Primal/Paleo/Ancestral in The Bordeaux Kitchen

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” Gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)[1]

“We are what we eat … Therefore, if we do not know what we eat, there is great risk of not knowing what we are.”Claude Fischler, Sociologist, France, 1998.

The Bordeaux Kitchenbook and this blog are my attempt to capture these French recipes and traditions before they are lost, and to revitalize them with a new understanding of our responsibility to steward the Earth and its creatures, forests, grasslands, gardens and oceans in a way that honors them, our ancestors, our descendants, ourselves.

What I discovered while living in Bordeaux and learning form French cooks, chef, farmers and winemakers while at the same time learning from doctors like Catherine Shanahan (who wrote the Foreword to my book), scientists and health professionals, was that the food we eat and how we procure it, prepare it and share it is the very definition of health itself. The closer we are to understanding our food, where it comes from, how to prepare it and share it, the better we are able to understand ourselves and the world around us and to achieve good health.

A mainstay of the primal/paleo/ancestral lifestyle that I encourage in The Bordeaux Kitchen is the focus on mindfully eating fresh nutrient- and sensory-dense, seasonal, organic or wild-caught food. If you aren’t already doing so, I invite you to try eating minimally processed, unrefined food in a relaxed state of mind with family and friends, much as the French have done for generations.

What does it mean to eat like our ancestors? Science shows that regardless of our unique social or environmental conditions, we all share the same physiology and anatomy, including our digestive, endocrine and organ systems. The study of epigenetics suggests that what we eat, and how we move (or don’t), among other lifestyle choices, influences gene expression (called “epigenetics”), which in turn triggers outcomes related to our health, including disease. Evolutionary biology gives us a window into the conditions that appear to have best suited, or enabled the survival of, our Paleolithic ancestors. We would be wise to honor this knowledge in choosing the foods we were designed to eat. Excellent references for this lifestyle, now in updated form, are The New Primal Blueprint(2016) by Mark Sisson and Primal Fat Burner (2017), by Nora Gedgaudes. (For a list of other major works of the Primal-Paleo-Ancestral movement from the past two decades, see the Resources and Further Reading section in The Bordeaux Kitchenbook.)

Incorporating what we have learned about our Paleolithic or Stone Age ancestors’ 2.5 million year history – from they what they likely ate to the conditions that may have led to their survival – can help us to selectively navigate the pressures of our modern world. A modern lifestyle which focuses on eating more natural, whole, unprocessed food and on increased movement, along with reduced stress and improved sleep habits, may substantially improve our overall health outcomes – precisely because these habits honor our biology and the evolution of our species. Incorporating the wisdom of our ancestors suggests that we:

  • Eat a diverse range ofnutrient- and sensory-dense, organic and local foods in season.
  • Consume sustainably grown or raised, grassfed, or wild-caught sources of animal protein, and unrefined foods and fats, while actively avoiding the refined seed oil fats in margarine, canola oil, safflower oil, sunflower seed oil, etc.
  • Consume pasture-raised (also called “grass-fed”) animals “snout-to-tail” (including offal, or organ meats).
  • Avoid refined sugars, out-of-season fruit, and artificial sweeteners.
  • Avoid less nutrient-dense, potentially pro-inflammatory foods, such as grains and legumes, (which contain lectins and phytates – anti-nutrients that are part of a plants’ natural defense mechanism and, if not organic, are generally grown using glyphosate, an antimicrobial used as an herbicide and dessicant/ripening agent that disrupts our gut microbiome and is associated with antibiotic resistance[2]), in addition to certain proteins such as gluten or gliadin, (some of which can be harmful to humans, especially when eaten as refined flours, too frequently, or when improperly prepared.
  • Support the natural rhythms of digestion by eating slowly, and maintain consistent, adequate sleep habits essential for proper rest and recovery.
  • Move often throughout the day and practice mindfulness or awareness of your emotional and physical state for optimal health.
  • Minimize lifestyle stress and exposure to toxins when possible (including those from processed food, artificial light, and electro-magnetic radiation).

I explore these concepts in more detail in the A to Z list below, under the assumption that what worked for our Paleolithic ancestors, in terms of a diet rich in plants as well as animal protein and fat, and an active, physical lifestyle, alongside a keen awareness and utility of their environment, is similar to what our minds and bodies require today. The Paleolithic Period, also known as the Old Stone Age, ran from approximately 2.5 million to 12,000 years ago (roughly the start of the Agricultural Age). This era represents both the earliest period of human development (of the Homo genus), as well as the longest period of our history. Genetically speaking we are not so different from our Paleolithic ancestors. The good news is that in spite of modern influences that at times, dishonor our primal roots, some cultures, such as the French, still maintain elements of our ancestral dietary and lifestyle habits that are worth exploring and emulating, for our health’s sake as well as, I would argue, the planet’s sake.

The A to Z list below provides the vocabulary connected to the  concepts, along with references from which I have learned and found useful in my years of research. Our opinions may or may not differ on each subject. This is my attempt to create awareness for issues that might otherwise be glossed over, under the pretext that conventional wisdom already has it all covered. I would rather challenge that conventional wisdom and find new avenues to explore, edging readers toward the possibility of a paradigm shift, to which many might at first, as I was, be averse. Let’s just give it a try.

[1]Brillat-Savarin was one of the first if not the first to promote a low-carbohydrate diet, noting that all animals, including humans, grow obese on sugar and white flour in his 1825 book The Physiology of Taste.

[2]Watch MIT’s brilliant Stephanie Seneff talk about glyphosate at the 2018 AutismOne conference:

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