Locavores, Pescatarians and Paleo's - oh my!

In the seven months since I decided to stop using this blog as my soapbox on how to make healthy living choices both O and mine's siblings have both adopted new restrictive eating habits. One became paleo, the other pescatarian (and I don't think either reads this blog). Confused? So was my Mom (understandably). This is how I broke it down for  her: 

• Paleo - If cavemen didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either. This means no refined sugar, dairy, legumes or grains (cavemen didn't farm). Instead your entire diet must revolve around foods that the caveman could find, kill/pick and eat himself. This means: meat, fish, poultry, fruits, and veggies. 
• Pescatarian - a diet that includes seafood and excludes all other animals. Think of it as stepping stone towards becoming a vegetarian.
• Locavore - someone who is committed to eating food that is grown or produced within their local community or region. 

Before I dive into why I don't recommend paleo and pescatarian eating habits I'd like to further explain my own: The term "locavore" touches only part of my food goals. Foremost: I focus on heart healthy foods and portion sizes. Second: I choose local foods over organic foods (farmer's market kale instead of organic kale from California). Third:  I choose long distance real/whole foods over local processed foods (example: banana from Guatemala instead of a pre-packaged snack food made near Atlanta). Fourth: No CAFO* meats! Fifth: Processed foods of any kind are only eaten as a splurge (example: Lay's Potato Chips or corn chips with queso) and all above rules may be broke when I am someone's guest (as a Southern Lady, I enjoy anything offered by my host). 

The paleos and pescatarians in my life arrived at their new food lifestyles in completely legitimate and respectables ways. I appreciate and applaud their goals and reasons; I just think they're a little misguided. Here's why:

  1. Paleo very specifically forbids the foods that O & I put so much emphasis on eating. Foods such as black beans, oatmeal, Greek yogurt and whole wheat rice. A healthy food lifestyle shouldn't ban it's participants from adopting more healthy eating habits.
  2. Paleo focuses on asking yourself the wrong question. Instead of "did Cavemen consider this food" a better question would be "did my great-grandmother consider this food**"? Your great-grandmother might stare in disbelief at Fruit Loops but she'll be happy to dig into some oatmeal with real maple syrup.
  3. At it's core the Paleo diet is not one that is realistically maintained for a lifetime. For the short term it's too reminiscent of the awful Atkins fad. And you remember Atkins don't you? People lost tons of weight eating red meat and cheese - only to put all the weight back on when they returned to their normal eating habits.

Our pescatarian sibling made this choice out of respect for the mistreatment of CAFO* animals. It's true, not eating meat is a sure fire way to make sure you're not responsible for the mistreatment of factory farm animals; but I feel more strongly aligned with the alternative "vote with your fork***" philosophy. Instead of giving up meat altogether spend a little more money on meat that was raised ethically. If it's too expensive then eat less of it. Supporting the "good" farmers helps reduce factory farming more then boycotting the "bad" farmers. 

This last point, supporting farmers who ethically raise chicken, pigs and cows is one that I want to work on myself. I have a reliable egg source and all our meat comes from a farmer's market that promises organic origins - but what do I really know about those animals' living conditions? Organic labeling may also hint about being "free range" but it doesn't always guarantee it. I talk a big talk but it's time for me to walk the walk. My goal for this spring: find a meat CSA or local farm to start buying from.

* Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. Also known as Factory Farming
**credit to Michael Pollan's Food Rules
***"The wonderful thing about food is you get three votes a day. Every one of them has the potential to change the world. Now, it may seem a little daunting to think, 'Oh my God, I’ve got to vote right three times a day.' And, you know...you don’t and you won’t. We all have our junk foods that we can’t resist, and that’s fine...But if you get it right once a day, you can produce a more sustainable agriculture, a cleaner environment, diminish climate change, and improve the lot of animals. That’s an amazing power that we have, and we all have it." - Michael Pollan: http://www.nourishlife.org/2011/03/vote-with-your-fork/

A short history of the Mason Jar

Check out this short and enjoyable read from Sunday's New York Times Magazine. It's about the history of the Mason Jar! The line "...home canning has gained traction among a certain class of urban locavores..." made me chuckle. I didn't realize that Oliver and I had made it to the ranks of "a certain class" of people! Regardless of class, I'm always happy to find people spreading the word about eating local (be it urban, suburban or rural).

Another great reason to learn to feed yourself...*

*and by "feed yourself" I mean "produce your own food".

On my drive home from work this evening I listened to an NPR All things considered segment that both worried and energized me. "Facing Planetary Enemy Number One: Agriculture" highlighted the vexing  reality that: 1."Farming accounts for a third of all the emissions of greenhouse gases that humans release into the environment." 2. Demand for food is expected to double over the next forty years due to population increase. 

Damage done to the environment by big agriculture is a topic that comes up in the news at least twice a week. (But at the moment I can't remember where I've read the most recent articles. New York Times? NPR? If YOU, my attractive and intellectual reader, if you remember please post it as a comment.) The answer to the inevitable head-butt seems consistent: we cannot feed the world with an agricultural system based on petroleum and mass deforestation. The solution lies in local food systems based on time tested crop rotations and a diet dominated by plants.

This is as good a time as any to start living by the Boyscout's motto: be prepared. All you have to do is learn how to grow and eat some plants. If I can do it, you can do it too!

"A Year of Food Life" - a must read!

Locavores, foodies and home gardeners have all found inspiration in the true story of Barbara Kingsolver's year long food experiment. In 2007 Barbara Kingsolver (you may already know her as the author of the novel "The Bean Trees") moved her family from Arizona to Virginia with a vow to survive only on food that either they had grown themselves or had been grown in their neighborhood. In her novel "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" she details their family experiment. Over the course of twelve months Barbara, her husband and her two daughters raise heirloom turkeys, perfect the art of daily homemade bread, can hundreds of vegetables and learn to make cheese all while running their own hillside fruit and vegetable farm. If that isn't enough, each chapter ends with a recipe.

If you're someone who is still putting off starting a garden or needs convicing about the joys of eating in season foods then please read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A year of food life". This book is the reason our garden went from summer to year round. It also inspired my desire to learn canning and my ambition to eat not just real food but real, local, in-season food.
  • The recipes are on Barbara's website. Click the following for a direct link: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle recipes
  • You can read an exert from the book here.
  • And finally, as I give this awesome book two thumbs, do me favor: click the following link to play aloud the background.  Click here!