have been proud of with my dietary experiments was that they have allowed me to travel. But here I was throwing up violently in a bag on the train to Manhattan. And missing work because my period cramps had become crippling, so painful that they brought me to tears.
I felt more socially isolated than ever too. Why me? Why this? Why can't I just make this work like it's supposed to? Why does my body seem to rebel against me after even a week without meat? I was told to pray harder.
FAUST. The pain of life, that haunts our narrow way,
I cannot shed with this or that attire.
Too old am I to be content with play,
Too young to live untroubled by desire.
What comfort can the shallow world bestow?
Renunciation! - Learn, man, to forgo!
This is the lasting theme of themes,
That soon or late will show its power,
The tune that lurks in all our dreams,
And the hoarse whisper of each hour
And then one day I read about M. Wells, opened by Hugue Dufour and his partner Sarah Oberatis. I found myself there almost as if in a trance, I found myself there at the counter, eating bone marrow, brain, liver, and butter...lots and lots of butter. I was eating everything I wasn't supposed to eat, dusted with gluten, cheese, and irrevocably impious in its decadence, but I felt so energized, so alive again. I continued to cheat on my destiny there, becoming more bold to live the life I really wanted to live, powered grilled cheese sandwiches layered with liver.
At the same time, I was also reading the book Blood, Bones, and Butter, the autobiography of chef Gabrielle Hamilton. I never reviewed it here. It was so well-written, but her relationships made me intensely uncomfortable. I saw in her tense relationship, what my own could become if I continued to try to make myself into someone I really wasn't. Mired in doubt and contempt, irrevocably tied together by children.
I gave up on my "destiny". I ended my relationship, quit my job, and moved to Chicago. I have never regretted this.
Now I am wise enough to realize that I should only be with someone who accepts me for who I am now, whether then what I might be. And now I really do feel like I'm living rather than just coughing under a constant miasma of doubt and misery.
M. Wells tragically closed when the landlord doubled the rent. I would have felt worse about leaving Queens though if it had stayed open. But I had fallen in love with that ridiculously fatty food from Montreal. And looking up the Dufour online, I found he was once involved with a restaurant in Montreal called Au Pied Du Cochon. I made it my mission to someday eat there despite my inability to pronounce it correctly.
I added Joe Beef to the itinerary after reading it about it in Lucky Peach, which was fortunate since Au Pied and Joe Beef are "friends" if restaurants can be friends. The staffs share ideas, friendships, and meals together.
I ate there first, with fellow blogger Easy as Pi, one of the few dietetics students in the world who could enjoy such a meal. The thing about Joe Beef is that there is only one menu in the entire restaurant. And it is written, in French only, on a chalkboard we were facing away from. It was also really dark. So we asked our bald tattooed waiter for a recommendation. He said "no." I was a bit miffed, but just named two random things I had heard the restaurant is good at: bone marrow and horse. He said we also needed the guinea hen. OK...
It is only lately that I have been learning to appreciate meat as it really is, not the meat that most of us are used to, bland and standardized, but the meat of animals that have had varied, often long, lives. In Sweden earlier this year they had on my menu at Frantzen/Lindeberg tallow and tartare from a 7-year-old dairy cow. I thought it was intoxicating, earthy, and maybe just a bit eccentric. And then I met Magnus Nilsson, a renowned Swedish chef, on a book tour here in Chicago. His cookbook is a revelation to me, especially since I help my family with our relatively new farm where we are raising our own beef. Old cows, I thought, were not much good, except for ground beef that maybe you could turn into chili. But Magnus explains in his book that he prefers older cows because of their deeper more complex flavor which he enhances through dry aging. According to him, this meat has real marbling caused by the use of the muscles as the cow ages, interspersing it with fat, whereas corn-finished young cattle marbling "is just blubber."
Joe Beef's Bathroom Bison
I think Magnus would have loved the horse at Joe Beef. It had so much savoriness and character that it tasted much like an aged cheese. The guinea hen was also very powerful, with the dark meat tasting almost livery, amongst wild mushrooms with their own characteristic umami flavor enhanced by the gamey fat. What can I say about the bone marrow? It was perfect. We were stuffed, like the giant bison head that startles you in the bathroom.
Breton buckwheat wheat with butter, cheese, ham, and mushrooms
The next day I ate a Breton buckwheat crepe at La Bulle au Carré and then we had coffee with the awesome people of Eating Paleo in Montreal, at secret paleo hangout The Knife/Le Couteau, which serves amazing coffee and properly-brewed tea, as well as very good "paleo" treats from Almond Butterfly. Joshua, the organizer, compared it to Bierkraft in Brooklyn, which also serves a paleo crowd despite being a beer store (my kind of paleos).
Unfortunately I had a little too much coffee and felt like my heart was beating out of my chest when I ate my wild boar and mushroom risotto at Bistro Cocagne, which has a nice late-night tasting menu that is pretty cheap for the quality.
The next day I knew I had to eat lightly in order to prepare for my meal at Au Pied. I ate some little treats at the Jean Talon Market, where I mostly bought things to take home. I love that Quebec has a wild food movement that is all about reflecting the local northern boreal terroir. There were a variety of places selling things like cattail shoots, birch syrup, Labrador tea, and spruce beer. I wish I had known about Les Jardins Sauvages, because I would have loved to do one of their wild food dinners. I was interested, as I always am, in local cider, but was skeptical when I found most of it was "ice cider." When I lived in Sweden, I visited a vineyard there that made ice wine, which is created from grapes left to wither on the vine in the frost, the sugars concentrate as the fruit shrivels. It wasn't far off from very very oversweet mead. Ice cider is largely made the same way, with frosted apples, but the ones I tried were really nice and dry, so I actually brought some home.
Mushrooms and ice cider
I had a light lunch at Omnivore, a Lebanese spot that uses locally raised meats, and then a perfect afternoon tea with Japanese snacks at Maison De Thé Camellia Sinensis, a peaceful little tea house with a large variety of very good teas, as well as a nice boutique.
It rained much of the time I was in Montreal, which I don't mind, but later that afternoon the rain broke. And as I walked to Au Pied there was a perfect double rainbow arcing between the fiery autumn leaves. And one end led right to Au Pied, where the staff joyfully gathered outside to see it. And I try very hard not to believe in destiny now, but this was hard not to notice.
I was very lucky to be seated at the bar far end of the bar where the drinks are made. I'd heard some complaints from friends that service is bad at the tables. The service I had was excellent, from Florant, who came from the border of France and Italy. He stopped me from ordering several things, urging me to order things that were the most distinctive about the restaurant and that also wouldn't be impossible for little folk to eat. I started with the half order of the duck fat poutine, which is a signature dish there. It was good, but of course it was good, it's duck fat poutine after all. It's covered with gravy and cheese and fatty liver. The real skill was displayed in the second dish I had, which was fresh eel wrapped in pastry with potato, apple, and sage. The dish wasn't beautiful, but in all other respects it was perfect. I had their own beer, which was only so-so, but Florant gave me resinous spruce beer, which was amazing and I only regret I didn't bring any home, but I've made my own before and when spring comes and the spruce shoots are out, I'll have to make it again. Amazingly, the whole trip I was able to tolerate alcohol, even my arch-nemesis red wine, which normally gives me leg cramps. Maybe it was the sheer fattiness and richness of the food? I don't know.
Food at Au Pied was not photogenic, but it was delicious!
It was interesting that the people there seemed pretty svelte, not much different than the people in Sweden, despite having such meaty fatty food. It is also a place where you can get non-aged raw milk cheese. If the FDA's pronouncements were true, it's amazing that Quebec isn't a wasteland of food poisoned zombies. Either way, I ate plenty of it.
And when it came time to leave, I was sad and I hope to go back, maybe to visit Au Pied's Sugar Shack or Les Jardins Sauvages. And to see all the amazing people I met again. I also connected through Toronto and from the Porter lounge stared out at that glimmering city. I'd like to visit there some time too, and Porter seems to fly there from Chicago 17 times a day. A bonus for being a cold-loving creature is that I didn't encounter many tourists at all and none of my flights were full.
It was an adventure, and adventure I might never have had in another less happy life. Sometimes I imagine there are parallel universes, that versions of me from them reach out, to tell me even there I would have made similar decisions. That this is why the pilot mistook me for someone for Toronto, that a man at a coffee shop there told me "hello again," that someone had checked in under my name before me at Joe Beef. But these are once again my brain trying to make a grand story out of a mundane life. The word "mundane" comes from the Latin root of "belonging to the Earth", and if my life is about that which comes from the Earth, that is the home of apples, mushrooms, wild geese, birch and all I know that is good and green, then I don't mind.
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.
There is no doubt that gluten-free options are growing. However, at least in the places that I've lived, most gluten-free options are kind of sad. They are either bundled in with "health food" options and are also whole-grain/vegan/low-fat bundles or misery or are just regular menu items made with an assortment of mediocre processed gluten-free breads and pastas. Since the main problem for me with wheat seems to be the complex carbohydrates, often these options are worse than regular food. For those with celiac, it's not exactly fair to be banished to a butter-free ghetto just because you can't have wheat.
So I was excited to eat at Senza, which is a new gluten-free restaurant in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. Except they don't want to be known as a gluten-free restaurant, just as a really good restaurant that happens to be gluten-free. The concept reminded of of a restaurant I read about in Berlin called Ma Restaurant and I expect Senza will share a Michelin Star with Ma considering the level of cuisine here.
The lighting was not very good for taking pictures myself, but their website has some great photos like this one of the steak entree:
The cuisine, as you can see from the photos, is very modernist, but still very filling and satisfying. I ate off the A La carte menu at this visit, but I'd love to try their tasting menu some day. Everything was cooked with the utmost skill with excellent use of classical techniques. Of course my favorite classical technique, the flavoring with stocks and broths, was showcased in the prawns dish, which features a lovely savory consomme (a type of broth clarified with egg whites) made with Virginia ham. I should try this myself as I have seen it in cookbooks as a use for the hardened ends of a good ham. The scallops were perfectly seared and my halibut and arctic char dishes made it clear that the chef really does seafood very well. Each dish also features a wealth of interesting little textures and flavors. One of my favorites with a tiny little s'more on top of the chocolate ganache for dessert, served alongside a lovely little cup of creamy chicory "coffee." The scallops came with mini choucroute, which are bundles of pork wrapped with sauerkraut.
I would probably skip the bread and pasta next time. I tried a little, but especially compared to the meats and fishes, it's just kind of clear that this isn't where the restaurant shines. I do think it's possible to do bread service that doesn't just remind you that gluten-free bread will never be that nice sour crusty french bread you miss so much. Cassava, also in Lakeview, does "bread" in the form of cheese puffs made with cassava that are really good. Also, personally, I can't tolerate high alcohol beverages like wine or cocktails very well and gluten-free beers don't agree with me, so I would love to see some ciders on the menu, especially considering that they are experiencing a bit of a revival these days.
On Saturday I paid a visit to the local wine and spirits shop Lush and there were doing a cider tasting. I tried a few really good ones, my favorite being the Eric Bordelet Poire Granit. Later I learned this was a perry, a pear cider, which I am glad I didn't know because I had only had really horrifyingly sweet perrys. But this was dry and almost buttery. I also was a huge fan of the Isategi Natural Cider, though the staff at Lush noted this was a hard sell to most people. But I love very sour barnyardy tastes. If you like gueuze or kombucha, you'll like this. And I think Senza's food would pair well with these.
Either way, I'm glad that Senza is showcasing the fact that there are many good real naturally gluten-free foods that don't require creating elaborate mediocre substitutes. And given that trends in restaurant food are moving away from things like grain and sweet-heavy dishes and have been for some time, it was only a matter of time that such a restaurant would open. And Senza is very serious about gluten-free. They told me that there is absolutely no gluten allowed in the restaurant ever, which is a must for people with celiac disease.
With all these success stories about people feeling better on various diets, I think we forgot the people who sometimes feel worse. Probably because those people give up and don't stick around. I'm known many people who have adopted paleo, primal, ancestral, low-carb, gluten-free, or whatever diet. And instead of feeling better, they have all kinds of problems, particularly stomach problems.
There are many reasons why this happens, here are a couple I tend to come across:
1. They hose their digestive system with "cleanses." For example, the Master Cleanse, which involves fasting on just lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne for a few days to a week. Now I love spicy food. And I love acidic food. But out of the context of real whole meals, there is plenty of evidence they can be irritants, particularly in the digestive lining. There is no evidence that the Master Cleanse will remove some nebulous "toxins," but you are not only disturbing your gut microbiota (both good and bad) and irritating the mucous membranes of your gut, but also depriving yourself of real nutrients your body uses to maintain its defenses. You'll come out of it with possibly increased gut permeability and a devastated population of gut microbes. If you've already tormented your poor gut with this, you might need to eat a gentle diet (FODMAPS, for example) and take probiotics until your gut becomes less inflamed and repairs itself. People do often feel better on cleanses though in other ways, but that's because they are excluding many foods and yes, there is some value in breaking up pathogenic biofilms in the gut, but there are possibly more sustainable and gentle ways to do so based on preliminary scientific studies.
2. Speaking of FODMAPs ( Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols. ), another reason people might feel worse is that many so-called safe or good foods on these diets are difficult for many people to digest. A lot of books talk about how difficult it is to digest grains, but many plants have similar complex carbohydrates that can cause gas, bloating, and other GI symptoms. Rice, for example, is mostly nutritionless, but has had most of its complex carbohydrates polished away. If you take it out of your diet and replace it with "grain-free cauliflower 'rice'", you are consuming a massive amount of Oligosaccharides. I personally had a lot of bloating from foods like this. Remove them from your diet and then add them back in slowly one at a time to see what you can tolerate.
3. They forget any food can be toxic. Gluten, for example, seems to take a beating in the "toxic" department with nearly every book talking about how bad it is and how many people have celiac, which shows how gluten is a terrible non-food that no one should ever eat. But plenty of people are allergic to shrimp and we don't talk about how we aren't meant to eat shrimp because of that. I also see people talking about toxic lectins and phytic acid, but these aren't just in grains, they can be in any plant food. Peanuts and gluten are particularly bad because their biochemical structure causes problems for many people, but you can be sensitive to any food. Even beef. Once you take off the blinders, maybe you should consider whether or not you are feeling sick because a "safe" food isn't so safe for you? Or maybe you shouldn't be eating bread made out of an entire cup of walnuts, which might overload the capacity of your body to deal with the phytic acid and other assorted irritants in nuts.
4. They think fermented foods are always good. Sauerkraut? It's a cure-all! Why not eat it with every meal? Unfortunately, we do not have the robust digestive systems of our ancestors. If your gut is damaged, contamination of fermented foods by mold or sensitivity to histamine can be a real issue. You might have to remove them from your diet or at least find a source that is less likely to be contaminated. Additionally, fermentation does not always remove all FODMAPs, so many FODMAPs sensitive people will have digestive symptoms when eating things like sauerkraut.
5. They put massive amounts of fat on top of everything. So you heard fat has been unfairly maligned? Time to put massive amounts of coconut oil, butter, coconut milk, lard, and other fats on top of all your food right? Well, maybe slow down a bit and give your body some time to adjust to a higher-fat diet before you make your diet mostly fat, because adding in it all at once all the sudden can cause GI problems. For a long time I was one of those people who thought that only carbohydrates could cause GI symptoms and contribute to dysbiosis, but fat definitely can increase levels of endotoxins and increase gut permeability as well, and it seems that phytochemicals may inhibit that process. So, instead of chugging that can of coconut milk before your workout, maybe consider having a normal meal that includes a variety of other foods as well. In the end, while it might sound like heresy, some people actually might not do very well on high-fat diets. Try replacing processed carb foods in your regular diet with fruits and tubers instead of with fatty foods.
6. They take massive amounts of supplements. When you are taking ten different supplements, the odds that you are taking one that is irritating your stomach get pretty high. Mineral supplements like magnesium and iron are top offenders, as are supplements that contain FODMAPs in the form of prebiotics like inulin. Stop taking the supplements until your stomach sorts out and then add them back in one at a time to see which ones you can tolerate. With iron, it is probably advisable to get it from food, since excess iron can feed pathogenic gut bacteria.
7. Undereating can be just as problematic as overeating, particularly on a new diet. If you undereat, your body won't be able to maintain its systems effectively, which can make your digestive system prone to irritation. Counting calories may not be perfectly accurate, but it can help you get an idea of whether or not you aren't giving your body enough nourishment.
8. Excessive amounts of protein all at once. One friend recently told me he was having stomach problems on paleo. Turns out he was mainly eating chicken , which was providing massive amounts of protein without much fat, probably leading to a type of mild "rabbit starvation." As arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson wrote:
But it has been found in various parts of the world that a diet of lean meat exclusively will cause diarrhea in from three days to a week. If no fat can be added to the lean, the diarrhea becomes serious and will lead to death. A well known field where such deaths occur is the northern edge of the forest in Canada where Indians are sometimes unable to find any food except rabbits. The expression "rabbit starvation," frequently heard among the Athapsc Indians north-west of Great Bear Lake, means not that people are starving because there are no rabbits but that they are going through the experience of starvation with plenty of rabbit meat. For this animal is so lean that illness and death result from being confined to its flesh.
in this situation, it would be wise to add some fat, carbohydrate, or both to the diet to normalize things. You might be able to tolerate higher protein if you add it in slowly. You are probably not going to die, it's more likely you will discontinue the diet when your roommate orders pizza and you feel better after a few slices.
9. They have food poisoning. I'll never forget several years ago in college when I was having worsening IBS symptoms and I kept trying to fix them with diet until I ended up in the ER. A stool culture revealed I had salmonella and needed antibiotics. If you symptoms keep getting worse, it might be time to go to the doctor and ask for a stool culture.
10. These diets can't fix everything. I know several people for whom no dietary tweaking worked and they were later diagnosed with serious IBD. They are doing better on medicine. In the old days, they probably would have died. Many many people died in the past from diarrhea. Don't beat yourself up if you can't eat your way out of a very serious illness. Some people can, some people can't. Modern medicine can make your life better if you are one of the latter. Even if you don't have a serious stomach disorder, there are tons of non-diet things that can cause stomach problems, like sleeping poorly or thyroid conditions.
Any others I'm missing that caused you problems?
My friends have put up their recipe for these amazing gluten-free egg baos with pork belly and pickled ramp aioli. Yeah, the bao bread here is really just egg yolk and baking soda! I keep telling them that they could make it big if they had a egg bao food truck.
Sadly, I had a less exciting dinner, but some people have asked me to share this method I use for post-workout or other meals in which I need a lot of calories at once. It's simply cooking haiga rice with some sausages (or fish if you want a lower calorie meal) on top.
My favorite sausages to use used to be the Banh Mi ones from the Meat Hook because of all the rich flavors contained in them. But these are lamb merguez from Smoking Goose. I also like some of the Butcher and Larder Sausages. The aim is to find a sausage that is full of goodness because it will hopefully drip into the rice when you put it in the steamer. I also have found that this method will cook frozen sausages perfectly fine, just make sure to check the middle to make sure it is cooked and if it's not you can throw it in the frying pan, but I've never had that happen. You can also add any kind of vegetables you would normally steam.
Meanwhile, I grease the bottom part of the rice cooker with ghee and add in my .25-.5 cup of rice and some ice cubes of frozen stock. I turn the rice cooker on and leave it to cook. When it's done, the rice has a nice crispy buttery bottom resembling the Persian "tahdig" delicacy. The rice is seasoned by the sausage, but I also add garlic-pepper relish, an egg yolk, a few drops of Red Boat fish sauce, a bit of rice vinegar, and tamari. I mix that all together, slice up the sausage, and top with vegetables, fresh herbs, or seaweed.
Not very pretty, but delicious and filling... and quick and easy.
I've noticed a few people tweeting this new paper, titled Hunter-Gatherer Energetics and Human Obesity, but I haven't seen many blog posts about it. Some of the tweets are to the effect of "haha, total proof that eat less, move more is a farce."
The paper is open-access, but the researchers published an editorial in the New York Times
We found that despite all this physical activity, the number of calories that the Hadza burned per day was indistinguishable from that of typical adults in Europe and the United States. We ran a number of statistical tests, accounting for body mass, lean body mass, age, sex and fat mass, and still found no difference in daily energy expenditure between the Hadza and their Western counterparts.
Unfortunately, the applicability to the average dieter in the United States might be limited. Notice "typical adults in Europe and the United States." I don't know, but last time I was in Europe, it seemed like people biked and walked places a lot more than in the US. As a non-driver, when I lived in Europe I was hardly the oddity I am here. In many places in the United States it is not even possible to walk to the grocery store. One study showed that the average American takes 5,117 steps a day, whereas the average Swiss person takes 9,650 steps a day. That's another issue with the Kitavan study, in that it also compares activity levels with a non-US group of people, the Swedish.
There is also the possibility that the Hadza are not expending as much energy as expected because of nutritional stress. Whether or not certain hunter-gatherer groups are naturally small or if they are exhibiting stunting is an important question. A paper that came out last year about a similar group of hunter-gatherers, the !Kung, re-opened this debate, speculating that the !Kung are somewhat malnourished:
Given the adverse conditions of life in the Mexican refugee camp, and the similar pattern of growth of the Maya and !Kung, the most reasonable interpretation of the growth of the !Kung infants and children is that it is due to inadequate food intake, disease, or a combination of both. Small size of !Kung infants and children sets the pattern of growth for older ages, as !Kung adults remain relatively short and light throughout their lives...
People with energy deficiency, or living at a delicate energy balance, do practice an economy of effort. Some examples are studies by George B. Spurr and colleagues of marginally undernourished boys and girls, ages 6–16 years old, in the city of Cali, Colombia. These boys and girls adjust their energy expenditure according to energy intake. In one quasi-experiment (Spurr & Reina 1988), normal and undernourished boys were observed at a summer day camp. They were encouraged to increase their physical activity by playing sports and other games. The undernourished boys were not able to keep up with the normally nourished boys during the morning session. At mid-day both groups received a meal and the undernourished boys received an extra 760 kcal of food, all of which was consumed. During the afternoon play session the undernourished boys were able to keep up with the normal group for about 2 hours, which is about the time they expended the extra 760 kcal eaten at lunch.
I would like to see similar data for the Hadza. And other foraging cultures, especially those with access to higher quality game. And it's worth remembering that even if the Khosian hunter-gatherer lifestyle is of continuous antiquity, it is the tip of the iceberg in terms of foraging. There were many very diverse paleolithic foraging cultures and so few of them are represented in the tiny remnants of this lifestyle available to study today.
Some books about the paleo diet reference the impressive height of paleolithic hunter-gatherers, comparing them to stunted agriculturalists. However, the archeological record is full of shorter hunter-gatherers and almost all modern foragers would be considered tiny. The average Hadza man is only 161.3 cm tall (5.3 feet). Is this stunting or is it genetic? Either way, some see their height as a feature, not a bug, contending that shorter people have certain metabolic advantages that are protective against many diseases of civilization. Hilariously, that paper I just linked to is posted along with many others on the website Short Support, which is all about how awesome short people are. At five feet two inches tall, I approve of this site.
Furthermore, it would be interesting to explore the genetic uniqueness of the Hadza. Another recent study showed evidence for genetic adaptations to local environmental conditions. The authors of this paper note that more research in this area is needed:
And indeed, studies reporting differences in metabolic-hormone profiles between traditional and Western populations support this idea (though more work is needed).
Also it's worth noting that physical activity has many known benefits beyond just burning calories.
Furthermore, it is quite funny to see how popular this study is with people promoting a low-carb diet because one of the reasons some of them have said foraging people can tolerate starch/sugar is because of their high activity levels. Though conveniently Rosedale has recently switched to saying it's because they are short, just in time for this study. Because honestly, the Hadza diet has quite a bit of sugar in the form of honey, berries, and baobab:
Dr. Lustig should come and tell them not to eat so much sugar. That humans aren't evolved to eat so much sugar and didn't have access to it in our natural evolutionary environment. Especially the honey. It's really appalling how sugary that stuff is.
Don't get me wrong, this is an interesting paper, but grouping Europeans together and then those Europeans with the particularly sedentary Americans means we can't use this paper to say that food is the main thing that matters in determining weight.
I'm sure you have your own take on this, since the paper is open access, I recommend reading it.
Someone asked me if I could please update my What's on the Menu page, but it's hard because I've been eating out a lot. Like way too much. Partially because of moving and partially because I still do not have my furniture delivered to my new place and can't have anyone over. I also stopped telecommuting and now have a separate office, which I felt I had to do for productivity reasons, but now I've ended up in an apartment that has an extra room. Wow, that is a sentence I never could have written in NYC. Yikes.
Anyway, I also got a lot of questions about this cocktail I posted on instagram:
It is from the amazingly talented bartenders at BellyQ on Randolph. It's a Sudachi Sochu, coconut vinegar plum infusion, and cucumber cocktail called the Serpentine. Later I had their drinking vinegar, which is so much better than it sounds and was very similar to the Som drinking vinegar from Seattle.
I ate there on opening day and I was sufficiently impressed. They told me there are one of only two restaurants in the US that have infrared tabletop grills. The other one is in NYC and it happens to be my old favorite, Takashi. Unfortunately BellyQ, unlike Takashi, doesn't have any offal on the menu.
But I can't complain though. My rice puff and spinach salad was very good and my grilled BellyQ beef was fantastic. The space is also just amazing, with the sparse industrial naturalistic aesthetic that characterizes the neighborhood.
If you are in Chicago and you are gluten-free/paleo/whatever, another interesting development is that there is a new gluten-free restaurant called Senza. I bet you thinking "Ugh, great, so I can have sandwiches made with overpriced inferior gluten-free breads and pastas made with crap processed ingredients." Because honestly, that seems to be the gist of most gluten-free restaurants, which is frustrating since I have some friends who can't have any gluten at all and can't go to regular restaurants, but the menu seems to actually contain real food. I'll report back when I've eaten there.
Chicago also has Cassava, which makes fairly delicious gluten-free cassava puffs called Pão de Queijo. If you read Perfect Health Diet you might remember they blogged a recipe for them there, but these are nice because you can buy them frozen and have them on hand to heat up in the oven.
But my latest haunt has been Green Grocer, which is a small grocery store right down the street from me that stocks all kinds of great local stuff. They roasted a pig from Gunthrop Farms last week and that was a blast.
Also if you are in the West Loop, there is a small new cafe called Fulton Market Cafe on Racine & Fulton that seems to have some good lunch options
I think referring to conventional feedlot cattle as "grain fed" is unfortunate. I think it's an insult on small local family farmers who raise their cows mainly on pasture, but supplement a little grain here and there. Sometimes I buy this kind of beef. It's not terribly different nutrient-wise from completely 100% grass-fed beef. And many people prefer the taste. Furthermore, it's often very affordable, as low as $2-$4 a lb if you buy in bulk.
Such cattle might also have received antibiotics, but for sicknesses, not to promote growth or to make up for unsanitary conditions like in a feedlot. If you have a sick cow and only a few cows in your herd...you are going to want to give the cow the medicine it needs.
Conventional feedlot cattle receive much more than just grains, they often receive antibiotics, hormones, antimicrobials, and nasty industrial byproducts. Just like my post on how Americans aren't eating meat, they are eating sugar-coated soybean-oil drenched garbage, industrial cows aren't eating grains, as much as they are eating crap.
The difference between these cattle and the cattle that receive a little supplemental whole grain is like the difference between someone eating a standard American diet and someone who eats a "paleo" diet and has tacos a couple of times a week.
I was reminded of this today when I saw the headline "Farmer feeds candy to cows to cope with high corn prices"
The worst drought in decades has destroyed more than half the U.S. corn crop, pushing prices to record levels and squeezing livestock owners as they struggle to feed their herds.
To cope, one Kentucky cattle farmer has turned to a child-tested way to fatten his 1,400 cows: candy...
The chocolate and other sweet stuff was rejected by retailers. It makes up 5% to 8% of the cattle's feed ration, Smith said. The rest includes roughage and distillers grain, an ethanol byproduct.
Yum? I'm not crazy about ethanol byproducts in feed either.
Now, meat and bone meal from cows is explicitly banned from cow diets. But it ends up in chicken feed; a significant amount of it spills into bedding and ends up in poultry litter; and poultry litter gets fed back to cows.
Official numbers on just how much poultry litter ends up in bovine diets is hard to come by. But with corn and soy prices at heightened levels in recent years, feedlot operators are always looking for cheaper alternatives, and poultry litter is very much in the mix. Consumer Union's Michael Hansen claims that 2 billion pounds of chicken litter are consumed by cows each year—as much as a third of which consists of spilled feed, including bovine meat and bone meal.
So much for "grain fed" beef.
It does raise the question of what exactly should be done with America's massive amount of chicken waste? Maybe we should eat less chicken? Or as much as I hate to think about, pigs are at least better equipped biologically to eat such "food."
So if you are having a hard time affording good beef, considering buying from a local farmer that is not 100% grass-fed, but who doesn't finish on a conventional feedlot. It can be hard to find such farmers though since a lot of them tend to be older and not think of promoting their product in the many online directories that exist like Local Harvest or Local Dirt. Often such cattle are sold word of mouth to family friends and through old-fashioned social networks like churches.
But if you have a freezer, you should stock up ASAP because cattle prices are on the rise thanks to the aforementioned droughts.
The internet is full of vegetarian and vegan websites claiming meat is bad because it "rots" in your colon. This is actually a very old idea, tracing back in the United States to neo-puritan vegetarian movements obsessed with the uncleanliness of the colon. According to folks like John Harvey Kellogg, the colon, like the genitalia, was a source of uncleanliness, so it must be bombarded by as much harsh fiber as possible and regular enemas to keep it "clean."
But his philosophy, which seems quite dysfunctional today, was a reaction to another idea that was popular during this time: that the colon was a useless vestigial remnant used to store garbage before clearance. Taken to its extreme, it led to a brief fancy by surgeons like Sir William Arbuthnot Lane to simply just remove the colons of people who suffered from constipation, believing it was nearly useless anyway. Colon removals are still performed today, but mainly in truly serious cases of damage such as severe inflammatory bowel disease.
Kellogg also believed it was a garbage dispenser, but he thought it was very important to keep it as clear and clean as possible, ideally eliminating after every single meal.
The truth is that the colon is not a garbage dispenser, it is a rich and biodiverse ecosystem in which much of the intestinal microbiota resides. And nature abhors a waste, so if a food makes it into the colon, there will probably be something eager to eat it. I suppose "rot" could be an uncharitable way to view it, as these remnants are degraded by bacteria, producing a variety of harmful, harmless, and beneficial byproducts that can play important roles in human health. If we are going to view things in such a negative light, it's worth thinking about how when you die and your immune system flat-lines forever, this bacteria will be on the front lines for rotting you. But for now, it's our very own internal composting system.
our colon is more like a composting bin than a trash can
Being a rich, full ecosystem, some bacteria in the colon even feed primarily on the byproducts of other bacteria in the colon, which is known as cross-feeding.
These bacteria will consume basically anything that the small intestine does not absorb. In humans compared to other primates, the small intestine is enlarged and the colon is diminished, indicating that humans evolved to consume more foods that are readily absorbed by the small intestine. In other primates, like the gorilla for example, the small intestine is much smaller and the colon is much much larger. Gorillas, who eat a diet of mainly rough leaves and pith that the small intestine would not be able to absorb, get most of their energy (around 60%) from bacterial degradation to short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) in the colon.
Humans can also get energy from SCFA, probably as much as 9%, though this data suffers from the fact that most of it comes from Western populations. Recent studies on more diverse populations shows that other groups of people have very different gut bacterial populations, which might allow them to extract more energy from colonic fermentation. Overall, in humans SCFA are less important as an energy source, but retain an important role in controlling inflammation and gut integrity.
In the opposite circles of the "meat will rot in your colon" crowd, there is the idea that if you remove carbohydrates, particularly complex carbohydrates, from the diet you can avoid some of the more noxious types of fermentation in the colon that may produce flatulence and diarrhea.
This works for some people, but fails for others, particularly over time. This is a testament to the plucky nature of our microbiome. There are plenty of bacteria in the colon more than eager to chomp on excess dietary iron and amino acids, among many other things which are present on low-carb diets as well.
This problem can be exacerbated when the small intestine is damaged, allowing nutrients that should be absorbed mainly by the small intestine into the colon. This seems to be a reason that iron supplementation sometimes fails to improve anemia and instead causes gastrointestinal problems. It is also perhaps the mechanism in which heme iron could lead to inflammation that is connected with colon cancer.
Small intestine dysfunction can also be caused by the overgrowth of bacteria that really belong in the large intestine and colon, known as Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).
On the other side, there is a worry that low-carb will lead to inflammation due to lowered SCFA production. Lucas Tafur has written that perhaps these studies did not last long enough for the ecosystem to adjust and cross-feed in order to produce SCFA.
There is also a need for more studies on different people from different cultures in order to fully capture the full capacities of the human microbiome. For example, some people have cellulose-degrading bacteria, others do not. In the future, perhaps a scan of individual gut biomes could help people figure out what diet is best for them.
So yeah, lots of things "rot" in your colon. And that's not a bad thing at all. That's exactly how the colon is supposed to work. It's not supposed to be squeaky clean and scoured with wheat bran, it's supposed to be a jungle. It's controlling the "bad" bacteria and their byproducts, as well as selecting for good bacteria and maintaining the integrity of the gut lining and the "gut brain" (our second brain) that really matters.
If you enjoyed this post, you'd probably like my series on the colon.
I've seen a lot on social media the past week about boycotting Chick-Fil-A because they support organizations that aim to restrict gay rights. This is amusing for me because I grew up in Marietta, Georgia, eating Chick-Fil-A all the time. And I even went to Camp Winshape, which was started by Truett Cathy, Chick-Fil-As founder. Back then I was a fast-food-fried chicken Southern Evangelical. My life has changed since then, but I admit my mouth still waters a little when I think about the Chick-Fil-A fried chicken breakfast biscuit with tater tots. Oh, and the light as air lemon meringue pie. When my family moved north when I was 15, I missed such things sorely and ate at Chick-Fil-A whenever I went back South. But the love affair fell flat when I started cleaning up my diet. I remember I planned on making some exceptions when a Chick-Fil-A opened on the University of Illinois campus. I eagerly devoured my sandwich one bright Illinois morning. And felt absolutely awful for the entire rest of the day. It felt a lot like a hangover. I fell asleep in economics class. I told myself that wouldn't happen again. It wasn't worth it.
But a craving struck when I lived in Sweden. Obviously, it's impossible to get Chick-Fil-A there. So I hit the internet hoping to recreate it in my own kitchen. By then I was a lot more educated about nutrition, so the "top secret" recipe seemed a little horrifying to me. I wasn't about to coat chicken in sugar and flour and fry it in omega-6 garbage peanut oil. Of all the oils to chose, peanut is one of the worst. Extremely high in omega-6, which Americans consume in excessive amounts, it has a more unfavorable fat profile than even canola or soy oil, and is highly allergenic. Omega-6 is also not particularly heat stable and Chick-Fil-A is using it on fried chicken.
The real recipe also contains a form of MSG called autolyzed yeast extract, making it a super-palatable addictive monster, probably why it still makes my mouth water a decade later. I've written before about how so much meat that Americans eat contains sugar and inflammatory oils. I ended up using almond flour, honey, and lard to make my chicken and it was pretty damn good. But that recipe meant I was never seriously tempted by Chick-Fil-A again.
Also, god knows where their chicken comes from. I'm pretty sure it's not free-range or even organic. For a company whose ads involve animals pleading to not being eaten, it seems a little sad to think that their meat comes from an industry known for poor animal welfare, as well as community and environmental destruction.
Considering that chickens are excluded from almost all animal welfare legislation, it should be the chickens pleading to be spared. Besides, I'd prefer to not consume arsenic. Or production methods that encourage antibiotic resistance.
So I don't need to boycott Chick-Fil-A for its current stance on gay rights. I already was boycotting it for serving garbage. I mean, nothing says family values like abusing animals, destroying the environment, and addicting people to fast food...right?
It's really disappointing to me to see friends and family members saying they are going to eat Chick-Fil-A to support "family values" and "business freedom." Go to your local farmers market and you will find plenty of farmers with good old-fashioned Christian values. I'm sure Joel Salatin and Cathy would find much to agree on, except Salatin is against using the government to enforce his values while Cathy uses his business to funnel money into groups that lobby the government to shape laws that restrict other people's rights.
As for Chick-Fil-A being a "clean" fast food option, thanks to HACCP (Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points) plans, food poisoning is pretty rare at any major fast food restaurants. Killing people with acute illness leads to lawsuits, it's perfectly OK to damage their health by serving food linked to chronic long-term health problems.