Abandon the Primal Eating Plan?

Though we faithfully subscribe to an evolutionary model of living, eating, and exercising – the Primal Blueprint – we still live in a decidedly modern world fraught with all the inconveniences, global upheavals, and politics it entails. Authentically living like Grok is already tough without access to ample wild vegetation, big game as far as the eye can see, and daily incidentals that put our survival skills to the test, but the recent worldwide economic downturn makes things even harder for most people. Maybe we can’t afford organic veggies from the co-op anymore. Maybe we’ve had to pick up an extra job and we simply don’t have time to prepare healthy meals using whole foods anymore. And stress from watching your 401k dwindle down to near-nothingness can make that drive-thru look pretty attractive. Polls suggest that the economic troubles weigh heavily on the public, and our common reaction is to let our health suffer. It’s easy to go for cheaper, processed foods when, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average price of food has jumped 7.5% in the last year alone.

Maintaining the Primal Blueprint in the face of the economy is possible, though.

From time to time MDA receives press/media releases in the hopes that we’ll cover their story. A recent media release sent our way offers suggestions for healthy eating in these difficult times. Unfortunately, we don’t think their wallet-sparing tips are anything to write home about for the public at large, let alone MDA readers. You might start seeing their (scientists and dietitians from Ohio State University Medical Center) recommendations floating around the net, so we thought we’d act preemptively and offer some counter-suggestions.

Here’s our take. Share yours in the comment boards!

Eat Less Meat

Buying meat, especially organic meat, can be an economic impossibility in a recession. The media release suggests we limit ourselves to a playing card-size of meat per serving, which fits nicely into the traditional food pyramid, but what of the more carnivorous Primal masses? What are we to eat, if not healthy portions of meat? Healthy animal proteins and fats are a significant portion of the Primal eating plan, and removing them altogether simply isn’t feasible for our readers.

Then again, in the face of lowered wages, unemployment, and a credit market in stasis, buying organic meat isn’t exactly feasible either. One of our favorite options is canned seafood. Canned tuna is generally affordable, packed with protein, and wild-caught. Plus, tuna is easily adaptable – use it in salads, lettuce wraps, or simply straight out of the can. Canned sardines are another excellent option. Sardines are fairly cheap too, and they contain tons of healthy omega-3 fish oil (protein, too).

Another option is to buy wholesale from a farm. If you find the right place, you can get excellent quality (even grass-fed) at cut-rate prices (relative to specialty grocery store prices, at least). For those of you who were already buying grass-fed buffalo steaks for $25/pound at Whole Foods, you’ll welcome the price difference (as low as $7/pound).

Canned Tomatoes (and Pasta)

Cheaper than fresh tomatoes, the canned variety can also provide healthy filler for otherwise sparse dishes. The media release suggests adding canned tomatoes to nearly every meal, which is generally sound advice. Tomatoes are packed with nutrients, and the canned varieties are good substitutes for fresh ones (just watch the sodium content). But they also suggest using tomatoes in making pasta sauces. Sauces, full of garlic, herbs and spices, are amazing. We fully support the use of sauces. Sauces in conjunction with pasta, though? No thanks. Pasta may be a cheap substitute for real food, but the unhealthy carbs and subsequent glycemic impact simply aren’t worth it.

They do suggest we add vegetables, like broccoli and carrots, to make the pasta go a bit longer and pack a bit more nutrient punch. This is a great start. We suggest forgoing the pasta altogether and opting for a “pasta” dish made up entirely of vegetables (and meat, if you can swing it). It’s not quite pasta, but it’s healthy, filling, and affordable.

Short story: eat canned tomatoes and watch the salt content, but don’t use them for pasta.

Eat Beans and Oatmeal

Ah, beans and oatmeal – the favorite foods of post-apocalyptic survivors. Beans and oats are definitely hardy and can probably withstand a nuclear holocaust, but let’s face it: we’re not quite there yet. The study touts beans as a high-protein meat replacement, which is technically true. Beans and legumes do contain protein, and vegetarians often use them to replace meat. And oats are cheap and easy. But the Primal Blueprint is an omnivorous lifestyle that shuns legumes and grains for their hidden toxins and reliance on heavy processing. If you’re committed to the Primal lifestyle, a far better calorie-dense option is a handful of nuts.

So, unless the situation becomes so dire that neo-punk barbarians are marauding across the land in a mad dash for all the almonds, walnuts, and pecans they can find, stay away from beans and oatmeal.

Buying Generic Food Items

The media release suggests going generic. We support this, but only when the foods are Primal in nature (don’t go buying the store-brand version of Fruit Loops or soda or anything). Condiments, oils, spices, and seasonings: none of these really need to be organic or name-brand, so have at them. When you’re pinching pennies and budgeting for everything, a few extra dollars tacked onto some mostly inconsequential items will add up very, very quickly.

What Else Can We Do?

We’ve tackled this topic in previous posts, but as the situation grows ever more dire, they need to be looked at again. To rehash:

Frozen veggies – These will store in your freezer for up to a year, they’re just as nutritious as the fresh versions, and frozen organic is usually cheaper than fresh organic.

CSA – Buying a share in a farm can get you fresh, organic vegetables and meat at a fraction of their regular prices. Plan ahead, though, because these things sell out quickly!

Coupons – Scour the newspapers (alt weeklies and national papers alike) for paper coupons, or even call companies direct and ask for coupon books. You’d be surprised at how successful this can be. Also, check out online coupons.

Pick your spots – Go organic when it’s absolutely necessary. Meat, eggs, and soft-skinned (or fruit/veggies with permeable skins) veggies and fruits should be organic. If it has a tough outer layer, chances are you can safely eat the conventionally farmed variety.

Cut back – As we said before, don’t buy premium, organic condiments. That aged goat cheese? Hold off on it. The 71% free-trade pure cocoa dark chocolate bar from Venezuela? Save the three bucks. These things will add up, and, quite frankly, you’d be better off spending the money on some organic eggs or vegetables.

Share your tips in thoughts in the comment boards and check out the links below for more ideas.

Health Eating on a Budget Round-Up:

3 Budget Friendly Healthy Foods Tips

Healthy Eating on a Budget

Dear Mark: Cheap Meat?

Cheap Meat Round II: “Thrift Cuts”

How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

Affording Organics

Urban Gardening

How to Eat Healthy and Save Money

My Paleo Kitchen: 10 Money Saving Tips

Modern Forager: “You’d Have to Be a Millionaire to Eat Like That”

Get Rich Slowly – Unit Pricing: Get More Food for Less Money and The Grocery Game

That’s Fit: Are You Eating Out Less?

Dumb Little Man: Red Alert – Save Money on Your Next Shopping Trip

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