In the spirit of paying homage to our paleolithic brethren, I feel it’s only appropriate to sometimes roll up the sleeves, and eat some wild animals.
The idea of eating “paleo” and/or getting more “in touch” with where our food comes from has been gaining more and more prevalence over the last couple of years (though the paleo dietary philosophy originally appeared in the early 70′s). It seems that now more than ever there are quite a few authorities on the matter, some with more substantiated theories and stronger assumptions than others (note: lot’s of assumptions). Though I agree with many of the core principles of “paleo”, I’m always weary of the masses misinterpreting theories like this, leading to the perpetuation of unsubstantiated, anecdotal advice – like eating a pound of bacon a day. Don’t mistake me, there are a lot people who are advocating for a reasonable approach to this sort of eating (and some of my friends), which could have positive impacts not only on personal health, but also our mostly broken food system. Others border on lunacy.
Despite the fact that it’s nice to romanticize about savage cavemen taking down mammoth creatures daily, one of the many counter arguments to the high-fat-high-protein stance paleo takes is the fact that we really don’t know the relative proportions macronutrient sources made up of
people’s diets during the paleolithic era. It is highly speculated that the amount of meat and fat eaten versus foraged plants, roots, etc would have been regionalized, and impacted by a number of factors. It is also fairly unanimously agreed that fishing technology did not appear until the upper paleolithic, so on the relative scale, it might not have been until relatively recently that most fish became part of the diet. And with rudimentary tools and weapons, who knows how successful early man was at taking down big game (they could have been incredible hunters, killing at will…or they cold have gone weeks between kills…). Though I am fairly certain that access to fat pigs for daily bacon was not the norm. I’m yet to go boar hunting, but a handful of my buddies do. When I suggested I’d take my 20 gauge loaded up with slugs, they laughed and told me stories of wild boars taking three, four, and five shots from a handgun while charging dead on before finally plowing into the ground. For a little perspective, I strongly encourage anyone to head out on a few hunts or dives without the help high-powered weapons and see how well that works out…
Regardless, in the spirit of Easter Sunday, I figured it only appropriate to head out for an aquatic hunt. The trouble with my targeting and training for endurance events is that in the months leading up to them, I tend to put my other hobbies on the shelf. There are few things I find more enjoyable than swimming out into a cold and dark ocean with a spear in my hand and death in my eye (for the record, I’m not strictly cold blooded, I did help coach a youth baseball camp on Saturday afternoon, too). Fortunately on Saturday nigh, over kebabs and some damn good salsa at my buddy Nick’s house, I got a couple takers, Nick and Tim, to come along for a dive I had planned the following morning.
Leopard Shark is what I was really after (what is more primal than killing and eating a shark?). The last time I dove Topanga I saw about ten of them in the water, but without any accurate way to measure the things (they are actually docile enough that you can get pretty close with a marked spear and make sure they are over the legal length requirement of 3 feet). Nick’s policy as a surfer is that he doesn’t mess with sharks and they don’t mess with him – but this is where I depart. Luckily for the sharks, they were not to be found on Sunday. And maybe luckily for us, too. Sharks, like other fish higher up on the food chain, can contain high levels of heavy metals. Frequent consumption is probably not the way to go, though the occasional shark snack isn’t likely to hurt.
Swimming out to the kelp beds I always dive up and down through the shallows. Over the years I’ve scored some pretty good critters in no more than a few feet of water – so this has become SOP. It was in about 10 feet that I spotted the first sheep crab – kind of a mangy version of a king crab (actually sometimes marketed and sold as California King Crabs…though I digress. Sheep crabs are a specific type of crab within the Majidae family – often referred to collectively as spider crabs.). I used to ignore the things, but have since come to realize that a crab in the hand is worth two bass in the kelp. I plucked it (if you are quick enough to catch a rock – you can catch a spider crab – but they do pinch) and wrestled it into my bag. I plucked another a few minutes later, and was out of room to carry much else back into shore. I figured we already had enough crab meat for a few omelets – and since I was out of dive shape and my bag was sinking me, and after only about 40 minutes in the water I’d started to tire. Desiring to avoid any shallow water blackouts, I called it. On my way back in I happened to spot a rock crab with pretty impressive claws and snagged it, too. Now we had a crab per person.
When we got back home it was all business. Nick is quite the chef himself, and quickly took to the kitchen. He grew up on a dairy farm and has seen plenty of animals come to the end of their days, so was in no way squeamish when I started pulling the legs off the live crabs. The bodies have almost no meat and are hardly worth cooking. Now don’t get all PETA on me, this exercise is in celebration of paleolithic man, and I doubt he expressed much sympathy for invertebrate foods. I’d of torn the legs off in the water, but it’s kind of a hassle. When I expressed my slight remorse for how unceremoniously the crabs were to be discarded in my trash can next to the two opossums my dog had caught the two consecutive days previous, Nick was quick to offer to drive a screwdriver into their heads to make sure their time suffering was limited. That’s what I look for in a friend. After the legs were cooked, Tim got to cracking the shells and pulling the meat.
In about an hour, we had taken what had been a few crustaceans that were happily scavenging for decaying matter on the ocean floor and mixed them in with various greens, a triple-creme cow’s milk cheese and eggs to create damn good breakfast scrambles. The fact that we live about a 15 minute drive from some of the most prominent restaurants and entertainment venues going, yet can wake up on a Sunday morning, drive about 15 minutes, dive without another person in sight, pull fresh seafood from the ocean, and return home to cook it before the day has even started is not lost on me. I’m sure paleolithic man, with his merino wool lined wetsuit, Riffe anti-fog dive mask, snorkel, kevlar lined gloves, booties, hood, fins, weights and spear felt the same way.
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