OCCASIONALLY I am faced with a book which doesn't seem to be aimed at me, or anyone like me. This is the case with Cave Women Don't Get Fat, a new account of the Paleo Diet by American "holistic nutritionist" Esther Blum.
In case you haven't yet encountered the paleo diet, it is based on the idea that we, the human race, were healthier and happier before the Agrarian Revolution of about ten thousand years ago. Hunter-gatherers, says Ms Blum, were healthy, fit, lean, and very sexy.
Cave Women Don't Get Fat is aimed squarely at women, particularly American women, particularly American urban women, who derive all their nourishment from prettily packaged supermarket food. The question is, how much of it is relevant to the average Monaro bloke?
Surprisingly, the answer is: quite a lot, even if we don't fully accept the whole paleo thesis. At the very least, the average Monaro bloke probably prefers his woman healthy, fit, lean, and very sexy.
The first surprise shouldn't really be a surprise. The paleo diet is not vegetarian, it's not vegan, it doesn't even seem to be a diet, until you look at what is not permitted. There's no forbidden fruit, in fact the diet encourages you to eat plenty of fruits of all sorts, red meat, fresh vegetables, and fish.
The devil is in the detail. Remember that we are supposed to be eating only what our pre-farming ancestors would have eaten: pastured poultry, grass-fed beef, and wild fish; select your fats carefully, says Ms Blum: butter and olive oil are fine, but avoid artificial trans fats and hydrogenated oils; and eat plenty of fibre- and nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables. "Hydrogenated oils like margarine that contain trans fats and poor quality oils such as soybean, corn, canola, and cottonseed can make you inflamed, arthritic, obese and depressed."
So what's the difference between this and a normal "healthy" diet? Look again, and you will see no cultivated vegetables, no rice, no wheat, no barley (no beer!), no bread, few spuds - though sweet potatoes are acceptable. No dairy foods - except raw grass-fed milk, butter and heavy cream, which are low in lactose, and unpasteurized cheeses. No legumes.
"We need to step away from factory-generated food and move, instead, back into the bush," says Ms Blum. And why is this so important? Because, she says, "eating thirty kilos of grain and fifteen kilos of sugar - as the typical American does each year - is making us fat, sick, and tired."
I don't know what the grain and sugar figures for Australians are, but this seems like good advice, most especially if we can cut down on the staple ingredients of junk food, sugar and salt. A teaspoonful or two of sugar and plenty of fresh fruit should be part of a normal Australian daily diet, but I couldn't help asking (about the paleo aspect): where's the science?
Like many critics of the paleo diet, including Dr Tony Bird of CSIRO, I'm reluctant to give up the grains which provide the different types of fibre which keep humans healthy. But any diet which gets us off junk food and highly processed sugars has to be good for community health. Eat more food, if you like, but don't eat junk food! Cave Women has page after page of tempting recipes to help you do just that.
Cave Women Don't Get Fat, Esther Blum (Nero, 2014) is available in Cooma from Pages of Life, Sharp Street.