Do you want to eat local grassfed pastured meat, but you have trouble finding it? Grassfed meat is much healthier than the average meat at your grocery store, but it can be hard to track down at your local farmer's market. A CSA, community-supported agriculture program, is a great way to get great meat consistently. It's also very convenient for busy people- instead of getting up early and going to the farmer's market, you can pick up your meat once a week.
I'm already a member of The Piggery, which is sold out, but there is a new meat CSA in NYC you should check out. High Point Farms does beef, dairy, pork, and eggs. They drop off at an excellent local bar, Jimmy's No. 43.
While I've enjoyed eating mostly local meat this winter, I'm very excited to see fresh early spring foods at the farmer's market. My new favorite are ramps, which are a tiny wild leek with a tiny season. They can be hard to find, but in Manhattan Union Square Market has then for $3 a bunch. Milder than most other members of the allium family, ramps taste a little to me like a more savory and succulent version of garlic. Ramps are all flavor with none of garlic's harsh tones. The Spotted Pig does an excellent braise of them with rabbit, but they work well with nearly any meat and are simple to cook.
Here I drew on asparagus, another extremely delicious early-spring vegetable that has the magical ability to become crispy and absorb the flavors of the fat it is cooked with. That meat was my farmer friend's homemade pancetta, which was made with the best black peppercorns I have ever tasted. I sauteed the asparagus and pancetta in The Piggery's lard, then added the finely sliced white parts of the ramps. Once the asparagus was browned, I added some local wine for a splash of acidity, but you can add lemon juice or some good vinegar. Then I added the sliced green leaf tops of the ramps with a smattering of herbs grown on my windowsill. When everything looked nice and tender, I put it in a bowl and topped with ghee and sea salt. If you do dairy this would have been excellent with a good shaved cheese.
The whole dish is amazing- brown crispy asparagus flavored with the smoked pancetta, which was also crispy and melted in my mouth. The ramps added a whole new dimension of savory flavor to an already wonderful dish. Go get them before they are gone! It's not like you can buy them imported from Peru in December.
100% Local. 100% Delicious.
BTW if you are looking for paleo-friendly eats in NYC, don't forget to check out my new paleo map. It's in beta, so contact me if you have any additions.
Whenever an article about the paleo diet is published in a major newspaper, at least one commenter expresses dismay that paleo dieters don't realize that humans are adapted to grains and milk. That's a misconception on several levels. First of all, plenty of us are educated enough to know that genetic adaptations can occur rapidly. I remember in high school when I first read The Beak of The Finch, which is about the finches in the Galapagos islands and how their populations genetically respond rapidly to changes in the environment. It takes down the myth that evolution is slow and can't be observed.
In that case, why are we still talking about what our ancestors eat as if it matters? Well, so far the evidence is that some adaptations have occurred in some populations response to neolithic food. Genetic evidence shows that most of the population in modern societies is descended from agriculturalists who had been farming for several thousand years. Clearly, our ancestors were very much able to survive on diets of grains and dairy.
I was just reading this scientific paper, Demeter's Legacy, which is free online and a fascinating read. Yes, there are two major genetic adaptations in agriculturalist populations. One improves the digestion of starch and the other of dairy. Great, we can eat these foods and reproduce. Yay, but it doesn't mean that we are completely adapted to them. There are plenty of foods that are digestible for everyday needs, but damaging in the long term. It's up to us to do the research and figure out if foods are really worth it. I ate bread for most of my life and felt OK, but life for me is not just about surviving, but about thriving. It's important to remember that even though adaptations have occurred, the vast majority of our genes were forged before agriculture.
And for people descended from more recent hunter-gatherers, neolithic foods are even more devastating.
I created a list that I am currently still adding foods to which outlines some pros and cons of various foods from the paleo viewpoint. I think foods should be judged on their merits and there is no "one true" paleo diet...there can't be, since last time I checked I couldn't get wild antelope at the grocery store. It's about learning from the wisdom of the past and choosing food based on those principles, not reenactment.
Perhaps this post officially launches me into crazy territory, but hear me out- while this may seem trivial, it has made a difference in my life and perhaps it could in yours. I would hope this issue gets more attention in the future so more studies can be done.
Why am I doing a post about bras? Well, a few months ago I was hit by terrible neck and back pain. Coincidentally, at this time my friend confessed to me that just doesn't wear a bra, which I never even noticed because of the type of clothes she wears. I did some research and found that they can cause back and shoulder strain.
OBJECTIVE: To determine the part played by drag on the pectoral girdle muscles of women in the production of pain in these muscles from breast weight being carried at the shoulders through the brassiere straps. DESIGN: When patients presented with pain in the pectoral girdle musculature, breast weight was recorded. The sites of pain and tenderness were also recorded because tenderness in the trapezius has been shown to correlate well with muscle ischemia. The patient was then asked if she would be willing to remove breast weight from the shoulders for two weeks, as a trial, to see whether pain was relieved. The Student t test was used to determine whether breast weight was significant in producing symptoms and signs in the pectoral girdle musculature and, if so, where these sites were located. SETTING: Private surgical practice with patients initiating the consultation randomly. INTERVENTION: Removal of breast weight from the shoulders for a period of 2 weeks. The choice of method was left to the patient. Most chose brassiere removal; only one patient chose a strapless brassiere. RESULTS: Presence or absence of muscle pain after the trial period. Long-term outcome was presence or absence of muscle pain and tenderness. Seventy-nine percent of patients decided to remove breast weight from the shoulder permanently because it rendered them symptom free.
With my sedentary job, the last thing I need is extra strain. So I pretty much just stopped wearing them. I'm a 100 lb woman and well...let's just say I'm not really hanging out much (unlike some lucky people, when I lost weight on paleo I lost much of it in my breasts). I also own some shelf bra tanks and dresses and figured those were OK since they don't seem to prevent me from moving naturally. Thinking back, my old bras did. When I was slightly overweight I started wearing bras with tight straps, tough protective cups, and hard under-wires. I don't really need them any more, if I ever did. They made me look great in a t-shirt, but I don't wear much of those anymore.
My back pain is totally gone and I actually feel much more comfortable overall. My body seems to cool itself better too and this is very important to me because I don't do well in hot weather. I own some shirts that look...umm, questionable without a bra and am considering buying some minimalist cover ups so that everyone in the entire world doesn't see my nipples (most of Austria and Finland has already seen them thanks to their obligatory nude saunas).
In some ways the breasts are like testicles- they hang away from the body and in a state of nature would naturally be cooler than the rest of the body. Plenty of research has linked tighty whities to testicular issues. The NYTimes was really dismissive of the idea that bras could be linked to cancer, but there really isn't much research on the subject.
Some studies show sports bras prevent tenderness during exercise, but maybe having breasts that are like delicate hothouse flowers is a BAD idea. In Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives author Wenda Trevathan theorizes "Excessive breast tenderness and associated pain with breast feeding may well be products of modernization and the over-protection of women's breasts from exposure. It seems unlikely that this would have been a problem in the past when women wore nothing across their breasts or covered them loosely." Many modern women have pain when they try to breastfeed and give up. In the paleolithic this would have been maladaptive to say the least, since it wasn't like they could go to the grocery store and pick up some formula for the poor starving baby.
There is also NO evidence that not wearing a bra leads to ptosis, AKA breast sagging, although it can certainly mask it.
If you can wear a camisole with just a little support instead of a giant super duper protection system, why not? I understand many women have, um, larger issues at hand, and I do have the luxury of working at a place where half the women are braless... but if you are having back/shoulder pain, it's an option to explore. Thinking evolutionarily to solve health problems is an approach I strongly believe in, but in the end it's about making your own life better, not following any rigid "paleo" principles.
"Breasts were fine before the invention of the brassiere. ... This is similar to the myth that women supposedly need corsets to support their stomach muscles...wearing a bra...has no medical necessity whatsoever. ... Except for the women who find bras especially comfortable or uncomfortable, the decision to wear or not wear one is purely aesthetic — or emotional ... If you don't enjoy it, and job or social pressures don't force you into it, don't bother. ... A mistaken popular belief maintains that wearing a bra strengthens your breasts and prevents their eventual sagging. But you sag because of the proportion of fat and tissue in your breasts, and no bra changes that. ... If you don't like wearing a bra, don't wear one." Dr Susan Love
If something's worth doing...it's worth doing. A commenter told me that they want to go paleo, but they are post veg*n and still have an aversion to all things fatty. I was there. But any paleo-style diet is going to be beneficial and the great thing about paleo is that it's fairly flexible. On Free The Animal, Erwan Le Corre talked about his original diet, which was fish, tubers, fruits, and vegetables. He now eats all kinds of meat fatty delicacies.
Luckily, I just organized my photo collection in Picasa and I have a great record of my early forays into paleo:
Macadamia nut salad with pickled ginger
Microwaved wild salmon filet with vegetables and feta
Scary mini fridge
No wonder I was often hungry and cheated often, but in retrospect it's possible to do a low-fat paleo diet as long as you load up on the carbs and are careful to get enough calories.
I simply didn't know how to cook, I had never eaten many vegetables before, I had never eaten fish....AND I didn't have a kitchen at all. I just had a minifridge and a microwave. The earliest experience was just trying to eat clean and to expose myself to new foods by taking cooking classes, reading, and going to the farmer's market every Saturday morning. The first time I tried to cook meat I had no idea what to buy. I bought some sausages because that seemed easy to cook, but in the microwave they turned into a greasy mess and I threw them away. I ended up eating out a lot, though I tried to make my meals in restaurants as paleo as possible.
I think what's interesting about my experience was that restaurants played a big role in introducing me to new foods. At a nice restaurant I would try to order many new foods. They were cooked with great expertise, so I had positive experiences from the get-go. I remember pretty vividly my first lamb shank- it was at a small lovely tapas place in Champaign, IL. It was cooked in wine, which is a great way to "cut" the greasy flavor, and it melted tenderly in my mouth. It's been several years since then and 2009 was the first time I attempted lamb shank myself. In NYC I've finally completely embraced fat, but it's the first time I've had things like pork belly or lard. Guess I was finally ready.
If you eat well and expose yourself to new things, your diet will evolve into the direction you need. In did the paleo diet "wrong"- tons of fruit, massive amounts of nuts, and very little fat. My cheat meals were very scary. I sometimes ate whole jars of almond butter. I STILL felt better and was able to eventually remove those habits as my diet broadened. The goodness or badness of a diet is relative. Start with what you know you can do better and move from there. In the meantime, read good food writers like Jeffrey Steingarten, take a class on cooking a new dish, visit or volunteer on some farms, and enjoy a beautiful summer day at a farmer's market near you...or a winter's day at a good indoor food market where things like oysters and ham glow tantalizingly in the glass cases.
Edit: What's in my fridge now? Marrow bones, goat shanks, my farmer friend's homemade pancetta and lardo, wild rabbit, boar flank steak, some lemons, smoked wild salmon, lard, a jar of bones for stock, asparagus, and there are some mangoes on the kitchen table. Plus the herbs and lettuce on the windowsill. I haven't gone to the grocery store much this week, but I did make it to the butcher, so it's been a carnivorous one. I had not idea what any of these things were or how to eat them back when the old pictures were taken, but now I sure do love them! The main things that are gone from my fridge are bagged lettuce/spinach and almond butter.
Really easy to find at your local garden shop or next to your sofa!
I don't understand why so many paleo dieters neglect to consume cycads. They have been a part of our diet since the stone age and numerous hunter-gatherer tribes enjoy them. I hear that their starch goes really well in a puree of herbs with salmon. Making them is REALLY simple too! First you take the pith from the trunk, roots, and seeds and grind them into a coarse flour in your Vitamix. Then you soak it for five days and wash it out carefully several times to remove toxic chemicals. Finally, bake it on some hot rocks or ferment for several days. If tribal people in the jungle can do it, you can too.
Scientists don't recommend eating this, as some nerve toxin and other assorted natural chemicals could remain, but we paleo dieters know that it's a perfectly good food that people have eaten for hundreds of thousands of years! In fact, it's so valuable to hunter-gatherers that women will spend hours and hours preparing it.
Unlike potatoes, which they did not eat and therefore they are really bad. I can't find any studies that show that potatoes cause arthiritis or anything, but if Grok didn't eat it, then it doesn't belong. Who knows what it could do it you?
Next time you are craving potatos, reach for your nearest house plants and start processing! Stone age foods are always good and neolithic foods are always bad!
*just kidding. There is nothing wrong with modeling your diet on evolutionary principles that posit that the stone age was when we were eating food we evolved to eat, but it's fairly shallow to think that everything that is neolithic is bad. Almost ALL our food is technically neolithic. We should evaluate each food scientifically in light of our evolution.
In the dim light, the red walls glowed the pictures of various delicious animals. Brown paper tablecloths were stained with tiny conspicuous spots of grease. We had waited a long time to be here, and we were rewarded with course after course of succulent meats with vegetables whose sole purposes were to soak up the salty fatty drippings that tasted of rich flavors- savory black pepper, piney rosemary, lemon, and garlic. Of course the meats were delicious, but what the meat did to the vegetables was even more impressive. Ramps wilted in brothy sauce melted in my mouth. Asparagus fried in lard had been morphed into a pork rind-like delicacy that crunched pleasantly as it dissolved into fat. The waitress asked if we wanted dessert- we ordered another plate of ham.
The rich flavors of that night haunted me for days, until I bought some asparagus and fried it in lard with my friend's home-cured pancetta, garlic, black pepper, and a splash of lime juice since I had run out of lemons. It was incredible and I can't wait to make it again.
It is in these moments that I'm glad I didn't chose the paleo diet's rival- the low fat diets of Ornish and his ilk. With both high-fat and low-fat diets getting similar results in studies, I don't see any reason to give up my fatty treats in favor of bowls of barley and steamed carrots. My stomach is flat and free of pains it suffered with I ate loads of gluten and sugar every day, avoiding fat like the plague.
Sometimes I miss things like the cinnamon rolls in Sweden or the buttery biscuits from my native land, but on a low-fat diet I would have had to give up these....AND bacon/pancetta/lardo/fatty steaks/lamb shank. Yeah right. Life is too short for eating rabbit food. Maybe I'm just too much of a foodie, but how can a diet that purports to improve the quality of your life exclude the best foods in the entire world?
I'm glad I saw this great post about growing your own "salad bowl." A couple of weeks ago I had bought some lettuce seedlings on a whim and put them in a pot on the windowsill. They weren't doing so awesome and I was thinking of throwing them away, but this video gave me hope. A few days later they recovered and tonight I harvested a small salad. It's not a lot, but it was crisp, fresh, and tasty. The plants should keep yielding for awhile if I just pick a few outer leaves each time. Bonsai lettuce...
I also have a few pots of herbs. In Sweden when I needed herbs they sold the actual plants in the produce section, which would last for a week or more if you took care of them. Here they sell them in cut bundles, already wilting and just as expensive. Good thing growing them yourself is easy, but I guess I'm lucky- some city folk don't have a good South facing window like I do.
Bagged salad isn't much better than those wilted herbs. And who knows where it's from or what kind of fertilizer they used? I took my lettuce leaves, a spring of parleys, and poured melted bone marrow, lemon juice, and capers over them. I sprinkled the salad with salt and pepper...it was delicious!
" We are Paleo hunters; only truly ALIVE in these moments when we improvise; no schedule, just small surprises & stimuli frm envrmnt. If you know, in the morning, what your day looks like with any precision, you are a little bit dead -the more precision, the more dead." - Nassim Taleb
We live in a culture were "unplanned" is a derogatory adjective. Into The Wild devotes some time to adventurers besides Chris McCandless who were criticized in death for their "foolhardy" unplanned ventures into the wilderness. You need a plan- a life plan, a shopping plan, and a diet plan to name a few. If you don't have one, you are probably irresponsible and immature.
Well, I don't have a plan. I don't know what I'm eating tomorrow. I have lost every shopping list I've made. This was originally unintentional and I've often felt guilty about it. I've often thought that my life would be better if I had "healthy habits." Lots of diet books and magazines have little pink bullet point lists with banal little habits you can oh so virtuously build- drink lots of water, pack your gym bag before work, snack on nuts, blah blah blah
It's a tyranny that makes us hothouse flowers. People are grumpy because their sleep got interrupted by barking dogs or they forgot to eat their oatmeal for breakfast.
Hasn't anyone stopped to think that people managed quite well for millions of years without worrying about their bedtime, how many apples they needed to buy, or regular mealtimes? In fact, perhaps people are quite well adapted for randomness.
The evidence seems to be to that effect. Not many people do well on rigid diets that require lots of planning. We can't do much about living in a world where many of us are forced to have routines, but we can control the diet part.
It's really impossible for us to understand the existence of paleolithic peoples, but of the remaining hunter-gatherer cultures we can see they have no bedtimes, supper times, or balanced meals. They eat what is there. They eat what the chaotic natural environment provides them. The gods are fickle and sometimes fain to dole out success. The animals they hunt are cunning and able to use supernatural powers to disappear into the thick foliage. At night, the rustlings in the trees and the stirring of relatives talking late into the night by the fire fade in and out. But really, we don't know much besides they probably didn't have a plan. They didn't need one. Things just were.
I don't know what I will eat tomorrow. Perhaps I will decide to eat breakfast, but probably not. I'll go to the farmer's market and get what appeals to me for lunch. Sometimes my meals look wildly unbalanced. Some days I eat only meat, others only plants, but most are in between. There is so much that even the sparse and unnatural environs of the city can provide to a pseudo forager.
I remember my time in Sweden. I never had much of a schedule there, not even my classes had a real schedule. Some weeks entomology was on a Wednesday at 8 in a random spot in the woods, others it was on Monday at 1 PM in the ecology building. I often went out foraging in the woods on a whim. Some days I had nothing, other days I was greeted by a rare glade of prized berries.
People in the North of Sweden are especially fond of berries and will spend inordinate amounts of time searching for treasures like arctic raspberries or cloudberries. You can't cultivate them, though many have tried. Make Prayers To The Raven describes how the arctic Koyoukon tribe prized the exact same berries as the Lapplander. How can you not? There is something very basically appealing about them with their jewel-like colors contrasting against the dark moss. You never know what they will taste like either. Some cloudberries are very bitter, others sweet like candy.
Occasionally I do an analysis on my diet just out of curiosity. But I know better than to look at days, an arbitrary delineation for diet. I like at averages over the week and they are excellent despite bizarre meals at odd times and the very unplanned intermittent fasting I do.
You don't need a diet plan. Eat real foods that a hunter-gatherer would eat. Be an opportunist.That's not a plan, it's a simple maxim that doesn't tell you which foods to eat or when to eat them. If you are really following the spirit of this and exposing yourself to a wealth of good foods, your diet will be fairly diverse, but don't worry if it isn't yet. My first year of paleo was lots of salmon and spinach salads, but now I eat offal and tiny bone-in fish.
Unfortunately in this day and age, some thought is required to get this exposure, whether it be from reading about food or going to a farmer's market or other similar rich environment. We don't have the elders to show us the good foods and teach us how to prepare it. We don't have the woodlands with their strange giving and taking ways- chanterelles one day and stringing nettles the next. We will have to strive, but we don't need a plan.