Saturday, December 6, 2008

Doctor, please don't poo-poo the Paleo diet!

A friend of mine forwarded an article to me about the paleo diet a while ago. It's a question and answer session in Oprah Magazine with a doctor named David Katz, MD. The article is called, "Should We Eat a Paleolithic Diet?" and it's flawed in many ways. See for yourself:

After reading the first few paragraphs, it is very apparent that the author is one of these politically-correct nutrition gurus that never seems to make a solid stand on anything except what mainstream nutritionists and dieticians recommend. Certainly not a breath of fresh air from all of the unfounded dietary recommendations that inundate the media. Following are points brought up in the article by Katz, along with my response.

Quote: "However, many anthropologists prefer describing our ancestors as gatherer-hunters because about two-thirds of their diet was plant based."

You begin to see from this quote that he has strong bias towards a plant-based diet for maintaining health. Two-thirds is a huge stretch, in my opinion. Studies of modern hunter-gatherers conflict with this information. Loren Cordain, one of the foremost researchers on the Paleolithic diet, has very solid data showing HG's eating a meat-based diet. (However, like this Katz guy, Cordain sells out to politically correct nutrition, claiming that HG's ate very little saturated fat and cholesterol.)

A great resource for paleo diet information, based on anthropological research can be found by doing a search for HL Abrams. This dude is on par, in my opinion.

Quote: " The flesh of antelope, which paleontologists believe most resembles the flesh our Stone Age ancestors would have eaten, has a very low fat content, roughly 16 percent of total calories. Contrast that with beef, which can be 30 percent fat or higher. Even more important is the quality of the fat. "

Typical ignorant viewpoint from a man who has most likely never butchered an animal. Fatty portions of an animal that HG's used include: bone marrow, back fat, cavity fat, tongue, kidney fat, intestinal fat, brains, and -- in some cases, when boiling bones for long periods -- bone grease. The fatty acid composition of muscle meat is irrelevant because HG's didn't only eat muscle meat -- they ate the whole animal!

By the way, much of an antelope's fat is actually quite high in saturated fatty acids. Not to mention *gasp!* cholesterol!

Quote: "Meat from animals that graze on grass contains a much higher proportion of polyunsaturated fat, including those heart-healthy omega-3s."

Notice he says grass-fed "meat" contains a higher proportion of polyunsaturated fat. Again, he neglects to mention all of the fat from the rest of the animal, which are dominated by saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. Not only that, but he is implying that polyunsaturates are the healthiest fats to consume. A big no-no, indeed, considering the studies done on test animals in which a high-polyunsaturated vegetable fat diet leads to death and disease. Also, factor in the lack of polyunsaturates in HG's diets when taking into account the entire animal.

Quote: "Our Stone Age ancestors lived to only about the age of 40—who knows how their health would have fared after 80 years of eating like this?"

Lifespan statistics are influenced by infant mortality rates, which were certainly higher before the advent of modern medicine due to environmental factors. For every set of bones from a paleo 80-year-old, an infant death -- being listed statistically as 0-years old -- will affect the average. The average of 80 and 0 is 40, correct? You can see how statisticians come to such silly conclusions. Also, factor in deaths from weapons and accidents. The fact is that there were elderly castes in many primitive cultures, such as the aborigines. I've heard anectodotal accounts from personal communications with modern Native American people claiming that their grandparents lived to be 100-years-old and beyond. I'm sure if I searched enough I could find some archaelogical evidence (dentition studies) of ancient peoples reaching such an age.

And, as for HGs health when they reach 80-years and beyond: if they still have all of their perfectly straight teeth and dense bones at 80, they're doing a hell of a lot better health-wise than us brace-face moderns. Ancient skulls would suggest that paleo people were optimally healthy (perfect teeth, fully-developed noggin) throughout their lives.

Quote: " The dietary plan I prefer to espouse is one supported by both anthropology and modern science: plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains as a stand-in for the wild plants our ancestors ate, nuts and seeds, beans, seafood, lean meats, eggs, and low-fat or nonfat dairy."

Lord, have mercy! This guy isn't saying anything new -- just sticking to the same line of BS that we've been hearing since faulty, biased studies in the 50s and 60s "proved" that all disease is caused by fat and cholesterol. If this guy truly eats this way, he's got to be one hungry, fat-starved dude.

Our ancestors ate lean meat WITH FAT from all parts of the animal. Gathering plants is entirely impractical in many parts of the world. Hunting animals is the most energy-efficient way to attain nutrition in the wild (especially the all-important vitamins A & D from animal fats -- as documented by Weston Price -- and complete amino acids). We evolved on meat and fat with supplemental plants in season. And, in my opinion, this is what we are biologically suited for. Period.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Stuck in the Sand

An essential country living skill that every small-town inhabitant around me seems to know about is the art of getting a vehicle out of the dirt. Folks around here carry boards, chains, jacks, and shovels just in case their truck or jeep gets its tires spinning in some unpaved backcountry road. It happens. Luckily, preparation for such an event can remedy the situation faster than you can say, "Garsh durnit." Without the proper tools, well, it's just a waiting game until somebody shows up who can help you.

My good friend Lyman was nice enough to give me firsthand experience in backcountry vehicle know-how. As we scouted his upcoming ATV trip in a borrowed truck, we climbed dirt roads and squirmed through sandy spots like butter. All the way, Lyman shifted in and out of 4-wheel drive, skillfully manuevering the truck as if was an extension of his body. Up to the top of the forested mountains we went, later making our way down into the desert red-rock wilderness. It was here that my education began.

Climbing a particularly steep hill in 4-wheel drive, Lyman asked me, "Are the front wheels spinning?"

I looked out the window, "Nope. Not as much as the back ones."

"Shoot," he said, "That means the 4-wheel drive is out."

"Huh?" Being a city boy, I needed more clarification.

"These automatic hubs have a tendency of going out eventually. Then the 4-wheel drive doesn't work."

"Oh," I replied, half-understandingly. "So what do we do?"

"Well, I think we can make it the rest of the way from here. Should be easy."

Famous last words.

We hit the first deep, sandy soil coming around a bend in a white-walled canyon. Some off-road motorcyclists came swerving along in the opposite direction, right by us. Their wheels made snake-like tracks in the sand, as they used their feet to keep themselves up.

"They're working hard," Lyman commented, "Glad we're in this truck."

More famous last words.

Around the next bend, we hit a wavey, rough sandy patch of road that caused the wheels to bounce: thud-thud-thud-thud-thud! Then we stopped moving. Lyman tapped the gas pedal in an attempt to crawl out of the jam to no avail. We hopped out of the truck and saw that the back tires had burrowed into the dirt.

"Shoot," Lyman said, "I forgot the shovel. We have to use our hands." He began scooping dirt from the front of the driver side rear tire. I followed his lead on the passenger rear.

Soon we had a small basin in front of each rear tire. Lyman got back in the truck and gave it gas. It scooted out of the soft depression after a few tries. Then we were on our way again.

"We're good, Ryan," Lyman says to me, "That was easy."

Once again: famous last words.

As we drove downhill from the canyon, the quality of the road changed from sandy-gravely to more of a dusty beach-like texture.

"I don't remember it being so soft on this road," Lyman thought out loud. I figured we'd be okay.

Then we hit dirt that felt like we were driving on a pile of dust. The truck swam through the road like a salmon making its way upstream in a heavy current, slowly inching its way forward. I suddenly remembered that we didn't have 4-wheel drive. The truck stopped, the wheels spun, and Lyman tapped the pedal to crawl out. Shoot. Stuck again.

We got out to assess the damage. It wasn't good. The rear tires were deep -- half-covered with dirt.

"This is bad, Ryan," Lyman says, "I don't think we're getting out of this one."

For the next couple of hours we dug out the dirt with our hands, jacked up the rear end, put sticks underneath the tires, and gave it gas. Nothing moved it. We were definitely stuck. An ant falling into an ant lion's den -- the more we tried, the deeper we got.

"I'm pretty sure I can get cell phone reception from up there," Lyman said, pointing towards some ridges off in the distance. "I'll call somebody to come help us." Off he went, while I stayed back at the truck -- just in case somebody else showed up.

I waited. And waited. And waited. No Lyman. I started to wonder if he had fallen and broke his leg. Maybe he got bit by a rattlesnake. What if he got lost? All thoughts that pass through a guy's mind while he waits for his buddy to return from the desert in the middle of nowhere.

Hours later, just as darkness was falling, Lyman showed up. "I just walked ten miles," he said, "I wish I had my heart rate monitor." Spoken like a true exercise junkie. "I got a hold of Pearl and Kendall to come pick us up. We might be waiting a while."

Soon, the troops showed up. Pearl, the rough-and-tumble hunter/fisher/dental assistant/sweetheart of a woman, and Kendall, a Wayne County local who seemed to know more than a little about getting out of a backcountry jam. They had the boards; they had the chains; they had the shovel; they had the 4-wheel drive. We were saved.

On the drive home, Lyman turns to me and says, "I think I'm going to change the ATV trip route." I couldn't agree more, buddy. I couldn't agree more.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Leave the Leaves

Here in rural Utah (where I currently live), I've been fortunate enough to find work that I can both enjoy and learn from. A short description of my job would be: mulcher. But that really doesn't explain exactly what I'm up to. Yes, I'm mulching (moving tons of organic matter onto an orchard to soak up water and create better soil), but I'm also observing the land, keeping out cows, setting up rainwater harvesting earthworks, and maintaining irrigation lines. Yet, if I want to tell somebody what I do for a living these days, I tell them I'm a mulcher.

The fine art of mulching has been a gift of mine for quite some time. I can remember being a child and sweeping up buckets and buckets of leaves from the patio of my family's Tucson home. My dad would put a 55-gallon plastic garbage bin, a broom, and a dust pan in front of me -- time to pick up the leaves. My older brother, Randy, helped with this activity also. We hated it. Damned trees just never seemed to stop dropping their leaves.

If picking up the dead stuff wasn't bad enough, the weekends often found Randy and I waking up to the sound of clippers next to our bedroom window. My dad was at it again. Clip, clip, clip -- trimming the trees. He was a man possessed. There was no stopping him. It was always one of those, "Aw, man" moments. When my bro and I heard those falling branches, we groaned, "Awwww, man!" It's funny how close that remark is to "amen." Yet we felt anything but blessed to be assigned the arduous task of sweeping up the sea of fallen branches on those weekend mornings.

Well, this wasn't exactly mulching. Our assignment was to pick up the organic matter and throw it away in the garbage or alley. The patio was to be licked clean by the tongues of our hard work. As kids, this was really hard work. So sometimes my bro and I wouldn't pick the leaves up as we were supposed to. We'd take a shortcut. The worst part of the job was scraping out the fallen leaves inside the planters. Sometimes we'd skip this part and let the leaves rot away. If my dad wasn't looking, we'd even push the leaves from the patio into the planters, hiding them in the shrubbery -- sort of like cleaning your room by shoving everything under the bed.

I didn't realize until years later when I took my first Permaculture Design course that -- in our unwillingness to pick up the leaves -- we were unwittingly mulching the soil. I learned in my Permaculture education that it's beneficial to "leave the leaves" (especially in a desert like Tucson), rather than scraping them up and throwing them away. Any mulch -- leaves, bark, woodchips, straw -- left on the soil will perform multiple beneficial functions:

(1) Shade the soil, preventing moisture loss

(2) Provide an environment for living organisms (such as worms and bacteria and fungi) to thrive, contributing to soil enrichment

(3) Over time, mulch will break down (by way of the above mentioned organisms) and its nutrients will be available for plant use

(4) A living sponge is formed which soaks up water, rather than letting it runoff

When I heard this, it made sense. That's how nature works, right? And that's what permaculture is all about: imitating nature.

When I learned about the wonderful attributes of mulch, I couldn't help but think about those hundreds -- maybe even thousands -- of garbage bins full of leaves that I helped haul away to the trash as a kid. What if my bro and I had left the leaves in the planters? How much rich soil would have built up over time? How much water would have been conserved? How much time did we waste on picking up leaves when we could have been wasting our time playing video games? (Kidding, of course.)

So there was one of the great epiphanies of my life: leave the leaves. And, after that Permaculture course, I became an ardent mulcher. I began to see all landscaping and yard maintenance crews as the enemies of mulch. It was their job, after all, to haul every dead, fallen thing away -- out of sight, out of mind -- for their clients. The whole idea seemed insane to me. They were throwing away gold (as my friend and fellow mulcher, Lyman, says).

And now here I am, years later, mulching and building the soil of an orchard just as nature does it. Truckload after truckload of organic matter we haul: wood chips, straw bales, hay, pine needles, and anything else we can scrounge up. In a year or two, there will be rich, moist, dark soil where the mulch now sits, teeming with insects and soil organisms. The trees will be happy, thanks to the mulchers.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Intention of the Blog

By creating this blog, I hope to pour out all of those nagging, lingering, and brilliant insights that fall from the sky down into my lap each and every day. This will be a way to keep track of myself, as well as share with others the fantastic discovery, undying challenge, wondrous rapture, and immaculate imperfection that is my life.

Also, it will be an exploration into the workings and events of the world -- you know ... the world we all share?

More questions than answers. More theories than "truth." More wide-eyed curiousity than "Ha-I-already-knew-that!"

Mostly, I just like to see my name in big letters.

And yes, my life is an imperfection. Isn't yours? I believe it was in the movie, "Troy," where it was said that the gods envy us. As humans, we can experience emotions, pain, love, and loss. We are imperfect, and our lives are filled with twists and turns. We are not settled and sitting on a cloud in the sky. In our lives, we are moving, changing, growing, and dying. A god cannot experience such things. It's our striving towards perfection (and never getting there) that truly makes life worth living.

And that is why I'm here, writing this blog. It is yet another thing inching me closer and closer to the perfection I will never achieve. (Thank God!) Perfection is a means to no end. It is an inspiration to keep moving. As I refine my thoughts and rewire my mind, I revel in the full awareness of the changes all around and within me. Things sure are moving, so onward I go ...

Wanna come with me?