Monday, September 27, 2010

Dogma and a Dip in the Paleo Pool...

Throughout my blog project I have questioned what purpose the blog serves in my life. It is part creative pet-project, part daily writing exercise, part exploration opportunity and part soapbox. Kinda complicated, huh? If nothing else, when you read my posts everyday there should be something interesting in them every day, because they are not all the same. I have cast my net pretty wide on this one.

But ever since I have been reading Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions cookbook I feel that my blog project has taken a different turn. Not only is Fallon’s book largely new information to me, some of it goes directly against my conventional thinking. Being raised in the US, I am a product of the 1980s and 90s government attempts to sell us on a low fat diet. And while as an adult I have long believed that fat doesn’t really make us fat, I have long believed that saturated fat does clog our arteries and that animal foods are less healthy for us than vegetable foods. But in reading not only Fallon but some other sites that I have dug up recently, I am not so certain anymore.

First off, on my Notes on Perfection post last week I expressed some concerns for labeling foods as better than each other. I was speaking specifically about whole unprocessed foods, not about real foods versus processed foods. To choose between an apple and an orange as to which is healthier seems so foolish to me! And that is just a simple comparison. Imagine trying to decide between grass fed beef and say spinach. They are COMPLETELY different! It would really be pointless to decide between the two. But as Americans within our culture we do that every day without even realizing it. And there are plenty of Internet sites out there where people are doing just that, ANDI Scores anyone?

Recently in my digging under the tree of nutrition, I have recently discovered the Paleo people. The Paleo Diet assumes, much like I do, that modern food is well, too modern. That we have not evolved much beyond what our Paleolithic ancestors were eating, and so to attain optimal health we should eat like them. That means for the most part that we should be eating meats, vegetables, nuts and seeds. And some Paleo people feel strongly that you should not be eating anything that could not also be eaten raw. Fine if you want to cook it, but if you cannot digest it raw (i.e.-beans and legumes) then it would not have been in the diet of Paleolithic man. The Paleo Diet also means no grains, no added sweeteners beyond honey and no dairy. This is a very strict diet, but one that I could support because I do recognize after all my reading that you do not need grains and dairy for optimal health. Though I definitely believe that you need vegetables, and I am starting to believe that you need meat. But that is a different story for a different time. So all you vegetarians out there, no worries. I am not going to be slandering your lifestyle anytime soon.

But one thing is for sure, whenever you stand for something it means that you absolutely DO NOT stand for something else. As I was reading last week about the Paleo Diet, I stumbled across a post entitled Are Green Beans Primal or Paleo? To have a blog post come to the conclusion that green beans finally counted as food, from a writer and eater who had previously thought of them as a non-food, well that was enough to get my panties in a wad. Now granted, this writer was writing from a Paleo Diet perspective, and he was arguing that while legumes and beans are off limits in the Paleo diet because of their high lectin content, that green beans didn’t fit the mold because the bean was so small and really what we eat was the more vegetable like pod. My first reaction was to practically spit my coffee out. I have never considered beans or legumes to be unhealthy. In fact next to McDonald’s, HFCS and other even conventionally raised beef, I would have considered beans MORE healthy than most other foods processed or not. Where else in nature do you find protein AND fiber (okay—nuts, but there are some similarities).

Throughout my ‘studies’ since my blog began back in May, I have searched out some new concepts. And though I have been generally been open to them, some beliefs have been harder to topple. I truly believed that I didn’t have time to make my own broth. And I fought it for a while with one excuse after another. But now, I have finally crossed that bridge. I also had some trouble with the idea that saturated fat is important to a person’s diet. I never thought I would throw out my vegetable oils, but that is exactly what I have done. I think now that I have every application covered with lard, butter, olive oil and coconut oil. When I started this blog project I never expected to think of canola, soybean or corn oils as unhealthy, but I actually do now. But of course in hearing someone make a statement like this, I always bristle at first. “Is that person saying I am unhealthy or uneducated about my food?” I said the same thing after the green bean post. When I come across someone being particularly dogmatic about some fringe idea on the Internet I tend to dismiss it. But I try to keep an open mind. I don’t like dogma. Even sometime Sally Fallon is very black and white in her statements of what is healthy and unhealthy, and they don’t always jive with mine. She may be right, but delivery is the key. When speaking to a new audience that firmly believes in their long held conventional beliefs, addressing the reader’s apprehension is key. Fallon does a pretty good job of that in trying to persuade people to drop their conventional nutritional beliefs. But that green bean guy last week that I read on the Internet? Not so much.

In the reading and researching that I have recently been doing, some commonalities rise to the top of the endless sea of information. The Low-fat people are touting a low fat diet that is backed by the USDA and other government agencies and the majority of people in the US, but there is a lot of science that contradicts it. The Raw Food people, the Paleo people, the Atkins people, the Low Carb people and the Real Food people (I suppose if I fit in a group, this would be the one I fall into), all believe that fat is important, that processed foods are killing us, that animal fats in particular are important (except for some Raw people), and the more unadulterated a food source the better. There are so many connections between all of these that it can be said that they all belong in the same branch of nutritional evolution. What separates them are different bits of dogma.

I realized last week, that in this my second trimester at The Table of Promise, my blog project is becoming a tool for me to answer that very personal question, ‘what should I eat?’ And while I love Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, I am not willing to simply let him make all the decisions for me. My mother had a wonderful saying that I still use today “Take the good and leave the rest’. This saying has guided my life by helping me to find the good in anything and disregard the things I don’t like without judgement. The truth is I don’t have to fit into one of the preexisting nutritional groups. I can pick what I like from one or another and leave the rest without disregarding the group as a whole. I for one am trying to reconcile what I should eat with what is available to me, I am after all a modern eater. So perhaps that is the group I will be a part of, the Practical Real Food people. I think it has a nice ring to it.


  1. Nourishing Traditions sent me for a ride as well. I thought I knew a lot about food. I had friends who were nutritionists/bio-chemists and they backed up the science in NT. I have since started consuming broths after being a lacto-ovo vegetarian for 12 years. People look at me weird when I feed my toddler steamed veg smothered in butter but you got to do what you know is best. I did have to draw the line on Sally's decision on chocolate. Not ready to give that up yet :)

  2. I like Practical Real Food people--thanks for your research and insights. I enjoy reading your blog.