Ok, bear with me on this one.
This might be a little bit of a stretch, but I had a realization while doing a podcast interview a few months ago and I wanted to share it with you.
The interviewer asked me about the difference between meat from the grocery store and meat I hunted myself. The first part of my answer was focused on the powerful cultural and emotional connections that come from hunting your own food.
Then, as I thought about my response to the nutritional aspect of the question, something became clear:
there is a strong correlation between the ancient predators of 3.5 million years ago and the modern industrial food system when it comes to our access to the highest quality animal based nutrition…
Ancestral Approach to Diet
As you know, I am a huge advocate of using our ancestral past as a template for creating the most nourishing diet for humans. If you didn’t know, I actually filmed a 10-episode series for National Geographic called the The Great Human Race where I literally lived this approach so I am speaking directly from first-hand experience.
Considerations for Ancestral Diets
However, relying on the foodways of our ancestors requires careful consideration in four main areas.
- First, we need to make sure that we are starting with solid information about ancestral diets.
- Second, we need to remember that we humans have a very complex relationship with food and although we inhabit 300,000 year old bodies and share many of the same nutritional requirements as our great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents we have very different cultural, emotional, and other needs surrounding food that need to be met if we are going to be truly nourished.
- Third, just because it happened in the past doesn’t mean it was good. Not everything in our ancient past was perfect and the decisions our ancestors made were contextual. They may have made sense at the time, but when taken out of that context it means something different.
- And, finally, there is not one ancestral diet.
We have to appreciate the diversity that existed in the past; foodways varied widely throughout time and place.
And, it is those last two points – our ancestral diets are contextual and change through time – that are important to this conversation.
So, keep them in mind as you read on.
Going back 3.4 million years
The archaeological record illustrates that our Australopithecine ancestors began to include meat in their diets as early as 3.4 million years ago. However, this was meat that they scavenged from predator kills where the leftover carcasses were already devoid of the blood, fat and organs because the predator had made sure to have gorged themselves on these, the most nutrient dense and bioavailable parts.
The introduction of meat in our ancestral diet at that time did not support much biological change in the form of body or brain size growth. In fact, it was not until almost a million and a half years later that we saw the largest jump in body and brain size.
This anatomical growth was nutritionally fueled, in large part, 2 million years ago when our Homo erectus ancestors began to hunt and, by doing so, were able to include any part of the animal they harvested in their diets including the most nutrient dense and bioavailable parts: the blood, the fat and the organs.
What does this mean for us?
Well, simply put, we have stepped back too far. It was the incredible nutrition that came from including the entire animal when we began hunting 2 million years ago – the blood, fat, organs, and meat – which provided the fuel that supported massive body and brain growth and essentially made us human.
However, the vast majority of us only eat the meat of the animal and are essentially replicating the scavenger diets of our smaller ancestors from a million and a half years earlier!
Everything about the modern industrial food system limits us from having access to the most nutrient dense parts of the animal. USDA regulations make it impossible for abattoirs and butchers to keep and sell some parts of the animal and make it very difficult to provide other parts for human consumption. Grocery store shelves rarely stock even legal offal and, when they do, these parts are not given the same shelf placement and advertisement as ribeyes and tenderloin. Simply put, a large part of the animal is not really accessible to the modern day consumer in any form.
Our food system keeps the good stuff
The modern industrial food system is just like the savanna predator of 3.5 million years ago – it keeps the blood, the fat and the organs leaving only meat for us humans.
Don’t get me wrong. Meat is an incredible source of nutrition and is far safer, more nutrient dense and bioavailable than any plant on the planet. However, when it comes to the entirety of the nutrition animals have to offer it is less nutrient dense and bioavailable than the blood, fat and organs.
Implementing a nose-to-tail approach
The lesson in all of this is the importance of beginning to incorporate a nose-to-tail approach into your diet. Offal is nature’s multivitamin and you don’t need a lot to make a difference in your health. Small, deliberate, consistent changes that become powerful over time. Learning to make pate in your kitchen or swapping out pork rinds for potato chips in your shopping cart are great first steps. If you have access to learn how to hunt – take it!
Teaching Nose-to-Tail butchering at the ESFL
Helping others adopt a nose-to-tail approach in their lives is important to us and we are here for you in two very important ways! First, the Eastern Shore Food Lab has classes that can teach you how to begin to include more of the animal into your cooking at home.
For example, we offer classes that show you how to butcher in your home kitchen, how to make pate, how to use bones for broth, and how to cook with animal fats.
Plus we have two new on-demand classes to get you started right now!
Serving it up at the Modern Stone Age Kitchen
And, the Modern Stone Age Kitchen offers a whole host of delicious nutrient dense, bioavailable foods made from all different parts of the animal. For example, our bone broth, pork rinds, lard, scrapple, liverwurst, pate, and, our new offering “Viking’s Revenge Chili” is actually made with the same percentage of meat, fat, liver, heart and kidney you would find in a beef cow and comes entirely from local Crow Farm beef.
We are committed to advocating for and using a nose-to-tail approach to animals because we believe it to be the most nourishing, ethical and sustainable approach to human diet and health possible.