Return to the garden

Return to the garden

If there is anything that makes us appreciate and reflect upon the passing of time it has to be gardening. When we garden, things are governed by the days, weeks, months, seasons and years in a way that is often forgotten in our everyday lives. We are acutely aware of just how quickly time passes as a myriad of jobs lie waiting for us in the garden and as weeds creep up in the blink of an eye and seeds wait to be planted. Yet at the same time we can talk of a newly-planted shrub and think ‘perhaps it will take a few years to flower properly’ as if a few years were a few days.

One would think that gardening would be a battle against time and the elements; a frantic attempt to keep on top of things and complete a list of jobs according to a strict timetable. It is of course and sometimes that can get on top of us but the strange thing is that despite this profound awareness of the passing hours and days, gardening is simultaneously about losing oneself in time. When we garden, as all gardeners will no doubt agree, we are at once acutely aware of time and yet strangely outside of it as we immerse ourselves in the task at hand.  It is a form of meditation, of clearing the mind in a way that for many is seemingly impossible in ordinary day to day life (or even perhaps via the route of meditation); just as painting is or indeed any other skill or craft that requires sustained and complete absorption.

When we think of the garden, we also automatically relate its progress (or lack of) to points of time in our own lives and this gives it an added poignancy.  I think that is why gardens are so loved – they stand as reflections of our own lives and the time that has passed yet they also look to the future and represent a kind of hope. They appeal to us as temporal beings; as beings that exist with past, present and future combined simultaneously. There is a brilliant quote from Roy Strong about gardens and hope (maybe in his lovely book The Laskett) – I shall try to find it.

Being out in the garden yesterday made me think about this and reflect on the connection with the natural world that we have lost. The Japanese practice of ‘Shinrinyoku’ or ‘forest bathing’ seeks to restore this equilibrium with some excellent results on moods, stress levels and the immune system (see here), but perhaps we need only go out to the garden  (if we are lucky enough to have one) rather than find a forest  to achieve similar results.

Apart from the physicality of gardening, there is an added bonus that if we are able to grow a few vegetables we are also benefitting our health by avoiding the ever-present chemicals that are used in the soil or sprayed on the produce (and even added with the packaging process – see my article on the interview with Joanna Blythman, author of Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets).

Within the Paleo scene, there is a huge emphasis placed on the providence of our food (especially meat and other animal products) and although I was concerned about these things before, I am doubly aware of them now. Growing vegetables gives us an element of control over the quality of our food. Buying organic produce in the supermarket is expensive and to be honest, I would rather trust our own vegetables. We do have a monthly farmers market and we are also very lucky to have a superb organic garden shop relatively near to us but these options are not always practical. Hence our heroic efforts each year to tackle weeds and restore our vegetable garden to its former glory.

We have recently acquired a huge amount of woodchip to go around the beds and so Easter weekend was spent putting weed control fabric down and woodchipping over it and cleaning the greenhouses. Of course these are jobs that should have been done months ago but I have been trying hard not to beat myself up over it and just being persistent in doing what I can. I think that’s a good way to go – not only with gardens but with everything else –  otherwise it all becomes too much. In the wonderful weather that we have had, shovelling woodchip with the robins hopping around us, and watching the vegetable garden take shape has been a joy.

An essential piece of kit for the garden has been our Vitapod propagator. Unfortunately its power socket was damaged and so we have just received a replacement for it. The previous model had a power socket that could not be detached from the main body of the propagator and the company has rectified this design fault and replaced the damaged power socket for a small fee. The Vitapod was an invaluable purchase (a birthday present from R) and I cannot recommend it highly enough. We start many of our seedlings off in there before transferring to the greenhouse.

We used to have two large polytunnels (cheap ones – not the amazingly sturdy professional polytunnels that I covet) and after particularly windy days these were often found strewn across the surrounding area – accompanied by upturned pots of tomatoes and basil – despite anchoring them down with enormous stones and planks of wood. In the end we had to get rid of them as the wind had bent the metal structure so much that we could not put them back together. I think that until we can get a robust model we will stick to the greenhouses.

We hope to grow a modest crop this year (as last year). The usual courgettes, a few tomatoes, spring onions, chard and kale, cabbages, parsley, chives, basil, cucumbers, beets and lettuces. I didn’t bother trying with chillies, peppers or aubergines after the first couple of years as we just don’t seem to get a long enough season (waiting until we make that move to somewhere warmer!) but April is the last chance to plant chilli seedlings so I may give them another go. Our garlic came out ridiculously small last year, so we took a break but will plant again in the winter this year. We used to grow a ton of potatoes (early, mid and late) and also beans but now we do not eat them, so it frees up space for other crops. I have bought a few different seeds this year – some oriental salad crops and different types of tomato and cucumbers – so will update on their progress here. I always go to The Real Seed Catalogue (in Wales) to buy vegetable seeds. I find them excellent and they have some really unusual varieties. They are also really helpful and are always ready to give advice on the telephone too.

I am very keen to begin fermenting some of the vegetables we grow. My initial foray into sauerkraut is still bubbling away in the cupboard and fingers crossed it will taste good. I have read lots of fermenting disaster stories where the whole lot has to be thrown away, so I am hoping that ours survives. Eating fermented foods brings enormous benefits to our gut microbes and so I want to increase the amount of these foods in our diet. Also, preserving food is an important consideration after so much effort goes into growing it. I made chutneys, jams, jellies and marmalades for many years but stopped (apart from a few Christmas presents) as we no longer eat them. As a result I have amassed an enormous collection of jars that are unused.

My goal is to have a larder full of preserves once again, only this time without the massive amounts of sugar. A purchase of amazing Kimchi at Hay Market convinced me that there is a whole world of fermentation that needs to be explored. Getting back to growing our own vegetables will hopefully help with this endeavour.  Here’s to losing ourselves in gardening…

Click here for pictures of the vegetable garden and its highs and lows.

With thanks to my darling R, who has worked like a trooper over Easter.

I have just purchased The Art of Fermentation by fermenter extraordinaire Sandor Katz. There is a short documentary that has been made about him called Sandorkraut, so look forward to seeing that. Just listened to a great interview with Sandor at the Food as Medicine Summit (online).

Check out this great article The Politics of Fermentation by fermenter and potter Jeremy Ogusky. Jeremy makes beautiful fermentation crocks, olive oil jugs and other assorted products and is also founder of the Boston Fermentation Festival. I found a lovely article by Jeremy on Alex Lewin’s Feed Me Like You Mean It blog (Alex has also written a book on fermentation called Real Food Fermentation).

And finally…

‘The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.’
Joel Salatin: Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World



For a list of Paleo-friendly suppliers and products see the Resources and Suppliers page.

PPP Round-Up 28/03/15

PPP Round-Up 28/03/15

Great article from Caveman Doctor regarding supplements for cancer patients: Never, Ever Drink This “Nutritious” Beverage. The Doc has been posting some fantastic articles recently.

Posted my reply to the recent Guardian article by Jason Wilson: Paleo: ‘Anthropologically naive’, intellectually bankrupt’ and ‘anti-feminist’? If you haven’t read the original article it is definitely worth checking out. Fascinating to hear how people perceive the Paleo scene.

Headline of the week surely has to go to: Daily bowl of quinoa could save your life, says Harvard University. You can read the original paper here. Quite interesting to see who funded the study:

Sources of support: This study is funded by an unrestricted research fund from NutraSource. Dr. Qi was supported by grants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (HL071981), the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (DK091718), the Boston Obesity Nutrition Research Center (DK46200), and United States–Israel Binational Science Foundation Grant 2011036. Dr. Qi was a recipient of the American Heart Association Scientist Development Award (0730094 N). Funding from NutraSource. There were no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

Nutrasource: ‘We are dedicated to making our clients’ products better from concept to claim’

I had a look to see what some of those organisations recommend regarding diet:

The NHLBI recommend the following regarding saturated fats, cholesterol and heart disease:

‘Importantly, most foods that are high in dietary cholesterol such as high fat meat and dairy products are also high in saturated fat. Saturated and trans fats raise blood LDL cholesterol and high levels of these fats have been associated with higher risk of heart disease.  The ACC/AHA Panel also recommended replacing saturated and trans fats with unsaturated vegetable sources, such as olive or canola oil, to lower blood LDL cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are found in fatty cuts of meat, poultry with skin, whole-milk dairy foods, lard, butter, and coconut and palm oils.  Trans fats are found in some bakery products and stick margarines.  ‘  See here for further info.

The NIDDK recommend the following for diabetics:

6-10 servings of starch per day. ‘Starches are bread, grains, cereal, pasta, and starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes. They provide carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Whole grain starches are healthier because they have more vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Eat some starches at each meal. Eating starches is healthy for everyone, including people with diabetes. Starches include: bread, pasta, corn, pretzels, potatoes, rice, crackers, cereal, tortillas, beans, yams, lentils.’ See here for further info.


Prehistoric Stone Tools Bear 500,000-Year-Old Animal Residue – great article:

‘As the human brain expanded, however, it required more substantial nourishment — namely fat and meat — to sustain it…

The research, published recently in PLOS One, represents the first scientifically verified direct evidence for the precise use of Paleolithic stone tools: to process animal carcasses and hides…

Fracturing rocks in order to butcher and cut animal meat represents a key biological and cultural milestone.’

See the original article here.

Look forward to reading Diabetes Warrior’s posts. Steve has been experimenting with adding higher amounts of fat to his Primal eating plan and is charting the results on his blog. Great so far!

It was Epilepsy Awareness Day on March 26th – check out the work of Matthew’s Friends. MF posted a link to this article in the Guardian Neurology Supplement detailing the increasing use of dietary therapies in the treatment of epilepsy and other diseases.

Robb Wolf posted a link to an article on emulsifiers Food Additives Feed the Fire, published in Nature magazine. I bought the article (short but extremely interesting). The findings suggest that ‘emulsifiers seem to induce the development of intestinal inflammation and metabolic syndrome in mice by disrupting the composition of the microbiota.’ The experiment used lower doses than those allowed in human food. Here is an explanation of emulsifiers in food.

Great response to the Dean Ornish article on protein diets in the New York Times from Dr Dan Eades – see the original article by Ornish here and see Dr Eades response here. Hat-tip to Caveman Doctor.

We love Moroccan and Lebanese food, so this Paleo Moroccan Feast from The Clothes Make the Girl caught my eye. It looks delicious.

I have been making sauerkraut – see photo above. Yes I know I am the last person to try making this! I used white and red cabbage, a little carrot, garlic, chilli pepper and ginger. It is fermenting away in the dark and we look forward to trying the results (assuming everything goes well). For more on all things fermentable, check out Sandor Katz’s website Wild Fermentation. His book The Art of Fermentation looks fantastic.

For those of you out there that tolerate dairy – check out this Feta, Nigella and Red Pepper dip from the excellent Bertie’s Food and Drink. Apart from butter, I don’t eat much diary but will very occasionally have some cheese. We tried this dip and it is wonderful!

Ate a lovely roast breast of new season lamb; a cheap and delicious cut.

Ketogenic experiment going well and feeling great.



For a list of Paleo-friendly suppliers and products see the Resources and Suppliers page.

Paleo: ‘Anthropologically naive’, intellectually bankrupt’ and ‘anti-feminist’?

Paleo: ‘Anthropologically naive’, intellectually bankrupt’ and ‘anti-feminist’?

Paleo seems to be all over the news lately. The Pete Evans baby book controversy has sparked a flurry of opinions and argument, but I am not getting in to that particular issue here. However, an article caught my eye recently from Jason Wilson in the Guardian that I found particularly interesting (in terms of how people perceive the lifestyle) and which certainly warrants a response.

Although Mr Wilson has a problem with Paleo recommendations concerning diet (which we will come to presently), his strongest criticism is reserved for the seemingly sexist underpinning to the lifestyle. This caught my eye as it is an argument that has popped up before and one that continues to rear its head intermittently. In conversation with someone recently from a well-known organisation, I was surprised to hear them remark that the Paleo lifestyle does not accord women the status they deserve – that it was too ‘male-focused’. The fact that they were talking to a woman (me) who was vocally championing Paleo and in the process of describing how it had changed her life was neither here nor there. Clearly I was either a) brainwashed by men and/or b) too stupid to realise the enormous sexism that existed within the scene. I was very amused by this encounter and laughed it off. I’m very much of the opinion that everyone is entitled to say what they think and the Paleo/Ancestral Health is not immune from criticism in any way. I like to read articles and listen to others when they vocalise a contrary opinion on Paleo. I just have my own opinion too and it’s great to be able to say what I think on my own blog (as they like to say what they think on theirs/in their columns etc.). So here goes…

The problem with ‘The Paleo Diet’

Mr Wilson acknowledges a ‘superficial plausibility’ to the idea that many aspects of modern life such as diet, stress and technology place a burden upon a species that has only relatively recently abandoned a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and whose biological make-up is at odds with this change.

‘The undeniable fact that Western affluence has produced many unintended consequences for public health – many modern processed foods are nutritionally valueless, and a lot of us don’t do as much exercise as we ought. It may also connect with the undeniable alienation many of us feel in a world where technology, fast food and urban living can sometimes seem like a self-imposed prison.’

Such thoughts seem perfectly sensible to me so I’m not sure why they are only ‘superficially plausible’. It is undeniable that since the emergence of the human genus, our ancestors have survived as hunter-gatherers. The transition to agriculture took place astonishingly recently on the timeline of our evolution, with the introduction of processed foods taking place even later (the last few seconds perhaps?). It is no wonder that some argue that we have not fully adapted to this radical change in our diet and the enormous consequences to our health that this transition has caused. Why does Mr Wilson think this is this only ‘superficially plausible’?

Although we may agree that modern lifestyles jar with our hunter-gatherer selves, Mr Wilson stresses that there was ‘no one, uniform diet that Stone Age people ate. They were adaptable – just like us. Therefore because of this, the whole argument is ‘intellectually bankrupt’. He states:

‘The presumptions about what people in the old stone age ate are anthropologically naive: many experts argue we can’t make universal claims about that with any degree of certainty, and inconveniently, evidence keeps emerging that people then did help themselves to high-carb foods when they were available. That’s because they were versatile, opportunistic and adaptable, like us.’

Mr Wilson’s argument goes something like this: Paleo people make ‘certain, universal’ claims that there was only one type of diet ate in the Stone Age. Experts say this is not true as evidence suggests that Stone Age people ate carbohydrates if available and were therefore adaptable. Modern humans are likewise adaptable to eat a range of foods such as gluten and dairy. Therefore the Paleo diet is ‘anthropologically naïve’ and:

‘… premised on a false image of stasis and harmony projected from an entirely arbitrary point in the long history of human evolution.’

This straw man argument has so many holes in it and makes so many assumptions that it is hard to know where to begin. I’ll keep it short as the real focus of Mr Wilson’s polemic is yet to come.

1. Paleo does not believe with certainty that there was one uniform diet that all Stone Age people followed. It is widely acknowledged that traditional hunter-gatherer diets range from the Innuit (protein-based diet with little or no fruit and vegetables) to the Kitavans (around 70% carbohydrate-based diets). The modern Paleo diet takes the hunter-gatherer as a blueprint and simplifies food choices around the basics of meat, fish, fowl, eggs, vegetable, fats, nuts and fruits and eliminating grains, industrial seed oils, dairy and processed foods. Again, there is no one Paleo diet for everyone. People are encouraged to experiment and see what works for them.

2. A Paleo diet does not cut out carbohydrates. It is lower in carbohydrates than the standard western diet. Carbohydrates come from a wide range of vegetables and limited fruit. Some may choose to eat higher carbohydrates than others according to their health and fitness regime. For instance a 65 year old diabetic may eat fewer carbohydrates than a sporty 25 year old (or a sporty 65 year old for that matter).

3. It is true that various groups around the world have evolved in a relatively short amount of time to tolerate certain foods. Northern Europeans have evolved to tolerate dairy compared to African and Asian populations. However, there is a huge difference between tolerating certain foods and eating foods that have sustained us for the vast majority of our time on earth; foods which we have not only survived on but thrived upon. In the case of gluten in particular, the mounting evidence suggests that we have failed to adapt to this recent change in our diet and the full consequences are yet to be realised.  It is widely recognised that when societies move away from their native diet and adopt non-traditional foods, they begin to suffer health problems. This can be seen in documentaries such as My Big Fat Diet.

We do not feed our dogs grains even though they may be able to ‘cope’ with them. Nor do we believe that cows should eat grains either. ‘Coping’ is not thriving.  The practice of fattening up cattle with grains, both in the UK and the US is a concern and the importance of 100% pasture raised meat is something that the Paleo scene strives hard to raise awareness of.

For some thoughts about meat production, see my reviews of the BBC programme Should I Eat Meat here and here. Regarding pasture raised meat see my article Finding 100% pasture raised meat – a journey. See also my articles on the Savory Institute and the Oxford Real Farming Conference.

Additionally, if what Mr Wilson argues is true – if we are able to adapt to any food – then maybe we should not bother to cut out high- carbohydrate, processed, chemically-laden foods. We will eventually just adapt to tolerate them more successfully, so what’s the problem?

‘Understanding the diet of past human species closely related to our own will help us gain perspective on our evolutionary constraints and adaptability.’ Ainara Sistiaga, a Geoarchaeologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of La Laguna

‘Nobody tells a giraffe how to eat. But for the first time in history, humans don’t know what to eat. We no longer know what human food is.’ Jeff Leach

4. Adherents regard the Paleolithic era as ‘false image of stasis and harmony’. Who would suggest that human development within the Paleolithic period ranging from around 2.4/2.6 million years ago to around 10,000 years was static? Who would suggest it was harmonious? Really, these arguments are ridiculous. If we are talking about stasis in terms of diet, we do know that populations ate a hunter-gatherer diet with regional differences and seasonal availability. Diets also changed according to migratory patterns. But one thing is for certain, these diets had more in common with each other than with contemporary diets and when taken together, they form a suitable blueprint with which to emulate a hunter-gatherer diet (as much as it is possible to do) in modern times.

As for harmonious, we know that if Stone Age man or woman managed to avoid accidents, traumatic childbirth and being killed in a fight, they went on to live relatively long lives. Was it idyllic? Who would think that? We may be able to look at contemporary hunter gatherer societies to get a suggestion of what it may have been like but we absolutely cannot make assumptions that it was harmonious any more than we can assume Paleolithic people were in a constant state of stress and terror.

See this very interesting discussion on modern hunter-gatherers at How the Light Gets In philosophy festival 2014 (with Daniel Everett and Bruce Parry amongst the guests)

5. Paleo adherents project their argument ‘from an entirely arbitrary point in the long history of human evolution’. It is widely believed that the agricultural revolution which marked the end of the Paleolithic Era is one of the most defining – if not the defining – moments in our evolution. Whether or not one believes it was ‘…the worst mistake in the history of the human race’ as Professor Jared Diamond stated, we cannot fail to concede that what happened after the Paleolithic Era fundamentally changed humanity.

For further reading on the impact of the agricultural revolution and the move away from hunter-gathers to farmers, see the following:

The Other Side of Eden: Hunter-Gatherers, Farmers and the Shaping of the World by Hugh Brodie – a beautifully written book that explores the triumph of farming over the hunter-gatherer.

Against the Grain by Richard Manning – I cannot recommend this book enough; a wonderful examination on the impact of agriculture on the development of the human race.

The problem with the Paleo ‘Ideology’

Leaving diet aside we move on to the meat (excuse the pun) of Mr Wilson’s argument.  The discussion about nutrition and evolution is used merely as a way to get at the heart of what he sees as the real problem with Paleo – social hierarchies and in particular sexism.

Why ‘pick’ the Paleolithic Era as a model on which to base a lifestyle? According to Mr Wilson it has nothing to do with food and more to do with the ‘desire to justify or reimpose certain social hierarchies, especially those concerning gender.’ He adds that advocates are ‘dedicated to a selective denial of modernity, which in some cases is accompanied by anti-feminist attitudes’.

This is perplexing. I have to begin by saying that I can only speak as I find. Perhaps there are hordes of Paleo people out there – I am assuming both the men and women are culprits here – who seek to impose social hierarchies and gender stereotypes but I have yet to read or hear about them, let alone to meet them.

I travelled to Paleo f(x) 2014 in Austin, Texas – read all about it here – and so I guess that of all places, this would be where I would find a true representation of Paleo people and find out what they were really like. I was one of only 2 people from the UK at the event (the other was a speaker) and I stayed for quite a few days and travelled alone. I was the proverbial ‘outsider’ from across the pond, so I was able to get a clear insight into the scene and its adherents. What did I find?

I went to the social events in the evenings as well as the talks from 8.30am to 5pm each day. I joined a meet-up group and we shared lunches. I met men, women, young people, older people, singles, couples expecting their first baby and families who travelled together. I met Paleo celebrities and total beginners. I met doctors and patients. People went out of their way to be kind, knowing that I had travelled all the way from the UK. We exchanged stories about how we found Paleo and the benefits it had given us. I met people who had experienced illness and had come through the other side. I met people who were planning to ditch jobs and change their careers because the lifestyle had such a profound effect on them. I can honestly say that I did not meet anyone – anyone – who wanted to ‘impose social hierarchies and gender stereotypes’. The women that I met were strong (many both mentally and physically) and positive. Why would they – and I include me here too – be so dedicated to a lifestyle that in any way advocated a restrictive definition of gender, for both men and women? Are we all deluded or stupid? Too busy thinking about kittens and chocolate to see what was in front of us?

There was no doubt that people were enthusiastic and committed. Were they evangelical? Yes, maybe they were and are – myself included. I will talk about Paleo to anyone that shows an interest. Otherwise I keep quiet in social situations unless asked. Then I am happy to talk about it to my heart’s content. Is it an ideology? Yes, maybe it is in that it spreads outwards from food choices to affect the way we think about many other areas of our lives. I would say that vegetarianism and veganism are ideologies and I respect people’s right to choose those just as much as I respect their right to choose Paleo. Is it a harmful ideology? Well, each is entitled to their opinion on that. I could think of worse.

Ideology or not, the ironic thing about all this is that as a woman, I have redefined what I think is desirable in terms of visual appearance. This has happened subtly over the course of the last few years since adopting Paleo. Women are bombarded in magazines by pictures of uber-thin models and celebrities to aspire to. Throughout my life I have been no more immune to this than the next woman. Alternatively we have constant reminders that the nation is getting fatter with pictures of obese people on every other news item. These two extremes are the norm for visual references of women in our society. Finding Paleo has meant that for the first time in my life I have placed strength (and its consequence, health) above all else. Strength comes in all shapes and sizes (tall and lean to short and stocky) but there is no mistaking it when you see it. Paleo f(x) was the first time I had seen so many strong men and women (both mentally and physically) in one place and it was fantastic.

There were just as many well-known women Paleo women as men. Some of the biggest figures in Paleo are women – Nora Gedgaudas, Dr Terry Wahls, Michelle Norris, Sarah Fragoso, Michelle Tam, Melissa Joulwan, Melissa Hartwig … the list goes on and on. These women are strong and knowledgeable. They create businesses, give lectures, practise medicine, write best-selling books, manage illness and hold successful careers, often while raising families. Is Mr Wilson really saying that they have had the wool pulled over their eyes, or that they are implicitly advocating gender stereotyping in which women are solely regarded as ‘gatherers’ or delicate creatures that rely completely on their strong ‘hunter’ men?

One of the most interesting talks for me at Paleo f(x) 2014 was the panel on masculinity called Cultivating the Well Adjusted Male (including Mr Wilson’s Paleo Public Enemy No.1, John Durant) You can read my notes here. This was a fascinating debate and one that I thought a lot about afterwards. I have been thinking about it again in the context of Mr Wilson’s article. It is widely acknowledged that men face increasing rates of suicide (the suicide rate in men in their forties and fifties has risen 40% in ten years), unemployment, mental illnesses and criminality. There is debate about their role within society and within the family, about their academic performance and issues of identity, about the lack of role models for young boys.

For further information regarding men and depression see Depression and suicide in men and The silent epidemic of male suicide. See also this article: Why do so many men like my friend take their own lives?

For an interesting take on this issue see Our attitude to violence against men is out of date

The panel focused on the need for men to be given the space to be themselves but stressed that there is no one definition of masculinity. It was a hugely interesting discussion (please read the short notes) and one that highlighted the fact that men – as much as women – need the space and encouragement to just be themselves, in all of their different ways. Acknowledging a need for competition or an enjoyment of hunting seems perfectly harmless in the great scheme of things and is certainly not anti-women. Why should a man be suppressed from exhibiting these traits if he so chooses? Why shouldn’t men and women be free to express their identity in the way they choose? Mr Wilson’s concern over gender stereotypes misses the greater issue of freedom of choice and the importance of mutual respect, of working together, of finding one’s strengths. The freedom to ‘be a man’ (however that is interpreted) does not automatically imply that women are reduced to powerless gender stereotypes. There should be freedom for both sexes in choosing the roles they wish – hunter, gatherer, housewife, career woman, stay at home dad, gay or straight. What is important is mutual respect and support for the decisions we make, for the roles that we willingly choose, and for the people that we are. If we lose this, we run into problems.

The most outrageous claim by Mr Wilson is perhaps his assertion that Paleo:

‘…expresses a belief that the bones and guts obtained by the hunter can not only supplant the products of modern medicine, but can effectively substitute for mother’s milk.’

This really is so outlandish that it is off the scale. Anyone who has the slightest knowledge of the Paleo/Ancestral Health scene, knows that there is much talk about the possible advantages of breast-feeding from the aspect of the baby’s gut health and in particular the development of a healthy microbiome. As I said, I am not getting into the whole baby feeding, Pete Evans argument but needless to say this is a gross misrepresentation of Paleo and one that shows wildly imaginative speculation.

For more information on the effect of breastfeeding and the baby’s microbiome see:

How delivery mode and feeding can shape the bacterial community in the infant gut

Infant gut microbiota influenced by caesarean section and breastfeeding practices may affect health in later life

Likewise, the idea that Paleo seeks to supplant modern medicine is both simplistic and erroneous. If Mr Wilson means that the ideal would be a world in which people are healthier, stronger, live longer and do not fall prey to diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and dementia, relying less on drugs and medical intervention and more on prevention through diet and lifestyle then yes, the Paleo/Ancestral Health scene does desire that. If he means that Paleo adherents believe that modern medicine can be done away with – that’s right, there’s no need for any of it – and that we should all go back to how it was 20,000 years ago, dying from wounds and traumatic childbirth, well that really is stretching things.

As I said at the beginning of this article, I approve wholeheartedly of Mr Wilson’s right to his opinion. It’s great to hear what people think of Paleo and I can only speak how I have found things. However, in view of all of this, the most upsetting thing is the real persecution, hatred and violence towards women (and men) around the world which stands in stark contrast to this imaginary sexism that Mr Wilson has pulled out of thin air from the remnants of the Pete Evans controversy. There is enough of this to keep the most avid feminists and people like Mr Wilson busy for the next 100 years. Perhaps he would do better to focus on that and leave Paleo – a scene which he clearly knows nothing about – well alone.



For a list of Paleo-friendly suppliers and products see the Resources and Suppliers page.

PPP Round-Up: 22/03/15

PPP Round-Up: 22/03/15

Here’s what I have been up to:

Looking forward to hearing all about Paleo f(x) 2015. Can’t wait to see the videos. The talk by Travis Christofferson on the Metabolic Theory of Cancer and Emily Deans’ talk on the Microbiome and Mental Health look very interesting.

Great news! The LCHF conference could be coming to the UK in 2016!

R bought us a Berkey Water Filter to filter out heavy metals and other chemicals and nasty stuff from the tap water. No chemical smells too!

Tracking ketosis

Tracking my ketones with urine strips and wondering whether to get a Ketonix breathalyser. Averaging 1.5 – 4 mmol on the strips over the last month. Feeling good despite stressful time recently.

Reading some helpful Keto websites:

Reddit Keto site

Keto Q&A – excellent intro to keto

List of keto/low carb related videos

Videos and Podcasts

Entertaining documentary Eat to Live Forever featuring Paleo. A must-watch (for all the wrong reasons).

I have been watching the Low Carb Down Under videos – here. Some great stuff and led me to Tim Noakes’s good-looking Real Meal Revolution website.

Watched the Surviving Terminal Cancer film. Hugely interesting film about combination therapies. Found it after reading this article in the news.

Excellent interview with Professor Thomas Seyfried here. A must-listen!

Reading about the Grazing for Change conference in Chico CA.

Was I the last Paleo person in the world to watch Jay Wortman’s My Big Fat Diet?! Can’t believe I haven’t seen it before. Check it out here. Also check out Jay Wortman’s blog here.

BBC Inside Health: Bowel Bacteria and Faecal Transplants – Interesting article on gut bacteria transplants and the impact on metabolic syndrome and neurological conditions (about 17:30 in). As far back as the 1600’s physicians postulated a link between neurological disorders and the gut…

Listening to some of the SealFit Unbeatable Mind podcasts (I probably don’t conform to their average listener!!). Great episodes Beyond Paleo and Primal Diets with Robb Wolf and Supercharging Your Sleep with Kirk Parsley. Also check out A Personal Ethos with Colonel Bob Schoultz – very interesting guy. He studied philosophy and is very much influenced by Greek thinkers such as the Stoics. Listen to a great anecdote about Aristotle and SEAL training! Philosophy is for all of us and one of the greatest gifts is to bring the lessons of philosophy to people in a clear and simple way (this is a whole other blog post). This is exactly what Socrates achieved. When one reads Plato, we are struck by Socrates’ patient and gentle teaching. This led me over to Colonel Schoultz’s blog and there are some very interesting and thoughtful posts on there. Check it out – particularly the latest post On Hardship and Suffering. I look forward to reading more.

How our microbes make us who we are – excellent Ted Talk by Rob Knight. Also Congratulations to Rob and Team for winning the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science: ‘For groundbreaking research on microbial communities and the development of computational tools that honed the analysis of microbial data.’


Top of the book list:

Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets by Joanna Blythman. Check out my article on Joanna’s recent radio interview here. Can’t wait to read this!

Doctoring Data by Malcolm Kendrick – author of The Great Cholesterol Con. Looks like a great read. Check out Tom Naughton’s review here.

The World Turned Upside Down: The Second Low-Carbohydrate Revolution by Richard D. Feinman. Can’t seem to find this in any other format but Kindle. Was released last year but I’ve only just heard about it.

Re-reading Volek and Phinney books:

The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living

The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance

Looks interesting: Ketone Power: Superfuel for Optimal Mental Health and Ultimate Physical Performance by Cristian Vlad Zot


I have been following the Pete Evans controversy. Lots of rubbish has been written including this nonsense from Jason Wilson at the Guardian, which warrants a separate blog post (currently writing).

Paleo elsewhere in the news: Caveman Diet goes mainstream: how to be ‘paleo-ish

Read the latest report from Matthew’s Friends regarding their involvement with the Astro Brain Tumour Fund in connection with the Ketogenic Diet

Ten-year study highlights effectiveness of ketogenic diets

Statins increase risk of diabetes by almost 50 per cent, study finds

Parkinson’s link to statins: Calls to end widespread use of the drug

Brits go nuts for coconut oil

Three to five cups of coffee a day could reduce the risk of heart attack

Johnson & Johnson Bets On Alzheimer’s Vaccine, Disease Prediction, Human ‘Microbiome’ – very interesting!

Fluoride in drinking water may trigger depression and weight gain, warn scientists

Government obesity adviser Susan Jebb took research funding from Coca-Cola – here’s Susan Jebb’s latest article for the BBC a few days ago Why not nanny people about healthy diet?

The U.S. government is poised to withdraw longstanding warnings about cholesterol

Website articles

Cancer Recurrence May Not be What You Think (what it really is and what can be done to prevent it) – excellent article from Single Cause Single Cure Cancer Foundation. ‘When the true nature of recurrence is combined with the evidence that cancer could be a disease caused by dysfunctional mitochondria, the cancer survivor is never taken out of the fight.’

Latest blog post from Dr Malcolm Kendrick on NICE

The Lie That’s Killing Us: Pre-Diabetes

Mental Health: Thinking from the Gut – amazing article!

Diet, Depression, and the Microbiome – from the excellent Emily Deans

To foster complex societies, tell people a god is watching

Kissing your dog could improve your health, scientists say

Savory Institute: Finalist in Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Earth Challenge

Rediscovering my Land and Local Food – lovely article from Slow Food

Recommendation for vitamin D intake was miscalculated, is far too low, experts say

Lack of sleep may increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, study finds

Does a high salt diet combat infections?

Paleofication: Just Because The Label Says Paleo Doesn’t Mean It’s Healthy… – really good article and food for thought

Widely used food additives promotes colitis, obesity and metabolic syndrome, shows study of emulsifiers

Anti-inflammatory mechanism of dieting and fasting revealed

Interesting websites

Soul Nutrition – very interesting website recommended by the awesome Matthew’s Friends. ‘Our current focus is on supporting research into the potential use of ketogenic dietary therapy for brain tumour patients, to be used alongside all existing cancer treatments available on the NHS.’

I Breathe, I’m Hungry – some nice-looking low carb recipes on here!

Body by Science



For a list of Paleo-friendly suppliers and products see the Resources and Suppliers page.

Clean labels, dirty tricks?

Clean labels, dirty tricks?

‘What is a little worrying that when asked, more than half of consumers didn’t know that sodium chloride was salt. We shouldn’t be surprised that consumers don’t understand a lot of the ingredients on the back of the pack but that doesn’t make them bad ingredients… It’s a complicated area. I wouldn’t expect consumers to understand the ingredients or I wouldn’t expect them to understand the regulatory framework but I would expect them to trust the people that are making the food for them because that’s what they do.’

Alice Cadman: Leatherhead Food Research

Some time ago I listened to a discussion regarding the processing of orange juice labelled as ‘not from concentrate’. Although I don’t drink juice, I did drink it before Paleo and naively assumed that ‘not from concentrate’ juices were made from freshly squeezed oranges and nothing else.  I had no idea about flavour packs that are added to the juice (which is heated, stripped of flavour and sits in vats for up to a year) and the chemicals they contain, expertly adjusted in the laboratory to mimic the taste of fresh orange juice as closely as possible.

Of course this is only the tip of the iceberg. The ability to manipulate words to suggest a ‘natural’ product is rife within food manufacturing and I am sure that we are all aware of it, but the recent edition of the Radio 4 Food Programme ‘The Clean Label Question’ was still an eye-opener as to what goes on behind the scenes.

Avoiding processed foods is a major part of adopting Paleo but the addition of chemicals to even the most basic packaged foods without having to label them (for instance to a tub of fruit salad or pack of frozen vegetables), means that it is becoming increasingly difficult to make informed judgements on the quality of the food that we are buying. Joanna Blythman’s new book Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets lifts the lid on processes that the food industry employs to convince consumers that what they are buying is ‘natural’. Termed ‘clean labelling’ it is an advertising method that ensures big profits for food companies at the expense of unsuspecting consumers looking to make healthier choices.

Joanna assumed a false identity and went ‘undercover’ in the food industry to attend some of the big trade shows where such chemicals and manufacturing processes are showcased. She admitted that her book merely scrapes the surface of what is going on in the production of our food.

Of course, when reading the list of ingredients for many processed foods we are taken aback by the sheer number of them; many of which do not sound like food at all. Using the example of a cherry bakewell cake which should really only have a handful of ingredients, Joanna listed the contents of the processed version which included 4 types of sugar, modified maze starch, vegetable oil, emulsifiers, cornflour, flavouring, acidity regulators, fruit and vegetable extract (radish) used as colouring. She explained that the issue is primarily one of cost. Since the traditional ingredients of a cherry bakewell are so expensive, the food economist seeks to replicate these flavours through the use of chemicals and creates a cheaper product for the consumer.The same with vanilla beans; Joanna explained how it is much cheaper to use synthetic vanilla flavouring which replaces the flavour lost in processing and masks off the unpleasant tastes produced in the factory process. Through such additives, cheap, ‘tasty’ food can be brought to those who may otherwise be unable to afford it. But is that really the full story?

‘All sorts of bad things are done to food in the name of feeding poor people’  Joanna Blythman


We can maybe argue that this is a question of choice. If foods contain chemical additives and the consumer chooses to ignore this and buy them anyway what’s the problem? Perhaps they like the taste. Shouldn’t we be free to choose? Joanna points out that the issue is one of deception. Many consumers want ‘natural’ foods and go out of their way to make the right decisions but the ‘clean label’ methods used by the manufacturers are deliberately obscuring the true extent of food additives and confusing the consumer.

The presenter asked Alice Cadman, Director of Marketing at Leatherhead Food Research about the addition of chemicals to our food, first brought to widespread attention by Maurice Hanssen’s bestselling book E for Additives (1987). Ms Cadman noted the irony over the panic about E numbers as they ‘…were created to assure consumers that additives had been tested and approved.’ She went on to issue what sounded like a veiled threat: ‘…when you remove additives that are there to keep food safe, you have to be aware of the consequences.’

There was also a very interesting conversation with John Forbes Global Support Manager at Treat in Bury St. Edmunds (a company specialising in citrus flavours). John described how scientists (which he likened to artists) create synthetic versions of natural essences by analysing the key substances that tell us it is (for instance) an orange flavour. These key molecules are then reproduced in synthetic form to produce a convincing flavour. Artistic merits aside, Mr Forbes explains how the primary issue is always cost; it is much cheaper to use a non-natural material.

We then hear about the ‘Southampton Six’ (Tartrazine (E102), Ponceau 4R (E124), Sunset Yellow (E110), Camoisine (E122), Quinoline Yellow (E104) and Allura Red (E129)); artificial colourings that were labelled with danger warnings after research found them to be linked to ADHD in children (see here.) I’m not sure how this fits in with Alice Cadman’s comment (above) but it is obvious that we do not know enough about the long-term effects of thousands of chemicals added to our food. Chemicals such as the Southampton Six were added to food first before knowing finding out the full consequences afterwards.

Joanna explained that with colourings there is no distinction between natural and synthetic. The methods used to produce each may be indistinguishable and even the food industry finds it hard to draw a distinction. Artisan packaging, together with language such as ‘extracts’, ‘essences’ and ‘concentrates’ obscure this even further. Yet Barbara Gallani, Director of Regulation of Science and Health at the Food and Drink Federation assured us that ‘labels have never been so clear and transparent as they are now. She added that information is also available on official/government websites and that consumers have hotlines to get specific information if they are concerned about additives. She also raised the issue of safety and appearance through storage and transport. There seemed to be a desire to swing the argument away from producing cheap food to one of chemical additives being essential for the safety of our food.

‘I just don’t think that people realise just how much sophisticated interference with their food is going on behind the scenes’. Joanna Blythman

The most surprising part of the programme for me was the discussion of enzymes (biological catalysts that speed up chemical reactions). The consumer does not need to be notified when food contains these and all processed food is thought to contain at least one ingredient that is treated with an enzyme. There are around 150 enzymes used in food processing and even foods such as tubs of fruit salad and frozen fruit and vegetables are treated with them to extend shelf life. We heard how enzymes are accorded the rather worrying status of GRAS ‘generally regarded as safe’ (my italics); thus insuring that manufacturers are covered should any future problems arise. There is evidence that enzymes are potentially allergenic (for instance bakery enzymes may cause respiratory problems and allergies).

George Cass, Professor of Toxicology at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) based in Parma, Italy described the process in assessing the safety of various chemical compounds. Companies contact the Authority with information on the particular substance and then the compound is analysed to see whether it is safe for the consumer. There are currently 2700 flavouring compounds used in Europe and they are all being re-evaluated as there was no consistent evaluation process in the past (being left to individual states). We heard that the Authority is currently involved in checking the safety of enzymes – especially with regards to allergenicity. If any problems are identified, the Authority will inform EU.

As Joanna concluded the discussion by stressing the need for people to cook, there was a very interesting exchange over the issue of class. The presenter voiced concerns that any talk about the importance of learning to cook strayed into Baroness Jenkin territory: the Conservative peer who recently suggested that poor people don’t know how to cook (see here). Joanna agreed that the prevailing attitude here in the UK is that it is OK not to cook but emphatically denied that this is just about working class people, noting that Baroness Jenkin’s mistake was linking it to class (although the terms ‘poor’ and ‘working class’ seem to have been confused). She added that if we are discussing class, in many ways it is actually middle class people who are being conned the most as they are paying a premium for processed food that they think is ‘superior’ to the more obviously cheaper processed food.

Class distinctions aside, listening to all this is obviously disheartening. The onus is – as always – put on to the consumer to ferret out the information about the food they are buying. At what point did we think it normal to have to consult government websites and hotlines about the food we eat? Of course there is a danger of being completely overwhelmed by all this and just saying ‘to hell with it’, but food labelling is one of the tools we use to help us choose food that is healthy and safe. ‘Clean labelling’ is a deliberate attempt to confuse the artificial with the natural and makes these choices even harder.

By following a Paleo diet we attempt to simplify food choices to the essentials, avoiding processed food as much as we can (I still regard things like coffee and coconut milk as processed), and sticking to basics. Sometimes when I walk around a shop, service station or airport while travelling and without pre-prepared food I often toy with the question ‘What would a hunter-gatherer recognise as food here?’ It’s not a perfect test but it helps. In a sea of sandwiches, panini’s, pies, cakes and confectionary, a tub of fruit may look like the nearest thing to natural food but after listening to this programme I realise that I might be wrong. Then again, even if I choose a piece of fruit, what about the chemicals that may have been sprayed on it? Some would argue that we could we could drive ourselves crazy with all of this but I think that the key is mitigation. Choose real food as much as possible in its natural state without the packaging (meat, fish, veg, fruit, fats, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices) from sources you trust, try to avoid processed foods and anything with ingredients that sound more at home in the laboratory and when you see a label that screams ‘natural’, just don’t believe the hype.



For a list of Paleo-friendly suppliers and products see the Resources and Suppliers page.