By Andreas Viestad
Wednesday, May 14, 2008; Page F01 washingtonpost.com
SCHUCH’YE, Western Siberia — Of all the cowboy towns in this part of Siberia, this must be one of the roughest. When we ride our tractor into town, the first thing I see is a man with a gun next to a dead wolf. On a nearby field a group of men are showing off their lasso-throwing skills.
But of course it isn’t a cowboy town. It is a reindeer town. Outside the one-story administration building, the parking lot is nearly filled with parked reindeer waiting restlessly for a racing competition to begin. Inside the building, the women of the village are having a fashion show; almost all the clothes are made from reindeer skins. In a large tent, generous portions of reindeer stew are being ladled out. Even the wolf is connected to the reindeer: It was killed only after having preyed on a flock of them.
Not many visitors come to this remote village on the Yamal Peninsula, north of the Polar Circle, several hours by tractor or snowmobile from the nearest road. And of those who do, few come for the cuisine, which has a reputation for being monotonous to the extreme. But I am attracted by the food and by a nutritional question: How come the people here, who for long periods eat nothing but the meat from one type of animal, are healthier than we are? It is what Patricia Gadsby, writing for Discover magazine about the somewhat similar diet of the indigenous people in Northern Canada and Greenland, called “the Inuit paradox.”
In this case it would be the Nenet paradox. The Nenets, the indigenous reindeer-herding people of this part of Siberia, have a menu that sounds like just the opposite of what the doctor ordered: They eat reindeer meat, most of it raw and frozen. From September to May they eat very little else, apart from the odd piece of raw, preferably frozen, fish. One would think that this extreme protein- and fat-driven diet would lead to a lot of health problems — obesity, cardiovascular diseases — but the opposite is true.
“It is my experience that the further away you come from the city centers of the Arctic, the healthier people look,” says Lars Kullerud, president of the University of the Arctic, a network of more than 100 universities and colleges. He researches the diets of the region’s indigenous people.
Continue here: Where Home Cooking Gets the Cold Shoulder