This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
While I'm not fan of nanny states dictating what people can eat, vegetarians really are the bane of institutional food. The core of ancient peasant cooking was using the whole animal and that meant cooking things in broths, sauteing and frying animal fat, and using bits of dried/cured meat in soups/stews/beans/etc. Countless restaurants and cafeterias have switched to MSG-based bouillon and vegetable oils so that their dishes are vegetable-friendly. I admire Chipotle for standing its ground and continuing to cook many of their beans with pork bits/fat. This is truly sustainable cooking, utilizing regional products to their full extent. Some other favorite restaurants of mine, such as Momofuku, also explicitly do not serve vegetarian dishes because they buy and USE whole animals.
Contrast this with meat-free Monday, which encourages cafeterias to serve foods based on imported industrial monocultures (soy/corn/wheat) in the form of "textured vegetable protein" or "veggie burgers" and often utilizing industrial vegetable oils, additives, and flavorings. Or low-quality factory-farmed dairy, often with food coloring and sugar added.
I've eaten at many cafeterias and tend to think there is really no way to do institutional cafeteria food well. The goal is to feed a large diverse group of people as cheaply as possible. And the industry is dominated by a few large corporations that have deals with processed food companies.
And the cafeteria model in general may encourage over-eating and other problems. Since I was homeschooled until high school, I didn't encounter cafeterias until I was older. That's also when I started to gain weight. It's no wonder scientists use a "cafeteria" diet in experiments to induce obesity.
The solution probably lies with smaller schools with more local control and parental involvement. Unfortunately, the Federal government is increasingly dominating education, so this may be limited to private or homeschooling-hybrid* systems.
I think there is also a clash here between the politically-correct ideal of accommodating everyone and the fact that this accommodation often leads to inferior compromises.
*homeschooling hybrid is what I did for a lot of my youth. Some education is at home, but some classes/other stuff is done with other homeschoolers communally outside the home.
Still, Annette Dyar Sherman of Eureka, 91, says she "just sort of coasted" into becoming a vegetarian eight years ago.
"Since I live by myself, I find I no longer really care to cook meat. I go by the meat counter and it looks repulsive," she says, adding that her son, who is an animal rights activist, also has influenced her. "I eat mostly vegetables, yogurt, a little milk - I'm not a vegan."
She doesn't keep sweets at home - "too tempting" - and she gave up pasta a year ago. She also doesn't eat much bread. "I like to put a little cheese and tomato on an English muffin and broil it."
This diet, combined with daily walks, has contributed to her health, but Sherman says she's always been healthy - even though she ate meat for most of her life.
"I'm 91, but nobody believes that I am. I say 90 is the new 80. I don't take any medications. I take an aspirin a day to prevent a stroke. That's all.
"I'm not bragging, but that's the way it is," she says.
Oh come now, be a little holier-than-thou. You've earned it.
I can personally report that grandma is not a vegetarian and had roast beef for Christmas. So much for credible newsmedia. I've highlighted the good stuff ;)
While I think it's too bad that John Mackey is rather foolish about food, I think the Weston A. Price foundation is overreacting a little bit here. I got an email from them, in all caps, that said WHOLE FOOD PROMOTES MILITANT VEGETARIAN AGENDA. I think it's a shame, but the diet he is promoting is almost certainly better than the diet our own government is promoting. And as an aggie, I appreciate how Whole Foods has invested in improving slaughter infrastructure, which the US is really lacking.
Overall, the diet Whole Foods is promoting doesn't make people completely obese like the USDA recommended diet. Some people are quite happy on this diet. Adult humans are robust enough that they can survive, like this guy who eats only candy or several long-term fruitarians I know. I don't think John Mackey looks so great, but there are plenty of people on vegan/low-fat/otherwise evolutionary inappropriate who are good looking. This vegan body builder is a good example, though I would note that like many vital looking vegans he is a high-fat gluten-free vegan. And while a diet can change how fat or thin you are, you are still stuck with your basic facial and bone structure.
Paleo is about more that just being not obese and feeling OK though....it's a whole other level of nutrition and many people like me who try vegan often move towards paleo once they notice they aren't at the level of vitality they want to be. The real danger is when people continue to adhere to a diet that causes problems because the community says they are "detox symptoms" or they are rigid because the reason they are vegan is ethical.
I'd also worry about the Whole Foods diet for children, childbearing, or elderly stages of life when fat-soluble vitamins are critical. The real test of a diet is probably how adherents age and how healthy their children are.
But I digress. It's too bad Whole Foods has staked their flag in the low-fat vegan camp, but hopefully it will get people thinking about why they shop there. Whole Foods is convenient for many living in NYC, but the price of their meat is a little frightening. I personally shop at the Park Slope Co-op and I'm a member of a CSA. I'm also in the process of organizing a meat share for the Eating Paleo in NYC meetup. This one is sold out, but hopefully there will be more in the future. It's a great way to both save money and put your dollars directly in the pockets of farmers rather than stores promoting veganism.
This paper explores the diets of gorillas and uses it to recommend a diet for humans low in fat and high in dietary fiber. This is a common mistake. Dozens of vegetarian groups say that because the great apes are vegetarians (which they aren't...but animal food intake is fairly low) that humans are also naturally vegetarians. The most extreme groups say we should eat only fruit because, as primates, we thrive on sugar.
But read the paper carefully. The gorilla diet is very very high in fiber, but that fiber is getting converted into free fatty acids. This conversion is vital for gorillas, providing them with 57% of their calories. That leaves 15.8% of calories from carbohydrate, making the gorilla a defacto low carber! Humans claiming to emulate ape diets by eating lots of fruit aren't able to get the same nutrition. Fruits that are palatable to humans are much higher in sugar and lower in fiber than what the great apes eat. Furthermore, the human colon is tiny in comparison to great ape colons, so even if we did eat high-fiber fruit we wouldn't be able to process very much of it into free fatty acids.
Here is why a fruity "ape" diet is bird-brained:
Someone on a forum was going on and on about grains being A.O.K. because traditional societies like the Japanese or some of Weston A. Price's healthy cultures ate them and were not obese. I think he misses the point, but also underscores a very annoying misconception. Many of my friends have told me that they have no need for anything like the paleo diet because they are skinny and always have been.
But last time I checked skinny does not equal healthy. There are all kinds of health problems a skinny person can have and new studies show that within a single person insulin sensitivity may vary. Skinny programmers chugging Mountain Dew might be lucky enough to have belly fat tissue that is not insulin sensitive, but they might still be damaging other organs.
A paleo diet is about avoiding diseases of civilization. Obesity is just one of those diseases. I think well-planned veganism can do wonders for improving weight, cholesterol, and other basic measures of metabolic syndrome, but I do not believe it is the diet that brings out the best in the human body. I did raw grain-free veganism for time and like many people I initially felt good, probably because of all the wheat and dairy I wasn't eating, but eventually I just felt diminished. I alternated between fruit-induced sugar highs and extreme fatigue. I mainly just felt hungry. I realized that vegetables just don't have many calories and you have a choice of eating massive amounts of sugar from fruit or massive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids from nuts. I feel the paleo diet has the optimal amount of nutrients, in the best ratios, and in forms that are easily utilized by the human body (bioavailable). That's important, because many of us have damaged our bodies with junk and we need to do more than avoid obesity, we need the nutrients to repair.
Many other raw vegans, including The Raw Model, a popular raw blogger, have found that their health has improved dramatically since they added animal products.
Societies like the Japanese avoided many problems by eating a diet low in total calories, but they did not reach their potential for height and bone development until fairly recently (incidentally as consumption of meat and fish has increased). It's the same with many agrarian societies: they aren't obese, but they aren't completely healthy either. There is plenty we can learn from peasant diets, but we can do better than peasants who worked a backbreaking day on very little in the way of calories.
I think a sugar-free vegan or agrarian diet is certainly a step in the right direction and an agrarian diet can be made optimal with the careful addition of small amounts of meat and fish and by the fermentation of grains, dairy, and legumes. But the animal component of the diet has to be foods like liver and sardines, not skinless boneless chicken breast.
In the end people can go on and on about fruits and vegetables, but that's not where the calories are. The big question is where you are going to get the calories and whether you want to burn sugars or fats. Plants might enhance your health, but your fuel is going to make a bigger difference. I encourage anyone who hasn't read Good Calories, Bad Calories to get a copy or at least check out the detailed notes.
An interesting exploration of the growing demand for meat in New York City
New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni and Anthony Bourdain. As an on- and off-again meat eater, Foer has publically made his decision to step into non-meat land and now is synonymous with whining about Bourdain to New Yorkmagazine for the No Reservations host’s admittance on Larry King Live that he thinks humans are supposed to eat animals. We wonder how he’ll respond to the recent Times story about the new “Caveman lifestyle,” described as “a small New York subculture whose members seek good health through a selective return to the habits of their Paleolithic ancestors.” One die-hard member purportedly indulges in “grass-fed ground beef, which he eats raw.”
I hope Bourdain will recognize us as kin rather than as "dieters." I hate that word because it implies a limitation. The limitation for me is I simply try to avoid eating foods that make me feel crappy and I always make exceptions if I feel something is awesome and uniquely delicious. Which is actually OK, because most of the body-damaging crap people shovel in their mouths isn't.
If anything, eating like this has awakened me to the wonders of delicious silky blood, insects, liver on a stick, and reindeer hearts. Bourdain probably doesn't think of himself as a diet guru, but his writing and shows have inspired many reluctant people to order foods like tripe.
My father is on the paleo diet (50 lbs lost and counting, though that's another story) and Les Halles, Bourdain's restaurant, is a favorite of ours.
Also mentioned is the Meat Hook, which is a veritable temple of meat in Brooklyn, the epicenter of the nose to tail locavore meat movement. Meat is big enough in Brooklyn that cuts previously had for pennies, like marrow bones, are inching up in price by the day.
Surprisingly, the people who are now going back to eating meat are more than willing to delve into the nasty bits of meat production. Sold out workshops involving the snapping the necks of rabbits and gutting them? Who would have thought. This is a good thing because people who are knowledgeable about the slaughter process are more demanding about how animals lived and how they died. I don't know how much of this has to do with the locavore movement and how much has to do with the fact that many vegetarian foods make people feel crappy.
And the Humane Society's argument that even animals at nice farms have miserable lives is unconvincing to the growing number of young urbanites who work a stint on a farm in the summer.
I do feel bad for vegetarian restaurants though. There are plenty of people that aren't comfortable with meat, and I understand that. I always was the girl who had no problem with dissecting worms, so I know I'm a little bit of an outlier. Many of my friends and family members are vegetarian and vegan, so the reality is that a visit to some of these restaurants is in my future. There are some I look forward to going to, like Souen or Pure Food & Wine, but most of them are crappy food excused by sparing cute animals. It doesn't have to be this way. I love Pure Food & Wine's fruit and nut based dishes and Souen's emphasis on seaweed and pumpkin. At each place it's possible to get a meal free of bloaty soy, fried industro-oils, and crampy wheat. Vegans and paleo dieters can dine together, restaurants just have to be more innovative and not just serve fried soy and gluten blobs.