Mark and I haven't seen each other since I moved to Austin
3 1 / 2 years ago.
And we've never been closer, We met in 1989 when I moved to Ann Arbor and put an ad up to find some roommates. As luck would have it, a pot smoking dead head named Tom saw my ad and recruited a hair gel slathered ponytailed cynical New Jerseyan named Mark (whom I've heard has been to three Dead shows himself) to move into a two, bedroom apartment. There was another fellow with us who
referred to himself in various forms of Jack Raymond Michael Harris Green whose story I will leave for another article.
We all got along fine that first semester but I knew Mark and I would never really be that close. You see, he had one habit that didn't so much repulse me, but just made it very clear that we were fundamentally very different people and would probably not see eye to eye on much. The smell was bearable and even the sight of the white sticky goo wasn't that bad. He kept it out sight much of the time as most people do. The fact was, Mark had a little tin can in the kitchen in which he saved and reused his bacon fat drippings.
I was not a vegetarian at the time, but I had grown up,in a health conscious family where we had little processed food, sugar, meat, or fat. I'm sure for years we were the only people in my suburb who were members of the health food co-op downtown. My mom baked whole wheat bread every week and my favorite breakfast cereal was Shredded Wheat. The big kind. In college I explored a bit and
would occasionaflv eat something processed like macaroni and cheese, but the habits I established early on pretty much stuck.
Austin, Texas is full of yuppie 'healthy' food restaurants specializing in pastas and fresh vegetables, vegetarian, and sometimes even vegan fare. Michelle, my ex-girlfriend, and I were big on these places. Going out for things like Vegetarian lasagna Fresco with garlic spinach, a light gorgonzola sauce, and fresh thin egg pasta. Served with a basil aioli was one of our favorite pastimes, Being lactose intolerant I would actually stay away from dairy laden foods like lasagna, but you get the idea.
One day last fall my diet changed. I was curious about the sliced pieces of raw steak which had been sitting out in a pan on our kitchen counter for two days drying up into crispy dark red nuggets. And I finally got the chance to ask about it when four of my six roommates converged on the kitchen to make dinner one night. It turned out that my roommate was making something called Pemmican. It is an ancient food prepared by hunter gatherers that travels and stores well and you can live on it for long stretches at a time. The old recipe consisted of chewing up meat and spitting it out,separating the fat from the lean. The lean is dried in the sun crushed into a powder, and then mixed back in with the fat to form cakes. I wonder if the fun of sitting around making Pemmican with friends is where the phrase
"chewing the fat" came from. Anyway, I was intrigued by my roommates project and asked him more about it. He produced a book he had picked off the shelf at random at the health food store called 'Neanderthin: A Caveman's Guide to Nutrition" and explained the upshot of the diet:
Our bodies were optimized by evolution to function best on a raw foods diet. We evolved over the last 3 million or so years to eat native raw foods. Suddenly, 10,000 years ago we learned how to use fire and later experienced agriculture and industrialization which changed our diet greatly. The principle thesis of the Neanderthal Diet is that these "new foods" that appeared through technology are not good for us and should be avoided. In short:
A natural diet is what is edible when you are naked with a sharp stick.
If you can find it on the ground, or pluck it off a bush, or kill it with a stick and eat it, then it is probably food your body has been perfected to digest. Any food that requires any processing, including cooking, to make it edible is not 'native' to our system and is not required by our bodies. Cooking is recommended to avoid bacteria and parasites, however all of the food is edible raw.
Ninety-five percent of the deaths (and most of the crippling diseases) in the US and all other developed countries are the result of inunune system disorders. These include.- cancer, diabetes, arterial diseases, lupus, colitis, Alzheimer's, endometriosis, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and a slew of others. Obesity and mental illnesses have been tied to the immune system. The theory is that these new foods introduce foreign proteins which constantly trigger and overload our immune systems. Primitive peoples almost never have these problems.
The theory sounded reasonable and, not being one to nitpick about the theoretical details, I shed my clothes on the spot, found a sharp stick and headed to the supermarket. I was not overweight and was perfectly happy with what I ate and the Austin dining I frequently experienced with friends. I was just feeling adventurous that day or something. I read the book for the specifics of the diet and it's been eight months now since I've eaten any of the following.
Grains: corn, wheat, barley, rye, rice, oats, and all products made from them.
Beans: all varieties of hard beans, lima beans, green beans, wax beans, peas, peanuts, chocolate, soy, and all of the products made from them.
Potatoes: all varieties of potatoes and yams, beets, taro, cassava (tapioca), turnips, and the products made from them.
Dairy: mild, cheese, yogurt, whey, butter, and all of the products made from them - no matter what kind of animal milk was used to produce them.
Sugar: fructose, sucrose, mattose, dextrose, lactose, corn sweeteners, honey, molasses, and the products made from them.
That means no bread, no pasta, no beans, nothing with soy in it, no
coffee, no beer/ wine/ liquor, no soda (carbonated water is OK), no cheese,
no ice cream, no cereal, no chocolate, and nothing containing cornsyrup.
I used to read ingredient labels but now only need to check if the item
has an ingredient label. If it has an ingredient label, then it probably
has processed stuff in it. You'd be amazed at how many things you eat contain
refined sugar; mostly high fructose corn syrup-.
ketchup, almost any canned fruit or vegetable, buttermilk biscuits, sausage, bacon, ham, worcestershire sauce, spaghetti sauce. And then of course there's the food that actually tastes sweet...
So what is left to eat? Well, apples don't have ingredient labels; nor does meat from the butcher or vegetables. Here's the rundown on what I've lived on since November.
Meats: beef, veal, lamb, pork, venison, chicken, turkey, duck, pheasant, quail, rabbit, all fish, and any other form of meat or meat byproduct such as lard.
Fruits: apples, cherries, pears, peaches, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes bananas, avocados, plums, citrus fruits, olives, figs, dates, mangos, kiwi, star fruit, pineapple, plums, pomegranates, passion fruit, or any other fruit eaten fresh whenever possible.
Vegetables: lettuce, cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, rhubarb, cauliflower, flowers, broccoli, asparagus, parsley, herbs, spinach, celery, carrots, onions, mushrooms, greens, and any other part of a plant that is edible raw.
Nuts: almonds, walnuts, pecans, Brazil, acorns, hickory nuts, filberts, macadamia, and any other that are edible raw.
Berries: grapes, blueberries, raspberries, bla&berries, boysenberries, ,strawberries, and any others edible raw.
If I am on the road with the band and stuck in a fast food place, a burger is fine. For god's sake just don"t eat the bun! That thing'll kill yal And french fries: the lard they used to cook them in was the healthiest part. It was the potato causing heart attacks. Of course now they deep fry in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or peanut oil which are big no no's in Neanderthal circles. Steak and eggs at Denny's? That's as healthy as it gets (except for the butter they probably cook the eggs in). Roadside fruit and vegetable stands and barbecue places top my list for places to eat away from home.
At home I eat quite a bit of meat. Fruit is good for quick hyper energy but the long term steadiness comes from meat and fat. With fat-free everything and lean this and that sometimes I have to go out of my way to buy meat with enough fat in it. I walk to the store every day and buy things for one or two meals at a time. Mostly organic fruit, vegetables and meat. I eat a trail mix of nuts and dried fruit as a snacl My roornmate and I are still working on perfecting pemmican. He just bought a food dehydrator so the meat drying will go quicker. As for the fat, we render it on the stove, not by chewing it and spitting it out.
So what do I get for all of this trouble?
Maybe one of the bonds that kept Mark as a roommate and friend those
years in Ann Arbor was our yet to be diagnosed respective mental illnesses.
Maybe unconsciously we comforted each other in our unspoken suffering.
When I moved away and came to Austin I finally contacted a therapist and
got treatment for major depression. Drugs (prescription), and group and
individual therapy for four years now has been effective in keeping my
head out of the dark clouds or at least my visits there brief. Nothing
I've done though, has acted as dramatically and swiftly upon my mental
state as eating like a neanderthal. Within a week, I was feeling happy,
content, and rock steady. I felt centered and grounded and like I could
communicate more clearly. My girlfriend and I ended our four and a half
year relationship peacefully and honestly realizing that it wasn't working.
I lost my attachment to food. I don't crave chocolate or big heavy meals
when bored or distressed. I went home for Christmas and had a nice time
with my family!! They couldn't seem to throw me into the dark, quiet mood
they invariably did on visits. My love life is great and I have two jobs
that I really like.
The physical changes took a little longer and still seem to be happening. I'm much more limber now. Yoga is fun because I'm actually flexible now and can relax into the poses. My food is digested faster. It goes right through me and a lot less comes out the other end. No gas. I'm leaner. My muscles are more defined with no more exercise than normal. I'm continuing to lose weight at a slow pace. My
weight is down to 158 from the 175 I held steadily for 9 years or so. If it keeps going I'll have to make some kind of change but for now I feel energetic, all day and healthy, just really thin. I think my testosterone level went up. My sex drive increased and I found myself acting more focused, aggressive and competitive. I took motorcycle training and am looking for a bike because I can't stand just sitting there passively in a metal box in traffic. I went to Las Vegas last month to visit friends and surprised myself at how competitive I was at the tables. Luck and knowledge of probability and card counting saved me from coming out in the red during intense rounds of $25-$100 bets. I saw a months salary come and go. We rented a "96 Mustang convertible and I drove the winding hilly scenic drive through Red Rock Canyon at l00 miles an hour and I was loving the thrill. That would have terrified me in the past.
Great. So I'm having lot's of sex, gambling, and driving fast cars. Along with that high energy feeling though came feelings of contentment, safety, and happiness. I really like my jobs and my friends and my life. Does it make you wanna puke? Maybe it was something you ate.
I would be happy to share the information about how to get the Neander-thin
It is self published by a guy in Dallas with whom I've spoken on the phone. He's a nice guy. Actually, if you want a copy just call him. His name is Ray Audette and he's listed in Dallas,
As for Mark and the days of bacon and eggs (save the drippings!) in
Ann Arbor, I have to say that the idea to write this article for Crimewave
came to me while I was flavoring some chili with my own little stash of
lard I keep in a can covered with tin foil right next to the stove. I guess
you were right all along Mark, I apologize for turning my nose up at your
lard can and your hard boiled egg yolks and salt dish
and your request to me drive you to Kentucky Fried Chicken when I had a car for the weekend (although I think you were really after the mashed potatoes and biscuits and not the chicken). If only I could have recognized your genius years ago! I can only wonder how my life would be different now.