Archive for March, 2010

Bad caveman! Lazy with counting

Posted in Uncategorized on March 31, 2010 by Adam McDowell

I have a confession to make.

I haven’t eaten a slab of cake or a frozen burrito or anything else anti-hunter-gatherer. And I’m not confessing about eating plenty of fruit, which some paleos seem to consider sinful. No, I’ve broken one of the pledges I set at the outset of my Caveman Month: to keep track of my food spending to see if I could stick to my version of a paleo diet on my usual approximate food budget of $350 a month.

Thing is, there are lots of things going for this homo sapiens these days, both in and out of the old cave, and my early practice of keeping track of the money spent and saving receipts every time I buy food — well, it has fallen by the wayside. I could try to reconstruct my spending based on my memory and receipts, but that runs the risk of an inaccurate tally. Call it roughly $200, or somewhat more than half the money spent in somewhat less than half the month.

Besides, trying to stick to the budget had meant buying my meat not at the butcher’s but at the grocery store, where in typical Canadian fashion, nothing in the fridge is organic. Ordinarily, in my pre-paleo-eating life, I paid a weekly visit to The Healthy Butcher on Toronto’s Queen Street. It has a pro-animal-welfare philosophy I can get behind, even if it’s not always the cheapest.

But hey, sometimes even the organic butcher offers a deal. The package of roast beef for more you see above may seem expensive at $10, but it was quite the weighty pile of cow-meat; it formed the basis of three meals, and it went down nicer to know the animal lived somewhat better than a bovine destined for a major meat packer (I hope that’s the case at any rate).

If I kept to the budget I’d never have been able to afford the roast beef, nor eight raw oysters on Saturday, nor the sashimi I plan to pick up for dinner some evening soon. By the time Caveman Month is out I’ll probably have spent well over $400 on food.

My conclusion: Paleo eating is more expensive than 21st century eating, since I’ve gone from gorging on meat two or three times a week to eating it most days. Meanwhile I’m consuming more seafood as well, and I have ethical issues around that, too, which can steer me towards expensive choices like wild Pacific salmon. (Farmed salmon bad.)

Finding an extra $50 a month on food wouldn’t necessarily be easy, but I may decide the benefits outweigh the costs.

And speaking of “weigh,” I keep getting skinnier and people are noticing (more on that later).

Finally, to add one more consideration to the mix: I’m happier with much less food than usual these days: My meals are portioned like my former snacks, and my snacks are often replaced with cups of herbal tea. So maybe I’m not spending more on food overall. Makes a caveman wish he could have done a better job of tracking his food costs.

Me try and fail to make pun on quail

Posted in Uncategorized on March 29, 2010 by Adam McDowell

Eaten today: One orange, two apples, handful of sunflower seeds, two hard boiled eggs, brace of roast quail, large helping of turnips and Brussels sprouts roasted in lard, tea, tea, peppermint tea, handful of strawberries, handful of baby carrots.

Pants feel looser. Appetite satisfied. You comment on my paleo cred, I throw large bone at you.

That is all. Long day.

End war on fat. Processed carbs the enemy: Slate

Posted in Uncategorized on March 29, 2010 by Adam McDowell

A must-read for paleos: This piece in my favourite online magazine, Slate, headlined “End the war on fat: It could be making us sicker.” It dovetails nicely with my earlier post about lard. Enjoy.

Lard almighty

Posted in Uncategorized on March 29, 2010 by Adam McDowell


At first my vegetarian fiancée sat patiently and bemusedly by as I seemed to triple my red meat intake for Caveman Month. However, thanks to my simulated paleolithic cooking choices, she says our condo is starting to smell as though a dingy fast food restaurant has its exhaust fan pointed through our kitchen window.

As a caveman, I’ve chosen to cook with lard — an animal fat — over olive or canola oil.

My reasoning starts with this: You’ve got to sit there and squeeze a hell of a lot of olives before you end up with enough  oil to grease up your veggies. It seems to take 5.5 kilograms’ worth, or perhaps 1,200-1,600 olives, to make a litre of the golden fluid, at least according on my back-of-envelope estimate based on this and this.

Quite a few paleos rely on olive oil to make their food interesting, but, to concur with this fellow paleo blogger, I just don’t buy the idea of extra virgin olive oil as a Stone Age food.

I’ve not turned up my nose at grilled veggies at the work cafeteria, or during my one Cave Month restaurant visit so far, for being cooked in olive oil. However, I’m not using the stuff at home. It would be too easy to fall back on olive or other vegetable oils to make my food interesting. Meanwhile, it’s not hunter-gatherer food as I understand it.

Cooking with animal fats makes sense for a pre-agricultural person. You’re not going to spend your whole life squeezing thousands of oily plants when you’ve got fatty stuff sitting around from your kills anyway. Make that delicious fatty stuff, no matter what my fiancée says.

On the other hand, yes, I know lard is rendered in a factory and thus should count as a processed food. At least when selecting mine at the grocery store I chose a brand that wasn’t hydrogenated. Incidentally, finding the lard took a long search. I ended up having to track down a shelf stocker to ask him where it was; turns out the lard is next to the shortening, with the oils.

Why buy pre-made lard instead of making it myself? Because I couldn’t in good conscience render pig fat in my house. Cooking with it is trauma enough for my special lady friend.

I imagine your typical caveman would have found the pantry empty of meat on many occasions, so as a 21st-century cave poseur I’m having some vegetable meals myself.

On the plate you see below, I have sauteed collard greens, sauteed mixed mushrooms with parsley and garlic, and roasted turnips and Jerusalem artichokes.

All of it was slathered with a bit of lard prior to cooking. Result: Me like.

Update: Rest of workers eat burgers, me eat this

Posted in Uncategorized on March 26, 2010 by Adam McDowell

Every Friday afternoon there’s a free treat in my office. Today it’s going to be McDonald’s hamburgers.

I’ll be eating a salad with avacado and tuna.

I’d rather have a burger.

Update update: Now that I’m actually eating the salad, it’s pretty tasty and I’m happy about this. Never mind. Get back to your lives.

Me skinny; want to eat this free stock image of lasagna

Posted in Uncategorized on March 26, 2010 by Adam McDowell

On Thursday I said no to lasagna for probably the first time in my life.

I spent the bulk of the day, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., in the lockup for the Ontario provincial budget. A lockup is this thing where they put journalists in some kind of conference centre and take away their communications devices. Everyone gets to read the budget at the same time, everyone has to get their questions answered by the government’s own bureaucrats, and no one is allowed to leave until the budget is announced to the world.

In other words I was trapped. You can get a sense of what lockups are like here and here.

Anyway, the upshot for me on the caveman nutrition plan was being held hostage to the Ontario government’s catering plans. Luckily I brought in my own food: A simple salad with no dressing, fruit salad and homemade beef jerky.

This meant saying no to the lasagna and sandwiches provided. If you’ve ever encountered working newspaper journalists, you know we have a hard time saying no to free grub. Adding to the disappointment, lasagna is one of my desert island dishes. When I wanted to have one last shitty meal for 2009, I bought a frozen tray of the stuff and sliced up some spicy put on top. I know, gross.

To the credit of Ontario Ministry of Finance staff, there was fruit and a big garden salad, too.

This is far from the first time the caveman lifestyle has forced upon me the pain of saying no to tasty-looking free food. As a journalist, I get offered a fair bit of it. In fact, I can hear my editors talking about what to order in for the newsroom this afternoon: pizza or samosas. Either way I’m screwed.

There’s no doubt that the paleo diet will make me thinner one way or another.

And am I losing weight? In a word, yes.

Readers suggested that I get some basic physical characteristics measured at the outset of Caveman Month so that I could compare down the road. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to do that. During the bustle of Day One, I didn’t even get to weigh myself

However, I can report at least that I weigh five or six pounds less than I did just about two and a half weeks ago, which astounded me as I stepped on the scale at the gym on Wednesday evening.

I’ve lost around 20 pounds since my alarming peak of 190-ish last December. The needle stopped at around 171 the other night. Even before the paleo diet I was eating less carbohydrates, and other than a busy period during the past couple of weeks, I’ve hit the treadmills and ellipticals pretty religiously in recent months.

As I write Friday, my clothes feel rather loose compared to how they used to. I’m actually starting to worry that a few items in my wardrobe will become too big to wear soon.

Cave week one: Rock on

Posted in Uncategorized on March 24, 2010 by Adam McDowell

A few quick updates on my first week as a caveman:

• Several paleo people have asked me if I feel sick or sluggish as my body adjusts to the new regime, and I have to report that I don’t. Other than an unexplained, brief wave of nausea on two occasions (one this morning, right after I had a cup of tea on an empty stomach), I’ve felt just fine — not noticeably better or worse than usual.

And before you ask, I haven’t been gripped by any strong cravings for any foods in particular. I don’t even miss my beloved diet cola too much (yet).

•  Total money spent on food so far: $97.56 out of my total $350 for the month. That’s almost $20 over budget but I still have plenty of food at home. I think I’m doing pretty well. As I told Torontoist, if the budget isn’t working out I’ll starve myself to make ends meet, which is paleo anyway.

•  A confession: I was at a mixology workshop last night, which I’m going to write about in my capacity as booze writer for the National Post, and I drank some alcohol — about two strong cocktails altogether, less than I would have if I wasn’t on the paleo program. But still. I couldn’t see a way around it that wouldn’t be awkward. I also have a get-together with the Hendrick’s gin people on Thursday night and I’ll drink a little at that too. Other than that I should stay booze-free.

• So it turns out that a CrossFit gym that’s mere steps from my condo functions as a cave for hunter gatherings. There’s even a paleo pot luck this Friday night I plan to attend. And another Toronto paleo person has got in touch through the comments about another gym that seems to serve as a community nucleus. Have I been surrounded by cave-people this whole time?

[Video: The invention of orange juice]

Me get back to roots with cooking

Posted in Uncategorized on March 23, 2010 by Adam McDowell

Eating little beyond meat and fish, non-cereal plants and spices can tax the ingenuity of the mighty homo sapiens, even in this age of supermarkets.

My culinary education in just the past few days has included:

Making jerky for the first time ever. I borrowed a friend’s dehydrator (thanks, Pat) and bought two cheap steaks   — a cross rib “simmering steak” and an outside round “marinating steak.” By remarkable coincidence each cost $4.24 each for 389 grams (that’s 13.7 ounces).

After trimming them into jerky-like strips as per instructions in Loren Cordain’s Paleo Diet, I prepared a rub like so:

• 2 tbsp. ea. crushed mustard seed, crushed peppercorns, Spanish paprika
• 2 tsp. ea. cayenne pepper, turmeric, chili flakes

The beef took about six hours of drying before it transformed into jerky. I set the dehydrator up in my computer room as my fiancée had feared the process would fill our small townhouse with meat-stink. In actual fact it was the aroma of pepper that took over my little work-den.

The jerky is surprisingly good for a first attempt, easily the equal of some store brands and without the salt. I’m quite proud of myself.

In case you’re wondering why jerky is caveman-like, I’m assuming real paleolithic people figured out that they could dry meat out if kept above a fire on some sort of rack. Correct me if I’m wrong.

• Later I made my own blueberry sauce. I had a large surplus of berries, which threatened to rot on me if I didn’t do something with them.. I made the sauce by just heating up a bunch of blueberries with water and adding a small touch of honey to sweeten it a little. Easy. Should make a good glaze for salmon.

Again, I’m assuming our clever hunter-gatherer ancestors had ways of keeping their food surpluses from going to waste. (I suppose I could have made a gift of blueberries and beef to my neighbours, but they would have found that a little odd.)

•  Finally, another first: I blew $3.80 on a small package of Ontario-grown Jerusalem artichokes —  I believe roots are good cave-food based on my recent habit of skimming of academic anthropology papers for clues about what early man ate.

I slathered turnips and the Jerusalem artichokes with a judicious spoonful of lard (using animal fat being the practice of some paleos), then sprinkled them with thyme and pepper and roasted at 400 Farenheit for about an hour.

The result was much tastier than potatoes, and went well with the turkey balls — that is, turkey meatballs — I had with it. I’ll be adding Jerusalem artichokes to my regular diet now, especially as they’re apparently the specialty of farms not far from Toronto.

All in all, I feel like I’m back in university learning to cook all over again. Even while I’m quite busy with the rest of my life, it’s fun. Luckily cooking is what I do to relax.

Torontoist use magic talking thing to interview me, caveman

Posted in Uncategorized on March 23, 2010 by Adam McDowell

Kasandra Bracken of local news site Torontoist, about which I have written before spoke with me on Monday and posted this today.

Caveman like.

Days Three through Five: Appetite destruction

Posted in Uncategorized on March 22, 2010 by Adam McDowell

They say hunter-gatherers can get by on four to six hours’ work a day, and that sounds mighty sweet to this caveman.

It’s been a busy few days — I had a hectic one-day weekend and returned to the office to work the Sunday shift. Meanwhile, staying on the paleo plan has been painless.

Friday night my fiancée decided she wanted to eat at a particular Italian restaurant that had gluten-free pizza and pasta, which she needs. I should mention it was Il Fornello, a chain with several locations in Toronto but not elsewhere. I want to give kudos to them for offering gluten-free food.

I thought restaurant eating would pose a challenge, especially Italian, but I had no problem choosing dinner. I went with an arugula and wild mushroom salad with an added wood-oven-baked chicken breast. It hit the spot. I could eat this meal a hundred times.

The picture at the top of the post was my breakfast the next day. This small meal of a hunk of smoked wild Pacific salmon and half an orange kept me going pretty happily until around 4 p.m. as I traipsed around town, on foot and transit, to take care of errands. It may seem as though I am starving myself, but the fish and fruit kept me happy, and I’m a pretty snacky guy.

That’s been the routine, really: meat, seafood, fruit, vegetables, all relatively unadorned. Now that I’ve mastered the basics I need to get going on imposing other, more challenging cave-behaviour on myself.

For starters, my shampoo ran out. Should I buy more or just go natural?