Modern-day Cavemen Mark Israel’s Birthday at Paleo Market

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Visitors at the Latrun market. There's a feeling that the Paleolithic period was one big sinful meal, and the life of the caveman was a kind of ongoing buffet.
Visitors at the Latrun market. There's a feeling that the Paleolithic period was one big sinful meal, and the life of the caveman was a kind of ongoing buffet.Credit: Tamar Olivier
Hagai Amit
Hagai Amit

Friday afternoon, two weeks ago. There’s a traffic jam at the entrance to the Latrun Monastery and even on the shoulders of the road leading to its parking lot there are no parking places.

Holocaust Remembrance Day is behind us, Memorial Day is approaching, but the masses haven’t come to visit the Armored Corps Museum or the monastery. The Paleo market, which is visiting Latrun, located near the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, is what’s attracting Israelis with foresight who have come to stock up for the Independence Day festivities.

The hundreds who have arrived fantasize about the moment when they empty the cooler of Paleo products that they have bought for good money in the market, and contemptuously regard their barbecuing neighbors who are using a piece of cardboard to fan industrially produced kebab. Flags and high-quality meat go well together.

I park far away and start to walk. My adrenaline level rises. I make sure that the spear I brought with me is sharpened in advance of the anticipated encounter with the wild boars that are supposed to be there, and check that the holster on my hip is full of stones that I can throw at any predatory animals I may encounter. After all, Paleo is short for “Paleolithic” – or, for our purposes here, the “Paleolithic diet.”

The Paleolithic period began about 2.5 million years ago and ended about 15,000 years ago. The concept Paleo devotees advocate is simple: For millions of years human beings became accustomed to eating whatever they hunted, fished and picked. The subsequent agricultural revolution changed our diet drastically: We began to eat various grains that we learned to cultivate in large quantities, and foods such as rice and spaghetti entered our diet – mainly along with lots of bread.

At Latrun's Paleo market. The idea of adopting one aspect of prehistoric life – without sleeping in a cave and dying toothless at the age of 40 – is attractive to many. Credit: Tamar Olivier

But in evolutionary terms, 10,000 years is a very short time, and our bodies are still used to the diet that was consumed when we hunted bears and devoured them on the spot. In order to feel good and be healthy, we have to go back to that. For Paleo advocates it’s not enough for us to stop ingesting things like Bisli snacks, cola, jelly beans and other nutritional disasters of recent decades: These people want us to take another 10,000 steps back – and give up hummus, quinoa, processed sugar and whole wheat.

There’s a major controversy surrounding this approach: For every Paleo advocate you’ll find two vegans who will explain that meat is a carcinogen, but you have to admit that when it comes to marketing it’s easier to sell Paleo than veganism. While many Israelis think it’s impossible to call a meal a meal if it doesn’t include a small chicken – and it makes no difference how rich the salad was or how colorful the legumes placed alongside the rice – the Paleo guys simply go for what’s tasty. After all, the concept “low fat” didn’t exist in the Stone Age. The idea of adopting one aspect of prehistoric life – without sleeping in a cave and dying toothless at the age of 40 – is attractive to many people.

At the entrance I pass people who are licking their lips in satisfaction and desperately seeking a toothpick, and wherever I look I see stalls with chunks of smoked meat, dried sausage snacks, juicy hotdogs and high-fat cheeses. There are even juicy Paleo ice-cream pops and Paleo espresso capsules. The Paleo market gives you the feeling that the Paleolithic period was one big sinful meal, and the life of the caveman was a kind of ongoing buffet, during which he simply walked in the jungle taking a bite from the shoulder of buffalo or a strip of bacon from a wild boar who happened to pass by.

Paleo is also easy on the conscience: While vegetarians remember that for animals every day is Holocaust Day, Paleo people are not disturbed by such petty details. They believe that there are predators and victims, and for health reasons it’s preferable to be a predator. Nor do they think about their own possible death: Prehistoric man didn’t bother himself about high cholesterol, heart problems or hardening of the arteries. Those are for the weak, and if we only stick to Paleo nutrition we can forget about diabetes and high blood pressure.

At one stall there’s a Canadian family selling organic maple syrup imported from Wisconsin. They explain that they sell genuine maple, the distilled sap of the tree, without added sugar. “Four liters of cooked resin yield one liter of maple syrup.” I ask what’s the use of maple syrup if as a Paleo lover I can’t eat a pancake?

“You can marinate the meat in it before grilling, because it makes it much tastier. We also use it for chicken patties, and put it on ice cream,” explains the young man. His father explains that maple syrup is far too expensive in Israel, and that he sells it cheaper. “It’s a sugar substitute. We have to teach the Israelis what it is and accustom them to using it.”

The bacon seller explains what’s unique about his product, which is made by hand and preserved with special salts. And what’s the difference between that and the ordinary bacon I buy in an American supermarket? “The bacon in the United States is soaked in sugars before arriving on the shelf,” he said disdainfully.

At Latrun's Paleo market. Credit: Tamar Olivier

The seller in the nearby stall says, “We make our sausages in a process of manual grinding and mixing.” I ask if there’s no machine involved.

“The machine only presses the meat down, but we even tie the hotdogs up manually.” And what about the packaging?

The seller explains that the intestinal casing into which the meat is inserted is made from collagen processed from beef skin. He’s been making hotdogs since 2007. I ask if it’s Paleo.

“I make seven types of hotdogs. Six are Paleo, in the seventh I add bread crumbs to the meat mixture.”

Nearby a man and woman are selling dried meat called dauerwurst, a type of smoked sausage. The man is an Israeli from South Africa who decided to produce the meat here rather than getting it from South Africa in small bags. He dries it in the sun and in cans with ventilation equipment that enable him to control the temperature. There’s no grilling involved, only meat and spices.

The young woman with him is Yemenite, and says she only helps with the business dealings. Yemenites wouldn’t find anything to their liking in this market, there’s no evidence of dough or margarine. I assume that the post-Passover Mimouna celebrations didn’t take place in the Stone Age either. Until I see a stall with an oven that’s clearly used for baking. The seller explains that he makes pizza from tapioca flour and almonds – but it is all sold out.

No sign of hunting

Not far away is a stall selling clarified butter. The seller explains that ordinary butter contains 20 percent fat and 80 percent milk solids, here the butter has 100 percent fat. They remove all the superfluous proteins and carbohydrates. It’s good for frying, it doesn’t burn. He offers me a 2-kilogram can imported from Holland, for 160 shekels (about $40). He also sells coconut oil from Sri Lanka and cans of soft drinks, including coconut water.

“It’s more refreshing than water,” he promises, “it’s full of electrolytes and potassium.” I’m hot, I’m thirsty, I like coconut, so I buy a small can for 10 shekels, but I almost spit out the first swallow. My palate misses the nine teaspoons of sugar in every other can of soft drinks.

Everything’s great, but something is missing. There’s no sign of the hunting experience. There are only respectable stalls that selling well-branded products, and a zip-line for the children, who don’t understand why they aren’t heading straight for the nearest pizzeria.

At Latrun's Paleo market. Credit: Tamar Olivier

Then I encounter the stall of the meat smokers. A meat smoker is a large oven in which large chunks of meat wrapped in aluminum foil are put, emerging soft and juicy. It is heated with wood chips. The treat here is that they give out free samples. One boy calls his family over, and everyone recalls their Paleolithic roots and storm the toothpicks for tasting the meat in a manner that wouldn’t shame a caveman.

The meat smoker costs over 4,000 shekels; the wood chips come in flavors like nut or maple, which are absorbed into the meat. The oven remains hot all the time; you can prepare the meat before a meal and leave it in there, so you won’t be stuck next to the grill when everyone else is eating.

Next to the meat smokers I see a stall selling vacation options for those who want to prepare themselves for an encounter with a grizzly bear. There are huge weights on the floor and large ropes suitable for extricating a truck or perhaps a dinosaur that has become mired in the mud. People are playing with big, heavy balls like rocks, others are lifting a 6-kilogram hammer and banging a tractor tire.

“This rope is called a battle rope, and here you see a heavy cattle bell that Russian farmers used to exercise with. We sell people a different type of vacation,” says the owner of the company. At her feet I see her toddler son devouring a chocolate ice-cream pop.

“That’s not Paleo, for example,” I tell her.

“It’s actually a Paleo ice cream – it’s made only of bittersweet chocolate, without sugar,” she replies.

It turns out that right after he finished eating a zebra, the caveman could permit himself to stretch out a hand to the nearby bush, pluck out a tasty ice-cream pop and have an espresso for dessert.

I’m tired and start making my way back to my car. Next to the exit I see a massage stall that offers back rubs. They could earn much more if they would see the opportunity in offering a special massage to the exhausted jaw muscles of the visitors.

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