Eat Like a Human: Nourishing Foods and Ancient Ways of Cooking to Revolutionize Your Health
By Dr. Bill Schindler
Little, Brown and Company
For the past sixteen years, Dr. Bill Schindler has been breaking the law. He has been transporting raw milk across state lines into his home state, where the law does not allow the sale of raw milk for human consumption. Schindler gives the “why” behind his lawbreaking ways in Eat Like a Human, and specifically in the chapter titled “Dairy: The Foundational Food.” There, he touts raw milk as safe, nutrient-dense and chock full of natural bacteria. But he doesn’t stop there. He also makes a strong case for its consumption by going over the history of the populations that have consumed and thrived on it for millennia.
With the description of the illegal milk run, he already had me, and I was hooked throughout. It’s not just because our household goes to similar lengths to put traditional nutrient-dense food on the table—it’s also thanks to the thorough and entertaining way in which Schindler goes over which foods nourish us and exactly how they do so, offering anecdotes, personal experiences and historical context.
The book’s chapters are organized by food groups—animals, plants, grains, maize, dairy, bugs (!) and more—and he plumbs each of these topics in depth. In the chapter titled “Maize: the Corn Conundrum,” for example, Schindler describes the mysterious symptoms that affected over three million Americans between 1907 and 1940. People “developed terrible, disfiguring skin rashes when exposed to the sun. Their tongues grew swollen, their mouths bled, they suffered delusions and even dementia.” The same sickness had also appeared in Spain and Italy in the 1700s, where it got its name “pellagra,” which means “rough” or “sour” skin.
Schindler contrasts those scourges with Covid-19. “By 1912, the state of South Carolina alone reported 30,000 cases and a mortality rate of 40 percent. By way of comparison, by January 2021, the mortality rate in South Carolina from Covid-19 was under 2 percent.” In other words, pellagra was much worse than today’s “pandemic.” Although for a long time it was considered a contagious condition, pellagra was not caused by a virus either. In 1929, Dr. Joseph Goldberger set out to prove that the root of the sickness was dietary in nature, and indeed, about ten years after Dr. Goldberger’s death, scientists pinpointed corn as the culprit.
Schindler points out that people in developing countries today still suffer from pellagra, which is essentially a niacin deficiency. This is ironic because corn is replete with niacin, but its availability to the body is locked away in the absence of traditional preparation techniques (called “nixtamalization”). Though maize is the most widely produced crop in the world, Schindler explains that it is actually one of the hardest foods to digest: “When you skip nixtamalization, no matter how you cook corn, much of its nutrition stays locked up in the grain, which simply navigates our digestive tracts and gets expelled, taking its nutrition with it.” The people in Mesoamerica, he points out, knew how to nixtamalize corn, but when corn consumption went global, traditional preparation techniques did not go with it. Schindler reacquaints us with the process of nixtamalization, which starts with a solution of water and wood ash. He offers tips on how to get going with the process ourselves, or at the very least how to obtain masa made from nixtamalized corn.
I particularly enjoyed the various tales Schindler tells throughout the book, such as setting a beaver trap made with rudimentary tools (while co-starring in National Geographic’s “The Great Human Race”), or witnessing the processing of a yak on a frigid steppe in Mongolia or sharing cheese-making adventures with David Asher in Reykjavik, Iceland. He weaves these stories into a narrative that is as riveting as it is educational. Schindler also peppers the book with practical illustrations (for example, showing how to butcher a chicken or make mozzarella), mouthwatering photographs (of roasted bone marrow and honey ice cream) and seventy-five recipes for beginners and experienced cooks alike.
The recipes show up in every chapter, even the one on “Earth, Ash, and Charcoal: Have Your Fire and Eat It Too,” which features charcoal crackers. Some of my favorite recipes are in the “Animal” chapter—recipes for pork rinds, fatback cracklings, chicken liver paté and “trash bone broth.” He also includes recipes for how to render lard and tallow. Some recipes are upgrades to popular features in the standard American diet: fermented condiments, nose-to-tail burgers and “lacto-chips.” It’s almost as though he was determined to make sure that what he offered was not off-putting to the average Joe, who does indeed want to eat like a human.
That brings me to the only chapter that didn’t exactly jive with me—the one titled “Bugs: Protein, Not Pests.” Schindler doesn’t advise us to replace the meat in our diet with insects, but he does advocate including them in the diet. He even traveled to Thailand to learn more about how to prepare them—not hiding them in dishes but displaying and celebrating them as a source of protein and nourishment. “We’ve been eating them for at least 7 million years,” he states. Just the same, I don’t think I’m ready to substitute 20 percent cricket flour for other flours in my diet, as he recommends. Admittedly, I find the “yuck” factor difficult to overcome.
Overall, I was elated at the breadth and depth of this book. I shouldn’t have been surprised; Dr. Bill Schindler is an internationally known archaeologist, primitive technologist and chef. I’ve interviewed him for the Wise Traditions podcast. He is on a mission to preserve and revive ancestral dietary approaches to create a nourishing, ethical and sustainable food system, and this book brings home the earnestness and importance of his pursuit. His introduction states, “I believe the diet of our future should absorb the lessons of our past.” Eat Like a Human, much like WAPF, serves to uncover the timeless principles of healthy traditional diets. I give this book two thumbs up (is that allowed in our rating system?) without reservation.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2023🖨️ Print post