The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Jan 2010

Turn Your Xmas Tree Into Puppy Chow


Photograph by Mike Bowler via Flickr

If you happen to live in Bulgaria, you can do something useful with your old Christmas tree--if it came from a forest--instead of throwing it away. You can send it to zoos in the country, where it will be used as fodder for the animals, The Sofia Echo reports. Your old ornament hanger can go towards feeding such endangered species as Przewalski's horses (see photo). But if you're more partial to bison, rest assured that they are big fans of Christmas-tree chow, too.

--Aileen Torres

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Books: Eric Blehm

Eric Blehm's third book, The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Forged a New Afghanistan (Harper, $26), details the U.S. Army's campaign to take the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. Blehm reconstructs the narrative of the men of ODA 574, who in 2001 infiltrated southern Afghanistan with a then-unknown guerrilla leader named Hamid Karzai. "God, this is awesome," thinks a young sergeant. "We're live and we've got ammo and anything can happen." Does it ever: Blehm's heroes, along with 300-odd Afghan fighters, rout the Taliban and befriend the locals. Then the Army's bureaucracy commits a horrific error that destroys the team and almost kills Karzai. Blehm avoids adding to the recent flood of armchair political analysis but uncovers something more true: a parable of the war in the story of one unit.

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Books: Jim Harrison and T.C. Boyle

WHAT WOULD IT MEAN to live outside the constraints of society? That's the question running through new story collections by Jim Harrison and T.C. Boyle, two modern virtuosos of short fiction. Harrison's take on the wild life is the less surprising of the two. The author is a well-known gourmand, an avid admirer of the fairer sex, and a proud hunter and angler. In his fiction, those appetites swell to almost cartoonish proportions; his characters hunt, eat, drink, and screw—then eat, drink, and screw some more. The Farmer's Daughter (Grove Press, $24) continues Harrison's run of masterful novellas that began with Legends of the Fall. In the title story, a tough, smart, homeschooled girl grows up lonely in small-town Montana, where she finds solace in Emily Dickinson, antelope hunting, and seeking revenge against a man who abused her. The gem of the collection, though, is "The Games of Night," which chronicles the lifestyle challenges of a modern-day werewolf. Having been bitten by a wolf cub as a child, the protagonist goes into a carnivorous and sexual frenzy during every full moon. He manages his lycanthropy by mauling oysters and steaks and releasing his primal urges with "the big tavern tarts of the North," in towns like Superior, Wisconsin. This is Harrison's alter ego gone berserk, running and rutting and eating "mountainous amounts" of meat such as muskrat fried in pork fat. It's tremendous fun, with just enough banal detail: All that meat eating, for instance, gives our hero gout.

Whereas Harrison explores the sensual possibilities of wildness, Boyle goes for a more intellectual approach. The title character in his new collection, Wild Child (Viking, $26), is based on a historical figure, a boy found living in a French forest in 1797. Boyle gets into the head of both the child and Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard, the doctor determined to bring the feral boy—whom Itard names Victor—into civilization's fold. Boyle is brilliant seeing through Victor's eyes. Here are the boy's thoughts upon being captured: "Animals, bigger and more powerful than he, had taken him for their pleasure, for their prey, and he had no expectation but fear because he had no word for death and no way to conceptualize it." Victor's hearing is selective: The boy registers only those sounds connected with food or danger. Human speech, Boyle writes, "was a kind of background music, no different from the incomprehensible twitter of the birds of the forest." There's no Miracle Worker ending here, despite Itard's best efforts: The boy learns a rudimentary language, but he'll be writing no operas anytime soon. After reading Harrison's raucous celebration of man's inner wolf, Boyle's sober treatment reminds us that there's a reason we left the forest.

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What did I learn in the end? Lean protein, good fats, healthy carbs. More specifically: modestly sized meals consisting of lots of produce, a bit of lean meat now and then, and grains that haven't been bleached and pulverized into submission. Also, olive oil is good, and snack on nuts and dates.

In broad strokes, that approach works for almost anybody. But broad strokes don't cut it. I also discovered that wheat doesn't cause me problems, that dairy does, and that I should avoid tomatoes. You might be totally different. The Okinawa Program may save your life. The Paleo Diet for Athletes could make you faster. I can't say how you'll react to any single diet.

What I can provide, though, after 12 months alone in the diet-industry wilderness, is a strategy for finding what does work for you—my own take on what is commonly referred to as an elimination diet. You'll have to keep a diary of everything you eat and how it makes you feel, but it won't take a full year—more like two months.

The first two weeks will be the hardest. Eliminate prepared foods, coffee, dairy, nightshades, wheat, soy, alcohol, corn, eggs, processed grains, processed anything else, added sugar, and all but the most organic, free-range, grass-fed of meats. Relax; this leaves you with a lot of options. You'll find most of them in the produce section. Mix in the occasional serving of fish, turkey, or buffalo, drink herbal tea, discover spelt bread, and learn to cook quinoa. You'll get through.

After that, start methodically experimenting, one at a time, with foods you eliminated and see what happens over the next 72 hours. Did that omelet make you feel nauseated? Any skin issues after tomatoes? Did meat make you feel better? You see where this is going. After two months, you'll have a functioning idea of foods that work for you and ones that work against you. If you can, see your doctor and ask for blood tests at the beginning and end of your two months.

A last bit of advice: Once you've settled on a nutritional approach, cheat. Every now and then, eat whatever you want and wash it down with what's on tap. Knowing you can do this will make it easier to eat well the rest of the time.

That's it. It may not be completely scientific, but I bet it's closer than anything you've tried. I also bet it will work.

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