Thursday, January 12, 2012

Diet tips... and spirituality? Part 2

So to continue on...
I know that there are a lot of magical diets out there.  There also seems to be a growing trend among Pagans to embrace alternative eating habits, such as raw food diets, organic diets, and the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, for spiritual reasons.  I never gave any thought to the spiritual aspect of the South Beach Diet, I was following it for the purely mundane reasons that my doctor told me to give it a try, and that I've seen results when I've followed the diet in the past.  Which are both solid reasons.

Then, a few days ago, when I was re-reading Jean M. Auel's "Clan of the Cave Bear," I saw my diet in a whole new light.  In the 100,000 or so years that our species has been around (some speculate that it is closer to 200,00 years), it is only in the last 10,000 years that humans have been living in agrarian societies, where agriculture is the primary source of food.  For all of history before that, humans were hunter-gatherers, like the characters portrayed in the book.  This means that, for the most part, our early ancestors ate a diet composed almost entirely of meat and vegetables, as that is what was available to them in the wild.  Large and small wild mammals, birds, fish, and shellfish were hunted for the valuable protein and fat they provided, and wild greens, fruits, roots, seeds, nuts, and berries were foraged for and harvested as each came into season.  Early humankind lived off the land, depending entirely on what Mother Earth provided, and edible grains were scarce and hard to come by until people started farming 10,000 years ago.

It's a documented fact that refined and processed foods (most of which are simple carbohydrates) are the major contributor to obesity in our culture, and that omitting these foods from your diet will go a long way toward making you slimmer and healthier.  Some doctors and nutritionists go a step beyond that, and recommend that even complex carbohydrates (generally regarded as healthy) should be limited, and thus we have a whole bevy of low-carb diets out there.  And then there are some who want to go even beyond the low-carb philosophy, who believe that we should be eating more like our ancient counterparts:  voil√†, the "Caveman Diet" ( a.k.a the Paleolithic or Paleo Diet.)  Proponents of this diet reason that the time span in which humans have become accustomed to relying on agriculture for almost all of their food needs (don't forget, agriculture is used to feed livestock as well) is not enough time to adapt to this "new" diet biologically.  They argue that because our direct ancestors and the humanoid species that they evolved from existed on the same hunter-gatherer fare for hundreds of thousands (even millions) of years, our bodies have not had enough time in just a few thousand years to evolve to a point where a completely agriculturally-based diet is feasible.

I'm not sure if I believe these claims about the Caveman Diet.  Besides, I'm not following it, I'm following the South Beach Diet.  However, I am intrigued by the ideas behind the Caveman Diet, and I've noticed that it is similar to and compatible with the South Beach philosophy as well as some deeply held beliefs that I've had for quite some time.  For one, as a Pagan, I believe in an Earth-centered way of life best exemplified in the idea put forth by Christian ecologists that we are all "stewards of the land," and that it is our responsibility to live sustainably and take care of the planet, ensuring that it will be around and in good condition for future generations.  A lot of my thoughts on that subject revolve around food, and how human beings are unnecessarily wrecking the environment so that they can eat.  The Caveman Diet excludes many of these common culprits in environmental destruction:  GMOs (most of which are grains), factory farming (because hunter-gatherers had no domestic animals), and milk containing hormones and antibiotics (again, no domestic animals means no dairy.)  However, a true caveman-like regimen (consisting of only wild plants and animals) in this modern day and age is almost impossible, unless you yourself live off the land.  Therefore, the Caveman Diet has a few modern concessions:  grass-fed, free range and pasture-raised meats are permitted, and all produce (which is almost all grown on a farm these days) is allowed.  Beans and dairy (which are allowed on the South Beach Diet), however, are not.  So because I like the ancestral aspects of the Caveman Diet, both in its environmentally friendlier and potentially healthier approach to eating, I've decided to apply much of the philosophy to the South Beach Diet I'm currently following.  This means, of course, that I'm going to have to start limiting my use of canned foods (like the canned soup and chili I wrote about in my last post), and that processed meats (such as deli ham and turkey) and unnaturally raised animals (grain-fed cattle, for example) are off the menu.  I will also try to eat more wild and sustainable proteins, such as fish, shellfish, and game and less domestic (and potentially factory-farmed) meats.  I already severely limit my use of dairy because I'm lactose-intolerant, and both sugars and grains are either prohibited or used sparingly on the South Beach Diet.  And lastly, I'm going to be eating a lot more organic fruits and vegetables because of my subscription to a CSA box.

So what are the spiritual aspects of my new diet?  Theoretically, a more eco-friendly way of living.  And with this comes a number of spiritual implications:
1.  I'm treating my body more like a temple and less like a garbage dump.
2.  I'm contributing to overall sustainability and environmental health by buying organic, which lessens the use of pesticides, GMOs, and antibiotics and hormones in meat, and also encourages biodiversity.  Which means I'm respecting Mother Earth.
3.  I will feel more secure in the knowledge that the meat I do consume was ethically and humanely raised, or wild-caught.  This is the best way I can think of (aside from raising the animals myself) to show respect for the animals who give their lives to sustain me.  In thanks, I will try to eat less meat.
4.  By supporting local organic farmers, I am contributing to my local economy, which in turn benefits my community (more info here: and adds a layer of social responsibility to the larger sustainability model that I am trying to follow.
5.  In changing my diet, I am also attempting to improve myself, which will lead to personal growth.  This is key when trying to nurture yourself spiritually.
6.  I feel very grateful to have this kind of abundance in my life that gives me so many food options, and I believe that gratitude not only gives you a better appreciation for what you have, but that in turn leads to a more positive outlook on life, which is also spiritually conducive.
7.  I am connecting with the prehistoric Mother Goddess and honoring Her as the Earth Mother.

In addition, I feel like I am paying my respects to my ancestors and acknowledging their wisdom in trying to live more like they did.  This is what I realized when I was reading "Clan of the Cave Bear" and I started noticing the similarities between the modern diet I am trying to follow and the ancient ways that the people in the story kept (which are supposedly pretty accurate.)  While I've never had much interest in reconstructionist religion, I'm beginning to wonder if I might be starting out on a path of "dietary reconstructionism," for lack of a better term.  Whatever it is, I'm feeling pretty confident that I'll be more likely to stick to my new diet now that I've found a spiritual aspect to it, and now I'm more committed than ever to my Earth-centered beliefs and will try harder through my choices to make the world a better place.

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