The Missing Link in the Food Chain

Delicious Maryland blue crabs we caught last week

So as I was pondering the next blog topic, I began thinking about my last crabbing trip.  It is a fine Maryland tradition to have these delicious, but disgusting looking, critters steamed and covered in Old Bay.  They are synonymous with the arrival of summertime proper and their activity (and therefore “catchability”) increases as the days get hotter.  All you need to do to catch them is grab some chicken necks, and use either pots or string to catch your crabs off of a public pier.  Success varies, but for the most part you will bring home enough to at least supplement your dinner, especially if you have all day to spend on the water.

Why then, my Maryland friends, are people paying $50 a dozen or more at local restaurants and stands for blue crabs (some of which were sourced in from the Gulf, and passed off as “Maryland” crabs)?  I think the answer is, unfortunately, that we have lost touch with our food…the “missing link” in the food chain as we understand it is now the “restaurant or grocery store”.  I don’t know many folks that catch their own food, let alone even understand where the food that arrives in restaurants and stores even comes from.

To be honest, I never gave it a second thought before a few years ago.  Want steak?  Buy steak.  Well steak comes from a cow, and if you are buying that steak at a chain grocery store, it most likely came from a cow that lived in a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) or some other type of industrial cattle operation.  These are not happy places, and happy cows definitely do not come from a CAFO.  Being paleo, we do eat a lot of beef at our house and we cannot afford to eat grass-fed beef yet, but we would like to transition to it one day, hopefully sooner than later.  I do think about that when I buy our beef, and I wish that there were alternatives that were more readily available and affordable, both for health reasons (grass-fed beef has a much better Omega-3 fatty acid profile) and for environmental/humane reasons.

If you give some thought to where the food comes from, I think the next step is to actually visit where your food comes from.  This can actually be a really cool experience, depending on where you decide to go (if you go to a CAFO, it is not going to be pleasant).  I know of quite a few farms in the Central Maryland area that have pick-your-own options, and it is pretty cool to go out into a field with the family and grab the fruits and veggies off of the vine or tree, in season, and bring them home to incorporate into your meal.  Obviously most of us don’t have the time to do this everyday, but an occasional trip gets you out there to see and experience where it is coming from.  Not too long ago we went to South Mountain Creamery, a local farm and dairy processing facility.  We were lucky enough to visit when it was time to feed the calves, and got the opportunity to actually do it ourselves!  I remember the moment when I looked into the eyes of the animal that was excited to be fed by me (and was ridiculously cute), and realized “one day you will be butchered, and I will eat you”.  It sounds harsh, and it is, but we should know that it is harsh.  That is the reality, if you are an omnivore like us.  The take-away message from the trip was that this is how it should be, in terms of how the animals are raised and treated.  The cows at South Mountain Creamery are (quoted from their website) “pasture raised and grass fed right here on our farm. We do not spray the fields with any pesticides but may use organic fertilizers from time to time.”  That is why we’re working towards one day being able to use grass-fed pastured beef and dairy products exclusively.

Action shot of feeding a calf!

Of course, the most in touch you can be with your food is to hunt, gather, grow, or catch it yourself.  There are not many people who have time to do this with all of their food, and we usually see them on some Nat Geo show if they do, but you can certainly do this with some of your food.  I know quite a few people that raise their own chickens (I don’t think our Homeowner’s Association would be down with that though) or grow their own veggies, and know a number of hunters and fisherman.  I enjoy fishing and crabbing with my family, and we eat what we catch.  I will say that it was an enlightening experience the first time I brought home fish to clean.  I had to actually watch a YouTube video on how to clean the fish, and then when I was finally ready to put the filet knife to it, it was so recently caught that it jumped, and I screamed like a little girl.  Yes, I admit it.  I didn’t do a very good job, and subsequently didn’t end up with much fish to actually enjoy, but I knew I would do better next time.  The important part was that I got to have my “I see you brother” Avatar-esque moment with my food.  It was a real living critter until I plucked it from it’s habitat and brought it to my cutting board.  The experience made me appreciate what I have to eat, even when I haven’t been actively involved in bringing it to the table.

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Resurrecting (or Reanimating?) the Blog

I let my blog die a horrible, horrible death from neglect, but I have decided to revive it with a little help from my favorite go-to horror movie heroes, who have made quite an impression lately, thanks to pop culture and bath salts.  Yes, folks, zombies!

So what in the hell do zombies have to do with “paleo” or fitness, or really anything?  Well, as I was catching up on “Walking Dead” last night (we are late-comers to the series, still watching the first season), I decided that I would analyze the fitness requirements of the survivors of the zombie apocalypse.  Yes, I am that nerdy, I actually contemplate these things while I watch television.

The episode I happened to be watching was Season 1, Episode 6 (so there shouldn’t be any spoilers for those of you that are behind an episode or two), and as far as the story goes the survivors have taken temporary refuge in the CDC building with a kooky doctor.  They soon realize that they must escape the building or be blown to smithereens (I’ve always wanted to use the word “smithereens” in a written sentence) as part of the CDC’s “decontamination plan”, so they must use their skills to make a hasty escape.

What kind of fitness skills did these folks use to avoid sudden and horrible death, both at the hands (or mouths) of zombies and the federal government?  Did their marathon training help them?  What about Zumba?  I’m sure the shrugs they did in the squat rack while someone patiently waited to…squat…were instrumental in their success right?  Well I dorkily cataloged the activities these nice folks performed throughout the episode, and without further adieu here they are (in no particular order):

  • Squatting
  • Picking up a human being
  • Self-Defense (hand-to-hand combat with a human)
  • Axing futilely at a steel door
  • Sprinting
  • Jumping

Although I think it may be impossible to completely prepare for the “unknown and unknowable” (sorry, Greg Glassman), I do think there are some basic areas of fitness that we, as a society, do not give enough nearly enough credence.  Marathon participation has steadily grown over the past several years, as people frequently include this on their fitness “bucket list” (I am picking on marathoners, but everyone who specializes in their favorite fitness activity, to the exclusion of doing things to make you a well-rounded, prepared human – myself included – could potentially end up with a zombie nomming on their brains).  Why is that the “throw down” fitness goal?  Sure, it is an impressive accomplishment, but are we neglecting other areas of physical preparedness?  What is your 100m sprint time?  What about your vertical jump?  Max effort back squat?  These seem to be pretty useful skills to be good at in the event of the zombie apocalypse or some other, probably more feasible, survival situation.      

I am certainly not saying that people should abandon their workout routine and start sliding across the hoods of cars and tucking and rolling across the front lawn for as-many-reps-as-possible-in-five-minutes (ooh, that actually sounds fun, just use your own car, that could really piss of the neighbors).  All I am advocating here is spending some time out of the gym, treadmill, or endless cardio device to expand your fitness horizons – try something new!  Personally, I would benefit tremendously from something like a MovNat seminar or some really focused mobility work and more sprinting.  Not everything I need to lift is shaped like a barbell – I could use some more varied training.  Go out and find your weaknesses – because you never know when they are coming…

They are coming for you, are you ready?

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Food Diary

Just before Christmas I saw in my Twitter feed that Washingtonian Magazine was looking for food diarists.  Knowing that I have a bit of an unconventional diet, I decided to give it a whirl.  I knew that my food log would be analyzed by a nutritionist, and possibly picked apart by someone who has a tattoo of the USDA’s MyPlate on their upper arm.  I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the analysis was not too harsh, and some of the criticism could have been cleared up if I had included a little bit more detail in the log (we have gone to uncured, nitrate-free bacon, for example, and one of the criticisms was the amount of processed meat consumed).  Of course, the expert and I will have to agree to disagree on many things, such as my lack of grain consumption causing vitamin deficiencies, and that the cholesterol in the yolks of my eggs is going to mess up my lipid profile (they haven’t).  Oh, and by the way, I was about to start the Whole 30 in January so I was kicking up my heels a little more than usual with the sweets and treats.

Here’s the article and here’s the Paleosphere’s response to the expert’s analysis written by Lila Solnick.  Enjoy!

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Here Comes the Sun…And I Say It’s Alright!

Forgive the cheesy bastardization of the Beatles song, but (as promised) here’s the post about Vitamin D, which of course we get from our friend Mr. Golden Sun.  When the sun’s UVB (gasp!) rays hit our skin (provided we’re not covered in clothes or slathered in sunscreen) they penetrate the skin, causing a chain of reactions – the end result of which is the production of cholecalciferol.  Cholecalciferol is just a fancy name for Vitamin D3, which is much easier to pronounce.  This fantastic fat-soluble molecule provides a number of benefits to the body, one of the most well-known being increasing bone-density.  Some lesser known, and still-under-investigation effects of proper Vitamin D levels include protection from cancer and multiple sclerosis, as well as improved immune function.  Hmm, maybe your Grandma was wrong about you going outside, and catching pneumonia from being cold and wet – it was the Vitamin D all along!  And to think, you had to suffer through wearing that ugly sweater under your winter coat…

So OK, Vitamin D is fantastic, sounds easy to get enough, just get some sunshine and everything will be great right?  Well, unfortunately, not so much.  Vitamin D deficiency is extremely common in the United States.  At higher latitudes in the wintertime, there isn’t enough UVB to allow you to produce sufficient Vitamin D.  This could be remedied by exposure to the sun’s rays in the summertime allowing the body to produce and store excess Vitamin D for the long winter months, except that we’ve been taught that we will certainly die of skin cancer if we walk outside unprotected from the sun.  According to a New York Times article, slathering your skin with SPF 30 sunscreen will reduce your exposure to UVB rays 95-98%, which I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, has to block a heck of a lot of Vitamin D production (NYT, 2010).  Of course, you don’t want to get burnt to a crisp either, so you want to ensure that you get enough exposure to make some Vitamin D, then cover up, get out of the sun, or, if necessary, put on some sunscreen.  Just don’t completely leave the sunshine out of your life!

I'm not evil!!

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Why I Don’t Believe in New Year’s Resolutions and What My Resolutions Are…


I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions because I think they are born out of some sense of guilt about actions of years before, and therefore they are made with the past in mind, rather than the future (even though the opposite would seem to be true).  I think it is important that as the New Year is rung in tonight, that we look at the start of 2012 not as a way to make promises of fixing past mistakes, but in terms of always moving forward, moving towards the healthy, the positive, and the productive.  What’s the difference?  The end result might be the exact same resolution “I am going to the gym three times every week”, but the “because” is different “because I want to look good naked/I want to get stronger/I want to be healthier” NOT “because I am fat and I hate myself”. The “because” will make or break you.

OK, so perhaps that made absolutely no sense whatsoever.  I am sorry about that – I have notoriously been not-very-good at explaining complex emotional sentiments.  Please forgive me!  So that being said here are my “resolutions” (I almost hate calling them that).

1.  I will get more Vitamin D.  After receiving my bloodwork results a couple of months ago it showed that I was Vitamin D deficient, and I would like to fix that (I’ll explain the importance of Vitamin D in a post coming soon!).  I will take a Vitamin D supplement, but I will also take measures to ensure that I get the Vitamin D from the sun when possible.

2.  I will finally do the real strict Paleo elimination diet via The Whole 30.  I am doing this to determine if the relatively small, but omnipresent dairy in the form of heavy cream and butter in my diet is causing any problems and I will also be giving up the small amounts of sugar/chocolate that I’ve consumed since going Paleo, and of course booze for the duration of the month of January.  I want to see if I have any latent problems with these foods/drinks, and am possibly missing out on a chance to look, feel, and perform better.

3.  I will do Kelly Starrett’s Mobility Workouts almost every day.  I have a number of areas in the flexibility department I can improve on, and I would love to start adding some new movements to my exercise repertoire.  I also don’t want plastic knees and rotator cuff surgery so I think it is important to pay attention to basic maintenance on myself.

These are my “resolutions”/goals/musts for 2012.  I will document here on the blog what the results of these initiatives!

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A Tale of Two Labs

OK it’s been quite awhile since I put up a new post, so I figure this one needs to be a good one.  What better way to return from the hiatus than to put something out there that is concrete – a tangible, quantifiable result from living the lifestyle everyone says is so great?  I am well aware that my one person sample (me) is far too small to be relevant in any sort of scientific way, but I think it does prove, at least in my mind, that the Paleo diet is creating positive change, in my case.  I think that the more of us that share our stories of successful weight loss, body composition change, and disease healing, the more the others may become interested, “buy in”, and see a positive change in their own lives.

One of the most common shoot-from-the-hip criticisms I hear of the Paleo diet is that it surely must raise your cholesterol and clog your arteries.  I touched on the flaws of the lipid hypothesis in the blog’s first post, but in a quick nutshell, the idea that animal fat causes heart disease was never based in reality.  I was lucky enough to have two samples of bloodwork, one performed in August when I was still very much eating the “Standard American Diet” (SAD) and one in November, after only about three weeks of clean eating.  The results were pretty impressive!

Unfortunately, pre-Paleo, I was creeping toward a very scary place with a fasting blood glucose of 98 mg/dL (pre-diabetes is considered at levels of 100 – 125 mg/dL).  That’s pretty embarrassing at the ripe old age of 31, and I don’t think that most people would have thought that I was that insulin-resistant.  After all, I wasn’t morbidly obese, and while my diet certainly could have been better, it was really pretty standard compared to what my peers were eating (and drinking).  I didn’t even drink sodas!  Three weeks into Paleo eating, my fasting blood glucose was down to a much more reasonable 88 mg/dL.

My cholesterol was another issue, which, while not as serious in my mind as the blood sugar (although my physician sure zoomed in on it, not even mentioning the blood sugar flirting with the upper end of “normal”) was certainly something to monitor given that I have a family history of serious heart disease.  My total cholesterol was down 19 mg/dL, with an increase in the “good” HDL cholesterol of 14 mg/dL.  My LDL, or bad cholesterol, was down 24 mg/dL.  The most dramatic difference was in my triglyceride levels, which went from 102 mg/dL to 56 mg/dL.

Again, I am just one little person, with one positive change, but there are so many of us with similar experiences, I have to wonder what the naysayers are thinking?  If our current way of doing business is so great, why are we overweight and sick, and why do I feel so great now?

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Are You Dead or Are You Sleepin’?

This question was posed by the band Modest Mouse in a song I don’t really understand the meaning of, “Satin in a Coffin”.  While I may not get the song at all (it’s catchy though), the question is actually really appropriate for the vast majority of Americans.  According to the CDC, in almost every state at least 25% of Americans surveyed get less than 7-9 hours of sleep every night.

Percentage of Americans Reporting Insufficient Sleep Over the Course of a Month

So what’s the big deal?  I don’t have time to get that much sleep, I have stuff to do!  Beavis and Butthead is on MTV at 10PM EST, I need to stay up and watch!  I hear you, I really do.  There are many nights I don’t get nearly enough sleep, especially as a shift-worker.  So what is the big deal?  Why do we need to sacrifice so that we can spend more time unconscious, instead of doing something more worthwhile?

Well first of all, there is the obvious answer; insufficient sleep can leave you exhausted during your normal waking hours and can cause you to fall asleep while you’re trying to do other important things like “operating heavy machinery”.  Even if the heaviest thing you operate is your iPad, you can still feel other negative biological and cognitive affects of sleep deprivation.  In fact, the importance of sleep is one area where all sorts of purveyors of conventional wisdom and I agree!

These are of the things that you can look forward to after prolonged periods of not-enough-sleep:

  • Increased blood glucose levels
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased inflammation
  • Weight gain
  • Food cravings (which lead to more weight gain, and increased blood glucose, ’cause believe me, you’re not craving Brussels sprouts, you’re probably craving Snickers)
  • Mood disorders
  • Decreased ability to fight infection
  • And, ultimately, the big Debbie Downer – decreased life expectancy

Oh and I didn’t make that up myself, the nice people at Harvard did, you can find more information here.  So stop reading this blog and go to bed!

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