Adam McDowell carries a man-purse. His idea of a workout, he says, is “very grudgingly getting on a treadmill, or an elliptical machine,” supplemented by the odd push-up or sit-up. He’s never gone hunting (although he doesn’t object to the idea). And for the next month, Adam McDowell is becoming a caveman. Well, sort of.
The National Post reporter and one-time Torontoist contributor is blogging his adventures with a new-but-old diet (one recently covered by the New York Times and Maclean’s). Prefaced by Loren Cordain’s 2002 book, The Paleo Diet, the movement finds its forerunners attempting to both eat and exercise like cavemen—hunter-gatherers, followers of the paleolithic lifestyle. This means lots of meat (including the raw sort), veggies and fruits (but no legumes!), and very few carbs (is Atkins suing yet?). As for exercise, the sticklers promote a regimen heavy in sprinting and jumping, meant to simulate chasing and securing one’s prey. Eating and exercise aside, purist paleos further attempt to mimic the caveman lifestyle by donating blood regularly, similar to the way a caveman might lose blood in battle with their future dinner, and starving themselves for extended periods, to imitate the wait in between hunting sessions. With a nod to old ways of eating, the paleo plan seems poised to follow the hundred-mile diet in throwback food fads, although the expensive and potentially unethical meat-heavy facet may prove a deterrent to its mass appeal.
Last week, McDowell decided to give the diet a new angle by taking it on with his own bare hands. Having started on Wednesday, and with plans to end one month later on April 17, he is making the humble attempt to live his life in the style of a caveman on a budget of 350 bones. So far, he hasn’t strayed too far from the ways of his ancestors. In his own paleolithic adaptation, he’s carved his rules into stone: No processed foods, cereals, legumes, or starchy root veggies, and no sugars except for the most natural sorts (honey, agave nectar, and some syrups, if sparingly).
McDowell simplifies caveman culinary culture with categories: “There are two camps—the Paleo camp, which is about weight loss and maybe some fitness. And then there’s the caveman camp, which is more interested in ‘how much can we live like true human beings in the 21st century.’ It’s based on the principle that—just like a grass-fed cow is healthier than a grain-fed, antibiotic-stuffed cow because the grass-fed cow is living the way it’s supposed to—we humans are healthier if we eat and exercise the way that human beings were genetically designed, by evolution, to eat and exercise.”
To stay true to the roots of his experiment, McDowell is seeking to add some historical correctness to the ordeal. “One thing I’m hoping for is to talk to an anthropologist to give me some sense of ‘how realistic it is to think the caveman or Paleolithic people ate one way or a different way, or different ways at different times,'” he says. “I really want to know—is the idea of Paleolithic eating consistent with something that anthropologists actually know about, or is it just some sort of made-up, silly thing?”
While he blames his lack of exercise and unstarved self at this stage on a busy work schedule, he plans to factor in other aspects of the lifestyle before the month’s end. “Maybe I’ll take a nice day and walk back from work.” (No mean feat considering that’s a trek from Don Mills all the way to Parkdale.) A self-described snacker, one of McDowell’s biggest barriers between himself and true caveman is the pre-ordained periods without food. “If you put a bowl of something out in front of me, I’ll eat it, so starving myself for twenty-four hours is going to be tough. I’m thinking what I might do is buy some expensive food and compensate by starving myself, so it’s like I can go to the Healthy Butcher if I don’t eat for a day to make the budget work.”
“I’m a big fan of beans and peas and peanuts normally, so I’m thinking on my birthday, when I break my diet, I’ll eat some peanuts or something,” said McDowell. Hearing a food writer excited to eat—of all things—peanuts for a birthday seems rotten, but McDowell doesn’t seem to mind. And how does cave food make man feel? “I was really grumpy on the weekend. I didn’t club anybody though. I think that’s just because I had to work the Sunday shift.”
Though his lifestyle may seem somewhat tame for a wannabe Neanderthal, McDowell mentioned he’s game for much more. “If somebody out there wanted to pick me up from Parkdale, drive me out somewhere, and put a bow and arrow in my hands, I would take them up on it. If I saw a deer on Bay-Dundas, I’d tackle it, punch it in the head or something,” he declared, slowing to reflect. “But in all seriousness, I don’t even know how to contemplate hurting an animal.”
Our biggest point of contention with the project is simple. Adam McDowell is living for a month, as primitively as one can possibly be without losing their job. Adam run. Adam eat. Adam… blog? When questioned, here’s what he had to say:
“The whole thing’s contradictory. My joke was that I’ll say something anti-Paleo and have people show up with clubs at my door saying ‘We read this thing on your blog’—it’s all make-believe, right? But at least I know it’s make-believe, which is better than people of certain sub-cultures out there. At least I don’t think vampires are real. Insofar as I know anything about cavemen, I admire Fred Flintstone. Let me rewind a bit—I know this is artificial; it’s just kind of fun.”
Adam, we salute you with three grunts.
Photos courtesy of Adam McDowell/Torontoist.
This post has been updated to reflect that McDowell is a reporter (not a columnist, as we originally said), and that his route home from work is Don Mills to Parkdale (and not Parkdale to Don Mills).