I've written before on how the typical "paleo" paradigm didn't fix my digestive problems. That's because paleo divides things into good and bad in a somewhat arbitrary manner. The reality is that good and bad are relative to the functioning of your body and your individual biology. As Dr. Ayers said in his latest post:
This suggests that the problem is somehow in the intolerant person, even though there are no genes for food intolerance and very few cases of food intolerance result from an immune reaction. Food intolerance is actually the inability of an individual's incomplete gut flora to digest certain types of food.*
The question becomes whether or not you can figure out which foods you are intolerant of and then whether or not you can become more tolerant. Your malfunctioning gut bacteria probably don't care about whether or not a food is "paleo" or not.
This becomes clear now that an army of paleo cookbooks have been published that contain nut and coconut flours. My family has discovered the hard way that these flours can be quite harsh on the digestive system. My mother told me she reacted terribly to some coconut flour baked goods she made, but not to plain old bread. I found that I reacted to both about the same, which meant that both seemed to lead to cramping and bloating. That's not really surprising, since it seems fructans are my main enemy.
Almond and coconut are "paleo" ....why? Because they are not seeds (actually, they are technically seeds, which is pretty hilarious that people don't think of them as such) and grains? Even though there is ample evidence for seed and grain consumption in the actual Paleolithic. And almond and coconut share many of the properties that some "paleo" advocates claim are the problem with grains, such as high levels of phytic acids and potentially-reactive lectins and other proteins.
For example, Robb Wolf tweeted that he didn't think grains could be a "safe starch" because there are some papers on various immune-system reactions to them. But I can find papers on very similar reactions to our sacred cow. I'm sure in some parallel vegan circle-jerk twitterverse, Dr. Dean Ornish is tweeting those papers to confirm his follower's various biases, but as I wrote about sialic acid from meat, not everyone reacts this way. And in particular, I don't think healthy people are as likely to have such dysfunctional immune responses to food, but Westerners raised on crap in a "hygienic" environment are very vulnerable.
My mantra is that a sick person can react to ANYTHING. And a very healthy person can tolerate a lot of terrible things. I always like to remember the story of Mithridates VI of Pontus, who was so paranoid about being poisoned that he took small doses of various poisons in order to accustom his body to them (hormesis perhaps). When he was defeated by Pompey, he tried to commit suicide by poison, but couldn't because he was immune to what he had on hand. So he had to have his bodyguard execute him by sword. He is immortalized in an excellent poem by A. E. Housman
There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all the springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
–I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.
– A. E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad
I love the line "the many-venomed earth" and it's one that has struck with me often as I study science, along with Tennyson's "Nature, red in tooth and claw" from In Memoriam.
Interestingly, through self-experimentation I've found that I do not just OK, but much better eating things made with rice and certain pseudograins. My skin improves when I eat finely sifted fermented buckwheat (a pseudograin) and I have much more energy and digestive stability when I have some rice in my diet.
I also think some of these gluten-free grain-free things are pretty much torture to cook, requiring all kinds of fruit/vegetable purees or five million eggs to produce something even somewhat appetizing. And I don't have any particular interest in eating things that are only somewhat appetizing unless they are exceptionally nutritious.
Sometimes I get asked what my diet is like and that's a hard question to answer. I'll go through periods where I cook some particular ingredient over and over again, and then I kind of forget about it for awhile. It's like that with buckwheat for me. Perhaps the craving has something to do with buckwheat being particularly rich in magnesium?
Lately, one of my favorite meals is buckwheat pancakes with delicious toppings. My method for making buckwheat pancakes is that I sift the flour and then soak it for a day in sour whey or sour cream. Then I mix in an egg and cook it in fat of some sort. This one I topped with bacon-wrapped elk, REAL lingonberries (not the jam from IKEA, I bought them frozen at Erickson's Delicatessen and they are very sour, so they work very well with savory dishes), and seaweed.
* I also agree with Mat Lalonde that reactions to specific proteins can be an issue, though the two things are somewhat interconnected
I've been wearing minimalist/barefoot type shoes to exercise in for a few years now. But the thing is that I live a pretty active lifestyle on a day to day basis. In my urban environment, I often walk anywhere from 2000 to 8000 steps a day, involving climbing lots of stairs and sometimes running so I don't miss the train.
So I like to have an everyday shoe that has the same qualities as the shoes I wear to Crossfit/run. Unfortunately, my everyday clothes don't go very well with the typical minimalistic shoes on the market. I like to wear a lot of skirts and dresses, for example, and my closet tends to be divided into two categories: avant garde and extremely girly. My Footskins go OK with the former, but at this point they are significantly worn down and I mainly wear them for exercise. For the latter, I like to wear something a bit more elegant. Ballet flats are a good option, but honestly, most aren't built terribly well. I had some from Dexter that were completely flat and flexible that I bought in high school, but after I started exercising in barefoot/minimalist shoes, my feet sort of shrunk and they didn't fit anymore, especially since they don't have a strap. I already almost lost them running for the subway.
Other design flaws I've seen in similar flats include small annoying heels, stiffness, narrow cramped toe boxes, and chafing at the heels. I ordered some of the Cole Haan Nike Free flats (which they don't seem to make anymore) from Zappos, but returned them because they chafed. So I was pretty happy to see that Merrell came out with some ballet flats called the Merrell Wonder Glove.
I made a short clip of them, but couldn't really do a full video because the lighting in my apartment is so terrible, as is my camera:
As you can see, they are extremely flexible. What you can't see is how lightweight they are. I also like how they manage to look elegant, but the toebox is ample enough. After I made this video, I had to go meet some friends and I realized I was going to miss the train if I didn't hustle. So I ran. And they performed beautifully. To contrast, I own some Chinese "Kung Fu" Slippers (like these but with a floral pattern) that are also flexible and lightweight, but perform terribly if you try to run. They cost $1 in Chinatown, so I fully expect them to fall apart at any moment, even if they are a cute addition to the wardrobe.
I hadn't been as happy with the previous shoe I bought from Merrell, the Pure Glove, which was admittedly an impulse buy when I was in North Florida at their outlet store and needed some new shoes since it was warmer than I expected it to be in December there. They were OK for what I needed them for, which was hiking around the beach, but they are kind of in the no man's land where they aren't cute enough to wear with my everyday clothes and don't perform as well as my Vibrams, Vivo Barefoots, or even my Footskins for exercise since they are relatively clunky and inflexible. I hear it gets better if you "break them in," but with so many options that don't need that...why bother?
My main concern is the leather. I'm worried about scuffing it or ruining it in the rain. But we'll see. I realize I never reviewed my winter boots, the Cushe Cabin Fever (zero-drop, so no hell, but the soles are still a little thicker than I would like), mainly because Chicago didn't have very inclement weather this winter, but they are made of leather and do fine in the little rain/snow I encountered, so maybe the Merrells do too? With random downpours haunting the next few days, we'll see what happens.
Here's hoping Merrell comes out with some seriously elegant winter boots someday.
When humans started transitioning towards agrarian ways of life around 10,000 years ago, it wasn't just the types of food that changed. It wasn't just about more reliance on grains and less on meat, but about a fundamental change in the food system. True hunter-gatherers literally live day to day, not storing any food for later use. Horticulturalists started manipulating the forest so that they could have living stores of certain things like cassava and also started fermenting various plant and animal foods. As the human species moved into the arctic (LATER ON in our evolutionary history, contrary to some polar pushers that are popular "paleo diet" authors) and started living in more marginal areas in general, we developed smoking and salting as methods of preservation.*
But with agrarianism came the widespread processing and long-term storage of foods, particularly grains and legumes.
This opened up humans to all kinds of new vulnerabilities from rancidity, molds, and bacterial contamination during storage. We've largely forgotten about these things because science has eliminated so many extreme acute examples. When was the last time you heard about someone getting ergotism? Ergotism is caused by a fungus that grows on rye. In the past, a contaminated harvest could terrorize entire towns. A lovely description from 857: "a Great plague of swollen blisters consumed the people by a loathsome rot, so that their limbs were loosened and fell off before death."
While antinutrients and rouge plant proteins tend to get a lot of focus in blaming such foods for the poor health of ancient agrarian populations, such contamination also probably played a role. In developing countries, aflatoxins, a type of mycotoxins, still remain a serious health issue. They are something to always be aware of when parsing epidemiological data from agrarian cultures.
While few people in the US seem to be suffering from gangrene because of mold, whether or not even low levels of contamination and rancidity are an issue remains debatable. Regulatory agencies have different standards for what is spoiled. In Europe, the standard for Patulin, a toxin produced by P. expansum that shows immune system damage in animal products, is 10 μg/kg for children's apple juice. The action level for the US FDA is 50 µg/kg.
In terms of rancidity, I notice a lot of industrial food producers are adding antioxidants like Vitamin E to oils vulnerable to oxidative damage, so someone is aware that it's a bad thing. But I think a lot of restaurants even exhaust the antioxidant additive's abilities by using the oil to fry stuff over and over again. In animal models at least, feeding oxidized fat is a great way to induce inflammation. There is mounting evidence they are a health threat for humans.
And possibly because such types of spoilage is relatively evolutionarily novel, most humans seem to be unable to detect it simply by taste or smell. This is made worse when one is used to consuming sub-par food. The Chicago Tribute today had an article that noted that many immigrants find US peanut butter tastes rancid, but to most of us it tastes delicious. Also a study showed that 44% of Americans actually preferred the taste of rancid olive oil.
Many people I've talked to report that they feel fine eating "bad" foods in Europe. I've had that experience myself and it's very interesting. It's perhaps a testament to the EU's higher standards.
When I think about the diet I eat now vs. the diet I ate in the past, one thing that stands out is that almost all of my food is now in the fridge or freezer rather than in my cabinets. My cabinets are actually just full of tea and underused ktichen appliances. Of course, solve one problem and another one pops up- there is a hypothesis that Crohns could be caused by bacteria that thrive in fridge temperatures.
*which have their own particular health risks that could make up an entire post
How is it possible to have so many brilliant meals in such a short span of time? I thought about that as I ate at one Sister, a small private supper club run by brilliant up and comer Iliana Regan. A couple across the table mused that it might be because in NYC people have to spend so much on rent that they don't have the money for food this luxurious and labor-intensive. Either way, this meal was certainly the rival of my meal at Next. It reminded me a bit of Manresa in California in the use of innovative local seasonal ingredients, but I felt the dishes here were more complex. It had Next elBulli beaten on pacing and overall coherence too. I found the "sweet world" desserts of Next elBulli to be cloying and jarring, whereas here, the desserts blend quite seamlessly and blur the lines between sweet and savory across the menu. I didn't take photos, probably because I saw that the professional photographer had done such a fantastic job that it would be kind of pointless for me to try.
The dish with butternut squash, lobster, anise, and cashew milk was one of my favorites. In a way it was a little like the carrot-coconut foam at Next, but far more subtle and complex. While I would never hope to replicate the dish perfectly, I will definitely consider the use of cashew milk in savory dishes in the future. There was also a beautiful little liver mousse with a perfect dusting of fennel pollen, a tiny food-jewel that melted in my mouth. I adored the amaranth with smoked duck sausage and brussel sprouts. Amaranth, a pseudo-grain, has been stuck in the vegetarian ghetto in America for too long, it was nice to see what seemed to be a broth-related umami did to it, which made it into almost a silky savory custard.
Also, who knew that local deer could work so well with cherries and homemade ricotta? What a fantastic little "dessert," particularly with the molecular gastronomy touch of the smoke in the jar that wisped out as you ate the treat.
Iliana does her own dry-aging of meat in her small urban kitchen, which is quite impressive. Even in the winter she is also growing a variety of small fresh sprouts to add color and freshness to her dishes.
Take a look at the "steak" dish- dry aged ribeye, succulent colorful green broccoli, and an incredible buttermilk savory custard with bonito flakes. Why am I not making more savory custards? I would say they are better than sweet custards anyway.
But my favorite dish was probably the smoked oysters, served in a beautiful bounty of foraged wild things and eaten alongside a spicy marshmallow with unctuous marshmallows and flavors of juniper. It was a dish that was eminently sexy and primal. A lot of the food here reminded me of some of the experiments I did when I lived on the edges of the woodland in Sweden.
I loved all the uses of broths/dashis too, there were so many kinds, which highlighted the fact that besides being healthy, they are a major foundation for tasty cuisine.
For me, this style of cuisine uses so many ingredients in small amounts that I didn't worry about intolerances, but there was a guest at the table that didn't eat seafood and Iliana adapted the menu for him.
If you have some cash + time, this is a menu well worth checking out. I saw on her FB page that she has some last-minute openings for the spring menu.
I've been listening to a little bit of the Paleo Summit and today I listened to Nora Gedgauda's presentation on "safe" starches. You can still catch it for another hour or so I think, but let's just say it wasn't my favorite presentation in the world.
If you've read this blog long enough, you know I have an interest in fiber. One thing that is interesting about early "paleo" books, Boyd Eaton's 1989 The Paleolithic Prescription, is that they recommend an absurd amount of fiber. That's partially because some estimates of fiber intake based on fossilized poo, known as coprolites, were just simply absurd, as high as 150 grams a day, which no known human culture even approaches. So I've spent a little time arguing against that, because the coprolite analysis for fiber isn't even very accurate in the first place.
So when I hear more info about coprolites, my ears perk up, particularly if it's totally outside the realm of anything I've ever heard. In Nora's presentation she cites a paper that she says shows that a wide-ranging sample of paleolithic coprolites shows that they weren't eating any plants. What?
So I tracked down this paper. Turns out it's not a paper, it's an article in a magazine, though I admit that Scientific American is definitely a quality magazine.
So your homework assignment for the night is to read the "paper" and figure out where it says any of what Nora says at all
Spoiler: it doesn't say any of those things at all. Nope, none. Hilariously, a lot of the article is in fact devoted to the Pecos basin hunter-gatherers I've written about, but they didn't live in the Paleolithic and they ate a massive amount of various plants.
Bonus point: find ANY paper that supports what Nora says.
Nora is trying to fight Paul Jaminet's mainly bio-chem based arguments about starches with anthropology, but she doesn't have much ammo. The idea that homo sapiens was forged in some kind of arctic ice age goes against all the existing genetic and archeological evidence that exists. When we are talking about the influence of the last ice age on homo sapiens, it's more about forests dying off and becoming grasslands and savannas, than people plunged into some polar darkness in which they could only eat mammoth.
Nora then cites the isotopic evidence. Nope, she doesn't cite one of the many papers on the subject, she cites Dr. Eades, who is an MD, not an anthropologist. Probably because in those papers they try to make it clear that isotope analysis cannot tell us that ancient hominids were eating like foxes. It can simply tell us the trophic level of the protein consumed, which is similar to foxes in SOME cases, but we are not foxes. We are large-brained primates with the ability to eat a vast variety of foods, so the trophic level cannot rule out other foods being consumed, nor can it tell us the amount of protein in the diet. John Hawks put up an assortment of posts on isotopic analysis in response to an email from Chris Masterjohn.
As for the ketogenic babies, I think babies are really the reason that most humans can adapt better to ketosis than most other mammals, which I learned from Stephen Cunnane's excellent book Human Brain Evolution: Influence of Freshwater and Marine Food Resources:
There are two key advantages to having ketone bodies as the main alternative fuel to glucose for the human brain. First, humans normally have signifi cant body fat stores, so there is an abundant supply of fatty acids to make ketones. Second, using ketones to meet part of the brain ’ s energy requirement when food availability is intermittent frees up some glucose for other uses and greatly reduces both the risk of detrimental muscle breakdown during glucose synthesis, as well as compromised function of other cells dependent on glucose, that is, red blood cells. One interesting attribute of ketone uptake by the brain is that it is four to fi ve times faster in newborns and infants than in adults (Robinson and Williamson, 1980 ; Cremer, 1982 ). Hence, in a sense, the efficient use of ketones by the infant brain means that it arguably has a better fuel reserve than the adult brain. Although the role of ketones as a fuel reserve is important, in infants, they are more than just a reserve brain fuel – they are also the main substrate for brain lipid synthesis (see Baby Fat – The Reserve for Brain Lipids section).
I have hypothesized that evolution of a greater capacity to make ketones coevolved with human brain expansion (Cunnane, 2005a ). This increasing capacity was directly linked to evolving fatty acid reserves in body fat stores during fetal and neonatal development . To both expand brain size and increase its sophistication so remarkably would have required a reliable and copious energy supply for a very long period of time, probably at least a million, if not two million, years. Initially, and up to a point, the energy needs of a somewhat larger hominin brain could be met by glucose and short - term glucose reserves such as glycogen and glucose synthesis from amino acids. As hominins slowly began to evolve larger brains after having acquired a more secure and abundant food supply, further brain expansion would have depended on evolving signifi cant fat stores and having reliable and rapid access to the fuel in those fat stores. Fat stores were necessary but were still not suffi cient without a coincident increase in the capacity for ketogenesis. This unique combination of outstanding fuel store in body fat as well as rapid and abundant availability of ketones as a brain fuel that could seamlessly replace glucose was the key fuel reserve for expanding the hominin brain, a reserve that was apparently not available to other land - based mammals, including nonhuman primates.
But I don't think that means it's optimal for adults. If anything, it's possible adult's ability to be in ketosis is a relic from infancy. Perhaps that's why some people seem to do better on ketosis than others, because like lactase persistence, the persistence of that ability varies from person to person. But I don't really know, it's just an idea and unlike some people I don't claim to know what everyone else should eat.
As for the Inuit not eating plants, it's 2012 and I think there is enough information on the internet available, like my own blog posts, that put that misconception to bed.
No, but people take this stuff seriously, as you can see in the comments:
As far as Nora's presentation goes, it's backed up by more science and understanding of human physiology than any of the pro-carb messages I've seen.
If you want to listen to a better talk, I'd suggest Mat Lalonde's. I wish he'd write a book. We know paleo can work, science can help us figure out why and knowing why can help us target variations of the diet to individuals. I firmly believe that a successful diet involves acknowledging the normal distribution and trying to "pin the tail on the donkey" to find your place there (or your range dependent on other variables) through self-experimentation and other tools. It's clear he does that in his own life, so he's talking the talk and walking the walk. I do differ in opinion in that I have tended to think that issues with grains aren't issues with proteins, but issues with carbohydrate malabsorption. But I'm open to both ideas being right.
Most importantly, Mat calls us to be rigorous in our use of scientific evidence, which is something many other speakers at the Paleo Summit seem to be unable to do. Their readers, who do not have access to academic journals by and large, take them seriously without ever knowing the truth.
As for the idea that those of us who are skeptical of the anti-starch stance just being addicts, I really do laugh because I remember a comment a militant vegan relative of mine posted on the blog. He accused me of making up evidence for meat being healthy just because I think it's so tasty. Ha. Anyone who knows me knows that when I started trying "paleo" diets, I did not like meat very much, though I do like it now.
As for starch, the idea that I'd be addicted to the mediocre bland peasant-like tastes of things like cassava or green plantain is absurd. I really challenge anyone who thinks such things are addictive to go to their nearest ethnic market and purchse a true yam. Then boil it and eat it plain. Have fun!
If I promoted a diet based on what I crave, it would be based around caviar, bone marrow, and butter. Through, it is quite funny that all of those things are quite good for you.
A couple of months ago I tangled with Dr. Rosedale, a prominent low-carb advocate who was talking about how his diet is better than the Kitavan diet at improving markers of longevity, like lowering leptin levels. It's kind of hard to refute that since there is no study utilizing the Kitavan diet in non-Kitavans and seeing how it improves leptin levels that I know of, but it made me curious to see some cross-cultural data on Leptin. I collected an assortment of things, just for fun (let me know in the comments if you have any interesting data I should add):
|Culture||Leptin level in ng/dl||Sex||Age mean unless otherwise indicated||Sample Size|
|Kitavan||1.4||M||40 and younger||42|
|Kitavan||1.7||M||60 and over||39|
|Swedish||3.4||M||40 and younger||29|
|Kitavan||3.9||F||60 and over||14|
|Kitavan||5.7||F||40 and younger||11|
|Swedish||6.3||M||60 and over||40|
|Rosedale Diet Study After||8.21||MF||57.6||31|
|Swedish||11.3||F||40 and younger||33|
|Rosedale Diet Study Before||16.51||MF||57.6||31|
1. There is a serious error on the data in this paper, as it's reported in mg/dl, which I hope is an error and they meant to put ng/dl, because if you convert the mg/dl to ng/dl it's an impossible value.
Rosedale's assertion that his diet works better than any other diet in improving longevity markers, but as you can see, Leptin is all over the place, which could be due to diet, genes, or environment (for example the extremely cold harsh Siberian environment). In the process of putting this table together, I corresponded with some of the authors of these papers and also found the aforementioned potential mistake in Rosedale's paper. One of the author's of the Siberian papers confirmed that the Buryats no longer eat a traditional diet and in fact eat quite a bit of bread. I discussed the diet of the the Ache with one of the paper's authors and it is particularly unusual since unlike most tropical foragers, the Ache have regular access to game that is very very high in fat, but they also gather a significant amount of starch.
Either way, neither culture is particularly renowned for longevity. In fact, the data on leptin and longevity is somewhat inconsistent, some studies showing heavier women with higher leptin levels live longer. Leptin levels are highly sexually dimorphic, which is why I prefer seeing data separated by sex. And the raw vegans have some low leptin levels, but the paper is mainly about how terrible their bone density is.
And of course, Rosedale's paper does not show that his diet is the optimal one for optimizing this marker, simply that it improved it in a very small short study.
More later, but what do you think of this data?
This week I spent almost my entire food budget for the month on one meal and it was completely worth it even if it means I have to eat just ground beef from my dad's farm for the rest of the time.
I grew up on Chick Fil A and Kraft, so I didn't really discover fine dining until I was in college. I think my first date ever was probably at Cafe Luna, one of Champaign-Urbana's few fine-dining establishments, with a graduate student much older than I was. Fresh in my abandonment of veganism, I'll never ever forget the lamb shank I ate there, the way it melted in my mouth. This restaurant was where I was baptized into a love of truffles, duck confit, and aioli. I learned that pleasure from food didn't have to involve overeating, that it could involve more complex emotions, flavors, and aesthetic experiences. My taste and my food budget has never recovered.
In terms of the delicate avant-garde Kaiseki-influenced modernist cuisine that now dominates the upper tiers of fine dining, my first experience was probably at Manresa, in California. After that meal, I wondered if it is possible to become addicted to novelty? I suppose if that is possible, I do suffer from a terrible case of neophilia. The next day after a meal like that, my regular food seems so pallid and devoid of life. It's no wonder so many people who enjoy modernist cuisine are spurred to improve their own cooking skills.
Getting Next tickets was no small feat. I think I am either enormously lucky or very fast at clicking things. It felt good to be one of the thousand that won out, out of many thousands more who tried. Which was surprising, since this year's headlining meal is the most expensive that NEXT has ever done, because it is a tribute to elBulli, which was considered the greatest restaurant in the world before the head chef closed it so he could do other things.
Because I knew this was going to be a long, expensive meal, I vowed to get the most out of it. I read a book called A Day at elBulli, watching the documentary (though really it's mostly raw footage) Cooking in Progress, and watched Anthony Bourdain's episode on the restaurant.
A Day at elBulli is mainly pictures, which are important for getting a sense of what the restaurant was actually like. It was in a somewhat out of the way part of Catalonia, nestled along a picturesque coastline. Seeing pictures of that place, I experienced a wistfulness in my heart, one that I am familiar with. I remember I first felt it one very rainy day in New York City, when I was sitting on the Subway. I had just moved there from Uppsala, Sweden, and was trying to get my bearings. I looked up at the ads that are on the ceilings of every train. One was for Delta, advertising flights to Japan, Brazil, and all sorts of other places. It was almost like that feeling you get when you get a call from someone who you are yearning for. But this feeling was infused with wanderlust. New York City might be the greatest city in the entire world, but in that moment all I wanted to do was experience, once again, the feeling of waking up somewhere new. Perhaps that's why I lived in Manhattan, then Brooklyn, and finally Queens before I left.
If I haven't figured out how to eat in a way that made me healthy, I might have never left Illinois. I was supposed to study abroad my junior year, but one of the reasons I didn't do it was that I honestly didn't know if I could make it. I didn't want to be sick in a strange country. But I got healthy, and I went to Sweden. And it was good that I was pretty healthy there, because my roommates informed me that people didn't go to the hospital there for frivolous reasons. Eventually I did wear my health down a bit with booze and cake, necessitating a cleanup of my diet towards the end, but I never once needed to see a doctor.
Sometimes I wonder if my newfound health is as much about what I do eat, rather than what I don't eat. Sure I feel best when I leave certain things out of my diet, but I'm not particularly delicate. It took months of boozing and caking around Central Europe before I really started to feel it. It reminds me of one study in which they successfully treated GERD with melatonin (I think sleep is important in the causality of GERD) and vitamin and amino acid supplements. My diet when I had GERD probably didn't just have some terrible foods, it really honestly didn't have anything good. I probably didn't get many nutrients that are used to build the linings that protect our gut from potentially injurious constituents of food (any food can be an issues). I've gone from being a delicate flower (at one point I was so sensitive to histamines that I couldn't even have fermented foods) to someone who can really take a punch and keep going. Nothing was as gratifying as going to the allergist and testing positive for NOTHING this fall, when in the past I tested positive to almost everything. Inflammation makes you react to things, good and bad. Once you've got that down and repaired your digestive system, things get easier for many people.
Which is good. Because honestly, god knows what I ate at Next. There were certainly some innovative dishes that used other ingredients in place of things like pasta (cauliflower couscous and a ravioli made out of cuttlefish), but honestly, there were lots of things I ate that I would have trouble eating if I hadn't cultivated some resilience. The restaurant was explicit that this was one cycle where food allergies could not be accommodate. I'm lucky I don't really have any.
When dining, a guest can experience pleasure on four different levels. First, there is a purely physiological pleasure which comes from satisfying hunger; it is the most fundamental pleasure, but no less important for being so. Secondly, there is the pleasure perceived by the senses, which tells us, for example, if a dish is 'delicious,' whether or not we like it, if it is too salty, if we have tasted better in other restaurants or at another time, and so on. Third is the pleasure connected with emotions: everything related to the occasion, such as the attention and generosity with which a guest is treated, the company around the table and the guest's own expectations. Most restaurants are able to satisfy these three types of pleasure.
However, there is another kind of stimulus which is directly related to reason. It is the intellectual pleasure derived from judging the meal according to parameters that are not strictly gastronomic, in which other elements come into play, such as sense of humour, irony, provocation, childhood memories, or -- a very important point -- the appreciation of the level of creativity of a gastronomic proposal. These are aspects which the guest does not expect to find in a restaurant, but in fact they form an integral part of the dish and of the menu. This is what is known at elBulli as 'the sixth sense.' When a new dish is created, the aim is that the guest will enjoy it on all flour levels, and experience all the pleasures that the act of eating can provide.- From A Day at elBulli.
And it was all worth it. I can say I've often regretted buying things, but I've never regretted a journey or experience. In fact, without these, I feel diminished, as they are a major source of creative energy for me. I wish I could find this creative energy elsewhere, in some god or some romance, but it has never been that way for me, though these things also influence me. After a meal like the one I had at Next or a trip like the time I went to Big Sur, I feel broadened and sharp. I feel like all kinds of experiences I have had before have been coalesced and made more clear to me.
I'm not a materialist, I don't care for things. I don't like cars, I hate things that can be exploited. I live a simple life. The only luxuries I have in my life are travel and food. I don't even own a car—I use a small car that is here. It's not even my car. I use it to come to work sometimes. Really, to get from place to place, I just take a taxi. I have a cell phone that I use a lot. I use the phone to get organized, but on July 30, when I start a new life, I'm going to remove the phone from my life."- Ferran Adria
A tidepool, lying by the ocean in the sun, the curling bark of a tree I found in a park in Madrid, the colors in the drunk dream sequence in Dumbo, the way the first fish I ever caught smelled, a kiss you were not supposed to take, scratching the skin of a lime in my cousin's orchard, playing in my mother's garden when I was eight, sitting with friends in a smoky bar in Europe, the scent of the forest floor in Sweden, seeing El Greco paintings for the first time, a dream I had about Japan. Things too little to be easily remembered, except when the senses are tantalized.
cauliflower cous-cous with solid aromatic herb sauce
When I got home I was somewhat drunk (which is why this is pretentious and rambling) and I thought about what a meal would be like if it were such avant-garde cuisine, but influenced by the Paleolithic. What if you did a meal that went beyond the banal and really reached into the depths of that era. The dish above was a big influence because of the variety of vegetal flavors surrounding the "cous-cous." Some of them were unfamiliar, even alienating.
The concept of alienating food entranced me because one thing I find is that people are often unable to conceive of the fact that the diet of ancient hominids was enormously diverse, containing foods that most people have never even thought of as foods. Many of the foods and flavors you find in paleobotany are profoundly alienating to the modern consumer. Some of them were multi-purpose as well, with the lines blurring between food, medicine, and recreational psychoactive substance. I would include such alienating flavors to emphasize the remoteness of the era. Of course maybe I wouldn't include so many psychoactives for safety reasons. Cocktails could stand in.
However, despite being strange and alien, the meal would also serve to humanize ancient hominids. Evidence shows that ancient hominids used natural materials not just as tools, but as decoration, utilizing shells, natural pigments, and feathers for aesthetic purposes. Some of the plants they used also don't seem to have much purpose, beyond imparting flavor. In incorporating these ideas, the meal would fight asceticism with aestheticism. Such associations would be emphasized with references to Japanese Kaiseki, which is a notable form of cuisine because many plants that were used in the Paleolithic are no longer used in modern cuisine at all...except in Japan. This also emphasizes the complexity and diversity that characterizes both Japanese and Paleolithic edibles.
Oh, also with inspiration from The Knife's electro-opera about Darwin
Some papers I read while drunk included:
Of course I had to substitute some things and even then, this menu includes things that would require a lot of foraging to procure, since they have never been commercialized. The format is mainly based on botanicals in Thirty thousand-year-old evidence of plant food processing.
1. Alchemilla vulgari = medicinal plant in rose family
Rosehip cocktail with bitters
2. Pine-smoked oysters with various pigmented powders and seaweed "feathers"
3. Brachypodium ramosum = bunch grasses related to oats=
Oat crusted deer tenderloin with wild mushrooms and edible fried smoked insects
4. Arctium lappa = burdock, Anthriscus caucalis = relative of carrot
Japanese burdock and wild carrot salad
5. Bromus secalinus= relative of rye
boar liver pate on rye cracker with foam of blood and small edible flowers
6. Cyperus badius = relative of chufa =
Spanish Tigernut Horchata cocktail
7. Persicaria hydropiper = water pepper, tastes similar to Sichuan pepper, though water pepper is actually eaten in Japan, but I'm not sure I could find it here =
Sichuan pepper & salt crawfish
8. Scirpus lacustris = bulrush
Bitter sprouts and bamboo shoots, eel, cooked in bison fat butter with a garnish of fried fish bones
9. Sparganium erectum / : Typha angustifolia / Typha latifolia= bur reed (medicinal) / cattail rhizome =
cattail flour/buckwheat blini with roe, hazelnut “sour cream,” and yellow cattail pollen “golden” powder
10. Botrychium ternatum = fern root =
bracken starch mochi
Also, the table is decorated with wood chips and lamps made from small animal skulls hang on strings from the ceiling. On this menu is printed:
From Nabakov’s Pale Fire
What moment in the gradual decay
Does resurrection choose? What year? What day?
Who has the stopwatch? Who rewinds the tape?
Are some less lucky, or do all escape?
A syllogism: other men die; but I
Am not another; therefore I’ll not die.
Space is a swarming in the eyes; and time,
A singing in the ears. In this hive I’m
Locked up. Yet, if prior to life we had
Been able to imagine life, what mad,
Impossible, unutterably weird,
Wonderful nonsense it might have appeared!
Coming soon: My new book, the opposite of Paleo Comfort Foods, which will be titled Pretentious Postmodern Molecular PaleoGastronomy. All the recipes will require a fully equipped laboratory and ingredients that can only be found in remote mountain wilderness. However, I have been having trouble finding a publisher.
Since late last year, I've been working from home. I live in a studio apartment, which is because I prefer having more money for food and travel, rather than more space I have to clean and pay for. Sometimes I wish I had a big place so I could have supper clubs, but I know I'd only use it about once a month anyway.
Either way, I constructed a standing desk out of random laptop stands, which was pretty easy since I'm about five feet tall. If I were taller I would have to adjust the actual IKEA desk, which the manual informs me that I should not attempt alone
Anyway, I think it's perfect right now because if I do become lazy and want to sit, the stands are pretty easy to adjust.
Yes, if you work from home you can wear a kimono to work!
I have one main screen + I use the laptop for documentation and other things I need to reference occasionally while working. The laptop is on a 3M adjustable riser, which is actually kind of annoying to adjust, but it is cheap and does the job. The Viewsonic monitor itself is really nicely adjustable, but I have it on a Kantek stand for a little help
When anyone complains to me that they don't cook because their kitchen is too small, I snicker because honestly, my kitchen is one of the smallest I've ever seen (except in an RV) and I cook plenty. I have my forever alone teeny tiny crock pot for making braises and stocks. A cool orange Bodum water kettle for making tea. The amazingly efficient Simplehuman compact dishrack (which drains better than any I've ever owned). My mom gave me that over-sink cutting board, which is pretty useful since you can see I have almost no counter space. I'm pretty lucky to have a gas stove. You can see my ceramic and cast iron pans on it. I hate the sink (I wish it had one of those spray nozzle things...because I'm really bad about using too many dishes and end up washing so many every night), but overall I don't feel like my cooking is impaired by the size.
Dr. Lustig's recent moralistic tirade on how we are all so fat and unhappy because are trying to get pleasure from food reminded me of exactly why I love food. For me, gaining a better relationship with food meant learning to enjoy it as an experience rather than just a rote vaguely pleasurable activity. The pleasures I get from food now are far more multi-faceted than just a reward-axis compulsion driven by the unholy combinations of salt, fat, and sugar. When I think of great meals I've had, I think of the beautiful places I ate them in, their presentation, complex and unique flavors, and the people I shared them with.
Strawberries in Sweden
I know what you are thinking- that this is not a "meal." But it was at the time. I had just arrived in Uppsala, Sweden and I wasn't sure what to do with myself. I didn't even know where a grocery store was. But there are these stands in the summer where they sell just strawberries. And these were unlike any other strawberries I'd ever had. You know strawberry flavored candy? These tasted a little like that, but better. I said to myself "this is what a strawberry should taste like." Ever since then I've been unable to enjoy the bland giant watery things that pass as strawberries in America. Occasionally I can find strawberries like these at the local farmer's market, but they are a rare seasonal treat.
"Wolf fish", potatoes, and mussels with a cream sauce at Pingvinen in Bergen, Norway
Bergen is an incredibly beautiful place. My friends and I spent our days hiking the majestic fjords and afterwards were happy to find that Norwegian cuisine is simple, delicious, nourishing, and hearty. Pingvinen is a lovely little pub that specializes in traditional Norwegian food. Nothing fancy, but completely filling and satisfying to eat by the cozy fire as the dusk turned cold.
Pork knuckle somewhere in Krakow, Poland
Another gorgeous place I visited while backpacking across Central and Eastern Europe. There are a variety of places in the city that serve cheap, simple, peasant food. I don't remember what this place was called, but my vegetarian friends enjoyed it as much as I did. The pork knuckle was fatty and tender. I was happy to have the mustard to cut a bit of the greasiness though. It also reminds me why I love traveling in winter, because that's when comfort foods are really comforting.
Fresh cod in Iceland at the Blue Lagoon
Another boon of traveling in the dead of winter is that nothing is really that crowded. The bad part is that in Iceland we didn't get that many hours of daylight. We spent those horseback riding, glacier climbing, and hiking. On the last day we went to the hot spring for a spa day (we were there right after the currency crash, so we were quite rich even though we were just students). Afterwards I enjoyed this perfectly-cooked meal of fresh cod.
A variety of mangalitsa (a fatty breed of pig) sausages (I skipped the bread and the raw onions) from a street fair in Budapest
If you ever have the chance to go to Budapest, don't pass it up. I didn't know that much about it when I decided to go, but it's an incredibly elegant city with a rich history. And if you like high culture, it has fantastic opera, art, and very good food and wine. I enjoyed some amazing meals at fine restaurants like Cafe Kor, but this simple "meal" of sausages when we were exploring the park was so luscious and satisfying that I'll never forget it. It's hard to find sausage as good as this in the US.
Cocido at La Bola in Madrid
The food in Madrid is incredible and there are so many places that have different regional Spanish cuisines that are hard to find in the US. I ate very well there with my friend Nancy, who lived there at the time. Cocido is a traditional stew from Madrid that is very very very filling and delicious. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of my other favorite meal, which was at a bar specializing in Asturian food. They have a unique light sparkling cider that is poured from very high so it gets really bubbly. And you can also enjoy ham (which is everywhere in Spain), a rich blue cheese called Cabrales, and spicy patatas brevas.
Indonesian food made by a friend
A vegetarian meal? Yes, but this was so good that I hardly noticed. The spicy tangy flavors of Indonesian food taste good on anything. Lots of tamarind, black pepper, and chili peppers. And this is also when I realized that the stuff they sell as "tempeh" in the US has a fraction of the flavor of the authentic homemade Indonesian stuff. Unlike the cardboard American tempeh, Indonesian tempeh has a nutty flavor and a bread-like texture. Of course this food was even better because I enjoyed it with friends!
Sorbet and Reindeer at Aed in Tallinn, Estonia
Some of my favorite flavors of Scandinavia. The creamy tangyness of sea buckthorn, the tart brightness of lingonberries, and the gamey savory flavors of good lightly-seared reindeer.
Pig's head at Fatty Cue in Brooklyn, NY
I ate this with Rhys from Let Them Eat Meat and his friend Joe. I promise it was better than it looked. Unlike a lot of offal that have a mineral taste that some people find unpleasant, pig's head is mainly just fat. Luckily, they serve it with sides like a tangy Malaysian curry that works really well with the fattiness of the dish.
Sous vide pork + chanterelles at Manresa in Los Gatos, CA
One of the first really fancy modernist-style meals I'd ever had. The 14 or so courses were all delicious and each dish was a unique experience. This one was one of my favorites because the chanterelle flavor was so strong and worked so well alongside the tender juicy pork. It was even better knowing that the chanterelles came from my cousin Gene Lester's farm.
Bacon-cooked sea bass with citrus at Salt & Fat in Sunnyside, NY
I'm convinced that Queens is the most underrated part of NYC. When I lived there I was so happy with the variety of foods from around the world that were available all hours of the day. Salt & Fat is definitely one of the most creative restaurants in Queens right now, especially now that M. Wells is gone. The food reminds me a little of Momofuku, but it's more a home-style restaurant and the atmosphere is actually a lot more welcoming and creative than at any of the Momofuku restaurants. Of course I'm a little biased, because I love salt and I love fat and they do both brilliantly. Use of ingredients like exotic citrus prevents the food from tasting greasy.
Pork Ribs at Spring Lake Farm in NY
This is a delicious meal I shared with my friend Ulla and her family on their farm in the Catskills. Ulla's father Ingi has been feeding their pastured pigs an increasing percentage of their diet as hay and grass. He told me he was able to do that better because he pellets the hay for them to fatten on. I don't know how that works, but I know I had a really fun time on their farm and I was amazed at how much the pork tasted almost like a really fatty delicious beef! You can buy their pork from our meetup.
I am hoping to eat another incredible meal this Thursday and I hope to blog about it then! I would note that all these meals were eaten after I was able to get my illness under control through eating a paleo-style diet, which gave me the robustness to be able to see the world and eat an occasional treat without suffering any consequences.
I realized something hilarious today. Dr. Jack Kruse is the What the Bleep Do We Know? of Paleo. You know, that pretentious movie about "quantum physics" that was actually woo dressed up in scienecy language? Here is a fun game, which quotes is from Dr. Jack Kruse and which is from What the Bleep Do We Know?
a "If thoughts will do that to water, imagine what our thoughts can do to us."
b "One thought might just alter your DNA!"
c "Now that quantum mechanics has crashed into modern biologic theory, we have finally found out why we think the way we do with our brain. "
d "Each cell has a consciousness, particularly if we define consciousness as the point of view of an observer."
A and D are What the Bleep Do We Know. B and C are Dr. Kruse. I also find his random references to "quantum" to be quite hilarious and it reminds me of a Richard Feynman quote:
"If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics"
It's also self-experimentation gone awry. For example, while self experimentation is great for finding what works for you, I'm not interested in someone beating a dead horse about carbs with anecdotes about how eating some blackberries prevented them from sleeping last night (that's one real robust Paleolithic-style metabolism right?). Self-experimentation works to place yourself on the bell curve, not to place others. It's like, cool data point bro, but maybe I'm on the other side of the curve.
Think a little bit about the fact that Dr. Kruse is a headlining speaker at almost every upcoming "paleo" event. Notice something about these events? Notice the complete lack or very small amount of evolutionary biologists and biological anthropologists? I don't know if they were even invited, but most of the ones I talk to would be too embarrassed to be part of the circus where people are having to debate whether or not 100 grams or starch is SAFE. It's almost like a joke.
More posts from people who have Balls and are willing to call Dr. Kruse out on his bullshit (I'm hoping more prominent bloggers will discover their balls in the future):
Carbsane has also written quite a bit on Dr. Kruse. I have a feeling that self-diagnosed "leptin resistance" is the new "candida."