Food philosophy


Had such a lovely time with family last night!

Family events have always been tremendous fun – well, the presence of all the nephews and nieces tends to make sure of that – but in the past I admit that I have sometimes struggled, because it’s been difficult to match the energy levels of my fit and healthy family, and pain has a way of making things seem further away than they really are.

rear view mirror

Pain mirror: events in Reality are closer than they appear.

Last night I took my painkiller before we left, and it kicked in while we were there and I found that I was able to feel more involved and energetic than usual, which was brilliant.

By the time we left I was exhausted, and woke up this morning terribly stiff and sore. I was really worried for a while, until the Captain reminded me that it had been a good 15 hours since my last painkiller. I took the next does and voila! Felt considerably less sore. A useful reminder of how much pain they have actually been killing. Although, I am really quite tired now.

It has been easy to imagine that I am doing brilliantly well and managing to get on top of a lot of my pain. It was a bit of a surprise to be reminded of how much work those painkillers are doing. Perhaps that explains why, when I went to my GP a short time ago and said brightly ‘I think I may be ready to start going off the painkillers now!’ she replied bluntly, ‘Nope. Not a chance. Go talk to your pain specialist next year.’

Anyhoo, several other members of my family are currently investigating the way they eat, in relation to specific health issues. That meant we had the opportunity for some really fun, in-depth discussions about eating and nutrition – which I love, especially with my very well-read family.

One thing that came up briefly was one of the fundamental principles of the Paleo movement: the idea that grains are ‘evil’* because we humans ‘haven’t evolved to eat them in large quantities’.

Look, I’ve been doing some reading around this. Let me come out now and state my own feelings on this matter (while acknowledging that people have all sorts of different opinions based on all sorts of different research, that I know this sort of research is pretty new and there are many, oh many, branches of science involved, and that paleontology does not necessarily always talk nicely with gastroenterology, and everybody has the absolute right to form their own opinions, etc. etc.) ***

I think that’s rubbish. As the Captain likes to say ‘If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ My first degree was applied science in the anthropology/archaeology/environmental science sphere, and I naturally tend to see things through this filter. I have read a fair bit about our understanding of ancient archaeology as it pertains to human diaspora and cultural development.

It seems to me that there is pretty good evidence that we have been, as a species, storing quite the variety of grass seeds, otherwise known as grains, and consuming them in significant quantities, for quite a long time. This sort of archaeology is tricky because we’re basically looking at a scant handful of sites and then extrapolating them to the entirety of humanity, but in all fairness, given the evidence, we’ve probably been eating grains for at least 10,000 years and possibly as long as 100,000, give or take a few years. ****

The last 10,000 years bave been pretty busy for our species. Have we managed to squeeze in any evolving into our busy schedules?

It looks like a few of us have managed a bit, yes. Things like lactose tolerance, blue eyes, enzymes that allow us to break down and use starchy foods: that sort of thing. (Oh, by the way, those enzymes would probably fall under the category of ‘evolutionary changes that allow us to eat grains in bulk’.) We’ve been filling in the time rather well, actually.

Of course, humans managed to cover a fair proportion of the earth’s landmass in that time, and developed all kinds of local variations, in our diet and in our appearance and behaviour and beliefs and cultures and … well, you know. And our guts.

I’m willing to go out on a limb and suggest that if we managed to go back in time and eat along with out Paleolithic ancestors, as well as probably managing to drop some extreme social clangers, we’d be writhing in agony on the cave floor pretty quickly as our poor 21st century guts reacted violently to the perfect Paleo diet. *****

So if I really feel this way, why am I even bothering with AIP?

Putting aside the fact that I’ve been wondering this myself on and off for a while, it is still an elimination diet: and I still am quite happy to accept that foods have a fair bit to do with gut health, and gut health has a fair bit to do with autoimmune reactions.

After all, I know that if I drank a glass of raw cow’s milk, I’d be there rolling on the floor all night and most of the next day, just as badly as that time I went back in time and had arvo tea with Grok and family. And after that, all my poor old joints would swell up and I’d be hobbling around on my stick for a few days.


Fancy a biscuit?

Taking away a lot of my foods and reintroducing them gradually and waiting to see what happens seems pretty logical to me.

But I’m not sure I’m prepared to believe, until I try it, that a bowl of porridge will have me miserably reaching for my walking stick ******, just because Grok wouldn’t have had porridge with sultanas in it for his breakfast. Porridge has never freaked me out before, will it suddenly become no. 1 worst enemy?

I am prepared to accept that some of the foods I reintroduce may have a nasty effect, and it will be useful to know that for future. I just don’t believe it has as much to do with any alleged lack of human evolution as some people might think.

Besides, I don’t want to live like Grok. I’d have been dead several, oh, many times over if I lived back then. No joke, I had health problems as a baby and I’m not convinced I would have made it to adulthood a century ago, let alone as a Paleolithic cave-dweller. Would you have? A lot of us wouldn’t.

There is a lot of brow-beating and pearl-clutching around about how unhealthy we are these days, and the unfortunate prevalence of things like heart disease, cancer and the like. All to be taken very seriously indeed.

However, it is rarely added that there are a few other things that are prevalent these days. Things like humans living past their thirties, let alone those lucky enough to expect to live well into their seventies and eighties, or longer. Children like me having a much better chance of surviving infancy. People like me living most of their lives to date without severely limited mobility.

We have more chronic diseases? But we are also living longer than ever before. We have to do something to fill in all that time, I suppose. Speaking for myself, I’m living well past my use-by date (in your face, Nature!) Evolution is finished with me: I’m living purely on my own sweet time now. Hurrah! Unlike Grok, who seems to have lived fast and died young (from, as far as we know, heart disease – there is (a little) evidence that members of ancient human populations may have been plagued with it too).

I’m totally uninterested in living on a ‘paleolithic’ diet. Or whatever our modern equivalent is. I don’t believe there’s a lot of logic to it.

But I am interested in gut health, with a secondary desire to support sustainable and ethical food production, because I’m lucky and can afford to do so, even now, and if rich people won’t do it, who will?

And I am keen to find out what tips my own personal gut balance, while acknowledging that a) each person is individual and my perfect diet may not look like yours, b) there is probably no diet that can give me ‘perfect health’ because I don’t actually believe that it can exist in the long term, c) food tolerances have a lot to do with concentration, quantities and combinations of foods.

What’s sauce for the goose may give you vile gut-ache if you have it as a soup before the cheese course.

However, one common thing that has shown up in a lot of my browsings around the interwebs, and became an interesting topic of conversation last night, is the (allegedly evil) food additive.

Now I reckon there are additives and additives. There are those that, yes, are possibly slightly sinister. Things that are designed to increase the marketability or price point of a product. Make them look more appealing, make them stand out against competitors, make you crave the product so you buy more. (Okay, there are probably a few moral issues there.)

Then there are additives that are purely frivolous. Things that improve taste and mouth-feel and improve our experience of eating them. Not necessary, but certainly enjoyable. Without these sorts of additives we’d be living in a world devoid of fizzing sherbert and Violet Crumbles. These may not be ideal nutritionally but you can’t deny they add a bit of zing to life. (And if you do, you’re probably in the wrong place. ‘’ is over that way. Bye!

And then there are additives that allow scarce foods to go further, introduce crucial missing nutrients, increase shelf life, kill harmful bacteria. There are food additives that have literally saved lives. Are saving them right now. Might have saved yours. *******

And if you are poor or living on the streets or out of your car, if you have no easy access to food or no way to prepare food yourself or store it, or no time to do so, then as far as I’m concerned any of the above additives are a good and important part of your diet, because the only thing more important than good food is some food.

However, if like me you have the leisure to think about such things, and the expensive education that allows you to research a bit yourself, and the potential expectation of a long and productive lifespan, and the funds and capacity to put a bit of effort into your food selection – then indeed it looks like it might be worthwhile having a think about avoiding more additives and preservatives and things than you absolutely must have.

(Even then, I admit I care far less about the vague risks of things like cancer in the future than I care about the very real threat of severe disabling pain right now. Don’t get me wrong, if I get cancer I’ll care all right, but right now my main priority is to try and live a life where I don’t feel like I am living on Planet Zorg while everybody else lives on Earth. Everything else comes well-and-truly second.)

Now my current diet – even pre-AIP – has been pretty low in processed foods and foods with additives. There are some non-dairy ‘milks’ which (as my gut has recently and loudly informed me) can include preservatives and thickeners. Most confectionary is a riot of ingredients that don’t sound much like actual food: I doubt my beloved rhubarb-and-custards have ever seen any actual rhubarb. Or custard, come to that.

Um, my beloved mustards and chutneys. (Hmm, I could make those myself. Note for the future.) Dried fruits with preservatives. All the stuff that goes on in factories that produce foods which cross-contaminate them with other stuff. So, I guess anything manufactured or packed in a factory, like flour and sugar and nuts and chocolate and Bird’s Custard Powder ******** and stuff. Oh, and preservatives and colours and stuff that goes into butter and lard and cooking fats. And bread, of course.

Last night my mother mentioned that when she was young, they purchased bread every day, because it wouldn’t last any longer than a day (and any left over went to make things like bread pudding (yay) and breadcrumbs and things). So that implies that the bread was preservative-free. Unlike supermarket breads these days, which last for ever. I wonder if increasing rates of a few illnesses is related? (Spoiler: I have absolutely no idea.)

I know foods with added preservatives have been around for ever and ever. Cooking and curing and salting and adding one food to another, sort of thing. But I also know – because my historic period is really the early 20th century – that a heck of a lot of quite technical preservation techniques only started creeping in in earnest around then. And really took off during the wars, with such delightful additions to our culinary repertoire as dried eggs and various tinned meat mushes and vitamin-enhanced bread: vitally important for feeding remote troops and keeping civilian stomachs full in spite of very dodgy trade routes.

And then highly-adulterated foods of the type that doesn’t involve so much a ‘cook’ as a ‘food technician’ became a hardcore part of our diet post-WWII, when all the fun things like frozen puddings and Chiko Rolls and Wizz Fizz and instant noodles showed up and we pinned our collective ears back and bogged in.

(And Space Food Sticks. What even were they?)

When I had that remarkable remission of my autoimmune symptoms in the UK on my incipient ‘Land Girl Diet’, there was practically nothing like that in evidence. There were the pantry basics such as flour and sugar and baking soda, butter, and the odd sweetie. A few meals at the pub. Um, that’s almost all. Oh, and the bread. And alcohol in small quantities, which I’ve decided doesn’t count. (Too bad.)

It would be very easy to replicate that at home, being as I am full of time and eagerness to spend it in my kitchen, not to mention a strong motivation to avoid the Bad Place whence cometh the bulk of processed foods. If I did want bread (which I admit I haven’t missed much), I can make my own. I have time to soak legumes and peel veggies and dig out recipes. A canny shopper can read labels and avoid too many extra ingredients, and learn to identify any extras that do crop up, and learn what they are for and whether they are worth it.

Food for thought.

Ah, okay, go ahead then, tell me what you think of human evolution and how it pertains to our food. (If I like you, I won’t have a go.)

What foods would you tend to avoid even if you don’t have to for specific health reasons? What makes you suspicious? What do you refuse to give up?

What is your favourite ‘evil’ food? (Go on, I won’t tell on you.)


* Let it be known that I personally associate no form of morality, good nor evil, with any form of food. No, I don’t believe that an organic local wild-harvested trout is, of itself, somehow more moral than a Macca’s burger. Food is food. We eat it. We don’t rely on it to teach us the basis of social ethics. **

** Now, the way that we humans choose to grow, harvest and distribute food is a whole other matter …

*** Yes, this is indeed a caveat. The sub-meaning is: if you don’t like what I’m about to say, please feel free not to read it, or go elsewhere. Thank you for your time.

**** Want references? Lazy! Go do your own reading. It’s all out there on the interwebs, and this is my blog, not a scientific paper. Harumph.

***** After all, it’s bad enough when you go on holidays to SE Asia without being a bit careful, and the past is, as they say, another country.

****** Actually, I have an entire ‘wardrobe’ of walking sticks, ranging from the no-nonsense bamboo one with the really, really handy hooked handle, to the gorgeous ebony wood one with the Lucite light-up handle for special occasions. They’re gorgeous.

******* Unless you’re reading this from Beyond the Grave in which case, welcome, and have you seen Elvis?

******** NO POWER ON EARTH OR BEYOND will make me give up Bird’s Custard Powder.


2 thoughts on “Food philosophy

  1. A. Fan

    I have an intolerance for anything that says “just doing this one simple trick will fix everything for everyone”, so take Paleo with a “grain” of salt. Chortle! Especially when it gets to the point of trying to tailor an exercise regime just like cavemen did etc. etc. until you logically end up literally living in a cave.

    Of course that doesn’t mean I personally can’t look at my diet and decide 90% carbs wasn’t as good for me as rebalancing to say 50%. Even if it was, I probably wouldn’t go on the circuit selling a book about it.

    /raises bowl of porridge



    • Well said! We all have to ultimately decide what suits us best as individuals, lest we make mistakes like urging everyone else to live on handfuls of leaves, nuts, insects and the occasional frog, just because that’s what chimps do.

      And I always feel if we’re looking at fitness for modern life, certain people’s remarkable sangfroid in fresh food markets and willingness to push the Trolley of Doom is far more useful than any skills in running away from sabre-tooth tigers.

      I’ll come back to what I genuinely believe: when it comes to other people it matters more to me that we all get enough food, than that we all toe the line with some idealistic diet.


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