Meet Derek Nance. Five years ago, Derek had some mystery illness that killed his appetite and made him puke up everything he ate. The doctors suspected it was an allergy thing, so Derek changed his diet. First he cut the wheat and dairy, but he still continued losing weight. Getting desperate, he was soon online, chatting to people pushing all manner of lifesaving diets. Derek tried a Mediterranean diet (fish and vegetables) before ditching the fish and eventually becoming a vegan, but nothing worked. Finally, a guy who’d had similar symptoms recommended a carnivorous version of the Paleolithic diet. With nothing to lose, Derek gave raw meat a try. That was five years ago and he now goes so far as to brush his teeth with animal fat. For reasons I don’t properly understand I wanted to watch Derek eat a meal and he obliged. I found him with his girlfriend, Joanne, in Lexington, Kentucky, and we talked about vital organs, rotten meat, and health, which is the main point of this according to Derek. He’s never been healthier.
VICE: Hi, Derek. Can you tell me more about this diet? Whose idea was this?
Derek: So it was started by a dentist named Weston Price who in the 1930s studied the health benefits of eating more raw foods, including meats. He studied the Native Americans and a few of them who lived on a guts-and-grease diet. He found people in primitive communities were much healthier than we are today, and I thought, All right, I’ll give it a try.
Was there any deliberation?
Not really because I’d been sick for such a long time that I was willing to give anything a try. I had a couple of goats in my yard that I was using for milk, and, you know, I was tired of milking them, so I slaughtered them. I ate both of those goats, all raw, and just switched over like that.
Dear God. Did it make you sick?
No. Maybe what you get at first is a little diarrhea, but that’s just your digestive system adapting. After the first week, I felt absolutely great, and I never went back.
Derek’s dinner. Chunks of lamb and fat.
And you’ve eaten nothing else since?
Yeah, for nearly six years. I’m into lamb, mainly. It’s just easy to go out to farms, barter over a decent price, slaughter it, and throw it in the truck. It’s a lot harder to deal with beef because it’s a lot bigger. Pigs are kind of a no-no because they shoot them full of hormones and raise them on grains, which promote bacterial growth.
How do you avoid scurvy?
The organ meat of the animal actually contains vitamin C. And the thing about vitamin C is that you need more of it in a high-carbohydrate diet, but if you’re eating carnivorously, there’s enough in the animal flesh. So I just eat the organ meat and the connective tissue and everything else.
Derek’s hit of vitamin C. A jar of sheep organs and clotted blood.
What happens if you go to a friend’s house for dinner?
If I go to a friend’s house, most people will allow me to bring a little bit of my own food. Same with if I go out for dinner.
But don’t you get sick of eating the same thing all the time?
No. There’s something that happens during the adaption process. About three weeks in I noticed this real strong blood-like taste in the back of my throat and then all of a sudden I started getting strong cravings for it. The idea of cooked meat no longer appeals. It just tastes burned. And herbs and spices too, I used to season the meat, but seasonings no longer appeal either.
You also eat rotten meat. Why do you eat rotten meat?
It’s a probiotic. Half of the problem with my digestion was actually just lack of enzymes. My body just doesn’t produce enough enzymes to digest starchy foods. So the probiotic bacteria in rotten meat actually help me to digest the food.
Derek lets chunks of lamb rot in a jar before he eats them.
Have you ever explained your diet to a vegetarian?
Well, my girlfriend is a vegetarian.
Joanne, you’re a vegetarian?
Joanne: Yes. Well, more omnivore with vegan tendencies. I’ve tried Derek’s diet—we had lamb tenderloins once and they were delicious, but I’m a vegetarian for compassionate reasons.
Derek and Joanne.
So you guys talk about your difference in opinion?
Yeah and I understand his reasoning because for him this is his health. I think I can eat anything and it doesn’t affect me. That’s a big difference between us.
And Derek, you’re comfortable personally slaughtering animals?
Well if an animal lives in accordance with its nature, I have no problem ethically slaughtering that animal. But if you raise that animal in a pen, and when it’s sick just shoot it up with antibiotics, I have real problems with that. It’s not just unfair on the animal, it’s unfair on the people who eat it.
Your fridge looks like it belongs to Satan. What are we looking at here?
It’s a Shetland sheep. It’s got a very mild, sweet flavor. I crack open the skull and eat the brain. It’s kind of a delicacy, so I’ll wait until the weekend to get into it.
What’s the worst thing about this diet?
Being an outcast. My family thinks I’ve lost it. They literally think I’m off-the-deep-end insane and I don’t know why. Eating raw meat is just something they can’t accept. My father has a master's in biology and tells me that if I eat raw meat, I’ll get some sort of pathogen.
Joanne: Yeah, that’s weird. I’m not even allowed to mention Derrick’s diet around them. They say, “That’s wrong! He’ll die,” and they just get really emotional about it.
Will you ever stop this diet?
No, not by choice. If they haul me away, kicking and screaming, then maybe.
And you’ve recently become a butcher. Can you tell me about that?
Well, I was going out to farms for years slaughtering my own animals and one of the guys at these farms needed some help so I offered. Now I’m learning the trade from the ground up and I get lots of scraps to snack on. Before I was an electrician, but I’ll do anything. Joanne runs a vegan juice bar so sometimes I’ll help out there. That’s just life.