When was the last time you made a great meal? From-scratch prep, serious gratification result. This morning? Last week? Last month? Although I imagine Primal folks cook much more often than most non-Primal types, we all get caught up in the busyness of life. Eating – even healthy eating – often gets boiled down to convenience and strategy. I get it. Few of us have the luxury of basking in culinary ventures at every meal (myself included), but I do find real cooking to be an underappreciated indulgence – and there’s the rub.
Why, as a larger culture, have we chosen to forgo so many of these gifts – taking extra time to shop for better food, creating meals together, lingering at the table? For example, we can look at statistics that say the average American spends only 27 minutes on food preparation each day and wonder – are we really that busy? What are we rushing off to? Then we see average T.V. viewing is 151 hours a month! (How is this even possible?) Clearly, our priorities are royally screwed up.
Of all the things we can do for our health, many (if not most) are just outright enjoyable, pleasurable even. Connecting with our food can be exactly that – from absorbing the joys of gardening to relishing the sensory delights of great recipes to reclaiming the social hour for dinner. As for cooking itself, learning to cook is just one of those essential human skills. It was an evolutionary linchpin. Our hominid brains as well as our bodies benefited from the chance to access new food sources that were only available to our ancestors through cooking. And it wasn’t just about heat. As we learned to adapt food sources in other ways such as soaking, curing, fermenting and smoking we had more options for calories and nutrition. Yet, it was more than that.
According to anthropological interpretation of surviving evidence, the ritual of food preparation for our hunter-gatherer kin started tens of thousands of years ago in meat sharing practices. (Evidence of large scale feasts date back at least 12,000 years, proving Grok and his buds really knew how to throw a good dinner party.) The point is, even in those “short and brutish” days, it wasn’t all kill the beast, chop it up, and eat it. Food preparation, merging into ceremony, took on a social and cultural life of its own beyond consumption.
In every human society since, there’s been rich and varied tradition associated with food preparation. Religions of nearly every brand have food related rituals regarding how meals are to be prepared, shared, or timed. We see it still in the age-old practices that keep food Kosher or in the preparation of feasts for our most treasured holidays, in the tradition of serving a meal following a wedding or burial. Some cultures, like the Greeks, even have specific foods customary for the burial event.
Even today, there are few things so resoundingly primal as preparing food to create meals (for large or small scale). There are the smells, the blood and the flames. There are the messy hands, drunken senses (literal or figurative depending on how much of the cooking wine you tested), the heightened, tactile creativity. Is cooking essential to the Primal Blueprint? I’d say you have a hard time getting around it without a Primally trained personal chef (there’s a thought). Cooking, on some level, is necessary for the PB and is beneficial to a profound degree.
Eating in is in almost every case healthier (and much more economical). Most of us would be hard pressed to find a Primal restaurant near us (they do exist), and even in better restaurants with local and organic suppliers, there are the still the question marks lingering on the menu. What kind of oil do they use for cooking? What kind of cookware? While I enjoy going out and have no intention of forgoing that pleasure, there’s a certain peace in knowing every facet of my dinner. Compared to the larger landscape of conventional “dine out” choices, you’re astronomically better off eating in.
The better cooks we are, the richer and more varied our diets can be. The principle worked for our ancestors’ collective health, and it applies to us individually today. Like our ancestors, the right techniques open up new food possibilities for us – like cheaper and otherwise tougher cuts of meat. Additionally, many foods may be wholly uninspiring on their own but become fast favorites when paired with the right sauce or some novel herbs. As we expand our repertoire, we lessen the chance that we’ll get bored with our choices.
A few key cooking techniques and kitchen skills can go a long way in making our Primal dishes healthier and more satisfying. You get a lot of mileage, for example, in terms of both flavor and nutrition when you can make your own batches of bone broth and use them creatively with meat dishes, sautèed vegetables, or basic sauces. Braising opens up a whole new world with certain meats. Roasting can make certain vegetables glorious that you wouldn’t touch steamed. Playing with fats and incorporating them into – well, everything – can give your food levels of flavor that will confound your dinner guests and satisfy you to no culinary end. The end result of all these endeavors just might be you, Primal chef, developing a nuanced palate and kitchen wizardry you couldn’t ever imagine wanting – let alone having. What do you know – you got skills. And a damned good dinner at that.
Thanks for reading, everyone. What do you think? Could you be Primal and not cook your own meals? Did you come to Primal living with a penchant for cooking, or did you learn along the way? Have you discovered an appreciation for time spent in the kitchen? Have a good end to the week.
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.