Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Paleo, or what?

When I was a very little girl my mom and I were vegetarians, it was the 70s, my mom was a peace activist, it's what you did back then.  There was even a brief period of living on a communal farm and some toying with Macrobiotics.  My mom tells a hilarious story about my Grandma Alma visiting and a big feast of possibly undercooked beans and the disastrous gastro-intestinal results.  Unfortunately us back to the land types only had an outhouse.  My poor Grandma.

When I was four we started eating meat again, and for most of my childhood my favorite food was steak.  I remember my 9th birthday the one thing I wanted to do was have a fancy steak dinner with my three best friends, Aislinn, Ingrid, and Tammy.  Somewhere in there I was diagnosed with a wheat sensitivity and told I would eventually grow out of it.  Curious.

Then, when I was about 10, I spent a day on a cousins farm communing with a particularly lovely and kind cow.  Have you ever looked a cow in the eyes?  They have lovely long lashes and the kindest eyes.  I was a rebel type, spending a lot of time protesting for world peace.  It made perfect sense that I became a vegetarian.  I was a dedicated vegetarian for 30 years.  Right up until I started having health problems, stopped eating wheat, and realized that if you can't eat wheat, and don't eat meat, there's not a lot left to eat.

Barbara Kingsolver helped me mentally adjust to the idea of eating meat again.  Her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle  while celebrating all of the things I value about food, local, home grown, organic, nourishing, also spoke to ethical meat eating.  Then came the great local and sustainable food films, Fresh, Food Inc., etc.  Realizing that much of what I had thought about the economics and sustainability of conventional mono-cropped annual grains was wrong, that in fact you could heal land with responsible grazing... oy, to say it caused cognitive dissonance is an epic understatement.  I had always said that I had respect for hunters, that animals raised with respect on healthful diets were a natural and ethical food.  Luckily for me right around this time our Co-op started a meat department featuring ethically sourced, ethically processed meats.  Read the Wendell Berry quote at the Lorentz Meat web site and you will know that they respect animals, and respect life.

Eventually I stumbled upon the Paleo or Primal blogs, and found a community talking about ethical, healthful grass-fed meats.  Since I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes around the same time I started focusing on my carbohydrate intake as well, and suddenly it all came together for me.  A community of people who had a coherent vision of healthful, ethical, low carbohydrate, natural foods.  In a nutshell, the Paleo community believes that we should eat as our Paleolithic, or pre-agricultural ancestors ate.  What exactly that means is open to wild debate and argument, but I like how Kurt Harris approaches it, a prioritized list of what to eliminate first.  Another great approach, and perhaps closest to how I eat is The Perfect Health Diet.

I am sure most of the Paleo community would scorn the wheat my family eats, the fact that I have two vegetarian children, and my occasional corn muffin.  I am also influenced by The Weston Price foundation and their approach to diet, though I don't always sprout my oats and I am not going to eat sourdough bread any time soon.  Perhaps the book Real Food by Nina Plank comes the closest of all to my philosophy.  I have come up with my own version of healthy eating, open to tweaking, that makes my body feel good.  I eat grass fed, local, meats with an emphasis on ruminant meat.  I eat lot's of fresh vegetables, some of them raw.  I eat enough carbohydrate to keep from developing worse insulin resistance than I already have, but not so much that my blood sugar ever goes over 140 an hour after I eat.  I eat a bit of fruit and a bit of dark chocolate and the occasional small serving of dessert, because life is too short not to.  And sometimes I have a corn muffin, because even though I am sure they are not great for me, I love them.  I am not afraid of fat, and in fact think I was probably horribly deficient in good healthy fats for years.  I listen to my body.   Ultimately, as long as you're are eating real food, that's all anyone can do.

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