A few years ago, I was your typical office-worker: stressed out, uneven energy, overweight, and inconsistent complexion. Now I'm just your typical 28-year old urban hunter-gatherer on a quest to be healthy, and having a few adventures along the way. See my full bio.
As you know, I'm a fan of entrepreneurs who create their own reality. I've had the pleasure of meeting one of those entrepreneurs, Randy Hartnell, founder of Vital Choice Seafood. Vital Choice is a sustainable wild seafood company from the Pacific Northwest. I've bought from them before, and I've run into Randy at various health conferences.
A few months ago Randy asked me if I would endorse their product, which I was happy to do. (Full disclosure: I received some salmon, canned fish, and a few bars of dark chocolate as a thank you.)
Below are two videos. The first video is just me. The second video is a compilation of folks, and I'm honored to come directly after Andrew Weil -- he starts at 1:20, I start at 1:40.
If you start anywhere, give the canned mackerel a try. For people just learning to like mackerel or sardines, it's best to start with mackerel (tastes better than sardines in my opinion), pay for quality when you're trying it for the first time, and get it in olive oil. At the lowest volume it's $5 a tin, which can serve as a breakfast on the go or a quick post-workout meal. If you get a higher quantity, the price comes down to under $4 a tin.
Dawn struck. Our first alarm clock rose in the East.
In ones and twos, the eight of us were rustled awake -- first by the silent sun, then by human chatter, then by the smell of food cooking, then by needing to pee, then by the social pressure not to be seen as lazy. A dozen signals, multiple sensory pathways, slightly asynchronous, starting gently and gradually intensifying, each day a bit different. Sell an alarm clock that does half that and you can retire on it.
The modern alarm clock is the primitive technology. A thuggish tool that clubs us awake, brute force cortisol, lacking elegance and intelligence -- the caveman stereotype embodied by modern man.
The Sun rises over the Red Desert
(actually, it's sunset, but I didn't have a picture of sunrise)
My "irrational" fear of snakes was perfectly rational sleeping on the ground in the Red Desert. Luckily, no rattlesnakes had come in search of a warm-blooded radiator during the night. Only one guy on our team was disappointed not to see any rattlesnakes: Dennis, the one guy with a .22 Ruger and more importantly, a sleeping perch safe from serpents: the back seat of his car.
This horny toad was the closest thing to a rattlesnake that we saw
Fire and fall back foods
I got up and looked at the ashes of last night's fire. Jules, one of the Luna Sandals vegan space monkeys, had started the fire by rubbing together a few pieces of wood. A simple device that transfers energy from the human body into rotational force into friction into heat into an ember into flame into more heat into yams and back into us. A net gain chain reaction.
Vegan Prometheus, Jules
Our hunt on Day One had been unsuccessful, and so we ate the typical fall back foods of our hunter-gatherer ancestors: roots and tubers. Four yams sat in the ashes, undisturbed by wildlife during the night. I split one open for breakfast. The inside was orange, soft, and cool -- a combination of color, texture, and temperature reminiscent of pumpkin pie, but without actually tasting like pumpkin. Domesticated, it tasted like dessert.
We didn't limit ourselves to yams. Our camping fare included guacamole (fresh avocados, tomatoes, cilantro, and red onion), roast chicken, beer, peanut butter, bread, jelly, apples, peaches, canteloupe, walnuts, almonds, beef jerky, buffalo jerky, bourbon, coconut oil, garlic, salt, pepper, vinegar, cacao nibs, Ulrich's mother's homemade cookies, bottled water, canned beans, sardines, coffee, dried cranberries, corn tortillas, eggs, banana chips, and bananas.
Kill or no kill, even the three vegan hunters in our group didn't have any problem surviving. (And at least two of the vegans were prepared to eat any antelope we successfully hunted.)
Philip Stark, a Berkeley professor and ultra-marathoner, was attempting to make espresso on our little gas camping stove, all while excitedly making elaborate future plans to learn primitive skills: bow-making, flint knapping, persistence hunting. The joke told itself: making espresso in the wild...what a bunch of city slickers!
But the joke only makes sense from a distance, within the old frame of viewing things. The reality is that crafting a bow, or any other ancient skill, is not so different than learning any modern skill. And in fact, Philip's elaborate espresso-making process was positively primitive, requiring far too much care, patience, and skill to ever find its way into a Starbucks. He would have been a good bow-maker back in the day.
And this gets to the point of the trip: it was not to reject the good things of civilization in favor of a life in the wild. No, the point of the trip was to go on an odyssey, to learn about what it means to be human, and eventually, to synthesize and integrate what is good about each era of our past into a better future.
I don't know how many times I'll have to say it -- it's not a paradox to embrace both the hunt and espresso, wild and civilized, instinct and culture, animal and human. Choosing one or the other is a false choice. Philip embraced both. We all did.
The Professor enjoys a fermented beverage
Okay, okay, on to the hunt.
Let me start by saying that the pronghorn antelope is the fastest land animal in the Western Hemisphere, second in the world only to the cheetah. Except that pronghorn have far more endurance than cheetahs. So in retrospect, perhaps we should have chosen a slower species.
We could find pronghorn -- finding them wasn't the problem. And the first or second pursuit wasn't so hard either. But once we pursued, the antelope got super skittish, and would run, oh, a mile away. Sometimes just over a small rise. Sometimes flanking us to get downwind.
Someone commented: "It's as if these antelope know exactly what to do." We were amateur predators, they were professional prey.
It was harder to keep them in sight than you might think. None of us were trackers, and we didn't know the natural movement patterns of antelope in that area. Even with binoculars, it wasn't always easy to keep them in sight.
Even so, the terrain was about as favorable as you could hope for. Fairly flat, open, and just filled with sage brush (as inhospitable habitats go, it smelled lovely).
Note: a lot of the Earth's surface is hard. Remember that the next time you hear someone say that we didn't evolve to run barefoot on concrete. The world is not one big golf course, one big grassy lawn.
As for footwear, everyone was wearing a pair of Luna Sandals on Day Two. Two of us had worn VFFs on Day One, concerned about cacti on the top of our feet. But the VFFs got hot and and sweaty and felt heavy, and if I stepped on a cactus, the needles would get stuck inside. So I switched to my Lunas on Day Two. They held up great. I'm excited for some of the new models they have in development.
A herd of Lunas
We all wore a piece of blaze orange. Partly so no one mistook us for antelope, partly so we could see each other from farther away. There were times when each of us were spaced more than a quarter mile apart, so it really helped.
This pack of predators hopes its prey will die of laughter
After a few hours of "hunting", we headed back to the cars -- long since out of sight over various ridges.
Our endurance running over, we held a series of footraces. In my first heat against Barefoot Ted, I had a clear false start -- invalidating my victory. In my second heat, I was accused of another false start, but I maintain that it was simply a good start -- and a clean victory. You decide.
Dennis Shaver was the MVP of our trip. Master of logistics, he packed 7 people and tons of gear into a Land Rover, got shit done, and worked longer and harder than everyone else. He was the same guy who arrived in Mexico before the first MovNat seminars, and with a buddy and a few machetes, hacked the campsite out of the jungle. Dennis has paced Barefoot Ted at the Leadville 100 over the years.
Dennis was also interesting because, if he'll forgive me for using him as an example, his life encapsulates the transition that our entire civilization is going through.
Like nearly all of us, his family has no memory of living in the wild (hunter-gatherer).
He was raised on a dairy farm in Michigan by a stern German father, who gave him, through nature and nature, a good work ethic (herder-farmer).
He put himself through college, and went into industrial manufacturing, where the farmer work ethic served him well (producer-consumer).
As the routinized, physical Industrial Era is giving way to the agile Information Age, he has turned his manufacturing company into a lean, knowledge-based enterprise.
Below is my talk from the Ancestral Health Symposium. It's called "Wild Animals, Zoos, and You: The Influence of Habitat on Health". I talk about what we can learn about human health from animals in zoos, including some of these fun topics:
the origins of jumbo jets, jumbo shrimp, and Dumbo
a brief history of zoos
the most dangerous animal in zoos
the most famous (and worst) piece of modern architecture in zoos
biological organisms as information processors
why gorillas should be vegans
gorge and fast feeding in captive lions
why gerbils dig
a neutral approach to health (the Veil of Ignorance)
how do you make anything healthy?
our last connection to the wild
And here are the slides -- you'll definitely want to follow along, I used a lot of pictures. Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments.
Living in NYC, I've gotten the chance to meet a fair number of health figures over the past two years: paleo, primal, barefoot, authors, academics, coaches. One person whom I hadn't met was Mark Sisson. Mark Sisson, as I'm sure nearly all of you know, is the author of The Primal Blueprint and runs MarksDailyApple.com, the single best primal/paleo resource on the net.
A month and a half ago, Mark emailed me. Said he was going to be in NYC, would love to attend a meetup. I suggested he speak, and Mark agreed to give a 15-20 minute talk (max), but then just wanted to riff with people, hear what was on people's minds. Less of a lecture and more of a casual meet-and-greet with mingling. Of course, the casual meet-and-greet turned into a 150+ person affair (our largest meetup event to date) and the 15 minute talk was followed by an hour of dialog and Q&A that showed no sign of stopping when we had to end it. Mark spoke about the metabolic paradigm shift: moving from a sugar-based metabolism to a fat-based metabolism, and the role of carbohydrates in a healthy diet.
A few impressions.
First, Sisson is terrific speaker, and quick on his feet. When you only read someone's blog, you're never sure how they're going to come off in person. Mark was articulate, succinct, funny, and passionate. No winding answers or dodges or tangents. Clear and information-dense, just like his blog, giving the right amount of scientific detail (which is very hard to do). The type of talking that you could listen to all day long. If you get a chance to hear Mark speak, take it.
Second, Sisson has a temperament worth emulating. People always say, "Oh wow, Sisson looks really healthy. Great abs. I want to look like that when I'm X years old." That's all true, but it's old hat by now. I'm sure Mark's abs are great and all (I never saw them), but I like his temperament even more: firm, but gracious.
Let me give an example. He and I had dinner after the event, and we ordered primal (firm). The restaurant accidently messed up the order. Not a huge deal, Mark rolled with it (gracious). But then the waiter kindly and unexpectedly brought out a complimentary dessert. Mark had to be even more gracious and even more firm in turning it down. But turn it down he did, in an arms race of politeness. Really quite funny.
Firm, but gracious. Firmness is an immovable solid, masculine. Firmness is a foundational bedrock of belief that will not be budged by a silly situation. Firmness: we ordered primal, with a normal amount of specifications, and we didn't order dessert. That is who we are. Graciousness, or grace, is a movable liquid, feminine. Grace means living with a flexible interface with the world, adapting effortlessly to people and circumstance. Graciousness: rolling with the messed up order, politely turning down dessert. That is who we are too. Firm, but gracious -- you need to be both in your life. Forget sculpting your abs to emulate Sisson's six-pack. Craft your temperament to emulate his.
Third, Sisson is a true entrepreneur. I hold entrepreneurs in high regard. I'm talking war hero-level status. Entrepreneurs are people who take real risks and put real money on the line in the face of uncertainty. Entrepreneurs like John Wood, at U.S. Wellness Meats, who was told he was crazy to only feed grass to cattle. Entrepreneurs like Joel Salatin, innovating with polyculture agriculture. And entrepreneurs like Mark Sisson, who for years maintained the "expensive hobby" of building the primal community. Mark disseminates information better than almost anyone in the health world, making healthier lifestyles more achievable to more people. The tricky thing about information these days is that it's never been easier to expose false information. So in a sense, Mark has earned his credibility by uncovering the truth and speaking it. Okay, okay, perhaps that's starting to sound a little fawning -- but I did say war hero-level status, right? As someone who is in the process of starting my own business, facing all the challenges and uncertainty that comes with it, Mark gets my mad respect.
The 1% of you who haven't heard of Marks Daily Apple need to make it a regular stop. You name a topic and odds are, Mark's got a single post that gets you 80% of the way there.
What can the Chilean mine rescue teach us about health? A lot, actually. That was the subject of my talk, now online, at Chris McDougall's Cabaret: Re-inventing Running last November. My piece is 15 minutes long. It's more about survival and health than running, though there's a great running story too: one of the miners, Edison Pena, was nicknamed The Runner because he would go running in the mines. (Note: A dark copper mine is bad place for barefoot running.) Pretty inspirational. Now, it would have been easy to say that his running was the key to his survival, and we should all go run, run, run. But that wasn't the lesson I drew from it. You'll just have to waste 15 minutes of your day and watch it.
Navigate to other speakers, there are a lot of great talks. Peter Saarsgard, Hollywood actor and star up the upcoming Green Lantern movie, tells some funny stories. Dan Lieberman's presentation is always awesome (and very funny). There's also Caballo Blanco's Benediction, which is when Brandon Wood, an opera singer, belts out a section of the book. Pretty cool. Check it out.
This speaking stuff is gonna be fun. Check out the Naked Tour to see if stops in your city.
(The embed functionality does allow you to see the chapters, so you'll have to go there directly.)
I always get a kick of out media portrayals. Okay, here are the videos from two recent press pieces: ABC Celebrity Diets and NBC 1st Look NY.
The celebrity diet piece was hilarious (if it weren't so sad how many crazy things women do to lose weight).
Here are the ones they covered:
The Baby Food Diet. My main thought during this piece was, why in God's name do they make macaroni-and-cheese flavored baby food? And is the baby food diet even healthy for...babies?
The Raw Food Diet. Talk about an enormous FAIL. The first thing we learn is that the female trainer lost her menstrual cycle on a raw food diet (presumably a vegetarian raw food diet). Then, immediately after, one of the "health experts" gives raw food the highest nutritional rating. Say what? An interview with a raw foodie chick reveals that she is HAVING TROUBLE DATING because of her diet. You have to see it to believe it.
The Caveman Diet. You see a beautiful shot of some delicious bone marrow at one of our paleo meetups, including a shot of yours truly running barefoot through Central Park. The Caveman Diet gets good reviews. Megan Fox is the celebrity who supposedly eats paleo, but I'll believe it when I see it.
The Dukan Diet. I had never heard of this, but turns out it is a Protein Sparing Modified Fast. Eat protein, some fat, and not much else. Sounds ideal for the goal of rapid weight loss.
The Cookie Diet. Celebrity endorsement by Snookie.
The HCG Diet. Chemical drops you put under your tongue.
The Master Cleanse. Cayenne pepper, lemon juice, maple syrup hocus-pocus.
The Twinkie Diet.
This 1st Look NY piece was a ton of fun to film.
Got a chance to go through my freezer chest. And George, the host, wanted me to help him prepare for the Tough Mudder. So I put together an obstacle course in Central Park. Running, pull-ups (and a muscle-up), picnic table jumps, uphill sprints, balancing, army crawls across a field (Japanese tourists were staring at us) and actually jumping into one of the lakes. Yeah, that might have been against the rules. Oh yeah, and tons of stairs, while soaking wet.
Here is the obstacle course map -- maybe we can make this a regular event.
Welcome to anyone who saw John Durant on NBC 1st Look LXTV.
Simple message: Hunter-gatherers were tall, healthy, and strong. Got issues with weight, energy level, depression, acne, inflammation, stomach problems, or auto-immune diseases? Well, that's not normal. Time to take a page from the hunter-gatherer playbook. Here are three ways to learn more:
1. Sign up for our monthly newsletter, Live Wild, at right. The very best in Homo sapiens health.
Despite everything you've been taught, you are a wild animal. And you will be healthier when you start acting like one. Replicate the most beneficial aspects of living in the wild. Eat the foods humans have been eating for millions of years (a paleo diet), move in the ways we are adapted to move, go barefoot or wear minimalist shoes, get some sun, and so much more.
The train has left the station, and the brakes don't work. Our "Wild Barefoot Running Event Series" started back in August with our Harlem-to-Brooklyn run with Christopher McDougall, built up to the New York City Barefoot Run in October, and now we have McDougall back in town for the New York City Marathon and the biggest Born to Run event ever. Sponsored and organized by Paragon Sports and Vibram. This is the 3rd Act. If you made the other events, you know it's been a blast. If you haven't, here's a chance to redeem yourself. This is one you don't want to miss.
On Friday, Nov. 5, we’ll be staging a TED-like theater of the mind devoted to “Reinventing Running: The Thrill is Back.” I’ll be hosting an evening of guest speakers who will re-examine our first fine art — distance running — and discuss how to re-discover the adventure without fear, spongy footwear, or false limitations. We’re modeling the night after the wildly successful TED conferences, with an added twist: the speakers will condense their talks to 15 intense, fast-moving minutes, but for a finale, all the speakers will gather on stage for a wide-open audience Q&A panel. Chance of a lifetime: if you’ve ever wanted to ask Barefoot Ted about The Urine Incident, or Prof. Lieberman about chatting old bones with Alan Alda, opportunity is knocking.
Guests speakers so far include:
Dr. Daniel Lieberman, Harvard’s “Barefoot Professor” and co-creator of the “Running Man” theory of human evolution.
Coach Eric Orton, the wizard from Born to Run who rebuilt me in time for the epic race against the Tarahumara.
Barefoot Ted McDonald: is any introduction necessary? For the first time ever on stage, BFT will be simultaneously demonstrating how to craft your own pair of Tarahumara-style racing sandals while describing his years-long exploration of indigenous footwear in search of the perfect minimalist running shoe.
John Durant: fresh from his star-turn on The Colbert Report and a national leader of hunter-gatherer athleticism. John was at least half the brains behind that wild moving street party of the Harlem run and recently staged the gigantic First Annual New York Barefoot Run on Governors island.
Fast and Female will be making a special presentation
Plus a special mystery guest will be on hand with exciting Born to Run news (more on this soon. Really soon).
AND hula dancers! Vibram FiveFingers giveaways! Personalized book signings! A raffle for a special event: Saturday In The Park With McDougall and Barefoot Ted. Raffle winners will be personally fitted and presented with a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, then join Barefoot Ted and I for a run in Central Park followed by muffins and coffee.
Also, I am seriously honored to be one of the speakers at this kick-ass event. Chris McDougall? Barefoot Ted? These guys have run marathons and ultra-marathons through extreme heat and high altitude. My high school cross country coach must be rolling on the ground laughing. Dan Lieberman? He does more real science in one night's sleep than I'll do in my entire life. I think McDougall invited me so he can steal my leather jacket. I'M JUST A GLORIFIED EVENT PLANNER. I'll just have to come up with something.