How I Came To Be A Paleo Person and Why I Think You Might Like To Be One Too
The thing about being a food writer is that you tend to obsess about food. While many so-called “foodies” talk food all the time, and use food stats to mark their progress in the world. Food writers are obsessed.
Like when I go on a trip. I only go where the food is good. Oh, I know. I’ll have to find something to do between meals, like go to a museum or float down the Rhine or something, but basically, I’m just there for the food.
And this started with me when I was a kid. I was a latch key kid in the fifties. My mother worked – she was the bookkeeper at Penney’s, and my dad worked – he was an electrician, so when school was out, I had a couple choices.
I could play with my dog, or, by third grade, when I got hold of my maternal grandmother’s recipes in the wooden box – she’d only been dead a couple years and I missed her – I could cook. I still have the scars on my right hand where I was attempting to pour boiling sugar syrup over beaten egg whites to make divinity.
I was not strong enough to hold the pot and poured that boiling stuff all over my forefinger and middle finger. The scar is still there, and, you could say, the dye was cast.
My best friend, Virginia, whose mother was a cook in the grade school cafeteria, brought over a recipe that we must have made about a hundred times. Melt a stick of butter in a pan, then add a square of chocolate, then pour in a box of powdered sugar. Stir it up and smooth it into the pan to cool. By the time we had licked the pan, we were both in a fine state of sugar shock.
My mother, who never had a sweet tooth, and still weighed 135 pounds on her lanky 5’8” frame when she was in her early seventies, had gorgeous olive skin without a wrinkle in sight, could never summon much interest in the candy making adventures that Virginia and I enjoyed.
And when we weren’t making candy, we’d just stop off at Mr. Culpepper’s candy shop for a square of his home made fudge, or we’d buy a big old Baby Ruth, tenderly eating the milk chocolate coating first, then picking the peanuts lovingly out of the caramel, then seeing who could make that long sticky piece of fudge last the longest.
Not that either one of us had any idea about the sexual overtones of worshiping that candy bar, but there you go. It was the fifties. What can I say?
Now these indulgences were in sharp contrast to the meals I had at home. We had meat, – usually beef butchered by Uncle Clem’s man, and potatoes, locally grown and kept under the house in a 50 pound gunny sack – usually mashed, with gravy and cooked green vegetables – beans or peas mostly, often out of Uncle Dick’s garden. And a slice of wonder bread which my mother could never stop telling what a big improvement this was over the days when she grew up on a ranch and had to help make the “light” bread every week.
It’s not inaccurate to say that “Wonder bread” was one of America’s earliest and least healthy processed foods.
We each had a glass of milk. Uncle Pink delivered the milk to our back door once a week. I knew Uncle Pink was also a large animal veterinarian, but it never occurred to me that the milk was raw. It was just Uncle Pink’s milk.
There was no dessert except for your birthday. There were oranges at Christmas when they were brought up from the valley on the train. There were hard wormy little apples off the back yard tree where Bryce carved his name and mine in a heart with his new pocket knife.
So food was pretty basic. My mother was deeply suspicious of coca cola, and believed potato chips and canned tuna were instruments of the devil, so none of those 50’s processed foods came into our house.
And maybe that’s why I became a food writer. My other grandmother had been a fabulous cook and I wanted to be her. Everybody said I looked just like her. Her mother was a Cherokee squaw who I met only one time, but I did like my grandmother, although one could never have confused her with a touchy feely squishy grandmother. She was workmanlike. Tall as a tree with tiny ankles and wrists, she raised a garden, tended chickens, put up tomatoes, and applesauce and green beans in jars that were kept in the cellar.
She knew all sorts of tricks. Like how to pour sugar into a black skillet and cook it until it bubbled and turned a gorgeous mahogany color. Then she made her famous Burnt Sugar Cake. She made me baked custard every morning for breakfast. Every morning.
So, this sugar thing was there, alongside the thing about farm butchered beef, and garden vegetables and raw milk and eggs from the farm.
That was just the fifties in America. Nothing odd or out of whack about it.
But soon, all sorts of mother’s helpers came on the market. Frozen Teevee dinners, then Chef Boyardee boxed dinners. You should have seen the look on my daddy’s face when I made a pizza using that little box of flour, and that little tube of deep red sauce, and that shaker of dried cheese. I thought it was so much fun to make and my family ate it even though they had no idea what pizza should look or taste like. The only Italians they had ever seen were the prisoners of war who were brought to the Panhandle of Texas during WW2 because there was no place to escape.
But the American diet began a sea change that continues today. All sorts of improvements in farming came about so that flat Texas panhandle produced more corn and wheat than ever before. Made the farmers rich I’ll tell you that. Even Uncle Dick who came into the house at night with his pants wet up to the knee from fertilizer and pesticide. Died of Parkinson’s way too early, I’ll tell you.
They put the processing plants next to the fields. When Holly Sugar came to town and began processing sugar beets, the whole town smelled like sugar cookies.
Then the home ec schools – yes, I went to U Texas when the home ec school was in full flower and before they folded it into the school for natural sciences and before the aim of graduates was to go into the lab and invent food, not to go into the kitchen and cook.
May we live in interesting times. Because those of us who came up in the fifties are the first generation in the history of the world who have served as human guinea pigs to the grand experiment we call processed foods.
And what do they do to processed foods? First they have to make them have greater “shelf life”, not that we need a better life. So they take out natural nutrients and replace them with artificial – remember “enriched flour”. They took the native nutrients out of whole grains which are unstable and replaced them with a list of vitamins, minerals and chemicals and told us we’d never know the difference.
And the main addition they put back into processed foods for palatability is sugar. It can be disguised by many names, but the blunt truth is that 80% of the foods sold in grocery stores today are laced with sugars and High fructose corn syrup, and that includes the sausages and even the ground meats. Eeek.
And most Americans are as addicted to sugar as if it were cocaine. And that’s no lie.
Guess what folks. There’s a difference. Now those of us old enough for AARP are showing the unmistakable results of eating this faux food diet for nearly fifty years. Diabetes, heart disease, cancers, Parkinson’s, many mental illnesses. Not to mention the pandemic of obesity. It’s really just awful. And I’ve been a part of it, giving and taking away. Sigh. I’m sorry. I apologize.
All can be laid squarely at the foot of the rise of agribusiness and the pharmaceuticals industries. Feed ‘em junk food until they’re sick, then knock ‘em back with medicine.
But there’s a better way. Take a giant step backwards, to a time when whole, real foods were eaten, and you can not only enjoy your food more, but regain your health and hope to live as long as your grandmother did. Uh, my Cherokee grandmother lived to be ninety and she never saw a processed food.
And that’s what the Paleo Food Movement is all about. Looking into our ancestral past to a time 10,000 years ago, before farming, when our genetic codes were set and man ate pure foods.
How can this be done now in our post modern age and what good does it do those of us over 50. It can be done and it can help us.
I don’t know about you, but I like to think the best of my life is ahead of me and I’m trying to forge ahead living a vigorous healthy life.
I do not eat sugar any more. Period.
There’s more. But that’s enough for today. Look backwards to move forwards.
That’s the Paleo word for the day.Pin It