The Civilized Diet

It seems that spring has finally sprung in this northern environment. There are various way to tell and when this happening. The shoes become less boot like, the guys with large calf muscle tattoos no longer shiver as much when they are wearing their shorts, the Public Gardens opens, and the stuff that falls from the sky becomes more wet and less white. It’s all very unhygienic if you ask me but these signs are what anyone can see. There is one new symptom of springyness which I was not aware of until this year. The people in your life stop making fun out of your dietary quirks and start seriously sitting you down and asking pointed questions.

This does not happen to everyone but it has been happening to me quite a lot lately. I guess it’s because I have lost a great deal of excess fat tissue, quit smoking, and generally look healthier than I have in years.I guess the other symptom is the vague hope that one day in the near future there is a slim chance that clouds will part and there may be a chance of a trip to the beach. This is immediately followed by the terror of displaying all those unsightly folds in the body.

So as I have done before I will write it down so I do not have to repeat myself ad infinitum et naseaum.

I may bore you at some latter date about how I arrived at all these little decisions and all the mistakes I made along the way but let me spoil the ending since that is what people keep asking me about.

Without further ado.

WTF are you eating?

This is more or less the question I get asked globally except the older people in my life may word it a bit differently. The answer they want is always looking for some magic bullet, or possibly a flute, to my diet. Basically ‘What thing can I start eating to look like you?’

My eye roll is usually audible when I figure out that is the question in the other persons mind.

So let me answer once and for all: there is no magical thing that you can eat that will solve all your problems. If anyone says different they are selling you something.

You can, however, alter a bunch of things in your life to be healthier and happier. There are a great many diets out there that claim to do just that and have the added marketing bonus of having famous people on them. So I am going to start with the diet schemas that you will find as you search through the internet and explain exactly why I am not on them.

Palaeo Diet: Why Do So Many People Spell It Paleo?

I came upon this diet through Dan Benjamin when I was idly listening to the Daily Edition one afternoon. Even during the show I thought there were obvious logical problems with what was being said but that was only the rationale behind the diet. Still I was surprised at that fact there were a great many acti rei that I was already doing. So in interest of fairness let me start there.

In general if you switch from a standard, unthinking, North American diet to the Palaeo diet you will notice a definite health boost. The reason for why this is has nothing to do with modernity really but I has more to with how capitalism functions coupled with a few farm subsidies but that is a boring long topic that I do not wish to get into at this juncture.

Essentially I like that they eat animals that are, under normal circumstances, raised ethically and that they eat large quantities of vegetables. Eating less sugar and grain has obvious health benefits and the diet explicitly advocates exercise that you find fun along with the concept of actually leaving your house and doing these things in a group setting.

So great, fantastic in fact. Everybody should be on this diet right. Well as you noticed what I am naming my diet, in a tongue in the cheek way, is mocking this particular brand of cult diet so there must be something wrong with it. Well it is not just something but the entire diet is built on foundation of sand. All of the quotes below are me paraphrasing a variety of sources.

It’s a more natural diet.

Bullshit

Nature is, by its very definition, what is outside of humanity. I know lots of people, including Trudeau, want to be a child of nature but if we are children of nature we have most definitely moved out of the house long ago.

Well by natural we mean what we ate during the Palaeolithic period when we where healthier due to our diet.

Bullshit

I took physical anthropology as well. Child mortality rates were through the roof at the time and that messes with the over all health gauge that you apply to the adult population. Basically anyone with any disease that would make life without assistance would die very early on in their lives. Our medical technology has made a lot of terminal childhood aliments became chronic adult ailments.

Furthermore, our first world jobs that have us sitting for the great majority of our lives has nothing to do with the amount of physical activity that would have been required to gather food in the any lithic period. Unless you are in some sort of profession that requires a particularly high energy input it is most likely your calories in versus calorie out does not match or Cro-Magnon predecessors.

Yes but grain is poison. We haven’t evolved to eat it yet and it makes some people very sick. It’s science.

Bullshit

Never use the sick to bolster your argument. It makes you look like a tv evangelist and besides that very small subset of people are critically affected by grain while some are just mildly bother by it. It’s kind of like lactose intol…

Dairy is also going to jump out the little dairy thing in your fridge and kill you in your sleep.

Sigh.

Where was I? Oh right its kind of like lactose intolerance. There is a bit of a bell curve to those that are ethnically disposed to eating the stuff. Sure grain was a more global change in eating behaviour but that is only because it is that much more useful than dairy.

As for evolution I am pretty sure you don’t really seem to understand the theory.

When watching a discovery channel special about evolution you get the idea that evolution is the change in species over a very long period of time. The Tyrannosaurus Rex morphing slowly into chicken and ostriches and what not.

While this is true and it is also true that we have not physically changed that much over the course of the last 100.000 or so years. It is not true that our ability to digest certain types of food has not changed drastically.

There are a few reason for this but let’s start with evolution.

Evolution is not the slow changes of species over time. That is the observed effect. Evolution is more the theory that one species can become a totally different species with there is a environmental stimulus that effects survival. Considering there was a huge population explosion of all species concerned at the end of the last Ice Age I would like to suggest that for the vast majority of the population seems to be benefiting form the new found environment.

Notice I said species. Humans are only on side of the equation here. The grain itself has changed as well. Normally we were just trying to increase yield of flour per stalk in the given farm land but the grain that occupies most of our farming efforts has nothing to do with the wild things we were dealing with in the early stages of our urbanisation.

Beyond that, even based merely on the math, we all share a single descendant from the last thousand years or so and that is after around 8.000 years of pretty stable agriculture.

… but grain is evil.

Grain is merely a type of chemical fuel to keep us alive. It might not be the best fuel for our current lifestyle but in the history of mistakes no one has ever made one mistake for over 5.000 years. In fact very few things has stayed as consistant habit for such a long period other than the basic components of our diet. So let’s go at his at a different angle. Why are those that eat grain the ones that inherited the earth? (Remember grain being a staple of a diet only started in the river valleys of the Yanzhi, Ganges, Tigris and Euphrates, and the Nile.)

Seriously think about it. This a technology that has 100 percent of the market. Even Ipods are less ubiquitous than grain. ‘Let them eat bread’. The communion ritual. ‘Bread and Circuses’. Passover. ‘7 cities now claim Homer dead through which he begged [for] his bread’.

As much as the glowing Apple logo is symbol for ‘I’m creating’, grain is the symbol for what it is to be civilized. Why?

Just two reasons.

The first is simple. Grain can be stored for long periods without rotting. Ancient societies had some difficulty with the refrigeration concept.

The other reason is that, even though it not the most nutritious thing on earth, it is very good at replacing glycogen. Just ask any endurance athlete.

This is an important reason really because when grain was the major chemical fuel that ran our society it was a great solution. Especially when most of the physical labour put into building and maintaining these society was human in essence(re. slavery).

Both of these reasons are becoming increasing obsolete. We have replaced slave labour with largely hydrocarbon fuelled machines and I think we have the whole flash freezing and consistant electrical power thing down despite the occasional hiccup. Think about how ballsy it is to make ice cream and then ship it hundreds if not thousands of kilometers away to just have sit on shelf.

This is not the reason Palaeo people site but at the same time they advocate no grain when the increased obsolesces of grain is merely of an argument that, perhaps, we should eat less grain.

But SCIENCE!

Oh you’re still there.

Right science and this applies to all scientific data on human nutrition; there is no definite data on human nutrition. There is data that suggests things but it is hardly gospel and we have seen how inaccurate those texts are.

Some people may quote some specific biochemical reaction in the body or some minor study that about a specific food given to an incredulously small sample group and claim it is science when in reality is scientific.

If you look at the original paper there are a lot of ‘perhaps’, ‘tends’, and ‘maybes’ dominating the word count. This is also the problem with scientists these days not being proud of their work to the point of being obnoxious which annoys me for other reasons but a different day and a different topic.

Now go back into you those dark recesses of your mind. Remember sitting in that middle school general science class where someone was trying to introduce you to the clever mix of inductive and deductive logic that we call the scientific method. What was the most important thing to get rid of? Unknown quantities. Otherwise your experiment is bunk, right?

Now try to reduce the amount of influence of unknown quantities on your research data on human health as it relates to a diet.

To get rid of the ethnic variability you would need a large enough sample group say about somewhere between one hundred thousand to one million. Then there is the environmental variable so you would have to spread everyone out so that they were living in every possible environment on this earth. Also since we want to tell people how to eat for their whole life you would need data from every stage of human development. Then just to make sure you would probably need at least 2 or 3 generations.

So the experiment would take approximately a century and cost a ridiculous sum of money but it would produce decent enough data. Until someone presents you with such data they are fumbling about in the dark like so many horny teenagers before them.

Also I am pretty sure some people at the Hague might want to have a chat.

But you will lose weight and gain muscle and …

Yeah, all diets claim that. It’s a standard claim and honestly thats what gets most people through the door. This is the major part of any diet that is internalized to the point of narcissism. You are not building a community if you are only talking about your nutrition, or your looks, or your how other food, that other people are eating, is going to kill you and your family then its time to pack it in as far as I am concerned.

To put it another way Norman Borlaug saved humanity from starving to death and not only is Palaeo diet’s greatest achievement that you might get six pack abs one summer but you have they have audacity to imply that poor old Norman is a mass poisoner.

With that I have to stop talking about Palaeo before I get angry.

Veganism

Oddly, for the fact that it most disimular to my own diet, I have less problems with Veganism. As a group they somewhat annoy me but only in a mild way. This is probably because they, as group, are outward thinking. Most vegans I meet don’t want to be the cause of suffering unto this earth.

This is where the annoying part comes in. It is not really their fault. It is more a byproduct of early liberal romanticism about:

How all creature great and small are yearning to be free and that nature is oh so wonderful.

Bullshit

Okay I am just being mean, and more problematically - redundant, for the sake of consistency so I will cut it out now. The whole idea of veganism is just born out of the general coddling of modern world coupled with the ability to use mental blinders to information around them. Which is probably why I can not entertain the idea of veganism for very long.

The key misfire that needs to be addressed is that death does not equal suffering. In fact in some cases it is the release to suffering but that is a topic for another day. Suffering is the only thing that equals suffering and let me explain the difference.

I happen to live in a city. In some point in the near future, if I am to believe some of the science fiction stories floating about, there will be a point where animal life is completely wiped out and the only animals that will be left in the cities will be man. In the interm I have noticed that there are quite a few pigeons floating about.

They got there because at some point, I think in the mid 17th century, the squab market’s bottom fell out and the farmers just kind of let the beasties go.

Since these are a mostly domesticated animal they have a rapid growth cycle and are always able to breed as long as food is around. With these talents at their disposal they managed to carve out a niché in urban centers. And now people complain about them and consider them pests.

Now I ask have any of you really looked at one of these animals closely or do you just kick them out of you way? I have and I can tell you I do not like what I see.

Not long ago, I saw a pigeon that was little more hagard than the rest. Upon closer scrutiny it seemed to have misplaced its foot and was attempting to walk on an obviously sore stump. Upon even closer inspection, yes I had to move my head closer to the birds for this one, I noticed that the stump had not quite healed properly and with each step some puss was coming out of the side of its leg each time the stump hit the ground. I tried to throw a small amount of food closer to it than the others with middling success.

This is not earth shattering to me nor should it be to anyone else but I shudder at the possibility of the a large scale sudden change to veganism.

Just imagine what I just described on the scale of all our domestic animals. I am sure some of you may think that these large farm conglomerates will simply kill all the animals, which kind of ignores the first principles of veganism anyway, but the last time I checked factory farms do not care that much about the sake of the environment or the for the sake of the people in their direct vicinity.

What they do care about is their bottom line. So if all the meat markets collapsed and there is little to no chance that any of the individual animals could be traced back to a particle institution, what do you think they will do? Kill all the animals at their own expense and dispose of the bodies both hygienically and properly or just open the doors and let them out?

Still Veganism is possible as a personal choice even if building a large scale community out of the diet is probably not the best idea.

WTF I Am Eating

The thing that I must make absolutely clear is that this diet is less about what you are putting into your body and is really about how you get the things towards your body in the first place. This is largely ignored by most ‘diets’ which doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me. Food is part of our lives in a more important way than just the base material of what we massage over a gullets.

So what can you eat on this diet?

Well, pretty much anything really but the general rule is: If the food you want to eat has a marketing department, especially if it a health based marketing campaign, then you probably shouldn’t eat it.

My more complicated rules follow.

Animal Treatment

Dostoevsky tells me that you can judge any society by the treatment of their prisoners. AS far as I am concerned that statement should be altered to say that ‘every society should be judged by the treatment of those in their custody’.

Let’s face it, we overtly support an industry that essentially tortures animals for the entirety of their short lives to save a couple of bucks a week. Which then most of us turn around and spend it on something trivial; like a video game. I know its a couple of buck a week because I am paying exactly 3 dollars more a week on meat than I used to.

This may be a byproduct of growing up with a mother that was a fan of James Harriot but to be fair I like animals, in general, and I have no inclination, desire, or need to cause undue suffering.

Of course there are a great many studies showing that animals that are farmed traditionally are better for a great many reasons and in all likely hood just changing your meat supply to the traditionally farmed equivalents will probably make you loose weight. Also it tastes a great deal better (Actually I do not notice as huge a difference with chicken as the difference in beef and pork from their mass produced counterparts). Still, I don’t want to believe that most people will care more about their waist lines over the welfare of millions of living creatures. I choose to believe that most people just feel like the can’t do anything about it.

But honestly ask yourself is new ipod once a year worth the cost of the wonton suffering that you are creating on this earth?

Wild Animals

Personally I do not eat any wild animals because I think it’s rude. We do not raise these creatures and with our invention of agriculture we should be able able to avoid killing random animals for food. This is merely a personal convention and it is debatable in a causal non-yelling way.

An outgrowth of this idea, which I am more adamant about, is that I do not eat fish.

It is not that I do not enjoy the taste and it goes beyond the simple rudeness factor.

The real reason behind this is that when science is seriously asking whether or not there will be any fish left in 2050, I think that laying of the fish sticks for a few years might be a good idea. I occasionally get yelly about this one.

Science

Despite my rant about the faulty science in the Palaeo diet, I actually am a big fan of the higher ideals of science. I would like to think that scientists are, in general, trying to make the world of better place. I also acknowledge in pursuit of this that mistakes will be made.

Because of this I have tendency, from time to time, to do the one month experiment of adding or taking away things from my daily diet based on some papers that are being circulated. To this end I have reduced the amont of grain I eat, one or two servings a day, but there are two unusual items in my diet that I should note. So breakfast for me is a bowl of fruit or a smoothie.

Chia seeds and a supplement called Vega.

Chia seeds I just eat because they have omega-3 fats and it seems to be a decent fish replacement. I just dump two tables spoons in my juice before my morning run. It is not a huge deal and it did help that it is both cheap, 13 dollars a month, and was food stuff that was used for a particularly long period of time.

The Vega, on the other hand, is a new thing with a few things that are not necessarily traditional food in it. I don’t think microplankton is food at all by most definitions.

Still, Brendan Brazier did formulate it and used it given the unreasonable demands he put on his body – he is an Iron Man triathelte – and it seemed to work well for him so I thought I would try the one month thing.

I started taking it when I started my first attempt to run a marathon, post smoking, and I found that it did help a great deal. In general it makes me feel more energetic and it seems to be quite good for me which I can fairly accurately diagnosis but don’t want to get into how I know these things.

Still I go of it from time to time because it is quite expensive and it is not exactly food. I consider the modern equivalent of taking your cod liver oil and unless you have some severe restrictions on your diet it is not necessary. Just a nice bonus if you can afford it.

Exercise

Do something you enjoy for a few times a week.

Thats all I have to say on that. Just try to do something that makes you move under your own power for 30 mins or so. I personally do more but I happen to like running and I lift weights a few times a week because the running was making me far to thin but just pick something that you like to do.

If you are terribly out of shape you may have to wait of month for you not to hate all physical activity. After that though you should know if you like it or not.

Buy from Small Vendors

When you buy your foods from small vendors, which essentially all non-factory farms are, then you have a great deal more power than you have over the larger corporate entities. A small group will notice when your business is gone and furthermore they appreciate the business they get. They simply put the extra effort forth where as large business simply race to the bottom on price.

Furthermore, beyond simple power negotiations, you feel better about yourself. Not in the ‘oh look at me buying local’ sense – I hate that – but in the sense that you start to care about the health of the people you deal with.

For instance, I buy all of my beef and most of my pork from Chris de Waal from Getaway farm. He knows that I have an unhealthy obsession with well marbleized rib eye steaks but I also know when he is off giving a lecture and I find myself wondering how it went, if I did not attend.

My tea guy, despite the fact of the impossibility of tea being grown locally, Philip Holmans of World Tea House knows far to much about me but at the same time I think it is the only tea house on earth where I can talk about tea, video games, and zombies. He also has the ability to recommend tea to me after figuring out what my general tastes are.

I get coffee from Uncommon Grounds and I know most of the staff there although they have a tough time knowing what type of coffee I am in the mood for due to my mercurial nature.

If I want a baked good I don’t go and buy a box of oreos. I either get something at Uncommon Grounds or Susie’s Shortbread. I personally find that any one item for either of those places if far more pleasurable that a whole box of pre-made cookies.

And this list goes on and on.

This is what the real civil part of the diet. You have to build an actual community from which you can actually get to know people and this allows you to actually have a personal relationship with your food and also enforce a certain sensibility across a great many businesses in your community. We have to be Patrons of our own community and in that sense you can feel the sense of pride and happiness of a parent.

When All Is Said and Done: Life Is Just to Damn Short

All the rules above can easily be disregarded in favour of your own. Seriously, don’t consider it a cheat this is how you live your life.

If your weight is bothering you then just cut the obviously bad things out of your diet and exercise a little but I should remind you that weight isn’t everything. People go on diets because something about their lives is wrong and they would like to fix it.

Generally speaking the goal of every dieter is to be happy again and I would tell some story from my life but it is easier to just retell an older story.

Siddhartha, during his one grain of rice a day phase, was approached by a girl with some rice pudding. The girl, seeing only a hungry man, offered him some. He did not say that grain was the poison of society, worry about the ingredients, or think about the calories. He just laughed, accepted some, and started down his path to true enlightenment.

Interacting with others is far more important that anything you eat. So go out and try to replace most of your food with food from people that you know and you like and remember it is always better to break bread with friends than it is to troll some Palaeo forum.

If you don’t know anybody well no is the time to make new friends and please, try to laugh occasionally.

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