Saturday, October 24, 2009

Eat Like a Poor Person

That's what people keep telling author Christopher McDougall, as he recounts advice he gets about eating to run farther in "Born to Run."

McDougall mentions this advice a lot. It seems to appear when he's talking about Scott Jurek's diet, when he tells the story about some guy (actually a doctor) named Louis who lived among the Kalahari Bushmen for four years, and the advice seems most poignant when he's describing the eating habits of Peruvians or Tarahumaras or American vegans.

"Eat like you're a poor person," seems to mean to eat less, eat less meat, and eat things that you find underground. By avoiding meat and fats from McDonalds, a person can avoid all those types of cancers that all the poor people, ie Tarahumara and various Indian tribes in far away places (and the Japanese until they met the BigMac), don't have.

But I got thinking.
First, do the Peruvians or Tarahumara Indians consider themselves poor? That's a lengthy discussion not to be had here.

Second, McDougall spends a considerable time positing a theory that man developed as a long distance runner in order to enable him to more efficiently hunt animals. Early man needed lots of meat for his growing brain. I don't understand when these far-away tribes traded in their hunting and gathering of meat in exchange for cancer-free, low cholesterol, low blood-pressure living?

Third, I've met a few poor people. Most have been on the streets in Minneapolis or Chicago. I've seen photos of poor people in Calcutta and Mexico City. My best guess is that most poor people find some of their food in dumpsters, or as hand-outs, or steal it, or find it in a black plastic bag in an open city dump. I would venture to say that poor does not equate with healthy eating.

I recently finished reading "Grapes of Wrath." The Joad family was poor. They ate dough, dropped in boiling grease, for breakfast. They ate cheap, greasy hamburger purchased from the plantation store. Hard biscuits. Bacon and bacon gravy. Coffee, lots of coffee. With sugar, lots of sugar. Sometimes, they didn't eat. Near the end, they were eating peaches off the trees they picked. In the end, all they had was breast milk.

I really like "Born to Run." It's written very well, he very accurately tells the story of some aspects of ultra running, and I am learning many new things. However, I don't think I will take McDougall's advice to eat like a poor person.


Steve said...

I strongly disagree with the thought that eating meat and fat causes cancer. Very disappointed to hear the author felt this way.

Funny how meat and fat always get pointed to as the culprit to poor health when fast food gets introduced to cultures. When in fact, it's the introduction of starchy and sugary processed foods (coke and fries with that?) which cause poor health conditions such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Anonymous said...

What McDougall means by eating as a poor person is that one should focus on eating non-processed foods with less of an emphasis on meat.

On your second point, the meat that early humans were eating was lean meat, such as kudu or wildebeest, which has less fat and cholesterol, and they had to track it down themselves, which involved a great deal of physical activity that canceled out the cholesterol and blood pressure risks of eating meat.

With you third point and the Grapes of Wrath examples, you're stretching the semantics of what McDougall meant by "poor." Those in the cities of Calcutta or in the Grapes of Wrath are destitute, not poor. Poor in the context of McDougall means that one can obtain a healthy diet, but afford the processed foods mentioned in the comment by Steve.

In other words, eat whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and occasionally some lean meat, and you'll be good. I've always liked the saying "shop only in the perimeter of the supermarket" which focuses on the produce, butcher, and bakery sections of the store and avoids most all of the processed foods.