We are so disconnected from our food. Most of us think soup only comes in cans and meat comes on a Styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic. It’s time to eat like humans again. In generations past, our ancestors hunted and processed animals themselves. They respected the animal by using every bit of it to nourish their families. They made nutrient-dense meals from the organ meat, broth from the bones—all to the benefit of their families’ health and their budget.
In today’s discussion, Dr. Bill Schindler, the Director of Eastern Shore Food Lab at Washington College and an avid hunter, butcher, and forager, explains how to break out of the supermarket mentality and start putting a face on the plate once again. He discusses the percentage of the animal Americans eat (it’s very low), how we got to where we are today (uncomfortable with organ meats and processing animals), and the small steps we can take to reconnect with our food. He also explains in detail the value of this transformative journey.
Visit Bill’s website for virtual cooking classes (including learning to cook offal), events, and resources: drbillschindler.com.
Check out his Eastern Shore Food Lab.
Become a member of the Weston A. Price Foundation here.
Listen to the podcast here:
Eating Nose to Tail
Dr. Bill Schindler Explains The Importance Of Putting A “Face Back On The Plate”
Within the below transcript the bolded text is Hilda
Our guest is Dr. Bill Schindler. He is a food archaeologist, chef, and co-star on National Geographics’ The Great Human Race. Bill is behind what he calls the modern Stone Age diet because he believes that our dietary past holds the key to modern health. It’s aligned with the wise traditions approach to living and eating. Bill sheds light on what it means to eat nose-to-tail and why we should bother doing so. He talks about how muscle meat is the least nutrient-dense part of the animal, how wasteful it is to throw away the bits that are less appealing to our Westernized palates like organ meats and such, and the importance of becoming reconnected with our food. As Bill calls it, putting a face back on the plate.
Visit AncestralSupplements.com to see what they can do for you. Ancestral Supplements, putting back in what the modern world has left out.
Welcome to Wise Traditions, Bill.
Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
You’re happy to be here because we’re at Eastern Shore Food Lab. This is your second home, isn’t it?
Absolutely. We’ve made a lot of progress and we’re doing some wonderful things.
You’re educating people about the importance of getting back to our roots when it comes to eating and that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. The wise traditions philosophy is that all ancestral cultures ate from nose to tail. They ate the whole animal. I feel like we’re disconnected from that today, aren’t we? Can you speak to that a bit?
That other point is certainly valid as well. I know you and I both had the opportunity to travel to many different places and work with a lot of different people. It doesn’t matter whether it was in Northern Mongolia or in Africa or South America, wherever I was, that holds true. When an animal was killed, the entirety of that animal was eaten and put to all sorts of other uses as well. We’re certainly disconnected from that today.
Why do you think that is?
There are a couple of reasons. Ann Vileisis wrote an incredible book called Kitchen Literacy more than fifteen years ago. There’s a lot of reasons why we’re so disconnected from our animals and why we only eat a small percentage of our animals today, especially in the United States. I’ll do a brief summary of her wonderful treatment of this. At the end of the Civil War, we had transatlantic railways.
We were just starting to figure out refrigeration to some degree. I don’t think it’s a benefit but at the time, we thought it was a benefit of concentrating on raising animals in certain pockets of the country. We would ship those animals to different places to then get killed and butchered. Those pockets were areas like Chicago or St. Louis, still areas that are well-known for meat production.
The problem was the system didn’t work. Those animals got put on these railways and railways weren’t that great. By the time they made it to where they were going to get funnily killed and then butchered, they had lost a ton of weight, which doesn’t make sense financially. Many of them were dead and you couldn’t sell at that point. What they decided to do when we started to figure out refrigeration a little bit was say, “Let’s kill and butcher the animals where they’re being raised in these concentrated areas, and then ship the parts already in pieces to where they were going to go.”
This resulted in several things. First of all, your local butcher started to disappear, which is a big problem. People were distanced more and more from the source of their food, which became a huge problem. We hadn’t figured out the refrigeration that well. While the meat could often make it that entire distance, things like organs couldn’t. In a short period of time, they were erased from our consciousness of being food.
I’ve never heard this story before.
That’s one of the main reasons. We’re talking about the late 1800s, early 1900s. There were more immigrant populations coming in. Certain cuts of meat, as a result of the phenomenon I spoke about, and other things started to raise in profile. The richer you got, the more of this you ate or the more of this you didn’t eat. You had these immigrant populations coming in with a strong, rich, amazing history of eating the entire animal, offal organs, offcuts, and all these sorts of things.
They’re coming in and their kids are looking at these more affluent families that have none of this in their diet. In their consciousness, “We shouldn’t be eating this. This is poor people’s food even though it was the most nourishing, amazing food possible everybody was trying to aspire to be like the richest people on the block.” That’s happening late 1800s, early 1900s and here we are 100 years later, you have to look hard to find those things in our grocery store today.
Believe it or not, the crazy phenomenon now is you have those amazing, delicious, nutritious, satiating parts of the animal, the offal, the fat, are available to two populations. They’re available to the poor because they’re cheaper to get, and they’re in high-end hot cuisine restaurants where people are spending $100 a dish to eat something like this. The majority of people, the middle-class people in the United States, don’t have mental or physical access to a lot of the most nourishing foods.
Even people who are closer to food aren’t aware of the benefits of some of these parts of the animals. You were telling me an anecdote about the woman who was processing a goose that you had hunted and when you asked for the feet, she was like, “What for?”
We live in an area here on the Eastern Shore where there’s a lot of goose hunting. I had friends from Ireland here for Thanksgiving and we were duck hunting at this moment. They wanted all the local flavor they could get. We spent a great day duck hunting. We limited out. I process all my animals at home anyhow, but they wanted to see the local butcher. We brought the duck to the processor and she asked what I wanted. The two choices typically are, “Do you want the duck or the goose breasted?” This means they just take the breast out and throw the rest away, which is ridiculous, wasteful, and unethical in my mind.
The other option is, “Do you want the whole bird?” What they do is they’ll pluck it for you, pull all the organs out, and then rinse it and wrap it up. What you get back, your duck or your goose looks like you purchased the chicken or turkey at the grocery store. I said, “I want you to pluck it. I want the liver, the heart, and the gizzard. I want you to pluck it all the way up the neck because I want to take the skin from the neck to stuff it for sausage. It makes a great sausage casing.” I said, “I’d like the feet.”
She wasn’t too fazed with most of that until I said I want the feet. She looked up at me and she said, “I have been working here for years and I have processed hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese.” She was angry at me and she said, “Nobody’s ever asked for the feet.” I looked at her in disbelief and I’m like, “Nobody’s asked for the feet?” She’s like, “What are you going to do with them?” I said, “I’m going to put them in the bone broth.” She said, “Bone broth? What’s that?” I said, “Stock. Soup.” She looks at me with this look of disgust and she said, “I don’t eat soup and I’m never going to eat.” I’m thinking, “She would love it.” Maybe I should bring her some.
You totally should.
Here we are in a situation where people are working hard to connect with their food. They’re sitting in freezing temperatures for days on end to hunt. Everybody is so influenced. Food is such a part of everything we are as humans. Everything we are as humans also influences how we view food. Everything from what the USDA and the FDA say to marketing to advertising to even what’s available in the grocery stores.
The fact that if you walk into the grocery store and you’re going to buy chicken for dinner, 9 times out of 10, you walk out with just a chicken breast. That carries over even into the people in the field that are hunting ducks and geese. That’s what they think is part of it. We’ve lost, in many cases, the kitchen skills and know how to butcher at home and to deal with organ meats, but we’ve also lost, which is important, that consciousness of, “These other things are food and they’re incredibly nourishing amazing food. I don’t have to go to a restaurant and spend $15 for a little plate of pâté. I can make it in my kitchen and it’s cheaper.” That’s the crazy part. It’s cheaper, delicious, and more nourishing.
You told me the last time I had you on the podcast a statistic about how we only eat a small fraction of what each animal has to offer us.
I was doing some archaeology work for a paper I was doing ten years ago or so. I was responding to what this other archaeologist had written when he’s reconstructing prehistoric diets in this one study that was done. He wrote that he thought that prehistoric Native Americans on this site were only using 50% to 55% of the deer that they killed. That’s strange. At the end of the study, he was like, “What we found archaeologically doesn’t add up and I don’t know why because it looks like they’re using a lot more. I don’t understand.”
I’m thinking, “50% to 55%? Are you out of your mind?” I went back and I started looking at the references that he was using and I started peeling back the layers. The root of that comment in the paper was he was citing a 1950s animal husbandry book where they were talking about the percentage of pigs and cows that make it to market, the part that ends up in the grocery store. The statistic is somewhere around 55% of a pig and 50% of a cow is the average amount of that animal that ends up in the grocery store packaged for us to buy. That’s a huge problem.
As you and I both know and anybody who follows Weston Price or anybody doing that work realizes that indigenous and traditional groups around the world eat a lot more than that. They eat the entire animal. I’ve seen numbers upwards of 95% or more of an animal providing incredible nutrition. The problem is that 50% of that animal is all meat. That’s what it is. That’s what’s good ends up getting to market. The part of the animal that’s not consumed represents more than half of the nutritional value that animal has to offer.
You’re saying there’s more nutritional value in what we’re throwing away than in the muscle meat that we’re eating.
Absolutely on every single level, from macronutrients to micronutrients to enzymes, vitamins, all of it across the board. We are throwing away or using it for some other purpose. Sometimes it’s pet foods. It’s all sorts of other things, but not people food. It’s getting tossed or discarded or repurposed for something else. Meanwhile, when you look at it through the lens that I’m suggesting, we’re getting the least nutritious part of that animal.
Many of us look at diets from a nutrient density perspective. Meat or flesh is a lot more nutrient-dense than fruits or vegetables, there’s no doubt, but it is the least nutrient-dense part of an animal. Think about that. You had this incredible resource. We’re taking all the incredible parts of it and doing something else other than nourishing ourselves. This huge problem to me in my mind for dietary implications, sustainability implications, and ethical implications is I’ve never enjoyed killing an animal ever, but I find fulfillment in being that connected to my food and then taking that animal and finding every way possible to use it and nourish myself and my family with it. That nose-to-tail approach can certainly offer that.
I look at all this through technology. For 3.5 million years, we’ve been creating technologies to overcome our physical limitations and access food from our environment, and most importantly, transform those resources into something that our bodies can derive nutrition from. We’ve been doing this for 3.5 million years. We don’t think about it this way today, but the most powerful technologies that we’ve developed or at least accessed or unleashed allow us to take a resource that is inaccessible to our human bodies and turn it into the most nourishing food on the planet is animals.
When we treat animals as a food resource the way we have in the past, what they do is they are physically equipped to take food that is inaccessible to the human body. Inaccessible because it’s unsafe and the nutrients are locked up and our bodies can’t access them. They take the food that we can’t derive nutrition from. Because they naturally have mechanisms in their body, cows can transform grass. Ducks and geese can transform grain naturally into fat, organs, blood, meat, milk, or whatever that we can derive nutrition from.
Animals are a technology. We don’t think about it today because we feed animals people food, and then the whole system gets screwed up. Reindeer in Northern Finland take lichen off of rocks and transform it into some of the most incredible nutrition possible. As a Sami, they know and they eat the entire thing. When we take that animal and are feeding it people food and then we only eat the meat, we’ve completely screwed up the whole system.
Bill explains how you don’t have to be a farmer or a hunter to take steps to be more connected to your food.
Shop for your meats, poultry, tallow skin products, pet shoes, and leather crafts at WhiteOakPastures.com.
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I met some Sami one time. I hosted them in my house. It’s a long story. This is before I was into all these wise traditions stuff. They were talking to me about their blood pancakes and I had this reaction because I was disconnected. I have this squeamishness, which we still have today. In short of hunting and processing our animals, how can we get past that do you think, Bill?
It’s through that connection. First of all, everybody needs to understand that your body was built on animal foods in the diet and it wasn’t meat. We’re fully equipped and you require high-quality animal foods in our diet. When I say high quality, we require the organs, the blood, and the fat. There was an article that came out of Israel about how fat made us human, which I fully believe. To back it up quickly, if we look through an evolutionary scale, we started eating meat 3.5 million years ago, the first evidence of scavenging from kills.
When we introduce meat into our diet, we don’t see a huge change biologically. We don’t see a huge body size jump and a huge brain size jump. Both of those require credible nutrition. It isn’t until we start hunting that our bodies and brains jump to almost modern proportions. In my mind, when I look at that through our evolutionary past and our dietary past, I’m saying, “The important thing here is we start hunting because when we start hunting, we have first access to the most nutrient-dense parts.” Biologically, it makes sense.
The other thing that I want everybody to realize is that as far as tools and equipment are concerned, our ancestors were doing these things in caves with stone tools. I don’t care if you live in a tiny flat in Manhattan, you have what you need in your kitchen to transform the same sorts of raw materials into something that’s not only nutritious and safe, but delicious and satiating for our bodies. I’m a huge advocate of butchering at home. I don’t mean you have to have half a cow sitting. That is a completely different thing.
Taking an entire chicken home from the farm or from your grocery store is an incredible way to not only connect by touch and feel, and that whole experience with where your food came from in a way that you probably aren’t already doing. If you buy the whole chicken, more often than not, you have the heart, gizzard, and liver stuff back inside of it that you can do all kinds of wonderful things with. The other cool thing is once you reconnect, you learn some basic principles about safety, butchering, and transforming offal into pâtés and other things.
The other cool thing is when you start buying like that, it’s an incredibly financially freeing way to do it because instead of paying top dollar for high-end, beautiful chicken breasts, you can invest in an entire chicken, which is going to feed you and your family for several meals and do it in a better way. You can do things with the fat that’s leftover and with the skin. It’s unbelievable. I know this is going to sound cheesy, but to me, doing that at home is nourishing for both your body and your soul.
At a minimum, if you’re doing that, not only are you connecting, but your kids may be sitting there watching TV, but at the corner of their eye, they are seeing you handling an entire animal. That active of them, even just seeing it much less being a part of it is putting a face back on the plate. In the United States, unfortunately, many of us value the fact that we don’t have to be a part of the killing. We don’t have to remember that an animal died. We don’t have to see skin or feathers or fur or claws. We don’t have to see any of those things and we value that. That’s one of the worst things that’s happened.
I want to put a face back on the plate for everybody that’s eating meat. Seeing that entire animal helps do that. There’s something that’s visceral and humbling but special about remembering that an animal died to feed us. Seeing an entire animal or a whole piece of an animal on the kitchen counter helps everybody in our family make that connection again. It’s by making that connection that we can then start to realize, “There are things going on in the world of raising animals. It is bad that we need to address this. I’m only going to buy this meat. I’m only going to do this. Maybe I’m going to go hunting.” Those are the sorts of responses that happen when you put the face back on the plate.
You’ve used the word transform a couple of times. The animals take something that we can’t digest or access and transform it into something that’s nutrient-dense for us, and then we take the animal or other foods and transform them. We can get them more bioaccessible and bioavailable. We are also transformed as we’re part of this process. Isn’t that what you’re saying?
That’s an incredibly good point. We are in special ways.
It’s almost hard to put words to it, isn’t it?
It is. I’m having a hard time putting words to it because it is that transformative. My wife, when we first got married, was a vegetarian. I didn’t push her. When she became pregnant with our oldest daughter, she started craving meat again. We’re in a different place now. I took her hunting for the first time and that was transformative on a lot of different levels. To see how I brought my approach to animals into the house and then how she’s responded to it and then has become a part of that entire process, the word is transformative.
This is what I’ll use as an example. When we first got together, the idea that there was life behind the food on the plate was something that she was repelled by. She was like, “I don’t want to think about it. Don’t tell me.” Now she’s been out hunting. She’s been part of butchering in our house and that whole process. Now we sit down and we enjoy a meal that’s nourishing our bodies but at the same time, the conversation, believe it or not, it’s going to sound morbid, but it’s beautiful, is about the life of that animal.
We’ll sit down and have a piece of venison and my son and I will be talking about it in front of the entire family about when that deer first stepped out of the woods, what it was doing, how it walked in, and when it looked up. Also, the hours that we spent transforming that animal into this plate of nourishing food. That’s special. That’s connected. That’s the place that we need to get back to. You can’t put a price tag on it. It’s more than just nourishing our bodies. It’s nourishing our essence and our lives. That’s a system that is sustainable. Animal rights, proper treatment of animals, and proper handling, that’s a system where those things can then be addressed because we’re tuned in and we’re connected to it.
We enjoy being disconnected. To get something in a little plastic package at the store on some level might make us feel like we’re above the primal instincts of needing to kill to eat. The truth is, that’s not how life works. Don’t even plants die when we eat vegetables?
Somebody does a great job with this, which he talks about how it works when plants die and how that is so closely related to when animals die as well. Things die for us to eat. That’s where we are in the food chain. Grass can use sunlight, and then herbivores take the grass and kill the grass and transform that into the food they have to offer, and then we take that and turn that to nourish ourselves with it. That is a system that works. That’s a system that we need to be connected to for it to work properly.
Eating a piece of steak every single day with the same cuts, there is nutritional value in that over not eating meat at all, but that’s not a connected approach that I want to be a part of either. On every single level, I fully believe one of the most important things that we can do is to take one step closer to the source of your food. If you’re buying chicken breasts from the store in a package, then buy the whole chicken. If you’re buying the whole chicken from the grocery store, then go to the farm, meet the farmer, have the farmer meet your kids, and give the money directly to the farmer. Also, see the other chickens that are running around. See how they’re treated. Be a part of that process. Even just being there is being a part of the process.
Letting your kids realize that the chicken running around with its head on and its feet moving is the same animal as what you’re bringing home in that package. If you’re already doing that, then go out and go hunting. If hunting is something that you don’t want to do or you don’t have access to for a lot of different reasons, then everybody knows a hunter. See if you guys can barter. See if they can give you some. See if they can even take you out and have you sit and take a peek.
A lot of the hunters don’t want to process their animals. See if you might be able to help them cut it up one night and give them some labor and you can take a steak or something. Every one of those things may seem like a small step but it’s an accessible step. It’s something that we can do with huge benefits and huge paybacks.
Plus, I feel like if there’s a zombie apocalypse or something, we’ll be ready. Otherwise, if we’re just depending on the grocery store, we’ll be like, “Something is growing between the cracks in the sidewalk but I’m going to need help.”
I hope the zombie apocalypse doesn’t happen. The message that I want to send is, connection is the most important thing. What I’m working towards is trying to connect people with their food, how we ate in the past but where it also comes from today, and what you can do in your own kitchens to transform raw materials into the most nourishing food for both your body and for your soul. Through that whole connection, you connect with everything that it means to be human. All of this is accessible in your own kitchens. Some of this seems like too big of a leap to go right out of the woods.
The things that I’m talking about, the liver, heart, kidneys, fat, and all of those things, if we look hard enough, we can find not too far away from our own homes. They might not be in the grocery store but they might be in the butcher. Believe it or not, not necessarily that this is the best answer, but you can get high-quality lard and tallow from Amazon and have it delivered to your house. Start to learn to cook with these things. I guarantee you, you’ll be happy that you did.
That’s a great first step. Usually, at the end, I ask if there’s one thing the reader could do to improve their health or to move in this direction, what would you recommend? It sounds like you’ve already answered that. In case you have something else to add, what’s one thing you think the reader could do to improve their health or to move in this direction?
Number one, make it a goal to try to cook some offal. When I say offal, I mean organ meats or fat, so render lard or make pâté. The liver is probably the most accessible because I love pâté. It’s easy to make and it’s incredibly delicious. Some people would argue that the liver is the most nutrient-dense and bioavailable part of an animal. That alone, you should do. If the liver is not your thing, go for the heart. The heart is the gateway because it’s a muscle. The texture of the heart would resemble the texture of the meat. You’re starting to get into that inside of the animal but you’re not taking this huge flavor and texture leap.
Number one, start to cook some offal. Number two is to try to source something at least once a year directly from the environment. Go foraging, fishing, hunting, or clamming. There are so many ways that you can do it. You’re not going to be able to do it for all of your food every single day. It’s impossible on so many different levels. Even if you do it once, get your kids out and do it, the paybacks are enormous. There’s probably no better way to connect with your ancestors and your ancestral diet than to pick something wild and then consume it or to harvest something wild and then consume it. You’ve been a part of the entire process, and then you go back and you have those stories like stories I was talking about earlier.
We’re foraging a lot in Ireland. When we lived in Ireland, there was one particular day that the kids are a little bit ornery. I wanted to go foraging and I said, “We’re going to drive to the Wicklow Mountains.” It was about 15 to 20 minutes south of us. I said, “We’re going to go foraging up in the mountains,” and everybody looked at me like I was out of my mind and they were already not happy with me. I forget why. The last thing they want to do is around the mountains all day picking food.
We went out and it didn’t take long. It was like a Norman Rockwell painting after about an hour. The family was getting along and everybody’s having fun. Ireland’s gorgeous. We’re harvesting bilberries and some other things. It was wonderful. We got back home, took out the food, and ate the food. Every time we took a bite, it was like we were eating a picture. We took a picture with our fingers in the food. I was remembering the time we were in the mountains a couple of hours earlier harvesting this food. That’s food with a story. That’s food with connection. That’s amazing. That’s missing from a lot of our dinner tables today. The two things are, try to cook some offal and also try to harvest something wild yourself.
I’ll take this to heart. Thank you for your time though. This is a great conversation.
It’s my pleasure. Thank you.
Our guest was Dr. Bill Schindler. Visit his website for more on the modern Stone Age diet and eating like humans again at DrBillSchindler.com. I’m Hilda Labrada Gore. Follow me on Instagram, @HolisticHilda. That’s it. Thank you for reading and see you next time.
On behalf of the Weston A. Price Foundation, thanks for reading. We have many free resources to support you on your health journey. Visit WestonAPrice.org to find podcasts, articles, videos, and more. You can also find a local chapter near you for help in finding sources of great food. We invite you to support the foundation’s mission of education, research, and activism by becoming a member. Thanks again and take care.
Wise Traditions is a project of the Weston A. Price Foundation for wise traditions in food, farming, and the healing arts. The content on this podcast is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for the advice provided by your doctor or other healthcare professional. It is not intended to be nor does it constitute healthcare or medical advice.
About Dr. Bill Schindler
He grew up as an awkward, overweight kid with a very unhealthy relationship with food. He got bullied. there was a year of his life where he got beat up almost every day on the playground. During that stage in his life, he didn’t see food as something that nourished him. Instead, he considered it something that made me ugly.
Later, he became a wrestler at Ohio State University. Because of the intense physical demands of a division he programs and the fact that he was literally starving himself, his body superficially transformed into an athlete, but he still wasn’t healthy. He swapped one unhealthy relationship with food to another. Food was now something to stay away from because eating it would prevent him from making weight.
He was overly obsessed with diet to the point that he did physical and psychological damage. Now he believes that any success he achieved in wrestling was not as a result of how he ate, but, rather despite how he approached feeding his young body. Everything he did – from planning out his weekly diet in high school to the counting the precise calorie and grams of fat; to extreme weight loss swings, dehydration, and calorie and water restriction during college wrestling season; to off-season weight gain – shaped everything about the way he views his relationship with food, his health, and his body even to this day.