Is paleo unleashing primal Britain?
Is 2013 the year that paleo finally stops going against the grain?
Crispy on the outside, golden yolk oozing from the inside, and all cultivated in a deep fat fryer and bursting with delicious sausage meat. These were the fruits of Sean Lawson’s labour, critically acclaimed by those in search for the perfect scotch egg on the street. They called him the Egg Boss.
However, a paleothic nightmare in the making, the fryers have been turned off and the breadcrumbs are but a distant memory.
“I was always tired, but no one could pinpoint why,” says Sean. “I wanted to get into CrossFit. You look at the pictures and think ‘wow’ at all that lean, bulging muscle. But with CrossFit, it’s exercise first, paleo second. I looked at the gym fees… and decided to go paleo first.”
Sean embarked upon a new lifestyle in true New Year’s resolution fashion on 3 January. Except “this is forever. This is not a test.”
Often dubbed the ‘caveman’ or ‘prehistoric’ diet, paleo is defined by its unrefined nature of leafy greens, grass-fed meat and the absence of packets, process and pastries. It’s “one of the oldest ways of eating in the world and still adopted by many tribes,” says Sean.
“I’ve been a chef all my life. All I need is flour and sugar, and I’m used to dipping my hand into the cookie jar.” Thirty days later in the absence of the good stuff, he’s lost 4kg.
Written about in The Stone Age Diet, by gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin, then later popularised by exercise physiologist Dr Loren Cordain, it’s the out-and-out hunter-gatherer feast of meat, seafood, nuts and fruit. No grains, legumes or dairy allowed (though some keep the dairy and follow an 80:20 regime). “Some people think it’s freaky,” says Sean. “It’s paleo, but you subscribe to more of a primal thing, so it’s a bit more modern.”
America’s love affair with paleo has arguably gained momentum with the popularity of the CrossFit exercise movement – a regime which favours metabolic conditioning and weight lifting and the adoption of eating unprocessed food. Devotees profess its obliteration of food intolerance and allergies for the likes of coeliacs, the gluten-free and beyond, making it a diet of inclusivity. Yet there’s no shortage of criticism from nutritional experts to the NHS pointing out it excludes whole food groups and risks vitamin deficiencies.
With a CV peppered with cheffing gigs including cooking for the royal family, Sean’s plan to bring paleo to a wider audience is likely to be a different sort of challenge: “I wanted to stop wasting the experience I’ve got on scotch eggs and think of the long game. Food is so fickle now.”
Starting this month, he’ll be bringing paleo to supperclub menus. “Some ingredients will be tweaked but a lot of the recipes are ones I’ve used over the years. But I’ll still offer wine. I’m not out to change the world, just to offer something different. People want to be able to eat something gluten-free, dairy-free or coeliac friendly – there’s a market for it, and I can create it.”
There’s plenty of advice to choose from if you felt like brushing up on your eating habits and adapt your cooking. But Sean’s been working in kitchens for nearly 20 years – 12 of those as a chef – does he have the edge? “Cooking skill shouldn’t matter”, he says, “there is so much information online. The cooking is simple. It’s slow cooking and it lets you simplify your life. Anything that takes that bit longer to cook is always nicer.”
Do you follow paleo, or thinking about trying it? Is it just another fad or do we really have something to learn from our prehistoric ancestors?