In my ongoing effort to improve my nutritional status so I can be the bestest roller derby-er I can be, despite my stunning lack of natural abilities (see nearly all previous posts) I have been looking into the ways that athletes and super healthy people fuel themselves. One particular way has popped up more than its fair share and that is the paleolithic diet. I know you've heard of it and if you haven't you've got access to Google, so I'm not going to describe it beyond saying that it involves no grains, just meat, vegetables, fruit and nuts.
Paleo has caught my eye because I know a half dozen people personally who have claimed that paleo eating and lifestyle has changed their lives. And I've seen them undergo changes, becoming healthier, fitter and happier. Paleo is like the magical unicorn of diets.
Reading about it, there is some good guys (Robb Wolf seems pretty knowledgeable plus he says swear words) and some questionable science guys (Gary Taubes) but still, for the most part, I find myself in agreeance with the paleo sellers. This would be the point that I, given my penchant for turning my whole life into a science experiment because I'm curious, interested and always eager to find things that help me be healthier, to yell giddy up and spend a few weeks re-learning how to eat.
The reason why I'm hesitating to adopt this paleo diet is a set of arguments I waded through about fifteen years ago stuck to me and turned itself into a firm and clear ethical basis from which much of my identity and life is constructed. I am vegan. I like being vegan. My children are vegan. I don't want to eat animals. When it's me vs. the mythical bunny on the hypothetical desert island I would Not Eat the Bunny.
I get that grains are not so good for our bodies. I live that one out with wheat all the time. I love toast. I have gone so far in the recent past to say that I fucking love toast. But toast doesn't fucking me. Toast, which is so good, so tasty turns into an evil bitch in my stomach and makes me suffer for every bite. Toast is a frenemy. Good bye (*sob*) toast.
The paleo kicker is that it is impossible to construct a strictly paleo diet while also being vegan. Legumes and grains form an important part of vegan nutrition, as they contain larger doses of protein than vegetables. It is possible to construct a diet that is paleo-esque but includes some legumes and seeds like quinoa, amarath and hemp. Brendan Brazier is one such vegan athlete guru and, I'll admit, I've been consuming his yellow pea/hemp/veggie magic powders for years. (I've actually, I've come to crave the odd taste of Vega products, which I like to blend with a bit of banana and almond milk.)
I like Brazier. I follow him on Facebook. But Brazier's diet is not strictly paleo and, according to Wolf, I shall never get the benefits of becoming a slick, lean fat fuelled machine if I bastardize the paleo diet and sneak in some quinoa.
This little vegan vs paleo debate has been tearing me up for a little while. It's the worst of both worlds right now, since I can't figure out what to make for breakfast and my entire day goes to shit after that. I mean, if I shouldn't eat toast or oatmeal or pancakes, then what the fuck do I eat? Broccoli with my coffee? That is not breakfast fuel, my friends.
Then, this morning as I made oatmeal because I have to eat something, it occurred to me that perhaps I've had my head up my ass long enough. Here is the thing with our culture: we have so much time, energy and resources that we can afford to self indulgently narrow our choices down and grow into neurotic dietary puritans. I have unlimited food sources from all over the world, I do not have traditional foods prescribed nor do I live with religious tenents that dicate my lunch choice. To decide that I will be vegan (and maintain with admittedly good health for fifteen years with the exception of two pregnancies) is a luxury of my time and place. To decide to only eat like our paleo ancestors is another luxury item. To sit here and dither over which one is best is even more self indulgent. I am damn fucking lucky to have this choice. So I will not suffer over it anymore.
I remember reading study that looked at all the paradoxical ways of eating, trending fads, diets, and longer term commitments, like Seventh Day Adventist vegetarians, that claimed to maintain health (and weight loss) with foods that conflicted with one another. The South Beachers could lose weight and maintain based upon denying themselves foods that the Greeks eat daily (fat, fat and more fat). We have the French paradox and the Chinese paradox and how can all these conflicting ways of eating still work to support healthy human life?
The study concluded that all of the diets that did indeed improve human health had one common feature: large portions vegetables, particularly green leafies, as cornerstones to their menus. A part of me wondering is that it's not so much the meat that makes paleo so successful, it's actually the inclusion of large servings of vegetables.
Another part of our evolving species is our big, heavy, pelvis busting brains. See, if it's me vs the rabbit on the island, the knee jerk reaction of our species to a desperate situation is to kill something and eat it and, sure, I could do that. I could go all paleo all over the bunny, eat the little prey, and go to sleep when the sun goes down. Or, I could sit my ass down and think about it for a minute and it will probably occur to me to wonder, what the fuck is the bunny eating?
We are omnivores. We sustain our lives on all sorts of foods. We eat from the sky, the ground, the sea, and we cook it all in the sun, hot springs and in lava pits. We carry around super computers in our skulls. The choices we have is our predicament, they make us crazy, but they are also our way off of crazy island and all the hypothetical scenarios that are not going to happen to this prairie living girl.
I don't know if being vegan is the ultimate healthy sort of way. I can't say that paleo is either. I know that eating a shit ton of vegetables is a good thing and that I must painfully, with great sorrow, end my love affair with toast. I also know that I've got a lot of other things to do with my life than sit around tinkering with my diet.
I'm not sick. I do have energy and health. I am also pretty lazy and can afford to be lazy. It's much more fun to read books (with swear words) about my self indulgent food choices and endlessly tweak my lifestyle than to go do something that matters.
So, I'm going to go do some shit, eat some veggies for lunch and fail to worry about it. And then I'm going to get ready in my specialized clothing designed by modern day scientists to maximize my movement potential while drawing sweat away from my body and hunt down an opposing jammer deer while helping my jammer gather up some points in roller derby practice.
It is what I am evolved to do.