The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #153 - Bill Schindler
Dr. Bill Schindler is the author of Eat Like a Human: Nourishing Foods and Ancient Ways of Cooking to Revolutionize Your Health and is an internationally known archaeologist, primitive technologist, and chef. He founded and directs the Eastern Shore Food Lab with a mission to preserve and revive ancestral dietary approaches to create a nourishing, ethical, and sustainable food system and, along with his wife, Christina operate the Modern Stone Age Kitchen, a foodery designed to provide nourishing food created using ancestral approaches maximizing safety, nutrient density and bioavailability to the community. His work is currently the focus of Wired magazine’s YouTube series, Basic Instincts and Food Science, and he co-starred in the National Geographic Channel series The Great Human Race, which aired in 2016 in 171 countries.
LEARN MORE AT:
2:00 - IF Biohackers: Intermittent Fasting + Real Foods + Life: Join Melanie's Facebook Group For A Weekly Episode GIVEAWAY, And To Discuss And Learn About All Things Biohacking! All Conversations Welcome!
2:15 - Follow Melanie On Instagram To See The Latest Moments, Products, And #AllTheThings! @MelanieAvalon
2:20 - AvalonX Magnesium 8: Get Melanie’s Broad Spectrum Complex Featuring 8 Forms Of Magnesium, To Support Stress, Muscle Recovery, Cardiovascular Health, GI Motility, Blood Sugar Control, Mood, Sleep, And More! Tested For Purity & Potency. No Toxic Fillers. Glass Bottle.
AvalonX Supplements Are Free Of Toxic Fillers And Common Allergens (Including Wheat, Rice, Gluten, Dairy, Shellfish, Nuts, Soy, Eggs, And Yeast), Tested To Be Free Of Heavy Metals And Mold, And Triple Tested For Purity And Potency. Order At Avalonx.Us, And Get On The Email List To Stay Up To Date With All The Special Offers And News About Melanie's New Supplements At AvalonX.us/emaillist, And Use The Code MelanieAvalon For 10% On Any Order At Avalonx.us And Mdlogichealth.com!
4:50 - FOOD SENSE GUIDE: Get Melanie's App To Tackle Your Food Sensitivities! Food Sense Includes A Searchable Catalogue Of 300+ Foods, Revealing Their Gluten, FODMAP, Lectin, Histamine, Amine, Glutamate, Oxalate, Salicylate, Sulfite, And Thiol Status. Food Sense Also Includes Compound Overviews, Reactions To Look For, Lists Of Foods High And Low In Them, The Ability To Create Your Own Personal Lists, And More!
5:25 - BEAUTYCOUNTER: Non-Toxic Beauty Products Tested For Heavy Metals, Which Support Skin Health And Look Amazing! Shop At Beautycounter.Com/MelanieAvalon For Something Magical! For Exclusive Offers And Discounts, And More On The Science Of Skincare, Get On Melanie's Private Beautycounter Email List At MelanieAvalon.Com/CleanBeauty! Find Your Perfect Beautycounter Products With Melanie's Quiz: Melanieavalon.Com/Beautycounterquiz
Join Melanie's Facebook Group Clean Beauty And Safe Skincare With Melanie Avalon To Discuss And Learn About All The Things Clean Beauty, Beautycounter And Safe Skincare!
10:35 - about bill
15:30 - the "problem" with raw milk
20:30 - when did we start consuming milk from other animals?
22:45 - organ meats that aren't consumed by indigenous cultures
24;40 - Why do we gravitate to certain foods?
29:30 - the evolution of body and brain size
31:00 - the evolution of eating
34:30 - how did we learn to process raw food for consumption
39:00 - is it possible for other species to evolve like us?
40:35 - the archeological importance of food
46:25 - the way animals digest
54:00 - how to detoxify plants
1:02:00 - oxalates
1:02:35 - LMNT: For Fasting Or Low-Carb Diets Electrolytes Are Key For Relieving Hunger, Cramps, Headaches, Tiredness, And Dizziness. With No Sugar, Artificial Ingredients, Coloring, And Only 2 Grams Of Carbs Per Packet, Try LMNT For Complete And Total Hydration. For A Limited Time Go To drinklmnt.com/melanieavalon To Get A Sample Pack With Any Purchase!
1:06:00 - Eating Organ Meats
1:14:30 - how do we make food properly digestible
1:20:00 - fermented dairy
1:25:00 - Cooking from scratch
1:28:00 - where rennet comes from
1:32:25 - ancestral genes for lactase production
1:34:50 - Nixtamalization of maize
1:44:00 - Niacin Deficiency with a niacin rich diet
1:47:30 - using ash in food processing
1:49:10 - insect protein
1:58:55 - other ancestral diet habits
2:01:30 - cultural perceptions and barriers to ancestral foods
2:05:30 - being empowered to properly prepare food at home
Melanie Avalon: Hi, friends, welcome back to the show. I am so incredibly excited about the conversation that I'm about to have. Today's author, well, he's so much more than just an author, but he wrote a book called Eat Like a Human: Nourishing Foods and Ancient Ways of Cooking to Revolutionise Your Health. Actually, I've heard you on some other podcasts, but when I first saw the title of the book, seeing the title, I thought that not that it would be just any other paleo book, but I thought it would be something like a paleo book. I didn't know [chuckles] what all would be in it. Oh, my goodness, my mind was blown. Listeners, this book is just mind blowing. It's basically the history of what made us human from an evolutionary perspective, and how that affects our diet, and how we handle and process food and the food we eat, and what food we should or shouldn't be eating, and that might be a trick question. But he goes into so many topics. I cannot wait to ask you all my questions.
For listeners, a little bit about Dr. Bill Schindler. He is an internationally known archeologist, a primitive technologist, and I'm sure we will go into what that means exactly, and a chef, and he founded and directs The Eastern Shore Food Lab that has a mission to preserve and revive ancestral dietary approaches to create a nourishing, ethical, and sustainable food system. He operates the modern stone age kitchen, which right before this, I was looking at the website, it just looks so cool. I would love to go there. You might have seen him on TV, because he's costarred in the National Geographic Channel series, The Great Human Race, which was in 2016. He's also currently the focus of WIRED magazine's YouTube series, Basic Instincts and Food Science. If that doesn't make you excited hearing all of that, I don't know what will. So, Dr. Schindler, thank you so much for being here.
Bill Schindler: Thank you so much for having me and thank you for that amazing introduction. I'm thrilled to be here.
Melanie Avalon: Did you narrate the audiobook?
Bill Schindler: I did. It's my first book and it was a strange situation. I asked to, “If I could do,” because I thought it was such a personal book on so many levels and they said, “Yeah, you can audition for it.” [laughs] I had to audition against all these people who are professional readers and luckily, they allowed me to do it.
Melanie Avalon: They did that to me, too, and then they only let me record the introduction.
Bill Schindler: Seriously?
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, and I had recorded audiobooks before [laughs] and I'm a podcaster. People know my voice. So, this is so funny.
Bill Schindler: I will say, it was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
Melanie Avalon: I know.
Bill Schindler: It was exhausting. Oh, my gosh, but it was so important.
Melanie Avalon: I remember after I recorded the intro and then I was like, “Actually, I think I'm glad I'm not [chuckles] recording the whole thing.” Yeah, no, I just love when I connect with authors when they did record it, because I feel I really already met you, because I listened to you for so long. But in any case, so, your book, like you just said, it being such a personal book. You dive deep into your history of how you got so interested in everything that you're doing today. For listeners who are not familiar with your work, I was wondering if you could tell listeners a little bit about yourself and why are you doing seemingly from a cultural perspective, crazy things with food that you are doing with food?
Bill Schindler: Sure. It may seem maybe not from your audience. But for a lot of people, it may seem strange that somebody who has an archeological background, which is what I have my PhD in archaeology and anthropology is sitting here writing a book about food, and diet, and health, especially from a modern perspective. In my mind, it makes complete sense. The short version is I've spent my entire life in an unhealthy relationship with food and I'm sure so many people listening can probably connect with what that feeling is like. For me as young kid, I was overweight, I got picked on for my weight, I got picked on for the way that I looked, and then I went through a series, eventually becoming an athlete. I was a Division 1 athlete, Ohio State in the wrestling program for years and I traded one unhealthy relationship with food for another.
Even though, I looked healthy and I looked like an athlete, and in many ways performing like an athlete, I still had an unhealthy relationship with food. Food went from something that I thought made me look a certain way and maybe get picked on to something that I was scared of that caused me from missing, making weight and those sorts of things. Then finally, when everything became a crisis mode, when I stopped being a college athlete and I was now a 20 something year old overweight and very unhealthy young man, and I’ve realized I really needed to do something, and I tried every single diet that was out there, and none of them seemed to work, none of them made sense to me. At the same time that I was sitting here battling with my weight, and my body image, and my health, and my food, and my diet. Two other important things were happening in my life. One is, I had started a family. I married my wife, Christina, and we started having kids, and it was more than my understanding of food, and diet, and health was more about trying to understand how to feed myself. That was even more important, I was having to feed other young humans.
The other thing that was happening was, I was really learning a lot about our ancestors, evolution, archaeology, ancient foodways, and it all culminated about 20 years ago or so when I realized that that part of my life that understanding of ancestral diets was the key component to understanding how we should be feeding ourselves today and it's made all the difference in my health, all the difference in my family's health, and we just wanted to share with the world. So, that's why I wrote the book.
Melanie Avalon: I love that so much. Actually, that's something I've been thinking about a lot recently. When you had your kids, how deep were you into all of this theory, I guess? When you were raising them, did you try anything exposing them to a wide variety of foods and letting them just naturally gravitate towards what they ate or what was your experience with implementing these new ideas with your kids?
Bill Schindler: I love when I get to listen to somebody that's really, truly genuine about their own journey and about what they did or didn't do. I would love to sit here and tell you that we went directly from breast milk to raw liver with our kids or something like that, but we didn't. In fact, we were at a place in our lives. We were very young parents and listening to what the doctors told us. We bought all the baby books, we're getting all the baby magazines, and listening to everything that-- They told us to do there. Unfortunately, in many cases, as you can imagine the wrong advice, but it's a sense of security. If somebody else that you're supposed to be respecting is telling you what to do and you're doing it, it almost takes some of the, at least, superficially it takes some of the burden off yourself, so, you can rest easy at night even if you're making mistakes. Unfortunately, we did the wrong thing.
Now, the one thing I will say we did right is, we went from breast milk to raw milk and our kids spent their entire childhood on nothing, but raw dairy, which as far as milk is concerned. That I'm very proud of. But we didn't make our own baby food, we didn't introduce organ meats at an early age, we didn't do any of those things. We had just started out. My oldest daughter now is 18. And so, 19, 20 years ago is when we really started on this journey, hardcore and I was still scared to even give them raw milk at that time because if you google raw milk, especially then, it was going to tell you, “You're going to kill your family if you give them raw milk.” We didn't do all of those things. I know what I would do now and I'm happy to talk about that, but it was a journey for not only us with ourselves and what we felt comfortable with, but a journey for our kids to thankfully that we've taken them along on this journey and did start to hit the hardcore stuff early enough that I think we've set them up for a really healthy future, but we didn't do it at birth, unfortunately.
Melanie Avalon: Well, it's motivating, since you didn't do it at birth and to know never too late to start doing these things. Actually, about the raw milk, because you talk about the history of why raw milk was demonized and that really blew my mind. I've been sharing that anytime it comes up in conversation, which actually has a few times since reading your book. I've been telling people about this. Could you tell listeners a little bit about why we think it's a problem today?
Bill Schindler: Yeah, and there's a lot of reasons why. But let me back up and start to just to plant the seeds or at least lay the context or foundation. Humans have been consuming the milk of other animals for at least 8,000 years in certain parts of the world. This is not a brand-new thing despite what some people might tell you. It is fairly new from an evolutionary standpoint, but 8,000 years is quite a while. We've been doing this for 8,000 years at least. The entirety of that time up until the last 150 or so years, all the milk was completely raw and almost all of it had gone through a fermentation process, either intentionally or just because it did before it was consumed. When I talk about our ancestors consuming dairy and the dairy most of us are drinking today, they're two completely different foods. In fact, the dairy that our ancestors were consuming is absent in almost every single grocery store in the country and is illegal in many states still. But what happened with dairy short version is that at the end of the 1800s and the early 1900s, people were flocking to cities that they never had before, those people who were giving up their farms or leaving a rural lifestyle were moving into cities and went from a self-sufficient way of feeding themselves and their families to relying on other people to not only make their food or create their food, but also to ship their food, and put it on shelves, and those are delivered to their house. One of the big needs was milk.
Several things were happening at that time. The cities were getting larger, people were leaving their farms, dairies themselves with this increased need, especially dairies on the outskirts of cities needed to get larger as well, and women were going into the workforce more than they ever had before, which is a wonderful thing, but there are some repercussions of it. One of the repercussions of young mothers going back to work early, especially without the ability to have electricity, and to pump breast milk, and save it for the kids, is that kids at earlier ages were getting weaned off of their mothers at much younger ages. They were dependent on milk that was getting bought at younger ages as well. We didn't have very good refrigeration either. You have all these things happening and then, to meet this demand, there is-- we’d team up with distilleries on the-- certainly, demand for whiskey and other spirits at that time.
Distilleries and dairies would team up together on the outskirts of these cities and they spent grains from distilling and creating things like whiskey, and rye, and other spirits were then fed to the cows. In the dairy, they thought this was a brilliant system, zero waste system, and these cows were eating the spent grains from the distillery process and standing in filthy conditions. If you read some of the accounts, they are standing knee deep in their own feces, there's no refrigeration, or if there is refrigeration, it's very, very poor, the milk that's coming out of these diseased animals, the colors are gray and green, and they're adding things like brains, believe it or not into the milk to try to make this gray milk look white again, because brains give milk this really beautiful bluish white that we think milk is supposed to be. This adulterated really nasty, terrible sickening milk, now, still without refrigeration or poor refrigeration is getting shipped into the cities and these very young kids are drinking this milk, and kids and adults are getting sick, and many of them are dying as a result of this.
Certainly, it's much more complicated than this. But the simple version of it is, okay, so, there was a huge epidemic happening around the country, especially around the cities and the government had a choice to make. They could either transform the entire dairy system and make it clean enough to produce high-quality milk that's not going to make anybody sick or they could pasteurize milk by boiling it. Now, it sounds like, “Well, of course, we'll just pasteurize the milk.” But they're taking this dangerous, poor-quality milk and they're not making it healthy. They're just putting it into a state that it's not going to kill somebody. It's really still highly terrible milk, but it's just not killing anybody. We thought we licked it, that's great, and this got adopted in many cases around the world, and became the standard for a very long period of time. And now, anybody trying to buck that system is looked at with contempt and that it's very dangerous thing. Again, we've been safely consuming dairy as humans for over 8,000 years and it's only in the past hundred years that we've considered it a dangerous thing. It's not dangerous because raw milk is inherently dangerous, it's dangerous because the system is all screwed up.
Melanie Avalon: That is insane. I have wrote my notes that you said, they also doctored it with molasses, and plaster of Paris, and all of this stuff that is just-- That's crazy. Speaking of, you talked about how we have been eating dairy for so long, because you talk about this in the book and this ties into larger topics of what we've been eating as a species. But what was the initial form of dairy? So, were we milking cows or were we eating udders, eating cheese from stomachs? [chuckles]
Bill Schindler: It's so hard because from an archaeological perspective, there're things we can talk about that we know fairly well. We know when our ancestors started accessing long bones for marrow, 3.4 million years ago. We know when we started butchering animals for their meat, 3.4 million years ago. We know some of these things because they leave an archaeological signature in the ground that we can identify, we can interpret and make a fairly good educated guess about. But there are certain things like when did we start consuming milk from another animal that is almost impossible to tell? In the absence of that evidence, we look at ethnographic examples, we look at living traditional or indigenous groups, see what they're doing, listen to some of their stories and those sorts of things. One thing that's common is that when a traditional group kills an animal, unless there's a taboo about something, which isn't uncommon, but unless there's a taboo about a part of that animal for some religious or cultural reason, it doesn't get consumed, the entire animals getting consumed. One of the things that is consumed often is the udder. If you kill an animal that's in milk and you consume that udder, you're consuming the milk. Now, it's not going to make a major part of your diet and it's not us drinking a glass of milk every single day, but it is something that's adding to the diet, it is something that we're introducing into our foods. And so, I am convinced that for as long as we've been hunting, which I believe is at least 2 million years old, we have been consuming the milk from animals that we've killed that are nursing.
Melanie Avalon: First, I have really specific random question and then a more general question. This specific random one is, you're saying in your book that early ancestors at some point were eating the entire animal except they would feed the spleen and the gallbladder to the dogs. I was wondering why they did that.
Bill Schindler: That particular example was, I was butchering a yak with some Mongolian herders out on the steppe in Northern Mongolia. In that particular instance, the gallbladder and the spleen are the only two parts they didn't eat. Now, the spleen is typically eaten and I was surprised that they didn't eat the spleen. I don't know why that was the case and I wished I had asked. The gallbladder produces bile, and bile is used to help certainly break down fats, and it's very, very bitter if you've ever tried it. There are some groups that I've seen that intentionally consume the gallbladder because they're consuming so much fat, but there's a lot of groups that won’t eat just because it's so incredibly bitter. They fed it to the dog. I believe they didn't eat the gallbladder because of the taste of it. Then if anybody's ever butchered an animal or do something with the liver, the gallbladder is often in many animals attached to the liver, and if you ruptured the gallbladder when you're taking it off of the liver, any part of the liver that it bleeds this greenish goo on to, you would cut away, because it makes it nasty tasting. That was more for that modern example.
Melanie Avalon: How many tribes have you stayed with?
Bill Schindler: About a dozen for different periods of time. This wasn't necessarily a tribe as much as it was a family that lived out on the step in the middle of nowhere, but they were still-- According to them, butchering their yaks the way they've been doing it forever.
Melanie Avalon: I focus in on that because one of the organ supplements that I use is spleen and I was like, “Oh, I wonder why they're throwing away the spleen.”
Bill Schindler: I've never seen anybody else throw away the spleen.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, cool. [laughs] My broader question from that. You're talking about taboos and even already during this conversation, you've mentioned a few things and I responded even by saying that it was yucky, like, brains and that concept. Culturally, why do you think we gravitate towards certain foods? I guess, how much of it is cultural and how much of it is evolutionary? How do we land at the diets that we land at today?
Bill Schindler: Well, that's an awesome question. Let me start by saying this. For some reason-- I used to fall into this trap as well and I still do sometimes. Especially for all of us that are in this ancestral dietary space, we like to glorify the past. I knew as well. I think that we had a lot of things going well for us for a very long period of time that we've more recently screwed up over the past several hundred years. We tend to attach this perception of intentionality to the way our ancestors were doing things. In other words, “Oh, they knew or they figured out that you need to do this or they decided that this was a great thing to do because of these health benefits or whatever.” While sometimes that might be the case, more often than not, what I believe was going on was that certain groups, and certain people, certain families just did something because out of necessity, or out of that particular situation that made sense, or whatever, and it stuck. The people, or the cultures, or the groups, or societies that ended up doing these things that were right over and over and over and over again are the ones that had healthier babies and had more babies, and those babies had more babies, and those babies grew up, and were stronger, and could take other people's lands away, or whatever it is. Over time, it just became enculturated, not because there was an intention of it happening, just because it did. The groups that didn't do it had sicker babies, or had less babies, or were weaker in some form, or died out for some reason or through disease, or whatever. The ones that did it well--
The vast amount of time that we're talking about here and the amount of generations that we're talking about is incredible. It's almost impossible to conceive, but you have to remember that it's happening over and over and over and over and over again. Even if there was some sense of intentionality to it, it could be lost over time. I'll tell you a very quick story that started getting me thinking. There's a famous anthropology story. Nobody knows if it's true or not, but it gets told in classes over and over again that there was an anthropologist studying and living with a family, and I think it was in the southeast somewhere, maybe Georgia, Carolina, somewhere. This anthropologist was studying this family and I forget exactly what she was there studying. I think it might have even been genealogy or something, but they gave her going away party at the end of her month she spent with this family, and they served some sort of a roast and she was there when the woman of the house was preparing the roast. First thing a woman did was cut off both ends of the roasts and either discarded them or did something else to them, and put them in this pan, and put it in the oven, and the anthropologist said, “Why did you cut off both ends? Clearly that pot is big enough. Why did you cut off both ends of that roast?” She’s like, “I don't have any idea. It’s just the way my mother did it. I call her.” She called her mother and her mother said, “I have absolutely no idea. I'll ask aunt so and so, because it was the way her mother did it.”
Eventually, over three or four people back in time, they figured out that the reason that it was done that way was because the great grandmother had this small pan, and they cut both sides of that roast off just to fit in into that pan or container, a roasting pan. It's a great example of whether it's true or not. It's that three generations down, they were still doing something that they had no idea why they were doing it, but it just made sense because it was their mother, and so on, and so forth. When we look at things in the past, whether they're different ways of hunting, or different ways of cooking or fermenting food, or detoxifying vegetables, sometime, hopefully, we get into things like nixtamalization and a little bit during this conversation. I don't think it was always an intentional thing. I think it was just something that happened and it stuck and the groups that were doing it are the ones that survived and continued certainly to pass it down. As far as organ meats and those things are concerned, we see a huge-- Meat enters our diets at about 3.4 million years ago. We see the remains of scavenged animals that have butchering marks from stone tools. It was humans, our ancestors are butchering these animals that were killed by another predator to get the flesh and the meat off of these animals. We don't at that time see any major changes in our anatomy. It didn't help support any major body growth, it didn't help support any major brain growth, but a million and a half years later, two million years ago, we see a massive jump in both body and brain size. The two things that we believe were happening two million years ago that were different than anything before that was one, the control of fire, which allowed us to cook food, which allowed us to detoxify foods, and unlock nutrients in foods, and all those wonderful things, which is great, and hunting technology, which immediately turns us from scavengers eating just the leftover flesh on animals to the predators where we have first access to any part of that animal that we want.
That's a huge game changer, because even though meat is more nutrient dense and bioavailable than any plant on the planet, it is the least nutrient dense part of an animal. Even though, it's incredibly bioavailable, it's less bioavailable than liver, and spleen, and kidney, and blood, and fat, and brains, and eyeballs, and all of those things. What I and many other people like [unintelligible [00:23:01] and other anthropologists believe is that it's the introduction of eating the entire animal that allowed us about our ancestors, the amazing nutrition that they needed to support massive body and brain growth. In fact, I know this is hard for some people to fathom, but it's because we were eating animals, nose to tail that I think we became human the way that we think of ourselves becoming human today, both in body and brain size, but also in culture, as well.
Melanie Avalon: The evolution of cooking methods mirrors how we evolves as a species and the strongest survives. It's with our cooking methods, the best cooking methods survive, as far as what sustains the species. It's parallel evolution.
Bill Schindler: 100%. If it's okay, real quick, just to say one thing-- At the foundation of everything that I read about in the book, everything that we do here at the Food Lab and the Modern Stone Age Kitchen, everything and certainly that I do at home and believe in is that we are stuck trying to answer this question about what we should be eating. What should we, what should we eat? We look at the valid books, we listen the podcast, we listen to the documentaries, we listen to our doctor, and the FDA and everybody else. What should we eat? Even though, the answer to that question is important, it's not the question we should be asking or at least not the asking by itself. Because humans have one of the least efficient digestive tracts of any animal on the planet. Really, the answer to that question is, well, not much. [laughs] One thing I'd like to say is, we are not omnivores by design. In other words, a greater being, a God, God's natural selection, whatever it is you believe in, however we got to be where we are now, we have not evolved to safely and efficiently consume almost every food in our diet alone anatomically. We just don't have the right apparatus to do it. What we as humans do is we processed food to make it as safe and nourishing as possible before we put it in our bodies.
In other words, again, this is hard to fathom or grasp. We are not designed to eat almost every food that we eat, but we require the nutrition from a whole host of foods that we are not biologically adapted to deal without some technological innovation. Really, there're two ways that we as humans derive really good nutrition. One is, we use animals as food factories. We let animals eat foods that they're designed to consume. They biologically have the right digestive tracts to deal with. Allow those animals to turn that into things like blood, fat, meat, organs, that sort of thing, and then we consume that or we replicate through technology, the processes that are happening inside of those animals, we directly do that to the raw ingredients before we put those foods into our mouths. That's really the two things that we can do, because before we started creating these technologies, we ate a very limited amount of plants and some insects. That's it. Our bodies were small, and our brains were small, and they weren't going to grow at all until we started introducing other foods. When we started introducing these other technologies that led us introduce these other foods that led us to safely unlock a whole bunch of nutrition, and we really domesticated ourselves and created bodies built on the backs of these technological innovations that we now are in a place where we can no longer fully nourish our bodies without some of these technologies. It's actually fascinating, really.
Melanie Avalon: Looking at that evolution, scavenging, eating meat, but it wasn't until like you were talking about our ability to use fire and hunting that we really had that big advancement and we're able to use these other technologies and advance from there. Okay, this is such a naive question. Were there other species eating meat? How do we get the ability to use fire, and hunt, and create these technologies? Wouldn't we have had to have had evolved in order to do that? It seems like a catch 22.
Bill Schindler: You are asking the best questions I've heard in a very long time. [laughs] I really, really appreciate them. You have no idea. Only one other time somebody even asked a question similar to this and I was doing a film on a television program in Ireland for a show called What Are You Eating? I was with the host and the host asked me something very similar to this. “I don't understand like, if you just fed a whole bunch of food like this to chimpanzee, would you get a smarter chimpanzee?” I'm like, “Wow, that's a great question. No, you just get a heavier chimpanzee.” [chuckles] One way to think about it is this. Us unlocking incredible nutrition from our environment and putting it into a state that again relatively weak bodies can actually make use of did not allow us to grow bigger, did not push us to grow bigger brains and bigger bodies, didn't do it. Something else was the trigger or some other things were the triggers to push our brains to grow bigger and to push our bodies to grow bigger. It's just that without that nutrition, we wouldn't have been able to support that growth. I don't care what was going on. We could have given birth to an Australopithecine three and a half million years ago that had the potential to be as smart as Albert Einstein, but it would have never happened because the nutrition wasn't there to allow that growth to happen. There're a couple thoughts. Certainly, there're a lot of ideas about what those triggers were to initiate and to push things like brain growth and body growth. One is hallucinogenic drugs. The idea that our ancestors might have been dabbling a little bit with mind altering substances that kept pushing our brains beyond what their normal capacity or normal range would be, and kept pushing and pushing and pushing. I don't know if I believe that or not, but that's one of the theories.
Another theory is, I forget the name, but there's a number of the maximum amount of real relationships a person can have. I don't mean romantic relationship. I just mean, in other words, human relationships in dealing about it. Because forming and maintaining a real relationship with another person is incredibly exhausting. It's taxing. It requires a lot of effort. When our populations were starting to grow a little bit larger, and we had to organize ourselves, and deal with ourselves, and manage ourselves and all of the things that come along with more people in a given space, and making it work, that was one of the things that-- It's a very human thing for us to be around other people, and to create, and maintain those relationships, but it requires a massive amount of brainpower in order to make it happen and that might have been pushing. It could have been-- Some people belief, it could have been-- I wish we're on video here and I could show you, but when you make stone tools, the first stone tool technology we ever created we see it 3.3 million years ago. I'm sure there's some that earlier, but that's the oldest we found. Even the very basic act of knocking two rocks together and creating a sharp edge is a math problem. It's thinking in three dimensions, and understanding angles, and planning ahead especially when you get to some more of the advanced tools. The fact that we're manipulating materials from our environments and thinking about things in very planned and in some cases, abstract ways, can help push our brains to limits that it's never had before. Whatever those trigger or triggers were, we don't know yet and we may never know. But what I'm convinced is that there was this, something was pushing our brains and our bodies to get larger, and the only way that we were able to support that massive body and brain growth was because of the incredible nutrition that our ancestors introduced into our diet and most importantly introduced in a way that our bodies can make use of.
Melanie Avalon: Wow, that is fascinating. Okay, yeah, because when you were talking about the evolution, I was writing and I wrote scavengers, and then I wrote what here, and then I wrote fire hunting, because I was like, “There's something that happened here that allow that to happen.” Do you think any of the other current species today on the planet could evolve like us, like, could become like we are?
Bill Schindler: That is incredibly good question as well. I haven't thought about that. I will say, we have used-- If anybody cares, you can google Kanzi, K-A-N-Z-I on YouTube or whatever. It's a bonobo chimp that has been used for all wonderful language experiments, but also stone tool experiments. Kanzi was able to not only be taught to make very simple basic stone tools, but there's a pretty famous scene. They put and I know, this sounds very cliche, but Kanzi was in some room, and they had this box with a banana in it, and a string holding the box closed, and they taught her how to make a very simple stone tool to create a sharp edge to cut the string to get to the banana. This happened over and over again. Then finally, she got frustrated with the way that they told her or showed her how to make the tool, and she started just smashing the rocks on the ground, and picking up a sharp edge, and making it themselves, which sounds again very simple and whatever. But the cool thing about what happened is, she found a new way to make a sharp edge from a rock to go ahead, and cut the string get at the banana. I don't know exactly what the triggers were that pushed a lot of that brain evolution and even body evolution. But are other animals capable of learning in ways that we don't even understand? Absolutely. Certainly, absolutely.
Melanie Avalon: Your work as an archaeologist, how much of it is looking at the past to how we got here and how much of it is predictive, like, where we will go from here? Is it mostly looking backwards or do you also look forwards?
Bill Schindler: I love archaeology. It has been such a part of my life for so incredibly long and has informed so much of what I do now and I'm sure what I'll do for my entire life. You can imagine that an archaeologist job is very, very difficult because they take very limited amounts of information, do everything possible that they can to try to eke out as much information as they can from a piece of a stone or a piece of a clay pot that's thousands of years old, and then try to make interpretations of it. It is an all-consuming thing to do. A lot of archaeologists spend their entire careers not that it's wrong right, it's been their entire careers, looking to the past and trying to interpret what was happening in the past and I spent a lot of my time doing that as well. But there was this one moment and I talk about this on podcast. I'm going to give you the quick version. I don’t take too much time, but my wife had given birth to our son, who was two years younger than our oldest daughter. The kind of archaeology that I do and you mentioned it earlier, the experimental archaeology, where in addition to field archaeology, we're excavating sites. I'm trained in a number of different primitive technologies. Things like stone tool technology, or prehistoric ceramics, or ancient fibers, high tanning, those sorts of things. When we find artifacts and don't understand how they were made or how they were used, my job used to be, I would replicate those tools using the same materials and techniques as we think they were used to create them in the first place, they understand how they were made, and then put them through a series of experiments to understand how they might have been used. I spent a lot of my life learning from amazing people around the world and honing my skills on how to do this.
One of the things that's incredibly difficult to do is, learn how to make stone tools. I dedicated myself years ago to spending at least an hour every single day practicing. I’m full-grown man, every day I'm in the garage, and I'm banging on rocks on and on and again. [chuckles] My wife, one night had come out, she said, “Can you--?” This isn't exactly how it was. This is years ago. I forget the specifics. But she came out and she said, “Can you come inside?” I'm like, “Yeah, I’ll be just a minute.” She was “Oh, no, you got to bring this all this passion, this desire for knowledge and understanding of the--?” Can you please bring it in the house, you have a family, work hours are over. Come inside and can you do something that's relevant to the family?” I said, “Yeah,” at first, I was embarrassed right away, because prior to that I was patting myself on the back for how hard I was working to dedicate myself to something and then my wife, the person I love more than anyone in the world, she comes out and says, “Hey, can you do something for the family.” I realized that, “Oh, my gosh, yes, of course. If I do something and be that passionate about something, it's not going to help the people that you love most.”.
I spent several weeks thinking about it nonstop. It was then and it was in the shower one morning that I put two and two together that I realized that almost every single prehistoric technology ever invented over three and a half million years of time, almost every single prehistoric technology has something to do with food. Getting food, processing food, storing food, distributing food, something and when that moment-- It hit me like a ton of bricks, “Oh, my gosh, that's the key.” If you think about it, the most brilliant of our species of every generation for millions of years were focused on inventing something that made our food safer and more nourishing. Our diets are built on the backs of those technologies and then our bodies are built on the backs of those diets or built on the backs of those technologies. And understanding that is crucial to understanding the diet, that built us as humans and to me understanding that is the foundation for understanding the diet that we should be looking towards as we move into the future.‘’
And so, I spent a long time trying to answer your question, but the answer is that made me change do a 180 from just looking to the past to, “Hey, how can I use this information and make it relevant not only today, but also, into the future?” What I found especially, that also then pushed us and luckily, we've been able to do this as a family, but pushed us to not just focus on the archaeology, but also the cultural anthropology, the ethnographic work we've done with living indigenous groups and traditional groups to understand what they're doing today. What we found is that not only does this way of approaching food produce in my mind, the most nourishing food possible for humans that were the ones that diet we really shouldn't be eating, but it also fulfills the other parts of our dietary needs beyond just the biological, the cultural. We really want not just a nourishing food system, biologically nourishing food system, but one that's ethical and sustainable as well. That's the key to the food system for the future and this food system of the past is a great model for that, as well.
Melanie Avalon: That is an incredible epiphany. I've thought about it a little bit about just how pervasive food is in our entire existence. I'll think about it with Instagram, for example, because sometimes, I'll be looking at all these food pictures. If you just step back for a second and think about it, we're looking at pictures of food. I don't know. It's really interesting to think about how much it makes us human, basically. I guess, going deeper into that and those technologies, and how we do deal with and process food, which you talk about all in the book, so one of the fascinating things you talk about is how we basically do to food on the outside, what animals do on the inside. There's a lot of ways we could take this. What are some of those examples? I love how you talk about how birds eat seeds, and grains, and things like that, and that whole process? For that example, how do birds eat seeds, and grains, and how do we do it?
Bill Schindler: Yeah, I picture so many moments of the past in these lightbulb moments and this was one of them. That show I mentioned earlier in Ireland we were filming, they were filming us walking through the woods and talking about feeding chimpanzees, and that the thing we mentioned earlier. But then we went out into this field. This TV program actually, this particular episode was about veganism, believe it or not. What they wanted me on for at the end of the program was to talk about how meat and animals entered the diet in the past and what the technologies were surrounding it and all this? We were set up at this beautiful spot of the Wicklow Mountains called Powerscourt. Waterfall. There’s waterfall in the background, there's this field, and we had gotten several deer, several ducks, and some rabbits.
I was a Visiting Professor at University College Dublin. I had some of my graduate students out there and they were using stone tools and butchering in the foreground while I'm with the host in the back, and we're making stone tools, and talking about different time periods, and things like this. Then he said to me, “Hey, can you pick up one of those ducks and cut it open and pull everything out on the inside?” “You want me to do that on camera?” He's like, “Sure.” Okay. I picked up one of the ducks and I cut the bottom, and I reached all the way up, all the way up into his neck from the bottom and pulled everything out. It was laying out on my arm. You have to remember. I am mic'ed and there's a boom pole, and there’s students with these razor-sharp tools in their hand, and a camera, and all this stuff's happening at the same time. I'm trying not to sound stupid and I'm worried about all this stuff, and I had this epiphany looking at these organs on my arm, and I just wanted to scream like, “Oh, my gosh,” but it wasn't about this. This episode was about vegans. It wasn't about veganism, it wasn't about grains. I had to hold it in and then I screamed as soon as we cut. But this is what I saw.
Let me just say one other thing before I tell you what I saw. The day before this, I was up in the northwest of Ireland and in a beautiful village called Belderrig, and it was an area where they believed butter might have been first invented. But we were doing a program with people we had something called-- we are grinding grains and we're using something called a Corn stone and a Corn stone are these two round rocks that sit on top of one another and you spin the top rock and you feed the grains in the middle and it grinds it. So, just keep that in mind for a minute. That happened the day before. I reached up inside of this duck, and I pulled everything out, and it's literally laying on my forearm, and I realized that the duck has a lot of things in its digestive tract that humans don't have, and they're designed specifically to process grains. When a duck or other granivorous bird, a bird designed to eat grains, consumes grains-- Remember, the first thing is, they're not chopping them up, they're taking a raw grain right off of the stalk, right off the ground, and they're swallowing it. A huge, a whole grain covered in lectins, phytic acid, anti-nutrients, all the things that we know grains have and they swallow it.
The first place that it goes in their digestive tract is a crop or a crop like part of their body depending on the bird that they are. What this is, it is just an enlarged pouch in their esophagus where the grains sit. Now, the grains will sit there for sometimes up to 14 to 16 hours in a warm, moist, dark environment. During that time, a lot of things are happening. It's not just sitting there. They're absorbing water, they're swelling up, and they're soaking, they're fermenting, and sometimes, depending on the grain, how fresh it is, the length of time, and by all this, sometimes, they're even sprouting and anybody who's listening that knows all the great ways to deal with grains before we eat them, soaking, fermenting, and sprouting are incredibly important. These soaked fermented sometimes sprouted grains, after they leave the crop, then go down into an organ called the gizzard. Anybody who's butchered a chicken or taken apart a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, they know what the gizzard looks like. The gizzard are two incredibly strong muscular discs that sit against one another. The birds they eat rocks, they're called gastroliths, little tiny rocks, gravel that they consume on purpose that sits between these muscular discs and these soften detoxified grains go in between these discs, and they literally get stoneground.
What I saw in that was that gizzard was exactly what that Corn stone I was using the day before in County Mayo from Belderrig. These grains are detoxified, they're softened, they go down into a gizzard, they’re stoneground, and then and only then do the grains go into the rest of their digestive tract, which operates in a very similar way to ours at that point. I'm looking at and thinking, “Oh, my gosh, other than baking, actually, heating the grains, these birds are making sourdough bread inside of their bodies.” I'm like, “Wow, that's amazing.” It really kicked off a lot of my thoughts about detoxifying grains, and thinking about sourdough bread, and all that thing. But at the--, I also had this thought. I wonder if and-- I'm looking at their digestive tract, I wonder if we took a grain and bypassed those two, the crop and the gizzard, and stuck that grain into their digestive tract a little bit lower, what it would do? Because that's essentially what we're doing when we're eating grains that are-- what would it do? I'll never know. That's a question I'll never get answered.
Well, about three or four years ago, it did get answered. I came upon a disease of malnourishment issue that ducks and geese get that live in city parks that get fed by really nice old people that are sitting on the bench and feeding them bread, they get a disease called angel wing disease. It's because they're malnourished and not getting the nourishment that they need and here are these-- Just think about how crazy this is. Here are these birds, granivorous birds that are designed to eat grains, that are getting fed grains in the form of bread from nice old people sitting on a park bench, and they're getting sick, and they're getting deformed because of the malnourishment in this. What's happening is that the grains that are in that bread, just regular slice, pan loaf, Wonder Bread kind of baked bread that they can't go through that process. Even though, it goes into the crop and the gizzard, it doesn't get done what needs to be done, because it's already been processed, it's already been cooked and they're getting sick. That's exactly what is happening to humans when it's simplified. When we're eating bread that hasn't been processed the right way, but the good news is, we can replicate what happens inside of those birds, outside of our body. When we make real traditional, wild, slow fermented sourdough bread, it is a completely different food than even the most high-quality yeasted all grain whatever kind of bread.
Melanie Avalon: Out of all the potential plants we could eat, for example, presumably, some of the anti-nutrients create a very obvious barrier. We can't walk up and just eat a piece of grain in a field, because it wouldn't taste good and we would feel we can't eat it. But then there are other things like nuts, for example, that we can very easily, seemingly eat a nut, but it has things like oxalates and more silent and sinister, perhaps anti-nutrients. So, how obvious are these different plant toxins and how have we known as a species what techniques need to be applied to different things?
Bill Schindler: The intuitive part, it's a charged statement because a lot of it has to do with what our upbringing was, and what our association where their food is, and those things. I believe the only time in our life where we can truly, intuitively eat is when we're sitting in a highchair right after we get weaned off of our mother's milk. Unfortunately, what happens in that highchair is that young parents, just like my wife and I are told that we should be giving our kids and it's so crazy because you have these animals that are intuitively eating and are starving, and are hungry, and they're crying, and we have to force food into their bodies. The creamed spinach that they're spitting up at us and the sweet potatoes that they're spitting back at us, and we’re taught to just keep shoving it in their mouth and they could try it five more times, and they're going to like it then, and whatever. Other animals don't do this. Other animals do not force their young to eat, because they're eating the foods they should be eating.
The other unfortunate result of that weird situation that we do is, we teach our young to not trust their senses and to eat the foods that other people are telling them they should be eating. This is one of the things that is really focus of what I'm working on right now, it's what does intuitive eating really look like and one of the questions we should be asking. You ask an incredibly great question first off. All plants have toxins. All of them have toxins. Some of these toxins are not anything to really worry too much about, some of them will kill us outright, but most of them sit in this gray area where a large enough dose or after years, and years, and years of eating these toxins and consuming them, they can build up and cause issues. There're lots of different variations of what they are, but all plants have toxins in them and this doesn't mean that I think we shouldn't be eating plants and in fact our family eats a lot of different plants. What I believe we need to do is look at plants the way we look at everything else and we should be looking at everything else in our diet with respect, with caution, with thought, with planning and say, “Okay, which of these should I eat, which of these shouldn't I eat, and which ones do I need to do something to eat them properly, and eat them without getting sick in order to get the right nutrition from them?”
Plants are a really hard one. There are certainly some plants-- I've been teaching foraging classes now for almost, well, almost 30 something years and I used to start off the class-- Everybody was so worried about wild plants, and so scared, and I started by saying, “Hey, there's no reason to be scared. Just respect the plants and know what ones you're getting, and this, and that.” I don't know. If you notice but the first line of my plants chapter was “plants should scare the hell out of you” and they should. Plants fit into this for many people section of our brain when we think about the diet that--, “Oh, plants are good for us. We don't even have to think about them. Some of them are good, more of them is better. If I want to get healthy, I just load up right on it. I don't have to think about them. I'll start thinking about other things that are important and the plants, I'll just eat without any thought.” That's exactly the wrong way to think about them. The toxins of plants have are not by mistake, they're evolutionary design through time to figure out how these plants that don't move that they can protect themselves and do the same thing that all other organisms have to do, reproduce viable offspring. That's what they have to do to survive. It takes energy, it takes work to produce these toxins, so they're not there by mistake and they have to serve a function or they almost always serve a function.
It doesn't usually make sense for a plant to produce a toxin in it that doesn't alert the predator that the toxin’s there, because then it didn't do its work. The plant’s dead, and then the other things dead, too, and then they're both dead, and it doesn't make sense. It's not always this case. But in many cases, there is something that alerts a potential invader or predator that there's something wrong and it could be a flavor, it could be an itching, it could be a reaction, it could be a rash, it could be a pain, it could be a lot of things. But it's not always the case and it's not always intuitive. The good news is there are a lot of different ways to detoxify plants. One of the first things I think we should do is-- We've created some of the issues around-- Plants are so complicated and I'm jumping around them. I'm sorry.
Melanie Avalon: No. no, no, I love it. [chuckles]
Bill Schindler: Plants are so problematic. If we don't think about them the right way-- We have to think about in the right way, but some of the problems surrounding plants are problems that we've created. A lot of it has to do with things like overconsumption. We take plants and label some of them superfoods, plants that don't deserve it like spinach and label them superfoods. As soon as they get a label like a superfood, we fall into that same trap, we think some is good, more is better, “Oh my gosh, if spinach is good for me and I can eat it two weeks every year. But now, I can ship it in from over here, and I can freeze it, and I can have it every day. Oh, my God. If some is good, more is better. I'm going to be super healthy by eating spinach. I’ll have a spinach shake in the morning, then I have spinach with my lean chicken breasts at night, and I'm going to be great.” That's terrible. We created that problem. Number one, by labeling something a superfood, which is a terrible label. The second thing is by offering and providing food to a consumer 365 days out of the year when it was never available like that in the past.
I have a huge oxalate problem, I refuse to eat spinach. But for somebody, it doesn't have such a big oxalate problem like I do. Eating spinach for the two or three weeks out of the year that it would grow where you live is not a big deal. Eating spinach every single day creates a huge problem. Number one, we can overcome a lot of the issues we have with plants by truly eating seasonally period, that will help a lot. Certain plants, we need to understand. The two issues with plants. Number one is, they all have some sort of toxin in them and number two, even if their label reads that it has certain nutrition in it that doesn't mean that nutrition is in a state that our bodies can actually do something with it or absorb the nutrients. Plants in my mind need to be detoxified and they need to be made as bioavailable as possible. Sometimes, simple cooking can do it. But for some plants, they require things like fermentation, or nixtamalization or drying, or a whole host of different things in order to make them as safe and nourishing as possible and again to get back to your original question, is some of this intuitive? Yeah, there are certain plants that I've put in my mouth that I knew immediately, “I shouldn't be eating?” But there's a whole bunch, again, like spinach, especially when you're getting the media and everybody else saying that these plants are incredibly good for you and you're eating it, you don't really feel an effect right away, and it's not till months or years later that you realize that there's some huge issue. The problem is, it's so incredibly difficult to connect the dots. “But I'm eating this for all my life, why do I think that's causing the problem?” Well, it's because you've been eating it your entire life.
I don't know how much you want to talk about oxalates, but I will say this. Most of the plant toxins and most of the toxins that plants produce or have can be dealt with or mitigated through different kinds of processing. Fermentation is a great one. But the one toxin that I have not been able to find a real way to deal with yet is oxalates. There're some suggestions fermentation can help, there's a lot of people are talking about cooking oxalates, high toxic containing foods with dairy, and sometimes magnesium supplements can help, and those sorts of things, but that's one that I think that the high oxalate plants you just need to stay away from or eaten in moderation.
Melanie Avalon: For listeners that they'd like to learn more about oxalates, I did an interview with Sally Norton all about them. They were scary for me to learn more about, because like you said, there doesn't seem to be any mitigation strategies for them. Then they're so pervasive and so many foods that we are very common like spinach and almonds. It's probably a very big deal. Another question actually about the intuition. This question haunts me and it's haunted me for so long. Okay, I don't eat anywhere near like you talk about in your book. All of that as goals there. But they do eat very natural, and I don't eat processed food, and I found that the more I go towards that, the more I have craved foods that when I was eating a processed diet, I would never even want to touch, but now, pretty much everything appeals to me, everything that is considered normal food by some standard. Where I'm going with this is liver, for example. Livers seems to be something that most people and it's like natural state. If it's not done up in some processed form or really cooked, people seem to not like liver just to make a general statement.
Bill Schindler: It's accurate.
Melanie Avalon: Okay. But the question for me is, I don't understand why if it's so nutrient dense and then I even went through a period, where I got very anemic like severely anemic. I had to be in the hospital for it. I got out of the hospital and I was like, “I'm sure that I'm going to love liver,” because I hadn't actually tried liver. I just knew people didn't really like it and I was like, “I'm sure I will love it now, because I need iron. It's so nutrient dense. There's no reason I shouldn't like it.” I cooked it plain and I just didn't like it. And so, I thought about that for so long like, “Why?” Is that completely my psychology surrounding it? Why for something like organ meats and liver in particular do we not like them if they are so nutrient dense?
Bill Schindler: [laughs] Again, another great question. I think it's a combination of things. I didn't grow up on liver, I didn't grow up on liver because my dad will tell you flat out. His parents, every Sunday, cooked liver and onions. It was leather by the time he ate it. It was terrible, he hated his mother overcooked it. She was a great cook otherwise, but liver, it never worked. He hated it, he didn't feed it to me, and in fact my father brought me up hunting my entire life. Liver, the heart, kidney, those organs for as respectful and as amazing as our hunting was approach to animals and all of that, that was never considered food. It was never considered food to him because of his upbringing and I didn't. I actually remember the moment that I really started to look at the entire animal as a source of food and it wasn't till years later. Now, I didn't grow up on it and I just like you started eating liver because through everything that I was taught started to believe that this was an incredible source of food and nutrients. I've really enjoyed the fact that that nose to tail approach really makes sense from an ethical sustainability standpoint as well. But I wasn't a huge fan, either. It had a weird taste. But that term weird or that mindset is a very cultural thing because-- it's weird because what's been normalized in our diets are completely different flavors and textures, really.
When we started doing work with other groups around the world, I was floored because anytime they had access to liver, they relished it, I mean relished it. When we started filming The Great Human Race, one of the first nights we're out in the bush, we hadn't started filming yet, but we were living with The Hadza, the oldest hunter-gatherer group in the world. We were sitting by a fire one night and one of the guys there through a translator said, they needed to go get water force. It was 11 o'clock at night. We're in the middle of nowhere in Africa. We were 30, 40 miles from the nearest town and that's a stretch for going into town. We're in the middle of the woods, none of us know what we were doing, and the four kids really that were keeping us safe, they were going to get some water, and they pointed to one of our headlamps, and they've never seen one before. We let them borrow the headlamp, and they took off, and they said, they'd be back in about 45 minutes. Well, three hours later, we're scared to death. We're listening to the hyenas, its pitch blackout, it is terrible. They came back and they were so happy. Ear to ear grins, the headshot, I think was the first time they ever hunted at night, because they had this headlamp and they shot this genet cat out of a tree with their bow, and they brought it, they laid it down, and they said, “Listen, we eat the organs first. We're going to save the meat to share with everybody tomorrow, but we're going to eat the organs right now and I mean it.”
Every bit of those organs got consumed and it wasn't this was this survival food. They were so excited to have it. I think that situation is a better indicator of intuition than you or me who was brought up in the modern Western dietary world with all the other influences of changing what a real diet is to one that's controlled by advertising in media and multinational food corporations. I like to say that I alluded to it earlier about that how and what question. We were asking this question, what we should be eating? For the most part, a lot of our conversation today was really focused on what we should eat. Even though, that is an important question, we are the only animal on the planet that asks it and all the other wild animals figure it out on their own very, very well, and they just do it intuitively like you're talking about. But the difference is, they're eating diets that they're anatomically designed to eat. Granivorous birds are eating grains, cows are eating really tough vegetable materials, carnivores are eating other animals, and they're biologically designed to do this, and they figure it out on their own. But here we are as humans in this really weird situation, where over three and a half million years of technological innovation, we have outeaten our digestive tracts and evolved to the point on the backs of those diets, where not only-- it's not a question just about what, but it's a question about how. How do we have to process these foods in order to eat them? I cut it short earlier, I'm sorry. When that sort of question thing, we ask what. And what is almost irrelevant without the how. We talk about grains early, if you say should--
The two questions that I always get are, should humans eat grains and should humans consume dairy as adults? No matter where I'm speaking, no matter who I'm talking to, at some point, those two questions come out. That's what everybody wants to know. Those questions are unanswerable if all I'm doing is focusing on the what. Because somebody could be thinking Wonder Bread, and somebody else could be thinking long fermented sourdough bread, or somebody could be thinking ultra-pasteurized skimmed milk, and somebody else could be thinking about some high-quality raw fermented dairy, completely different foods. I think if we are in tune, I’m convinced-- I don't even think I'm convinced that if we are in tune with our bodies, truly in tune with our bodies and when we eat food, we really understand how it makes us feel minutes later, hours later, days later, and we're faced and we're confronted with real genuine food, then we don't even have to ask that how-- I'm sorry that what question anymore. We can figure that out on our own. When we start eating, how much to eat, what we eat, when we stop eating, I'm convinced that we like every other animal on the planet, wild animal can figure out.
The question I think we need to focus on, the question I think we need to spend a lot more time on is the how. How do we eat grains, how do we eat dairy, how do we eat animals, how do we eat all of these foods, how do we eat vegetables? What do we need to do to these raw materials that we literally have absolutely no biological business consuming? How do we take them, make them as safe and nourishing as possible before we consume them? Then when we start to answer those questions, then we're going to start to get into a diet that is one that's not only nourishing, but it's ethical and sustainable, and it's one that can serve us well into the future.
Melanie Avalon: A question about that how method. Does the starting substrate matter? The reason I'm asking you that, so, for example, I recently before reading your book, I went on a cottage cheese making obsession and I got really obsessed with making cottage cheese, but I was making it from pasteurized milk, and vinegar, and not the way I learned reading in your book. Something like that with these how methods, are there only a few real ways of doing them? What about these gray zones where I'm making like cottage cheese from pasteurized milk or people might buy fermented foods that are pasteurized? How intense does it need to be?
Bill Schindler: Seriously, let me thank you for several things. One is for asking such incredible questions and number two, giving me and anybody else you interview so much time to really dive deep enough to answer the questions, because these are really good questions that require the right amount of time to answer. I love, love talking about dairy, because it really exemplifies a lot of the things that I find important. To answer that, let me just very quickly go through what happens when infant mammals consume dairy from our mothers, because it's very relevant to the answer. Number one, humans are mammals and all mammals are designed to consume dairy from our mothers at birth when we're infants. In fact, I believe it's the only food that humans are perfectly designed to consume and that's just for a short period of our life that we're designed to consume it. In most cases, when I tried to answer that question, how about other foods we're looking at other animals as a model and what happens inside of other animals’ digestive tracts is a model for what we should be doing outside of our bodies before we consume it? But dairy is different. What we need to do as adults is looking at ourselves, who, when we were infants, and what we internally did to dairy when we digested it.
What happens when we're infants and for all mammals is that we drank directly from our mothers. The milk that came out of our mothers was number one at body temperature and that's important, and it's teeming with live bacteria. In fact, the milk is coming out of our mother's already in the process of fermentation. We consume it, it goes into our digestive tracts, and when we were infants produced a number of different enzymes that helped us deal with that milk as safely and efficiently as possible. Number one, we have an enzyme called lipase, which helps break down the lipids or the fats. We have enzyme called lactase that we produce that helps us break down the sugars, lactose and milk. And we also depending on the mammal producing a chymosin or chymosin like enzyme, which deals with the proteins and actually coagulates the milk and turns it into a semi-solid. The reason that happens is because when we're infants, all we're doing is drinking milk, just drinking liquids. There's nothing to slow that liquid down in our digestive tracts. We need to slow it down to break it down fully and also for it to sit in our small intestines. Once this has been broken down for the right amount of time, so that the nutrients that are in the right state can get absorbed then can go where they need to be in our bodies. This is why it gets somewhat coagulated.
What we do is we essentially make cheese in our stomachs. Let's say, if you have a baby on your shoulder, and you're patting his back, and burping it, and it spits up on your shoulder, and it looks like cottage cheese, and it smells like provolone, that's good. That's exactly what it is. We made cheese. Now, when we get weaned off of our mothers and this is mammals, in general, we slow down or stop the production of a lot of those enzymes. We don't need them any longer. It's not weird and I know for growing up, if I heard of somebody that was lactose intolerant, and that’s an outlier, that's this weird thing, most people can consume dairy as adults. Well, that's not the case. It is exactly the opposite. It is the standard for mammals to become lactose intolerant after they get weaned off their mothers. It is weird that some humans continue to produce lactase, the enzyme that breaks down the lactose into adulthood or they call it lactose persistence. That is because of several different populations that had independent genetic mutations in areas where there was a strong reliance on dairy in the diet for thousands and thousands of years, some places in Africa and some places in Europe.
Here we are as humans with no longer having the ability to deal with the dairy the same way and here we are trying to consume dairy. What do we do? Well, we can replicate the process that happened when we were infants and we do that by using-- number one, by fermenting the dairy and we can ferment the dairy into a number of different things like kefir, or yogurt, or clabber, or cheese. There's a whole bunch of wonderful things. But the other thing we can do, you don't have to do this because as adults, most of us are eating solid foods. We don't have to worry about that slowing down piece. But the crazy thing is that chymosin enzyme that coagulates the milk in the cheesemaking world is known as rennin and that's what makes curds and whey. Real traditional cheeses, real yogurt, real kefir, real clabber, real genuine, all of those things, fermented cream, all of those are technological replications outside of our body of what we did as infants. And that's the way to make the dairy as safe and nourishing as possible.
The other cool thing about fermenting dairy is the bacteria responsible for the fermentation, the lactobacillus bacteria. Eat the lactose and do-- A couple of wonderful things for us as we're trying to save the consumer the dairy. Number one, when they eat the lactose, the lactose amount drops. Those of us who are lactose intolerant or have difficulties digesting lactose do much better on fermented dairy, because the lactose is very, very low or in some cases, completely gone. If you take yogurt, typically yogurts fermented for 10 to 12 hours. But if you ferment yogurt for 24 hours, there is no lactose left whatsoever. The lactobacillus bacteria have eaten all the lactose and there's no lactose left. The other thing that it does is when it eats the lactose, it produces a number of wonderful chemical and physical changes that increase flavor, and increase nutrition, and increase the aroma, and the entire experience of eating it. But it also produces lactic acid, which drops the pH and that's a great safety mechanism. When the pH is lowered, it creates a hostile environment for bad pathogens, so it actually creates a safer food at the same time.
Now, back to your cottage cheese and a couple other cheeses. The production of the cottage cheese, the way that you did it relied on adding something that was vinegary. You drop the pH, because you added either lactic acid, or citric acid, or acetic acid. Now, that drops the pH and allows for a change to happen for it to coagulate, make the kind of curd you want in the cottage cheese. Unfortunately, it didn't go through the fermentation process in order to do it. You didn't get all the health benefits from that that you could have if you went through the fermentation. Let me give you a really cool and this is a great takeaway example for people, even if they don't want to make cheese, but they want to shop for a better kind of cheese. There's a family of cheeses called pasta filata cheeses and that's a stretch curd cheeses like mozzarella and provolone and caciocavallo in Italy and quesillo or Oaxaca string cheese in Mexico or there's a lot of different types around the world. But when you make that cheese, you start with milk and milk has a pH of about 6.8 or so when it comes out. Let's say, a cow, so, we’ll start with cow's milk. You use the rennet or you coagulate the milk to make the curds and whey, and you kickstart the fermentation process in a number of different ways. As that curd is fermenting, it's eating the lactose, producing lactic acid, and that pH is dropping. In other words, it's becoming more acidic.
As the acid builds up, the pH is dropping. When you get to a pH of around 5.2 to 5 right in that range, and heat those curds up, you can stretch them. That's how you stretch them to make the mozzarella or stretch them to make the provolone. It takes depending on a number of different factors around eight to 10 hours to go from milk through that fermentation process to get to the point where you've reached that ideal pH and can stretch that cheese. That entire time, the milk has been fermenting, it's replicating those biological processes that was going on in our stomachs, it's becoming healthier, it's getting broken down, and the lactose content is dropping, because the bacteria is producing lactic acid and it's eating the lactose, and that lactose level is dropping. If you google how to make mozzarella cheese, they have probably nine out of 10 recipes, will give a 30-minute mozzarella recipe.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, I was going to try it. [laughs]
Bill Schindler: Don't try it, because what it does is, instead of allowing that fermentation, that essential fermentation process to happen over that eight to 10 hours with all those wonderful amazing changes, you're dropping the pH instantly by adding something acidic. You're going from a pH of 6.8 to a pH of say 5, literally in less than a second, because you added something acidic to it. You didn't put it through the process. The final product looks like mozzarella cheese. It's not as good, but it tastes like mozzarella cheese, and when you eat it, there's a lot of differences between the two. But if you're lactose intolerant, you'll definitely know the difference, because the real cheese, the real traditional made one has very, very little lactose in it, because it's all been eaten up by the bacteria. But the other one, you might as well drink a glass of milk, because it's all still in there. None of it has been fermented out, none of those essential changes have happened. It's the same thing with that cottage cheese. It's almost the same thing as the difference between a long traditional fermented sourdough bread and eating a loaf of Wonder Bread. They're both bread, they both look like bread, they both taste similar, but they're definitely completely different foods.
The takeaway for people is that, if you're not I highly suggest, and I mean this, people think I'm nuts, but if you want to know about your food and you want to start to get the how of your food, I don't care how good of a cook you are. Take the foods that you eat every single day, the stuff that you feed yourself and your family multiple times a week. The food that makes the main part of your diet and learn to cook it entirely from scratch, entirely from scratch. I know it's for some of you like, “Oh, my gosh, I just have trouble boiling water and putting pasta in it.” Look, it's not that hard. Real food, if you can't make it in your kitchen, then you probably should question whether or not you should be putting it in your mouth. You don't have to make all the food yourself. What I'm suggesting is, try it, do it from scratch at least once. Even if you don't eat it, even if your family won't eat it, even if your dog won't eat it, you will know more about that food and how it's made in any other way that you could get that education. It's better than a book, it's better than a podcast, it's better than a documentary, it's better than any of those things, definitely better than a cooking show.
The cool thing is, you can go into the grocery store, literally, completely different person. An informed consumer, where the marketing, and the labeling, and the advertising mean absolutely nothing, and you can actually see food for what it is, and you can buy the food that you believe in, and use your money to support the food producers that are actually doing it right. With that said, that quick little thing about cheese, next time, you go into the grocery store, look at the mozzarella cheese, don’t even worry about the [unintelligible 01:16:13] in the block thing that you would shred for pizza. Go directly to Whole Foods or go directly to a cheese shop, and look at the really nice mozzarella. Those of us who don't know how to make cheese, use other things, other filters to try to understand what cheese we should buy. Some of its price, some of its reputation, some of its brands, some of its-- Is the mozzarella sitting in liquid and it actually looks like a ball like somebody in Italy made it, it doesn't have a picture of an Italian flag on the cover or something in Italian. Those are the things that we use. Go to that cheese, go to the most expensive mozzarella, and turn it over, and look on the back. If it says, citric acid, lactic acid, or acetic acid, which is vinegar on the back, turn it over, and put it right back on the shelf. It is not real cheese. It is not. It is fake cheese. Believe it or not, if that's your choice, go to the aisle in the grocery store, they have the butter and they have the yogurt, and go to the string cheese that you buy your kids for lunch. Believe it or not, you can quite often find more real mozzarella cheese in the cheese stick section than you can in the high-end mozzarella section.
Melanie Avalon: And for listeners, if you get the book, definitely get the book. But for all of these things you list out, the order of, if you are shopping best to worst, what options to buy, so it's a really valuable resource. Quick question about the rennet. I'm going to make mozzarella, granted it was the fast mozzarella. [chuckles] Does it matter because they have vegan versions and then they have animal, I guess microbial? Are they all microbial?
Bill Schindler: No. The rennet, for everybody listening, is the enzyme that coagulates the milk and turns it into curds and whey. For most cheeses, it's essential to have some form of rennet for this to happen. Rennet can come in a couple of different forms. Typically, it comes in either veal calf rennet. The rennet that comes from animals, comes from the stomachs of unweaned animals. Remember, when you wean the animal, just like with humans, they stop producing that enzyme. It comes from the stomachs of unweaned animals. There are some plants that will produce that same kind of reaction and there's also what they call microbial or vegetarian rennet, which is made in the lab to produce the same reaction. They all do essentially the same thing. The most important part of the processing of dairy to me is the fermentation part. You know that part shouldn't be skipped. I don't care whether you're making yogurt or kefir or cheese, that fermentation converts that dairy into something that is a lot safer and more nourishing for the human body than just that glass of milk. But when we're talking about food and food choices, nourishing ourselves, like we talked earlier, is more than just meeting or exceeding our biological needs, but also our cultural needs, and our ethical needs, and all those things.
Here's the answer that I'm going to give you is not my answer, although I agree with it. It's David Asher, who's an incredible traditional cheesemaker who I worked with in Iceland several years ago. I asked him that same question and he said, “Look, don’t do the same thing.” But he refuses to use anything but animal rennet, because if you're using the other, it's masking, [sighs] It’s disguising what's really happening in the dairy industry, and making-- and giving people a false sense of, “Oh, no animals were harmed in the making of this product sort of thing.” This is what happens in the dairy industry. You have baby cows or baby whatever animals are going to milk. The baby girl cows produce milk and they're what you're looking for, and the baby boy cows are a liability. You don't want to feed those cows because you're saving the milk for making the cheese, or selling the milk, or whatever. The baby boy cows are typically killed for meat, and the girl cows are raised for producing milk, and making cheese, and yogurt, whatever else. And it's those baby boy cows--
Melanie Avalon: Is that veal?
Bill Schindler: Yes. Now, I don't mean veal like milk-fed veal on a crate sort of thing from the 70s. It’s just the fact that it's a boy cow and it was a baby, large baby, and the baby was killed for meat. It’s those unweaned stomachs that the rennet is made from. That situation works very well. A small dairy farm, where you're making your own cheese to feed your family and doing the right-- I'm not talking about the huge dairy and cheese. The dairy system, where you're keeping cows for milk, and making cheese, and butter, and those sorts of things, and they're having babies, and you're taking the boys and using them for meat, and taking the girls and using them for milk, but you're also taking the meat from the boy cows, and then you're taking the rennet from the stomachs, and you're making the cheese, the system works really, really, really well. When you're coming at it from a vegetarian perspective, and “Oh, my gosh, the dairy industry is so terrible and I'm not going to use the animal rennet, because I don't want any boy cows to be killed. I'm only going to use the microbial rennet that's made in the lab, because that means no boy cows were killed and I'm going to get my milk.” Well, the boy cows are still getting killed. They're getting killed just from getting your milk. The reason he's very much-- I love his approach. He is very much, “Hey, you should know about your food. You have whatever choices you want about food, but you should be informed enough to really be able to make those informed choices.” So, we only use animal rennet for the same reason and I really think it's a great approach.
Melanie Avalon: One last question about all the dairy stuff. You're talking about the persistent genes for us to have lactase and digest the lactose. How many generations does that last? Here in the US, where people come from mixed ancestry, are there people who have ancestral genes for that lactase now or is it really just in the current populations, where they're eating that dairy rich diet?
Bill Schindler: No. Oh, gosh, you, man, you’ve got some great questions. There are ancestral genes that can depending on who marries who, from what populations, a lot of that can change. But typically, what you see is people from European descent or especially, places like Ireland-- Ireland is a great example. Ireland has almost 100% lactose tolerance and what you would consider it, it's hard to define. What would you consider a traditional Irish population, almost 100% lactose persistence in adults, which really speaks to the rich traditions they've had surrounding dairy for a very long period of time. On the other hand, Native American populations have almost 100% lactose intolerance. They never relied upon dairy in their diets after being infants. Things can change. If you have somebody from Ireland, marry a Cherokee, but for the most, they're very, very traditional.
Here's another quick little fun fact. Mongolia is an outlier. Mongolia has a very high lactose intolerance. In other words, a large percentage of adults in Mongolia do not produce the enzyme lactase that breaks down the sugar’s lactose, so they're lactose intolerant. However, they have a very rich tradition and still now, current diet focused on dairy. How do they do it? It was a huge study done on this several years ago and I love it. It's a great example. Almost all the dairy in their diet is fermented and has been. The fact that they never needed to have that evolutionary genetic mutation for lactose persistence, because they were eating tons of dairy, but it didn't have any lactose in it or very little lactose, because it was all fermented before they consumed it.
Melanie Avalon: Wow, that makes sense, that makes sense. Another process that you talked about how process and you mentioned it already in the show and you talk about it all in the book, but that's not going to say it right. Nixtam-- What is it? Nixtamalization?
Bill Schindler: It's an Aztec word. It's very, very hard to pronounce. It’s nixtamalization.
Melanie Avalon: Nixtamalization. Okay. That's a fascinating story about corn and pellagra. Our discovery of what was happening with the corn and disease, and how we address that with niacin, and none of that's going to make any sense until maybe you can tell listeners a little bit about what happened with that?
Bill Schindler: Sure. I love using these-- Maize or corn is a great poster child for this and the value of proper food processing. When I say maize for anybody listening, I mean corn, the way you're thinking about corn in this country. Corn is an old-world term that actually just means grain and the dominant grain in an area. If you were in Ireland and said corn, you'd mean oats. What kind of grain is most of the population eating and that's what corn meant? When early explorers came to the Americas armed with this word, and they saw the dominant grain in the Americas being used by the Native Americans was maize, they just called the corn. Oh, that's their corn. It's their grain and it just stuck here. When we think corn, we think maize. I'm also not talking about corn on the cob that you eat at a picnic. It's a slightly different variety, but it's also an unripe version of corn. What I'm talking about when I say maize or corn is dent corn or feed corn, the kind of corn you would grind up and make cornmeal out of so you can make cornbread, that kind of corn or the corn you would make grits out of that kind of hard corn.
It's fascinating story. The corn was first domesticated a very long time ago. In fact, it's in the running for being one of the earliest domesticated plants in the world. We know it's over 7,000 years old. There're some archaeologists that believe it's 8,000, 9,000, or 10,000 years old. Some crazy ones like me that think it's potentially even older than that. But it's very, very old, very ancient. Corn or maize is very weird. It literally is a grass. The wild ancestor to modern day maize or corn is something called teosinte, which is just a grass. In fact, if you let your yard grow, and not mow it, and it got it about two feet tall, and seed head popped up on the top of it, that's about what the teosinte looks like. It doesn't look like anything anybody would spend a lot of time dealing with or messing with, but they did. Over numerous genetic mutations, we end up with the kind of corn we have today. Now, corn or maize is incredibly easy to grow and it grows very easily, it's very filling, it tastes really good. It literally has taken over the world that is the most widely grown grain in the entire world and is the mainstay of and has been very long time of many different diets.
Now, pre-historically, it was restricted to the Americas and it was the mainstay of many native American populations. It was the food of the Incas, and the Mayans, and the Aztecs. What I like to say is, it wasn't they were eating a whole bunch of other food and some maize, they were eating a whole bunch of maize and some other food. Their diets were based on it, the religion was based on it, a lot of their politics and culture was based on maize. Their artwork, all, it was such an important part of their lives. But when the early explorers came to the Americas, they saw this maize, they saw what an important it was in the diet like, “Wow, we live in a very similar latitude, the growing season is somewhat similar, it grows here, it should grow home, it tastes good, let's bring some back.” They brought a whole bunch of maize back with them. It seemed it was a good idea for a while. In certain areas, it started to dominate the diets in places in Spain and Italy, especially in poor areas and it dominated the diets to the point where true domination. There were people that were malnourished in other ways because they just weren't getting enough food and now, all of a sudden, they can eat a whole bunch of maize, and all they were eating was maize, all they were eating. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, just maize.
What we see first documented in the 1700s was everywhere that maize went, there was a disease that followed in its wake. It was first identified in the 1700s in Spain, and then shortly thereafter in Italy, where it got its name that you mentioned earlier, pellagra, which means sour skin, and then it goes to Eastern Europe, hits a bunch of different places, then it shows up at the end of the Irish potato famine in the mid-19th century, when United States was sending a bunch of maize over as famine relief food. The weird thing is that it was good because people who were dying of starvation and sick through starvation were now filling their bellies of not dying from starvation, but also they were getting sick and dying from this weird disease they had never seen before called pellagra. Then it shows up more recently in the early 20th century in the 1900s. The 19 teens and 1920s in the American southeast, in Georgia, and the Carolinas, and Alabama, and those areas where corn was incredibly important. In poor areas, corn was the only thing people were eating. When I say it was a problem, it was a huge problem. It was a problem of such proportions that millions of people have gotten sick and hundreds of thousands were dying as a result of this pellagra.
In the early 20th century, it was such an issue in the United States that we hired an infectious disease doctor by the name of Jeffrey Goldberger and he got it figured out, so many people are dying from this, what's going on, and he went in, and studied the areas that were hit hardest from this, and he reported back and he's like, “Look, this is a big deal. Not arguing with that, but I'm an infectious disease doctor and this isn't infectious. It's not my ballpark. I think it has to do with food. In fact, I think it has something to do with corn” and they dismissed him. “You're out of your mind.” Nothing is bad. It can be a result of food or diet, which sounds very familiar. Don't mess with corn. Corn is king in the south, go figure out what this is. He was so convinced, and he'd read some of these accounts of he was very aware of what had happened in Italy. He went into prisons and mental institutions, and divided the populations in half, and gave half of them nothing but a maize or corn diet, and the rest they just continued on whatever they were eating. The people that were eating as you can imagine just the corn diet were getting sick with the pellagra. He reported that back and they're like, “No, this isn't convincing. Go figure out what it is. We should be able to give somebody a pill or and fix them that way.”
He went to such great lengths. It was in 1916 that he, and his partner, and his wife would hold these parties called filth parties. Now, this pellagra was a disease that really impacted impoverished areas swept through entire families, obviously, because they're eating the same thing and it was very embarrassing to get this. It was considered a disease of filth and those sorts of things. So, they called these parties filth parties after the disease, and they would gather a bunch of people around, and they’d bring somebody out that was suffering from pellagra, and they take cotton swabs, and they'd swab all the mucus all the ways that they thought an infectious disease could be spread. They were trying to show people it wasn't. They would swab all the mucous membranes of the person that was suffering from pellagra, then they’d swab themselves with it and their mucous membranes. Then they would actually take the skin and the scabs from the people that were sick, and they would put them in these little pills, and they would ingest them, they’d eat them, and then they would draw blood from the people that were suffering from the pellagra and they would put it into their own veins, and they did this over and over again just to show that it wasn't infectious. Finally, people believed them.
But it wasn't until 1936 that they realized what the issue was. It was because of a team of doctors in the Midwest that were studying something very similar in dogs that they realized it was because of a niacin deficiency. When they put two and two together, they said, “Okay, great. We know what the issue is. It's because of deficiency of niacin in the diet. So, now, the new mandate was to fortify every baked good with niacin.” If you go into the store and see anything baked goods in the grocery store, and it's fortified with niacin, and it's a result of the knee jerk reaction to this thing that was happening for hundreds of years. It sounds like the problem was solved. But really, it was just a band-aid on a larger issue. Here's the questions we all should be asking, how come there is no evidence of pellagra prehistorically and even historically in Native American populations that were eating massive quantities of maize and had been doing so for thousands of years? How come this is a very new thing that was an issue created when we took maize out of its traditional use, and brought it in other parts of the world, and then reintroduced it to the Americas? Why is this the case and how come there's a food, maize, that's responsible or the massive consumption of maize is responsible for producing pellagra in populations? Because of a deficiency of niacin in the diet whereby maize has massive quantities of niacin in it. It's so crazy. Millions of people were getting sick and hundreds of thousands were dying on a diet dominated by maize because of a nutrient deficiency of niacin, but they're ingesting massive quantities of niacin in the diet. What is the problem? The problem is it wasn't processed properly.
The traditional way of processing maize unlocks the niacin in the maize-- the niacin and other nutrients as well, but it unlocks the nutrients in maize and makes them available to our incredibly inefficient digestive tract. That process is what you said earlier is nixtamalization. Prehistorically, it was done by taking wood ash and water creating an alkaline or high pH basic solution, simmering the maize for about a half an hour, letting it soak overnight, then rinsing the skins off, and then going ahead and cooking in whatever way you want to cook after that. Literally, the only thing you have to do that could have resulted in saving the suffering of millions of people around the world is a little half an hour of cooking and letting it soak overnight, and you take maize and incredibly difficult to digest-- In many ways, unsafe food for humans to consume and in turn they get into something that's much, much more nourishing. Now, today they don't usually use wood ash. Typically, they use something called [unintelligible [01:35:06], calcium hydroxide, which is very easy to get at Mexican grocery stores, or online on Amazon, or if you go to Walmart, if you buy pickling lime, it is literally the same exact thing, and you can process the maize yourself. Or, you can go to a real tortilleria or really good Mexican restaurant, and if you get real tortillas made in house from real masa, it's been through that process.
In fact, most traditional maize foods, things like tamales, which bear the name tamale from nixtamalization, its middle of that word, has been processed properly, if they're made the right way. Most are not, but it's such a great example, because here you are. We are with the most widely grown grain in the world, the mainstay of diets around the world, and we are literally passing through our bodies still today, some of the nutrients in that maize. I've been a part of conversations where everybody's trying to figure out, “Okay, how can we genetically modify corn, so that it can grow together and get higher yields, and feed these growing populations?” I sit there, freeze my hand, I'm like, “Guys, wait, we can have this conversation later. We're not even making use of the maize that we have now. The people that are eating maize are literally pooping out some of the nutrients that they're consuming and we're worried about growing more maize, how will we worry about doing what we need to do to that maize to make it as safe and nourishing as possible?”
Melanie Avalon: How would you feel about if they came up with a genetic modification to make the niacin bioavailable in corn? I don't even know if that's a possibility, but that concept?
Bill Schindler: [laughs] My mind reaction is I don't like that at all [unintelligible [01:36:47] processing. I guess, my answer that is, I guess, we could explore that, but I don't even know why because it's so simple to process it properly. We do it in our house, we do it here at the Food Lab several times a week. It's that easy.
Melanie Avalon: Was that ash just for the processing part of it? Does it relate to when you talk about the edible clays and ashes in charcoal or is that something different?
Bill Schindler: That's something a little different. The ash, during colonial times, you'd have something behind your house, I think they called it an ash [unintelligible [01:37:13]. But really what it is, it's this wooden contraption that you dump all your ashes in from your fireplace, and when it rains, the water goes through the ashes, and what comes out the bottom in a liquid form is alkaline. It's what you use at that point that you could-- Look, they weren't necessarily nixtamalize maize. You could nixtamalization maize with it, but that's what they use to process all sorts of things, including making soap. Then you take that ash water, and you would cook it, and what's left on the sides of the pot is called potash, and you'd use that for a bunch of different things, including a leavening agent. The original baking soda was made from potash and then a refined version of it is called pearl ash, and now it's made in a factory and we call it baking soda. Having ash in our food and using ash to process food and other materials is not anything new. It has very, very, very ancient roots and it's something that just about anywhere you were in the world, you'd be using those things to control pH, and to process food, and to process other materials. Right now, we have distanced ourselves so far from things like having a fire in our house and using ash for certain things. It sounds really, really weird. Like, “Oh, my Gosh, I’m going to use ash for something and put it in my food?” But the reality is, that was something we've been dealing with for probably millions of years in many ways.
Melanie Avalon: You're being so generous with your time. I have one more big topic I have to ask you about.
Bill Schindler: Sure, sure. No worries, no worries, though.
Melanie Avalon: I was so excited to read the chapter all about insects and insect protein. So, insects were the original, probably, protein that we were eating as a species?
Bill Schindler: Absolutely.
Melanie Avalon: That's interesting. Why are we not still eating them naturally?
Bill Schindler: Just to paint the right picture, let me just say, one thing real quick, because you're being super generous with your time, too. So, I don't want to take too much of it. But let me just paint a real quick picture. I was at a lecture by-- oh, my gosh, her name escapes me for a minute. Wonderful anthropologist for the insects, I'll try to remember it. Anyhow, she was given this presentation at the Smithsonian about insects, and she was talking about how important insects were in our ancestors’ diets, and how important they are in other primates’ diets today like chimpanzees, and how the most nutrient needy time in a female mammal’s life is not when they're born and is not even when they're pregnant, but actually, when they're nursing. She was talking about the importance of insects, and the incredible nutrition they can deliver, and all those things. Then she showed a picture. I have this picture in my head all the time. It was a chimpanzee that had its baby in one arm nursing it, and in the other hand had a stick with termites in, and it was eating the termites. I just love that picture. I want to paint that same view for the people listening.
Insects were the most nutrient dense and bioavailable part of our diet until we started processing our food on our own. in other words, if I stripped you of all your technologies and just said, “Eat using only your teeth, and your fingers and nothing else.” All your technologies, everything from your blender, to your knife, to your stove, to your grocery store, to your traps to anything and say, “Eat the most nutrient dense bioavailable,” which is exactly what our ancestors were doing prior to 3 million years ago, the most nutrient dense bioavailable food you could access are insects, period. Now, for a number of cultural reasons and historical reasons, many of them have absolutely no idea what they are. But for a number of them, we've stopped many people, especially modern Western world have stopped eating insects, but it's still persists at very high levels in certain parts of the world. The book I write about time we spent in Thailand, but you can go to different places, obviously, in Mexico and in Africa, where insects are not only something is still consumed, but they'd have entire stands at farmers markets and it's a major part of diets still today and they should be.
Insects are packed with real protein, good fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants. They have in the form of chitin, which is the outside shell, they have prebiotic fiber. They are amazing and they don't take a lot of work to unlock their nutrients and make them available to our bodies the way that plants do. Plus, not only do they have all that going for them, but they're incredibly easy to grow and they are a much more sustainable food source. They hardly emit any greenhouse gases or ammonia, and take very little land, and water, and food to produce. It's almost a one-to-one thing, what they're fed and what they produce and there's very, very little waste in the form of them producing waste. It makes complete sense. Why don't we eat them and why don't we eat them more? Well, the good news is, they're at the forefront of a lot of dietary conversations right now from an economical perspective, from a sustainability perspective, but also from a nutritional perspective. There was a big push about 12 or 13 years ago, there were a couple really cool companies like Chapul bars, and Chirps Chips, and a couple other ones that were popping up that were trying to introduce cricket. I'm sorry, not just cricket, but insect protein and fat in the nutrition world. They did okay, but it died off a little bit, but now, it's starting up again, I'm thrilled with what I see. I think it's fantastic.
There's a couple of really good producers around the world that are raising awesome insects in very good ways for human consumption. When I started dealing with insects as food and doing it in my teaching, we'd have to go to bait shops, and buy bait, and use that or maybe go to a pet store, and get pet food for chameleons and things and deal with that. Now, there's a lot of great ones. I don't want to exclude any, but I will tell you, I have a good relationship with a guy named Jared Golden, who runs Entomo Farms out of Canada. We get our crickets and cricket powder from him. He organically raises crickets for human consumption and mealworms, just for that reason. Now, most people listening probably at this point in the conversation are just like, “Yeah, okay, I had it up until that point. I was buying everything,” he was saying, but “No, I'm not doing the insects.” But why? If you really get past the cultural barriers and think about what an insect is, most of the people that would say, I would never eat a cricket or a mealworm would spend a lot of money to go get crabs or lobster, which are literally the same thing except they're literally the insects of the ocean. We're just talking about land versions of those same exact animals. In fact, if you are allergic to shellfish, you should probably be cautious eating insects because it's the same chitin. In most cases, it's the same issue that they have. So, it's a cultural thing. It's something that you were taught not to like.
I can tell you I've been around plenty of people that if I picked up a scorpion, or a mealworm, or witchetty grub, and held in front of them, they get an ear-to-ear smile, snatch it out of my hand, and eat it with delight. It's very, very cultural. There's a couple of ways to overcome those cultural barriers. I'm not one for-- I don't like to hide things in food. I don't. I think eating of food and the nourishment you get from food is more than just meeting those biological needs. It’s that cultural thing, all of it, but it's also an opportunity for education and connection. When you hide things in food, you skirt some of the educational and connection opportunities. But if you're somebody who really wants to get over that fear of insects and maybe see the nutritional or the sustainability advantages of consuming insects, then one thing you can do to start is to start with cricket powder. If you are somebody who likes like I do, values that nose to tail approach with animals, this is the ultimate nose to tail approach to insects, because there's no discrimination. In case of say, crickets, the entire cricket is roasted, and dried, and ground into a powder, it's this finest flour and can be added to literally anything.
I have a couple of recipes in the book including our cricket protein bombs, but you can add it very easily. You don't get any legs stuck in your teeth [laughs] or wings to look out or anything like that. Then you get all the nutritional advantages of including them. Then you start to do that and then you start to realize, “Maybe this isn't too bad” and then you can maybe move on to the next step. I would say the next step would be to try something crunchy like an entire insect say, crickets again, that's roasted, but hasn't been ground. I can tell you from experience, it's much easier and more pleasurable to consume something crunchy in the insect world than it is to consume something squishy that explodes in your mouth. But those are fine too in the right situations.
I know we're drawn to an end here, but if you've already taken the step to think outside of the box and operate outside of the box, and forget all the marketing and advertising and all the nonsense of the modern industrial food system, and you're really starting to think for yourself and you say, “You know what, I can see the benefits of something like raw milk, even though everything on Google was telling me that it's bad.” Or, “I can see the advantages of eating completely nose to tail or maybe the sourdough bread.” Is it that much of a step or are you hindering yourself by putting up these artificial cultural barriers that are there for absolutely no good reason whatsoever and just say, “I'm drawing the line at insects.” Why? I can sit here and start rattling off a whole bunch of statistics that if you had an open-mind to the conversation, you want to go buy insects today, so you can eat them tomorrow, because of the nutritional value and the sustainability aspect of raising and consuming something like insects. Why stop there?
I guess, maybe one of the things that I can leave some people with are-- The stuff we talked about earlier are not big leaps. Sourdough bread, fermented dairy, fermented vegetables, nose to tail approach to animal, they're important, but they're not huge steps. Once you mentally conquered some of that, some other things to start thinking about are, can insects be a nourishing, ethical, and sustainable part of my diet and should they be? Then what other aspects of our ancestral dietary past should I start to maybe think about or dabble in? You mentioned that earlier, geophagy or the intentional consumption of Earth is something that almost every animal on the planet relies upon to get essential minerals and also detoxify their food. When I say that I mean literally eating things like clay. There's a lot more information about it in the book. I know we don't have time now. Ash and charcoal were always had been a part of our diet for a very long period of time. There are other aspects of ways that our ancestors ate and some traditional indigenous groups around the world continue to eat. Things like pre-mastication of food for our young. For some reason, giving our kids sterilized jars of baby food from Gerber is normal, but chewing our food, and giving it to them, and not only giving them real food that we've partially digested, but also, providing to them valuable enzymes that our bodies are producing that theirs isn't producing it is somehow weird. The cool thing is, this just shouldn't sound overwhelming, this should be inspiring like, “Oh, my gosh, there's so much I can do to improve my diet and improve the diet of the people that I love.” It's a never-ending quest, I guess.
Melanie Avalon: Two thoughts about it really quick. One is, I'm actually, currently developing with a partner of pet food line and so, I've been really interested in-- It seems that the pet food industry might be a way to get, at least production of insect protein more going, because I think people are more open to having it for their pets. Maybe that'd be a backdoor way to get it, at least in the production system side of things. I don't know how much that would translate to humans. If humans all of a sudden were on board, those preexisting farms could translate over. And then I was also thinking, I might lose everybody when I say this, but you were talking about how, why do we think of these certain foods as great and then we have this crazy barrier against these other foods. I had this period where I was taking care of our family cat and when she's with the family, she eats a really awful processed food, pet food diet. When I had her, I was like, “I'm going to feed her all natural and all this stuff.” And so, I ordered these freeze-dried nuggets and I was looking at the ingredients on the back and it was literally just-- it was all stuff that we would eat, except things that people have barriers against like hearts, and organ meat, and stuff like that. But it didn't have any processed foods, or chemicals, or things like that. I was like, “I want to eat this food because I was looking at the ingredients.” And so, I was tasting and I was like, “Oh, this is actually pretty good.” But it was such a moment where I was contemplating all of the cultural perceptions and psychology, we have surrounding food and like, “Why do we eat what we eat?” I'm sitting here in the kitchen eating my cat's pet food. So, [chuckles] I don't know, I think people can open their minds to the possibilities.
Bill Schindler: I love that. Can I say one other quick, very, very quick-- I promise [unintelligible [01:51:24]
Melanie Avalon: Oh, no, I have all the time you need. Go for it.
Bill Schindler: My wife and I run, you mentioned earlier the Eastern Shore Food Lab, which is the nonprofit side of what we do, which is where all of our research, and our teaching, and our education outreach, all that falls under that. Then our foodery, we call it the Modern Stone Age Kitchen puts it all into practice. We're providing food that is directly in line with our message and our mission to the community through that. It's been very eye opening to me to be on the food production side of things and have to fight the battles. it's one thing to try to convince somebody on a podcast or in a class that, “Hey, you just start fermenting this and raw dairy over here and insects, that sort of thing.” It's quite another to convince the local health department and the FDA to actually make food properly. It is literally mind numbing, the restrictions that are out there for certain things. When we're fighting that battle and we're trying to do it because it is our dream to nourish people the way we feel people should be nourished. I say this in an empowering way. If you were serious, if you hear and believe in the message that I was trying to deliver today about the importance of the how, the importance of proper food processing to make food as safe and nourishing as possible, the easiest way to do it, to get that food is to make it at home. It doesn't require a lot of equipment. In fact, people in the past are doing it in caves with open fires, and clay pots, and stone tools. You have a kitchen already equipped to be able to do these things. But just as importantly, you don't have the local health department, and the FDA, and the state regulation agencies, and all these things breathing down your neck, trying to prevent you from making food the right way. You could feed your family that food the way you want to do it. It's very, very difficult to do that. Not only logistically on a production level, but also legally on a production level.
I just throw that out there because all of the things we talked about today, whether it's nixtamalization maize, butchering an animal, or fermenting dairy are easily done in your own home. If it's just the fact of trying to get over that hump and maybe I need to learn this one little step somewhere, there's a lot of amazing people that can help you. There're great YouTube videos, great support. We do a whole bunch of online classes and in person classes here. The information is out there more than it ever has been. You can learn from somebody in France how to make cheese tonight if you are logged on to the right place. If this is important to you and you really want to get that food in your body, in your family's body, then at least start to consider trying to make it at home. It doesn't have to be overnight. What we're teaching now and what we're producing has been a lifetime journey for us to get to this point to be able to do it. Just doing one thing and doing one thing for weeks, or months, or a year is better than doing nothing at all. Even if all you're going to do is make sauerkraut instead of eating raw cabbage, you've made a huge impact on your family's diet.
Melanie Avalon: Well, I honestly, I cannot thank you enough for everything that you're doing. I was so excited about this interview and you just went so far beyond because normally, when I interview the guests, they're always amazing interviews, but it's a lot of content within the book. But I feel you could have 20 books. There is so much, so much. This has been just so incredible. The last question I ask every single guest on the show and it's just because I realize more and more each day how important mindset is. So, what is something that you're grateful for?
Bill Schindler: I am grateful for my wife. I know this is going to sound cheesy, but it's true. Every single morning, I wake up, look at her, and I feel that gratefulness. Very, very quickly, I went blind, I failed out of college, I dropped out of the same college, I finally started to get my eyes fixed.
Melanie Avalon: You went completely blind, like you couldn’t see?
Bill Schindler: The best they could do with correction was 20/800. I had corneal transplants started at a-- It took me 10 years to get my undergraduate at a time when-- I know it sounds strange now, but I didn't think that I was going to ever graduate from college. It seemed like this foreign thing, and I met her at the beginning of my third try at college, and she has been so incredible. She and I have not only grown ourselves, but grown together in so many ways. I'm from this prehistoric mindset, where my head is buried in stone tools, and prehistoric ceramics, and food processing and things. She's the tech side. She does all the computers and all the other side of the technology. If it wasn't for her, I'd be living in a straw hut in the middle of nowhere, just hunting and doing whatever, and helping nobody including our own family. She balances what I do and think in a way that makes it I'm hoping accessible and relevant to people today and she's amazing.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, I love that and I love that really shows in the book, because you tell so many stories where she was involved. Well, thank you. Again, this has been so amazing. I just want everybody ever in the world to get your book and follow your content. So, friends, we'll put links to everything in the show notes. What links would you like to put out there for listeners to best follow your work?
Bill Schindler: My instinct, my social media is at @drbillschindler. @drbillschindler and @modernstonesgekitchen is all the stuff that we're doing downstairs here in the foodery. Those are the two places to follow on social media, and then, eatlikeahuman.com is one of the websites you could follow and the other is the modernstoneagekitchen.com. And between those two places, you can see just about everything that we're doing.
Melanie Avalon: Well, I will put links to all of that. And again, thank you so much, Bill. I'm just so happy, and excited, and grateful, and hopefully, we can talk more in the future because this was amazing.
Bill Schindler: Anytime. Thank you so much. It was great to speak with you.
Melanie Avalon: Thank you. Bye
Bill Schindler: Bye-bye.
[Transcript provided by SpeechDocs Podcast Transcription]