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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27 thoughts on “Abandon the Primal Eating Plan?”

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  1. Eggs are the #1 inexpensive good source of animal fat and protein. Even the most expensive — and generally most nutritious — pastured eggs still only come out to about $1 or $1.50 per meal.

    I also enjoy properly prepared (soaked, fermented) beans and legumes.

    Food Is Love

  2. I find farmers markets waaaay cheaper than normal supermarkets (grocery stores) I go each saturday morning and bring back a huge amount of fresh fruit, Veg, Cheese, and Meat for next to nothing compared to what I would pay. Plus its fresh, tastes amazing and I am contributing to the local farmers! Great post….

  3. This is a very timely article given the uncertainty of the times. I second Chris’s recommendation for farmer’s markets. I go to my local farmer’s market every Sunday morning and get very affordable prices for fresh, organic meat and veges.

    For instance, I get (relatively) local, 98% lean, grass fed and finished texas long-horn beef for as low as $9 a pound depending on the cut. I find that buying roasts are an excellent economically option. And there is a counter selling wild alaskan salmon for $9/lb as well. Eggs from locally raised, pastured chickens are $6 a dozen. The seller even has pictures of the chicken ranch and lots of information about how the chickens oare raised to boot! Plus the locally grown, organic, veggies are way way cheaper than the organics one finds in the supermarkets.

    While some of these prices may be higher than what you find in safeway for functionally equivalent products, the per-meal price is really not prohibitive. Especially if one avoids eating out (including coffee at peets or starbucks: $3 a day adds up to $90 a month which is a significant percentage of the grocery bill), cuts back on premium chocolates and wine, and buys generic oils, spices, condiments, etc., as the article suggests.

    In my experience, the per-month grocery bill remains affordable on this type of plan, albeit perhaps still on the higher side. But the plus side is that one is making no compromises on one’s health.

    Thats my 2¢. Thanks for the great article!


  4. I find that sardines are a great and cheap protein source, especially when mixed with eggs and vegetables.

    I also go for the vegetables that are in season. Cabbage, carrots, celery and mushrooms (not very popular vegetables) can make great dinners and don’t cost very much in comparison to bell peppers, zucchini and fennel (sometimes fennel is dirt cheap at my local grocery store and sometimes very expensive, I don’t get it.)

    I also find that buying whole chickens and pork tenderloins is a good way to go for meat.

  5. I agree with Huck – eggs have to be the cheapest way to get a good solid, healthy dose of protein and fat. A dozen large free range eggs deliver 50g of high quality protein, yet cost a fraction of the price of most fresh meat or fish of equivalent protein. But tinned fish is also a great option and although not fresh, certainly comparable price-wise. There is also great variety – mackerel, sardines, tuna, salmon, crab (watch out for added sugar!), lobster, clams, pilchards, cod roe etc etc

  6. I have definitely noticed the crunch here. It seems that every week we spend more money for the same amount of food! We haven’t reached the emergency/change the way we shop and eat stage yet but it has definitely taken a chunk out of our financial buffer. Because of the fact that food is such an important aspect of life, our diet will probably be one of the last things we change. There are other places to save money first!

  7. It is certainly getting a bit ridiculous – go to the store pick up some meat & veggie for dinner, some salad stuff for lunch… bar of chocolate maybe some yogurt/cheese.. and before you know it your up to $50 and you have to go back 2 days later!

    The cost has gone up for sure, but I am not yet willing to make any major changes like replacing meat with beans & pasta!

    I’d give up my Americano habit first, then start making my own clothes… the meat and veggies will be last to go!

  8. Fabulous and timely article. However, I would tend to disagree a bit on buying generic condiments and such. Since these types of items are some of the only pre-packaged things we buy, one should be very careful in reading the ingredients list. As would be expected, organic and/or all natural condiments are much less likely to contain added sugar, HFCS and preservatives. But this is not to say that name brand products contain better ingredients, just a word of caution to double check those ingredients. In some cases, it’s worth it to shell out that extra dollar for quality salad dressing.
    Agree with the rest of advice. I will be picking up my very first order of grass-fed beef and whey-fed pork this Saturday. The cuts I selected range from $7.50 to $9.50, which is pretty high for me, but still bearable.

  9. Thanks for this post a lot. Common sense mostly. But anyway, what are your thoughts about this oil blend for cooking??
    I have read the book from which it comes and I am very fond of her thoughts etc but was wondering about using this blend for high heat cooking? Also what are your thought on the use of raw cacao butter in baking etc? I recently made some muffins with cacao butter and almond flour that I found somewhere; we really enjoyed them!

  10. On the meat front, I used to save boatloads of money by purchasing the “manager’s special.” It’s meat on the cusp of going bad, but the price is sooo good. Then of course comes the day when you toss 3 lbs of “manager’s special” pork into the chili you’re cooking… Suddenly the chili is ruined, the kitchen smells like cat’s breath, your children are crying in fear, and your wife wants a divorce. Don’t buy the manager’s special. It’s not special, it’s just wrong.

  11. McFly,

    hahaha that is hilarious! We grew up on managers special meat. Fortunately though, I don’t think it ever made us cry! lol

  12. I think once you get enough fat in your diet, you need less and less meat (nitrogen sparing). Also meat is usually on sale once a week so just need to load up and freeze is when it is cheap. Outside of that, people just really need to focus on where there money is going and prioritize….as I have met plenty of people driving nice cars and living in oversized homes complaining about gas prices and the cost of milk. A bit of perspective might be our best weapon. That and prevention now in the foods we choose is much cheaper than one night in the hospital later.

  13. I do the pasta sauce without pasta thing all the time! My fav is pasta sauce with broccoli. I also add chickpeas to the mix. And fresh grated parmesan. Yum!

  14. Thank you for this very timely article! It’s certainly a topic that’s been on my mind.

  15. I like my veggie-laden ‘pasta’ sauce on cooked spaghetti squash! It’s an ancient foodie trick, but it’s sure good…

  16. Phew. I thought you were going to advise against the consumption of canned tomatoes when I started reading that part of the article. Thankfully, you like them because they are a big part of my diet.

  17. It all depends on your point of view. My cost for going game bird hunting (hunting licenses, gas, lodging, ammunition etc) can put the cost of a single quail or dove at about $20, or $60 a pound. Sometimes a very successful day will bring the unit cost down, but its impossible to put a price on a great hunt with my son and good friends. Besides, tromping around desert hills for game is a great workout (mucho primal). I haven’t seen much on this website about hunting your own game, but I can’t recommend it enough. If you live in a state with easy access to large mammal hunting (Oregon, Idaho, Montana, much of the eastern seaboard) or much of the rural US, its something to consider.

  18. I love canned tuna, but have started being careful of the kind I buy. I figured tuna packed in water was just that, but on the ingredient list “broth” is included, which can include msg’s and any other ingredient they wish to add to the broth.
    Keep up the great work!! Love the website!

  19. Trader Joe’s “Just Chicken”, it’s pre-cooked = convenient, in a crunch and on the go, grab a handful out of the bag and throw it in a container along with some frozen vegetables w/ a splash of coconut oil…wallah..instant lunch. Speaking of Frozen Vegetables..the Trader Joe Variety..you can walk out of the store with 7 pounds of Asian Vegetables for less than $14.00. You’ll just might have to discard the few corn fetus’ that they pack in the bags.

  20. I’ve been spending hours going through the tons of information on this site instead of going out and tromping the Santa Monica Mountains I now live in. Eventually I will have seen most of it and actually get around to reading the freebie ebook I downloaded when I signed up here recently but damn, so much info, so little time it seems these days. I have found that I have perhaps unknowingly been living this primal lifestyle without seeing any of this for the past few years. I don’t eat most of the processed garbage, sweets, baked stuff and nonsense because something “primal” inside of me told me not to. No sweet tooth, no urge to consume things in boxes and plastic. That being said I am still fat! I read recently that they have discovered a virus of all things that makes us fat. I must be swimming in them. I watch thin, svelt folks gobbling tons of food and when I eat less that that I store it away in my body like a bear gorging for winter’s hibernation. As for this shoppng method I have been doing this without being told to because I love walking out of a grocery with a trunk full of food for fifty bucks and it lasts me weeks. I especially like when the clerk reads off the savings on the slip out loud and folks around me are shocked. You saved SEVENTY DOLLARS Mr. Luken on $100 worth of normally priced stuff. I buy the manager’s specials all the time. Meat is supposed to age a bit and if it doesn’t smell like a rotting zombie I say OK. Fish is just way too expensive now as are most veggies. I wait until they post the big red signs for things under a dollar a pound when they’re usually 2 or 3 bucks a pound. I mean really, 2 bucks for a lousy bell pepper? A buck fifty for an avocado? 5 bucks or more for a cauliflower? This is nuts, and I don’t buy nuts because they’re even worse now. Apples at 99 cents a pound is when I grab a bag. Grapes at 88 cents a pound rather than 3 bucks and I say why not. Suffice it to say I never end up eating the same stuff week after week. Making food keep is the big situation. I don’t have a big freezer, fridge or cool dry place to put food and find myself grabbing canned crap [although I do now study intently the ingredient labels and put back anything that resembles a chemistry experiment]. My problem is I just can’t get my ass out and up into the wilderness to Grok with the bobcats and crows. Even with never watching tv anymore I still find myself sitting in front of this laptop for hours being buried in masses of disinformation on the net. Maybe it will be a good thing if the fascists shut it down soon. When the groceries are empty and the food riots start at least there are rabbits and other wild critters everywhere around here so I won’t starve like the denizens of Los Angeles so nearby.

  21. Is there any place that sells canned tuna packed in oil that isn’t soy?

  22. But what about the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids in nuts and seeds?

  23. Why don’t we just do what Grok would have done when food was scarce for him?

  24. At the top of each post, where it ways the date of the month and the month, it would great to have the year listed, too, since your archive is getting so big, Mark.

  25. You said “free trade” when I believe you meant “fair trade.” And I do understand the point of view you are coming from but buying fair trade products are important items to buy because you are helping to farmers around the world to have sustainable jobs and be able to provide for their families.

  26. Gardening. I have always loved it, and it becomes easier than most people think. You can freeze a lot, and can and ferment. Also, I live in a somewhat rural area and people hunt. Wild foraging game is so healthy, quite tasty, and if butchered properly, I enjoy venison as much as beef. Eggs, gotta love them, I love omelettes for dinner, and love to have a hard boiled egg for a snack. It is so costly to eat a healthful diet, but there are ways to try and make it work. I can’t afford grass fed beef, I wish I could. Maybe I will learn to bow hunt.