Archive for May, 2015

Hello again, Fat Heads. We just put in a tough morning doing some inshore fishing on Mobile Bay, so instead of composing another missive from my current reading list, I’m going to save that and share one of the Oldest Son’s recent creations. His Faux Carb Pizza remains a crowd pleaser, so he’s got some street cred with us LCHF types. It doesn’t get much lower carb or higher fat than macadamia nut butter! Here it is:

(Eric got his macadamia nuts from, but our local megamart has them in the bulk section now.)

1/2 lb of raw macadamia nuts – blend until semi smooth. Can also roast before.

Then add in order:
2 tbl melted coconut oil
1 Tbsp honey + 1 or 2 tsp
1 tsp vanilla
Pinch of salt
Pulse everything until smooth

Crunchy version: same thing, but when done, add another handful of macadamias or cashews and pulse.

If you want it even sweeter, add a few drops of liquid stevia instead of more honey as the honey will overpower the macadamia taste.

Tip: anytime you have to measure out honey or molasses (I know those aren’t low carb), spray the cup/spoon with coconut oil before. Stuff slides right out and easy to clean.

… And that’s it. The maca butter is delicious, but I think that tip is worth the price of admission just by itself!

Cheers from Dauphin Island!

The Older Brother


Comments 7 Comments »

Hiya, Fatheads. Long time since I’ve got to take over the Big Chair!

I guess Tom’s somewhere out on the Gulf enjoying himself right now. Meaning his presentation was scheduled early in the Low Carb Cruise, so he’s done by now and doesn’t have to practice another 20 or 30 times, like I’m sure he did last week. I’m sure he’s staying busy, though, getting to meet with new Fat Heads and reconnect with old friends.

I’m actually enjoying myself on the Gulf, too. I am, however, decidedly un-busy. We’re back on Dauphin Island, Alabama. We’ve been here a number of times, and the point of coming here is to be un-busy. We’re with about half of The Wife’s clan — her sister and brother-in-law and our niece and 2 nephews, the niece’s husband; our three sons, daughter, son-in-law, and the two grandkids.

The grandkids are the reason we’re here. I’d been adamant for the last several years that I wasn’t coming back. Don’t get me wrong, I love it here. House facing the Gulf (we actually have two houses this time to accommodate all 15 people), The Wife and I doing most of the cooking, everyone else doing most of the cleaning, hanging out on the beach, watching the shrimp boats go out with the dolphins trolling behind them for the freebies that fall out of the nets.

It’s just that we’ve done it several times and I was done. I kept arguing that I didn’t want to have a one destination bucket list. This year, The Wife pointed out that this would be the first time The Grandkids would be able to come, too, and wouldn’t it be great to see them at the ocean for the first time.

n.b., folks — there’s no actual defense against that one.

And it’s been awesome.

Anyway, on to the topic at hand. Have you ever read a book, then decided that something you normally would’ve considered insane somehow seemed like a perfectly fine idea? I mean a nonfiction book, but with a compelling story, fascinating (real) characters, great drama, and then also with a kicker that gives you one of those “aha!” moments that makes it feel personal to the point you want to at least get a taste of what the characters are doing.

Well, I read this book a little while ago:

Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall

(And no — if you’re familiar with the book I’m not saying I’m out to take on an ultra-marathon!)

Here’s how the author summarizes the broad trajectory of the tale at the beginning of chapter 2:

“It all began with a simple question that no one could answer.

It was a five-word puzzle that led me to a photo of a very fast man in a very short skirt, and from there it only got stranger. Soon, I was dealing with a murder, drug guerrillas, and a one-armed man with a cream-cheese cup strapped to his head. I met a beautiful blond forest ranger who slipped out of her clothes and found salvation by running naked in the Idaho forests, and a young surfer babe in pigtails who ran straight toward her death in the desert. A talented young runner would die. Two others would barely escape with their lives.

I kept looking, and stumbled across the Barefoot Batman … Naked Guy … Kalahari Bushmen … the Toenail Amputee .. a cult devoted to distance running and sex parties .. the Wild Man of the Blue Ridge Mountains … and, ultimately, the ancient tribe of the Tarahumara and their shadowy disciple, Caballo Blanco.

In the end, I got my answer, but only after I found myself in the middle of the greatest race the world would never see…

… And all because in January 2001 I asked my doctor this:

‘How come my foot hurts?’ “

Not a bad tease of an opener, eh? Besides being an all-around great read, it’s also a primer on the fairly unknown sport of ultra-marathons, and the people crazy enough to run in them. The Tarahumara tribe that much of the book focuses on is about as purely paleo/ancestral as any culture in the world today. All of that made the book easy to recommend, especially to the Fat Head, LCHF, Paleo crowd.

What really grabbed me were a couple of chapters towards the very end, where McDougall talks to researchers with some very persuasive arguments as to not only why humans can have the capacity to run incredible distances, but that in fact this is what makes us who we are – that we are, literally, born to run.

To give it a short treatment that doesn’t do credit to the book, humans running is something of an evolutionary riddle. I mean, what’s the point? The fastest human on earth can’t beat a rabbit or almost anything in a race to run down dinner, and forget about us trying to outrun anything that might want to make us dinner.

And to get the fat to feed the big brains we staked our evolutionary gamble on, we had to catch dinner for millennia before hunting tools showed up. How could we make that bet, much less win? What was our evolutionary advantage over the Neanderthals, who were significantly stronger, faster, had stronger bones, used tools when we did, and possibly were more intelligent than us? Why are we here instead of them?

We have big butts, Achilles heels, and a skull design which are only useful for running. But how did those traits for running become selected, if we’re so damned bad at it?

These people propose the idea that human running is critical, but it’s not about fast. It’s about distance and endurance. Because we, unlike almost every other creature out there — and certainly our prey — are 1) hairless, and 2) we sweat. We can keep running. Any other animal at a run also has a time clock running. They can only cool off through respiration, and they can’t cool off while they’re running. For a hare, it’s maybe half a mile at 45 mph, then it’s stop or die. For the cougar chasing the rabbit, it can only hit 40, but keep it up longer. So the rabbit has 45 seconds to escape or die. The cougar has to keep the rabbit from going down a hole for 46 seconds or starve. But the cougar will also burn up relatively quickly.

We humans, on the other hand, can keep going almost indefinitely. We can’t outrun a deer, but if, running as a group, we can separate a deer from the herd and keep it running by staying within sight of it, it’s now a 10k race to dinnertime.

Again, this is a two paragraph recap of a couple of chapters, but it was the “aha!” that grabbed me. We should all be able to run. It’s what we were built for.

Along with the ancestral/paleo view of running comes the idea that if we want to run like our ancestors, we need to also respect how that developed. That didn’t include cushioned shoes that prevent feedback through our feet, some of the most complex “tools” nature has ever designed. In fact, Nike pretty much comes off as the Big Pharma/statin pushers of the running world. Everything that’s made them a marketing Goliath has led to worse outcomes and more injuries for runners.

Over the last six months or so, I’ve switched over so that all of my shoes, including dress work shoes, are zero-drop, essentially “barefoot” type footwear. I didn’t have any foot problems yet, but my feet have never felt better.

McDougall, as referenced in the opening quote, was pretty broken down as a runner. After hearing of the Talahumara, he found an adventure sports trainer named Eric Orton who helped rebuild him into a runner. That process, and Eric’s training and philosophy, gets substantial coverage in the book. Orton released a book — The Cool Impossible — on his training methods and system after that.

I bought that one a few months ago and read it, too. I have to say, it’s a great resource and very educational, but if I hadn’t read Born to Run first it would’ve been tough to finish. The info is outstanding, but Orton’s writing style in the book is to address the reader directly the whole time as if the reader has just showed up at his training facility. Reminded too much of the “let’s all do some role playing exercises!” stuff when you have to go to corporate training. Just personally not my cup of tea, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it if you want to start/convert to running.

Anyway, as I alluded to at the beginning of this little missive, as a now 58 year old, fat, out of shape grandpa, I hadn’t thought “hey, wouldn’t it be a great idea to put on some shorts and tennis shoes and just go out and run for hours” for nearly four decades. And, I was perfectly all right with that. Then I read McDougall and Orton’s books. At the same time, two of the women I work with signed up for Abe’s Amble.

That’s a program in Springfield where you can sign up and get put into a group of about 12-15 people with similar (non)ability. There are probably around 150 signed up for this year’s session, including a couple of groups of walkers and an Olympic Walking group. All of these folks are referred to collectively as “Abe’s Army.” You train with your group one day a week, and on your own a couple of more days a week for 13 weeks. The culmination of the program is running in the Abe’s Amble 10k the first Sunday of the Illinois State Fair. In August! Oh yeah, plus you get a cool shirt! So I took the plunge and signed up.

Here we are after the first orientation session and a 1.2 mile run/walk to assign us to our groups:

I’m the fat guy.

I ended up in the 2nd of 4 or 5 blue groups. My young coworkers ended up in one of the two green and red groups, which were somewhere way ahead of me by the time I dragged through the finishing gate.

And here I am yesterday morning after my first individual run (I’m using a program called “Couch to 10k” that runs on my iPhone, and another that connects with a heart rate monitor. Just ’cause we’re paleo doesn’t mean we can’t have toys!). The Oldest Son patiently jogged/walked along with me through a Dauphin Island downpour, then after I finished my program, went off to do some real running.

Cheers from Dauphin Island!

The Older Brother


Comments 13 Comments »

My plan was to write one more post tonight before leaving town this weekend for the low-carb cruise.  However, I forgot I was scheduled for an hour-long podcast interview today, and I’ve still got work stuff to wrap up.  Oh, and that speech thing I’ll be doing on the cruise … Chareva and I still putting it together.  Then there’s packing, getting the dogs to the kennel, etc., etc., before the weekend.

So I’m going to wish you all a happy and healthy couple of weeks until I return from the cruise.  I’ll check comments, but I won’t be posting.  The Older Brother has agreed to sit in the Fat Head chair while I’m gone, even though he’ll be on vacation part of that time himself.

For those you coming aboard the cruise, see you soon.


Comments 13 Comments »

Yup, the hogs are in hog heaven now.  Soon they’ll return as bacon, ham, ribs and (according to the processor’s rough guess) around 100 pounds of sausage.

The last time we tried to coax the hogs into a trailer was in December.  I recounted that colossal failure in a post titled Hogs 2, Humans 0.  Here’s part of what I wrote:

In reviewing the colossal failure, we concluded that our biggest mistake was making the chute too wide near the pen – in other words, not sufficiently chute-like.  The hogs had too much room to run around us.  We’ll have to pull up the t-posts and create a chute that’s just wider than a real pig board – the kind hogs can’t see through.  They’re heavy, powerful animals, but I believe if Chareva and I were both pushing the pig board, we could convince a hog to keep moving.  That’s the theory, anyway.  The reality is yet to be determined.

We took care of the overly-wide chute as part of an extraordinarily busy (even for us) weekend.  Sunday was Mother’s Day, and also Alana’s 10th birthday.  Her party was on Saturday, and she wanted the festivities to include a scavenger hunt around the property.  Trouble was, much of the property was overdue for mowing.  We didn’t want the kiddies running around in shin-deep grass and getting chewed up by chiggers and ticks.

So on Friday, I left work early and cut the entire back of the property, which includes these areas:

I also cut this area in the front:

That was nearly six hours behind a mower on a hot, humid day.  I granted myself permission to drink a couple of cold beers afterwards and chill in front of the TV.

Saturday was the birthday party.  One of the items on the scavenger-hunt list was a worm.  Alana’s gal-pals guessed (correctly) that the creek was the ideal place to look.

Sunday was Mother’s Day …

… and  besides receiving a custom-made t-shirt, what’s every mom’s dream on Mother’s Day?  Why, building a hog chute down to a trailer, of course.  So that’s what Chareva and I did.

Actually, we didn’t have much of a choice.  Our appointment with the processor was set for Wednesday.  Given our experience last time, we figured we’d best try to get the hogs into the trailer on Tuesday.  Sunday was our last wide-open day to build the chute.

A small jungle had grown in our previous (too wide) chute, so I had to get out the weed-whacker with the brush attachment and clear it.  The stuff below was knee-high before whacking.

Then we pounded in t-posts for a new fence – and yes, I was very, very careful about high I raised that t-post hammer.  Before each whack, I made sure the top of the post was inside the hammer’s tube.

Then we installed more fencing to create a chute just wider than our pig board – as best we could, anyway.  In some spots, the trees and the existing fence determined the width.  We ran out of fence ties before the job was done, so we positioned the cattle panels and saved securing them for later.

On Monday, we actually took a breather.  I did programming work, and Chareva spent much of the day at a Middle Tennessee 4-H event, where Alana gave a demonstration on how to raise chicks.  It must have gone well, because she won first place among fourth-graders in her category.  That’s my girl.

On Tuesday afternoon, I secured the cattle panels to the t-posts with aluminum ties.  I don’t like working with steel ties, which are a beast to bend, so I convinced myself that the aluminum ties were strong enough to resist hog power.  I also convinced myself that the hogs would be so intimidated by the pig board, they’d dutifully march into the trailer. I also convinced myself that if we stopped feeding them on Monday and put feed in the trailer, they’d wander in there looking for it.  I’m easily convinced when I want to be.

Here’s how that all worked out:

If you watched the video above, you know that the raging-battle portion of the day wasn’t recorded because Sara had to set down the camera and join the fight.  So here’s the expanded story:

First off, whoever told me a hog won’t charge a pig board because it looks like a solid object never met our hogs.  My assessment from the Hogs 2, Humans 0 post was correct:

Apparently while hogs have no qualms about pushing their way through a person’s legs, they’re scared @#$%less of large, flat objects and will run the other way.  That’s the theory, anyway.

The reality (as I found out early the next morning) is that a hog will shove its way past any damned thing it wants to if it believes there’s sausage factory somewhere in the other direction.

As you may have surmised from the video, once the female hog realized I was bumping her towards the trailer, she just stuck her snout into a cattle panel and gave it a toss, snapping my easy-to-use aluminum ties like toothpicks.  So we pounded in another t-post for the panel nearest the trailer, then reinforced all the panels with steel ties at the bottom.

Great, no more breaking through the panels … which means their only escape route was through me.  When I tried to pig-board them close to the trailer again, they banged me around like a rag doll and ran back to their pen.  We waited a bit, and they moseyed back out to explore the yummy bits of whatever it is they liked in the chute.

So I walked behind them with the pig board, pretending I was actually moving them along instead of just following them.  Once they got halfway down the chute, I told Chareva we should create a barrier to limit their next escape.  She took care of that job:

To my surprise, it worked.  After smacking me aside and running back up the chute, both hogs tried butting the thing with their heads.  When that didn’t work, they gave up and wandered down the chute again.  So once again, I followed behind them with the pig board.  They got this close to the trailer without any pushing from me:

As you can see, I had the bottom of the pig board braced against a rock.  I convinced myself the rock would serve as an anchor and prevent them from barreling past me.  I’m easily convinced when I want to be … did I mention that?

That’s when the raging battle that didn’t make it into the video began.  A mere minute or so into the battle, I ended up trying a new sport called Hog Surfing.  If you’ve never gone Hog Surfing, here’s what you need:

  • A narrow chute
  • A pig board
  • Two hogs who really, really, really don’t want to be herded into a trailer

If you’re on a budget, sorry … you need two hogs.  See, if one hog charges the pig board while you’re holding it, you merely get spun around.  But if two hogs who are shoulder-to-shoulder in a narrow chute charge the pig board at almost the exact same moment and use their snouts to do that flip-up motion that hogs have down to a science, you end up riding atop the pig board — with hogs beneath substituting for ocean waves.

As with traditional surfing, the idea of the sport is to see how long you can ride the board.  For an impressive score, you need to avoid yelling “WHAT THE @#$%!!! and grabbing onto a nearby t-post.  If you do that, the hogs will pass under the board and out the other side, and you’ll drop to the ground, board and all.  Round over.

I’m sorry we couldn’t demonstrate Hog Surfing in the video, although a graphic might do the trick.  Chareva’s the artist in the family, but I’ve got her tied up drawing cartoons for my upcoming cruise speech.  So here’s my rendition:

Remember that detached, rational fellow who shows up to observe and comment when I’m in severe pain – like, say, after smacking my own skull with a 16-pound t-post hammer?  Turns out he shows up when I’m in imminent danger as well.  As I was Hog Surfing, he commented, “You know, there’s a very good chance this will end with you requiring another knee surgery.”

But my knees survived intact, and the detached, rational fellow returned to whatever portion of my brain he calls home.  I grabbed the pig board and stood up to take a breather.  The hogs went up the chute and tried banging their heads against the barrier Chareva had constructed.  After failing once again to destroy it, they wandered down the chute a bit, rooting around in the grass and leaves.

As they approached me, Chareva explained that I might be blocking their path, so I should probably walk up the chute and get behind them again with the pig board.  I love Chareva very much, so I didn’t explain that I’d just gone Hog Surfing for the first time and didn’t want to try it again, so she should probably shut the hell up.

Both hogs eventually wandered down past me and ended up near my failed rock-anchor spot again.  During our multiple attempts (I’d lost count) to get them into the trailer, they had always panicked right around there, close to the trailer.  So I figured we should create another barrier while they were distracted with their rooting around.  That would limit the remaining chute to a few yards in length.

I knew we had an old gate sitting around near the front yard.  I asked Chareva to bring it to me, then grab some metal poles.  She did.  I placed the gate inside the chute, and Chareva slid the poles through the cattle panel.  I continued sliding the poles (one was a piece of rebar) behind the gate and through the other cattle panel to create a backstop.  Then I waited for the hogs to notice their escape route was cut off.

Sure enough, the male turned around and saw the gate, with me holding a pig board against it.  He squealed and began the portion of the battle that will forever be known as The Last Charge of the Hog Brigade.

For what felt like an hour (but surely wasn’t), he alternated between banging against the gate and trying to slam his way through the cattle panel.  Each time he stuck his snout through the cattle panel, Sara kicked at him to force a retreat.  For a moment or two, the female joined in the fun, perhaps thinking they’d force me into another round of Hog Surfing.

I wasn’t sure the barrier would hold, so I started kicking the pig board to drive the gate forward as the hogs banged it backwards.  The whole time, they were squealing like … well, like stuck pigs.  Given their fury, I began to wonder when they’d realize they’re omnivores and attempt to chew off my fingers and toes.

The male finally gave up.  The top of his snout was bleeding from the multiple whacks against the gate.  He was clearly exhausted and probably hungry and thirsty as well.  He faded from furious to docile and walked up the ramp into the trailer.

The female came back around and gave the gate another go, but with less fury than before.  I pointed to the trailer and yelled, “Look!  Your fat buddy over there is eating all the food!”  I don’t believe she understood me, but after one last body-slam against the gate, she walked up the ramp into the trailer and began eating as well.

Chareva climbed into the chute and crept up to the back of the trailer.  I began climbing over the gate in case they charged her … although I had no idea what the heck I was going to do to protect her if they did.  Wham-bam-slam, she got the trailer gate closed and locked before the hogs knew she was there.

Whew.  I would have treated myself to a cold beer or two to celebrate, but I had to drive Sara to dance class an hour later.

On Wednesday, Chareva and I carted the hogs to a processor about an hour’s drive south through the rolling hills and forests of Middle Tennessee.  Beautiful country.

“So,” she asked at one point, “did you ever imagine that someday you’d be driving along a country road, pulling a couple of hogs behind you in a trailer?”

“No.  I’m still trying to figure out how the hell this all happened.  And why I like it.”

At the processing facility, we backed the trailer up to a chute leading into the building.  I was hoping against hope nobody would tell me I had to get in there and move the hogs.  Someone might observe for a moment and then shoot me for being a Yankee imposter.

But no, my struggles were over.  A muscular, athletic-looking guy named Jerome took a pig board into the trailer and proved once again that hogs will, in fact, charge a pig board.  After getting knocked around for awhile, Jerome said, “I hate to do this, but …” and went to retrieve a cattle prod.

I understood his concern.  The theory is that you want the animals to calmly move along so they’re not squirting adrenaline into their veins before processing.  But I figure when a hog body-slams a pig board over and over, the adrenaline is already squirting.  One quick zap from the prod each, and the hogs skedaddled out of the trailer.  If I’d had one of those on Tuesday, we probably all would have squirted far less adrenaline into our veins.

With the hogs finally out of our hands, it was time to meet with one of the owners and decide how much of the meat should go to ham, ribs, bacon and sausage.  Ham steaks or whole hams?  We’ll go with ham steaks.   Do you want the bones?  Yes, we’ll use those for stock.  Do you want some ground pork, or should we mix it all into the sausage?  Let’s go with all sausage.  Should we save the leftover fat for you?  Yes, we’ll use that render our own lard.

I had wondered if I’d feel any sentimental twinges when we got home.  Oh, geez, the hogs are gone … Nope, not a twinge.  All I felt was relief.  I’d do it all again someday, but I was more than ready for those hogs to be gone.

And after all the feed, water, fence-building, wrangling, and the final smacking-around they gave me, that pork better taste damned good.


Comments 56 Comments »

A reader sent me a link to an article about how actor James Franco credits McDonald’s for keeping body and soul together when he was struggling financially.  That’s not the point of this post, but here are some interesting quotes:

Actor James Franco has written a lengthy endorsement of his former employer, McDonald’s. Franco writes in a Washington Post op-ed that in the late ’90s he was a struggling actor living in Los Angeles. He was fired from a coffee shop and golf course and couldn’t find acting jobs.

He became desperate after his parents cut him off financially.

“Someone asked me if I was too good to work at McDonald’s,” Franco writes. “Because I was following my acting dream despite all the pressure not to, I was definitely not too good to work at McDonald’s.”

Franco says he began working in the drive-thru and practicing foreign accents on customers.

He was able to leave his job at McDonald’s after booking a Super Bowl commercial with Pizza Hut. Since then, he’s become one of the most successful actors in the industry, starring in The Interview, 127 Hours, and Spiderman. But Franco says he still feels affection for the fast food chain.

“I was treated fairly well at McDonald’s. If anything, they cut me slack,” Franco writes. “And, just like their food, the job was more available there than anywhere else. When I was hungry for work, they fed the need.”

Okay, that’s nice.  It’s refreshing to see a Hollywood type who doesn’t consider McDonald’s an evil empire.  (Full disclosure:  I didn’t know who James Franco was until I read the article.  It’s a sign of my impending decline into Old Fogeyhood.  I see headlines about pop stars and think, “Who the heck is that?”)

But it wasn’t the article itself that caught my interest.  It was a linked article about how McDonald’s plans to turn around its flagging sales:

McDonald’s unveiled on Monday its massive turnaround plan to revive business.

“Our recent performance has been poor. The numbers don’t lie,” McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a 23-minute video overview of the plan. “I will not shy away from the urgent need to reset this business.”

Easterbrook said the company would strip away layers of management, focus more on listening to customers, and act faster to adapt to consumers’ changing tastes.

McDonald’s same-store sales have fallen for six straight quarters in the US, where the company is battling a pervasive public perception that its food is unhealthy and over-processed. The chain has also been hurt by a series of food safety scandals in Asia, which contributed to a 15% loss in net income last year.

The company will be restructured into four market segments: the US; international lead markets (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, UK); high-growth markets (China, Italy, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands); and foundational markets (the remaining markets in the McDonald’s system).

McDonald’s will also refranchise 3,500 restaurants through 2018, bringing its total percentage of franchised restaurants to 90% from 81% globally. The restructuring is expected to save the company $300 million annually by 2017, according to the company.

Going forward, improving food quality will be a top priority, Easterbrook said.

There were paragraphs in the article about how the company plans to restructure, re-franchise, etc., to save money.  I don’t know or care what those involve.  It’s the food quality issue that I believe will eventually make or break McDonald’s.

When Super Size Me was released, there were gleeful predictions among fans that it would sink McDonald’s.  I never believed that.  The people who cheered Super Size Me didn’t eat at McDonald’s anyway.  Meanwhile, I sincerely doubt anyone saw Super Size Me and said to himself, “Oh my gosh!  So that’s why I’m fat – McDonald’s has been selling me too much food!  Well, that’s it, I’m never eating there again.” While researching Fat Head, I talked to two different franchise owners (both owned multiple McDonald’s restaurants) who told me Super Size Me didn’t affect their sales at all.

Morgan Spurlock didn’t hurt McDonald’s, but I’m pretty sure the paleo movement has.  That’s why the CEO talked about food quality, not quantity.  The question is whether or not Mr. Easterbrook and the rest of the McDonald’s brass understand what food quality means to the public these days.

Despite what some people think, I have no relationship (financial or otherwise) with McDonald’s and rarely eat there.  But it so happens that the day before these articles ran, Chareva and I had one those tight-schedule nights, both of us trying to get the girls to and from different activities while taking care of our own errands.  So we ended up meeting at McDonald’s for dinner and a daughter-exchange.

I ordered one of the 1/3 pound sirloin burgers – minus the bun — and it was actually pretty tasty.  Not grass-fed, of course, but I don’t expect to find grass-fed beef in most restaurants.  I don’t even eat grass-fed beef all the time at home.  I don’t believe grain-fed beef is bad for us; just not as good for us as grass-fed beef.  So I was fine with the burger.

But then there are the other items on the menu:  buns made from mutant wheat, skim milk (whole milk isn’t even available), salads with Newman’s Own salad dressing – main ingredient: soybean oil.

The girls split a small order of fries.  I didn’t eat any.  Because of the carbs?  Nope.  My diet is low-carb but not zero-carb, and I’ll happily eat a serving of potatoes now and then.  But McDonald’s fries are fried in vegetable oil.  As Nina Teicholz explained in her outstanding book The Big Fat Surprise, the vegetable oils used in fast-food restaurants these days may be even worse than the trans fats they replaced:

Gerald McNeill, vice president of Loders Croklaan, which is one of the country’s largest suppliers of edible oil, told me something scary.  He explained that fast-food chains including McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s have swapped out hydrogenated oils and started using regular vegetable oil instead.  “As those oils are heated, you’re creating toxic oxidative breakdown products,” he said.  “One of those products is a compound called an aldehyde, which interferes with DNA.  Another is formaldehyde, which is extremely toxic.”

Aldehydes?  Formaldehyde?  Isn’t that the stuff that’s used to preserve dead bodies?

He went on to tell me how these heated, oxidized oils form polymers that create a “thick gunk” on the bottom of the fryer and clog up the drains… Partially hydrogenated oils, by contrast, were long-lasting and stable in fryers, which of course is why they were favored.  And beef tallow, McDonald’s original frying fat, was even more stable.

As I told Chareva over dinner, if McDonald’s ever went back to beef tallow for frying, I’d probably eat there more often.  As it is, if we go out for burgers and fries (and we’re not pressed for time), we go to Five Guys – largely because the French fries are fried in peanut oil.  They taste way better than the fries at McDonald’s, and while peanut oil isn’t the best of fats, it’s acceptable.

I don’t know what Mr. Easterbrook has in mind for improving food quality, but from what I’ve seen lately, McDonald’s is heading in the wrong direction.  They still seem to think food quality means low-fat and low-cholesterol.  Their big idea for breakfast is the Egg White Delight McMuffin.  Egg whites?  Seriously?  Hell, not even the goofs on the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee think egg yolks are a problem anymore.

They didn’t ask me (like I said, we have no relationship), but if they did, here’s what I’d tell the McDonald’s brass:

Yes, you’re losing sales to consumer concern about food quality.  But that concern is driven by the paleo movement and the gluten-free movement, not the anti-fat hysteria of the 1980s and 1990s.  If you want to bring back customers, forget the low-fat nonsense and try a few ideas like these:

  • Announce that you’re returning to beef tallow for frying.  Yes, The Guy From CSPI will throw a fit, but he’s old news and I don’t think people take him seriously anymore.  There have been plenty of articles in both scientific journals and the popular press declaring that the war on saturated fat was a huge mistake.  At the press conference, wave some of those around, along with a copy of The Big Fat Surprise.
  • Ditch the skim milk and start serving whole milk.  There is zero evidence that skim milk is better for our health, and plenty of evidence suggesting that full-fat dairy is better.
  • Dump the Egg White Delight.  Egg yolks are not and never have been a health hazard.  If anything on an Egg McMuffin is a health hazard, it’s the wheat muffin.  Which brings me to …
  • Become the first fast-food restaurant chain to switch to gluten-free buns and muffins.  We’ve tried the gluten-free buns by Udi’s, and they taste just like any other hamburger bun.  Not everyone is going gluten-free, but plenty of people are.  I promise nobody is going to demand buns with gluten in them.  Yes, the gluten-free buns cost more, but what the hell, you’re McDonald’s.  You’d be selling millions of millions of them, so I’m sure you can strike a good deal with a provider.
  • No disrespect to Paul Newman, but get rid of the soybean-oil dressings.  There are plenty of recipes out there for delicious dressings that use healthy fats like avocado oil and full-fat yogurt.  I’m sure someone would mass-produce them if McDonald’s was the client.  If I could get a chicken salad at McDonald’s and a quality dressing to go with it, I’d eat there far more often.

Yes, I know McDonald’s tried “healthy” options before that flopped.  You all probably still have painful memories of the McLean Burger.  But you see, those “healthy” options flopped because they tasted awful.  People don’t go to McDonald’s to buy tasteless, low-fat food.

The changes I’m suggesting don’t punish anyone’s taste buds.  In fact, they’d improve the taste of the food while simultaneously improving the quality.

Give those a shot, and Ronald McDonald may live to a ripe old age.


Comments 121 Comments »

We finally evened the score.

I wasn’t planning to write another farm report tonight, but the hogs apparently decided the chickens have been getting too much press coverage lately and decided to pull a P.R. stunt to get themselves on the front page.

Chareva carts the girls off to dance classes on Mondays after school, so I volunteered to make tonight’s dinner and have it ready when they got home.  I finished my programming work around 5:00 and went down to the kitchen to see what ingredients we have on hand.  As I was nosing around in the fridge, the dogs started raising a ruckus and barking like crazy.  I’m not fluent in canine, but I believed I recognized the phrases from a previous incident where Chareva served as interpreter.

As near as I could tell, the dogs were yelling, “Hey!  Hey, you pigs!  HEY, STOP THAT!  HEY-HEY-HEY-HEY-HEY-HEY-HEY!!!”

So I looked out the kitchen window, and sure enough, the hogs were busy exploring the area near Chareva’s spring project.  They seemed especially interested in the wood-chip pile.

I called Chareva on her cell phone and explained the situation.  She’s a much more experienced pig-wrangler than I am – meaning she coaxed them into their pen once – so I asked for advice.

“You might get them back into the pen if you fill up the water pan.  But frankly, I have no faith whatsoever in your ability to handle the hogs, and I’m reasonably sure if I leave it up to you, this whole incident will end in disaster,” she explained.  “So I’d better take care of it.  In the meantime, try to stay out of the way and don’t do anything to make the situation worse.”

Actually, her exact words were “Try filling the water pan.  I’ll get the girls and come home,” but I interpreted.  I don’t speak canine, but I’m fluent in Wife.

I went out back and used a hose to fill the water pan in their pen.  I didn’t make an attempt to chase the hogs for fear they’d bolt into the forest.  Once the female got a whiff of the fresh water, she wandered towards the pen, but then decided she wanted to explore that big, long hill that leads down to the creek.  I had visions of her jumping into the creek and then following the water flow to another county.

So I grabbed a spindly pine branch as a makeshift pig-whip and made a big circle around her to avoid spooking her by chasing her directly from behind.  Once I got downhill of her, I turned and faced her, like a linebacker determined to stop a run between the tackles.

Maybe linebackers should be allowed to carry pig-whips.  I didn’t hit her hard, but I certainly put more snap into the pig-whip than my girls did back during our failed attempt to coax the hogs into a trailer.  (That game ended with a score of Hogs 2, Humans 0.)  The hog squealed and snorted at me in protest, but she stopped the downhill run and waddled back in the general direction of the pig pen.

I had already opened the gate in case the hogs decided to do me a favor and wander back into the pen on their own.  As I bumped her along with the makeshift pig-whip, the female headed towards the pen, then turned back towards the wood-chip pile.  So I gave her a couple of whaps on the shoulder and a couple more on the future hams.  Sure enough, she veered towards the open gate and wandered into the pen.  Then she plopped herself down into some mud.

Inspired by this victory, I circled around the male and coaxed him away from the wood chips with some smacks on the future hams.  Like the female, he snorted and squealed and probably cussed at me in some kind of hog dialect, but he waddled to the gate and then into the pen.

Whew!  Nicely done, Tom.  Wait until Chareva finds out you pig-wrangled them back into the pen without her.

I closed the gate and latched it, figuring I’d walk around the fence and find where they’d managed to dig underneath to execute their great escape.  Just shore that up somehow, and …

What the–?

Yup, that’s what I saw.  The female was back out, exploring among the trees.  A moment later, I saw the male trot out that way too.

That was way too quick of an escape to require squeezing under a fence.  So I looked around and saw this:

One of them had managed to lift the gate on the opposite side of their pen right off its hinges.  The other side was still chained, but the hinge side was now a swinging door.

Naturally, this was about the time Chareva and the girls pulled up to see hogs still on the loose and me standing there looking confused.

I told Chareva how I’d wrangled the hogs into their pen, only to see them escape again through this broken gate.  I think she even believed me.  After examining the gate (which we don’t use anyway), she of course decided the solution – as with all things farm-related – was to apply a cattle-panel.

So I trotted on down the hill to where the cattle panels have been patiently sitting and waiting to be used for fencing off the side pasture … assuming Chareva doesn’t turn them all into chicken coops, trellises, planters, coffee tables, or whatever else comes to mind.

Meanwhile, the girls took turns trying to talk the hogs into returning to the pen.  They also tried tapping the hogs with sticks.  The hogs were not impressed.

With the cattle panel in position near the broken gate and Chareva standing guard, I picked up my pine-branch pig-whip and gave the female a couple of whacks on the future hams to get her moving, then guided her to the gate and into the pen.  The male required a big more persuading, but finally gave in as well.

Once they were through the broken gate, we sealed it off with the cattle panel.  I pounded in a t-post (and you can be darned sure I paid close attention to how high I lifted the hammer) and then we secured the whole works with chains and aluminum ties.

Needless to say, I never got that dinner made.  We ended up going to a diner in downtown Franklin.

The bacon date for the hogs is May 13th.  It’s been interesting, fun at times, and a definite learning experience.  But I think I’m ready for them to go from the pen to the deep freezer.


Comments 28 Comments »