This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
Recently a friend sent me this piece on the "paleo" diet and libertarianism in The New Inquiry, which quotes me. It is well-written and thought-provoking, even worth reading if you probably disagree with the author's politics. I myself had thought of writing something similar for awhile, because at some point it's just too interesting how the diet-self-identity movements have become associated with various political leanings. My own are somewhat nebulous. To some corners of the blogsophere I am a beer-swilling Feminazi. Others seem to see me as a raw-meat eating proto-mini-Ayn Rand. Either way, I my interest in the paleo diet partially came from the very fringes of the libertarianish politic, from anarcho-primitivism, which is fairly far left-leaning and was associated with the more stereotypically leftish vegan diet until some of the leaders started suffering health problems from that diet and others figured out that the average edible plant on the market is part of the same destructive industrial complexes as the factory-farmed eggs they so assiduously avoided. Lierre Keith's The Vegetarian Myth not only made anarcho-primitivists don hunting camo on the quest for wild venison, but became a cult classic among even those outside anarcho-primitivists, as the book contains elements that appeal to standard low-carbers to people dissatisfied with vegetarianism or veganism. Unfortunately, about the time that was published, Keith and her various associates also started to advocate terrorism, a very old-fashioned anarchist solution, as a solution to the "problem" of civilization, something many readers might not be aware of. I am glad that she and other primitivist piqued my interest in anthropology, but doing that also drove me further away from primitivism as what I learned about the paleolithic and about foragers did not match the picture that primitivists painted.
At the same time I was interested in primitivism, I was also studying economics, and started reading the more moderate libertarian (though I actually think it's more correctly classical liberal, as am I) blog Marginal Revolution, which is written by economists and linked to fellow economist Art De Any's now-defunct paleo blog. One of the authors there is Tyler Cowan, and like many libertarians he seems intensely attracted to skepticism and that which questions the status quo, something I also share. I think that is where Gary Taubes got pulled in, with his articles in the press like the Big Fat Lie in the NYtimes questioning the lipid-heart disease hypothesis. Interestingly, the reaction among the moderate libertarian crowd was not always initially positive- I remember this scathing article on Taubes published in Reason. And Tyler Cowan himself isn't exactly paleo, instead a champion of hole-in-the-wall ethnic cuisine.
And then there is was a third main strain that I think contributed to making paleo the "libertarian" diet, which is that a lot of the paleo crowd embraced buying from small local farms, a crowd that tends to both lean libertarian economically (or at least professes to) and also has been legitimately harmed by inappropriate government regulation. Everything I Want to Do is Illegal by Joel Salatin, in my opinion, is a seminal tome in getting libertarians interested in food issues. And also in pulling some of the more lefty crunchy local food crowd in that direction along with the fact some of them got tied up in red tape when trying to open their green businesses.
These three basic strains I think explain some of the seemingly nonsensical juxtapositions (why butter? why bacon?) you find in the "paleo" community. The wild foods and occasional romanticism about foragers the first (though that seems to be dying out), the anti-status quo love of bacon and butter the second, the passion for raw milk and grass-fed beef the third.
Some of these strains also explain why it attracts other groups on the fringe. I remember four years ago I was part of a committee organizing an open-source web app conference and brought up having gluten-free food. Let's just say it was not received positively. These days it seems like every sci-fi, software, or other nerdy convention has gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free, and other fringe food identity fare.
Unfortunately, the such diets haves also become popular with other political groups that are skeptical of the government, but more authoritarian on the political compass. Lately there has been a kerfluffle over Dr. William Davis of Wheat Belly fame, Jimmy Moore the low-carb creationist (doesn't believe the paleolithic era existed) figure associated with paleo for $ome reason, and Dr. Doug McGuff who wrote Body by Science appearing on David Duke's podcast. Moore also included Duke's blog in a list of best new LC/Paleo/Health blogs, though he removed it when people pointed it out after a period of denial. Then he wrote a long post about how his critics were using Gestapo-like tactics (wording since removed) to persecute him They couldn't be bothered to Google Duke before going on his show, but in summary David Duke is a race-separatist, the "nicer" face of Neo-Nazism ("we don't want to kill you, we just want you non-whites to stay far far away from us"), though once he was a leader in the much more virulent KKK. Duke believes that there is a Zionist media/government conspiracy that wants to dilute the special white "race" by encouraging race-mixing.
Moore said he only agrees with Duke about nutrition and Duke is "spot-on" in this matter. Unfortunately, Duke's nutritional views are tied together with his other views. In his intro to his Wheat Belly interview he says "The Zionist media is fueled by advertising revenue of foods which are bad for you! But the huge and growing establishment Medical industry and pharmaceutical industry are also fueled by growing unhealthiness. Although I love the taste of bread and wheat products, I recognize the wheat addiction that I and millions of others have — so I avoid wheat as much as possible in my diet." I don't think anyone would say that these people interviewed share such views (though it is interesting that on the defensive they hardly criticize Duke, I guess harsh words are reserved for the evils of wheat/sugar), but it highlights the appeal of certain ideas to the darker edges of the fringe, people for whom they fit into grand paranoid conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, it fits quite well with the general trend towards demonization of specific whole foods and entire food groups that books like Wheat Belly and fundamentalist Low-Carb ideologies typify.
When I see authoritarian articles about "sugar genocides" it makes me more than a little alarmed. I've noticed the mere mention of feminism induces mouth-foaming "help help we are being silenced by the feminists who want to damn us to a politically correct hell" among certain bloggers, but actual authoritarianism doesn't seem to bother them as long as its part of their mutual admiration society. And I think is a symptom of how little ground some of this stuff, scientifically, has to stand on given its reliance on such feedback loops for propagation. And in some ways, the spottier versions of "paleo" and some of the racist theories of people like Duke have a lot in common. As The New Inquiry article points out:
Incomplete or flawed interpretations of our biology have long been used to marginalize women, racial groups, even entire civilizations, and nutrition may well become the next variant in this pattern of discrimination.
Duke, with this theories about the superiority of the "white race," is a good reminder that bad science should not be taken lightly and unfortunately as some Creationist websites point out, various evolutionary theories have a long history of association with such hateful authoritarianism. That's why I'll keep criticizing it here, even though I get letters that say that criticism is unproductive.
So understanding the political background of the "paleo" diet gives many insights to some absurdities and troglodyte-like behavior encountered among that community and various orbiting communities associated with diet. And why it appeals to certain people. I have sometimes mused on the fact I have been treated more viciously (called a "cunt" in a vicious manner in response to an argument about science for example) based on my sex in this sphere than anywhere else, primarily by the anarchist blogger Richard Nikoley, which is surprising considering I work in a male-dominated industry not known for friendliness to women. It has not made me particularly interested in participating in "paleo" or what it has devolved into, especially given certain people in the community's willingness to turn a blind eye as long as the person in question is a member of their mutual admiration society. If anyone wonders why paleo, much like libertarianism, fails to attract a large number of female contributors, there it is.
Oops I wasn't done with this post and I hit publish, probably shouldn't have been up at 1 AM (thanks after-dinner coffee :/ ), so the comments from earlier on 1/3 are from only the first paragraph.
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.
Cops have busted a group of oddball poachers in Prospect Park — a band of vagrants that was trapping and eating ducks, squirrels and pigeons.
Parks officers wrote four tickets — two for killing wildlife and two for illegal fishing — totaling $2,100 in fines during a two-day period last week.
The city would not immediately release details of the incidents, which occurred on July 17 and 18 — just days after park-goers told rangers about a “Beverly Hillbillies”-like scene on the southeast side of the lake, near the ice skating rink.
“This is a dodgy group,” said park-goer Peter Colon, who spotted one of the men catching a pigeon while his friend started a fire. “They are the most threatening people in the park.”
The disheveled — and possibly homeless — tribe in question uses “makeshift” fishing poles and traps to catch the critters, then grills them over the fire, according to park watchdogs.
“One woman uses a net to bag the ducks,” said wildlife advocate Johanna Clearfield.
How dare those vagrants eat animals! A host of sanctimonious commenters says they should go down to the food bank and get themselves some normal stuff, like Chef Boyardee (that was the kind of stuff they had at the food bank I briefly volunteered at before it made me too depressed to be motivated). Or wait in line for hours at the food stamp office only to be turned down because they don't have their original birth certificates, or a real address, or some other nonsense. Or as one commenter said, they should just be vegans like her friend.
Personally I wouldn't eat the animals there because of the fact that the city is poisoned by pollution, but honestly they are probably healthier to eat than whatever is served up at the local soup kitchen.
Let's all be reminded that the government regularly kills the geese in the park and ships them to ANOTHER STATE to feed the homeless. Remember, it's only OK if the government does it.
Whatever happened to "teach a man to fish?" Maybe they should go back to stealing like in the old New York City? So far a rise in crime hasn't accompanied the economic difficulties of The Great Stagnation, but it could happen.
I have to give credit to the sane comments too. A lot people reminiscing about how their grandparents caught vermin to service the Depression.
There are many reasons I became a vegan, but one of the main reasons was that I didn't want to support the industrial meat system, which is cruel to both animals and people, as well as destructive to communities and the environment. I know this point of mine has been controversial before, but I do believe that conventional meat is more unhealthy, not just because of the fatty acids, but because of other feed additives, hormones, antibiotics, and the continual stress animals are subjected to. I believe science will vindicate this position more and more in the future. The beginning evidence is there, it just needs to be further investigated.
While I no longer believe that eating animals is immoral and I am no longer vegan, I do believe that animals that share characteristics with us like empathy deserve to be treated with empathy. The industrial meat industry treats neither humans nor animals with empathy. Foragers kill perhaps an animal a day or less, often offering that animals prayers of respect. Slaughterhouse workers kill hundreds of animals a day. It's not acceptable to kill fewer. In fact I know of a slaughterhouse that was shut down because they weren't killing enough animals a day and the USDA said it was inefficient to provide them with an inspector. The consequence is that slaughterhouse workers suffer repetitive stress injuries and there are some that suffer unusual autoimmune conditions as well, though the meat industry has done plenty to cover this up. But another consequence is callousness about life. Some studies have shown that presence of people who kill hundreds of animals a day in a community is associated with higher levels of crime. That doesn't surprise me at all. I've seen the undercover videos of factory farms and the brutality these animals are subject to. Only someone conditioned to accept brutality (or a psychopath) could commit acts like that.
And let's talk about community. As someone with a farm in the family and the desire to live a rural life, I'm loathe to support a system that destroys rural communities, driving small producers out of business (currently the matter of an antitrust investigation) and polluting the land and waters with waste.
Last year Don Mastesz from Primal Wisdom did a paleo on a budget series that I just remembered. The series advocated the consumption of supermarket industrial meat. I remember being rather disappointed, but not saying anything because I don't like getting into political arguments. It was based on a rather callous idea in the first place. He saw a poor family in Food Inc. and didn't believe their claim that they couldn't afford healthy food. He decided to design a low-carb diet based on spending as much money as food stamps provide.
Some background: When I moved to New York City it was to work in public service. I accepted a salary that placed me below the poverty line. Millions of New Yorkers eat badly. Afford is such a loaded word. Perhaps a lot of these people actually could technically afford decent food if you just looked at their income. But many of them are caught in cycles of debt, not only from perhaps injudicious spending, but from our dysfunctional and uncompassionate health care system. Yes, the government will feed you garbage in public school for free, but when your medical bills come from the diabetes you acquired when you were only 25, it doesn't always pay them. Having gone to the ER when poor before, it's a bit like gambling. You might get your bills dropped when you apply for financial aid and you might get some medicare coverage, but you might not. Then these illnesses also affect many people's ability to work.
Then there is the area of privilege. Yes, I ate decently when I was poor, but I am also very educated about nutrition and I grew up with a mother who attempted to teach me at least a few cooking skills. Not everyone has these things.
So the Food Inc people got it wrong. That family doesn't need to eat at fast food joints. They could follow my plan, the whole family would lose body fat, the father would lose his diabetes, they would stop needing dental repairs, and they would then have the money he spent on medications for upgrading the quality of their food.
I wonder if Don would volunteer to come to East New York and actually work with a family on food stamps. The odds are that mom works full time and she was raised by public schools that shovel garbage into children's mouths and teach them the food pyramid without teaching them how to shop or cook. The odds are that there is no dad. The odds are that their apartment does not have the sort of kitchen most of us enjoy nor do they have good access to grocery stores. Given the state of public housing, the odds are that the stove is in disrepair, but maybe they have a microwave. I honestly don't think Don's experiment said much about the state of how the poor could eat, nor did it involve very good food. I really don't think that telling people to eat more factory farmed meat is a good solution to our current food system woes. I honestly believe such people would be very healthy on an affordable no veg oil/sugar diet that includes animal products from good farms in small enough amounts to be affordable. That's how the majority of tradition cultures eat. The truth is that we are going to have to get that into public service food projects (like those that deliver to elderly/homebound people), soup kitchens, and schools. And perhaps a return to home ec in schools would help.
I try my best to not eat factory-farmed meat and I've been a higher carb advocate for some time now. Eating high-carb allowed me to survive on $10,000 a year while maintaining my commitment to grass-fed meat from small local farms. I also honestly feel better on a higher-carb diet. Meat has important nutrients, but you don't need a lot of it to get these.
I've also resisted the assimilation of primal/paleo/ancestral with the low-carb community, since I believe they have different ideals and that low-carb has very little to do with the paleolithic or what foragers actually eat, besides the tiny sliver of the paleolithic where humans lived in far north environments and the few foragers of questionable health who eat mainly meat. The stupidity of some of these people is staggering. When I presented extensive evidence that even their beloved Inuit ate plenty of plants, all they could do is say "but vilhjalmur stefansson sayz." Never mind his habit of lying and why are we even talking about this since most foragers and cultures mistakenly cited by "paleo" diet advocates eat large amounts of carbohydrates?
When Don wrote his Farewell to Paleo post, saying he was leaving paleo for a high-carb diet (lol because the evidence that the paleo diet would have been high-carb is pretty damn strong) because of health problems, I didn't connect the dots. But now that I'm remembering his budget diet, it doesn't surprise me that it happened. There are lots of zero carb trolls that claim they are healthy on a supermarket meat diet, but as far as I know, all of those are men. For women, hormonal balance can be a much more tenuous matter. If you don't believe that the hormone-injected animals effect hormone balance, I guess you would also point to the fact they were eating cheaper meats that tend to be higher in omega-6 like chicken and pork.
Thankfully, Don has come around and posted an update to his posts advocating industrial meat:
7/13/11 update: I decided that I don't want to endorse or appear to endorse the use of any meat produced by conventional methods of feeding the livestock grains, primarily corn and soybeans. Since animals consume 80% of the grain and soy produced by U.S. agriculture, this system drives the ongoing destruction of our topsoil both through crops and through grazing. Animal food production consumes 87% of all freshwater used in the U.S. each year, and thus is the primary driver of depletion of water reserves. This system also produces most of the water pollution occurring in the U.S. Our conventional livestock production system has enormous costs detailed in this article from Cornell University. Since I have known of these costs for more than 20 years, I feel embarrassed and remorseful that I wrote this series and other articles that endorsed the use of conventional animal products.
His wife has also written that she regrets forgetting compassion. This is great news. It's a bit of a shame that Don has gone on to advocate a very low fat diet and Chinese medicine for everyone, but I think it's great that he changed his diet in response to how it made him feel, whereas some low carb advocates would rather dose up with supplements than admit that a good diet probably wouldn't give them constant cramps and other health issues. And I'm glad he's fighting some of the paleo!stupidity, which means the paleo diet made up by people to fit their bias rather than one based on the real data.
Get ready for a foodie fight at the Museum of the City of New York this Friday, March 25th, as an all-star panel of food writers, restaurateurs, and farmers battle over the efficacy of the locavore and sustainability movements. At the table are Peter Hoffman, chef and owner of the farm-to-table, locavore proselytizing, beekeeping Savoy restaurant in SoHo; Gabrielle Langholtz, editor of Edible Manhattan; James E. McWilliams, author of Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly; David Owen, author of Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability; and Jennifer Small, owner and farmer of the Flying Pigs Farm. The group will debate the environmental and social costs and benefits of revamping the city's food culture in the contemporary age.
All during the panel all I could think about is that I hope these people aren't influencing policy much because most of them don't know that much about economics. At least most of them were willing to admit that, but James E. McWilliams continued to be a weasel. I mentioned him first on my Locavore-Animal Rights Cold War post. Since then, The Atlantic has given him a platform to spew his ill-informed opinions about food (he's a "food historian"). He plays himself as an advocate of low carbon footprint food and says he opposes the locavore movement because it's inefficient in that direction. In the beginning of the panel he says "any imported plant food will have a lower impact than any local animal product." Uh huh. How do you know that? He admitted later in the panel that there is really no way to know the truth of a food's environmental impact. But many economic analyses show that local meat has a lower environmental impact than most imported plant foods, including that done in Meat: A Benign Extravagance.
The truth is that McWilliams doesn't give a damn about environmental impact. All he cares about is that people don't use animals at all. During the panel he said his utopist vision was highly industrialized biotech fruit and vegetable farms.
Any time anyone put forth evidence that local meat was a good food, he had something dumb to say, like that "well if everyone can't do it it's not a good model." That's a weird argument that I've written about before. It's almost like his knowledge of economics comes from Sim City. But at least in Sim City he might have learned that when a resource becomes truly scarce the price increases, thus forestalling his magic fantasy dystopia where everyone is destroying the world to have pastured pork.
Also in his fantasy land is the idea that without CAFOs or farm subsidies our meat would cost $35 a lb. New Zealand got rid of its subsidies and now has pastured meat that's cheap enough to be exported.
Animal rights activists hate the local food movement because it threatens its propaganda. PETA and its ilk rely on videos of animals being beaten in industrial operations and simplified "meat is bad for the environment" stats. The local food movement comes along and let's people see that its animals are treated well. It lets locavores into the slaughter process, showing them that while it's not fun, it's not like in those videos.
Then it comes up to light that animal rights activists aren't angry about meat because it's bad for the environment or because the animals are beaten. They are against animals being used by humans in any way, whether for life-saving medical research or for milk. They don't like having to admit it because it reveals their philosophy for its ultimate anti-humanism. And it reveals that they aren't really interested in the true environmental impact of meat unless it supports their philosophy.
Tom Phillpott proposes an omnivore/vegan alliance against animal factories. I think a lot of vegans who believe in animal rights would reject that. And I'm going to be the rare sustainable farming advocate omnivore to reject it.
First of all...what is an animal factory and what makes them bad? Is is bad management or is all mass production of meat inherently bad?
In the US it's usually bad management, because for some reason it's totally legal here to destroy things you don't even own like nearby wetlands and our ability to use antibiotics in humans effectively.
But while living in Europe I toured some animal facilities that were dare-I-say quite nice. And it's a myth that letting animals do their own thing outside is always the best thing for them. It's also spit in the face of people like Temple Grandin that have worked to make mass meat production better.
It is also quite regressive to suggest that all meat production besides free-range should be banned. It's easy for us rich folks to advocate for, but tell everyman that chicken is now $14 a lb and you might not get much support. I do think free-range meat production could be ramped up, but once you start asking for infrastructural reforms with regards to slaughterhouses, the vegan side of the coalition won't be much help.
I'd like to see greater transparency and accountability in meat production, but people who want to destroy people's food choices are not our allies.
This vegan quote on the article says it best
"as vegans we would be banding together with the owners of slaves kept in relative comfort against the concentration-camp style slave-owners."
Sorry, I'm allying myself with people who believe animals can be slaves and it's skirting the issue to call these people merely "vegans". They are animal rights activists plain and simple. I'll continue to ally myself with people who call on humans to be good stewards and to be conscious of our consumer decisions.
As an aside, I find it very amusing that anti-locavore James McWilliams has come out of the animal rights closet and said the reason he thinks pastured meat is bad is because it's "killing" now that his fake economics arguments have been refuted. If you want to see him attack local farming live, he'll be debating local chefs and farmers in NYC on Friday. I'll be there.
Between moving, work, school, and the very very sad state of my inbox, I haven't had much time to post.
I haven't had much time for anything, which is why I've been eating out quite a bit. I've had a bit of a sea change recently because I found out that my staple eating out food, Chipotle, isn't so great. It just reminds me that you have to question things you love after awhile or you'll get burned. First I found out via Diane from Balanced Bites that Chipotle uses soy oil. I hadn't looked at their site for awhile, so I guess I hadn't noticed. And since carnitas has SO MUCH natural fat WTF are they using soy oil for? It makes me very afraid that for "health" reasons they are skimming off the pork fat and replacing it with soy oil or something awful like that.
Also, it turns out the meat is sourced less carefully than I thought. A few years ago I heard some Chipotle executives speak at a conference and I thought they were pioneers at sourcing well, but according to Nate Appleman, their new spokesman "The chain uses local and organic ingredients when practical and meat from animals raised without antibiotics or added hormones."
What does "when practical" mean? And without antibiotics or added hormones is a sad low standard. It's like saying "we raise these animals without tormenting them with daily sessions of Justin Bieber's greatest hits."
Once I started getting disillusioned with Chipotle, I started thinking...why bother? NYC is full of nice restaurants using pastured lard, duck fat, and other good foods, but to be honest I don't live or work near those restaurants. So if Chipotle is not that great, why not patronize the local Thai joint that uses a mixture of olive and canola oil? I even found that after talking with the owner, I could get some dishes made with just coconut fat. Supporting a local business + delicious food = win. After moving I kind of went on a bonanza of doing this and honestly I feel great. Maybe it's because coconut is so dominant in many of the local cuisines (which include Thai and Filipino)? Maybe my gut is fully healed? Maybe conventional meat isn't so evil? (though I definitely want to get more local/grass-fed meat on the market). Either way, it's amazing to be eating out and having great digestion too. I'm really enjoying exploring all the cuisines of the world, which is a major benefit of living here. Whenever I can, I ask these local restaurants about what fat they use. If people ask, perhaps they'll change. The local Thai joint even brags about having wheat free food now. Trans fats are banned here, so the only ones I worry might be used are corn or safflower oil.
It brings me to the point that while I think lard/tallow/duck fat are great for me, they probably aren't a public health solution. If I went to a health conference and said restaurants should use them, I'd be laughed at. But high-oleic seed oils ARE definitely better for you and perhaps not even bad for you. They are possible to produce cheaply and are considered highly by almost every conventional standard. Imagine if they replaced soy and corn at restaurants and in schools? That would be a solution that would benefit everyone.
Instead we have public health programs that encourage things like eating low-fat and "moving more." I was somewhat amused when I read that Rush Limbaugh said Michelle Obama had gotten fat from eating ribs. It's quite clear that Michelle is not fat and I wonder if Rush got the right conclusion
Michelle My Belle, minus the husband, took the kids out to Vail on a ski vacation, and they were spotted eating and they were feasting on ribs, ribs that were 1,575 calories per serving with 141 grams of fat per serving. Now I'm sure some of you members of the new castrati: "This is typical of what you do Mr. Limbaugh, you take an isolated, once in a lifetime experience, and try to say that she's a hypocrite." She is a hypocrite. Leaders are supposed to be leaders. If we're supposed to go out and eat nothing -- if we're supposed to eat roots, and berries and tree bark and so show us how. And if it's supposed to make us fit, if it's supposed to make us healthier, show us how.
Hmm, I'd venture that she's healthy because she doesn't follow the government's advice- because she's eating ribs rather than tofu. Wouldn't that be hilarious. Kind of like how her kids don't attend government schools perhaps? Meanwhile, Rush is losing weight by restricting his calories, which may have caused a recent bout with chest pains. Maybe he should just eat ribs and stop worrying about calories?
Some of you asked if I could re-post my list of meat priorities I did on paleohacks. Here's how I chose my meat:
1. My first choice will always be grass-fed local meat from farmers I know.
2. Generic grass-fed beef or lamb, wild fish.
3. Organic beef or lamb because of highly favorable fat content.
4. Pastured poultry or pork.
5. Halal beef or lamb(or goat) is more likely to be grass-fed because it's often imported from New Zealand. In addition, some Hispanic restaurants import their meat, particularly Argentine places. New Zealand and Australia pasture most of their ruminants.
6. Natural beef or lamb. Natural is kind of vague, but it's better than nothing I guess.
7. Feedlot beef or lamb. Spends at least some of its life on pasture.
7. Natural chicken = really just a factory farmed mass of soy.
Things I won't eat: farmed salmon, CAFO pork
Notice I will eat a wide variety of meat. For me, not being hungry and being nourished is more important than anything. I'm not the kind of person who will order a plate of greens in the absence of perfect meat.
It's funny because when I eat out, the places that make me feel the worst are the healthy places. Ugh, I think hell is other people's idea of healthy. Like my office cafe, which stocks such healthy options as low-fat strawberry shortcake yogurt, those sugar-packed Odwalla smoothies, Special K, and Vitamin Water. I would definitely get really sick if I ate those things, but I feel awesome after going to the local Argentine place for a skirt steak and plantains. Another offender for me is BBQ places. At first I thought it was the meat that was bad for me, but then I realized that the sauces at most BBQ restaurants is full of total crap. Sugar + meat = bad.
Maybe it's inadvisable to post while running a fever. Yes, I've finally succumbed to a winter illness. I could blame forgetting to take Vitamin D or traveling I suppose, but instead I'll direct my fever feistiness towards ill-mannered blogging.
The funny thing is that while I do post more than most food bloggers about my personal life I suppose, I try to keep myself a bit of an enigma. A few people have successfully guessed my political/social/religious views, but they can be odd and surprising. I think that's because I've been through a lot of different stages in my life so far and considered myself many different things.
But I might as well come out and state the obvious, which is that I don't like our government and I think their involvement in the food system does more harm than good. And I certainly didn't start out that way. In the beginning when I was involved with sustainable agriculture, I was a staunch liberal and hoped government funding and regulation could fix our problems. I worked in academia and in non-profits to that effect. The result was growing disillusionment. I'd say that my views are now a bit like Joel Salatin or Wendell Berry. Which I guess surprises some people since I write about Sex At Dawn and evolution...but just because you acknowledge human nature doesn't mean you have to actually run your life like a caveman.
I guess some folks might call me the dreaded C-word, but occasionally I'm not. Who knows? All I know is that if you call yourself that people will dismiss you outright. On Facebook a feminist woman recently told me I didn't even count as a woman because of my views.
I remember when Mark Bittman was one of my heroes. I loved his extensive cookbooks despite the fact that his recipes constantly gave me stomach aches. Once I figured out that the whole grains and beans he loves so much weren't so healthy, I still enjoyed reading his blog on the NYtimes for foodie tips. But his foray into food politics is increasingly nauseating. He has now quite food blogging to subject poor NYtimes readers to his polemics.
It’s difficult to find a principled nutrition and health expert who doesn’t believe that a largely plant-based diet is the way to promote health and attack chronic diseases, which are now bigger killers, worldwide, than communicable ones. Furthermore, plant-based diets ease environmental stress, including global warming.
It's difficult? I don't suppose he tried very hard. In my experience serving canapes to rooms full of sallow-skinned Limo Liberals at "Food Justice" events, the idea that there would be other approaches to fixing things besides control by a cadre of supposedly-enlightened bureaucrats is so foreign that they might get their rye organic tofu bruschetta stuck in their throats if they even thought about it. He uses their favored language, words like
Of course in that same essay saying that we should discontinue other subsidies. Subsidies are only bad if they aren't purchasing bourgeois things. The funny thing is that I often find "Food Justice" folks often don't really like poor people. On a recent food politics listserv I was dismayed to find some of them listing up what poor people who are too dumb to know better shouldn't be allowed to buy with food stamps like high-fat foods or soda. In reality they don't want to engage these people themselves in their communities, so they are hoping to command and control them into buying what they want them too.
In principle, I'm not such a fan of government programs, but food stamps are among the better in terms of benefitting people without real economic choices (children) and providing flexibility in their application. In theory it's fun to be an anarchist, but in reality we are going to have programs like this and we might as well support the better ones.
Of course even limo libs like Pollan and Bittman have bizarrely promoted Joel Salatin. I suppose they just think his political views are cute like the Dukes of Hazzard or something.
I guess that after this rant I'll list what words I think should be associated with true food justice:
I think the local food movement is in a rough place now. Regulations are getting worse. I see more and more programs that help the poor and bring good food to underserved areas struggling with regulations. I don't think people realize that the regulations have literally been captured by corporations. It takes a special kind of blindness to believe that the government could be a true friend to good food...
I can think of a few exceptions, like some organic crop research programs that are at Landgrant Universities (though these same Universities often fund research for the likes of Monsanto too!).
Do you think folks like Bittman are helping or hurting the good food movement?
Edit: A note about factory farms: I do support the idea of making them pay for their pollution. You shouldn't be able to destroy things you don't own. That's not liberal or conservative.
People often ask me why I'm still so rankled by veganism despite having given it up long ago. Unfortunately it's not veganism that gets me fired up, but more troubling political issues at the animal rights heart of the vegan movement. Not long after I stopped being vegan, I got involved with agriculture. I saw the makings of a cold war between the locavores and the animal rights groups and became troubled by it. Animal rights groups like the Humane Society of the United States and PETA pull in substantial amounts of donations and therefore exert some political clout. They get these donations by pretending to go after factory farms, but in reality small farms are also in the crosshairs. They don't admit this much and publicly don't want to admit it because the general public tends to be sympathetic to small farms.
This year, a history professor, James McWilliams, came out with an anti-locavore book called Just Food. Laughably, I saw some "conservative" outlets endorse the book, probably because of the anti-elite sentiment so tragically beloved by Palinites and their ilk. They probably didn't read it, since the ultimate point of that book is that locavores are stupid because really it's not Chilean strawberries, but meat, that is at the root of all problems. Despite not being an economist*, McWilliams frames his arguments as being all about economic rationality. But I saw right through it from the beginning and it's quite obvious from his recent animal rights posts at the Atlantic that his real beef with locavores is their use of animals. Notice that's not on the jacket of his book.
Can one be locavore and disavow all use of domestic animals? Yes, there are a few small farms practicing veganic agriculture (it's telling that one of this method's main advocates has written a book now called Meat: A Benign Extravagance), but they are few and far between. Because they are so unusual, there is little data on how productive they actually are. Much of the fertilizer used on farms comes from animals and if you want low-impact pest control, hunting is a good way to do it. Not to mention the dietary challenge of being vegan and local in very cold climates.
Animal rights groups also rely on videos of cruelty on farms to win converts. These become less effective on people who have actually been to farms. Animal rights groups rely on people being disconnected from farming and from agrarian traditions. But unfortunately for them, these are being revived. Things have been coming to a head recently with animal rights groups attacking backyard chicken-keepers and DIY turkey slaughter. I love it when people show their true colors— that it's not Smithfield farms they are after, but all farms that use animals**. Often the strategy is to divert: when you talk about soy, parrot back that most soy goes into livestock feed. It isn't until activists are cornered that they admit their true agenda, which is to eliminate all domesticated animal use from lab rats to riding horses to pet dogs to the turkey on your table.
It scares me because I feel that agrarian traditions are beset on both sides by conservatives*** who want their right to munch on their McTroglodyte burgers without worrying about what that means and the leftist movement to make such traditions difficult/illegal, either intentionally in the case of animal-rights activists or unintentionally in the case of the average land-alienated urban liberal.
Why should we care? In my view it's because every good farm is so valuable in preserving the health of humans, animals, and the land holistically. What does it take to make people understand this?
I've been interested in following the reaction towards A Vegan No More, a post by a woman who left veganism for health reasons:
While my original choice to be a vegan stemmed from the always noble impulse to do the right thing and be as compassionate as possible, it was a mistake and a choice I should never have made. If I had done my research and actually asked the hard questions from the beginning instead of letting the graphic images of factory farms guide me, I would have saved myself 3 years of misguided efforts as well as the deterioration of my physical and emotional health.
What can we do to prevent this? I think engaging people in producing food is the answer. It's a real threat for animal rightists and they know it.
Danish backyard chickens
*nearly every Animal Rightist on the internet fancies themselves an agricultural economist and parrots the simplistic and de-localized idea that animal agriculture is inefficient.
**This isn't to omit the outright terrorism that animal rightists inflict on scientists
*** I shudder to use that word to describe people who obviously care very little for conserving anything
This is a food blog...why post about the oil spill? To me, the oil spill represents what's wrong with politics in this country. How is it "free market" to let a company destroy what it doesn't own and not have to pay the full consequences? This whole thing cuts across party lines.
Much of my family lives in the Gulf and wild foods from the ocean are a big part of their diet. In many poor areas of the Gulf Coast these are the last remaining healthy traditional foods that people eat. Because of this oil spill, more and more people will lose their food traditions and become dependent on unhealthy processed food.
That's my gumbo you are ruining BP...