Sunday, October 19, 2014

The "great-great-grandma's kitchen" test. Or how we've seriously lost the calibration on our "gross-out" meter.

The other day on Facebook, I saw a friend's wife note that in their kitchen at the time was a "cow's femur" marinating and a "cow's rotator cuff" in a crockpot. You real-food aficionados will immediately recognize the latter as bone broth cooking and the former as some sort of prep for later meaty deliciousness.

Oh, the reaction.... One person: "Ew." Another: "I'm not easily grossed-out, but...." On it went.

And I am sure -- because I've seen it happen -- if the original post had referenced how, instead, there was a frozen pizza and some processed cookie dough in the oven, the commentary would have been entirely of the "Yum!" variety.

Let me give you a clue: You are too-easily grossed-out. We've forgotten how to cook. And our tolerance for the "grossness" of what actually is just plain food is at an all-time low.

When your great-great grandmother made soup -- and what is bone broth but soup, anyway?** -- she didn't open a can of some crap and heat it in the microwave; she put some bones in water with some salt, pepper, spices and vegetables. She cooked it all day, and maybe all night too. It looked "gross" and it tasted like the nectar of the gods. When she had a "cow's femur," she marinated and slow-cooked it, and from that pile of meat and bone came something amazing. It was worth the wait.

Now, too many of us buy processed slop from the middle aisles of the supermarket, where the ingredient lists are so long that they just get ignored by the very folks -- the consumers - for whose benefit those lists allegedly exist. And we "prepare" meals so regularly by opening packages and heating up the contents that we have forgotten that real food isn't cooked like that.

So I propose something simple: the "great-great-grandma's kitchen test." If she wouldn't have cooked it, because she wouldn't have known what the hell it is, then you shouldn't either because it isn't real food. And if she would cook it, then it likely is nothing but real food. Gross? Maybe you need to recalibrate your sensibilities, buttercup. That's how real food is made, and that other stuff? It may not look gross to you, but it sure as hell is at the root of most of the obesity epidemic and the diseases of modern society -- most notably type-2 diabetes -- that great-great grandma wouldn't have recognized as anything more than lightning-strike rarities.

By the way, before you see this as some sort of pro-paleo rant, fuck "paleo." Other than the name of this blog, I have little invested in "paleo" perfection. What I fully support, however, is eating non-processed real food in a way that works for your body. If it's in a bag or a can or a package, it pretty likely doesn't make the real-food cut. Why? Because great-great grandma wouldn't know what the hell it was. Real food comes from real sources. It's messy and "gross" and requires some work to prepare.

Great-great grandma supports this message. Although she'd probably wash my mouth out with soap.

**Robb Wolf: "Bone broth? I just call it soup and it loses some of the mystery." 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The intersection of genetics and environment

We recently had a dinner involving some extended family members. The conversation ebbed and flowed as it often does. Somehow the topic of particularly gullible people came up, and my older son, now age 24, launched into the tale of a former classmate who was particularly prone to believing whatever she was told, but also decidedly non-curious about the world around her.

To give you but a small glimpse into just how unlikely she was to investigate the workings of the big bad blue orb.... this was a teenager (at the time) in the Internet age who thought that Alaska is an island. Why? Because she and her family had taken a cruise there, and, you know, after all, cruise ships go to islands.

Yes, really.

Anyway, the story, as my son told it, was that there was a high-school class trip to one of those amusement parks that also has a safari park attached. You know... the ones where the animals run relatively free and the customers drive through in a bus, observing the wonder of the African savannah and the like.

The non-curious girl said something like, "Oh wow! Look at the ostriches!"

This caused my son to launch into the following: "Ostriches! Awesome. They are really interesting animals, you know, because of the way an ostrich's life progresses. These ones are big. They must be very young."

"What do you mean? Very young?" she asked.

"Ostriches are the only animal that is born at full size. That's why their eggs are so huge.  They spend the rest of their lives actually getting progressively smaller until, by the time of their deaths, they are relatively small. It's almost like that movie about that Benjamin Button guy. I always figured the author of that book got the story idea from how ostriches are. "

Apparently she sat enraptured with the whole tale, buying into every word.

She then, over the next few days, learned the truth, mostly as a result of earnestly recounting the Amazing Facts About Ostriches that she had learned at the safari park, and facing the appalled reactions of others.

But that's not the good part of the story. Here's the good part. When Kevin retold the tale at dinner, someone said, "How.... OK, never mind how. Why in the world did you make up that elaborate story?"

His answer, pointing to me: "You're kidding me, right? I'm his son. And I learned long ago the comic value of the preposterous story couched as believable fact. This is the man who got me at age seven to eat a roasted-chicken dinner that I had no interest in by telling me the chicken's body was a baboon head."

So proud. So. Fucking. Proud.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Losing the forest for the trees. Or why you don't need any of that crap to start eating paleo.

The conversation often goes something like this....

New, or relatively new, person in gym: "Hey Steve, I hear you know a lot about paleo. I've been reading all about it. Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

Me: "Not at all. Go for it."

Newbie: "I mean... I'm not eating paleo yet. I'm thinking about it, but haven't taken the plunge."

Me: "That's cool. What's your question?"

Newbie: "Have you tried this bulletproof-coffee fasting thing?"

Now let's be clear.... the reaction that I have in my head to this question is not what comes out of my mouth. (My brain/mouth filter is fairly well-developed, or else I would frequently be getting punched in the face). I'm polite. But I assure you that my principal thought is: "Dude... seriously. Why are you focusing on the gimmicks and the tricks before you have even tried to get yourself to a clean 30 days or so? Before you have even really tried paleo at all?"

I know why this sort of thing happens. It's because paleo is Big Stuff these days. (Labron is paleo, after all). And Big Stuff equals Big Money, and Big Money equals products.

And really, there's nothing wrong with some products. They can be useful, like any other tweak to a paleo regimen once a person really gets going with clean real food. But that's the micro stuff, not the macro basics. Sometimes I fear that we are allowing newbies to get so distracted with the micro angle that they lose those basics in a blur of confusion.

It's pretty simple: you can (and should) start eating paleo product-free, and your trainer/coach/nutritionist shouldn't be steering you towards supplements and other gimmicks before you've even gotten yourself to a point that you can properly evaluate which one of those gimmicks/products might do you some good. That point can't possibly be until you've fully cleaned up your food for a month or so (at least). Let's not, for instance, worry about liposomal glutathione and whether it might be the secret key to happiness if you're still eating donuts regularly.

It's ironic that a lifestyle built on simplicity -- animal protein, vegetables, fruits, good fats -- and on shunning the vast majority of pre-packaged foods has turned into a product-filled minefield of distraction. And I suppose that it's to be expected. It's the nature of the food business. (Have you taken a look at the "gluten-free" aisle in the supermarket lately? It's a clusterfuck of Frankenfoods that just happen not to have wheat in them). But it's up to the trainers, authors and bloggers in this paleosphere that we live in to, well, fight the power, maaaan, and keep the new folks' eyes focused on the prize.

Regular people shouldn't be starting their paleo journey with that shit. And we shouldn't be steering them to it.

Back to basics.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Review: Afghan Whigs live in Philly at Union Transfer, October 3, 2014

Band reunions/artist comebacks can take one of a few turns. Some bands return fat and flabby, missing all the old magic, just looking for a paycheck. Others manage to crank out credible, even reasonably compelling, renditions of the hits, but they fall flat when it comes to new material. And a precious few -- Superchunk, Mission of Burma, Ian Hunter and Bob Mould** come to mind as shining recent examples -- manage to rock the bejeezus out of the old songs and still release albums full of new material that pushes the artistic envelope even further.

Let's add the Afghan Whigs*** to that last group. I won't say that this Stereogum "ranking" of all seven Afghan Whigs albums is indisputably perfect, but it's a solid effort. And it justifiably places their latest record -- 2014's Do To the Beast -- firmly in the middle of a pack of mighty distinguished records. For years, ever since Congregation to be exact, the Afghan Whigs have been mining a rock/soul fusion worthy, when all cylinders are firing at their best, of comparisons to the righteous Motor City groovefests laid down by the likes of the Stooges, MC5 and the Dirtbombs.

But somehow I had missed that boat the first time around, so when I heard the reformed band was touring again to support the Beast record, I was all-in.

Based on their show Friday night at Union Transfer in Philly, I made a good call. Better late than never. These guys are on fire. Granted, guitarist Rick McCollum is no longer in the band from the glory days, but in his place are two guitarists and a multi-instrumentalist to make sure his sizable musical contributions to the band's classics are not lost in the shuffle. There are now six core players, plus an additional backup vocalist on many songs, and the mega-lineup provides an unholy thunder amidst a deep, tight groove that is truly staggering. The newest songs have a spark that the Beast album only hints at, and the old stuff? All I could say to a friend at the end of "Debonair" was, "Holy shit. That was ridiculous They are killing it." One minute -- on "Going to Town" or "John the Baptist" or "Something Hot," for example -- they seem to be channeling Funkadelic, and the next -- "Faded" comes immediately to mind -- they flirt with an epic/anthemic approach worthy of Quadrophenia. But even when the band goes all classic rock on you, there is an underlying soul that shines through. I'm not sure how many of the youngsters in the crowd recognized that the extended vocal/piano intro to "Faded" was, in fact, most of Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street," but this concertgoer had his mind blown by the way the band seamlessly blended the end of the Womack classic into one of their own best to close the show.

For 100 minutes, the Afghan Whigs owned Union Transfer on Friday night. I hope Greg Dulli and company keep the fires of this reunion burning. They have earned the right to venues full of amped-up fans with shows like this one.

**Bob took enough of a break from releasing rock albums that his last few records/tours are worthy of the "comeback" label.

***You'll notice that I ditched my usual habit of linking to AllMusicGuide reviews this time around. That's because the AMG review of Black Love is so uncharacteristically off-the-mark that I won't send them the traffic on this one. (I'm sure they're crushed).