What cut of meat is pizza?

We were watching Anthony Bourdain’s travel show the other day, and I was really hit by a comment that he said. The show was a tour through the Burgundy region of France, and if you have been to any part of France outside of Paris, you can really appreciate the beauty of the provinces. But Bourdain’s show is about Food, and also, his reactions to food. So this comment erupted after a tour of wineries, shops, all the usual places, and he and his traveling companion were in some side market, tasting vegetables from the region. After tasting some random – whatever, he said:

“If vegetables tasted like this in America, people would actually eat them!”

I was floored.

This comment reactivated ideas that had been swimming in my head for a long time since I have started eating a “Paleo” type diet.

I went today to get my Flu shot at Microsoft. It is one of the cool corporate benefits that we get, and they will also to a quick health screening as well. A mail get sent around to everyone to click a link that takes you to the internal wellness site, where you can pick a time to get your shot, and even take the spouse along for free.

When you sign up, the tool also walks you through a short series of questions about your health habits, do you exercise, how many hours, what do you eat, etc. The one that made me pause was, “Do you eat fatty red meat such as Hamburgers, Pizza…”

I stopped right there.

I’m not sure where you eat, but the last time I saw a hamburger, the “meat” was the smallest part of it. And most of the “red” on the last pizza I saw was sauce. The next choice was eating “Lean” meats such as chicken breasts. Third place is you’re fired.

My eating habits, of eating “fatty” cuts of meat that aren’t wrapped in a great blob of gluten isn’t even a choice. How about the quality of meat that I eat? Do they really think that the source and feed or hormone profile makes no difference?

If you have ever read any paleo blog or book, a common refrain is the poor quality of studies that claim the benefits of whole grains or the dangers of fats in the diet, when confounders in these studies wipe out any chance of getting valuable data. Calling Pizza a “Red Meat” happens often. Not controlling for food quality is common.

If you talk with someone who advocates a “Low Carb” diet, it will be uncommon to find two people who agreed what “low” exactly means. And virtually none of the studies out there, pro or con, state this clearly.

We frequently hear about how a ratio of macronutrients will give one he alt benefit or another, vs how many calories are needed per day. But does your body treat 100 calories of cake the same as 100 calories of spinach? How about 10 ounces of cheap, feedlot beef vs 10 ounces of prime, organic grass-fed bison? Are carbs the same in apples and bread? Is fat the same between Soy oil and avocado? How fresh are the ingredients?

If I buy a tomato from the store, even from the organic pile, and eat a slice, it’s pretty good. But its just a tomato. We get freshly picked tomatoes delivered each week ripened on the vine, and cutting into one release smells of the vine and soil, and with that I can remember being 12 years old, running in my grandparents yard and brushing against their tomato plants, potted in wine barrels, releasing that same smell when I hit them.

If the quality of food can impact my memories so much, how is that impacting my health? How is the lack of that quality impacting our health?

The whole concept of eating high-quality, clean, natural food is such a novelty in our culture now. We look to packaged, enriched foods and expensive drugs to make up for missing basics in our diet. We want simple, easy numbers to track (100 calories! 50 carbs!) so we can check them off of a list.

But our bodies don’t run on checklists.

We are what we eat. We are what our food eats. We are where our food grows.

Those are first principles. Eat real food.

After that, we can discuss eating more of one thing or less of another. But discussing and arguing over how much garbage and chemical by-product we should eat isn’t the answer.

Once first principles are correct, we can move to the next step.