This is a guest post from Eric Bach, primal enthusiast and member of The Modern Gypsies. You may know The Gypsies as the winners of the 2011 adventure race television show Expedition Impossible, and perhaps remember them from this MDA interview. Well, their adventures didn’t end after the show. Since then, they’ve ventured out on a “Compassionate Adventure” of their own making, and have been met with some, let’s say, diverse dishes along the way. Enter Eric.
Ok, so you know the story, eat fresh, organic, unprocessed foods which includes meat, veggies, nuts and seeds. It’s simple and straightforward, the primal way of life is second nature to you. In your neighborhood there’s that quaint little butcher that always has your grass-fed beef, or you can swing by Whole Foods and make a rainbow assortment of varied nuts and seeds; oh and while you’re there, you may as well pick up a can of organic coconut oil. Everything is readily available, taunting you with attractive labels and promises of grass-fed, high omega-3, non GMO goodness.
Now picture this, you’re high up in the Ecuadorian highlands, you just reached the 19,347 ft summit of one of the tallest peaks in the country, Cotopaxi, and after the glorious descent your body is yearning for primal fuel. What are the options? Sure there is a plethora of potatoes and corn (the standard diet of most villagers in Ecuador). However, you just got your ass handed to you by Mount Doom and you need some proper sustenance. After asking local villagers in broken spanglish about the whereabouts of cooked meats, they point to a bag on the ground. You open this bag, expecting freshly grilled goodies, only to discover a pack of adorable, furry Guinea Pig friends. You grew up with a guinea pig, his name was Biscuit and now you are confronted with beautiful childhood memories. Quickly you snap to your senses, wiping the goofy smirk off of your face. Here, Biscuit is food and you’ve got a decision to make.
This was the situation that confronted us this past year in Ecuador. Myself, along with my two teammates Taylor Filasky and John Post, had been in the country for several weeks on a “Compassionate Adventure.” Our group, “The Modern Gypsies” had utilized our fan base to vote, raise funds and help to complete a clean water project for over 400 people, as well as summit the stratovolcano, Cotopaxi. Our goal for this trip was to complete one major act of compassion, have one epic adventure and, with a small camera crew, document the experience (guinea pig snacks and all). We truly believe that it is crucially important to not only push your limits physically, but also to give back to the communities whom you encounter along the way. Little did we know, one of the ways we would test our boundaries would be with the long-lost relatives of a childhood pet.
I had been in this questionable consumption situation before; wriggling, fat grubs in Myanmar, Balut (half developed duck embryo) in the Philippines, crickets, chicken heads, scorpions and many unknown meats that I simply cannot put into words (mostly in India). However, staring at a bald, dead guinea pig on a stick, did not give me the traditional Pavlovian salivating response. Then I took a step back and looked at the process. Here we were in the middle of the beautiful Ecuadorian countryside in the tiny village of Gulahuayco. During the days we worked side by side with the men, women and children of the village, digging over 2 kms of trenching and eventually laying the pipe which would bring clean water to the entire community. We were all exhausted; the work was strenuous and our tools for completing the project were…well, they were “primal”. Yet here we were again working side by side, heating up a giant cauldron, husking corn, peeling potatoes and killing guinea pigs (not as glamorous as I make it sound…). Everyone was smiling and laughing, mostly at us. Our common bond was hard work and a desire to better the community.
So we went for it. A large group came together in a small dining hall and we all ate together. The guinea pig was tough, but tasted fairly mild, like a chewier, gamier chicken. Thankfully they cut the heads off (which by way of the Ecuadorians were the first to go for some reason). Upon putting a piece in your mouth, you might still end up with a paw or tiny ear, which was cute. While the dish may not be on the top of my list, the experience of eating the meal together is one I will always remember.
Sometimes in life, we have to make interesting decisions regarding what we put into our mouths. I have been confronted with many of these situations and what I’ve learned is to not think too deeply, or too “Westernized,” into it. Following a primal way of life, we are always thinking about what is going into our mouths and what effect it will have on our body. However, when traveling to exotic corners of the earth, this privileged way of thinking can often be a major hindrance.
As you know, one of the keys to living a successful primal lifestyle is varying your routine. This can come in the form of exercise, diet or life experience. When traveling to foreign lands, partaking in the local dining experience is not just a choice, in my opinion it is your duty. Don’t you worry, you’ll usually have the standard options of chicken, beef, or fish. It’s cool, you know what it will taste like, you know the consistency and your vanilla palette will be satisfied…you did good, you stayed primal! However, in the sense of adventure and life experience, when presented with a more “unique” option, stop thinking and go for it!
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.