Autoimmune Thyroid Disease

An Unfortunate and Lengthy Adventure in Misdiagnosis

Ray Mears on hunting and meat

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There was another episode of Ray Mears’ Wild Food on television last night. It’s one of the repeat run of a series that was on last year that I mentioned with respect to native people removing the oxalates from foods before eating them.

I was rather smug about seeing that particular episode at the time as members of the Weston A. Price “we know everything about native food and you are just vitamin deficient that’s why you can’t eat these glorious natural wholefoods” Foundation had busily been telling me, well, exactly that.

Last night’s episode of Ray Mears’ was one I’d missed last year. This episode included information on making biscuits out of grains and seeds, digging up burdock roots to bake, picking wild berries with special combs, and actually hunting deer. My partner and I have mocked Mears in the past for all the effort and hard work he puts into gathering small amounts of carbohydrates to eat when he could go out and spear something calorific and then take a nap in the sun – so we gave a cheer when he actually went out and uh – got someone to shoot a deer with a shotgun for him. Perhaps we aren’t being fair to Mears – he has always emphasised the importance of meat to the native diet, but there are only so many programs you can make about hunting and cooking meat compared to foraging around for carbohydrates.

Mears’ portrayal of the meat eating process was rather different than that given me by members of WAPF, who last year rather clung on to the bizarre idea that we all ate our meat ‘well hung’ in paeleolithic times. Mears immediately gutted the meat and removed the liver, which he cooked directly on the campfire.

There are two things that are often done. A lot of the cultures in Northern Europe will when they’ve got the animal, will bleed it and drink the blood straight away and there’s carbohydrate in that [blood glucose] and it gives them energy. And then the other thing they do is they take the liver and they cook the liver […] as a hunter’s cut and of course you inspect a liver to make sure that there are no signs of disease […] and the way that’s cooked is straight on the fire. – Ray Mears

Mears described this as the hunter’s prize. He does not describe it as something given to pregnant mothers.

It makes good sense that they start with the liver as their first food doesn’t it because liver is full of glycogen and […] vitamins – Gordon Hillman

This is very true, because as rigor mortis sets in the glycogen is used up in anaerobic respiration and converted to lactic acid. ATP hydrolyses and this stiffens the muscles which causes the rigor. Then over the next twelve to forty eight hours proteolytic enzymes degrade the proteins to the extent that the body becomes soft again – this is known as autolysis. When liver is eaten so freshly on a kill site, it has not had chance to autolyse and does not contain amines.

At moments like this I think back to what I’ve seen elsewhere. In the Kalahari I’ve seen young boys come out to join the men at the kill site when they cook the liver just so they can taste the liver because it’s a special thing because they are hunters and for the bushmen hunting is everything. And amongst the Hadza in Africa I’ve seen them kill a small deer with bows, make a fire and cook everything, cook the liver like this, cook the whole animal, and everyone sits around and they take even the rib bones and they cook them and they crunch them in their teeth to get the marrow out. – Ray Mears

After eating the liver, the hunters would take the meat back to camp. Under normal circumstances one could imagine a camp of thirty or so people getting through most of a carcass. When Maasai eat meat, they can get through a couple of pounds in one go. But there will always be spare meat. At this point Mears describes getting the carcass into the shade and away from flies – something that must be hard to do in Africa.

Mears describes air-drying the meat – he created a wigwam of leaves and set up a small smoky fire beneath it, then butterflied the meat up into long thin strips and hung them on sticks inside this wigwam. When the wind blew it contributed to the drying process, but when the wind stopped blowing, the smoke helped to preserve the meat. Obviously despite this kind of preservation, the finished jerky would still have been eaten quite quickly in comparison to the six-months-to-two-years range that is tradition for today’s Parma ham. Once dried, of course, jerky can be stored relatively indefinitely without degrading.

When I had my amine argument with WAPF last year, they were insistent that meat was hung and that it was “even fermented to make it more nutritious”. Mears has yet to describe any fermenting process of any fruits, vegetables or meats done by any native people – probably because fermenting with the exception of milk is relatively rare. He describes how some berries like cowberries are kept and used as preservatives for meat however.

It should be obvious that there is a notion of priority here – native people did not go out of their way to ferment foods and dry meats (and thus increase the amine content) just for the hell of it, they did it as a matter of survival. Most meat was eaten extremely fresh, not three weeks old like we eat it, and what was not eaten fresh was preserved for relatively short periods until the next batch of fresh meat came along. When foods were fermented they were not fermented to make them more nutritious (it has to be said the amount of nutrition gained from fermenting is really quite small), they were fermented to preserve the food, and were usually eaten in the early winter when the autumn glut was over.

Mears finished the program by cooking what was left of his venison, which must have been hanging for all of twenty four hours, underground in a fire pit of hot stones. He added some burdock roots and that was it – just deer and burdock roots, no fancy herbs, no berries, no green vegetables.


Written by alienrobotgirl

8 October, 2007 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Historical Diets

One Response

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  1. The post below a good one looking at this sort of thing – “Optimal foraging theory (economics again) tells you to exhaust first those sources that give the highest caloric return relative to energy expenditure and then work your way down the energy return chain.Animal sources come through clearly at the top of the list. Tubers are next. Some, but not all, nuts offer a high return, but they have toxins and long processing time. Other nuts fall far down the line.”


    8 October, 2007 at 5:39 pm

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