Chronicles of Less Urban Living, Fresh from In the Night Farm


I Didn’t See It Coming

…but I’m going!

By lucky coincidence, yesterday’s MDA post broke through my ongoing status of Paleo on Autopilot.  Lo and behold, the annual Primal Blueprint 30-Day Challenge is just getting underway, and I’m on board.  I was already planning on a Whole 30 from October 20-November 20; the PB Challenge will just be a warmup.

It’s time.  As is typical, I’m at my lowest fitness level for the year (in terms of strength as measured by weightlifting) because I’ve spent the summer being active in other ways — farm work, endurance riding, horse training, whitewater rafting — instead of officially “working out.”  That’s all well and good.  It gets “play” points from Mark Sisson and “periodization” points from Robb Wolf.  But I’m ready to shift into a higher gear.

The PB Challenge sets up a perfect opportunity for this transition.  In my contribution to yesterday’s mini-contest, I committed to the following:  1 bodyweight workout, 1 heavy lifting workout, and 1 sprint workout per week, plus 100% Primal eating.

Sure, it’s minimal.  That’s the idea.  I still have some decent horse training weather ahead, and I still have 150-250 miles of races to ride.  I’m not giving that up in favor of my full-on, winter workout schedule.  This is just to prime the pump.

As for the food, check out the PB Challenge link above for the rules.  They’re standard Primal, which is rather more hedonistic than Paleo.  (Note particularly the inclusion of moderate alcohol and dairy.)  I’ll simply steer around the rare exception (like corn tortillas) and eat as I usually do.  Finally, I’ll try to keep a little food and workout journal going here, for those who like to see examples of what this lifestyle looks like in practice.

Who else is doing the challenge?  Why not give it a shot?

PBC Day 1

Food as Fuel:  Black coffee.  Pulled pork with grilled tomatillo salsa and cotija.  Ceviche.  Coconut cream concentrate.  Grilled sirloin tip with grilled onions; roasted sweet potatoes; cucumber and tomato salad dressed with olive oil, vinegar, and chopped cilantro.  Gin on the rocks.

Workout:  Bumped to another day due to errands and extra farm chores.  Did a couple sets of pushups (max 33, which isn’t bad considering how long it has been) and pullups while cooking dinner.


On Hold

I am currently on hold with BCOR Fitness. 

I have been on hold for eight minutes now.  I have not spoken to a live body yet.  Their hold music seems to have been obtained by holding a cassette recorder up to the speaker in a Hilton elevator.

…nine minutes…

According to the company’s website, I’m supposed to talk to a representative to “schedule my first class” now that I’ve created my online account.  Of course, none of this information was posted clearly up-front as part of the Living Social offer or the BCOR site, which basically says “just show up!” 

I decided to call to make sure “just show up” was right.  Apparently not.

…ten minutes…

I hope they let us start on December 2 as planned.  Later would probably be better for me, actually, since I’m just now healing up my stress-fractured foot (too much barefoot running without adequate preparation).  But, my mom has travel planned for January and may not be as flexible on when our 30-day voucher deal starts.

…eleven minutes…

Ooh!  Someone picked up!

“Alex” has me scheduled for 6am Friday.  Go Alex.  Do I want to add a BCOR Diet Program to my order?  No, Alex.

I’m supposed to bring water and a towel.  No need to come early for any kind of orientation.  Hmm.  This is slightly alarming.  I’m not worried about myself, because I know enough about form and reasonable programming to keep myself safe, but what about a beginner?  Maybe that’s figured into the instructor’s style.


AAAAAND…rewind.  Just as I was about to hit “post,” I got ahold of my mom.  We agreed to delay our start date to December 28th so my foot can be fully recovered.  I think this is a very good idea.  It took 3 months of healing time to get to this “slightly tender” state; the idea of a major setback is not appealing.

Fortunately for me, “Chad” answered BCOR’s phone after only 2 minutes on hold.  He was very nice about making the switch.  So, Wednesday the 28th it is.  And my opinion of BCOR’s customer service is somewhat mollified. 

Someone should give Chad a raise.

Move More

That’s it.

Call it a resolution if you like.  I prefer to think of it as ratcheting one step closer to aligning my behavior with my genes.  MOVE MORE.  People aren’t made to sit around. 

In a hunter-gatherer world, sitting all day was the fast-track to starvation.  Not really an option.  You worked first, and rested afterwards — assuming your hunt was successful.

Not so for me.  Alas, I am obliged to feed myself and my farm full of animals by warming a chair.  I doubt I could get a physical job that pays what my cerebral one does.  Of course, this means that if I’m going to catch up with the hunter-gatherers, I have to spend my relaxation time in action.

I already move more than the average American.  I mentioned the animals.  They like to be fed a couple times daily.  And there’s water to haul, horses to ride, horses to train, eggs to gather, fences to build…

And, I work out.  Mostly bodyweight and heavy lifting, with some metcon thrown in for good measure.  Plus a few sprints.

I’d say I spend about 4 hours per week officially “working out,” and another 20 “moving slowly” (ala Mark Sisson) — double that in summer; halve it in the dead of winter. 

Still, what if I could do better?  Here’s what I have in mind:

  • Get a standing desk at work.  I wrote on my other blog about the back problems that have bumped this up my priority queue.
  • Walk/run more.  Lately, I’ve taken to going for 20-60 minute, evening jaunts with dogs or horses — in the dark and inclement weather if necessary.  This is a good thing.
  • Stretch.  My flexibility could use some improvement.  Hamstrings especially.
  • Feldenkrais.  The benefits are both physical and mental.  I’m always glad when I spend 40 minutes on this.  I need to stop finding “better” things to do.

Want to know my biggest roadblock to moving more?  It’s not laziness or reluctance to do something energetic.  It’s that physical activity interferes with reading.  I’m not talking about web-surfing, either, but real, geniune, reading of actual books.

My iPod helps.  At least I can entertain my brain while walking, running, and stretching.  I listen to podcasts on everything from nutrition and fitness to science and psychology to Freakonomics and economics to religion and philosophy to culture and skepticism and more.  It isn’t the same as reading, but it helps.

So, that’s it.   Reading notwithstanding, in 2012 I will move more.


Paleo on Autopilot

Those of you who follow both my blogs (this one and The Barb Wire), have no doubt noticed that my focus tends to swing between my top two passions:  health and horses.  You have already figured out, therefore — by my lack of posts here and plethora there — that I am currently in an equestrian phase.  I’m hanging out on horse blogs and forums, writing about training and conditioning my endurance mount, and generally falling behind on the paleo scene.  I haven’t downloaded a Robb Wolf or Chris Kresser podcast in weeks.

The nice thing about paleo is that it requires very little concentration.  We nerds can geek out on it all day, every day, when we’re in the mood — but when we’re not, we can cruise along with next to no effort, enjoying all the physical benefits while our mental and emotional attention is elsewhere.  Eat real food.  Move around.  Get plenty of sleep.  Repeat.

Lately, I’ve gravitated toward eating twice daily: a big, fat- and protein-heavy breakfast with some veggies, and a big dinner that’s mostly grassfed meat or wild fish, plus some veggies and usually a safe starch like sweet potato or yuca.  In between, I ride and train horses all day (or as much as I can, if I’m obliged to spend time at the office).  Sprinting can be accomplished with a green horse in-hand.  A few times a week, I stop by my home gym to heave barbells around.

I am fit, lean, and disgustingly healthy.  And it’s so, so easy.

Where has Lent Gone?

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day…oh, I can’t remember.

Sorry, everyone.  Did you think Monsanto had me assassinated?  Too many weeks have passed since I posted in this series, not because I’m being pursued (erm, as far as I’m aware…) but just because my real job has taken up too much time and energy for all the research that such posts require.

I have, however, maintained my Lenten sacrifice, if that’s a fair word for doing my health a favor, of avoiding supporting Monsanto.  I wasn’t perfect; I did partake of questionable food a couple times while at a horsemanship clinic, and it’s possible that the winter riding boots I ordered on winter closeout contain some GMO-influenced fibers.    But, by and large, I think I’ve done well.

The thing is, it’s not that hard.  Eating Monsanto-free is (for now, but look out!) pretty darned similar to standard paleo.  You can even throw in grassfed dairy, if you wish…until that GMO alfalfa sneaks into the fields…and the pesticides from non-organic farms leach and waft into your “safe” garden…and genetically modified animals become commonplace…

The non-food goods, though (cotton and ethanol for a start) are tough, if not impossible, to avoid.  You can’t escape the fact that just about anything we purchase supports Monsanto in some way, if only through the GMO-corn-based ethanol that was burned to manufacture and transport it.

So, what are you going to do about it?

Start by keeping tabs on the situation.  “Like” Millions Against Monsanto on Facebook to get a steady (but not overwhelming) stream of updates on GMO products and politics.

BUT…don’t fall into the popular trap of believing you’re changing something simply by spending more time thinking about it.  As one savvy commenter noted in response to this controversial post, “raising awareness” is the means by which people make themselves believe they’re accomplishing something when they aren’t.

You have to actually DO something.  What’ll it be?

So Sue Me

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 22.

Check this out:  The Public Patent Foundation, on behalf of 60 organic farming families, is suing Monsanto in the hope of protecting them from being sued BY Monsanto for patent infringement, in the event that GM seed gets onto their land without their knowledge, desire, or intent.  Yes, it has happened before.  So. EFFING. Backwards.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my Monsanto Project is going strong, though life has trumped blogging since the weekend.  (Sorry.)  I’m in the middle of a project at work that’s absorbing all my research and writing energy.  Sometimes you gotta focus on the job that pays.

I’ll be back as soon as I can to talk about health effects of GM crops, Monsanto’s terminator technology, and the ever-popular topic of alcohol.  (You know its made from grain…GM grain…?)

Ancient Culture

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 19.

…but it’s Sunday, which isn’t counted in Lent, so I’ll take a little holiday from talking about Monsanto.  I’ve been experimenting with some new sources of nutrition lately, including grassfed beef liver (fail) and raw milk yogurt (win).

I talked last week about the benefits of raw dairy, primarly to dispel the government-promoted myths about the “necessity” of pasturization.  Incidentally, did you know that pasturization destroys phosphatase, making calcium unavailable to the bones?  Said calcium is instead deposited in muscles, joints, and blood vessels.  Great.

Raw milk, on the other hand, offers not only a panoply of vitamins and minerals, but also beneficial enzymes and bacteria.  Better yet, the health benefits of raw milk are multiplied by the process of lactic acid fermentation — which is why I went hunting for a source of local, grassfed, whole, raw milk in the first place.  I wanted to make yogurt.

At first, the idea of intentionally leaving a quart of milk in a warm place for half a day sounded insane.  And disgusting.  But consider this:  Beneficial bacteria trump pathological bacteria every time. 

Here’s an experiment for you:  Set out a pint each of raw milk and pasturized milk.  Smell them after 48 hours.  Which would you rather eat?

Not only is raw, fermented dairy safe, it actally confers magnified benefits including enhanced nutrient bioavailablity, reduced lactose content (the friendly bacteria eat the milk sugar during fermentation, which is why yogurt tastes sour), improved intestional health, and strengthened immune system.  Read more on the subject in this excellent post by Emily Deans, M.D.  No wonder fermentation has been used for thousands of years not just for preservation, but for healing.

I took my first shot at homemade yogurt last Saturday, following this recipe from Nourished Kitchen.  The resulting product was tasty, flavored very much like the Greek yogurt I used to innoculate it. 

However, it wasn’t particularly pretty.  Unlike the thick, creamy product you buy at the grocery, my yogurt was rather runny, featuring small, white lumps floating in whey.  I gathered from a bit of googling that this is common.  Suggested solutions included:

  • Add powdered milk to the yogurt.  (Eww.  No thanks, for so many reasons.)
  • Use less starter, because the bacteria need elbow room to grow and using too much is counterproductive.  (Sounds reasonable.)
  • Add gelatin to the yogurt.  (Many reject this on textural grounds, and so did I.)
  • Use half milk, half cream to make yogurt.  (Sounds delicious, but expensive, and raw cream is hard to find.)
  • Add pectin to the yogurt.  (Ah.  There’s a thought.)

For yesterday’s batch, I modified my technique to implement #2 and #5 above.  I used 3 Tbs of live yogurt to innoculate the 1-quart batch (I didn’t measure last week, but probably used a bit more).  And, I added 2 teaspoons of pectin, dissolved in a tiny bit of warm water, to the heated milk just before putting it in the jar to ferment.

This morning, I have an improved product.  The flavor is milder (maybe a little too mild — I think I’ll let it ferment a couple hours longer next week) and the texture more consistent.  The lumps and watery whey are gone, replaced with a still-thin, but smooth and white, perfectly respectable yogurt.  (Next time, I might try adding a little more pectin to thicken it up more.)

I love how simple this is.  Active time?  About 20 minutes per batch.  Cost?  $3.99 for a half-gallon of raw milk.  That’s the price of a quart of pre-fab Greek yogurt around here.  Benefits?  Myriad.

I should note that fermented dairy is still insulinogenic (all dairy is), so it may not be the best choice for someone whose primary goal is loss of bodyfat.  In a metabolically healthy person, however, it looks like an ideal post-workout snack…which is exactly what I’ll be doing with most of mine.  It’s delicious over a few berries, topped with chopped, raw almonds.

Up next?  I have my eye on cultured butter ala Mark’s Daily Apple, maybe some goat cheese, and other fermented products like saurkraut and preserved lemons.

Tomorrow, though, it’s back to the Monsanto Project.  Be sure to check out the coffee posts if you missed them over the weekend.

Rainforest Roundup

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 18.

Yesterday’s Monsanto Project post explained the importance of choosing organic, shade-grown coffee.  I hinted that fair-trade matters, too.  Here’s the interesting thing:  It doesn’t just matter for purposes of social justice.  It matters even if all you want to do is avoid supporting Monsanto.   

It seems the coffee farmers in Colombia, the world’s third-largest coffee producer, began to suffer substantial losses in the “coffee crisis” of the early 2000’s.  Competition from international growers increased while Colombian labor regulations limited farmers’ ability to lower production costs.  Unemployment skyrocketed, young people joined the Marxist guerillas or paramilitary forces in an escalating civil war, the World Bank and U.S. oil interests got tangled up in the affair, and coffee farmers became desperate.

So desperate that many of them turned to growing illegal plots of poppy and coca to supplement their incomes.  You know, in order to afford the basics.

The farmers’ survival tactic didn’t go unnoticed by the U.S. and its War on Drugs.  Nor did it go unnoticed by Monsanto.

Almost 70,000 gallons of Roundup were sprayed in Colombia in the first months of 2001. In 2000, roughly 145,750 gallons were sprayed over 53,000 hectares (205 square miles). With a retail price between $33 to $45 per gallon (Monsanto refused to confirm the wholesale price for such volumes), this represents a cost of around $4.8 to $6.6 million – paid to Monsanto by US taxpayers. ( J. Bigwood, Earth Island Journal, 2001-2001)

This spraying is not done from the ground.  It is done from airplanes.  Sure, the drug plants die and the government pats itself on the back…but that isn’t all that happens.

The Colombian rainforest is not Roundup Ready.  The glyphosate (and additives that appear to make Roundup and Roundup Ultra even more toxic than glyphosate alone) coats much more than its intended targets.  It destroys entire ecosystems, from natural foliage to food crops like bananas and manioc to native fish.  Hunger threatens the indigenous peoples as a result.  In 2009, Ecuadorians filed a class action suit for harm caused by pesticide drift across the Colombian border. 

“The US State Department believes the spraying of herbicide in Colombia is not harmful to the environment or to humans,” said its spokeswoman Susan Pittman.  Contrary to government officials’ and manufacturers’ claims of non-toxicity, at least five inquiries have found that Roundup causes serious human health problems. (T. Williams, The Public Record, 2009.)

And yes, some of that Roundup does wind up on the coffee.

Extra Credit (sorry, WP is having hyperlink issues again!)

Colombian Coffee Crisis:

Fair Trade Coffee in Colombia (pdf):

Coffee, A Dark History by Antony Wild (book)

Read all posts in the Monsanto Project Series:

Cream? Sugar? Glyphosate?

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 17.

The coffee I’m sipping is organic.  When I bought it, I wasn’t sure that was important, but a little reading has assured me that it is.

It seems that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, is a favorite herbicide for use on coffee plantations.  Glyphosate has the unfortunate effect of significantly reducing microbial populations in the soil, leading to poor soil quality, defenseless trees, and the need for even more chemical herbicides and fertilizers.

It also has the even more unfortunate effect of endangering human and animal health.

Furthermore, coffee trees grown in full sun are deprived of natural predators for their pests, which means they require even MORE chemical application for continued production.

Looks like I’d better make sure my next pound of coffee is not just organic, but shade-grown.

…and fair-trade.  Tomorrow’s post explains why.

Bonus note:  I usually drink my coffee black, but if you add anything to yours, bear in mind…

  • Flavored and non-dairy coffee additives nearly always contain GM HFCS and/or soy.
  • Non-organic cream is usually laced with rBGH.
  • Half of the sugar sold in the U.S. is from sugarbeets, 90% of which are GM.  If you must use sugar, choose organic cane.


Catch up on any Monsanto Project Series posts you’ve missed.

Liver Pills

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 16.

One of the pleasant side effects of this Monsanto Project is that it has refocused my energy on finding new sources of safe, affordable, nourishing food.  This has led me to experiment with raw dairy, fermentation, and my most recent interest:  organ meat.

I started with a 2.34 pound hunk of local, grass-fed beef liver.  Slicing the shuddering, bloodred, gelatinous mass was entertaining, and the dogs enjoyed lapping up the raw milk I used to marinate the meat.  Ugly as it had been in its raw form, the liver looked pretty decent fried it up in plenty of bacon grease with caramelized onions and garlic.  It was crispy on the outside and tender to the knife.

Ironman and I really wanted to like it…but we didn’t.  The flavor was tolerable, but that “creamy” texture?  Eww.  I’m pretty sure meat should not be creamy. 

Or as Ironman called it, “glipey.”

Fortunately, I’d been listening to Chris Kresser podcasts and borrowed his plan for ingesting the 1.89 pounds of liver we didn’t care to choke down.  (Sure, I could “hide” liver bits in meatballs and marinara, but why bother?  I want to enjoy my food, not simply bear it.)  I chopped the cooked organ into tiny pieces and froze them in a single layer on waxed paper.

Now, all we have to do is swallow them whole.  Voila!  All the nutrition and none of the pain.  Liver pills!

…not to be confused with Carter’s Little Liver Pills, a form of the laxative stimulant bisacodyl that was popular up through the mid-1960’s.  Want a giggle?  Check out their radio ad from the ’40’s.

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