Monday, January 18, 2010

Neolithic Paleolithic

It's yummy, yes, but raw honey is still sugar in the body.  Fructose, actually. Lots of fructose.

I find myself doing it again and again. A little here, a bit there and before you know it, I find myself craving all sorts of something-sweety-please. Eating a paleo style diet is, by its very definition, simple: grass fed meats, some wild caught seafood, healthy fats, some cultured veg and you got yourself a stellar meal.

The problems start when I decide to make a little 'treat'.  Of course, I pacify myself by only using a little raw, organic honey, raw butter, a little almond or coconut flour instead of grains.  Unfortunately, my rationalization doesn't translate to reality in my body.  Those healthy, primal-style muffins I'm swallowing are chased with a glug of cravings-for-more.

I see it in my kids, too. What old Slavic gene of mine requires me to make them these little 'treats'? They all know the difference between a white flour pancake and our alternative, but, really, why have that alternative? Is it not just a vehicle to get some sort of sugar into the body? And when I say sugar I mean something sweet. Doesn't making these substitutes just maintain the desire for these neolithic foods?

Dr. Kurt Harris' recent post, "Smoking Candy Cigartettes" is a wickedly smart and insightful commentary on this little mind game we play with ourselves.  Dr. Harris also comments on that oft-faced dilemma of what to do when social etiquette suggests we should stuff some grossness into our gullet, all in the spirit of keeping the peace.

Smoking Candy Cigarettes

Some of you are no doubt too young to remember them.
They came in two forms when I was a kid in the late 60’s. The first was a hard white candy stick the same length as a standard filtered cigarette but just a bit thinner. No particular flavor, unless “sucrose” is a flavor. There was a red, actually pink, smudge painted onto one end to simulate the ember of a real smoke.
The other kind was the one I preferred. It was actually a stick of pink bubblegum. Nude, this faux cancer-stick was not too realistic and certainly did not make you look tough, as it was pink, but if you could resist the urge to chew it right away, the dimensions were closer to a real cigarette and it had a white paper wrapper, the mouthward inch or so embossed with a printed pattern that made it look like a filter.
At least one of these – I know for sure the hard candy ones and I believe the gum ones as well - had a coating of fine confectioner’s sugar that, with a sharp puff outward, you could imagine for about two puffs that you were part of the sophisticated world of those who fit in – the smokers.
After those two puffs, you could become a regular gum-chewing or candy crunching kid, or you could go for another “smoke”.
The idea that a 9 year-old kid feigning a bad habit is more likely to take up the real and very deadly one it is modeled on makes a good libertarian roll his eyes- now what, even candy cigarettes are bad?
But there may be something to the idea. It turns out that no tobacco company has ever sued a candy company for using their brand names on candy cigarettes. It seems obvious that candy companies counted on Junior’s emulation of Dad and Big Tobacco allowed trademark infringement to enable candy companies to socialize the new recruits. 
Does this remind you of anything?
When you go to the birthday party for your neighbor’s kid, and you eat the birthday cake, what message does that send?
You show up looking trim and fit. You pride yourself on being a nice person. You are happy with your progress and pleased if people ask you how you lost weight, maybe more when they seem to look at you funny – a little jealous, maybe even suspicious. After eating this way for a few years, though, you are perhaps most comfortable if no one says anything at all.
You are weary of the reactions -the incredulity, the mockery, the eye-rolling. Pushing 50, you’ve tried pulling up your shirt to point at your gentle washboard, but you’ve learned that the segue to explaining why you are not just cultivating an attractive corpse due to all that arterycloggingsaturatedfat that you live on is tedious and it gets you nowhere.
So, not having been clinically diagnosed as having celiac disease, when the rectangular slab of Hy-Vee or Piggly Wiggly birthday cake – frosted 3/8” thick and a stratum of oily granular sugar running through the middle to boot – is proferred, you say “thank you”, flash a non-Duchenne smile that only a trained psychologist would question, and accept it, holding the flimsy paper plate and plastic fork with both hands to keep it from tumbling onto the ground.
You repair to some corner of the party where you can nibble at the cake, maybe spill a few crumbs, and eventually hide the paper plate, now soggy with vegetable oil absorbed from the corpus of the cake.
Who are the agents of acculturation here?
Even if you are not Philip Morris, are you the candy company?
What do the kids think? Well, they probably think nothing at all. It’s a birthday party after all and presents and sugar buzzes and juice and soda and treats are the sea they swim in.
All the time.
They will have no opportunity to say to you, “How come you don’t want cake?” or to their parents – “how come that skinny man doesn’t eat cake?”.
OK, young children probably wouldn’t notice one way or another, but what if you said, “No, thanks” to the cake offer? What if mom is serving, and asks “Why not?”.
Is there not a small but finite probability that you could give an answer that might lead to a discussion – a discussion that might change someone’s life, even if it’s not the questioner’s.
Maybe an image conscious teenage girl notices an adult male who from the neck down looks fitter than all the boys at her school who don’t play sports, and some of the ones that do. Maybe she hears you talk about your lack of hunger and maybe, being a teenager, after all, she is attracted to the transgressive notions you hint at – carnivory, saturated fat -that obviously horrify her parents.
How can this scenario, however unlikely, ever occur if we all keep pretending that we eat agricultural food like everyone else. Food that is constructed or manufactured instead of killed, food that is not real, food that everyone thinks is just fine for people to eat, as long as it goes easy on the “fat”.
Maybe your response to me is “Hey, lighten up, man. I do my part. I preach paleonutrition and the virtue of real food and animal fats on a selective basis.  I can’t be expected to ruin everyone’s day all the time.”
OK, you wear the Real Food Uniform often enough to do some good. No one expects you to get fired over diet advocacy at the office picnic.
If you nibble the cake to be neighborly, maybe the only damage you’ve done is some minimal aiding and abetting – The minions of Ancel Keys and the harpies of Ornish and Campbell have a little less work to do.
You’ve helped them just a little with your vignette of The Thin and Fit Old Guy Who Proves It’s Fine To Eat a Bunch of Sugar.
But what happens when you go home?
Do you doff the uniform of the Real Food Army and join Keys’ agricultural army reserve? Do you train yourself to crave the manufactured food of the dominant paradigm? Do you make and eat food with the modifier “paleo” in front of it?
Food that is designed to look and taste like signal dishes of 19th and 20th century industrially-inspired and manufactured food?
Paleo pancakes?
Paleo cupcakes?
Try a google search of neolithic treats with the prefix “paleo-” stuck on.
Here’s one:

You can make pancakes without flour? Yes! Recipe from xxxxxxxxx:
1. Beat/Mix:
1-2 eggs
1-2 table spoons of crushed almonds (or nut butter ... no peanut butter though .... peanuts are beans, not nuts)
cinnamon to taste
2. Fry the batter as you would a pancake on greased pan.
3. Top with fresh fruit. I usually heat up frozen mixed berries from Costco. When you heat them up they get all juicy and act as a syrup. I also like to add a little bit of honey even though this is not true paleo because of it's likeness to sugar.

Crushed nuts mixed with eggs? Who thinks this is not just a vehicle for sugar?
“Frozen mixed berries……get all juicy and act as syrup”
You bet they do!
Honey has a likeness to sugar ….well I suppose if likeness means “is”.
Here is another:
Paleo Pancakes Ingredients:
         1 1/2 Cups Pecan Flour (or almond flour)
         1/4 Cup Heavy Cream
         4 Eggs
         1/4 Cup Butter, melted
         1/8 Cup Agave Nectar
         1 tsp. Vanilla
         1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
Combine all ingredients in a blender. Cook pancakes in a non-stick skillet.
Serve with natural fruit spread or pumpkin butter.
2 tablespoons of Agave nectar would give 18-27 grams of fructose, plus whatever is in the arbitrary quantity of “natural” fruit or sugar-laden pumpkin butter you put on it. A small pack of M&Ms candy has 12 g fructose.
1 ½ cups of almond flour is about 6 or 7 ounces. Almonds are about 17% PUFA, nearly all n-6 linoleic acid, probably well-oxidized after frying in a skillet hot enough to give the “pancake” that golden hue we all like.
That seems like a pretty big oxidized linoleic acid dose to just to manufacture a sugar vehicle.
Does anyone agree that “paleo pancakes” taste like complete shite unless absolutely smothered in hepatotoxic sucrose/ and or butter?
Why not just have 4 eggs fried in butter, cream in your coffee, and a few ounces of unfried almonds?
Why mash it together into a “pancake” if it’s not about the sugar?
If it’s because your kids will scream without a sugar vehicle (we all know 4-year-olds are more physically powerful than crossfitters and are messed with at your peril!), what will your kids do the first morning at University in the breakfast line when there is pile of all-you-can eat pancakes? Will they know there’s wheat flour in place of the ground-up almonds you’ve been conditioning them with?
Would it not be better to train your kids, and yourself, to avoid Neolithic food by the simplest expedient there is? So simple a child could manage it?
Something as simple as a simple rule.
A rule like:
Don’t eat anything that looks like Neolithic food, especially Neolithic food.

What is the point of all this? I just don’t get it, and I don’t think it is because I am just too lazy to make this stuff. 
It’s easy to make fun of commercial junk in a box like “low carb” pasta, zone and atkins bars, etc. All stuff that may be gluten free or have sawdust in place of of high GI starch, but whose real reason for existence is just to appropriate what should properly be freestanding, honest, real food back into the maw of corporate big-agra commercial interests.
How about this:

I am not making this up.  A “Paleo” chocolate cake loaded with Stevia, price $45 US. Note the high-end Barbara Barry tile in the background. I suppose that explains the price.
I am on record as stating that eating anything sweet should be totally avoided if you do not want to have difficulty avoiding sweets. I cannot prove it, but it seems plausible that eating and drinking artificial sweeteners is a physiologic version of “smoking candy cigarettes”. There is likely to be some neuro-hormonal conditioning along with three diet sodas a day. Is there any way a diet soda habit makes it easier to avoid the hyper-ubiquitous sweets we are surrounded by?
I think “cheat days” make just as much sense as a weekly Marlboro red for ex-smokers or lines of coke once in a while after you have left Hazelden. But I admit that is a mere common sense observation, and if it “works” for you to go hyperglycemic or have an extra BM once a week, go for it.
But this “paleo food” thing is bogus. If your food needs a prefix, it is not “paleo” in either the historical or the metabolic sense, and it is, more emphatically, not paleo in the sense that it is helping to keep alive the reigning agricultural paradigm – the one that wants our food to look like agricultural food so that we still crave agricultural food.
Manufacturing simulacra of grandma’s comfort food in your kitchen is either:
1)   Pointless work to make something awful tasting
2)   A veiled excuse to make a sugar vehicle
3)   An unconscious exercise in the service of Ancel Keys’ Neolithic Food Army Reserve. Keep that big-agra-supplied uniform pressed and hanging in the closet, waiting for the call-up. For the day when the paleo-pancake is not doing the trick, and hell, why not have just one real pancake?
If you’re not as evil as the tobacco company or as cynical as the candy company, are you still unconsciously the kid at school sharing cigarette –shaped treats with his playmates at recess?
Are you nurturing the seed of the dominant agriculture-based dietary paradigm, an unconscious conscript in Ancel Keys’ sugar-is-innocent reserve army?
If you are a vector for cultural change, which way is the arrow pointing?
Wear your Real Food Uniform.
Active Duty.
Fly your freak-flag high.
Say no to the cake.

Top photo by Sally Mann - Candy Cigarette - 1989 - reproduced under fair use doctrine


  1. Tara, just curious, did you have Dr. Harris' permission to quote his entire post like this? In general, netiquette (not to mention copyright law) would suggest that excerpting parts and linking to the original would be the better approach!

  2. Hi Anonymous,
    Thanks so much for your comment. It would never be my intention to offend or misuse Dr. Harris' information, or anyone's for that matter. I considered only putting a link to Dr. Harris' blog, but after reading his disclaimer at the bottom of his blog, which states, "Anyone may copy or distribute information written by me for non- commercial purposes as long as proper citation and credit is given", I chose to post the entire post.

    Of course, I credited the article appropriately, even giving Dr. Harris a full paragraph before the article and the appropriate links. Clearly, my intent is to do nothing other than sing his praises. I have the utmost respect for Dr. Harris.

    My logic was that Dr. Harris would be o.k. with it given his disclaimer and that according to the metrics on my site, many of my readers chose to read articles here rather than clicking to another site.

    If you know Dr. Harris, or understand that I misread his disclaimer, I would be happy to remove the article and just put in a link.

    Have a great day.

  3. bad!! I wasn't aware Dr. Harris had such a disclaimer on PaNu; thanks for correcting me. My sincere apologies.

  4. Oh goodness Tara you have me thinking again.
    Love the part where he says "fly your freak flag high"
    I want a freak flag but I haven't figured out what I want it to say.

  5. fluffedupfeathers: Thanks for the morning laugh. My freak flag is so full that I have to keep adding patches to it.
    By the way, if you are a freak, you would have to be one of the loveliest freaks out there. :)
    Let me know when you decide what it's going to say!