Those of us dealing with the post-holiday hangover might be thinking about losing a little weight around the middle. I know I’ve put on a few pounds this fall that will need to be shed before I hit the woods for my annual spring turkey death march. I generally don’t tend to pay much attention to any of the diet trends that come and go, but one that does intrigue me is eating Paleo, a.k.a. the caveman diet. The name alone conjures images of tearing hunks of fire-roasted meat right off the bone, something I can relate to as a hunter. But apparently there’s more to the diet than that.
To learn more about eating like a caveman, I tracked down Charles Mayfield, co-author with his wife Julie of the Paleo Comfort Foods cookbook. In addition to being cookbook authors, the Mayfields own several gyms in the Atlanta area and are hardcore fitness junkies. Charles is also a hunter, so who better to explain the Paleo lifestyle and how it can benefit hunters and wild-food lovers.
Can you give a brief explanation of the Paleo diet and its benefits?
Quite simply, a Paleo diet involves eating–ideally–proteins (grass-fed meats, free range poultry, wild game and wild caught fish), carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables in season), and healthy fats (avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds). What the Paleo diet eschews is processed foods, particularly grains, legumes and dairy.
Benefits that we have seen with clients at our gym, friends and family are broad and pretty amazing. We’re talking reversal of chronic IBS and heartburn issues, elimination of acne, allergies gone, migraines becoming a thing of the past, reducing pain/inflammation in autoimmune issues like rheumatoid arthritis, not to mention incredible weight/fat loss, increased energy throughout the day and better recovery from intense workouts.
While this idea, or at least the term, might sound like a new diet fad, isn’t eating this way something hunters (especially those who are also into foraging) have been doing for years?**
By all means, today’s hunters do have similarities with our hunter-gatherer forefathers and very often are the ones eating meats, veggies and healthy fats in their day-to-day lives. However, lots of hunters I know also eat a lot of processed foods–sandwiches, pizza and beer. Those are things that our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t consume. I’d say, too, it seems that much of hunting nowadays has turned into a quest for the ‘trophy.’ Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see a big buck cross my path. However, my goal every year is to put meat in our freezer for the coming year–not just putting a big rack on my wall.
**Eating Paleo is more than just a diet; it’s also a lifestyle. How can following in the footsteps of cavemen help the modern-day hunter? **
There are many benefits. Eating this way can give you a ton more energy and mental acuity. This lifestyle tends to incorporate moderate to intense exercise several times a week, which pays huge dividends to a hunter. The last deer I harvested in North Georgia was in the bottom of a valley and I had to carry it about ½ mile to the closest spot to get a vehicle. It is nice to have the physical ability to drag/carry several hundred pounds over a distance. We also tend to see a real reduction of folks getting colds/flus when they adopt this lifestyle. I haven’t been sick in almost two years, which has enabled me to spend lots of time in the woods.
As a hunter, was the move into eating Paleo difficult for you, personally?
Not difficult for me at all. This transition had more to do with my comfort in the kitchen than the deer stand. Many of the excuses we hear from folks that don’t want to adopt a Paleo lifestyle have more to do with the how to cook it and the time to cook. Usually, it seems a bit easier for a hunter to jump on the Paleo wagon for 30 or 45 days to try it out as (for the most part) they are already eating a variety of meats.
What’s the best thing (tip) you’ve learned along the path to Paleo?
Best tip: learn to be comfortable in the kitchen. You don’t have to be a trained chef to be extremely successful. All it takes is the ability to read and some basic utensils. Second best tip: give this Paleo thing an honest, strict 30 days. Essentially, you need to reset your body for that period of time, especially if you’re used to eating a lot of processed foods. It’s amazing to see some pretty staggering results from folks that totally remove grains, beans and dairy for that first 30 days.
Give me your best venison (or other wild game) recipe.
Gotta be our venison stuffed peppers in the book. It’s a loose adaptation from a recipe I read in John Folse’s book After The Hunt. That book is like a kitchen bible to the avid hunter. It is a ton of fun going through there and turning some of his creations into Paleo friendly meals.
Venison Stuffed Peppers
- 6 bell peppers, assorted colors
- 4 strips thick bacon, chopped
- ½ pound ground pork
- ½ pound ground venison
- ¼ cup celery, diced
- 1 cup onion, diced
- ¼ cup garlic, minced
- ½ cup green onion, chopped
- ¼ cup parsley, chopped
- 2 large eggs, beaten
1. Cut tops out of bell peppers and remove inside seeds. Dice tops and save for later. Soak peppers in boiler water for 5 minutes to soften.
2. Cook bacon in large skillet until crispy to render fat. Once brown, remove from skillet and set aside for later.
3. Add ground deer and pork to skillet. Using a wooden spoon, chop meats well to incorporate.
4. Once meat is thoroughly browned (10-12 minutes), add celery, onion, garlic, and reserved peppers from tops. Saute for another 10-15 minutes until onions are cooked.
5. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
6. Mix green onion and parsley well with the meat filling. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly in bowl.
7. Once cooled, fold in the beaten eggs and season to taste with black pepper. Stuff peppers generously with mixture.
8. Place in oven and cook until brown on top (about 30 minutes).