Op-Ed: Going Paleo on the Stanford Campus

Opinion by and
Feb. 16, 2011, 12:23 a.m.

“What to eat” is a hot topic on everyone’s mind these days. Whether the reason is economic, environmental, ethical, traditional, for health, performance, convenience or personal satisfaction, everyone has to make the decision. And it has become increasingly difficult.

In an article called “The Dinner Divide” in Newsweek magazine last year, Lisa Miller argued that food has become a fundamental indicator of social status. “As more of us indulge in our passion for local, organic delicacies, a growing number of Americans don’t have enough nutritious food to eat,” she wrote.  Cheap food, by and large, is bad food.

That got me thinking: if modern agriculture has created this problem, is the agricultural “progress” reversible?  The recent popularity of the “Paleo” diet — to eat as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did in the Paleolithic era — led me to wonder: Could I survive as a hunter-gatherer on the Stanford campus? I decided to try.

I set out to collect a daily serving of calories (2000 kCal) with a sufficient serving of protein (50g), carbohydrates (300g), and fats (65g). My only resources were two maps, Trees of StanfordEarly Uses of California Plants, my two feet and an empty bag. Due to seasonal constraints, I found my options limited to citrus fruits, pomegranates, acorns, and wild game (squirrels, rabbits and raccoons).

Collecting citrus fruits was by far the easiest, because orange, lemon, lime and tangerine trees are abundant on campus. I did not need to look at too many maps to find them. To add variety to the citrus, and supplement carbohydrate intake, I was able to gather ripened pomegranates.

Protein and fats were the hardest to come across. It was evident that I could hunt squirrels, however firearms are expressly forbidden on the Stanford campus, and I didn’t have the tools at my disposal to hunt, skin and gut a squirrel. It became clear that, with my limited resources, I was going to have to rely on plants. Acorns were actually a staple of many native Californians’ diets. Quercus agrifolia (coast live oak) is the most prized species.

Eating acorns is actually a fairly complex process, but I was up to the challenge. If I were to eat three pomegranates and three oranges in a day, I would still need about 30 g of protein to meet my needs. Gathering acorns also proved to be pretty time consuming. I spent about an hour and a half collecting one pound of acorns.

After collecting them, I had to crack each shell individually and remove the meat (about 2 to 3 hours for a pound of acorns). I then mashed up the nuts a bit and had to boil out the tannin. Tannin makes the nut incredibly bitter and mildly toxic to humans (and some animals), because it slows down the digestive process.  In order to remove the bitterness, the acorns need to be boiled until the water turns dark brown, switched to a clean pot of water and repeated 3-4 times.

After boiling the nuts, I put them in a food processor to create a flour-like substance. I thought at this point, that if I could only cook nuts, I might as well get creative and mix in various fruits. I cooked four different acorn/water/fruit mixtures (lemon and rosemary, orange, pomegranate, and plain) in a pan over high heat for 20 minutes.  This was a mistake: acorns do not mix well with citrus. The lemon and rosemary and plain cakes were okay (edible at the least), however the orange and pomegranate cakes were terrible.

I ultimately succeeded in my goal of creating a full Paleo meal off of the Stanford campus. With a sufficient trap and knife, I could have added squirrels or rabbits to my diet, which would significantly cut down preparation time. My approach was not the most efficient or convenient approach.  But I learned there are many resources in the world that are good for our health and the environment that do not exist in a store, that we can take advantage of.  I felt much more connected to what I was eating. And while the taste of my meal left something to be desired, the same could be said of many meals on the Stanford campus.

Lucyann Murray ‘12

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