If you like shrews, especially if you like them parboiled, you'll want to devour a 1994 study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Called Human Digestive Effects on a Micromammalian Skeleton, it explains how and why one of its authors – either Brian D Crandall or Peter W Stahl; we are not told which – ate and excreted a 90mm-long (excluding the tail, which added another 24mm) northern short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda).
This was, in technical terms, "a preliminary study of human digestive effects on a small insectivore skeleton", with "a brief discussion of the results and their archaeological implications". Crandall and Stahl were anthropologists at the State University of New York in Binghamton. The shrew was a local specimen, procured via trapping at an unspecified location not far from the school. For the experiment's input, preparation was exacting. After being skinned and eviscerated, the report says, "the carcass was lightly boiled for approximately 2 minutes and swallowed without mastication in hind and fore limb, head, and body and tail portions".
Here's how Crandall and Stahl handled the output: "Faecal matter was collected for the following 3 days. Each faeces was stirred in a pan of warm water until completely disintegrated. This solution was then decanted through a quadruple-layered cheesecloth mesh. Sieved contents were rinsed with a dilute detergent solution and examined with a hand lens for bone remains." They then examined the most interesting bits with a scanning electron microscope, at magnifications ranging from 10 to 1,000 times.
A shrew has lots of bony parts. All of them entered Crandall's gullet, or maybe Stahl's. But despite extraordinary efforts to find and account for each bone at journey's end, many went missing. One of the major jawbones disappeared. So did four of the 12 molar teeth, several of the major leg and foot bones, nearly all of the toe bones, and all but one of the 31 vertebrae. And the skull, reputedly a very hard chunk of bone, emerged with what the report calls "significant damage".
The vanishing startled the scientists. Remember, they emphasise in their paper, that this meal was simply gulped down: "The shrew was ingested without chewing; any damage occurred as the remains were processed internally. Mastication undoubtedly damages bone, but the effects of this process are perhaps repeated in the acidic, churning environment of the stomach."
Chewing, they almost scream at their colleagues, is only part of the story. In each little heap of remains from ancient meals, there be mystery aplenty. Prior to this experiment, archaeologists had to, and did, make all kinds of assumptions about the animal bones they dug up, especially what those partial skeletons might indicate about the people who presumably consumed them. Crandall and Stahl, through their disciplined lack of mastication, have given their colleagues something toothsome to think about.
The human stomach was more capable at digesting bones than they expected. This isn't terribly surprising to me, as many cultures consume whole bone-in animals and there is plenty of archaeological evidence for this. Here's a bit from John Speth's book:
Well-preserved prehistoric human coprolites (feces) recovered in large numbers from dry caves throughout western North America are full of pulverized bone fragments, including pieces of broken skulls, as well as fur and feathers, indicating that rodents, rabbits, birds, lizards, snakes, and amphibians were often cooked whole, pounded in a wooden mortar or on a milling stone, and then consumed in their entirety – bones, fur, feathers, and all, including the precious DHA in the brains (Reinhard et al. 2007; Sobolik 1993; Yohe et al. 1991).
It would appear that the Desha people at Dust Devil Cave ate rabbit legs more-or-less whole, then pounded the rest of the carcass before eating it... The consumption of wood rats (Neotoma spp.), also known as pack rats, has been noted ethnographically. They were regarded as good food by the Yaqui (Spicer, 1954: 49), constituted a staple for all tribes along the lower Colorado River (Castetter & Bell, 1951: 217), and many were eaten by the Tohono O’Odham. The Cocopah set fire to their nests, clubbing the rats as they emerged, undoubtedly fragmenting some bone in the process.
In the past, there was perhaps more focus on big game hunting. And while big game bones are nice, they are harder to process than little animal bones. Primates have probably been digesting little bones for much longer than they have been breaking open larger bones for marrow. Excessive focus on big game has led to ignoring the contribution of small game to human nutrition, which has also led to the misconception that women don't hunt since some anthropologists classified small game hunting as gathering.
It would be interesting to know if other primates can also digest bone. Chimpanzees seem to degrade the bones of other primates they hunt and consume (PDF). Salad lovers might be interested to know that when chimpanzees consume a meal of meat, they consume it with leaves.
It would also be fascinating to know if humans process the same ability as some other carnivores to use animal parts as de-facto fiber and ferment it into SCFA.
At some point in human evolution, humans developed technology to extract nutrients from bones more efficient than their own stomaches, which is referred to as "grease processing" in many archaeological papers, but is close to what we do in making broths today. It is understandable why humans developed this, considering a meaty meal for a chimpanzee can take nearly the entire day to consume. Frankly, while I like a 6-hour tasting menu sometimes, I don't have time for that very often.
But today, could many humans handle bone? With dietary and medical factors like widespread use of proton pump inhibitors reducing acidity of the digestive tract, are we losing this capability?
For the record, I have never eaten a whole rodent bones and all, though I have eaten many small whole bony fish. There is some indication that humans degrade fish bones more completely, leading to their relative scarcity in coprolites and underestimation of their importance in diet.
Perhaps whole rat eating is becoming trendy again though, a posh rat dinner was featured in the New York Times recently.
I found this excellent little place called Wisma at the French Market near my office. They caught my eye because their salad dressings are made with olive oil and they have grass-fed free range meat.
The problem? Their salads. And I find this is a common problem at many restaurants. Because by the logic of these restaurants, if you want salad, it must mean you are into "health food." And if you are into "health food" you must be watching the fat content and definitely you don't want any evil red meat or anything.
The result is I often look at the sandwich menus at restaurants and my mouth waters, but the salads are kind of blah. At Wisma you can get a salad with meat, but it's skinless boneless chicken breast. It's not bad, especially since the dressing is so good and it comes with parmesan cheese, but I have to buy extra dressing.
Meanwhile in sandwich land, there is Q7 Ranch roast beef and blue cheese. Wouldn't that be awesome on a salad?
Also, wouldn't it be awesome if they could expand their range of gluten-free entrees by using corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas? I think anyone who is into Mexican food would agree corn tortillas are better anyway and there are many excellent local places in Chicago that hand-make them.
But the good thing about frequenting local businesses is that regular customers often do have an influence, so I definitely plan on asking them about whether they can offer salads for people who like to eat, a group I was informed I am part of when I was at Au Cheval and I ordered two types of liver pate.
Speaking of Chicago, I definitely recommend checking out this blog called From Belly to Bacon no matter where you live. It contains recipes for pork skin noodles and pickled nasturtium buds.
Wait, based on some news articles I've read lately, I thought non-celiac wheat sensitives were a bunch of wilting prima donnas intent on eating an annoying hipster diet that excludes wheat, an important nutrient that people have been eating for a really long time or something like that. And since their diet excludes sandwiches and pizza, they must be UnAmerican.
But in the medical research community, there is growing recognition that non-celiac wheat sensitivity is a real thing that affects quality of life and even mortality risk when it leads to intestinal inflammation. Stephan Guyenet posted about the last promising study.
This new study is very interesting, but highlights some limitations in dealing with problems like this. This study was on patients who already had been through the wringer test-wise and all had
- IBS-like symptoms (Rome II criteria)
- Negative serum anti-transglutaminase (anti-tTG) and anti-endomysium (EmA) IgA antibodies (the common blood tests for celiac)
- Negative duodenal histology (absence of intestinal villous atrophy)- requires a biopsy
- Negative IgE-mediated immuno-allergy tests to wheat (skin prick tests and serum-specii c IgE — RASTs).
- Resolution of the symptoms on gluten-free diet and their reappearance on double-blind placebo controlled wheat challenge, which means neither the person nor the patient knew whether or not they were giving or receiving a placebo
Um, how many people here with IBS have ever been offered this standard of care? Anyone had a doctor who offered to supervise a double-blind placebo controlled wheat challenge? Maybe things are different in Italy.
Once they were in this study, these patients got more tests including biopsies of the duodenum and colon, HLA genotyping, as well as skin-prick and blood tests. Then these people had to eat a minimum quantity of wheat daily as they were observed. Then they did a regular elimination diet that excluded wheat, cow's milk, eggs, tomato, and chocolate. Then they got to do a fun exciting double-blind placebo controlled wheat challenge again.
Wheat challenge was performed administering a daily dose 13 g of flour, equal to about 20 g of bread. A total of 12 capsules daily were given subdivided in three times daily, away from meals. DBPC for cow’s milk was performed by administering capsules coded as A or B containing milk proteins (casein from bovine milk, lactoalbumin, lactoglobulin – daily dose 6 g, equal to about 200 ml of cow’s milk) or xylose, respectively. A total of 6 capsules daily were given subdivided in three times daily, away from meals.
Patients used a survey to track their symptoms. They used celiac disease and IBS patients without wheat sensitivities as controls.
Among those who were wheat sensitive, a high number of them tested positive on the cytomteric basophil activation test, and many also tested positive for serum IgG and IgA AGA tests. Many of these patients suffered from anemia and weight-loss. Biopsies showed eosinophil infiltration of the duodenal and colon mucosa.
, despite not having the type of villous atrophy damage associated with celiac.
There seemed to be two groups of IBS wheat-sensitive patients- those with wheat sensitivity alone and those with wheat sensitivity AND multiple other sensitivities to cow's milk and other foods. The later group was also more likely to also have other types of allergies (non-food allergies, skin allergies, etc.) and a family history of allergies.
Further studies will have to look more into the mechanism in which wheat causes damage in these patients. The researches propose one mechanism in their conclusion
Obviously, other hypotheses must be considered; experimental models have demonstrated that gluten sensitization of DQ8 mice increases acetylcholine release by the myenteric plexus and this can lead to consequent in vivo dysmotility ( 27 ). In this model, gluten did not cause villous atrophy, but there was evidence that coexistent triggers, e.g., intestine-damaging drugs or dysbacteriosis, can lead to a more severe intestinal impairment ( 28 ). Clearly, wheat antigens may also act in a similar manner.
Acetylcholine is responsible for ahem, moving things along, so it might explain why wheat causes diarrhea in some people.
Also, it is notable that this study used wheat rather than gluten, so it might be other components of wheat like fructans that are responsible for the symptoms.
The researchers say
the very high frequency of self-reported wheat intolerance, which we observed in our patients, should induce clinicians to pay full attention to patient suggestions
I wonder how long it will take the average doctor to catch on?
While it seems like every other blogger was at the Ancestral Health Symposium, I was moving boxes and crappy furniture to my new apartment. That wasn't much fun, but I try to think of moving as an opportunity to reevaluate what you own. One of the things I owned was a pair of nice velvet ballet flats. I'd had them since high school, but since my feet seem to have shrunk I haven't worn them very much because they only fit with thick socks and if it's thick sock season I probably need to be wearing boots. Unfortunately I recently was invited to attend an event where my regular warmer weather shoes, which are sandals or my badly worn out wonder gloves (next time I'll get black or hope they make some darker colors), are just not appropriate.
Why the hell do I care so much about shoes anyway? Well, when you have a standing desk and walk 1-3 miles every single day, shoes really make a difference. Unfortunately, in the past, it was thought that people who were active needed a lot of "support" from tank-like padded shoes. So many shoe options for active women (and men) are frankly ugly and not very healthy for building strong feet.
So when I saw a sale on these foldable Yosi Samra flats on Myhabit, which is one of those deal sites, I took a chance and bought them. I sized up after reading reviews on Amazon and they fit really quite well. They look nice and are comfortable, but I suspect they aren't very durable at all. Lately it's been raining a lot and when I wear them I wear my Shuellas, which are a lightweight rainboot cover, over them. Unfortunately, I don't find the Shuellas that comfortable and they sort of start to fall off sometimes because they seem to be made for pointy high heels.
I also think the non-sale price is a little expensive for something like this, but even if you don't chose this brand, I notice that a lot of sites are now selling "foldable flats" or "commuter flats" that are similar. They tend to be zero drop, have flexible soles, non-stiff toe boxes, and they fold which is cool for packing!
I really wanted the reptile and dinosaur print ones. It's cool those prints are fashionable now, because I really like them. But I also thought they would be also really not very versatile. I mean, I get away with wearing a lot of crazy things because I'm a techie, but now that I'm doing more business stuff, I have to look a little bit more "normal", which is sad.
Either way, I took the old non-fitting flats to the local thrift store, where they gave me $10 for them. I then looked at the shoe rack there and found some great totally-flat flexible non-toe-oppressive boots for $15. They are made by Blowfish and unfortunately they are discontinued, but it seems this brand has a bunch of great options. I always overlooked it because it seemed like they were made for people who live in places with nicer weather than Chicago or NYC, but since I have my excellent water-resistant breathable Vivo Barefoot and flexible water-resistant Cushe heavy winter boots that have held up well from previous years, I figure I could add a medium-weight boot to my closet, especially since I really like the style of these and they will go well with my steampunky/Victorian-ish closet.
Sadly there were some shoes that didn't make it through the move. I couldn't really take my Footskins that I reviewed here before to the thrift store even because they were so beat up. They took a beating because I frequently wore them running and at Crossfit. I wonder if they would have lasted longer with some better moccasin oiling, but in the end they had holes on them and I had repaired them so many times that they didn't stitch together very well. Oh well, they lasted around two years, which isn't too bad for a shoe that is worn so much and for heavy activity.
Well, my new apartment is pretty great. It's really the first non-significantly flawed dwelling I've lived in many years. It has more than one room. It has windows that get some sunlight in. No roaches. A kitchen that fits more than one person in it! Nothing is falling apart! These are luxuries to me. The main flaw this time is me- I am too short to reach probably about 50% of the cabinets here. Maybe I'll get a roommate...a tall roommate. But in the meantime, I look forward to cooking a lot more and having people over to eat, which was impossible in my last apartment since it only had one room and no table. Also I am developing better sleep habits, but more on that later.
The internet is full of vegetarian and vegan websites claiming meat is bad because it "rots" in your colon. This is actually a very old idea, tracing back in the United States to neo-puritan vegetarian movements obsessed with the uncleanliness of the colon. According to folks like John Harvey Kellogg, the colon, like the genitalia, was a source of uncleanliness, so it must be bombarded by as much harsh fiber as possible and regular enemas to keep it "clean."
But his philosophy, which seems quite dysfunctional today, was a reaction to another idea that was popular during this time: that the colon was a useless vestigial remnant used to store garbage before clearance. Taken to its extreme, it led to a brief fancy by surgeons like Sir William Arbuthnot Lane to simply just remove the colons of people who suffered from constipation, believing it was nearly useless anyway. Colon removals are still performed today, but mainly in truly serious cases of damage such as severe inflammatory bowel disease.
Kellogg also believed it was a garbage dispenser, but he thought it was very important to keep it as clear and clean as possible, ideally eliminating after every single meal.
The truth is that the colon is not a garbage dispenser, it is a rich and biodiverse ecosystem in which much of the intestinal microbiota resides. And nature abhors a waste, so if a food makes it into the colon, there will probably be something eager to eat it. I suppose "rot" could be an uncharitable way to view it, as these remnants are degraded by bacteria, producing a variety of harmful, harmless, and beneficial byproducts that can play important roles in human health. If we are going to view things in such a negative light, it's worth thinking about how when you die and your immune system flat-lines forever, this bacteria will be on the front lines for rotting you. But for now, it's our very own internal composting system.
our colon is more like a composting bin than a trash can
Being a rich, full ecosystem, some bacteria in the colon even feed primarily on the byproducts of other bacteria in the colon, which is known as cross-feeding.
These bacteria will consume basically anything that the small intestine does not absorb. In humans compared to other primates, the small intestine is enlarged and the colon is diminished, indicating that humans evolved to consume more foods that are readily absorbed by the small intestine. In other primates, like the gorilla for example, the small intestine is much smaller and the colon is much much larger. Gorillas, who eat a diet of mainly rough leaves and pith that the small intestine would not be able to absorb, get most of their energy (around 60%) from bacterial degradation to short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) in the colon.
Humans can also get energy from SCFA, probably as much as 9%, though this data suffers from the fact that most of it comes from Western populations. Recent studies on more diverse populations shows that other groups of people have very different gut bacterial populations, which might allow them to extract more energy from colonic fermentation. Overall, in humans SCFA are less important as an energy source, but retain an important role in controlling inflammation and gut integrity.
In the opposite circles of the "meat will rot in your colon" crowd, there is the idea that if you remove carbohydrates, particularly complex carbohydrates, from the diet you can avoid some of the more noxious types of fermentation in the colon that may produce flatulence and diarrhea.
This works for some people, but fails for others, particularly over time. This is a testament to the plucky nature of our microbiome. There are plenty of bacteria in the colon more than eager to chomp on excess dietary iron and amino acids, among many other things which are present on low-carb diets as well.
This problem can be exacerbated when the small intestine is damaged, allowing nutrients that should be absorbed mainly by the small intestine into the colon. This seems to be a reason that iron supplementation sometimes fails to improve anemia and instead causes gastrointestinal problems. It is also perhaps the mechanism in which heme iron could lead to inflammation that is connected with colon cancer.
Small intestine dysfunction can also be caused by the overgrowth of bacteria that really belong in the large intestine and colon, known as Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).
On the other side, there is a worry that low-carb will lead to inflammation due to lowered SCFA production. Lucas Tafur has written that perhaps these studies did not last long enough for the ecosystem to adjust and cross-feed in order to produce SCFA.
There is also a need for more studies on different people from different cultures in order to fully capture the full capacities of the human microbiome. For example, some people have cellulose-degrading bacteria, others do not. In the future, perhaps a scan of individual gut biomes could help people figure out what diet is best for them.
So yeah, lots of things "rot" in your colon. And that's not a bad thing at all. That's exactly how the colon is supposed to work. It's not supposed to be squeaky clean and scoured with wheat bran, it's supposed to be a jungle. It's controlling the "bad" bacteria and their byproducts, as well as selecting for good bacteria and maintaining the integrity of the gut lining and the "gut brain" (our second brain) that really matters.
If you enjoyed this post, you'd probably like my series on the colon.
A new free-full text paper by Ian Spreadbury has been making the rounds lately. "Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity" is interesting because it is written through a distinctly Ancestral Health lens to provide a new framework for thinking about possible causes of Western disease.
For some time, many people in the Ancestral Health movement have blamed carbohydrates for various diseases of civilization, but over time, this idea has lost its hold and many writers in the movement now reject it. We perhaps have our own paradox- the "Kitavan paradox," which was probably the source for much of this questioning, particularly since so many paleo diet books in the past cited the Kitavan study and then told readers to restrict carbohydrates. This paper looks for reasons why
Despite food abundance and a clear overlap of macronutrients and glycemic index with Western diets, Kitavans are reported to possess leptin levels, fasting insulin, and blood glucose levels dramatically lower than those in Western populations deemed healthy, and appear to have a virtual absence of overweight, diabetes, and atherosclerotic disease.
What if it were something about grains per-se rather than carbohydrates? The paper describes how endotoxemia in the gut, particularly Lipopolysaccharide (LPS), can lead to systematic inflammation related to many elements of metabolic syndrome like leptin resistance. Endotoxins are part of the cell-wall in gram-negative bacteria such as E.Coli and Salmonella and they provoke an inflammatory response in many contexts. The idea here is that Western diets perhaps might increase endotoxemia by promoting growth of pathogenic bacteria and adding fuel to the fire by increasing intestinal permeability, allowing endotoxins to ply their inflammation across the entire body. He also mentions the fact that science is showing that this process occurs in the mouth as well, where modern diets promote "leaky teeth" aka gingivitis, which has convincing ties to metabolic syndrome (which pilot studies show a paleo diet might treat).
Unfortunately, we then develop another paradox because most of the studies on LPS in humans show that absorption is promoted by a high-fat diet. And as the paper notes, foraging peoples with higher fat diets do not seem impaired.
Spreadbury lays out a hypothesis that carbohydrates can be divided into two groups. Cellular carbohydrates, which are:
Tubers, fruits, or functional plant parts such as leaves and stems store their carbohydrates in organelles as part of fiber-walled living cells. These are thought to remain largely intact during cooking, which instead mostly breaks cell-to-cell adhesion. This cellular storage appears to mandate a maximum density of around 23% non-fibrous carbohydrate by mass, the bulk of the cellular weight being made up of water.
Then there are the acellular carbohydrates:
The acellular carbohydrates of flour,94 sugar and processed plant-starch products are considerably more dense. Grains themselves are also highly dense, dry stores of starch designed for rapid macroscopic enzymic mobilization during germination.95 Whereas foods with living cells will have their low carbohydrate density “locked in” until their cell walls are breached by digestive processes, the chyme produced after consumption of acellular flour and sugar-based foods is thus suggested to have a higher carbohydrate concentration than almost anything the microbiota of the upper GI tract from mouth to small bowel would have encountered during our coevolution.
And here we have another problem. Because archeologists continue to find earlier and earlier evidence of what was once considered advanced food processing, from pottery to grind stones. The foods that are characterized as "acellular"...well, how long have they been in the human diet? The paper mentions some of these finds, but says they were likely a small part of ancient diets, but that is far from a sure thing. We also have an ethnographical gap here in this chart:
Because you can see modern processed foods there, but nothing on indigenous "processed" foods. No chicha or poi or any of the variety of ground/fermented/pounded foods that many of these cultures consume. This is partially because there is very little data on these foods, which is unfortunate.
My prediction is that better accounting of indigenous diets will show that they consume more of the acellular carbohydrates than initially predicted by some. We also need ethnographical data that records everything consumed, even things that seem incidental like teas.
But I think we need to look further into the types of these consumed and other compounds they contain. Same for fatty foods.
An interesting thing here (thanks Stabby the Raccoon) is that studies show that orange juice, a accellular carbohydrate, reduces endotoxin load. Orange juice is one of those things you probably thought was healthy and then you realized it had sugar and it was "bad" and now people are rediscovering it again. But I think the sugar here is incidental, what is probably more interesting is the ability of antioxidants to suppress endotoxins. Wine and olive oil may have similar properties.
I was browsing The Human Food Project's website and came across a letter written by anthropologist Jeff Leach on low-carb diets:
In a series of elegant studies, Cani and colleagues ( 2-4) have shown that holding calories constant and varying macro levels of fat can induce low-grade metabolic endotoxemia which can lead to complications associated with cardiovascular health. As fat intake, so do serum levels of LPS and associated biomarkers. However, in high-fat diets with prebiotic oligosaccharides added (derived from chicory roots), serum levels of LPS drop, as do the metabolic markers of inflammation.
So it is also possible that prebiotics in indigenous diets also have a protective effect. So we shouldn't look so much perhaps at dividing carbohydrates into two categories, but tracing each type of carbohydrate to the type of bacterial environment it promotes.
Now n=1 time here, but I had gingivitis before I started eating better and it went away. And all the sudden it came back. And it was incredibly frustrating. Frustrating to the point that I even thought the problem might have been caused by the cavity-ridden guy I had started dating when my gums got bad again for giving me his lame mouth bacteria. I started supplementing a few things, notably K2, D3, and switched back to the flax oil that I had been using when my gums were better. The problem resolved and has not come back and my gums even survived the breakup with bad-teeth guy despite the fact I was eating mainly ice cream. So I don't know if for me, it was more about nutrients I needed to get rather than too much simple sugar.
In a weird turn of events, I have had two ancient-Roman inspired meals in the past month. It started when my friends and I decided to have a dinner party inspired by Apicius, an ancient Roman cookbook considered by some to be the first real cookbook. A translation is available for free online.
I procrastinated in planning my recipe and realized pretty quickly that this was not going to be particularly easy, since this book was written well before the Columbian Exchange, which brought Europe the gifts of tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers, which I use often in my normal cooking. I was forced to experiment. I settled on a sausage recipe, but being a procrastinator, I knew I wasn't going to be able to make actual sausage or to smoke anything:
LUCANIAN SAUSAGE [or meat pudding] ARE MADE SIMILAR TO THE ABOVE: CRUSH PEPPER, CUMIN, SAVORY, RUE, PARSLEY, CONDIMENT, LAUREL BERRIES AND BROTH; MIX WITH FINELY CHOPPED [fresh Pork] AND POUND WELL WITH BROTH. TO THIS MIXTURE, BEING RICH, ADD WHOLE PEPPER AND NUTS. WHEN FILLING CASINGS CAREFULLY  PUSH THE MEAT THROUGH. HANG SAUSAGE UP TO SMOKE.
I also found it rather hard to find savory, laurel, or rue, so I substituted elements from other recipes. I didn't know what "Condiment" was, but I assumed it had to do with the famous Roman "garum," a type of fish sauce made from fermenting fish guts. When I took Latin in high school, I remember thinking that I couldn't imagine eating something so absolutely disgusting. Little did I know I would fall in love with Southeast Asian cuisine and by 25 I would be putting fish sauce on everything. I didn't have to worry about finding fish sauce, because I already had my lovely Red Boat fish sauce, even if it isn't exactly like garum.
The annoying thing about making up recipes on the fly is that I never write them down, so when I stumble upon something amazing I have trouble replicating it. This is one of those cases, but I will try to remember.
I had pork belly already from The Butcher and The Larder. I put some cubes of frozen chicken stock on the bottom of the crock pot, put in the pork belly, poured in some apple cider to cover, and then started spicing. I believe I used black pepper (I was pretending to be a rich Roman), cumin, bay leaves, coriander, a small spoon of honey, and quite a bit of fish sauce and a touch of fig vinegar. I cooked it on low overnight. I like to cool it and then slice it thin so I can brown it in a cast-iron skillet, but I didn't have time. Obviously it crumbled with I tried to slice it, but whatever. I heated up some lard, added more black pepper, cumin, and mustard seeds, and browned the belly until nice and crispy, seasoning it with fish sauce to taste. I then reduced the leftover liquid and cooked some pitted sour cherries in it with more of the fig vinegar. For the final dish, I layered on fresh mint and parsley. It was amazingly delicious.
Obviously, I didn't take this picture. Thanks Jen Moran Photography!
Someday I hope to replicate this dish again, going from the basic premises I always start with, which are: salty, sweet, and sour. It was obviously a little lazy because pork belly is like my culinary trump card, a dish I have been doing over and over again for several years now, so any variation I do is usually good.
The rest of the dishes at the party also had some similar flavors.
Thanks Jen Moran Photography!
From the couple who brought us egg baos (who need to do a blog post on it and all their amazing recipes *hint hint*), was an incredibly rice risotto made with pine nuts in the foreground. Saffron-spiced chickpeas were also delicious and I was very surprised at how good the eggs with pickled fish sauce were. Even the dessert made with roast peaches and fish sauce was delicious. There were also lamb ribs, cooked lettuce salad, honey roasted nut tarts, and many other wonderful dishes.
So when Chicago Foodies announced a dinner at Balena also inspired by Apicius, a bunch of us signed up for that too, particularly since I had read of chef Chris Pandel's experiments with making his own garum.
The dinner was held in a cool wine-cellar looking lair and the chef announced he had pretty much followed Apicius' recipes as closely as possible, with no refined sugar, salt, or flour. All cooking was done in their wood-fired oven. Garum was to stand in for salt. He said he was trying to do a fairly average middle class meal. The drink pairings were pretty interesting too. One was a gruit beer. Gruit was the main bittering option in ancient beers, before hops became widespread. There has been revived interest in gruit, partially because scientists have discovered that hops are probably far more estrogenic than even soy. Some say that hops are an ancient lust-reducing reformation conspiracy. But the German beer laws that enshrined hops came before the reformation and beer usually doesn't have enough hops to make a difference. Either way, there are several gruits on the craft brew market at this point. I have tried the Fraoch Heather Ale and I think some of Dogfish's "Ancient Ales" series are also gruits. I know I've had the Finnish Sah'Tea, which uses juniper berries.
Another drink was a super concentrated wine with amaro, which was diluted with water, since this is also what was done in Rome too. To drink undiluted wine was barbaric.
The food was interesting to say the least, but there were definitely some things that looked more delicious than they actually were and the lack of salt was kind of off-putting. The gooey sweetbreads and the onion-filled lamb brain "patina", which was like an omelet, were not my favorite offal dishes and it took some wine to get them down. I like my sweetbreads grilled...with lots of salt. Same for the boiled turnips. Turnips just aren't as good as potatoes anyway.
I was very surprised with how much I liked the boiled honey leeks and raw mackerel, which was very fresh and not fishy like many mackerel dishes. The mushroom cups in garum had a wonderful umami flavor. And you can't go wrong with goat cheese and figs.
stuff quail, the lighting here wasn't good for many pictures.
The next course was stuffed quail, which had an excellent egg-fish sauce topping. I was not thrilled with the mullet in vinegar, which was very fishy. Parts of the boiled pigs head were good, but I did miss the salt.
For dessert we had sweet sausages stuffed with berries, which were a bit too sweet for me. But the best thing in the meal was definitely the sweet cheese custard with star anise and peaches.
My dining companions and I all agreed it would be hard to overeat this kind of food. Even though some of the dishes were a bit "Spartan," I respect the chef's choice to not embellish them much to show us what Roman food was probably like. In my own cooking, I was glad I was forced to explore other flavors instead of falling back on tomatoes and peppers. And I really like that the elements of Apician Roman food: organ meats, a variety of meat and seafood, fresh herbs, and fish sauce.
When it started to get extremely hot here in Chicago, I had to stop wearing my Merrell Wonder Gloves and find something new. Unfortunately, it got hot really quickly here this summer, so I basically had to shop for shoes like a normal person in a shoe instead of combing the internet to find the best minimalist option.
Never in a million years did I think I would buy Crocs, but as the store the "Sexi flip" was the clear winner. Ultra-flexible, zero-drop, full toe "freedom",and completely waterproof for those gross city puddles that eventually turn my Vibrams and Merells into disgusting smelly beige things. A little more padding than I would have liked, but overall I'm pretty happy with them and hope they will last longer than a lot of other minimalist summer options I have purchased in the past.
Because it's pretty versatile, I pretty much wear them everywhere. I am ashamed to say I wore them to a fancy cocktail bar here called the Aviary. But you can also wear them for shooting things in Wisconsin too!
I also did other Ron Swanson-ish stuff last week. I took a wood-working class at ReBuilding Exchange where I stupidly broke a drill bit and made a passable bench of some sort.
And I made it to one day of the Midwest Drupal Developer Summit, where I learned how to write a Simpletest, which I'm sure none of you care about
I have a bunch of other exciting things to write about, but lately I've been so busy because I'm moving to my first real actual apartment. I have my own apartment now, but it's a studio and kind of impossible to host awesome dinner parties in. My new apartment has an awesome kitchen and I am going to buy a fantastic table so I can have amazing feasts and nerd gaming parties.
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.
Cheeseslave wrote a post titled Top 10 Reasons I'm Not Paleo. Not surprisingly, it upset a lot of people. Which is funny, since it didn't exactly bother me. I'd love to see that furor directed against woo-bearing charlatans who call themselves "paleo" and mainstream media publications that make anyone who doesn't eat garbage look like a weirdo.
Either way, I don't need to write a long post about why I'm not paleo. I just need one bullet point. So here it is: the Top 1 Reason I'm Not Paleo:
- The Paleo diet was a tool I used to learn about applying evolutionary biology to modern health problems. It doesn't define me as a permanent lifestyle that focuses on identity and demonizing so-called "neolithic non-foods" like grains, which distracts from the real enemy, the processed industrial food industry that churns out nutritionless garbage designed to be addictive with no consideration for human, animal, or environmental welfare. I'm not "paleo," though I eat in a way informed by our evolution as a species.
I think defining your identity based on a diet is a bad idea. I had enough of that as a vegetarian and a vegan. And absolutism means your diet doesn't degrade gracefully. In web development, the concept of graceful degradation is an important one. It means you can develop fancy widgets for websites that are snazzy in the latest best web browser, but designed in a way that they are still functional even in an older or less capable web browser. Being committed to real whole food is a better rock to stand on than adherence to a "diet." It means that if I go out to eat I order home-made tamales or tacos rather than binging on processed pizza, soda, and candy.
Plus, I end up eating meat, fruits, seafood, and vegetables most of the time anyway. My favorite thing to say to people who say "Well, people have been eating bread for thousands of years!"
"Great! Got any three-day fermented einkorn bread? I'll gladly eat that."
Most of the time, the bread they have is store-bought and made with industrially processed bleached flours and tons of additives. Not healthy, not delicious, not worth it. Of course, I make exceptions. I suppose the 80-20 rule has fallen out of vogue, but for me it works quite well. Given I have none of the alleles associated with Celiac, do not test positive for it, and self-experiments show that gluten per-se has no effect on me, I do indulge in so-called "bad" food sometimes. But it's not a staple of my diet and I'll generally only have it if it's at a nice restaurant or in a foreign country.