This week's Question Of Tthe Week by @ecotrain is a cooking challenge: We have to make something Paleo to eat. Great, I love me a good challenge, especially if it gives me the chance to go into a bit of a discussion about it. And discuss I will, but first here's a picture of the finished dish, just as a teaser for your taste buds:
Categorizing Dietary Choices
First of all, when talking about what someone chooses to eat or not to eat, for whatever reason, I think it is entirely up to them and no one should judge or make fun of them for it. Therefor I want to respect each and every one's choices, no matter how weird it may seem to me. I wanted to make sure to mention this, because when it comes to categorizing eating habits into such things as vegan, raw-food, or localvore, what ends up happening is precisely this: that some passionate adherents to one such category start criticizing others for not following the rules properly.
"You can't claim to be an xyz-tarian if you don't follow exactly what's on this list!"
And to me that is unacceptable! I agree that our diets have a huge effect not only on our own physical and mental health, but on our culture, environment, etc. Still, it is always 100% the choice of the individual what they put into their bodies, how much thereof, and how frequently so. It's nobody else's business. Period!
Exceptions to the Rules
This is the reason I never once claimed to be vegetarian, even though when I was cohabiting with a group of vegetarians, I did not partake in any animal products for a couple of years. Why would I? I ate the most delicious vegetarian meals every day, and I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything. But I knew, once the right circumstance presented itself I would bite into that animal flesh without reservation. And I did.
I also learned that many people based their choices on certain reasons, and thus did not fit neatly into any of the "commonly accepted" categories:
- I knew a group of "vegetarians" who were also passionate hunters, who ate what they killed and also prepared the deer's skin. So in the end what they were opposed to was not eating meat, but eating industrial meat. A big difference!
- I once met a girl who hardly ate any meat at all, but she used bacon as a seasoning, with the explanation that reducing your meat intake doesn't have to mean abandoning it completely, or having to miss out on the taste.
- I once found myself in a heated argument with a group of raw-foodists regarding salami. Since it is not treated with any heat, only cured with a fungus, would it not be considered raw-food? (For them raw-foodism was an extension of being vegan.)
- Finally, my parents practice a paleo-like diet, though for them it simply means no grain-based foods, and no processed foods. So legumes, nightshades, dairy, and wine (with alcohol!) are all welcome.
My Thoughts on Eating Paleo
So before presenting my recipe, let me share a few thoughts on the idea of following a paleo diet. To be quite frank, even seeing the names makes my hair stand on end. Paleo(lithic) refers to the old stone age, (distinguishing it from the neolithic or new stone age, and mesolithic or middle stone age), which many people assume means that all the tools humans used were made of stone. Evan a kindergarten kid will be ready to point out that this does not include wood, leather, or any type of textile. And there is no reason to think our paleolithic ancestors didn't use any of that. However, since all these things decay and disappear over the centuries, the only thing left for modern archeologist to find is stone (and bone, but let's ignore that conveniently).
Similarly, the term cavemen raises images of... well, people living in caves, which could certainly have been the case if they happened to find any convenient ones. Otherwise, I think calling our prehistoric ancestors tree-women would be just as appropriate, since trees have always been more abundant than caves, and why would people of those times not have lived in Ewok-villages up in the canopies? After all, we're talking about a more than three million years time span! (Hard to even imagine such a long time.)
So hunter-gatherer diet still has the best ring to for me... except for, I don't believe there's ever been a clear cut-off line. Even today, members of our most industrialized urban culture go out on fishing trips, or even just to forage mushrooms in the woods. I believe the beginnings of the agricultural revolution in the neolithic were also a gradual and slow-paced shift from nomadic hunting-gathering to sedentary farming culture, spanning over millennia. And then, let's not forget pastoralism, that is nomadic herding of domesticated animals, which straddled the shift from the former to the latter. I believe for a significant period of our food culture, these three ways of subsistence coexisted side-by-side, and even interacted sufficiently. So a gardener could trade some veggies for some cheese from a herder, or some leather from a hunter.
What's In and What's Out, and Why?
Looking at the criteria for a paleo diet, most things make sense: industrially refined and processed foods are obviously out. Grains and grain-based foods are also out, mostly because it requires a great deal of infrastructure (starting at the fields, which requires people coerced into toiling on it). But then there are some ambiguities I'd like to mention here, if for no other reason, just to raise a point:
- Why are legumes out? Sure, they are domestic species, developed over countless generations of selective cultivation. But unlike grains, one person can grow a lot of them, on a relatively small area. They also tend to have excellent nutritional value, being high in protein... So what's wrong with them?
- Why are almonds and broccoli in? These, and many other such species were developed (only) in the last couple millennia, placing their origins way past the end of the paleolithic. Of course, if we wanted to be this rigorous, we'd have to exclude most varieties of domestic plants, making the whole effort completely pointless...
- What About the Colombian Exchange? So once people started traveling between all continents, taking stuff from here to there, many new species were introduced to other parts of the world. How does the paleo diet handle this? Could someone in Europe eat mangoes, someone in the Americas eat bananas, and someone in Australia eat apples, and still call it paleo?
- Borderline cases of butter and honey Not all lists are identical! As the QOTW post points out, some people exclude ALL dairy and even natural sweeteners, others don't. For me it makes sense that even our earliest ancestors were likely to look for wild honey, risking bee-stings for this delicious treat, while butter, just like all other milk products, required domestic animals. The only exception would be human milk, which certainly opens up an interesting discussion, but would go far beyond today's topic at hand.
- Alcohol anyone? Seeing animals enjoying the buzz they get from eating rotting fruit, I would assume our ancestors did the same, probably even before they mastered walking upright. And before they had heaps of grains fermenting in their granaries, they must have collected fruit specifically for this reason. So once again, I don't see the reason of excluding alcohol from the paleo diet, unless purely for health reasons.
I'm not even going to dive into these questions any further. Here is a flow-chart on ONE interpretation of what's paleo and what's not. Otherwise, let me continue with the recipe. My discussion has gone on long enough...
Mustard Cabbage, My Idea of Paleo for Today's Cooking Challenge
When thinking about what to have for dinner tonight, I thought that I haven't made this dish in a while. Only then did I remember that there was this cooking challenge I wanted to participate in. So does this cabbage dish meet the requirements? Well, that's what I've been thinking about all morning, which led to this discussion above.
Is it actually paleo? Well, I'll leave it up to you to decide. But having written this much already, I feel confident about submitting it as it is:
- one small white cabbage (1-2 kg or so)
- one large onion
- lard or butter for frying
- 500 g spicy chorizo
- a generous amount of mustard (a few good tablespoons)
- salt and pepper, and cumin if you like
- the beer is clearly grain-based, therefor not paleo, and should NOT be put into the food, but instead into the chef!
- Chop the cabbage and the onion (I prefer thin stripes, but to each their own), and remove the chorizo from its skin.
- Fry the onion with the chorizo until glassy, then remove them from the pan.
- Fry the cabbage in the same pan, adding more lard / butter if needed.
- When the cabbage is nice and soft, return the onion and chorizo to mix it all up.
- Add the mustard. Add some more. Feel free to go to town, it'll be delicious!
- Optimize the taste with salt and pepper, add some cumin if you want.
Those who have been following my blog since nearly the beginning should have noticed: I've posted this recipe before, right here. So, let's see a show of hands, how many of you have? (I'm betting no one!) Good! I know, it is generally frowned upon to keep posting about the same stuff, but here in this post there's a thousand word discussion about the paleo diet. So I'd say I'm fine.
Please check out these great communities I'm contributing to: