Health and Fitness

Richard Nikoley: Eating Well on $10 a Week

Want to eat like a king on a peasant’s income?

Meet my friend Richard.

Richard Nikoley is author of Free The Animal, and we’re exploring how to cook in an RV, what it’s like to live off the grid, and why you shouldn’t fear potatoes.

On this episode, you’ll learn:

  • A simple way to eat well on $10 a week
  • Why adding vitamins to wheat might actually make it more fattening
  • Why all carbs are not created equal
  • A surprising discovery about starch in hunter-gatherer diets
  • How to get the best workout ever (for free)
  • Why it’s important to be wrong sometimes
  • The best way to use bacon
  • And much more…


Abel: Richard Nikoley is the blogger and madman behind Free The Animal. He gives us contrarian perspectives on low-carb, fasting, starches, potatoes, politics, and rock and roll.

Fun fact: Richard was one of my first interviews ever on Fat-Burning Man when I started 5 years ago.

He’s usually politically incorrect, definitely a rabble rouser, and Richard, I’m thrilled you’re here, good sir.

It was really great having dinner with you and your wife, and Greenfield, his wife and kids. Some real gene pool stuff going on there.

Abel: And it was a feast. These days, you live like a modern nomad: off the grid, in a tow-behind trailer, right? Tell us about your adventure.

August through May we lived that way, then we moved out here to the mountains.

Abel: What it’s like to uproot your life and live “the dream”?

It was by accident. My wife has been a school teacher for 35 years now and kind of thinking about retiring. She’s in limbo, not quite retired yet because she’s doing counseling at a Junior High instead of teaching elementary.

We found a cool place in the east hills of San Jose that was actually a guest house on a large property. The night before we moved in, the big house on the property burned down. We show up with the moving truck and there are firemen all over.

We had to do a lot of scrambling, and I had just come from doing two months off grid in Mexico—solar and batteries, water delivery, propane, radio internet which is a dish that hits a mountain a few miles away—best internet ever if you can get it.

So my brother, who is a long haul truck driver, had a thirty foot travel trailer just sitting there. I said, “Hey, how about I rent your trailer?” I put it on the lot, bought four solar panels and 6 D batteries, got internet and a tank for sewage, and water came from springs up the hill. We had gravity feed, and didn’t even have to use a pump. We got a propane heater for winter—we only ended up using two gallons of gasoline for the generator. I could go two or three days on the battery system.

We had HD TV, Netflix, HBO, Hulu—all that stuff. And then I get tuned into this new service where food is delivered. There’s Plated and Blue Apron and Home Chef—you get a box with three meals for two people.

Because the kitchen in the trailer is tiny, it helps to get that box with just what you need, nothing you don’t. Ingredients are measured, but you chop all the veggies and cook it yourself. Typically it’s about a 45 minute process.


Abel: I was just on your blog. That was some gourmet stuff you whipped up in the RV!

We had 3 gourmet meals a week, and the rest of the week it’s peasant style—beans, soups, eggs, oatmeal, potatoes… I really like eating that way.

Abel: Eating like a poor person from hundreds of years ago, what’s the good part of that?

I even do grains now, if they’re totally whole grain—the bran and the germ, the whole thing.

For breakfast I’ll do the oat groats, it’s like an oat berry. It’s really hearty and chewy. We’ll sometimes hike ten miles out on the trails and I’ll tell you what, I can have a bowl of that porridge and it stays with me to the late afternoon. There’s nothing else I’ve ever had for breakfast that stays with you that long.

We just take water on our hikes, even if it’s ten miles.

Abel: Even as outdoor enthusiasts, we are trained to be consumers.

I hear you, going out on long hikes… there’s this concept of “feeling your oats. There’s something really special about those old fashioned whole grains that we’ve lost in the modern ones.

I kind of challenge all the conventional thinking. I also challenge the unconventional thinking, so I’m even more unconventional.

Paleo is not contrarian anymore. But I have a fondness for it, and I believe in a lot of principles of it. But at the same time, you know that a Coca Cola is not a potato. There’s a world of difference.

Coca Cola is not a potato. There’s a world of difference. @rnikoley Click To Tweet

Wonder Bread is not a whole grain. It’s white bread enriched with B vitamins to make you eat more.

Farmers figured this out a hundred years ago. In order to get the livestock to eat the grain, they spiked it with B vitamins, that’s how the’d get them fat on that.

Abel: Let’s get into this. Who knows how to get animals fat? The people feeding them. Sometime they feed conventional cattle cement kiln dust.

A hundred years ago, farmers figured out feeding animals hyper processed grains is a problem. They lose their appetites because they’re deficient in nutrients… but as soon as you add in B vitamin supplements (and a few others) the hunger follows straight away and so does obesity.

You’ve heard people say if you start eating a pizza you can put down a whole large pizza by yourself? I’ve had people say they’ve ordered unenriched pizza flour from France, made their own dough, and after one or two pieces they’re satisfied.

Just as a Coke is not a potato or a legume, in the same way, a true whole freshly ground grain cooked into a soup or porridge, baked, fermented, isn’t Wonderbread on the shelf.

Abel: The bread our ancestors would have been eating is only fresh for a short window of time.

Today, most of us are eating old stale bread that’s packed with preservatives. I tell people to go light on the grains or go gluten-free, but that’s often just a short-hand for avoiding processed foods.

We don’t know exactly what it is about modern grains that’s so bad. It’s probably not just the gluten or the gliadin. Enrichment is certainly worth researching more.

When we bring something in the house and we cook it, we’re processing it. You want to keep your processing simple and keep it as close to consumption as possible. If you want bread, get your wheat berries and mill it to make your bread.

I’ll get some grains from Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur that’s the true whole grain, including the germ, which is where the oil and the nutrition is. Even the “whole grain” stuff you get at the supermarket, the germ is discarded and then they add some of the bran back in, but it’s not in the right proportions.

Just on an intuitive level, there was no obesity problem until about 50 years ago and it coincides with all this hyper industrial processing. It’s the grains, it’s the crappy oils.

My favorite processing is soup—the bean soups. When I make them, I use a good beef or chicken stock with vegetables added in there. I can do a whole pot of soup and use one pound of meat and it’s like eight meals. It’s good food.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Paleo, but I think we’re failing to make a lot of critical distinctions and we’re conflating a lot of things, too. We’ve been saying for years and years, there are different types of fats… There are also differences in the kinds of carbohydrates you consume.

Eating a steak isn’t the same as eating a stick of pepperoni.

Abel: So you’re eating differently now than you did in your Paleo days. How do you feel?

Great. I’ve been cutting down the meat intake and bringing in a little more seafood and fish (once or twice a week) and poultry, and then of course a little bit of meat in the soups.

My Paleo thing was 3 eggs and 6 – 8 strips of bacon for breakfast. Now I use bacon as a condiment in a soup, like in potato soup there will be three strips of bacon in a whole pot.

Breakfast now will be like a couple of eggs and whole grain toast, not even butter because of the egg yolk. The creamy yolk is my fat.

Abel: When many people go Paleo or Atkins or vegan, they’ll lose weight and feel better not necessarily because of what they’re eating, but what they’re NOT eating.

So, you’re still not eating processed junk.

Once you’re there you don’t need to worry about counting macros. If you’re eating real food, you feel pretty good as long as you stay away from the junk.

There’s kind of an undercurrent with low-carb and paleo that is gluttonous. It’s like, “Okay, fat is good, so let’s eat a stick of butter. Let’s put it in our coffee and put it everywhere.”

“Instead of a 6-ounce steak, let’s have a pound!”

If it’s going to push out the potato chips or plate of fries or whatever, then that’s good in it’s own right. But I’ve found if I have a meal where I have the small piece of meat, the 6-ounce filet and a baked potato with just a little bit of butter and sour cream, that’s a great meal for me and it feels really good.

Abel: Exactly, because you’re eating a balanced meal.

Sometimes I go out with a bunch of “Paleo” people to a BBQ place and they’ll have a pound of meat, but is that balanced? Is that fulfilling?

Bacon is wonderful, but eating 8 – 10 strips or big plates of meat… if you look a hundred years ago, that would have been unprecedented. That’s not balanced.

Another thing is in terms of nutrient density—this was a revelation to me—back when we were looking at potatoes and the potato hack, I found if you take equal caloric portions of rump roast or sirloin and plain baked potato, and run the average vitamins and minerals, the potato actually edges out the meat.

That was surprising, because with meat about half the calories come from fat. The fat portion has zero vitamins and minerals. You’re eating 80 percent of energy intake as fat, and it has no nutrition in it. So you have to get all of your vitamins and minerals from 20% of your food.

Abel: Low carb and Paleo can be wonderful tools if you want to lean down quickly or experiment with body composition. There are a lot of mistakes in eating this way, and I’ve made them all. I want to see what happens when you hit the edge to see where it is, then make it back to the sweet spot.

When I go super high fat and really low carb for an extended period of time, I start to lose sex drive, the drive to workout, and I feel awful. A lot of people who push it too far do, too (for a variety of reasons).

On the other hand, when Doctors told me not to eat fat at all, I also felt awful.

When you’re talking about the meat and fish, seafood has a completely different profile.. and oysters are crazy nutritionally dense. It’s the liver of the sea. I love raw and smoked oysters. I like beef liver as well.

It takes five pounds of mixed fruit to equal the vitamins and minerals found in four ounces of oysters.

Whether it’s beef or pork, there’s not an enormous variety in the nutrient profile. But when you talk about plants, the variety is just enormous. So, if you go a little bit more of a balanced approach and eats plants, whether they’re starchy or not, you’re hitting a lot more nutritional bases.

I think soups are just one great thing, you get your plants and your meats all in one little thing. It’s so tasty, and there’s a million recipes. The last one I made was beef and barley—whole barley pearls, beef stock, a pound of boneless short ribs, onion, and carrots. It’s great.

Abel: This sounds more to me like Weston A. Price, which in many ways is what paleo was rooted in.

I love the type of eating you’re describing. You go to other countries and that’s what you see. They’re not eating one silver bullet food, there’s huge variety. Soups. Appetizers. Small dishes.

Paleo and low-carbers love to talk about the French paradox in relation to saturated fat intake and heart disease. They eat 40% more wheat than Americans. It isn’t enriched. They take care in their baking—to actually make a true French baguette is quite a process.

Abel: And It’s an art. Fortification destroys dietary tradition.

When you go around the world, that’s one thing that’s startling to see. In America, we have lost our food traditions. 60+% of the diet in America is ultra processed food.

The number of us eating at restaurants and fast food joints is astronomical. When I was a kid having an original McDonald’s hamburger and the little bag of french fries, that was real treat kind of a thing.

There was no sense that this whole thing was going to go completely off the rails and get out of hand. Some people are eating a fast food meal every single day.

At Starbucks, I get a regular cup of coffee, no room for cream. You stand in line and listen to people rattle off their orders and it’s a sugar delivery system. The amount of syrups and stuff they’re dumping into these things, and then there’s the pastry with it. You get your fix.

When I get the boxed meal delivery, it’s quality depending on which company you use. It’s organic, right to your door, fresh, comes insulated with ice blocks. Blue Apron, Plated

I started with Plated, but you can skip a week any time you want for any reason. Every week you pick which three meals you want. I’d just go in on Monday and see which has the better selections and I’d select that one for the week and skip the other one.

I came up here and saw Home Chef and thought I’d try that. That one is really a menu selection that fits—it’s way more meat/fish and veggie oriented. Plated is more ingredients, it’s more complex, but it’s not the kind of solid meal that Home Chef is.

Just a piece of roasted chicken and some good vegetables makes the perfect kind of a meal, with a few little fancy things, a sauce or spice blend that comes in the package. And it’s cheap—it comes out to about ten bucks per meal per person. We get three meals for two (a lot of times you have leftovers) and it’s $60.

I don’t know about you, but if you go to a restaurant and have a cocktail and a glass of wine, you’re blowing through $60 really fast.

Abel: I’d love for people to see it this way – instead of saying $10 per meal is expensive, just compare real food ingredients to the times you normally eat out or go to Starbucks.

Part of my hook on the peasant thing is that now when I’m creating some soup recipe or a braise or a stew, all these kinds of meals intended to make proteins you do stretch your dollar further. I’ll make a pot of soup and my wife and I can eat it for three or four lunches or dinners, and the total cost of the pot is like $4.

I wrote some post about that on my blog and this guys was like, “Dang Richard, everytime I come to your blog you save me money.”

I have people take this up and they’re eating well for like $10 a week. @rnikoley Click To Tweet

Abel: When you do this, you learn how to cook a lot better. You learn strategies where you’re making your meat go further, you’re using bacon or salt pork with more respect.

Salt pork used to preserve the food, then you’d soak it and put it into your stew. That’s what bacon is supposed to be. It’s not a staple, it’s a luxury.

You were in the military as a Naval officer. Some people don’t realize that most of our processed food was developed for our military.

Ancel Keys actually had a role in creating the ready made MRE’s. You had to be able to have something that will feed the troops and go a long time in between replenishments.

Abel: You need a way to get 4,000 calories down your throat as quickly as possible… that makes it tough when you try to sit down and eat an MRE in regular daily life.

What else has surprised you on your journey of health?

Now, we’re living up here in Arnold, California at 4,200 ft elevation. We are on half an acre surrounded by pine trees, three miles away from a grove of Redwoods and Sequoias. There’s hiking trails all over. One weekend we did like 20 miles in two days. There are trails going from 5,000 ft down to 3,200 ft.

I think trail hiking is really one of the most ideal with all of the ascents and descents—we are so adapted to it. When I get out there, doing it at a 3 – 4 mile an hour pace, I can get back and see how my heart rate works on my Fitbit. 120 then 90 then back up at 120. I have this GPS tracker so you can get all kinds of data. You can publish your track to Facebook.

When I grew up, it was next to the Truckee River in Reno, Nevada. My grandfather was a fisherman. Until I was like 18, I was fishing all the time, and I just recently took up fly fishing. I was out and hooked my first one Sunday morning. So we are going to add a little Trout to our diet.

Abel: There’s something special about catching fish yourself.

We also did deer hunting, so if I end up staying up here and come late September, I might take the rifle out and see if I can bag a deer.

Abel: That’s totally Paleo.


It’s funny because there’s all this reenactment stuff, but there’s a lot people who have been doing a better job of it naturally just by where they live. Up here nothing is flat. There’s boating, fishing… in the winter there’s snowshoeing, cross country skiing, alpine skiing… there’s all kinds of lakes.

Abel: Many of us are risk-averse these days. What do you say to people who are “domesticated”? How do you free the proverbial animal?

It’s tough because everybody likes different things. I lived in an urban loft for five years. It was air conditioned, and I loved it because it had 18 ft ceilings with a glass front, so I get that. In terms of seeing nature, it was a couple of dog walks a day.

But when you do get away, depending on what you like—maybe it’s the beach or the mountains or the desert. Look online and see what you like and plan some sort of an adventure getaway. Like a hiking adventure.

Hiking is the best thing to get into because almost everybody can do it. Risk of injury is very low. Health benefits are very high.

It doesn’t take much—you do a 3-mile walk downtown on flat surfaces, it’s nothing like a 3-mile hike where you’re doing 500 feet of ascent and descent.

Swimming is another one. People talk about the gym, but treadmills are boring. Weights are good but there’s a high potential for injury. For the average person, hiking and swimming in nature are perfect. That’s actually really Paleo and it has nothing to do with reenactment. We had to hike to hunt food, gather, migrate.

We’re amazing migrators and exploiters along the way.

Arthur Haines is an awesome guy. He’s doing it. He’s in the northeast and specializes in that area, but he has courses for this stuff. You can combine hiking with foraging and really learn the different plants. You actually go out there and not just hunt but gather the bounty of various plant foods that can be a big part of your diet.

Researchers recently followed a tribe in Africa, because all of the Paleo research was based on what they found archaeologically at campsites. But when they actually started observing hunter gatherers, they found that 80% of their intake was away from camp when they were hunting and foraging. It came to like 80% carbohydrate. Tubers and honey. Honey was the biggest source of calories.

Abel: It’s a great point because it’s a romantic idea that all these prehistoric humans would be roasting carcasses over a fire. But it’s a much more realistic idea that they would sharpen sticks and dig for tubers and roots. Even non-humans do that and go to great lengths to get that starch—they would eat anything they could eat to survive.

I covered tiger nuts on my blog—we discovered them from observing baboons. They are about the size of a chickpea or hazelnut. They’re sweet and have the consistency of a water chestnut.

A human can harvest sufficient calories in tiger nuts for an entire day in two hours. You break out the macros and it’s almost identical to mammal’s milk—and these nuts have more nutrition than red meat.

Time to bring back some starch.

Abel: What about sugar?

I don’t put sugar in my coffee or tea. I’m not that way.

But I drink quite a bit of orange juice now. It’s supposedly a stress reducer. If I have a big glass of it, that’s the meal. If I’m having it with a meal… remember those little juice glasses you had as a kid? That’s it with a meal.

Am I afraid to grab a Mexican Coca Cola or Dr. Pepper (that uses real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup) out of a cooler sometimes? No.

Every once in awhile we will get a four pack of a craft soda, and if I have one of those in a week it’s okay.

It has to do with metabolic exercise. There’s this self-confirming kind of a deal where if you stay too low-carb for too long, you develop insulin resistance. You wake up and your fasting blood sugar is 110. And if you do go out and eat a potato, it spikes to over 200… then what they’ve done is say, “See, I can’t handle any carbohydrates.”

It’s like the couch potato who never exercises and lives on the fifth floor, and one day the elevator breaks and he has to hike the stairs. All of a sudden his heart’s racing and he says he can’t handle any exercise.

When I started upping the carbs, not to excess, BANG—my blood sugar went down to normal, in the 80’s.

Abel: Raising children, if it’s too sterile, their immune systems can’t handle actual germs.

Their immune system hasn’t received training or exercise. Pathogens do happen. People die. There is risk and potential for harm, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t harm the other way, too. Look what happened to native populations in America when the European population came.

Along the same line—say you take a potato—a lot of people in the low carb community will say to put the butter and sour cream on it because it blunts the insulin spike. You maybe go to 130 or 140 instead of 160. According to the literature, you don’t spike as high but it takes twice as long and three times as much total insulin to clear the glucose than if you had just had the potato.

Tradeoff is, would you rather have a higher spike but clear it quicker, or have the elevated glucose for a longer time and more insulin?


I blog prolifically on I started in 2003 and there are over 4,000 posts. I think that averages to one per day for 13 years.

Abel: You are a true blogger.

I’m wrong and everybody’s wrong all the time. @rnikoley Click To Tweet

Richard Nikoley

The struggle is not to be right, it’s to be a little bit less wrong every day.

You can also find Richard Nikoley on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest.


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How do you eat like a peasant? Share your tips to saving money and eating great in the comments below.

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