I’m in my early 30’s. Among my college buddies, almost all of whom played one sport or another at school, the shakeout is clear. Either they’ve stayed in shape, or have gone very soft. There is no in between. I am the first who has managed to noticeably move out of the “soft” category – though I’m not what I would call “in shape”. The change is obvious enough that friends and colleagues have started to ask me what I’m doing and what I’m eating.

Billy asked me a couple of weeks ago what I was up to. I told him about eating paleo, plus dairy since I’ve got the genes for it. I ran him through the general health effects of grain, sugar, and seed oils. I told him about Mountain Athlete, kettlebells and olympic lift fun, but told him that in my experience, diet was key.

“No cereal? What do you eat in the morning?”. Eggs and bacon. Lots of tasty tasty bacon. Billy’s on board with bacon. But Billy couldn’t get over the no pasta thing. He just couldn’t.


So I told him he could eat anything he wanted at home, as long as he cooked it from scratch. If he was out at a restaurant with clients, as his job often requires, meat, fish and veggies only – whenever possible make the meat grassfed, the fish wild, and the veggies organic. Easy enough at fancy “client dinner” restaurants.

Billy: So I can eat pasta then when I’m at home?
Me: You got a pasta roller?
Billy: No, but I cook the pasta.
Me: Does pasta grow on a tree or a bush? Does it swim or run around?
Billy: Don’t be a jackass.
Me: Well, if what you’re eating doesn’t do those things then it isn’t from scratch, now is it?
Billy: How do I make pasta?
Me: Flour, salt, egg – mix it, knead it, roll it out a few times, cut it, then boil it. (we’ll call flour “from scratch”)
Billy: That’s a pain in the ass. Screw it, I’m having steak.

The “Cook It at Home, From Scratch” Diet idea isn’t mine. It’s cribbed from comments made by Harry Balzer right at the end of Michael Pollan’s latest article in the New York Times:

“Easy. You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.”

Harry Balzer isn’t some elitist diet guru. He works for a firm that collects d

ata on what Americans eat. That data is used

by the food industry to get you to buy more processed food. As Pollan’s article describes, the definition of the verb “to cook” has degenerated to the point that putting a tray in a microwave defines cooking for an alarmingly large portion of Americans. Adding the qualifier “from scratch” squares the definition of “to cook” with your grandmother’s. I suspect that is how Balzer is using the verb.

I think there are two reasons why “cook it at home, from scratch” is a great way of introducing the paleo diet to people who aren’t ready for the whole “grains and sugar are the devil” routine.

First, cooking food at home that falls under the definition of paleo is generally quick and easy. Cooking food that falls outside that definition usually takes a long time. Billy’s reaction to making pasta is instructive.

Almost everyone has the 5 minutes it takes to cook up a couple eggs in the morning. Very few people have the 45 minutes it takes to cook up oatmeal or the 30-50 minutes it would take to make muffins. Almost everyone has the 15 minutes it takes to oven roast a piece of pork tenderloin with asparagus after work (and really total prep time is closer to 5). Very few people have the hour or more it takes to knead pizza dough, wait for it to rise, make your own tomato sauce, prepare toppings, shred cheese and then bake the pizza.

Second, once folks are dealing with “from scratch” ingredients on a regular basis they will start to care about the quality of those ingredients. Over time, they will get a good sense of what tastes good and what doesn’t and migrate to local and traditionally farmed foods, even if they don’t understand why the Omega 6 / Omega 3 ratio of their meat matters.

I don’t think this is a perfect solution. But in general, in today’s time constrained world, “cook it at home, from scratch” gets you to 80% paleo.

That’s pretty good.