Ancestral diets contain a lot of nutrient dense foods. But the modern diet has overtaken the real essence of how food should be prepared and eaten. There is a lot to learn about how ancestral diets can benefit us. So, to expound more on the components of ancestral diets, we’re learning all of that from Dr. Bill Schindler, my guest on this episode.
Connecting With Nature
Dr. Bill Schindler grew up in the coast of New Jersey. He narrates that his parents worked hard to connect him with nature and outdoors like hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking and camping at a very early age. Dr. Bill Schindler didn’t take any pleasure in killing, but there was something about being a part of the entire process that drew him in at a very early age.
Dr. Bill Schindler also spent a lot of time in the kitchen cooking with his mother. He also battled with weight issues until high school. However, taking up wrestling was an exercise that helped Dr. Bill Schindler maintain his weight. Despite that, Dr. Bill Schindler still didn’t feel healthy and felt there was still something wrong with his diet.
“I was stuck in that rut trying to figure out what I should be eating by looking at the nutritional components of food. And I would chart out my weekly diet to the gram of every single nutritional component of food that I had access to understanding,” recalls Dr. Bill Schindler.
Dr. Bill Schindler continued wrestling in college. But then he also developed an eye disease called keratoconus. He went blind and ended up failing at school. It was not long before Dr. Bill Schindler had a cornea transplant. Eventually, he got back into college at the College of New Jersey and wrestled again. After college, he went further by pursuing a Masters’ and Ph.D. degree.
“My journey towards health for a long time was always focused on that which I got from books and magazines, doctors and nutritionists. Nothing felt right. One thing that felt right to me was when I was a part of the entire process,” Dr. Bill Schindler said.
Looking For A Deeper Connection
Dr. Bill Schindler soon realized he wasn’t satisfied with purchasing a gun and ammunition for hunting. He felt there was something about it that’s too cold and distant. He wanted a deeper connection, so he focused on learning how people in the past hunted.
Dr. Bill Schindler then learned how to make his bows and arrows. That led him to archaeology, particularly experimental archaeology. He also went on to teach classes at a university.
“During that time, there was a major transformation in my life that made me who I am now. And that’s having children,” shares Dr. Bill Schindler. “Almost every pre-historic technology that I spent my life learning about has something to do with food. I realized that that was the key to making an impact on my family.”
When we talk about ancestral diets, there are components to consider like prehistoric technologies, behaviors regarding food, food acquisition, and processing. Dr. Bill Schindler says ancestral diets was almost always focused on increasing the nutrient density or bioavailability of the nutrients in our food.
Between five and seven million years ago, Dr. Bill Schindler said our earliest ancestors first stood up and became bi-pedal. The size of our gut impacts how well we digest our food and how well we absorb that food that’s been broken down.
“On the other hand, the food processing today are focused on other things like storage, shipping, and shelf life and usually at the expense of nutrients. I realized how important it is to understand this and how it completely impacts our approach to food or diet and health,” said Dr. Bill Schindler.
Dr. Bill Schindler says that during the early times, we were able to obtain food using only our biological characteristics or traits. As a result, our bodies and our brains remained the size that they did.
“This is because our ability to take in large amounts of nutrients is very restricted because of our physical limitations,” said Dr. Bill Schindler. “It all began to change three and a half million years ago when one of our ancestors picked up two rocks and struck them against each other.”
He adds, “That moment completely transformed the course of us becoming human. We could butcher for the first time. The earliest stone tool we ever found dates back 3.4 million years ago found in Kenya. And the earliest example of butchering dates to 3.3 million years ago in Ethiopia.”
Furthermore, Dr. Bill Schindler said it opened up a world of possibilities. This includes hunting for the first time, cooking with fire, fermentation, cooking in containers and vessels, and drying.
Over time, we continued to improve our diet, create new technologies and behavior patterns that can extract more nutrient-dense foods from the environment. So, we began to hunt more efficiently and detoxify certain plants that were inaccessible to us before.
Dr. Bill Schindler explains that to make the most use of the food we eat, we have to process that food before we eat it to allow our body to access it. He says our genes is a combination of our gene make-up and the environment that it interacts with.
“If it’s about nutrient density, meat is more nutrient dense than vegetables and fruits. The biggest transformation of our ancestors occurs about two million years ago. I believe the biggest change here is we begin to hunt, and we begin to cook our food,” Dr. Bill Schindler said.
Truth About Meat
The reason that hunting is so important is that it is not about meat. Dr. Bill Schindler says, on the contrary, it is about animals. And the reason we could scavenge it three and a half million years ago is that the carnivores and the predators that killed that animal you’re scavenging from, left the meat behind after they ate all the good stuff.
“When we began to hunt, we have first access to the most nutrient dense parts. And when that happens, we began to cook food,” said Dr. Bill Schindler. “Our brains and body exponentially grow.
He adds, “Women also become more similar in size than men do which is an indicator of a quality diet as well. Our body was built on a diet that access animals. So, we need to focus on what was our diet like that produced our species and what technologies did they use to extract the most amount of nutrients in our environment.”
Dr. Bill Schindler says we can mechanically break down food with knives, mortars, and blenders. We can also ferment, take that food and derive nutrition from it. But Dr. Bill Schindler also shares that when he started having children, he wanted to learn more about dairy, especially dealing with raw dairy.
He says all mammal babies are called mammals because their mothers have mammary glands. All baby mammals produce two different enzymes in their stomach that allow them to do some amazing things with milk. One is lactase, and the other is the enzyme chymosin which curdles milk.
“The other thing that happens when raw dairy stays in the stomach for a little while is that it ferments. It is also important to allow it to break down better, releases nutrients and delivers all sorts of amazing probiotic nutrition into their bodies,” said Dr. Bill Schindler.
He adds, “By fermenting milk, we’re automatically getting rid of a lot of the lactose that we’re having trouble with, and the enzyme lactase is already there. So that’s why people that are lactose-intolerant can often tolerate long-aged cheeses or things like yogurt.”
Dr. Bill Schindler says that another thing we can do is harness chymosin and use it to curdle milk before we even eat it. And that’s cheese. But he also is firm in declaring that we have no business drinking ultra-pasteurized skim milk. Because skim milk delivers almost no nutrition.
We have to realize the limitations of our bodies and understand what has been done in the past to access those nutrients and re-adopt those practices. Dr. Bill Schindler says if we adopt the crop and not the practice behind how to transform that raw material into a finished product, we’re missing out on a significant component of that diet. It can cause a lot of problems and corn is a great example.
Dr. Bill Schindler shares what Native Americans figured out for a long time. They discovered that if they took the corn and boiled it in a solution of wood, ash, and water, it would break down that corn into something our bodies could digest. This became the basis for tamales or real tortillas.
But if you take the corn and boil, grind, bake, or eat it raw, you’re not getting all the nutrients that corn has. Dr. Bill Schindler says much of it will pass through our bodies even if we grind it into cornmeal.
“If we’re eating food to derive nutrition from it, we have to realize the limitations of our bodies and understand what has been done in the past to access those nutrients and re-adopt those practices,” advises Dr. Bill Schindler.
He also says corn is easy to grow. Hence, it is natural if people make it a significant part of their diet. In some ways, it may be good, but if we adopt the crop and not the practices behind how to transform that raw material into a finished product, we’re missing out on a significant component of that diet. Eventually, it can cause a lot of problems.
“Grains are designed to stay dormant until they are in the perfect condition to support new life and to sprout and to grow. We can keep grains for years in a dry condition. And by grinding it and baking it, it does absolutely nothing,” said Dr. Bill Schindler.
Reconnecting With Food
Dr. Bill Schindler says the most important thing we can do is reconnect with our food and where it comes from. Cook everything entirely from scratch at least once. This way, we would find out how food is made. He also says thinking about food based on nutritional components is a terrible way to look at food. And that only started a little over a hundred years ago.
To reconnect with food, Dr. Bill Schindler advises to do these steps:
- Focus on those food processing techniques that increase the nutrient density and the viability of nutrients in our food.
- Take steps to reconnect with our food, our diet and where it comes from.
- Understand and appreciate the context for all of our food.
“Most of the traditional food that we all enjoy like real cured meat, real cheeses, real bread, all sorts of dairy ferments are deep-rooted in the past,” said Dr. Bill Schindler. “And when we make them the right way and apply the right techniques, they taste amazing they smell amazing, they look amazing, and they are satiating.”
Dr. Bill Schindler is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. As both an experimental archaeologist and primitive technologist, his research and teaching, both in and outside of the college, revolve around a comprehensive understanding of prehistoric technologies including lithic (stone tool) technologies, prehistoric ceramic technologies, projectile technologies, hunting, foraging, hide working, fiber technologies and all aspects of prehistoric food acquisition, processing, storage, and consumption.
He believes that the better understanding of prehistoric life made possible through the archaeological record and a practical understanding of the technologies that created it can contextualize our place in the world and help provide answers to many of the issues facing us today. Dr. Bill Schindler is a strong advocate of traditional foodways and is constantly seeking new ways to incorporate lessons learned from his research into the diets of modern humans. His outlook on food has revolutionized the way in which he and his family eat, and he attributes much of the health his wife and three children enjoy to the hunted, gathered, and fermented foods that comprise a significant portion of their diets.
Dr. Bill Schindler has been trained by some of the world’s leading archaeologists, experimental archaeologists, and primitive technologists. His research and teaching combine both academic and hands-on approaches resulting in unique teaching and learning opportunities, and he is equally at home in the middle of the forest armed with a hand-made bow stalking a deer or in a college classroom delivering a lecture to a group of students.
He truly lives what he teaches and teaches what he lives. Dr. Bill Schindler’s teaching style is based on the belief that students are active learners and are best served by doing and solving real-world problems whenever possible; his approach is what he calls sole authorship, project-based, hands-on learning where students are engaged in a project for its entirety – immersed from the very beginning to very end.
In 2014, Dr. Bill Schindler was awarded the Washington College Alumni Associated Distinguished Professor of the Year Award, was nominated for the Carnegie-CASE-Phi Beta Kappa Professor of the Year Award, and in 2015 he delivered the keynote address focused on his approach to teaching at the world’s largest Experimental Archaeology Conference in Dublin, Ireland.
Dr. Bill Schindler also has a book coming out with Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, slated to be available in January 2019.
Get Connected With Dr. Bill Schindler:
Recommended Reading by Dr. Bill Schindler:
The Art Of Natural Cheesemaking – David Ascher