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November 21, 2012

Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah
Late November 2012

Thoughts around Thanksgiving . . .


It’s not true that all you must do is pay taxes and die.
One can avoid paying taxes.
It’s only dying that’s welded into the scheme of things.
Breathing, drinking liquids, and eating food are prequels to death.
If you don’t, then you die.
Eating and dying are therefore somewhat intertwined.
I guess this is why so many people are so pleased to say at some point this week, “I ate so much I thought I’d die.”

This is the Eating Season – focused on Thanksgiving.
The holiday has a mixed response here in southeastern Utah.
About half the residents of my county are Navajo Indians.
They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving on the Reservation.
As a Navajo acquaintance once explained to me, “Ever since we had lunch with the poor white people way back there we’ve had nothing but trouble. We should have eaten them instead of feeding them.”
He refers to the Pilgrims as the Original Illegal Emigrants or Terrorists.

But I digress.
Whatever you do on Thursday, the operative activity now is about food.
“Eat” is the mantra.

From time to time a new diet plan floats up to the public surface.
A big diet book is a big deal for the publishing game.
The schemes are always well-supported by scientific studies.
And further endorsed by those who found the diets life-changing.

This year it’s the Paleo Diet, by Loren Cordain, Ph.D..
“How to lose weight and get healthy by eating the foods you were designed to eat.” is the subtitle.
The book has been my bedtime reading this week.

The premise is that we are genetically wired to thrive on the foods of our hunter-gatherer ancestors of 10,000 years ago – 333 generations back.
The Cave Man Diet would be a better title.

(Before I continue – I offer a disclaimer.
Never in my life have I followed a prescribed diet.
My diet is the Fulghum Diet – it’s what I eat.
I won’t write a book about it – too idiosyncratic and too short.
The only rule is: “Eat anything and everything in moderation, except once in a while, when too much of something is wonderful.”
But I have survived three-quarters of a century on it.
My family doctor observed, when I answered her questions about my diet, “You should be dead or deformed or diseased by now.”
But I’m not - I’m reasonably healthy and happy - so I eat on.)

Why, then, am I reading a pop diet book?
Out of curiosity – the premise intrigued me.
And because recent research indicates that most of us have Neanderthal genes – some more than others – and my wife thinks I may be one of these in the some more than others category – more Cave Man than not.

What did my people eat? I wondered.

What does the Paleo Diet suggest?
Meat. Lots of meat.
Yes, I can get behind that.
But, there were no cows or beef cattle around in Cave Man days.
So wild game is the meat of preference in the Paleo Diet.
Alligator, bear, elk, kangaroo, ostrich, rattlesnake, reindeer, turtle, bison, and turkey are among the edible creatures listed as good for you.
So you don’t have a local butcher to supply you?
A handy list of exotic-meat suppliers is provided in the appendix.

Fish are fine, too – almost any kind – especially salmon, trout, and shark.
Shellfish are on the diet – clams and mussels and oysters, for example.
Almost all fruits and vegetables, and most nuts and seeds.

OK so far.

But, on the No-Go list are things like potatoes, peas, and all beans.
And, surprisingly, all domesticated cereals are No.
Especially corn and wheat.
Minimal salt or sugar or even honey can be included.
But no processed foods such as bacon, ice cream, cheese, milk, butter, Fritos, few eggs, chocolate or oatmeal cookies.

Well . . . I don’t know . . .

From all I’ve read, the Cave People lived hand to mouth - ate anything they could get their hands on.
As much of it as possible when they had the chance – they gorged a lot.
It’s not like they had many choices or chances, either.
If they killed a bear, they ate all of it except the hide and the claws.
If game was scarce, they ate roots and nuts and berries.
If those were in short supply, they starved.
Or ate the neighbors.
Or each other.

Hunting and gathering was a subsistence existence.
An often-desperate life, if you were a Cave Person.
As a result of their diet they were short, diseased, and worn out.
And they didn’t live long.

But if they did have a shot at chocolate or bacon or butter or ice cream or Fritos, it’s a safe bet they would have eaten all that – every bit they could get their hands on.
And lived longer and happier.
I rest my case.

Still, the Paleo Diet set me to thinking . . .

Here’s a summary of an after-dinner table conversation with my sweet wife:

Based on reading the Paleo Diet book and knowing that Paleo-Indians
once lived where we live now in winter – (We find their arrowheads and spear points and pottery shards when out walking.)
Based on that, here’s the What If?
Could we make it on what’s available around us?

Of course, there are some skills we would need – like how to make and use a bow and arrow, a spear, and nets and traps.
And we would need to know a lot more about wild plants.
But just suppose we had the skills and the knowledge . . .
What if?

Well, there are deer, elk, and even bears around here.
And rabbits, squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks, mice, and pack rats.
Fox, porcupine, beaver.
Lots of small birds.
Also insects and grubs.
And wild turkeys – we have flocks all over the valley.

Stalk it, catch it, kill it, gut it, haul it to the cave, fry it up – we got meat.

Then there are pine nuts – lots this year – and acorns, as well.
And plants that have bulbs and berries and seed pods.
Cactus – lots of cactus – just burn off the spines.

And the neighbors usually have food – we could raid the neighbors.
And if we had to turn to cannibalism, my wife is sweet and I’m juicy . . .
We could survive - subsist - for awhile – I suppose.
But would we be happy?
Would we sit back on Thanksgiving Thursday full and content?
Have some more bear fat, my dear . . . eat it and rub some on . . . then we’ll have acorn mush . . .
The Paleo Diet is not for us, I think.
Being a Cave Person is to lead a desperate life, where most of your time is spent hunting for something, anything, to eat.

It’s my opinion that if the Cave People could clean up, put on their best animal skins, and go into downtown Moab on Thursday to the Desert Bistro for their Thanksgiving Special Dinner of roast turkey and all the rest, topped off with pumpkin pie and ice cream, they would do that.
Then they would come back to their cave, lay themselves down to sleep by the fire, and rest content – knowing they have once again managed to get through a day having eaten and not been eaten.
As will we.