My previous post dealt with Morgan Spurlock’s recent confession that he’s been a drunk, a womanizer and a sexual harasser. He now promises to be part of the solution. Well, gee, that’s great. Here’s how he and all men can be “part of the solution”: don’t act like a jackass when you’re around women.  Don’t attempt to have sex with women who aren’t actually attracted to you, and if you’re married, don’t cheat on your wife.  It’s not that difficult to figure out.

If you watched the Golden Globe awards on Sunday (I didn’t), you know the rich and famous women of Hollywood wore black dresses and gave rousing speeches to publicly demonstrate their outrage over all that sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. They were, of course, praised for their courage by a mostly-fawning press.

Sorry, but I’m not impressed. According to what I’ve read, Harvey Weinstein’s status as a sexual predator was the worst-kept secret in Hollywood. Many of the women courageously donning $10,000 designer black dresses on Sunday night had to know, yet did nothing when Weinstein was still sitting atop the industry and could boost or bust careers.

Rose McGowan, the actress who had enough spine to call him out (and whose story was spiked by some of our “speak truth to power” journalists because they were afraid of Weinstein) wasn’t impressed either. As CBS reported:

Rose McGowan is still unimpressed with the black dress protest at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards. The outspoken actress claimed that all of the stars at the Golden Globes wearing black in protest against sexual harassment would not have done so if it weren’t for her.

Yup. Wearing a black dress and giving a rousing speech now, after years of remaining silent, is kind of like running out from the crowd to kick Goliath in the groin after David hurled the fatal stone, then patting yourself on the back for your bravery. I mean seriously, am I supposed to cheer for Meryl Streep and her black dress and her righteous speeches now, when she once stood and cheered for director Roman Polanski after he was convicted of drugging and raping a teenage girl?! Pardon me if I remain seated.

Perhaps you’re wondering how Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and all those other walking penises got away with it for so long. As someone who lived in Hollywood and worked in and around the entertainment industry, I can make an educated guess.

Here’s the brief version: the entertainment industry (including TV news) is a universe in which 1) a disproportionate number of powerful people at the top are amoral sociopaths, and 2) a disproportionate number of the people who aren’t at or near the top are so desperate for success, they’ll do or put up with almost anything.

In other words, it’s a perfect environment for abuse.

You can find various definitions of sociopath on the internet, but I like this list of traits:

  • Having an oversized ego.
  • Lying and exhibiting manipulative behavior.
  • Exhibiting a lack of empathy.
  • Showing a lack of remorse or shame.
  • Behaving irresponsibly or with extreme impulsivity.
  • Having few real friends.
  • Being charming—but only superficially.
  • Living by the “pleasure principle.”
  • Showing disregard for societal norms.

Doesn’t that sound rather a lot like some Hollywood bigshots we could all name?

There are, of course, some very nice people at the top in showbiz. I’ve yet to hear anyone say a bad word about Tom Hanks, for example. But as Chareva and I both noticed during our years in the L.A. area, something about the entertainment industry seems to both attract and reward a particular type of aggressive, amoral, me-first personality.

I’ll give you just one example from my corner of the entertainment industry, standup comedy. I’m actually talking about a couple of famous comedians (whose names I won’t reveal, so don’t ask), but the story is similar in each case, so we’ll just roll them into one guy named Freddy Funny.

When Freddy Funny first appeared in comedy clubs in Los Angeles, he already had a killer act. There’s a good reason for that: while working the comedy-club circuit around the country before moving to L.A., he wrote down the best bits of every comedian he worked with. Then he went to L.A. with an act that could have been titled The Best Of The Club-Circuit Comedians.

His punishment for stealing material that other comedians had meticulously written, worked and reworked was to become a TV star. After all, agents and producers saw him slaying audiences. Eventually, word got around that Freddy routinely stole his material from unknown comedians. Nobody cared. Freddy was a star now with millions of fans. His presence in a show drew the numbers that make producers rich.

I was first warned about Freddy by other comedians. “If you’re about to try that great new bit on stage and you see Freddy in the back of the room, don’t do it. Switch to your old material, finish your time, and get off the stage.”

“Why would I want to do that?” I asked. “Wouldn’t it help my career if Freddy Funny saw me and liked my stuff?”

“No, it will hurt your career. Because you’ll turn on The Tonight Show or The Letterman Show some night, and Freddy will be doing your best bit. Then you’ll have to drop it from your act, because audiences will think you stole it from him instead of the other way around.”

Eventually, a comedian who was outraged at hearing his best bit come out of Freddy’s mouth on TV cornered Freddy in a club, punched him in the face, and shoved him down a flight of stairs. After that, Freddy’s manager routinely paid the victims of Freddy’s thefts for their silence. But of course, the thefts continued … because despite the millions of fans who considered a Freddy a brilliant comedian, the guy never did learn to write a good act.

When Freddy died – one of them, anyway – some comedians posted an inside joke beneath his obituary in a showbiz magazine: When Freddy Funny died, a little bit of all of us died with him.

Keep in mind I never personally met Freddy, so I’m passing on what I was told by quite a few other comedians. But I did have a personal experience with a comedy thief. I was the headliner in a small club many years ago, and the opener was okay but not exactly rocking the house. About a year later, I worked another club where he was opening, and he seemed to have really improved. And yet some of his material seemed familiar … and then one of my best bits came out of his mouth.

I didn’t say anything to him, but went ahead and did the same bit in my act. When the audience responded with quizzical looks and a few nervous chuckles, I said, “Yeah, I know, you just heard that bit about an hour ago, right? Which is weird, because I wrote it.”

At that point, the opener left the club instead of fulfilling his duty to come up on stage after the show to wish the audience a good night and send them on their way. With such an a-hole attitude, I’m surprised he didn’t end up as a TV star.

It’s not just performers who lie, cheat and steal. As you may recall, the first two distributors for Fat Head never paid us. One of them sold the film to TV markets around the world, but reported zero profit because of huge and unexplained expenses – for a film I produced and financed out of my own pocket. (Gravitas, our current distributor, is one of the good guys, by the way. They send regular quarterly checks and document the rare expenses they charge against the film’s sales.)

Bottom line: the glamor of showbiz lures a lot people who have no qualms about lying, cheating, stealing or screwing other people — literally or figuratively. And those at the top, the ones who can make or break careers, have access to plenty of people who will put up with being abused.

That’s where the desperate-to-make-it aspect comes in.

When Chareva and I first moved to Hollywood, her sister – who at the time was a documentary producer and knew quite a few industry people – gave us a friendly warning about relationships among showbiz types. Dating isn’t really dating; it’s a career move. People jump into bed with whoever might open doors for them. Same for friendships; if you’re in a position to boost careers, you’ll have more new “friends” than you can handle – which in turn makes you suspicious of anyone who wants to be your friend.

I saw that from both angles. Some years ago, I was in a sketch-comedy show at a small theater near Burbank. After our opening night, we went out to celebrate at a local pub. One of the actresses had a friend with her, a middle-aged woman. I ended up chatting a bit with the friend and eventually asked what she did for a living.

After just a hint of hesitation, she replied, “I’m a photographer.” She seemed uncomfortable, so I didn’t ask any more questions about her profession.

Later I said something about “your photographer friend” to the actress.

“My what friend?”

“Your photographer friend. She was with you at the cast party after opening night.”

“She’s not a photographer. She’s a director.”

“Why didn’t she just say that?”

“Because if she tells people she’s a director, they start schmoozing with her, hoping she can give them an acting job.”

The year before we moved, I was in an acting workshop I’d been attending for several weeks. One of the actors and I had become chit-chat friendly, and he asked if I’d done any standup shows recently. I told him I’d given up the comedy gigs for the time being and was shooting some footage for an independent film I wrote, a comedy-documentary of sorts.

Boom, next thing I know, a pretty young actress-wannabe who had never spoken to me before was chatting me up and being very friendly – and of course, she handed me a copy of her headshot and resume.

I had no interest in her, but I’m guessing I could have asked her out for a drink right then, despite the wedding ring on my finger.  I was a nobody, but I was shooting a film, so she suddenly found me interesting.  Imagine what a Harvey Weinstein could do.  Well, you don’t have to imagine anymore.

People in the industry just seemed to accept this as normal. I once attended a workshop run by a brutally honest casting director. He’d worked in various aspects of the industry, including a brief stint as a producer.

“I never actually got anything produced, but having Producer on my business card made it easy to pick up girls,” he said, prompting chuckles in the room. Ha-ha. I don’t doubt it.

During Q&A, a good-looking wannabe actress asked him (perhaps speaking from experience) what she should do if a big-name producer decided to put his hand on her thigh during an audition.

“If you’re smart and you want the role, you’ll reach out and pat his hand with yours,” he replied.

Like I said, brutally honest. And that, of course, is why Harvey Weinstein got away with it for so long. Actors desperately want the next role. Agents desperately want their actors to get the next role. Writers desperately want their scripts produced. Directors, designers, composers, whatever, countless people fighting for a spot in the industry are desperate.

That includes many people who, to mere mortals, already appear successful. I found that to be one of the most disturbing aspects of the whole showbiz culture: almost everyone seemed to be suffering from some degree of career frustration. Actors who actually had roles on TV shows were frustrated because they wanted to be acting in films. Actors who were in films were frustrated because they wanted to be in the meaningful films, or wanted top billing. I remember reading an interview with Alec Baldwin in which he said he felt like a failure as an actor because he never got the kind of meaningful roles he wanted. I kid you not.

Same goes for directors, producers, agents, you name it. Below the tippy-top of the industry, it seemed damned near everyone was in a constant career-climbing, claw-my-way-to-the-top mode. Chareva and I used to wonder if that’s why there are so many incredibly rude and angry drivers in L.A. They’re frustrated by the traffic, but more frustrated by their careers … or lack of careers.

The desire to be discovered prompted some truly strange behavior.  Chareva and I were having dinner at a restaurant for one of our anniversaries, and an adolescent boy at another table was annoying the crap out of other diners by singing show tunes — and his parents were encouraging him.  They apparently hoped a producer would be somewhere in the restaurant and sign junior to a three-picture deal.

I once filled in for Chareva and took Alana to a dance class.  While I was sitting in a waiting room with other parents, a young dad was reading to a toddler whose older sibling was in the dance class.  I noticed with growing irritation that the young dad was reading way too loudly and with way too much expression.  Is this guy deaf?  Does he think his toddler is deaf?  And then it hit me: he’s an actor, and he’s acting the character parts — loudly, just in case one of us might be a producer or agent or whatever.

Meanwhile, my Midwest friends working in other fields were nothing like the people I met in L.A. My friend who set out to be an attorney as a young man was one – a partner in a prestigious firm, in fact. My buddy who wanted to work in finance was a manager for an investment firm in Chicago. My pal who wanted to teach yoga owned a yoga studio. No desperate, never-ending career-climbing for them. They had achieved their primary goals and were enjoying life.  If Kevin Spacey had grabbed one of them by the privates, they would have punched him in the nose, not complain to a manager who would tell them to keep quiet because Spacey has serious mojo in Hollywood.

I wasn’t aware of any specific sexual abuse at the time, but I was keenly aware of the toxic combination of desperate wannabes and amoral sociopaths in power positions. I suspected there plenty of people engaging in Harvey Weinstein behavior. I just didn’t know their names yet.

So there I was in 2008, with Fat Head done and in the hands of distributors who would later rip me off. I looked out the window of our townhouse one afternoon and saw my girls “playing outside” on the little strip of grass in front of our building.

That’s when it hit me:

This is going to be their childhood. They’re going to be L.A. kids.  They’re never going to just run around outdoors unsupervised, because parents don’t let kids do that around here.  As they grow up, they’re going to be surrounded by all those desperate, career-climbing, attention-seeking, needy people in the industry. And if, heaven forbid, they get caught up in the culture and want to be actresses, there’s a chance they’ll be meeting the amoral slimeballs who prey on pretty young actresses.

And why am I here? Because I love being a writer and entertainer and want to do it for a living. But what would that mean? It would mean working with a lot of people I don’t like, people whose me-first, aggressive personalities and loony-lefty politics (which they seem compelled to preach about at every opportunity) make me want to vomit — all so I can perhaps someday make enough money as an entertainer to afford a nice house with a big yard in a state run by big-government morons who are spending it into bankruptcy.

Holy crap … I’m an idiot. I know now I could have made Fat Head while living almost anywhere, and yet I’m still in a part of the country dominated by a bat-shit-crazy culture I’ve come to loathe.

So we moved to Tennessee. And the big yard is pretty nice indeed.

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Just before I took a holiday vacation from blogging, several readers and Twitter followers alerted me to news stories about Morgan Spurlock confessing to being a sexual harasser. Here’s an example from a BBC article online:

US documentary film-maker Morgan Spurlock has publicly confessed to a history of sexual misconduct, referring to himself as “part of the problem”.

Spurlock, who made the hit film Super Size Me, wrote on Twitter that he had been accused of rape and had paid to settle a claim of sexual harassment.

He also admitted cheating on “every wife and girlfriend I have ever had”.

Sounds like an awesome guy. And here I thought he only cheated on his Super Size Me rules.

Truth is, Spurlock being who he is, my first thought was that his confession would turn out to be part of an upcoming publicity stunt. But three weeks have passed and I haven’t seen a promo for Morgan Spurlock Spends 30 Days Acting Like A Dick, so perhaps the confession and regret are genuine. Let’s read on.

In a lengthy statement, Spurlock said that after months of such revelations he had come to the conclusion that “I am not some innocent bystander, I am also a part of the problem”.

“As I sit around watching hero after hero, man after man, fall at the realisation of their past indiscretions, I don’t sit by and wonder ‘who will be next?’ I wonder, ‘when will they come for me?’,” he wrote.

So now I’m wondering if the confession and apparent regret were a calculated decision to pre-empt any headlines by making his own first. Anyway …

He said the allegations of rape took place at college. It did not lead to charges or investigations but he said the woman had written about the incident in a story writing class and had named Spurlock.

The settlement for alleged harassment involved a female employee and took place about eight years ago, he said.

“It wasn’t a gropy, feely harassment. It was verbal, and it was just as bad,” he wrote.

“I would call my female assistant ‘hot pants’ or ‘sex pants’ when I was yelling to her from the other side of the office. Something I thought was funny at the time, but then realised I had completely demeaned and belittled her to a place of non-existence.”

Spurlock, 47, said that when the woman decided to leave she asked for a settlement in return for her silence.

“Being who I was, it was the last thing I wanted, so of course I paid,” he said.

“I paid for peace of mind. I paid for her silence and co-operation. Most of all, I paid so I could remain who I was.”

I may raise a poop-storm by saying this, but I think we need to be careful of sliding into a witch-hunt mentality on the sexual harassment front. Yes, calling a female assistant “sex pants” is stupid and shouldn’t be tolerated. But let’s not put that into the same category as actually groping a woman or promising her a role in a film in return for sex.

The part of Spurlock’s confession I found most interesting was this:

“I haven’t been sober for more than a week in 30 years, something our society doesn’t shun or condemn but which only served to fill the emotional hole inside me and the daily depression I coped with,” he wrote.

Hmmm … remember those rules he established at the beginning of Super Size Me? One of them was that he’d only eat and drink what McDonald’s sold. In fact, in one scene he refused to drink water because McDonald’s didn’t sell water at the time.

He wouldn’t drink water, but apparently he drank enough alcohol to get drunk at least once a week while spending 30 days buying all his meals at McDonald’s. So much for the rules – which, as I demonstrated in Fat Head, he couldn’t have followed anyway. Given the theme of Super Size Me, I’m surprised he didn’t blame his alcohol problem on the liquor stores for selling him too much liquor. It’s those darned super-sized McScotches, ya see. Perhaps he should have made this documentary instead:

You may also recall the scene in Super Size Me in which a doctor tells Spurlock he’s developed a fatty liver. I thought the doctor was a bit of an idiot for blaming the fatty liver on fatty foods instead of all that sugar Spurlock was slugging down at McDonald’s. Now I also think the doctor should have asked, “By the way, Mr. Spurlock, have you been getting drunk at least once per week for the past couple of decades?  Because that will definitely trash your liver.”

Anyway, I can’t say I’m surprised. When I first watched Super Size Me, my impression of Spurlock was that he’s a good entertainer, but also full of @#$% — or full of bologna, as I put it in Fat Head. Based on his recent revelations, I’ll update that opinion and say he’s a lying, cheating, womanizing drunk. Put him in prison for a spell or kick him off a train, and he could be the subject of a country song.

Sexual harassment in Hollywood isn’t exactly a health topic, but as someone who lived in Hollywood and worked in and around the entertainment industry, I have some opinions on why it went on for so long.  The reasons are directly related to why I left Los Angeles for Tennessee.  I’ll get into those next time.

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I hope you all had a terrific holiday season. Mine was pretty enjoyable, considering I’m still feeling post-surgical pain in the shoulder and am limited in my activities. I can tie my own shoes and button my own shirts now, so at least I don’t feel like an overgrown toddler.

Now that Chareva’s parents live here instead of just outside Chicago, we stayed home for the holidays. We used to make a triangle trip every year; first to central Illinois to visit my family, then on Chicago visit hers. I won’t miss making those drives.

Perhaps the best present we received was the surprise news that Chareva’s younger brother Alex bought a house in Franklin. He has a baby daughter who’s as adorable as adorable gets. Now we know we’ll get to see her grow up. My girls are already lining up for future baby-sitting duties.

Last we’d heard, Alex and his wife were planning to live in either Portland or the Chicago area. The whole time he was looking at and bidding on a house about 10 miles from us, he managed to keep it a secret. Fortunately, his wife had a video camera running when he broke the news by giving keys to the new house to Chareva and her mom. Their reactions were priceless. You can bet that scene made it into the DVD I create at the end of each year.

Speaking of which, I just managed to finish all the video editing and get the DVD done before my vacation ended. Here’s a sample, the video I put together to commemorate the low-carb cruise to Alaska:

Jimmy and Christine Moore arrived a few days before Christmas and left on Christmas day. The weather is certainly better around Thanksgiving, but it was nice to spend a Christmas with them for a change. As far as my girls are concerned, Jimmy and Christine are Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Christine. The more family around on Christmas, the better.

We managed to squeeze in a few rounds of disc golf, but agreed not to make them part of the official record. It was cold outside, and we played after rains had soaked the pastures. Between the slippin’ and slidin’ and my post-surgery weakness, I didn’t exactly rack up impressive scores. Jimmy whooped me quite convincingly in the last two rounds, but he’s such a good friend, he only mentioned it a couple dozen times. (Just kidding, Bro.)

I finally got around to writing down plans for the new year yesterday. I’m not against New Year’s resolutions, but as I’ve mentioned before, I think too many people go about them in a way that sets them up to fail – that is, they make promises in terms of results (I’m going to lose 30 pounds by June) instead of actions (I’m going to follow this-or-that diet and exercise plan). Take it from an old guy: you can control your actions, but you can’t control the results.

I know what my diet plans are, but of course the exercise plans at this point boil down to Whatever the surgeon and physical therapist say I can do. If I had my way, I’d be at lifting at the gym tomorrow, since the atrophy on my left side is already becoming obvious. I made the mistake of flexing both arms in front of a mirror over the weekend to see what they’d tell me. The right arm said Adult Male. The left arm said Probably Hasn’t Started Shaving Yet.

I had a follow-up visit with the surgeon today and asked what I can do for upper-body exercise. The short answer is: almost nothing outside of physical therapy. The physical therapist told me I’ll start working out with weights in another couple of weeks. The “workout” will consist of curling two-pound dumbbells. I saw the two-pound dumbbells sitting in a rack nearby. They’re pink.

Pink?! Seriously? Am I required to wear a skirt as well? Next thing you know, I’ll start crying during the she’s-going-to-lose-him scene in chick-flicks and stopping to ask directions if I’m lost. I may need to watch a Schwarzenegger film or two every weekend just to maintain a sense of balance.

My main goal in the upcoming months is, of course, to finish the film version of Fat Head Kids. That one’s very much under my control, and I know I can get it done … even with a left bicep that looks like it belongs to an adolescent.

Happy 2018, everyone.

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I haven’t exactly been a posting machine these past few months, but nonetheless it’s time for me to call it a year.  I need to make tracks on the film version of Fat Head Kids, plus I’ve got my annual end-of-the-year project (a DVD of family memories) to start soon.  Jimmy and Christine Moore will be popping in for a few days as well.  Weather permitting, we’ll get in a few rounds of disc golf. I haven’t had a disc in my hands since a couple of weeks before the surgery and I already feel a bit weaker from the lack of exercise, so this may be Jimmy’s chance to kick my butt out there.

Anyway, I’ll see you again in 2018.  In the meantime, here’s a holiday post I wrote some years ago.  Relative newcomers probably haven’t seen it.  I wish you all a wonderful holiday season.

————————————-

Twas the night before statins, and all through the land
Our lipids were lethal, as we’d soon understand.
Our eggs were all stacked in the fridge with great care
In hopes they’d be scrambled, or fried if we dare.

The children were calm and well-fed in their beds,
While visions of sausages danced in their heads.
The dads, mostly lean, and wives often thinner
Had just settled down for a porterhouse dinner.

When out in the world there arose such a clatter,
They sprang from their plates to see what was the matter,
And what on the cover of TIME should appear,
But an arrogant scientist, peddling fear.

Cheers and belief from an ignorant press
Gave a luster of truth to the new, biased mess.
So away to the doctor we flew in a pack,
In hopes of a plan to end heart attacks.

He was dressed in all white from his neck to his butt
(which conveniently hid the size of his gut).
He sat us all down for a well-meaning chat:
“More carbohydrates — avoid all that fat!”

So sugars and starches we passed through our lips,
Only to wear them on bellies and hips.
Our hearts with their plaques continued to swell,
We grew diabetic and weren’t feeling well.

The doctor announced it was likely our fault —
We were, after all, still eating salt.
“But there’s no other option,” he said with shrug,
And pulled out his pad to prescribe some new drugs.

“Now Crestor! Now Zocor! Then Lipitor next!
Now Lipex! Now Lescol, and best take Plavix!
To the depths of the liver! To the artery wall!
Force it down, force it down, foul cholesterol!”

Our appetites crazed, we soon looked like blimps.
Our children lost focus, our manhood went limp.
The doctor examined joints now wracked with pain
And concluded the patients were old or insane.

He chose Celebrex for muscles that ache,
And added Cialis to the drugs we should take.
“Now stick to your diet, and be of good cheer,
If this doesn’t work, I’ll do lap-band next year!”

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I suspected my post about the real Inuit diet would draw a few howls online, and I was right. There are people in the low-carb world I think of as vegans-in-reverse: instead of insisting that humans aren’t designed to eat meat, nobody actually needs meat, and eating any kind of meat is bad for you, they insist that humans aren’t designed to eat plants, nobody actually needs any plant foods, and eating any kind of plant food is bad for you.

Sheesh.

If you’re on all-meat diet and it’s working for you, great. But it’s one thing to say an all-meat diet works for you and quite another to insist that our paleo ancestors didn’t eat plants and therefore nobody – absolutely NOBODY, you understand – needs any plant foods to be healthy. When I commented on Facebook that many plants provide micronutrients we need to be healthy, someone even labeled it as an excuse to eat carbs.

An excuse to eat carbs? Seriously? We don’t need an “excuse” to eat whole, unprocessed plant foods that contain carbohydrates any more than we need an “excuse” to eat meat. That’s what I mean by the vegan-in-reverse mentality:  in the eyes of some people, eating any plant foods at all is apparently a moral failure.  Give me a break.

Short of building a time machine and zipping on back to paleo times, I don’t suppose we can prove what paleo humans ate or didn’t eat. But I’m convinced Paleo Man included plants in his diet. Here are a few reasons:

Our nearest relatives

Humans share about 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees. We’re not directly descended from them, but according to the genome project, we almost certainly split off from a common ancestor. Vegans like to insist that chimps are vegetarians, and therefore we should be vegetarians too. That’s wrong, of course. Chimps hunt and eat meat. But they’re still omnivores who get most of their calories from plant foods.

Eating meat allowed us to develop bigger brains and become human. But I find it difficult to believe that after evolving from plant-eating apes, we rejected plant foods entirely once we became proficient hunters, and then suddenly started eating plants again 15,000 years ago. It seems a wee bit more logical to assume we added meat to a diet that continued to include plants.

Hunter-gatherers

More than 200 hunter-gatherer societies were discovered and studied in relatively modern times. These were people who hadn’t previously been exposed to civilization and were living a stone-age lifestyle. They all ate meat or fish or both. They also gathered and ate plants – even the Inuit ate certain plants when they could find them.

According to Loren Cordain’s studies, carbohydrates made up 20% to 40% of the diet in most hunter-gatherer societies. Good luck doing that eating nothing but meat. So once again, I find it more than a little difficult to believe that Paleo Man ate no plants whatsoever, but people living essentially a paleo lifestyle in modern times did.

Yes, yes, yes, I can hear the reply in cyberspace already: yeah, but humans only ate plants when they hunted the big game to extinction and ran short of meat!

Sorry, but that is simply not true.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was fascinated with Native Americans for years and read a ton of books about them. I still read one now and then. A book I read a couple of years ago described how the buffalo-hunting Sioux would get together with their Eastern cousins and trade buffalo meat and hides for foods like pumpkins and squash.

If you’re trading away meat for squash, it means you want the squash.  It’s not a meat-shortage survival strategy.  Until the “civilized” buffalo-hunters came along and nearly wiped out the herds, there were a shootload of buffalo living on the Great Plains. I doubt the Sioux ever ran short of meat. I’ve also read that the buffalo-hunting Sioux ate wild berries, spinach, turnips and potatoes. No meat shortage, and yet they ate plant foods.

One reader on Facebook suggested I watch a speech by Dr. Mike Eades, claiming it provides slam-dunk evidence that early humans lived on an all-meat diet. So I watched the speech, which was excellent, of course. But the evidence Dr. Eades presented (much of which focused on analysis of stable isotopes) only proves that early humans ate a heck of a lot of meat, both from herbivores and carnivores. It proves they were top-level hunters. It doesn’t prove – and wasn’t intended to prove – that they stopped eating plants.

In fact, in one section of the speech, Dr. Eades talked about a study of Native American skeletons found in Kentucky. One group of skeletons came from hunters who lived nearly 3,500 years ago – 3,000 years before Europeans showed up. Another group of skeletons came from agriculturalists who lived 1,500 years ago and ate a lot of maize. The hunters were healthier in all kinds of ways – watch the speech if you’re interested. But what struck me was this slide:

The hunters ate a variety of meats, but also gathered and ate grapes, acorns, blackberries, sunflowers and hickory nuts. Again, I sincerely doubt they only gathered those foods when they ran short of meat, because I doubt they ever ran out of meat.

Kentucky and Tennessee have similar weather and terrain. Even with the encroachment of civilization, we have plenty of deer and other animals tromping around our area year-round. Heck, we hit a deer recently while driving home. Lots of people around here end up with damaged vehicles because of deer collisions. Just this week, Chareva spotted three deer carcasses along the highway near our home. And as you know if you read my farm-report posts, there’s no shortage of raccoons around here.

In Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes describes how early European explorers described much of the planet as a “paradise for hunting,” with large and small game present in almost unimaginable numbers. I’m pretty sure that applied to the dense forest that’s now Kentucky. The Native American hunters in that area didn’t eat grapes and blackberries because they ran out of meat. They ate them because of …

Our taste buds

If you’ve seen Fat Head, you may remember this line: Mother Nature isn’t stupid. She didn’t make human beings the only species on earth who prefers foods that will kill us.

The whole idea behind paleo diets is that we have to eat the kinds of foods that Nature, through evolution, designed us to eat. We put it this way in the Fat Head Kids book:

The Nautilus was programmed to choose the right fuels and building materials automatically. Inside the FUD hatch, special sensors send messages to The Brain that say This is what the ship needs. You experience those messages as This Tastes Good.

When humans hunted and gathered their food, this app worked perfectly. Our taste for sweets told us to eat fruits and sweet-tasting vegetables like carrots and squashes. Our taste for fats told us to eat olives, nuts, eggs and meats. Our taste for salts told us to eat meats and seafood. Our taste for spices told us to eat plants that were full of vitamins and minerals.

Those are the flavors we naturally seek: sweet, fatty, salty and spicy. Good luck finding sweet and spicy flavors in an all-animal-foods diet. We like sweet and spicy foods because in a natural environment (not a processed-food environment), those tastes lead to us foods that provide micronutrients.

Here’s a slide from a lecture by Chris Kresser on the nutrient density of foods:

Yup, meats – especially organ meats – are nutrient-dense, which is why we should eat them. But please notice that herbs, spices, nuts and seeds are more nutrient-dense than beef, seafood and wild game. Many vegetables are more nutrient-dense than pork, eggs and poultry.

When I mentioned our natural desire for sweet and spicy foods, a reader on Facebook retorted with something along the lines of, Well, we only like fruits and other sweet foods now because we bred them over the centuries to be bigger and sweeter than they were in paleo times.

So let’s think about this …. you’re Paleo Man, supposedly a pure carnivore with no inborn desire for sweet foods. And yet you decide to breed fruit to contain even more of a flavor you don’t naturally like. How does that make any sense?

Humans don’t eat tree bark because it’s not a natural food for us and therefore doesn’t have a flavor we naturally enjoy. Would we start eating (and perhaps over-eating) tree bark if someone bred trees that grew really, really big and chewy bark? I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t. We bred animals to be fatter because we naturally love the taste of fat, and we bred fruit to be sweeter because we naturally like sweet foods.

Yes, the makers of processed foods have hijacked our taste for sweet foods to sell us donuts, candies, sodas, Pop-Tarts, Frosted Flakes, Twizzlers, gummy bears and countless other junk. But you can’t hijack a desire that doesn’t already exist.

My cat is an actual carnivore. He wouldn’t touch a donut if I offered it to him. Heck, even though he loves meat, he won’t touch spicy meats like pepperoni. Why? BECAUSE HE’S AN ACTUAL CARNIVORE. His brain tells him not to bother with sweet or spicy flavors, which come from plants.

Someone pointed out that his cat will eat dry cat food made from grains. Yup, so will mine. But only because the food-taste scientists managed make grain-based cat food appeal to a carnivore’s taste buds. If you don’t believe me, take a bite of some dry cat food. I promise it won’t taste sweet or spicy. You could fill my cat’s plate with bananas, berries, potatoes, bread sticks, tomatoes and broccoli drizzled with butter and he wouldn’t eat any of it. He wouldn’t eat gummy bears either, even though they’re super-sweet. Once again, you can’t hijack a desire that doesn’t already exist.

If Nature designed humans to be pure carnivores, we wouldn’t like sweet and spicy foods. And yet we do. And therefore it makes no sense to insist that paleo humans wouldn’t have gathered and eaten plant foods that were available, tasted good, and provided nutrients.

The AMY1 gene

All humans carry the AMY1 gene, which enables our bodies to digest starch. Some people have just one copy of the gene, while others carry up to 15 copies. The average among humans is six copies, whereas the average among chimpanzees is two. If we share a common ancestor with chimps, but then evolved into our human form on plant-free diets, why the heck would most humans carry more copies of the starch-eating gene than chimps, who live mostly on plant foods? That makes no sense.

Research strongly suggests that people with fewer copies of the AMY1 gene are more likely to have blood-sugar problems and gain weight on a starchy diet. Fair enough. That’s evidence that some of us have to limit our intake of starches. But if we’re all descended from paleo ancestors who lived on meat-only diets, there’s no logical reason we’d carry the AMY1 gene at all – and certainly no reason for some people to carry 15 copies.

If the reply is something like Well, humans probably only started carrying more copies of the AMY1 gene after we started farming, then it means our bodies were reprogrammed rather dramatically in the past 15,000 years. The whole idea behind paleo, of course, is that we’re virtually the same as our paleo ancestors and therefore need to eat like them.

Can’t have it both ways. Biologically, we’re either nearly identical to our paleo ancestors, or we’re not. If we are, then Paleo Man carried the genes to digest starch. If we’re not, then what Paleo Man did or didn’t eat doesn’t matter all that much.

The effects of zero-carb diets

Some people do well on zero-carb diets. But other people don’t. They get the symptoms Paul Jaminet described in his Perfect Health Diet book. They get dry eyes. Their thyroids slow down. Their cortisol levels go up. Their production of sex hormones declines.

I didn’t read the back-and-forth debate between Jaminet and Dr. Ron Rosedale on safe starches until a few years ago, but when I did read it, I found Jaminet’s arguments more convincing.

Rosedale, for example, doesn’t deny that a glucose deficiency can slow down the thyroid, but offered this explanation:

Glucose scarcity (deficiency may be a misnomer) elicits an evolutionary response to perceived low fuel availability. This results in a shift in genetic expression to allow that organism to better survive the perceived famine…. As part of this genetic expression, and as part and parcel of nature’s mechanism to allow the maintenance of health and actually reduce the rate of aging, certain events will take place as seen in caloric restricted animals. These include a reduction in serum glucose, insulin, leptin, and free T3. The reduction in free T3 is of great benefit, reducing temperature, metabolic damage and decreasing catabolism.

So yes, your thyroid may slow down, but Rosedale insists that’s good for longevity. Hmmm. If you’re struggling to lose that last 50 pounds, a “healthy” slower thyroid isn’t going to help. Neither is the reduction in leptin. Losing weight requires being in a catabolic state, so you can guess what “decreasing catabolism” means as far as weight loss.

As for the reduction in sex hormones, Rosedale replied with this:

If we evolved in a certain way and with certain physiologic responses to the way we eat, it was not for a long, healthy, post-reproductive lifespan. It was for reproductive success. The two are not at all synonymous, in fact often antagonistic.

Just roll that one around in your brain for a minute. Rosedale doesn’t deny that your sex hormones will decline, but insists it’s a worthwhile tradeoff for longevity. Jaminet does a good job of disputing that lower-is-always-better when it comes to glucose and longevity, but that’s not the point. If long-term, drastic restriction of glucose doesn’t support “reproductive success,” it can’t be the diet that allowed us to win the game called Survival of The Fittest.

If we’re all descended from and virtually identical to paleo ancestors who lived on all-meat diets, then almost nobody would suffer ill effects from a zero-carb diet – which, of course, is what an all-meat diet is. And yet many people don’t do well at all on a diet that includes no plants and no carbohydrates.

That’s because their paleo ancestors ate plants and at least some carbohydrates. Jumping up and down and insisting that anyone who doesn’t feel awesome and healthy on all-meat diet just isn’t doing it right! is thinking and acting like a vegan-in-reverse.  That doesn’t help the cause.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to go enjoy a dinner of beef, broccoli and roasted squash with onions … but if you happen to have any buffalo meat, I’ll trade you some squash for it.

 

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I’m working on a longer post that’s related to my previous post about the real Inuit diet. That’ll come later. A chunk of my time today was taken up with a follow-up visit with the surgeon. Since some of you asked for an update, here it is:

According to both the surgeon and the physical therapist, I’m healing as expected. The day-to-day pain level has dropped almost off the charts. I get an ache in the shoulder or bicep now and then, but it’s nothing an ibuprofen and a cold pack can’t handle.

There are exceptions.  Twice in the previous week I woke up with a stronger, throbbing pain around the bicep and had to pop a Percocet to go back to sleep. I suspect that’s just the result of me struggling against the sling while I sleep. The surgeon wasn’t at all concerned when I mentioned it.

The good news is that I can start removing the sling when I’m working at home. I just have to remember not to actually lift anything with my left arm. He suggested I still wear the sling when I leave the house, partly to restrain my own movements and partly to signal other people not to bump into me.

The really good news is that I no longer have to wear the damned thing while sleeping. Hallelujah. Trying to get a decent night’s sleep has been one of the worst parts of the whole experience. If you videotaped me sleeping normally and sped it up for playback, I’d look something like a fish tossed ashore. I turn and roll and flop into different positions. (Chareva’s worse. She also kicks and steals blankets.)

Turning and rolling and flopping was apparently a real threat to the reattached bicep tendon at first, so for the 30-plus nights since surgery, I’ve had to sleep sitting up, surrounded by pillows to keep me in that position, with my arm pinned to my side in the sling.

I didn’t have any trouble sleeping like that when I was still knocking myself out with Percocet before bed, but it’s a different story now that I’m off the painkillers. I sleep for a few hours, wake up feeling stiff and cramped and wanting to just roll the hell over already, get out of bed, utter a few curses known only to weekend hobby farmers who’ve had surgery, crawl back into bed, re-assume the sitting position, then try to sleep again.  I’m usually awake for at least an hour.

No sling tonight. No sitting up in a pillow throne. I don’t remember the last time I looked forward to crawling into bed this much.  There was probably lingerie involved.

I already feel a bit like the Pillsbury Dough Boy from the lack of exercise, so I asked the surgeon what I can and can’t do at this point. I’ve got the green light to work my legs at the gym, but that’s it. No upper-body exercise at all.

Dangit. That’s what I expected, but dangit anyway. The physical therapist told me that after surgery for a torn bicep, it’s a very slow buildup to exercise. It usually takes about a year to return to full strength.

Sheesh. I’ll be turning 60 in just under a year. I guess that will be my birthday gift: a return to full strength.

I went through this with the last shoulder surgery 15 years ago. By the time I could really start working out again, I had the muscles of an adolescent boy. If I remember correctly, I even started laughing at booger jokes again.

The difference between now and then (besides being almost 60 vs. being almost 45) is that I know a helluva lot more about what constitutes a good diet. I can’t avoid getting weak, but I can avoid getting fat and weak.

In the meantime, since outdoor work on weekends is a no-go, I’ve been focusing more on composing music for the Fat Head Kids film, which is one of the last remaining creative tasks before post-production work.

Composing and recording tools these days are, to put it mildly, simply awesome. With all the digital stuff, it’s gotten to the point where if you can hear it in your head, you can get it into your song. I haven’t been able to play guitar for obvious reasons, so I had my iPad strum the chords for one of the songs I’m recording. Blows my mind.

I wish I’d had these toys back when I was writing songs for my band in my twenties. We spent a lot of money to record in a studio that had a mere fraction of the tracks and effects and processors that now live inside the Logic Pro software on my Mac. I can even export a song-in-progress to my iPad, go sit in my comfortable recliner to do more composing, then pull the new tracks into Logic Pro. Again, it blows my mind.

So despite being physically sidelined and missing the joys of working myself into a state of Dog Tired Satisfied on the farm, I’m feeling just fine. For a time at least, my brain will have to do the heavy lifting.

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