Hygiene, Part Two: Cheeseburgers in Paradise
If hygiene can be defined as the science and actions needed to prevent the spread of illness and disease, then a modern understanding of illness and disease clearly demonstrates that our health and fitness is a critical aspect of personal hygiene. In some ways, it can be argued that these are at least as critical to personal longevity as staying clean, or getting clean is. There’s a reason a fit, 19 year old infantryman can withstand living conditions that would put those of us more….ahem…advanced on the age scale, under a moving Greyhound Bus.
I’ve belabored the importance of PT and fitness in this blog, ad nauseum. If you haven’t figured out that importance by now, me continuing to flagellate deceased equines is unlikely to do you a damned bit of good, but…just to maintain my reputation as a meathead jock, asshole….you need to be doing PT: personally, I recommend (and practice) high- and moderate-intensity interval training for cardio, ruck movements for sustained cardio, and multiple-joint, compound-movement, basic barbell exercises for strength and conditioning.
In my lifting journal, I have an excerpt from strength training legend Marty Gallagher’s book The Purposeful Primitive, regarding Israeli Ori Hofmekler’s training philosophy, which is one I like…a lot:
“…ancient fighter would best our modern soldiers were head-to-head military competitions possible…Ancient soldiers possessed rare skills and physical attributes. Their physiques and capacities were built as a direct result of their daily routines and dietary habits…Hofmekler’s optimal physical archetype is a MILITARY archetype, not an ATHLETIC archetype, and while there are many similarities between the optimal athlete and the optimal soldier, there are considerable differences in both capacity and capability. Ori’s optimal military archetype developed a functional physique shaped in response to the daily demands placed on the foot soldier forced to carry heavy armor and weapons for long distances…his training seeks to meld strength with endurance. Training for sustained strength results in the formation of additional mitochondria within the muscle…the construction of a retro military archetype, is in direct contrast to the “vanity motivation” common to mainstream fitness.” (excerpted from The Purposeful Primitive by Marty Gallagher)
This pretty well describes my personal training philosophy (thus the inclusion in my personal training journal…). So, now that we’ve gotten the “do your fucking PT” part out of the way, let’s talk about how scarfing cheeseburgers in Paradise can benefit your personal hygiene in a grid-down scenario.
You Are What You Eat
(Before we begin this discussion however, you need to understand a couple of very, very important issues: 1) I am neither a medical professional, a registered dietitian, nor do I work in the “fitness” industry. Anything I say on this subject is a) based on personal experience, and b) completely fucking theoretical, at best. It may apply to you, or it may be worth exactly what the fuck you’re paying for it….)
As I’ve previously discussed, 4GW is nothing more than 1GW, repackaged with a new label. In light of that, perhaps looking at the physical capabilities of ancient guerrillas—and the tribal societies that sustained and created them—can give us some ideas on the nutritional ideals for hygiene in a neo-primitive environment such as a grid-down situation, including the conduct of guerrilla-type operations to secure your community and tribe.
The so-called Paleo Diet is raging in popularity right now. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing, because the continually evolving science in the nutrition and health fields—not to mention evolutionary biology—seems to support its principles more every day. It’s a bad thing…perhaps a VERY bad thing…because it’s turned what could be the answer to a lot of nutritional and health issues for a lot of people, into a cult-like thing, which instantly turns some people off (and understandably so). Without getting too deep into the details of the Paleo Diet, or basic human physiology and nutrition as it relates to that physiology, let’s look at some of the basic principles of “healthy eating” that we should all be familiar with:
1) Eat fewer processed foods.
2) Eat more whole foods.
3) Eat organic.
4) Eat Low-Calorie/Low-Fat
1) Eat Fewer Processed Foods. This is pretty sensible advice, regardless of your political opinions on food. Unfortunately, it also requires a look into what processed food means as a term.
Unless you’re running your food down, barefoot on the Serengeti, taking it down with your teeth, and eating it raw, on the spot, your food is processed (technically, chewing is processing food, by breaking it down, so even then…you’re eating processed food). When we talk about “eat less processed food” what we really mean is eat less modern industrial foods. This ties into number two, “eat more whole foods.”
Instead of eating shit that is manufactured from parts of whole foods—or from chemical products produced in laboratories from industrial waste—the recommendation is to eat REAL food.
Industrial food…fake food…can be summed up by looking at the typical modern American diet: Cheez-Whiz, margarine, Coca-Cola (it breaks my heart, it truly does…), Crisco, Twinkies, SPAM, the Big Mac, Pop-Tarts, and Canola oil. Every single one of those things is a direct result of modern industrial engineering, rather than the simple processing available in your mother’s kitchen.
Not all industrial food products are inherently unhealthy though. After all, modern multi-vitamins and other nutritional supplements like whey protein, amino acids, creatine, and the like (all of which I use) are available as dietary supplements because of the same industrial processes. While it is popular amongst the “whole foods” or “natural foods” crowd to point out that getting these from REAL food is preferably (and it inarguably is), getting them in the amounts and ratios necessary to sustain the tribal warrior level of health and fitness would require eating things that most of us would rather avoid eating (I don’t eat brains, and I’m not particularly fond of eating other organ meats). Given my druthers, I’d rather whip up a protein shake in the blender, and pop a dozen supplement tablets pre- or post-workout.
2) Eat More Whole Foods.
Have you ever been in a Whole Foods Market, or similar (Trader Joe’s in the Pacific Northwest is another example, although we have a huge Whole Foods in downtown Portland, Oregon too….)? One thing you notice in a hurry…besides the fucking highway robbery, exorbitant prices…is that there are a lot of less-than-whole food products…there’s lots of processed foods in a whole foods health store: things like jams and jellies, soy protein powders, bread, yogurt, and even organic soda pop made with organic cane sugar.
To really grasp what the supposed experts on “whole foods nutrition” are talking about, you simply have to look at the packaging to see their marketing strategy: red, gambrel-roofed barns, smiling cows (since when do fucking cows smile?), and massive fields of healthy crops (never mind that large-scale monocropping absolutely REQUIRES the use of modern, petro-chemical pesticides!). What they mean by whole foods is “agricultural foods,” rather than industrial products. Nothing wrong with that.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with reducing your consumption of mass-agricultural, petro-chemical byproducts in your food (and I recommend it, even when I don’t get to practice it as much as I’d like to), on an individual, family, or even tribal level, there are a lot of benefits to the use of modern agricultural methods. The availability of relatively inexpensive foodstuffs in modern history has made it possible for larger numbers of people to survive. It can be effectively argued that a large percentage of us would possibly not be here if it weren’t for large-scale agriculture, as our near ancestors may not have survived without it.
And Here Be Monsters
When you look at the “history” of humankind…homo sapiens sapiens…the course of our evolutionary development on earth involved being hunter-gatherers much longer than it has involved agriculture of any kind, and even the agricultural era started with herding animals, rather than growing bread crops (I’m really not interested in a creationist vs. evolution argument. I’m not trying to disparage anyone’s faith, so if you’re offended, just stop reading. Don’t bother commenting about how I’m going to hell for believing in science). The reality is, while our bodies have—inarguably–started to develop the evolutionary traits necessary to consume and benefit from agricultural bread crops like grains, many—perhaps most—people deal with a lot of physiological issues when eating “modern” foods like grain products (I do. I also have a pretty severe milk allergy though, so….).
1) Humans didn’t evolve to eat meat. Bullshit. 2.6 million years ago, hominins were butchering animals with stone tools for consumption. Paleo campsites are found littered with bones. On the other hand, there is not a single known indigenous population—anywhere in the world—that exists or existed on a strictly vegetarian diet.
2) Meat heavy diets are a modern phenomenon. It’s a pretty common myth in some circles that most of human history saw meat as—at best—a minor side dish alongside plants and grains. While this was true in medieval Europe, due to political, religious, and social conventions (all of the wild animals belonged to the King, and hunting/killing one was often a hanging offense..if the game warden didn’t kill you first with an arrow), it is demonstrably not true in indigenous hunter-gatherer societies. Anthropological studies of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies, for example, have shown that most get well over 50% of their total caloric intake from animal sources.
3) Vegetarians are healthier than meat-eaters. While it is possible to argue that vegetarians in Western society are often healthier than meat-eating omnivores, that’s as much a result of the fact vegetarians are less likely to smoke or drink alcohol, and more likely to exercise, than it is due to their dietary prescriptions. The reality is, there is absolutely no (to my knowledge) empirical evidence “proving” that vegetarians are healthier than omnivorous people. The available studies that do show it are balanced by studies showing the exact opposite. It’s critical to recognize that when people suddenly decide to go vegetarian, it is often coupled with other health practices: avoiding soda, vegetable oils, and processed flours, avoiding refined sugars, and exercising more…plus sleeping more.
Here’s my personal experience with vegetarianism. I became a vegetarian in high school, for an entire semester of my senior year (it was to impress a girl…and no, she never put out, more’s the pity). I felt “healthier” than I have at any other time in my life. I had ample energy for everything (from judo 4 times a week, to school work, to masturbation, to mooning over the hippie chick..the last two pretty much simultaneously). I got by on 4 hours of sleep a night, never felt tire, walked to and from school and work (an average of 8-10 miles per day, all round trips considered), and just all around felt like I had plenty of energy.
What I lacked? Strength and fitness. I could walk 8-10 miles over the course of a day, but I doubt I could have run a hundred yard dash in any sort of a respectable time. I’d have been lucky to bench press ½ of my bodyweight, and all of my judo successes was a result of technical skill, rather than athleticism.
What Did Your Ancestors Eat?
I’m not suggesting—like some anti-Paleo critics like to suggest—that life in the “olden days” was some sort of paradise on earth. As Ori Hokmekler likes to point out, “Life in paradise should be rugged.” I am however, saying that looking at what our ancestors ate can—from an evolutionary biology standpoint, give us a pretty good indication of what we should eat to increase our disease and illness resistance. After all, while we know that disease and illness were common in medieval times, we also know that a lot of that was a result of piss-poor hygiene practices from a cleanliness standpoint, and nutritional deficiencies. Archeological and paleoanthropological evidence indicates that this was not the case in prehistory.
Stepping back from the modern dietary charade (seriously…when the American Medical Association has the balls to seriously state that an inanimate object is a leading health care concern for Americans, how seriously can you take them?) and looking back at more primitive herder and hunter-gatherer societies, we can see that our modern dietary fear of animal-based food sources is a rejection of our own past and evolutionary development. From the ancient Hebrews tending their flocks in Moses’ time, to Mongolian nomands herdsmen, or the ancestors of the Masai in Africa, or the herdsmen and hunters of migration-era Teutonic Europe. These peoples’ diets tended to be high in animal fat and protein, due to the consumption of meat and milk. It’s a rejection of our own American history. Even as food companies plaster images of idyllic farm life across their packaging, they reject the very foods favored and valued by the traditional American farmer: raw milk, whole cream, butter, cheese, eggs, and meat (BACON! BTW…if you’re one of these yahoos that apparently just recently discovered the awesomeness that is bacon…I pity your lifetime of ignorance). Rejecting herder diets in favor of staple grains like wheat and rice is, and “eating low fat” means “eat like a refugee and a serf.”
What if we went back further along the evolutionary backtrail than medieval Europe though? What if—instead of relinquishing our nutrition to the servitude of serfdom—we decided to go back to diet of the ancient freeman? Four hundred generations ago—a paltry ten thousand years—what passed for food?
A lot of really tasty stuff, actually!
Large mammals: everything from cattle, sheep, and pigs, to antelope, deer, elk, and gazelle. Hell, elephants were on the supper menu as far back as 2.6 million years! Not just the muscle meat, but everything from organ meat to the brains. Even the bone marrow is a rich source of numerous nutrients (one of my favorite parts of eating wild game as a kid was when it was roasted, was cracking the small bones and sucking the marrow. I just didn’t know, back then, that it was healthy). For peoples living near large bodies of water, from rivers and lakes to the sea, fish and other aquatic species were popular and healthy. Insects, eggs, and honey are popular with modern hunter-gatherers and herdsmen, and were probably just as popular with both ancient and prehistoric man. Fruit was eaten, as were starchy roots and tubers. Even nuts (not THOSE nuts, pervoid!). Hunter-gatherers and ancient herdsmen were certainly prone to infant mortality and infectious disease, as my wife and I discovered recently, infant mortality is still a disturbingly common issue, and infectious disease can be countered in large part by hygiene practices that are—or should be—commonplace now that we know and understand the germ theory of disease transmission. What they notably did not—and do not—suffer from are the common cardiovascular ailments that typify modern Western “health.”
Looking at hygiene holistically, as the science and action of preventing disease however, tells us that re-thinking our nutritional approach to life will go a long way towards instilling better hygiene into our “camp life” in grid-down neo-primitivism.
So, Is It Paleo, or Not?
I don’t think some cult-fad Paleo diet is the end-all, be-all solution to human nutrition. I DO believe that it is a damned good step in the right direction for most people. Following the strict guidelines of some dietary guru are is as valueless as following the strict guidelines of any other guru though. Just as tribes of hunter-gatherers and herdsmen eat and ate different diets, you will undoubtedly eat a different diet than I do (I’ve gone a long way towards reducing my Coca-Cola consumption, but it’s not completely gone yet. I’ve had two in the last three weeks…).
There are—arguably—three basic guidelines for deciding how to create, maintain, and strengthen a sensible, sustainable survival diet program that is also enjoyable (I’m as guilty as any man alive of eating for fuel rather than gastronomical delight, but even I like to eat some foods).
1) Mimic a hunter-gatherer/herdsman’s diet as much as possible.
2) Follow ancient culinary traditions as much as possible.
3) Avoid industrial foods, sugars, and seed grains.
Eating a hunter-gatherer/herdsman’s diet is not about being a historical reenactor, or at least, it shouldn’t be (unless that’s your thing. I’m not judging). It’s about gaining the metabolic and health benefits of that diet, with what is available to you. It’s not even about eating a particular set of foods. Contrary to the popular myths currently surrounding the Paleo fad, there was neither a single diet followed throughout the Paleolithic period of prehistory, nor even the same diet followed by a single people. The commonalities between different hunter-gatherer and herding cultures diets though, provide pretty good guidance on HOW we’re supposed to eat for optimal health.
Number one, stop fucking counting calories. The only people I know who actually do follow calories are uptight, anal-retentive fucks that need to get kicked in the nuts. If anything, our ancestors favored high calorie nutrient sources. The more calories a food provided, the more bang for the buck a tribesman got for his hunting efforts. While it is often argued that the ancients could “afford” a high-calorie diet because of greater activity levels, a 2012 study of a Tasmanian tribe supposedly demonstrated that their total individual energy expenditures were comparable to that of modern Americans. Even though they spent more energy on physical activity, this was offset by the fact that they expended less energy on their base level at rest.
Ignore the USDA. The USDA has bread grains as the foundation food group. Yet, a review of the diet of over 200 foraging societies estimated that nearly 75% of them got over 50% of their total caloric intake from animal products. In a separate study of nine contemporary hunter-gatherer societies, foods were exactly weighed and measured. Seven of the nine tribes studied got more than 50% of their calories from animal sources!
Even amongst the plant food sources, starchy tubers were the most important, with fruits a distant second. (Makes the traditional meat-and-potatoes diet look a little more sensible, from an evolutionary standpoint, doesn’t it?) Fuck the USDA.
Quit fearing the fat! Remember what we discussed earlier? There is not a single known indigenous people who are culturally vegetarian. On the other hand, northern peoples, like the Yupik Eskimos, Inuit Athabaskan Indians, the different Siberian tribes, and the Sami of northern Finland all survive almost exclusively on animal-based diets, with little or no plant foods.
Dietary fat and cholesterol, despite the bad reputation they have in modern America (Gee, thanks AMA and USDA!), are NECESSARY PRECURSORS TO THE BODY’S PRODUCTION OF SEX HORMONES, like testosterone and estrogen.
Eat a variety of plants. Besides the benefits of different micronutrients inherent in different plants, there is also the issue of reduced toxicity loads. Eating too much of a given plant means that there is a greater chance of building dangerous levels of that particular plants toxins. While regular potatoes get a bad rap amongst Paleo diet faddists, this is cultural snobbery, since they advocate eating other tubers like sweet potatoes and yams. The problem is, unless you are of American Indian descent (and specifically South American Indian descent), white potatoes are NOT part of your ancestral diet, beyond a couple hundred years. Nevertheless, the fact is, our bodies ARE wired to digest and utilize the nutrients in starchy roots and tubers, whether potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, parsnips (what the fuck IS a parsnip?), rutabagas and onions, amongst others.
White rice gets a bad rap in cool-person diet circles, because it’s a) a cereal grain, and b) it lacks bran and fiber. Here’s the rub though…the bran and fiber is the protective covering of the grain. It’s engineered by nature to seriously fuck up the intestines of animals that eat it…white rice on the other hand is a pretty safe source of good starch.
Experiment with dairy. Is it for you, or not? I’ve got—as I mentioned above—a horrendous milk allergy. My mother insists it’s because she started feeding me whole milk too early. I don’t know, but I know, even drinking a single cup of milk will set my guts to churning loud enough to drown out the props of the Titanic. It is, 100% pure NASTY.
Here’s what one author on the subject says on the dairy question:
“Except during infancy, hunter-gatherers did not drink milk. After the domestication of animals, multiple herder populations independently gained a genetic adaptation to digest lactose into adulthood. Their milk-based diet must have been profoundly beneficial because these people were robust, their populations grew quickly, and they usually dominated their unlucky neighbors. Today, people with the lactase persistence gene (about 35% of the global population) are descended from one of those herder populations (though people without the gene can still thrive on high dairy diets). Even so, most people in the world are still lactose intolerant—and given milk’s recent history in the human diet, it clearly isn’t necessary for good health.” (excerpted from The Paleo Manifesto by John Durant)
Here’s the problem though…dairy consumption is a point of hot contention amongst both academics and lay dietitians. Some people—including many Paleo faddists—consider the proteins and hormones in milk to be a cause of gut inflammation, cancer, and acne. But, both lactose and casein are found in human breast milk, so it’s not like they are FOREIGN to our bodies’ physiology.
Ultimately, with the caveats we will discuss below, dairy is one area that you have to experiment with on your own. It seriously jacks my system up. Two cups of milk will set my guts churning for hours. Nevertheless, because of the strength and fitness benefits of whole milk, I do consume milk. I use 16 oz of whole milk every day, as the base of a post-workout protein shake. In the past, I even experimented with the “GOMAD” or “Gallon Of Milk A Day” method of gaining weight for strength training. Quite simply, it means, if you want to make enormous gains in your strength training and mass? Drink one gallon of whole milk per day, in addition to your normal dietary intake.
If I do GOMAD, I can usually make it about five days before I’m stuck in the bathroom for up to four hours at a time, unable to walk due to the cramps and violent diarrhea. The two cups of milk, with extra whey in the form of the protein shake doesn’t allow me quite as rapid gains, but it does allow me many of the benefits, without quite as many drawbacks (and you now know more about my digestive function than you ever wanted to know, huh?)
Follow ancient culinary practices
Ancient culinary practices often existed for reasons, beyond simple tradition. Not only do they make foods tastier, they often make it healthier, as well as (and this is IMPORTANT for our context!) safer for long-term storage. The problem with ancient culinary practices of course, is that it’s often difficult to tell the difference between superstition and science. The best way is to look for practices that are old and widespread amongst various cultures.
a) Make broths and stocks. Bones are amongst the best bases for soups. This makes sense. Marrow in bones houses a LOT of nutritional benefit in a small package. People have been boiling bones as long as we’ve had fire and pot to piss in…err…cook in. Boiling water can leech nutrients, minerals, collagen, and marrow out of bones, as well as from the meat and skin of animals.
b) Ferment foods. HH6 has an awesome book on our shelves, that we discovered courtesy of a neighbor who loaned us a copy before we bought ours. Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Dietary Dictocrats by Sally Fallon, offers a lot of really great old-time, traditional food preparation and storage methods, including fermentation processes from scratch.
Fermentation, as any adult should know, is simply food processing using bacteria. From brewing beer (or my preference, making mead), to leavening bread; curdling cheese, pickling vegetables, culturing yogurt, or curing meats, all of us eat a lot more fermented foods than simple sauerkraut or kimchi.
Fermentation can make foods healthier, and more digestible. Curdling dairy products into cheese, for example, allows me to put shredded cheese in omelets, or to eat a grilled cheese sandwich without the intestinal distress that drinking milk causes. Sourdough is created through fermentation. A lot of fermentation processes leave active beneficial bacterium in the gut, and eating them can help maintain healthy intestinal bacteria levels. Unfortunately for the poor bastard who has to buy his fermented foods at the grocery store, industrial manufacturers tend to sterilize their products, negating this benefit.
c) Cook with traditional recipes. These are not just random pairings, generally, but offer significant health benefits.
d) Cook with low heat. See? Your crockpot or stewpot does have benefits! For primitive, tribal cooking in a camp environment, throwing a “forever stew” on to boil, and adding ingredients every day as the stew is consumed offers health benefits beyond shared resources amongst the family or tribe.
e) Cook with traditional fats and oils. Traditional fats and oils range from animal fats like tallow, lard, and butter, to classical plant-based oils like coconut and olive oil. It’s often noted in preparedness food storage texts that vegetable oils go rancid quickly, making them difficult to store. Here’s your remedy. Quit worrying about storing inherently unhealthy, industrially-produced corn or canola oil, and focus on learning to manufacture animals fats like butter, tallow, and lard. Since HH6 and I quit using canola and corn oil, and started doing all of our oil-based cooking with butter or olive oil, the taste quality of food has skyrocketed in our house.
f) Eat raw foods. (Not raw meat. That’s just fucking gross!) Cooking vegetables reduces fiber content, and cooking anything reduces vitamin C content. At the same time, eat different colored vegetables. Different vegetable colors indicate different chemical compounds in plants, and each chemical compound indicates a different balance or blend of antioxidants and nutrients is a good way towards ensuring a good balance of micronutrients.
g) Sprout, soak, or ferment grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. One of the major concerns with the consumption of grain products that has been at the forefront of the popularity of the Paleo fad is the inherent toxicity of seeds. After all, they’re designed to keep your body from digesting them, in order to survive being eaten and passed through your system, thus being able to propagate and reproduce. Sprouting or fermenting seeds and legumes is a food way to make them less toxic. This not only increases their digestibility, but also makes them less irritable to your gut.
g) Eat the damned yolk. Seriously, just eat the yolk. Anyone who still believes that eating the egg yolk will make your heart explode needs to pull their head out of their fourth point-of-contact (for the non-Airborne qualified…that’d be your ass).
How Does This Shit Relate to Survival, Preparedness, and Being a Bad-Ass Mountain Guerrilla?
Everyone who’s done more prepping than just reading the gun mags and gun-porn websites online knows that stockpiling food storage and other preparedness necessities is pretty damned critical. They’re probably also familiar with the Four Fundamentals of Food Storage: Wheat, Beans, Rice, and Dry Milk. Looking at the ancestral diets of human beings, from a herding culture and hunter-gatherer cultural perspective though, quickly indicates that focusing on that four is pretty contrary to what our history tells us is healthy. Unless you WANT to live like a serf, focusing all of your food storage on these foodstuffs…or even most of it…is contrary to good nutritional hygiene (how’s that for some heretical thought!?).
For many people in the preparedness culture, “stuck” living in the suburbs, or in some urban high-rise apartment, stockpiling the food-storage basics may be the only choice. For those with even a little bit of land though, instead of focusing on storing foods that will almost invariably make you sick in the long-run, it makes more sense to focus on taking advantage of that to raise your own meat sources, even if it’s small livestock like chickens and rabbits, while growing a garden, and then preparing and storing your own produce. If you do store wheat and beans, you’ll get more nutritional benefit out of sprouting them than simple grinding and/or cooking.
We all talk—across the preparedness community—about “grow your own food” as a resistance exercise. We talk about “take your health care into your own hands” as a way of resisting the demands of socialized medicine. I firmly—completely—believe that the greatest resistance you can offer to tyranny, is to just fucking ignore it, as much as possible, and live your life the way you want to live your life. Developing good hygiene through growing, producing, and eating your own, healthy diet, in accordance with the way your body is designed to eat, is not only active resistance, it’s also a solid method of giving the proverbial finger to socialized medicine.
Hygiene—the science and actions of preventing disease—is not just about washing your hands, burying your shit, and wearing clean clothes. It’s certainly not just about taking multivitamins until you run out, and then dying of scurvy, or beriberi. It’s about getting, and staying healthy. Eating healthy and doing PT is just as important an aspect of hygiene as knowing how to shit in the woods.