Breakfast for the Ancestors

And all the deaths I’m heir to/turn a little from their tasks and look at me

–Lorna Crozier, from Whetstone

I had a whopper of a hypoglycemia attack last week. Couldn’t sit up. Couldn’t even lift an arm. Trevor said I turned “ashen”. My pulse was rapid and weak, and I had pins & needles creeping up my arms and starting in my face. I thought I was going to die. The paramedics came.

I’ve recently reduced the fat in my diet. I was told my cholesterol reading was too high. So for the past few weeks, I’ve been trying obediently to function on more carbohydrates and less fat. Doctor’s orders.

My body does not have an easy time making and storing fat. I’m 51 years old now, but I have no paunch, no extra energy reserves. So when my blood glucose goes down, my body has precious little fat to turn to for energy. I eat a lot, throughout the day, to keep my blood sugar steady. I’ve had hypoglycemic attacks so often throughout my adult life that I’ve had plenty of opportunities to learn how to prevent them. But I’ve been working too hard, and my new diet just wasn’t keeping up with the energy expenditures. Too much carbs, too little fat. Even by my standards, this latest hypoglycemic collapse was extreme.

The past month’s outdoor work has been intense as we’ve done so much to limb-up trees and clean up the wood debris from the forest floor to reduce ladder fuel, and to burn the waste, in a hurry, before the pending ban on open burning. We can’t leave the waste sitting on the land all through the fire season. Unless the current drought abates, we could be facing one of our worst fire seasons this summer.

And because the spring thaw was about three weeks early, I have a lot of accelerated work to do in the garden to clean up the beds and to give all the seedlings a good start. Plus firewood chopping. Plus the energy costs of keeping Buki happy and well exercised (4–5 hours per day of walks, and frisbee-chasing, and various high-energy games). Plus contract work, and housekeeping, fire brigade duties, and errands.

And I’ve been going to the gym for weight lifting to build and maintain muscle. The workouts have burned up much of my thin veneer of subcutaneous fat. I’m leaner than ever, without any extra fuel to burn. Spring and summer keep me in such a high state of physical activity that from April to June, I usually lose about 10 pounds of muscle (and whatever fat I started with). And then I have to re-earn the muscle yet again during the next late fall-winter off-season. I’m now in my 50’s. It’s time to think ahead to old age. I don’t want low bone density, and I don’t want to be one of those skinny men who becomes a sadly skeletal old man. Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder, the same one that makes me so slender, thin-boned and tall, can lead to osteoporosis. I want a good sheath of muscle around every bone, and I want to work my limbs and core and pecs to strain the bones to make them stronger.

This morning’s article in The Guardian gives the right idea:

And, I might add, the body building is making me look pretty good. Some might even say “sexy”…(?). Not bad for 51 years old, anyway.

For the body-building to work, along with all the rest of the hard physical work in my daily life, I need a high-fat diet. My doctor is not wrong to be concerned about my cholesterol. But from the menu of maladies, I’d rather order death by cholesterol-caused massive stroke than an osteoporosis-caused broken bones and a depressingly sedentary life.

My ancestors were mostly northern Europeans. Dairy people. Consumers of whole milk and cream. Lean, tall, hard working, cold-climate people who understood that fatty foods get you through the winter and dairy and meat are what you need to get the job done. Those ancestors’ genes still live on, inside of me, in all my tissues. They tell me what to do, on a cellular level. They say “Eat fat.” They also say “Reproduce.”, but that’s not my job. I am a genetic dead-end, and I’m content with that. I’d rather leave a legacy of knowledge and ideas. The ancestors seem satisfied with my explanation.

Severe bouts of hypoglycemia come with the risk of a progressive damage to the pancreas and eventual onset of type-II diabetes. So I decided to resume my usual high-fat, high-protein diet. Carbs don’t do it for me; they just raise my insulin to levels that cause my glucose to collapse. I might dine differently if I lived a sitter’s life, staring all day at a television machine, or if I had different ancestors murmuring genetically inside my cells. But given my lifestyle and my peculiar genetics. I’m going to revel in the diet that my ancestors tell me I need. Like this:

A heap of potatoes, mashed with heavy (36%) cream, fried in a lot of butter, with five fried eggs, roasted tomatoes and tomatillo sauce. All home-grown or local except the butter, salt, and pepper. I would die without such a high-fat, high-calorie diet. In a famine, I’d be one of the first to perish.

This is the sort of breakfast it takes to feed my ancestors’ genes. This is the sort of breakfast I need to face all the hard work of helping to keep Edgewood going. Trevor and I are immersed in the vital, high-energy world of these ten acres, with all its demands for hard physical work. It’s kind of like a farmer’s life. Kind of like what I imagine my ancestors did to survive and thrive. I want to have enough harvest from the garden and enough gathered from the wild each year to support our annual dietary needs. After a lot of intense work to develop the gardens and learning how to preserve the harvests, we’re nearly there. It’s better than a starvation diet, anyway.

But all that work takes a lot of energy. It requires dietary fat, and muscle, and strong bones. Though the main fat and protein sources in my diet don’t come from Edgewood, most of the rest does. This is the land of Edgewood incorporated into my body, and returning to the land again. This is a human life intricately and intimately tied to the land and visa versa. A more sustainable way of living than grocery shopping and dining out. I have my hands in the soil of these gardens, and their harvests are inside of me. It isn’t easy, but it’s a delicious life.

When I finished the last bites of my breakfast, I was sorry there wasn’t more. I commented to myself: “Mmm, that was good.” And so I fed my ancestors, to their satisfaction. And then I went out and chopped wood, thinking thoughts about how I’ve not produced any descendants to feed my genes after I’m dead.

Bony apetite!

P.S., Trevor and I want to thank our good neighbour Chris Nowak for his first-aid help during my medical emergency. Thank you Chris & Amber for being such excellent people!

2 thoughts on “Breakfast for the Ancestors

  1. Dietary advice can be more problematic than it’s worth at times, for example over the past couple of years I’ve been reading that people do not need to worry about salt in the diet as much as has been promoted, that only those with serious heart issues need to be that concerned, but that they’ve just said that to be on the ‘safe’ (not subject to lawsuits) side, and I most recently read that they’re now recommending full-fat dairy instead of low fat, including heart patients! Research changes and evolves – first coffee’s bad for you now it’s good; remember the canteloupe scare? I’m in the same boat as you weight/muscle tone wise, and I do need to do strength training but I’m trying to eat more – I have what my research describes as ‘age related anorexia’ it’s not nervosa – but being thin as we age is normal -although you’re 50, I’m 77 I weigh 122 lbs – a bit too thin, I get you….this phase started for me about age 68. I can no longer tolerate dairy, though so that throws a wrench into it.

    • I think diet and exercise are all about whatever gets results. I know what feels right and what doesn’t. And even if my “bad cholesterol” is high, you’d look at me and say, “there’s a healthy body!”. If I had, say, Japanese ancestors I might crave fish and nori. If I had Papuan ancestors, I would want to eat a lot of pork and yams. But instead I have mostly northern European ancestors, so I crave dairy and beef and wheat. What a strange thing, to have inherited genes instructing us like this. It’s like being possessed by their ghosts. We’re all not so autonomous as we would like to think.

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