Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Make 'em Bigger

Children's car seat manufacturer's have been told to make children's car seats stronger and bigger to accommodate for climbing rates of obesity in children.
"The changes are driven partly by the trend of children getting bigger over the past two decades, Transport Canada said. Experts blame shifting lifestyles, including high-calorie food consumption, more time spent in front of the computer or television, and mothers switching earlier to feeding their babies formula rather than breast milk.  
According to Statistics Canada, 26 per cent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 were overweight or obese in 2004, up from 13 per cent in 1978. Among two- to five-year-olds, 21 per cent were overweight or obese in both those periods."
Source: The Globe and Mail 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Know Thy Farmer

I don't know about you, but I'd rather not have one of this guy's offspring on my dinner plate. A recent winner at an agricultural fair, this blue ribbon bull is one mutated looking beast. Aside from any gene selection, we've got a whole lot of help from steroids and growth hormones going on here. I would love to know how old this beast is. You can bet one thing, he's been bred to get really big, really fast, on really cheap food. This is what's being rewarded in "farming" nowadays. Go big or go home, folks.

Sweet Mercy. How can anyone look at that animal above and be proud of what we're doing to our food? It's one thing for consumers to be disconnected from what's happening with our land, but when farmers succumb to the pressure to 'go big' in order to make a living, it breaks my heart. We need to support our small local farmers so we have local farmers to support.

By the way, if you're buying meat at the grocery store, organic or not, how do you know this frankensteinian bull isn't part of the menu? Perhaps not this guy in particular, but you might want to find out who your steak's daddy was. I showed this picture to some of my farmers who scoffed at such an abomination. What would your farmers think of him?

For comparison's sake, I'm including some pictures of blue ribbon winning bulls at agricultural fairs from the earlier part of our century. I wonder what those old, hat-wearing, suspender-flaunting farmers would think of Mr. Roid up there.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Caveman Fanaticism


I've noticed a growing feeling of unease coming over me as of late. My consumption of paleo blogs and information sources has waned. My antennae have been perked in the general direction of overzealousness in this paleo world and I don't like what I'm seeing.

I've heard Robb Wolf talk about his discomfort with the direction of turning a paleo way of approaching nutrition into a card carrying, cult like movement where we all sit around discussing whether or not something is or is not paleo. He mentioned his desire for us to continue to challenge and question what we learn. I'm completely on board with his insights.

I was a vegetarian many moons ago, then, when I started to face the consequences of my nutritionally inadequate diet, I did what any sane vegetarian would do, I restricted my food even more and became a vegan. You can probably guess how that turned out. I was a sick, sick girl. When I started to consume animal products again, they had to be from sources that I knew so I could ensure that the meat I was eating was raised ethically and on healthy pastures. From there, I learned about the Weston A. Price Foundation and started swirling around in those circles, but the grains and legumes didn't sit well with me so I moved on. In everything I've experienced, I've walked away with knowledge and confidence in my decisions. By not getting entrenched in an ironclad position, I've been able to increase my family's health and understanding of what it means to eat and live well.

No matter how I was eating, I noticed a trend for people to become fanatical about they ate and what they thought other people should eat. I don't like this inclination we humans have of falling into groups that can be labelled. Call me a nonconformist, but as soon as I hear collective voices espousing rules as doctrine, my back goes up. I seem to be sniffing this out a lot lately. Whether it's the vegetarians, vegans, macrobiotic followers, the Weston A. Price clan, and now the paleo/primal group, people tend to fall in line behind the label and stop thinking for themselves.  We find our clan and then blindly follow along, closing off our minds and ignoring our intuition. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older or just that I have enough life experience to know that I'm simply not willing to go that route no matter how much I may dig the philosophy.

These native prairie grasses are some of the less than 5% left in the world. This is where my farmers raise their animals. What are your animals raised on?

I'm starting to resist calling the way I eat "paleo" or "primal" simply because I think it gives people the wrong idea. I don't care for a snappy label and I don't care to create soundbites that can explain how I eat in one minute or less. First, I don't think people really care how I eat. For the few that are genuinely interested, I want to get across the importance of them finding good farmers that are producing food that was nourished on healthy soils, farmers who are striving to still produce food, not just commodities. To me, that's more important than chiming off the 'good' and 'evil' list of foods. O.k., maybe I try and sneak in a quick sentence of two on the problem with grains and sugar as well, but there's a bigger picture here.

I was reading a blog the other day discussing why coconut oil is a better choice over home rendered lard for cooking. "Coconut oil has more saturated fat", was the reason given for its nutritional superiority. But there's so much missing from this picture. That coconut oil has to be shipped from thousands of miles away. That coconut oil varies wildly in quality. That coconut oil can never, ever, be produced by me or my farmers. Don't get me wrong, I like coconut oil, but there seems to be something missing from this equation.

When I buy a whole, heritage breed pig, raised on tubers, roots, and grass, from my local farmer, I am using that whole animal. There is no waste. That fat is rendered down and used to create lard. Are there not nutrients and energy and things unmeasurable in the consumption of such food? Science is a useful tool when making decisions, but we can't lose site of the power of our intuition and our common sense. We've evolved as a species to rely on multi-sensory information. We devalue ourselves when we limit our choices based on only a mechanistic, scientific viewpoint.

The bison in our freezer? I rendered down the tallow from that animal who spent its life in the sun, eating grass.  Those jars of deep yellow fat come from that animal's ability to harness the energy and nutrition from the prairies it roamed on. How do I measure that? How do I quantify the nutrition in that jar? We could talk about vitamins A, D, and K. We could talk about CLA and omega 3s. What else can we measure? More importantly, what about the all the stuff we can't measure at all?

Isn't this reductionist thinking, the oversimplification of macro and micro nutrients, determining the worth of something by measuring it against a standard of compliance to a certain diet doctrine, what we're trying to get away from?

I'm not willing to carry the paleo placard in lieu of common sense. No, we don't eat grains, legumes, or sugar. Yes, we eat plenty of grass fed meats, saturated fats, and fermented foods. But, so what? I'm not going to Trader Joes, picking up a pack of "free range" eggs and a jar of coconut oil and smugly walking out, feeling like I'm doing my part for the paleo party. We need to be connected to our food, to our farmers, to our land, and to ourselves in order to really understand how our ancestors walked this earth. That's the only way we can make a difference of significance.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

There's wisdom in those pages

Chinese Looed Beef Tongue (I'm going to try this with our venison tongues and let you know how it goes)
I love thrift stores. Like, really love. It was bordering on a wee bit of a problem there for a while. Luckily, I've recovered (or I just live in a small house that couldn't hold anymore of my "treasures" - one or the other, can't remember). Some of my favourite things to check out at thrift stores are the vintage kitchen gadgets. There's all sorts of weird and wonderful hand crank, cast iron things in there. But, it's the cookbooks, the old cookbooks, that I find most fascinating.

Look at that roast! You just wouldn't see that kind of abundant, deep yellow fat in the pages of most recipe books today. Our ancestors understood the importance of such fat, rich in vitamins A&D, to keep them healthy and properly nourished.

I have a few cookbooks written in the last decade that I think are worthy of my kitchen, but by far, the cookbooks produced today usually reflect the sad state of our nutritional degeneration. They're replete with vegetable oils, sugars, and gluten. My old cookbooks are different. There's page upon page of meats and soups and stews, busting with home rendered fats and butter. These cookbooks put emphasis on using the whole animal and on teaching proper preparation skills. There's nary a grilled meat or cookie recipe to be found.

How to cook a fish.

Details on how to cook all parts of your piggy.
Of course, if you find cookbooks around the time when food was become industrialized, you're going to be stuck with marshmallows floating around in jello molds. But, before that time, the cookbooks reflect a very different quality. In these cookbooks, the attributes of the products are discussed. There is a keen awareness in the value of using organs and bones. When you need soup stock, the books tell you to make soup stock. There is none of this "prepared stock" stuff. That would be silly. Why would anyone need to pay money for an inferior stock when you have the drippings and the bones from the animal you just ate?

There's a 'given' in these pages that creates a sense of ease. When I use recipes from these books I feel like a bit of an excavator, digging up these presents from the past. There's a great deal of gratitude in preparing food my farmers raised and grew with such love and then coming home and finding advice in these pages. Whispers from ghosts of wonderful cooks from the past. This is the knowledge we need to guard against losing. We need to remember that a fish comes with a head on it, not just a square wrapped in plastic. We need to know why we need to eat the organ meat and how to prepare it. If we don't work at keeping this knowledge alive in our own kitchens, these skills will be gone forever. I want my kids to know that we render fat to cook things in, not that they go to the grocery store and pick up a jug of refined, toxic vegetable oil to splash in their nonstick pan. That's not cooking. This stuff, here in these books, this is cooking.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Merci Beaucoup "This Week in Paleo"

Big, giant, tabata thanks to Angelo over at the wickedly awesome "This Week in Paleo" for voting Tribe of Five "Blog of the Week"! Sound the trumpets, open the gates, release the hooounds! Check out This Week in Paleo's fantastic blog and information packed podcast. You can listen to episode 10, where we're made famous, right here.
It's a celebration! Grass-fed bison steaks for everyone!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Abundance: My Table Runneth Over

Who says that November in Canada is desolate and sparse? Look at all the good stuff I picked up at the farm this week! I had another delightful chat with Ann, Farmer Extraordinaire, while I was there. She told me that she likes to slice up her squash into wedges, skin and all, and roast it in a 400 degree oven with some fat drizzled on top.

Of course, I came home and cut up my little 'sugar baby' pumpkins into thick wedges, drizzled them with some ghee, thyme, and sea salt and roasted them for about 15 minutes or so. It was divine!  I talked my hubby into eating them with the skins on too. I wasn't convinced that there wouldn't be any 'tummy retaliation' from that maneuver, so I needed a partner in crime just in case something awful was going to happen. Better to go down together, I say. It turns out that it was pretty darn tasty and we made it through with nary a gurgle. The kids wouldn't do it though. They were convinced that eating the skins was just a little too weird to pass as acceptable in their too cool for school worlds.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Just Watch the Animals

Look at that glorious deep yellow of that bison suet (the fat around the kidneys). That fat is loaded with vitamins A&D and makes a delicious rendered fat to cook with.

I try to pay attention to my diet and look at areas that I may have let slip or ruts I may have inadvertently fallen into. I'm noticing that my attempts at including more organ meat into my diet have been pretty lame lately. I used to make pate a lot, now... meh, not so much.  We eat heart, but that's more of a protein than an organ isn't it? I mean, it's so similar to muscle meat that I don't count it. Tongue meat is yummalicious, but I want more variety. I'm looking for all of those other amazing nutrients found in the bits our ancestors would have coveted. The livers, yes, but also brain, kidneys, and marrow. Give me a slow roasted marrow bone over chocolate any day.

Chimo eating the eye from a bison while we skin and gut it outside, in the sunshine.

Last fall we herded ourselves up some bull calves to castrate them. It wasn't pretty, but we got the job done quickly. My little farming partner, Chimo the Wonderdog, sat by us patiently, waiting for us to throw him a testicle or two. He swallowed them with gusto. We kept a bowl for ourselves to fry up with dinner. There's a big difference between what we cooked up with raw butter and some fresh garlic and the monstrous testicles you see hanging from a mature bull. These testicles were tender and delicious.
Such concentration. Chimo wants those prairie oysters.

Chimo had it right. Anytime we would butcher an animal, we would watch as Chimo went straight for the eyes. With meat, blood and guts lying everywhere, it was the eyes that Chimo wanted. Obviously, there were nutrients in the eyes that Chimo inherently knew he needed. The pigs wanted the gut pile, full of an incredible amount of beneficial bacteria and microbes. What would be a mountain during the day would disappear into a blood stain on the grass by morning. The tissues, fat, and sinew, of one animal transformed into that of another that we would then eat. The turkeys delighted in trimmed fat and gristle from bison. The chickens lost their minds for lamb's fat and heads. A functional farm where everything is recycled the way nature intended.

Guts of a pastured bison. Healthy and quite miraculous really. The pigs loved it.

Back to the organs. We need to treat our bodies a little more like we treat a functional farm, where function trumps aesthetics. That means that liver beats t-bone steaks in my nutritional arsenal. Rendered tallow wins out over ghee every time regardless of how much I love that buttery goodness. I love good food, but I want to start incorporating more foods that address how our ancestors ate a little more closely. Surely there are nutritional benefits that we haven't even discovered yet that are attributable to all parts of the animals, not just the stuff we can grill to medium rare or that a commercial meat inspector deems worthy of our consumption. Yet another good reason to hunt or find a farmer that has a small abattoir on their farm.
Sorry, I couldn't resist. The. Best. Dog. Ever.