This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
There is a great article on Yahoo about a guy who is living a minimalistic lifestyle, while maintaining a paleo diet.
What do you eat?
I eat pretty well. I don't skimp on food. I eat a lot of grass-fed meats, fruits, and vegetables ... some people call it the caveman diet. I go to farms, farmers markets, and health food stores. I probably spend about $250 a month on food. I could spend a lot less if I didn't care about eating well.
I think his budget is interesting because $250 is the max amount of monthly food stamps for a single person, so he's basically on a food-stamp diet. It's clear his life priorities are health and simplicity. What I don't get is all the comments that weirdly act as if his choices mean he somehow is trying to say everyone else can live this way. I guess people feel attacked when other people chose to live differently in a way that's obviously not applicable to everyone? I get the same kind of comments when I talk about paleo diets or homeschooling. Here are some lovely sexist/classist gems:
No no, I read that article about living making 20k a year. And the comments weren't that it's a kings ransom, but that the family had to forgo children and are severely unprepared for the inflation and healthcare costs coming down the road. Wow... Now for a mere 11k a single man can live to be trailer trash. Great. So the 99% should all live like trash so the 1% can spend 40k on a kid's playhouse so their kid can have a playhouse with running water and electricity...
He doesn't mention any "girlfriend" or "partner" of any kind... uhmm... You know the reason right? Let me put it this way, if the guy is happy on his own at 42 then fine... BUT spare me the @#$% when what he calls his "freedom" doesn't include a girlfriend/wife/partner etc. So let's be honest about it and acknowledge the fact that with his "free" life style his chances of attracting a girlfriend are pretty much zero...
I missed the part of the article where he suggested everyone live the way he lives. Personally, his lifestyle is not for me, but my own lifestyle is not for everyone either. I think his story very interesting and kudos to him for following his dreams.
I've been moving a lot of stuff lately and I'm kind of horrified that I *own* stuff. When I moved to Sweden I brought two suitcases and then when I life if I couldn't fit stuff in my two suitcases I gave it away. I'm giving a lot of stuff away this move too, but I have a lot more stuff that I'm keeping, I guess because I never was sure how long I'd stay here and I did invest in some nice books/clothes that don't have holes in them. But I still view stuff as a burden and I'm happier if I own less of it.
Ever since I quit coffee, I've had some issues with afternoon fatigue. Around 2 I would just feel sleepy. I thought about this a little and concluded that lighting might be the issue. You see my office has standard craporific overhead lighting. Since most programmers have OCD or some other neurosis, they turn it off. I had a crappy desk lamp, but it wasn't very bright. So I splurged and bought a Verilux desk lamp.
I'm not going to pretend it's beautiful and it did cause some heckling from officemates, but I've been using it for two weeks and so far my energy levels are much better. Of course going outside would be even better, but it's been kind of crappy outside lately.
It might help my mood, but this afternoon it failed to counteract the effects of listening to the new Radiohead album, which made me feel emo.
I also got some nice blackout curtains. I had been using aluminum foil because I was being cheap, but it fell down and made creepy noises in the wind. I noticed that the price for the curtains had dropped on Amazon and I bought these. They are MUCH better than aluminum foil.
I also noticed that the price for those light-alarm clocks had dropped and I bought the cheapest one, but I noticed it's gone now and I understand why. It's SO much better than my cell phone as an alarm, but my model is truly buggy.
I tried it to be game and see if I could give orthodox paleo a chance. Most of you by now realize I'm not a fan of "orthodox" paleo. And doing it again reminded me why.
After a week the symptoms that I think caused me to be hospitalized last year with fainting came back. My doctor had said they were likely caused by low blood pressure, under 90/60, and if I didn't get them under control I would have to take drugs. I got them under control mainly with greater calorie consumption, which mostly involved adding potatoes, dairy, and rice back into my diet. Last week without those foods I started having trouble with things again. Dizziness, orthostatic hypotension, ringing in my ears, irritability, and fatigue were my main symptoms.
I'm convinced more than ever that an 80/20 approach is best for me. But with a different approach than the standard 80/20. I think of that 20% non-paleo as being whole real foods rather than "cheats." So butter, cheese, rice, and potatoes for me. Sometimes grits as a cultural concession, but I do think these muck my digestion up a bit.
I was talking with two other health bloggers, both young men who have never had a weight problem. Both of them have had similar issues with strict paleo. I think the calorie deficit is the main issue. It's hard for me to get enough calories from only meat even when presented with unlimited amounts because of lower appetite. Add on the fact that I sometimes have to eat out and most restaurants skip on meat...and you have me getting less than 1000 calories a day in some instances.
Perhaps that's good for people suffering from metabolic syndrome, but that's not me. Some other tips for those suffering from low blood pressure, besides eat MORE and stop being strict, are
1. Licorice and yerba mate tea in the morning
2. Lots of salt. I like to snack on Hawaiian red clay salt.
I would be a little concerned that these challenges are just going to make people feel hungry and irritable if done cold-turkey. It takes time to adjust to cooking and buying real foods. It's been four years for me and I'm still challenged sometimes.
But all wasn't a loss for me. I realized that I am a little sensitive to some "young" cheeses like my beloved ricotta. But I also realized that I wasn't even eating much butter and in fact my naughty roommates had eaten it all because I've had SO much tallow from my lamb.
I also became a big fan of coconut aminos, a soy sauce replacement that is actually really tasty. I braised some lamb shanks last night in the crock pot with a 1/4 cup coconut aminos, 1 cup coconut vinegar, 1 cup coconut milk, and a bunch of bird chilis, cilantro, and freshly ground black pepper. Mmm adobo.
I got this at my local convenience store for $7. Jealous? Well, I'm jealous of all the people who don't pay a gazillion dollars to share an apartment. Although if you can get together a group of like-minded paleos, the Amazon link above gets you 12 bottles for about $90 including shipping, which would make a good bulk buy.
Edit. So while I've done orthodox paleo before, I did it when I was unemployed and ate all my meals at home. I didn't say that orthodox paleo=calorie deficit. I said it was hard. And is it always unnecessary? Is butter really so much worse than tallow?
Hmmm...just got done doing chores and it's time for bed? Nope, it's time to disobey Robb Wolf's wise advice about sleep and continue December's theme of heroes gone wrong.
Today it's Vilhjalmur Steffansson, Arctic explorer who unintionally became a low-carb hero because of his experiments with an all-meat diet and his books on life with the Inuit.
Apparently he was also a sociopathic liar and it's quite astonishing he managed to keep up his reputation over the years, though there was plenty written about him during his time that was critical. That's because he led or planned two notably disastrous expedition and afterward engaged in nefarious behavior to cover up his wrong-doings. But he was charismatic and even people who had suffered under him remained loyal.
One of the disastrous expeditions was to a small island on the coast of Siberia called Wrangel Island. He sent four men to claim it for Great Britain. Problem is that the men weren't so experienced and Great Britain didn't even want the island! Along with the men went a Inuit woman named Ada Blackjack. I just finished an excellent book about her.
She was an acculturated Inuit, which means she had spent her life in a town eating white people's foods like bread. She did know how to sew though and the men brought her along to keep them outfitted, which was important on the cold and desolate island. Ada took the job because her son was suffering from tuberculosis and the money would help pay for a good hospital.
VS said that life in the "friendly arctic" would be easy and that he'd be back to pick them up and resupply the new colony next year.
Two years later, a ship finally arrived. Ada and the expedition's cat were the only ones left.
Admittedly the young men made mistakes. One of them overcooked all his meat and didn't realize he had scurvy until it was too late. The others went for help and supplies. Their fate remains unknown.
But thing's weren't like VS told them. At first game was plentiful, but the next winter it was scarce and starvation became a reality. Thick ice blocked any ships from arriving. When the three men went for help, they left Ada and Lorne Knight, the man suffering from scurvy. Soon Lorne died and Ada was left by herself. Amazingly, she taught herself to hunt and managed to survive. She had nothing to keep her company besides a cat and a Bible. Her desire to get back home to her son keeps her going on the lonely and desolate island. Her story is incredible and I couldn't put this book down and missed my subway stop because of it.
The part that was less fun starts when the rescue ship finally arrives. The boy's families struggle with VS and the rescue's commander for the diaries left behind. Both VS and the commander wanted to use them for profit and spin their contents to suit their stories. Ada is a reluctant star and simply wants to live a quiet life with her son, but she struggles financially and with the memories of the tragedy on the island.
If you are interested in adventure books I'd definitely recommend picking up a copy.
One of the best things about the paleo movement is how it brings nerds and jocks together. Me? I've always been a nerd. As a kid I did like running around outside, but I also liked RPGs, comic books, fixing computers, science news, robotic Legos, and STAR WARS. My parents made me do sports because maybe they thought it would help me be more well-rounded or something. I spent much of my time on swim team trying to figure out ways to get out of swim team. I was the weird shrimpy clumsy kid who turned blue on exposure to cold water.
I disliked *those* people. You know, the ones that were tall, had perfect tan bodies, and didn't bump into things randomly. They just weren't part of my world anyway.
But paleo has caused me to rethink things. First of all, just because you like to read Dune doesn't mean you have to be out of shape. Do you think Luke Skywalker could have brought balance to the force with a belly bloated by pizza and Mountain Dew? I don't think so. Feeling more energetic gives me more energy to do the nerdy things I love, though I confess that honestly I'd still rather read than exercise. I'm glad jocks are around to come up with programs that encourage me to get out of my reading chair and actually use my body.
And now jocks are interested in a diet that involves all kinds of nerdy talk about biochemistry and anthropology. Paleo jocks are smarter than your average jocks and paleo nerds really do stand out at tech conferences by not looking completely terrible.
Hooray for paleo :)
Prince Huei's cook was cutting up a bullock. Every blow of his hand, every heave of his shoulders, every tread of his foot, every thrust of his knee, every whshh of rent flesh, every chhk of the chopper, was in perfect rhythm, --like the dance of the Mulberry Grove, like the harmonious chords of Ching Shou.
"Well done!" cried the Prince. "Yours is skill indeed!"
"Sire," replied the cook laying down his chopper, "I have always devoted myself to Tao, which is higher than mere skill. When I first began to cut up bullocks, I saw before me whole bullocks. After three years' practice, I saw no more whole animals. And now I work with my mind and not with my eye. My mind works along without the control of the senses. Falling back upon eternal principles, I glide through such great joints or cavities as there may be, according to the natural constitution of the animal. I do not even touch the convolutions of muscle and tendon, still less attempt to cut through large bones.
"A good cook changes his chopper once a year, -- because he cuts. An ordinary cook, one a month, -- because he hacks. But I have had this chopper nineteen years, and although I have cut up many thousand bullocks, its edge is as if fresh from the whetstone. For at the joints there are always interstices, and the edge of a chopper being without thickness, it remains only to insert that which is without thickness into such an interstice. Indeed there is plenty of room for the blade to move about. It is thus that I have kept my chopper for nineteen years as though fresh from the whetstone.
"Nevertheless, when I come upon a knotty part which is difficult to tackle, I am all caution. Fixing my eye on it, I stay my hand, and gently apply my blade, until with a hwah the part yields like earth crumbling to the ground. Then I take out my chopper and stand up, and look around, and pause with an air of triumph. Then wiping my chopper, I put it carefully away."
"Bravo!" cried the Prince. "From the words of this cook I have learned how to take care of my life."
I couldn't help noticing one of the local Taoism study groups lists "vegetarianism" among its interests. I guess they didn't read this part. I've been learning a lot about butchery though because of organizing Meatshare. Wow, how far I've come from thinking that a rib eye was an actual part of an animal. Now I know that the cuts you get are at the discretion of your butcher. One part of an animal can be many different cuts of meat. I still have a lot to learn though...
Earlier I posted about my maternal grandmother, who is over 90. Some of you asked what my maternal grandmother eats. She's never eaten a particularly special diet, but I called her to clarify. Grandma A grew up during the Depression with many siblings in Eureka, Illinois. She moved to New York City and then during the war she moved to DC to work on something classified. Later she moved to Florida, then to Georgia, and now she lives in a retirement community back in Eureka. When we visited her as children she always had good snacks: shortbread, bowls of nuts, jello, yogurt, and fruit were some I remember. Here is a short interview with her, roughly transcribed:
What did you eat growing up?
Mostly fruits and vegetables from my father's garden, which mother also canned for the winter. We drank raw milk and cooked with butter. Mother liked to bake pies and make fudge. We ate the chickens we raised and sometimes had beef from the local butcher. Occasionally we had some canned salmon. Margarine was sold in ugly white blocks with yellow coloring you had to mix in. We tried it once and never bought it again.
Did you or any of your siblings have dental problems? Crooked teeth? Wisdom teeth removed?
No. But my brother Paul overate sweets. You could buy them in town and we also made some at home. He lost all his teeth when he was about 20 and was obese later in life. But no one else had that problem.
How do you think your diet differs from what modern children are fed?
People eat too many prepared foods and too much. They also don't walk enough. There is a trend towards making things easier and people don't cook from scratch anymore.
What did you feed my mother and her siblings?
Grandpa and I were "health nuts." We didn't buy prepared foods, read labels, and I cooked from scratch.
Did you cook much meat?
No, I never cooked much. I don't really like cooking meat. (my mom's reaction: "but, but, but, we did eat meat when I was growing up, mostly beef, cheaper cuts, almost never chicken, no bacon, had ham at Easter, but ate beef in stews, etc. several times a week...guess Grandma has forgotten cooking beef stew, lasagna, etc. And antipasto salad every night with dinner!").
Mom always complained that grandpa made them eat "weird stuff"?
No, most of our food was normal. Well, one thing they didn't like was seafood stew called bouillabaisse. Grandpa sometimes ate traditional Japanese food for breakfast, but nobody else wanted that. Grandpa was very thrifty and we sometimes ate canned fish too.
So what do you eat now?
Well, it's very strange. But growing up I had some constipation issues and when I got older I read that eating fruit in the morning would fix that, so I've eaten that ever since. Your mother has told me this is not a good breakfast. I enjoy whatever fruit is in season, as well as four prunes. I really like coffee and drink two cups a day with a splash of milk. I don't drink much milk, but I enjoy cottage cheese. Your mom was reading that paleo book (Robb Wolf's) and told me that dairy might cause weight gain though...I recently lost some weight by trimming portions and eating fewer sweets.
For lunch I often eat coffee yogurt, hardboiled eggs, and egg salad. When I enjoy a sandwich I use an English muffin or only one slice of bread. I like peanut butter mixed with a dash of Hellman's mayo and yogurt on an English muffin.
For dinner I have two vegetables. Tonight I had acorn squash and green beans. I also had a tomato salad and some cottage cheese.
Do you eat out?
Not much. When I moved back to Eureka my friends and I would eat pie at Busy Corner, but I stopped because I gained weight. I only eat pie when I am at someone's home now and they made it themselves.
Why are you so healthy?
Many people in my retirement commmunity have many health problems, but I don't. I never go to the doctor or have any aches or pains. Maybe they don't eat well or walk enough. I walk every day.
What are you favorite foods?
Fruits and vegetables. And ice cream, but I try not to eat that too much. Hey, I've been enjoying shelled peanuts a lot lately and your mom said legumes aren't that good for you, are those healthy?
Err, well I think true nuts are healthier, but if they work for you and you enjoy them, don't give them up!
Yes, but real nuts are quite expensive and I like shelling peanuts.
When I was a kid you used to keep real shelled nuts in a bowl on your coffee table...
Oh, well maybe I'll do that again!
Thanks for the interview grandma!
Overall my grandmother's diet is very interesting. It's very low in calories...could calorie restriction account for her succcess? Good upbringing? Good genes? I know if I ate that way I don't think my system would work very well (the coffee in particularly would make me INSANE), but maybe I got that from my dad. Both my sister and I had braces and wisdom teeth removed...
YES, other grandma, I will interview you if you want! I will also hopefully have an interview with a 99-year old relative soon.
Guess who is going to a Movnat clinic this July 6th-10th? Me. And I'm super excited! We'd love to get an NYC group together to go to this, so if you are interested, let us know at the meetup. If you don't know who Erwan is, check out his website and this excellent Men's Health article.
Good news: The mobile slaughterhouse is here.
Dangerous fish oil: How about doing what our ancestors did and eating fish instead of taking a pill?
Playgrounds: Waaaaaay too dangerous for our precious children. You wouldn't want children to actually be outside moving around instead of sitting inside doing test prep anyway.
Occasionally I will hear from someone who does badly on a paleo diet or whose health improved when they gave up meat. It's very interesting to me. I guess I' shouldn't really surprised then by Matt Stone's latest post which is a rant about how paleo kills your sex drive (WTF?????* Lierre's assertion that paleolithic is a diet for a smaller population is about economics, as obviously grains allows us to feed more people) and also a letter from a woman who experienced horrible digestive and other problems on paleo. It's so bizarre because paleo cured the exact same problems for me.
But then again, I've rarely been 100% paleo. I have this fantasy that if I were I would suddenly become super woman or something, but the errant bowl of grits with butter never has made me feel terrible enough to make me stop having cheat meals. I know people who are 100% and honestly they seem no healthier than people who eat butter or an occasional beer.
But I also see a pattern in people who don't do well on paleo. I'm not blaming people...it's hard to do a paradigm shift and admittedly my first foray into low carb wasn't so successful either. I think it started working only when I stopped thinking low-carb and started thinking about food quality. Some Purdue chicken beasts and steamed broccoli isn't quality in my opinion. Grass-fed beef, oysters, seaweed, purple yams, blueberries, kale...these sort of things form a nutrient-dense nucleus for my diet. When I'm really craving grits or bacon lentils, I personally don't sweat it. Gluten, vegetable oil, and sugar free + high nutrient density seems to solve most of my own problems, the rest was just tweaking. So my own experiences can't refute Matt's assertions.
But I just don't buy that low carb is dangerous. Plenty of arctic peoples ate low carb their entire lives and reproduced and didn't keel over and die! I think people should work on removing the worst offenders like sugar from their diet and simply do what works for them.
*In Robb Wolf's podcasts he talks about many women in his gym getting pregnant while doing paleo, but he has also had some questions from people who lost their period...I would be curious to know the nutrition intake numbers of people who that happens to.