Hunted & Gathered: Eating Paleo in a Modern World
Experience has taught me that being an adventurous foodie and embracing challenges can make the journey to health and happiness much less arduous. It can even be fun.
Each of our bodies is its own unique ecosystem that reacts differently to what we eat. I noticed a decline in my own health in my early 20s, after years of living on processed and sugary foods in college. I made simple lifestyle changes at first, such as eating more fruits and vegetables. Because I was not much of a chef, I invested in a juicer and food dehydrator to make my own healthy snacks to eat on the go. Soon I was experimenting with fruit leather and jerky, creating soup mixes and drying herbs and spices.
I dabbled happily in my newfound food hobbies for years, learning to garden and cook along the way. I was healthier overall, but I was still plagued with discomfort. Eventually, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and my outlook was discouraging. It didn’t immediately occur to me that any holistic treatment, particularly more dietary changes, could help. Then I read that the Paleo (Paleolithic) diet has been shown to alleviate autoimmune symptoms in some cases.
I had heard of Paleo, and I knew it had something to do with eating like a hunter-gatherer. It sounded simple enough. I already enjoyed growing my own food and eating organically. I also loved rice and cheese, which do not make the cut under the Paleo plan. The Paleo diet is based on eating the types of food that early humans would have eaten; mainly meat, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. This excludes dairy, grains, sugar and even healthier versions of processed foods. The diet and lifestyle stems from the idea that our bodies have evolved to thrive on eating foods that are hunted and gathered from our natural environment.
It was certainly an adjustment at first. Learning to prepare flavorful and filling meals with limited ingredients was no easy task, but it became a creative challenge in which I indulged myself. It was exciting when I successfully pulled off a unique Paleo recipe.
Then I looked forward to working in the garden every day. My autoimmune symptoms lessened and my health and energy improved dramatically. I was getting closer to achieving the ideal diet for myself, while simultaneously reconnecting with nature.
Unfortunately, Ohio’s backyard gardens do not grow year-round. There is winter. Paleo does not require eating directly from the earth, but I get a sense of self-satisfaction using homegrown or local ingredients whenever possible. I was determined to extend my eating habits through the cold months, and the gatherer in me started preparing. I got out the food dehydrator and dried herbs and peppers for later use in soups and warm meals. A variety of fruit leather, fruit and nut bars, canned salsa and jerky were also added to my to-do list.
Admittedly, I’m no hunter in my hunter-gatherer pursuits, but I do eat more meat on the Paleo diet than I did before, which can get expensive. I was fortunate when a colleague gifted me with a few pounds of Lake Erie walleye and perch from his many summer fishing trips. As I prepared the fillets to make fish jerky, I craved the opportunity to stock up on other wild game like many of my coworkers do during hunting season. Having lean, ethically harvested wild turkey or venison would be another exciting taste of the hunter-gatherer experience.
My respect and appreciation for hunters, anglers and others connected to nature has grown. Having a backyard garden is rewarding, but like most people, I turn to the grocery store for most of my needs. I often envision taking my food explorations a step further by bringing home the delicacy that is wild game.
I will probably never live completely off the land or abide by every Paleo rule given my modern suburban lifestyle. I’m fine with that. My personal journey is about doing what I can to stay healthy while growing in knowledge and experiences as I go. Just like all of my food hobbies, it would take time to acquire the skills I need to hunt or fish.
The challenge is what makes the process fun and worthwhile. Who knows? Maybe next year I’ll be cooking and drying a collection of fish fillets that I caught myself.