Thursday, June 13, 2013

Playing Possum?

This story is about the opossum living in our garage. And the Joy of Cooking. And about food, and modernity.

I know that there's an opossum living in the garage because it smells like possum (a delightful combination of musk and "uncleaned horse barn") Also, the possum is not subtle, and somehow tracked white paint over the concrete floor of the garage.

I have an intense dislike for opossums.* Luckily, however, I have found a useful way to deal with it! My mom has an edition of Joy of Cooking from the '70s, and I found this recipe**:
Recipes for  opossum, rabbit, squirrel, porcupine, muskrat, and beaver are included here, including illustrations on how to skin and clean the animal. How useful! Most of the recipes involve braising or stewing, since the meat tends to be very lean and dries out easily--contradicting the medieval rabbit-on-a-spit-over-a-fire imagery in movies. (if you're offended at this point by my murderous attitude toward innocent woodland creatures, please read the footnotes)

Really, I want to talk about human beings and food, starting with the original Joy of Cooking. It's a great book. It was originally published in the 1930s. It will tell you how to cook almost anything, and sure, it's not gluten free or paleo, but it's not shy about fat, either. It will tell you how to cook any cut of meat, how to butcher a whole chicken, side of beef, pig, or rabbit, and ten or fifteen ways to preserve produce. A year or two ago, my mom wanted a new Joy of Cooking, since hers has a broken binding and is in three parts after 30 or 40 years of use; the one I got turned out to be the "New Edition," and I ended up returning it. It had no section on game (no opossum recipes!!), and a lot of the recipes were edited to add more sugar. I ended up special-ordering the older edition.

Okay, big deal, the cookbook changed, nobody skins and eats rabbit anymore. Big deal! Yeah, yeah, I know. But I feel that this is part of a bigger shift in the way that our society cooks and thinks about our food. If 50 or 80 years ago, Americans needed a section on game, that meant that they were killing and eating their own food (extreme locavores!). The fact that it's no longer in the book is part of the fact that meat is something we buy in the supermarket in a shrink-wrapped styrofoam container-and we don't have any contact with the animal that it came from. We don't even have to think about where it came from.

I know that in Paleo-land, we talk about out pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer ancestors, but I want to take it just a few generations backwards. My grandparents and great-grandparents lived in an era where, when they visited relatives in the country on a Sunday afternoon, a Sunday dinner meant wringing the neck of an old hen, plucking it, and roasting it up. You'd take care of the bird from the time it was an egg until it was on the table.  There's a family story about my great aunt, now passed, but born in 1900, who was served a hen that she and her brother had raised as a chick a few summers ago-- Penny the hen--and they refused to eat a bite. One of my great grandfathers grew up in the boonies of New England, and he and his brothers used to hunt for squirrels and rabbits in order to eat (because their father spent all his money on liquor), and their mother would turn the rabbit fur into mittens for the winter. I don't want to romanticize it, any more than I'd romanticize slaughtering an elk or wildabeest, but that way of life is so far from the way that my family lives now.

It amazes me how far we've come from their idea of food to the modern idea of food. What on earth would they think of Doritos? Of eating a cow raised thousands of miles away, rather than one or twenty? It seems to me that our society is disconnected from many of the issues surrounding our food is because we are disconnected from the process itself. Frankly, I'm not likely to go hunting for rabbit, like my great-grandfather, or to wring the neck of a chicken for Sunday dinner. I'm not going to eat the opossum or the squirrels that live in my garage. But I do care about where and how the cows that became my beef were raised, and I care about how they were cared for. I care about how the hens that lay the eggs I eat in the morning were bred, raised, and fed. I drove out to a farm, to see the chickens that laid my morning eggs, and I saw them outdoors, scratching for bugs and grubs--and frankly, what I saw is the reason that I'm willing to pay more for those eggs, even when I'm not exactly rolling in the dough.

So, I took a tangent away from opossums in this post, but I hope that it was a tangent worth the while.

*You have to understand, dear readers, that despite the fact that I love animals, I have a primal loathing of possums. For context, I spent four years in New York City, and I thought that the subway rats were adorable. But the pointy, rodential faces of opossums, their long scaly tails? No. Okay, when I was four, an opossum (probably rabid) chased me across the yard on a spring afternoon, and I climbed over a four foot fence to get away from it. Analyze that, Freud.

**I am not actually going to kill this possum. Possums are relatively harmless, and eat bugs and other pests. We may trap it in a Havaheart trap in August, after it would have raised its litter, if it has one, and bring it to a state park a few miles away. Or, we might just ignore it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Lady Paleos," or "Fangirls in Polka-dots"

So the New York Magazine's Grub Street just published an article documenting the "Rise of the Lady Paleos". Since you were wondering, ladies, the new Paleo lady (not women: we're ladies) is perky, dresses in polka dots, and likes to make paleo banana porridge. (Seriously, polka-dots; even our fashion sense is pre-historic) See, men like it because they can be manly cavemen and eat steaks, but we're attracted to it because it makes us thin, and you know how us ladies love diets! 

The history of the Paleo diet? Well, Loren Cordain started it, and then Robb Wolf wrote a book about it, and then after that, the women just couldn't resist it. Since we're Robb Wolf fan girls, you see. It's not as though we think on our own, like autonomous, intelligent, full-grown human beings, or anything like that. 

Further undermining their credibility is the fact that they're all "sporty, healthy [and] attractive". I know, clearly they just got healthy to sell books! It has nothing to do with the fact that what they've been doing might work. Sheesh. 

Now, all these ladies have books coming out! Not that it makes them credible or anything like that, cause they're just ladies cooking like ladies, and science confuses them. Paleo works, these ladies claim. "How? Well ... they're not exactly sure. "I'm not a nutritionist, and I'm not a scientist," [Diane] Walker says." Gosh, the fact that she can't explain evolutionary history, the H. sapiens digestive system, and autoimmunity in a single sound bite really does punch holes in this already dubious fad diet. 

I would have an opinion on this, but since I'm a lady Paleo, I'll just have to wait for one of our beloved (male) leaders to figure it out for me. 

Link, here, ladies (you have to click on it to's science. SO CONFUSING): The Rise of the Lady Paleos

I've got to run--I have some banana porridge to cook up! 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Neuroticism and Food

The paleo way of eating seems like a relatively simple framework. Eat nourishing foods-- meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and tubers. Avoid grains and legumes; avoid dairy if it causes you issues. Eat the macronutrient ratios that work for you. Simple, right?

And yet, there are so many ways to make it complex. Are you eating too many nuts? Too few? How are your omega 3-to-6 ratios? Are you eating too much fruit? Are you eating too much fat? Is caffeine a "toxin"? Should you eliminate nightshades? Your pork was pasture-raised, but may have been supplemented with grain--is it poison? Is your fish contaminated with mercury? Is there toxic mold in your ground pepper? Should you intermittently fast? Should you count calories?

I'm not suggesting that asking about the questions above is a necessarily negative thing; because the answers can be interesting. I'm just suggesting that the stress and exhaustion caused by lying awake worrying about the exact diet fed to the pig that became your bacon may interfere with your ability to fully enjoy that bacon the next morning.

Different approaches work for different people.  I think that adjusting and tinkering with diet is great. Changing things up makes sense, particularly if one is dealing with hormonal or autoimmune issues, or if one wants to perform a certain way in the gym, or any number of issues. It's a beautiful thing to adjust within that simple framework to find a particular path that works for you as an individual.

What boggles my mind is the effort that people put into the minutia of hypothetical issues. I wonder what the cost-benefit ratio of it is. Spend a week on the internet researching whether the 1/2 teaspoon of sweetener you put on your sweet potato twice a week ought to be maple syrup, honey, or molasses; then figure out where you should source it from (and the various health risks for each option). Has it improved your quality of life, lowered your stress, made you happier? And what did you trade off with that time--spending time with friends or family, cooking, hiking, or reading? For some people, it probably is enjoyable. My experience has been the opposite, though. Paleo has been a path away from the minutia, the obsessing, the neurotic fixation on nutrition and food.

For me, the paleo way of eating was a relief, and came with a shift in the way that I thought about food. The message in our culture is that food is either "sinfully delicious"--chocolate cake, or "healthy"--a veggie burger on whole-wheat bread. With paleo, I began to think about food in terms of nourishing myself, rather than "good" and "bad," where "good" was the fiber-packed, whole-grain, low-calorie food--and "good" boiled down to the size of a person's waistline, rather than how they felt physically, emotionally, or mentally.

Good food became that which was delicious, filling, and made me feel good. I stopped worrying about butter and coconut oil; I stopped worrying about meat. I stopped worrying about food, because I knew that whether I was eating spinach or steak, beets or bison, coconut or chicken, it was fine. When I eat vegetables now, it's because that's what I want to eat, because they taste good, and because I choose to. When I eat steak now, it's because that's what I want to eat, because it tastes good, and because I choose to.

It seems to me that people can--and choose to--complicate something that can be elegant in its simplicity, but perhaps there's a beauty in that complexity as well.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Salmon: It's what's for dinner!

So, I made sweet potatoes and maple-glazed salmon for dinner. However, I ate my salmon before I took a picture of it cooked. Ooops. It was, however, glazed with a bit of maple syrup and about 1/4 teaspoon of chili pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of paprika. I threw it under the broiler for about 10 minutes, and it was tasty indeed. Next time I make it, though, I'll sear the skin side in a skillet first.

Salmon makes the top three of my all-time favorite meat (the other two being steak and bacon), and it's half-price at a nearby grocery store, so I will probably eat it again, and again, and again this week. I'm considering stocking up and freezing it, but I don't have a vacuum sealer, and am concerned that air will leak in and it will freezer-burn, and ruined salmon might just be too great a tragedy for me to contemplate.

It's entirely likely that I was a bear in a past life, because I love salmon as much as my buddy in the picture (and will react similarly if anyone tries to take my fish.)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Apples to Apples

I've seen a half-dozen articles about heirloom apples and sustainable agriculture in the past year, and I think that it touches on of the issues that are important in the paleo community. The decline of the heirloom apple follows the evolution of the US industrial agricultural system, the introduction of genetically modified fruits and vegetables, and a sea change in the way that Americans thought about food and the way that we ate.

(from the Wall Street Journal )

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Stigmatization of Fat

This post is about fat. No, not the fat in coconut oil and Kerrygold butter that we're told will 'clog our arteries' by the 'experts'. This is about the fat that people wear or don't wear, and how it changes the way that they're treated. This flight may contain ranty-ness, so please fasten your lap belts before takeoff.


Today's lunch (and possibly dinner) was mini-frittatas. Eggs, spinach, bell pepper, mushrooms, onion, and cheese. My only regret was that I didn't have any bacon on hand to add. I love eggs--because they're tasty, inexpensive, jam-packed with nutrition, and full of protein. But mostly because they're tasty.

Intro to Eating Caveperson-Style

So, I decided to bite the bullet and make a blog...Why not? All the cool kids are doing it!

I guess I'll start off with the story of how I found paleo, and eventually fell in love with it.

I stated eating paleo (or Primal, or lacto-paleo) about two years ago, but I first discovered the paleo way of eating almost four years ago, when I was in college. My roomate was vegetarian and healthy-eating-obsessed (eating disordered may be a better term), and I started taking an interest in "healthy" eating by way of food blog reading. In the course of combing through the internet, I discovered Mark's Daily Apple; naturally my initial reaction was "what do you mean grains and legumes are unhealthy? EVERYONE knows that that's what's good for you!"...but I kept reading on and off. I'm a bit of a science geek (and a history geek, and... okay, frankly, I'm interested in everything, and I'm a geek) and it really interested me, even if I didn't apply it to my life.

And I definitely didn't apply it to my life. Instead, I spent an hour a day on an elliptical, because obviously cardio is what ladies do to stay healthy (lots and lots and lots of cardio). I ate semi-vegetarian, low fat, low-calorie, with plenty of whole grains--food helpfully provided by the college dining hall in between the pasta and the cardboard-style pizza under hot lights.

I started at the slim end of a healthy weight, and then lost until I was nearly underweight. And I was exhausted, felt as though I'd been hit by a truck one or twelve times, and had blood sugar that would drop until I was dizzy (thanks, whole grains!) I looked good, but felt like something you find on the bottom of your shoe after walking in a dog park. (meanwhile, I kept reading about paleo)

Finally, when I went abroad to Scotland, I was shopping and cooking for myself, and I gave paleo a try. Eggs for breakfast, whole roasted chickens,venison sausages, turkey steaks or ground beef, with sweet potatoes or squash or green veggies for dinner--it was like a revelation. I no longer felt exhausted and achey and tired! All the unhealthy red meat that was supposed to clog my arteries and make me fat--yet my weight didn't change and I actually felt healthy for the first time in ages.

 I started taking a kettlebell class at the university gym led by a tattooed Scottish gentleman, and swinging around a 12 kg lump of iron made me feel like a badass--more than the elliptical had ever done for me.

Since then, I've stuck to a paleo way of eating. I'm not militant, I eat cheese and yogurt. I let cake or pie--gluten and all--pass my lips on special occasions with the family. But I feel better, and eat better than I ever did before, and that's what's important.