Paleo Day 21: Walking, Touring and Getting Some Food History

Saturday June 21, 2014–After yesterday’s relatively low key day, we fired up yet another one but this one with far more outdoor activities and walking but also some good opportunity to get some socializing in.  By happenstance it also gave us a glimpse into the life and times of an ancient culture.

One of the big objectives of this trip was for us to see the USC campus.  As it turns out that was actually not that big of an objective.  That was the cover story for the real objective, which was to get me to the California Science Center to see the space shuttle Endeavor. Both were enjoyable and worth the effort, but also gave us the opportunity to see a special exhibit on Pompeii.

Eggs and bacon are sort of the staple go-to items for Paleo breakfasts on the road.  They may not be the highest quality eggs and bacon, but they will have to do in a pinch.  I’m just wouldn’t recommend making that a daily activity for your regular breakfast routine.  We didn’t have time to grab breakfast at the hotel, so we figured we’d hit up the Denny’s right off of campus.  That is now corrected to be the Denny’s that was right off campus when my partner was a student there more than a few years ago.  No matter, we’d walk around the campus, the first time I had been there, and just grab something at one of the food vendors on campus.

The USC campus is quite beautiful, especially when you consider it is stuck in the middle of LA.  I went to school in a much more rural environment, but the feel of the two campuses from a space and nature perspective were quite similar.  Along with seeing the buildings, both old and new, the statues and the fountains, we also got to see athletes doing their summer camps.  The two we directly saw were diving and football.  The diving got my mind going about wanting to get back in the pool for my cross training, and to try to find a place where I can work up the nerve to jump off a platform dive.  The football reminded me of how much I dreaded football practice the two times I unsuccessfully tried to play the game.  Running into another person at full force made no sense to me.  I didn’t get an adrenaline rush from it, just a headache.  Actually, running in general at the time didn’t do anything for me either.  It was only recently that I’ve developed a love for running.

As we walked around taking in the sites one of the things we didn’t take in were food or drink.  Despite the camps going on, orientations happening and other students and faculty getting work done, not a single one of the food locations was open for business.  This of course isn’t the end of the world, but more a minor irritation.  With most of our campus tour done we headed over to the California Science Center, where the space shuttle was.  With this much walking it was going to be very easy to hit my 10,000 step goal for the day.

We entered into the science center and immediately found their two food options, a McDonald’s and a makeshift food stand.  I looked briefly through the food stand and didn’t see anything jumping out at me, so we went over to McDonald’s.  This is the first time I’ve tried to do McDonald’s for lunch on Paleo.  I unfortunately didn’t find any items that fit that either.  It was therefore back to the food stand.  They did have a chef salad that I could make Paleo by just taking the cheese off.  While I don’t think lunch meat should count as a daily indulgence, just like the fast food eggs and bacon, I don’t mind it in a pinch.  I also found a big cup of strawberries as well as potato chips fried in avocado oil.  Potatoes I count as Paleo, but something to be eaten in moderation, opting instead for sweet potatoes or yams.  However potato chips or french fries out really strains that definition since they are fried in vegetable oil.  Since these are fried in avocado oil, they actually hit the mark on keeping this much closer to the diet rules.

My eyes were bigger than my stomach, and I was pretty full half way through the salad.  Still, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be in a Paleo food desert before dinner, it was practically lunch time anyway, so I just ate up everything and washed it down with some mineral water.  That actually ended up keeping me full all the way through to dinner.

While the star of the museum was certainly the space shuttle, the Pompeii exhibit was equally fascinating in another way.  Pompeii is of course the city that was buried in the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.  Because it was buried in ash so quickly it actually created a time capsule of life in a booming Roman town at the height of the Roman Empire.  There were lots of lifestyle discussions, but one of the biggest parts of the exhibit was on their culinary habits.  Their habits, amazingly, wouldn’t seem too dissimilar to today.

Breakfasts and lunches were often eating in restaurants or bars that were throughout the city.  The had different names for them of course.  Their rendition of a restaurant was called a thermopolia and their renditions of a bar were called cauponae.  These would be more like a standing room only bar or permanent food stand.  Sitting down was only at a few select places and for special patrons though.  While eating out was standard for breakfast and lunch, again not too dissimilar to us, dinner was at home.  The upper classes had slaves that cooked their food, and obviously a much better selection of food items than the slaves and the poor people did.  Being an important port town they had vegetables and fruits from around the empire at their disposal.  Their variety probably makes even a trip to Whole Foods (or Whole Paycheck as it were) seem monotone.

Breakfast or lunch, whether at home or out, were pretty simple bread, cheese and wine courses.  That actually isn’t too far away from the traditional diet of the Blue Zone populations in Sardinia and Ikaria today.  The wide variety of vegetables and meat were held off until dinner.  These were the more lavish affairs with an abundance of eggs, fish, roasted meats and lots of vegetables.  All of this was also accompanied by wine as well, of course.  Not one to waste, the leftovers of this meal may often be incorporated into the next day’s breakfast or lunch if necessary.  While the eating patterns and macroscopic ingredients sound all too familiar, the recipes, flavors and cooking styles would of course be substantially different.  Overall though, this diet reflects very closely on the Mediterranean Diet that you can find in those Blue Zone regions I mentioned, and therefore my own diet during that phase may reflect some of the very same traditions as those of Pompeii.

After finishing up the exhibits at the museum and finishing walking the far side of campus, we headed back to the hotel to relax before dinner.  Dinner was at a neat restaurant called The Proud Bird.  Situated right near the LAX approach runway, you actually watch the variety of planes coming in.  For a guy into planes, and there were thirty of us in this group, it was a really fun way to wind down the late afternoon.  Sipping some rich, albeit a bit dry, malbec from Massimo, with the late day sun covering us as we all chatted and watched the planes come in was very zen.  I just don’t know another way to put it.

The menu actually gave me several different appetizer and meal options that were totally Paleo.  I opted for the sauteed calamari, which actually came in a mushroom broth.  The broth by itself would be delicious, especially if I could sop it up with the croustini that it was supposed to come with.  Instead I just tried to coat the calamari with as much of it as possible and then went on to the main course.  For the main course I had a good helping of short rib meat with a side of mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables.  I was washing all that down with yet another glass of malbec.

After dinner we went up to a hill which overlooks all of LAX and watched planes come in on approach for a good half an hour.  It was actually pretty chilly so quickly we went back to our hotels.  We have to get an early start the next day, and I was actually a bit beat,  so a couple of glasses of champagne and a little more chit chat and then we were calling it an evening.