I was checking out at Home Depot the other day when a package of Turkey Jerky caught my eye. Thinking it might be interesting to try something different, I tossed it into the cart.
The checkout lady commented, “Have you tried that? Is it any good?”
“No, this is a new one for me,” I told her.
Out in the car, I took one bite and spit it out. The taste and texture was disturbing. It reminded me of those gooey fishing worms that come in packages at Gander Mountain. When you’re out fishing and get really hungry, those things can actually start to look and smell kind of tempting.
But if you actually bit into one of those plastic worms, the taste would be terrible I’m sure. That’s what the Turkey Jerky did to my tongue. I wanted to heave.
Once in a while, when I was training scads of miles, I used to buy a package of beef jerky and ravenously munch it down while driving around in the car. That salty, meaty goodness is addictive.
Eating some types of beef jerky is like being a cannibal or something. I read a book a few years back by a journalist who flew down to the southern tip of Africa and tried to hike back north to Egypt. It was his goal to trace the steps of the first explorer to do the trip on foot.
Along the way, the explorer had encountered cannibalistic tribes somewhere in central Africa. The smell of human flesh cooking permeated the air. Apparently, those cannibals preferred to eat men rather than women. The meat tasted better. So the explorer hastened his way around the tribe and made it all the way north. But it was not without a legitimate fear of being eaten.
The journalist that traced his steps did not meet any cannibals, but was forced to take a detour around Sudan. That nation was in the throes of a giant famine and people were starving by the millions. Perhaps there was not enough meat on the harrowed populace for anyone to eat each other.
That cannibal tradition
If people get hungry enough in some situations, they will dine on their own species. This excerpt from eyewitnesstohistory.com documents the hungry travails of the Donner Expedition:
“The culprit was snow. As the Donner Party approached the summit of the Sierra Mountains near what is now Donner Lake (known as Truckee Lake at the time) they found the pass clogged with new-fallen snow up to six feet deep. It was October 28, 1846 and the Sierra snows had started a month earlier than usual. They retreated to the lake twelve miles below where the hapless pioneers were trapped, unable to move forward or back. Shortly before, the Donner family had suffered a broken axle on one of their wagons and fallen behind. Also trapped by the snow, they set up camp at Alder Creek six miles from the main group.”
Each camp erected make-shift cabins and horded their limited supply of food. The snow continued to fall, reaching a depth of as much as twenty feet. Hunting and foraging were impossible and soon they slaughtered the oxen that had brought them from the East. When this meat was consumed, they relied on the animals’ tough hides. But it was not enough. Starvation began to take its toll. With no other remedy at hand, the survivors resorted to cannibalism.”
I’ll admit my favorite cannibal joke to you know.
When two cannibals find a free meal along a trail, they each started eating at the opposite end. Not wanting to look up from the tasty body, one cannibal mumbles to the other. “How you doing down there?” To which the other cannibal replies, “I’m having a ball!” And the first cannibal says, “You’re eatin’ too fast!”
That’s the only cannibal joke I know.
Hungry enough to eat you
Those of us that train through the snows of winter sometimes think we’re tough. It takes courage to go out into the driving winds and run along roads covered with slippery snow. But most of the time, we know there is a warm home waiting for us when we return. No such luck for the Donner Party, who had to turn their party-mates into a form of human beef jerky or die from starvation in the snow.
But it helps to know you likely won’t starve if you train with a running group.
We’re all just meat
That’s what meat usually is, and what we are. Just muscle and fat. A basic strip of beef jerky is nothing more than a wrinkled, semi-curled up muscle soaked in salty juices. That’s what you would look like too if they carved you up, dried you out and salted you down.
The theory on whether it’s good for athletes to eat meat keeps jerking back and forth. Some of the new dietary theories say you should avoid carbohydrates and sugars because they make you fat and can lead to heart disease. That “beer belly” look on so many men is really the result of too many carbohydrates stored as fat.
Over the last forty years or so, we’ve also heard lectures about the dangers of eating red meat. Real horror stories, too. “There is five pounds of undigested meat floating around inside your intestines,” someone once told me. But I Googled that one and people scoffed at the idea.
“According to this page, even a pound (or less, maybe) would cause extreme pain and rectal bleeding. I’ve watched those infomercials and seen these claims in other places…I think it’s a lot of hooey to sell products. Some of them claim 10, 20, 40 pounds is stuck in there. Ha! I wonder if this claim wasn’t started with the whole John Wayne and Elvis Presley rumors – an anti-fat, anti-beef slur, maybe, that someone turned into profit. Just another lose weight quick scheme, that’s my vote. My friend runs a health food store – he sells colon cleanse products but he has never heard of it being a problem, and says that much impacted matter would have killed you long ago. His dad’s a holistic dr. I know, FOAF. Still, I say hooey.”
Another friend teased me about not having had a colonoscopy until I was well past fifty years old. “Haven’t you ever eaten a Slim Jim?” he asked. Well, if we can appeal to that trustworthy source of all things designed to medically scare you, WebMD, there is a chance that too much red meat will give you colon cancer.
“It’s not exactly news. Many studies suggest that people who eat the most meat get the most cancer. Now a huge, 20-year study from the American Cancer Society confirms these findings. The bottom line: Those who eat the most red meat — beef and/or pork and/or processed meat products — get colon cancer 30% to 40% more often than those who eat these foods only once in a while.
The news is particularly bad for those who favor lots of lunchmeats, hot dogs, and sausages. Eating lots of these processed foods raises colon cancer risk by 50%, reports Marjorie L. McCullough, ScD, senior epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. McCullough and colleagues report the findings in the Jan. 12 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.”
But what about beef jerky? Is that a lunch meat by definition? I found this little nugget of advice on a site called greatist.com:
Humans have drying almost any lean meat (beef, pork, venison, or smoked turkey) for thousands of years in order to preserve it. However, our ancestors may not have realized the health effects of these tasty meat products — this snack makes the Greatist dangerfood list because it’s high in fat, calories, and sodium, and even contains potentially cancer-causing agents.
One large piece of beef jerky packs more than 80 calories and 5 grams of fat — and two of those fat grams are the saturated kind, which (when consumed in excess) may contribute to adverse health effects and increase the risk for coronary heart disease . Although jerky is high in protein (about 7 grams per piece), the main issue is the high amount of sodium. One ounce of beef jerky contains about 450mg of sodium, or almost 20 percent of the maximum recommended daily intake.”
The math here is rather simple. If you’ve just ridden eighty miles and sweated like a salted pig for all those miles, you probably need to replace a little to get your equilibrium back. And if you’re a workout fiend, you’re also likely a pretty regular pooper. So the red meat goes in, the fibers are digested, the salt absorbs into your blood and the rest comes out your ass.
The Cannibal Diet
Which leaves the issue of fat. Saturated fat. Well, you’re still balancing your regular diet which is probably pretty healthy, so a little saturated fat isn’t likely to hurt you that much or slow you down.
But if all this still scares you, it might make sense to just do what the cannibals do. After your run, sneak up behind your training partner and just start gnawing on their ass or thigh for all you’re worth. You gotta figure their flesh is pretty healthy and lean from all that working out. Why not just skip all that beef or turkey jerky and just get your protein at the closest source?
Forget all those Atkins diets and such. Get on the Cannibal Diet bandwagon. It’s eat or get eaten out there from now on. Let the hungry take the hindmost. There’s real motivation for you!