Getting the hang of caveman eating

Posted in Uncategorized on March 19, 2010 by Adam McDowell

Well-marbled, bursting with umami and glistening an appetizing reddish-brown in the centre, the centrepiece of lunch on Caveman Day Two was four thick slices of the tastiest roast beef I’ve ever tasted.

The beef came from a Metro (a chain of grocery stores you find mostly in Ontario and Quebec, I believe). It cost $5.68 and I had a little less than half the package for lunch. On the side was a side salad from the work canteen, $2.70).

I did paleo-cheat by pairing it with Strub’s prepared horseradish, which contains added salt and sugar. Does that make it count as “processed” food? I would chop up some raw horseradish if I could find some. Or is that a bad excuse?

Dinner: pork chops very loosely inspired by a recipe from Gordon Ramsay’s Fast Food cookbook. It’s a refreshingly practical family dinner manual, chock full of pretty easy recipes that can feed a paleo-person with only slight modification in many cases.

My main was essentially baked pork chops, the top flavoured with some garlic and spices (thyme and rosemary by Ramsay’s direction; smoked paprika was my own last-minute impulse addition).

On the side, steamed collard greens with pepper (but no butter for caveman). For dessert, a banana.

My vegetarian fiancée even thought it all smelled and looked delicious. And even though I’m usually snacky and peckish late at night, I went to bed without having felt the need to make the usual trip or two to the kitchen to rummage for nuts or something.

Cave Day Two: fresh kill

Posted in Uncategorized on March 19, 2010 by Adam McDowell

Day Two of Caveman month went more pleasantly than Day One thanks to some hunting and gathering at two separate grocery stores.

I am within easy walking distance of both. One is a fairly standard grocery chain store, and I visited that one before work. The other is a discount version of another Canadian chain, and I dropped in there after work.

True to expectations, I kept my spear aimed squarely at the outside rim of the supermarket, piling veggies, fruit, seafood and meat into my basket. Although I did visit the work cafeteria again to assemble a side salad to go with some roast beef for lunch, I spent the rest of the day happily eating food I’d purchased at reasonable prices.

I was gripped at the meat refrigerator by the odd sensation of unfamiliarity, realizing suddenly that I don’t actually know how to cook most of the available kill. And I consider myself a pretty good cook. But like most meat-eaters in Western countries I dine pretty exclusively on prime, or prepared, chunks of animal  — chicken breasts, steaks, sausages and other low-fuss foods — to the almost total exclusion of organ meat and challenging, tough cuts such as brisket.

So to a great extent I stuck to familiar but relatively expensive “aristocratic” meats, since that’s all I actually know how to cook

However, on my next visit to the store I resolve to challenge myself by committing to some pork kidneys or the like. And at $1.52 for a pack of three, pork kidneys sure are economical. I just don’t have any idea what they taste like. Thank God I have an adventuresome palate.

In the end the day’s full haul included: smoked wild Pacific salmon, smoked trout, ground turkey, collard greens, turnips, baby carrots, apples, lemon, bananas, onion, four punnets of blueberries (on sale at both stores), mustard seeds (more than $4 for the container, but I think a good investment in flavour), wild Pacific salmon in a can (for a hunger emergency; it was on sale), chamomile and peppermint teas, radishes, garlic, avacados and, most important,  a “value pack” of six pork chops. Corrected to add: a package of delicious cold sliced roast beef.

I tried to get lard at the discount store but they didn’t have any, so I’ll try the standard grocery store next.

The total cost was around $70. I’d be more precise but I left the receipts at home.

You question. Me answer.

Posted in Uncategorized on March 18, 2010 by Adam McDowell

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my first day of cavemanhood, it’s that people have a lot of questions about my attempt to chronicle living the paleo lifestyle for a month. And when they don’t like my answers, they react with surprising indignation.

Here are some  things I’ve been asked so far:

What are your food rules?

I made an attempt to answer here, but it’s still incomplete. I am eating lean animal protein except dairy but including eggs; vegetables; nuts; fruits; seeds. I am not eating dairy, cereals, legumes, grainlike seeds such as quinoa and buckwheat, excessively salty, fatty or processed meats (such as hot dogs). I will eat honey sparingly, and while I have no plans to include maple or agave syrup in my diet, I wouldn’t consider either off limits.

I’m only on Day Two, so many choices are yet to be made. Who knows what I’ll do when someone offers me a Jerusalem artichoke? Vinegar, olive oil and (importantly) salt remain somewhat ambiguous territory for me.

Are you allowed to eat cooked food, or is it all raw?

Cooked is fine. Cavemen had fire. For the sake of good stunt journalism I might experiment later with raw meat, however, since other people are doing it. I’m not ready for that quite yet.

How have you made your decisions? What is your justification for your rules?

I am attempting the paleo diet as a journalist, and I’m taking these steps using the approach I would personally use if I were doing it just for my own good.

In general my approach is to include foods that I know paleolithic humans definitely ate, exclude most foods I know are the products of agriculture, and use my best judgment in cases where I just don’t know (just when were olive oil and tea incorporated into our diets? Does anyone know?).

My choices may not be the same ones other paleo people have made or would make. What I’m documenting here is my personal experience.

You’re eating too much fruit! (You won’t lose weight that way.) You’re still running on a treadmill! That’s not paleo.

Well, it’s my paleo month. People do the paleo diet/lifestyle for different reasons and mine is to see how the lifestyle would fit into my life in particular. I enjoy fruit so I’m going to eat lots of it, and I have a membership at a traditional gym, so I’m going to go sometimes so as not to have my membership go to waste.

Do you welcome advice from experienced cave-people?

Yes, absolutely. I am very grateful for the comments I’ve received so far, and as time goes on I may ask for your help in deciding what I can and can’t eat or do.

Hey, aren’t you also the drinks columnist for the National Post? Are you going to keep drinking alcohol?

Why, yes I am. Originally it was my plan to drink only things I intended to write about in my booze column, in order that I might continue to do my job! However, I had a beer on Cave Day One and several people — all fellow journalists, of course, the most judgmental people of all — declared bullshit on that.

So, an amendment: I will not drink alcohol. I am trying to turn my Happy Hour column over to volunteers in the newsroom for the remainder of Caveman Month.

Why are you calling this the caveman diet? That’s just a moniker invented by lifestyle journalists to sell newspapers. We prefer “paleo.”

Because “caveman diet” is hilarious. And I know so-called cavemen probably didn’t spend much of their time in caves. On the second point, I am a journalist and it is my job to (indirectly) sell newspapers. So don’t bash me in the head with a club or anything: The caveman talk is getting attention for your movement.

Are you going to try starving yourself, like some paleos do?


How much does food cost in Toronto?

At a guess, it’s probably fourth most expensive place in North America to eat after New York, any city in California, and Vancouver. If you’re from most places in North America you’d find it expensive ($4 pizza slices? Wha?) — but hey, it’s still North America, a rare place on Earth where wealth and cheap food overlap. I expect my plan to spend $350 in a month to prove challenging but feasible.

Are you going to post things like your weight, blood sugar and other medical metrics along the way?

That’s a terrific idea. As for my weight, certainly; next time I work out I’ll use the gym’s scale (I don’t have one at home). As for the other things I’ll look into how I can do that and let you know.

Me live busy city reporter life, starve a little

Posted in Uncategorized on March 18, 2010 by Adam McDowell

The story of dinner on Day One of my caveman month:

At some point in the not-too-distant past, a theatre company event planner’s pen hovered over a catering order form, wavering between chicken skewers and quiche (as I imagine the scene, anyway). She chose quiche, thus kind of spoiling my evening.

Yesterday after work saw me caught between social engagements with nothing to eat, due to my aforementioned crap planning.

First, I was signed up to catch a play right after work and then attend the short reception with my fiancée. I hadn’t meant to rely on hors d’oeuvres to feed me. However, ordinarily, in non-paleo times, I would have been able to. When the trays came out full of pizza squares, two-bite quiches and little paper cones of fish and chips, my heart sank. No food for caveman.

Later I put in a short appearance at a bar for a social gathering of journalists, who of course called bullshit on my caveman cred when I enjoyed a decidedly un-paleolithic bottle of beer. My colleagues are the best. Anyway, no more booze for me. More about that to come in a future post.

In between the play and the bar, I popped into a convenience store to forage. The only thing I could find to eat was the second banana of the day, for 79 cents. It was wrapped in plastic “for freshness.” The 21st century is weird.

It was only when I finally arrived home soon before 1 a.m. that I was able to rummage around the kitchen and assemble the shabby, ad hoc dinner you see above, complete with a can of skipjack tuna in oil with chopped-up tomato and cucumber, spiced up with some pepper and paprika.

I also had a small bowl of mixed nuts (filtering out the peanuts, which are forbidden legumes), sunflower seeds and some raisins.

Was I satisfied after that? Yes, actually.

So what’s the deal with my first real cave-meal?

Posted in Uncategorized on March 17, 2010 by Adam McDowell

Above is my first paleo lunch, courtesy the cafeteria at my office. The salad bar was my only choice but it offered plenty of variety. I had spinach salad with strawberries and raisins (no dressing), lots of crudités (raw broccoli, cauliflower, julienned pepper, tomatoes), mushrooms sautéed with a little bit of olive oil and paprika (I asked), grilled zucchini, a hard-boiled egg, fruit salad; carrot and celery sticks. Oh, and that dark stuff is beets (“beetroot” in some places).

Assembling this plate meant saying no to several Irish-themed, stew-like options, which is just as well.

It looks delicious, doesn’t it? I’m being serious. I was quite happy with my lunch. But can I eat like this every day?

Cost with tax: $5.62. Food budget remaining until April 16: $340.13.

Meal one: Caveman eat banana

Posted in Uncategorized on March 17, 2010 by Adam McDowell

Thanks to the previous night’s sloth, my fridge on Day One does not greet me full of paleo goodness as planned. In fact, of everything in my house, I have a mere handful of acceptable foods to eat:

• honey
• eggs
• mixed nuts
• sunflower seeds

I’m fighting off some kind of stomach bug, so eggs would make me even more nauseous. I’ll have to forage.

Arriving at a convenience store on the way to the office, I’m tempted by mortadella and Philly cheese steak sandwiches, pop, cheese, and sushi (which would be a waste since I’d be throwing the rice away).

But this is my first paleo-meal and the restrictions remain perversely exciting. I’m quite happy to leave with two clementines, a banana and a bottle of Dasani.

The only problem is convenience store prices.

I’ve decided to stick to a total food budget of $350 for the whole cave-month, since that’s about what I spend anyway. I want to see if the diet is financially feasible.

Total cost of three pieces of fruit, a bottle of water and, later, a bag of chamomile tea from the office canteen: $4.25. For one meal, that’s unsustainable. Not thinking ahead will prove costly for me, as it would for a real caveman.

From Coke Zero to zero Coke

Posted in Uncategorized on March 17, 2010 by Adam McDowell

I once read about a Buddhist workshop where participants took their sweet time over an orange slice and then a potato chip, thus learning that natural foods reward slow contemplation in a way that processed ones do not.

“Well, that’s bullshit,” I thought, savouring a freshly opened can of Diet Pepsi.

Although my last “normal” eating night involved some beer, a plate of leftover Chinese food and a handful of my fiancée’s fries — all unwise choices, given that I’ve been pretty stomach-sick — the part I really lingered over was the can of Pepsi.

I’m a pop addict with a habit that waxes and wanes, but I can’t look anyone straight in the face and say I’m following a paleolithic diet if it includes two cans of Coke Zero on a typical day.

I’ve never had to give up pop before, so I lingered over every mouthful and swallow as if I was 10 years old again and a can of Pepsi represented a rare treat (I recall most children having their soft drink consumption restricted just a generation ago; it’s funny to think of that now).

I noticed the illusory artificial sweetness; the surprising creaminess of texture; the playful, pricking tickle of the carbonation.

By the way, taking tasting notes for a can of pop, as if you’re K-Pax or something, will earn you a surprised glance from your seatmate.

Meanwhile, zooming along in a streetcar on my way to an appointment I couldn’t reschedule despite being sick, my eye was caught by all the people taking in some early spring, early evening sunshine. I would say 40% of the can of Pepsi disappeared down my throat without my really noticing it. I guess I can live without this stuff for a while.


Posted in Uncategorized on March 16, 2010 by Adam McDowell

Before I can act like a modern-day caveman, I have to decide on some ground rules with regard to my diet. So far, I’ve decided:

1 • While probing the internet has revealed quite a few schisms in the caveman congregation regarding this or that food, the basic message stays more or less the same everywhere: To eat a paleolithic diet means to eat good, lean sources of protein, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and nuts and seeds in moderation. These, the paleos believe, are the fuels our bodies are designed to run on. We’ll look at that idea in more detail as we go on.

What’s not allowed are the foods of the neolithic revolution — of civilization. Verboten are cereals, legumes (that one surprised me), and processed foods; plus added salts and refined sugars and flours.

2 • Tubers and other starchy root vegetables are contentious. Diet-oriented paleos (such as Loren Cordain) ban them altogether while others only counsel a blight on potatoes, sweet potatoes, and similar stuff (I’m not offered much cassava in Canada but I assume that’s off-limits). Meanwhile my early research seems to indicate people ate tubers, say, 25,000 years ago.

For the time being my rule shall be to keep them out of the diet, since I’d like weight loss to be a side effect of this experiment and I know from previous experience that the less starch I eat, the less I weigh.
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Real cavemen don’t eat salami

Posted in Uncategorized on March 16, 2010 by Adam McDowell

What you see above is half of my lunch for today. Tomorrow’s will be leaner, supposedly healthier, and closer to what a caveman would have consumed.

I won’t allow myself to indulge in salami and mustard for a while, even organic salami and mustard, for these are the processed, fatty fruits of civlization. Also forbidden: the spring roll I also ate (not pictured). And a lot of other treats for that matter: Cheese, hot dogs, beans; even bread.

Starting Wednesday I’m undertaking a one-month experiment in adding aspects of a paleolithic man’s daily round into my 21st-century urban existence. I want to see how far I can travel in the footsteps of our Stone Age hunter-gatherer ancestors — at least in terms of the way I eat and keep fit — while making a living as a writer for the National Post, a daily Canadian newspaper based in Toronto.
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