Friday, May 18, 2012

Eat Like a Caveman, Act Like an Idiot

I have taken to the idea of losing weight, and I've begun a process of exercising and eating better, which will hopefully, eventually, turn me into a young buck of thirty. Seeing that I'm starting at age 51 might be a cause for concern but no matter! I can make this happen.

I've been hearing about yet another fad diet, called the Paleo, or Neaderthin diet (wow, there's a marketing concept). Many of my cow-orkers have taken it up. Several are also on the Kettlebell thing (the old Russian Special Forces, or Spetznaz, exercise involving cannonballs of varying sizes with handles). I can assure you that Spetnaz guys ate plenty of meat, and a lot of grains, and a few of them really, really like vodka. I have begun the hard process of Convict Conditioning, which is a set of bodyweight-only exercises, mixed with running and stairclimbing (real stairs, that is, not the machine version). I continue to eat my usual diet, with a higher level of protein and vegetables, and fewer (but not NO carbs).

Here's the issue I'm having with all this dieting advice: it's BULLSHIT. The Paleo diet tells us that human beings have only altered .005% in their genetic makeup since Paleolithic times, say, three million years ago. Therefor, we should eat the same kind of diet that they had available to them, high in protein and fat, mixed with non-legume veggies and minimal grain. There's a lot of stuff about keeping coffee and alcohol out of the diet, coffee because it interferes with digestion, and alcohol for the same reason, as well as the sugars in alcoholic drinks. Minimal dairy as well (depending on which version of the diet you read, since between 3 million years ago and 90,000 years ago, humans began tending animals as society moved to a more village-based organization - and hell, even the nomadic tribes dragged goats along with them).

So, pork rinds good, rice & most fruit bad.

Tell that to the native peoples of India.

Here's where this becomes a political subject rather than just a bunch of stupid dieting tips: all of this nonsense about Paleo vs. Atkins vs. Moosewood depends entirely on factory-farmed, commercially fished, already-been-processed or ruined food that you can buy in the supermarket, covered in God-knows-what pesticides or fungicides or herbicides. I had friends who worked in an organic grocery store, who were very careful to wear gloves when handling non-organic celery, lettuces or herbs, because if they didn't, their skin would be burning by the time they'd uncrated the day's take of celery.
The solution: stop eating processed, genetically altered, nitrogen-enhanced foods that don't grow during the time of year near where you live. Local, fresh produce, meat, fish and dairy are all good. I understand the vegetarian/vegan impulse, but I figure if I know where the animal came from, and make sure it really didn't die screaming, I'll be okay with the meat I eat. I also won't eat any farmed fish. Organic whole grains are great, but white rice is a staple all over Asia, and, sure, people get fat on that diet, but mostly because they eat too much of any given thing, not because one specific part of their diet causes them to blow up like a balloon. One of the strictures of the Paleo diet is to not eat anything you couldn't eat raw.

I dunno about you, but I've never liked raw pork rinds.

We get fat because we eat a lot of highly-processed, chemically preserved and genetically altered food products that I don't count as "food." Michael Pollan pointed out in his book, "In Defense of Food" that the stuff they call "non-fat sour cream" would have been called "artificial sour cream" back in the seventies. Even Dorothy Sayers pointed out the wonderful faculties within the worlds of advertising where "of, with and from" determined the quantity of apples used to make cider (one had to be made of nothing but apples, one had to made chiefly with apples, and one could be made from a peck of apples and a ton of turnips). So, in our modern times, we find ourselves eating food whose ingredients are not only unpronounceable but wholly unfathomable. We fight like hell to get GMO crops identified within our food supply, but the FDA keeps edging away from labeling things that come from animals fed on GMO crops.

The Paleo diet speaks of eating more fish, when our earliest ancestors didn't catch fish. They talk about our ancestors spending a lot of time lounging about, waiting for the next hunt or sending the women off to collect roots or berries or nuts (most of which are not allowed in the Paleo diet). The true paleolithic exercise program included (according to Christopher MacDougall in his excellent book "Born to Run") the pleasure of persistence hunting: running after your prey in a concerted effort to keep it running as well, keeping it away from the pack, until the animal's heart gave out - a process that could take hours. Then you have to butcher the damn thing and carry the parts miles back to the village or your encampment. Butchering an animal with stone tools is not the easiest thing to do, even by a skilled hunter.
Paleolithic humans worked hard to eat, worked hard to stay alive, and when food wasn't plentiful, they'd occasionally eat each other. They maybe didn't get ulcers, but life expectancies were very short compared to ours. They didn't have jobs that left them stranded in cubicle land all day, and they didn't have microwaves or blenders or juicers. We cannot possibly reproduce (perfectly) the circumstances of their existence in modern life, but what we can do is stop murdering the nutritional value of our food before it even shows up on market shelves. To quote Mr. Pollan again, "eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

That sounds primitive enough for me.