Category Archives: Food

Meat at a wedding

Developing stone tools along with  controlling fire initiated a nutritional revolution for our ancestors. Until blades chipped from stone were employed in East Africa some 3.4 million years ago,  our hominid forebears couldn’t slash through an animal’s hide to access nutrient dense meat and organs.

Partly due to the fat and protein rich food available after stone tools came along, our ancestors’ brain and body size increased rapidly, culminating in the emergence of anatomically modern humans about 200,000 years ago.

More recently… About a week ago, I went to a family wedding. This meant I knew many of the people there. It was great catching up with folks I hadn’t seen in many years and meeting their kids for the first time.

Out of all the people there, my vegetarian and vegan relatives seemed to be the least hardy. I wasn’t quizzing people about their diets, I found out they didn’t eat meat because of the special considerations the party givers made.

To go back in time again, the Americas were likely populated during an ice age when sea levels were much lower resulting a pretty big stretch of land between Siberia and Alaska allowing humans and animals to simply walk from Asia to North America.

We forget that 95% of human history happened before the rise of agriculture when we spent most of our history wandering over both land and water.

Why did our ancestors wander so far and wide? Hard to know really, but part of my guess is that they were following and looking for animals to eat.

Our culture and concepts have outpaced our biology, meaning  just believing that you shouldn’t eat meat (no matter the reason) is probably sub optimal for your health. I appreciate not eating meat, but I don’t think it’s ideal for health.

The bronut

donutBear with me for a minute before I get to the bronut.

Consider the human gastrointestinal tract. Technically it’s not part of our “insides” even though it passes through us.

It’s more like the hole in a donut that passes through the donut.

Looking at a donut, think of the top of the donut hole as your lips and the bottom of the lipsdonut hole as the hole in your bottom. Stretch that donut vertically until it’s about six feet tall. Along the way, feel free to extrude pairs of arms, legs , and ears, and whatever else you’d like,  from the glazed outside of the donut. What should this thing be called?

A few years ago, a French pastry chef in NYC started making donuts out of croissant dough and called them “cronuts.”  I’m calling my human inspired donut a “bronut.” It’s catchier than saying “sapiennut” or something like that. Mathematicians call the donut shape a “torus” but that’s not evocative enough.

Anyway a bronut is just a way to envision something that’s in us but at the same time also not part of us .

Everyday system for eating less

foodThis is the fourth of seven posts about simple everyday systems for managing your time, health, and eating developed by Reinhard Engels. Fifteen or so years ago, Reinhard was an overweight computer programmer who ate poorly, sometimes drank too much, and avoided exercising.

For most things simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and according to Thoreau, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

So Reinhard created habits that were easy to do and could be sustained forever. He didn’t like complicated exercise routines – he wouldn’t like doing them and would likely stop if he made it to a goal.

About ten years ago, I stumbled across Reinhard’s idea for exercising for 14 minutes a day using a sledgehammer to mimic shoveling and other common movements.

Starting there, I checked out his other systems. They were easy to implement and claimed longterm results for himself.

I didn’t really go whole hog on his system because I was already doing, and enjoying, other stuff like lifting weights, but I have used his sledgehammer idea, more as a fun way to rehab from injury.

Anyway, what follows are my shortened versions, from his website and podcast explanations, of his “everyday systems.” I did it for myself to have the ideas in one spot, and for you too, if you’re interested.

We all can see there’s a big problem these days of being overweight. The solution, the everyday system that solves this problem, is called the “No S Diet” (you can pronounce it the no-es-diet).

The No S Diet is: No snacks, NO sweets, no seconds – except (sometimes) on days that start with S. That’s actually the whole system right there. 14 words. The worlds shortest effective diet plan.

“Don’t eat too much” is shorter, just 4 words, but it isn’t effective. But the No S is effective.  I lost over 40 pounds on No-s and kept it off for almost 5 years now. No yoyoing. Other people on the no s diet bulletin board have lost even more weight than this. If you’re antsy to learn more now, go to nosdiet.com. Or everydaysystems.com.

Pot and popsicles

hidden dangerThere were four kids in our house when I was growing up. Because our Mom tried to avoid sweets but our Dad didn’t, when it came to packages of six popsicles, there was always one unclaimed popsicle that our Mom wasn’t going to eat.

That unclaimed popsicle became a sought after treat for us kids. The first kid to get home on a shopping day would lay claim to the orphan popsicle. The usual method was to open up the extra popsicle and give it a lick. This was the accepted technique amongst the kids for marking the extra popsicle as yours. It boiled down to controlling your scarce resource by repulsion.

What made me think of this was strolling past some vendors the other day. When I moved to Mexico years ago, the handicraft vendors seemed to be hawking pipes with stems that bore a strong resemblance to a human penis. What was that about? I imagined a few theories about this.

One idea was that tourists bought enough of these pipes as a novelty item that a demand was created. Or maybe Mexican potheads just had a cultural preference for that style of pipe. Another was that maybe this style of pipe was so weird that traveling potheads felt little attachment to it and so wouldn’t be tempted to smuggle it back home.

So back to the other day. I noticed there weren’t many penis pipes for sale by the street vendors. I’m not a pothead so maybe I just never noticed the decline until now. When I mentioned it to my friends I also told them my theories for the penis pipe. Then one friend who is a pot smoker mentioned his theory.

He thinks that the popularity of the style was probably due to its innate ability to control your scarce resource, because by using a penis pipe to smoke pot, and then offering it to someone else they’re more likely to decline if that’s how they have to smoke it. So you’re effectively managing your scarce resource.

Who knows really? But if that’s true, it’s not unlike keeping your popsicle yours by grossing out other people who want your scarce resource.

 

 

How’s that jellyfish sandwich?

jellyfishThe “age of the jellyfish” is on the way. It sounds like a joke. But, jellyfish are a problem. For example they’re already boxing out Antarctic penguins. Have the oceans already come to the point where the jellyfish will be dominant?

Before the rise of complex life systems jellyfish were flourishing. Jellyfish fossils go back 550 million years.

Now the jellification of the oceans is ramping up through a combination of factors like: human overfishing their competitors, the appearance of giant islands of trash their young can cling to, increased ocean acidification affecting shellfish, and extended jellyfish ranges due to warming oceans. That’s the opinion of some sober scientists.

Jellyfish blooms (sudden population explosions) have been impacting humans for a while. They’ve clogged cooling water intakes on aircraft carriers and power plants. Tons and tons of jellyfish get removed  from cooling system intakes.

It could be confirmation bias on my part, but it seems like there are more jellyfish in the surf, at least over the seven years I’ve been surfing the same area

Maybe it’s time to consider jellyfish as food. When all you have is lemons, make lemonade. Jellyfish are eaten in China and Japan. A Chinese American, whose family once owned a Chinese restaurant, told me jellyfish were good to eat, but he only knew them to be eaten as part of an appetizer at banquets.

We’ll probably need to think beyond the first course.

Really Hot

chili-contestantWhat’s up with this guy?Did he fall off a bus, just shoot up, or is he having an epileptic fit?

Turns out he’s a contestant at a chili pepper eating contest in India. A contest with really hot chilis. The contestant who eats the most chili peppers in 20 seconds is the winner – or maybe not.

There’s a scale used to measure the hotness of chili peppers. It’s the Scoville scale. There’s some imprecision, but it’ll give you a good idea of what you’re biting into. Some examples are, a bell pepper which wouldn’t really budge the needle, Tabasco sauce coming in at less than 8,000 Scoville heat units (SHU), and some habanero peppers will rate 400,000 SHUs.

Then there’re the naga jolokia peppers, scoring a scorching 1,000,000 SHUs or more!

For comparison, law enforcement pepper spray delivers around 1,750,000 SHUs. You’ll have to go to Northern India if you want to sample naga jolokia peppers and their relatives.

Peppers won’t hurt you but some of them can be overwhelming, I don’t want to know what happens the next day when the peppers exit the contestants’ bodies.

Is Sugar Fattening?

venusYes.

That’s the shortest answer.

If you want the whole story read “Why We Get Fat,” by Gary Taubes. It’s the more accessible follow up book to his widely acclaimed “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” which is a good book too, but it’s a slog getting through it because it’s so information dense.

I’m not really stealing his thunder by saying it doesn’t take much easily digested sugar to bump up our insulin which in turn signals our bodies to store more fat.

Nowadays we eat like we’re in (an endless) summer preparing our bodies for a harsh winter (that we actually never encounter). Most of the information Taubes goes over was known and well understood before the seventies came along demonizing fat and embracing carbs. All of which was supposed to make us healthier.

Look around, you don’t need any stats or figures – we’re fatter and unhealthier. That trend started with the shift that really took off in the seventies.

The book explains why obesity isn’t a character flaw, and energy equation imbalance, or a call for more exercise. If “Why We Get Fat” starts to get too detailed for you, just skim over it until you get to a more interesting topic. He’s just backing up his argument and so you won’t be lost if you jump ahead sometimes.

Taubes is the real deal as a science writer with other science related books and articles, he’s a physicist without any fuzzy thinking.

If you’re still eating the standard American diet you should read this book.

Can you see it?

If you can see something, it’ll resonate with you better. Visualizing something helps you understand it because you’ll be forming a mental picture.

What about sugar, how much is bad for you?

Currently, the standard American style of eating provides you with 150 pounds of sugar a year. Which by the way, works out to about 40 teaspoonfuls a day.

For perspective, a little over a century ago, the average American ate only about five pounds of sugar per year.

If you knew how much sugar is in each food item you’re popping into your mouth, you might reconsider eating it – if it had lots of sugar.

But who wants to figure that stuff out? Even though it’s printed on the label along with other information, those numbers just don’t resonant with most people, right?

Maybe if sugar content was broken down into teaspoonfuls, it’d be easier to imagine. Or even better, if you could see a little stack of sugar cubes representing sugar content, it’d be easier to grasp the amount and so might hit home better.

A sugar cube is the same as a teaspoonful of sugar. For some perspective, one cup of sugar contains 48 sugar cubes. Visualizing cubes helps  because you’ll be forming a mental picture of stacks of sugar cubes.

There’s a sugar stack site showing lots of common foods, each with a stack of sugar cubes representing the sugar content for that item. It’s pretty shocking visually to see how much sugar is in what we commonly eat, especially the industrially processed foods.

Everybody loves Skittles, right? How many cubes of sugar do you think are in a (2.6 oz) bag of Skittles? Almost 12 cubes worth of sugar. Shut the front door! Just in case any kids are reading.

 

Vegans in the wild

This probably isn’t politically correct, but I don’t think vegans follow a natural philosophy by shunning animal products.

I do think veganism can provide some health benefits since vegans generally stay away from industrially processed foods and  avoid sugar.

But what if unfriendly aliens show up and wipe out civilization as we know it.

Or a super bug causes infections wiping out most of the world’s population.

Maybe a war breaks out that causes irreparable damage to our infrastructure.

They’re all unlikely, but what would happen if people from wealthy nations found themselves without their normal, extensive support networks? Back in the wild, how would most people adjust? In the wild, how long would vegans last? Have you ever met a vegan that you thought could beat you up? I didn’t think so.

Would they quickly revert to eating animals or hold strong, and probably perish? How long would it take for a vegan to abandon being a vegan?

Who knows. But I’m not too worried. Most vegans would probably start eating meat pretty quickly if our world were to suddenly force us back into the wild.

 

Kraut

Like lots of foodies, we’ve been making and eating sauerkraut. And it’s great.

The new popularity of fermented foods is a good thing. They’re good for you and are generally easy to make.

All you really need for sauerkraut is a head of cabbage, a tablespoon of salt, and  a large jar and mixing bowl.

First, we clean the jar and bowl with boiling water for that clean fresh feeling.

Then finely slice or cuisinart the cabbage. Layer it into the bowl with salt sprinkled between layers. Next, massage it all firmly for a few minutes to mix in the salt and break down cabbage cell walls releasing sugars and water.

By the handful, pack the now wet mix into your jar, pressing each handful down hard as you go. Make a little salt and water mix,if needed, to be sure the top is just covered because the lactic acid brine deters any bad microorganisms.

Then loosely close the jar and leave it out on the kitchen counter, letting the fermentation happen. After five to seven days and your sauerkraut hits the level of tanginess you like, pop the jar into your fridge to slow the fermentation.

It’s fun and you can experiment by adding in ginger, peppercorns, apple, carraway seeds, dill seeds, juniper berries, or beets. But you don’t have to stop with this list. We haven’t made one experiment yet we didn’t like.

We always hope the five-day fermentation time between batches flies by so we can start in on the latest batch of kraut.