[00:01:36] Podcast Sponsors
[00:04:22] Guest Introduction
[00:07:28] Human Domestication
[00:13:56] How Fit Were Our Hunter-Gatherer Ancestors
[00:23:32] The calorie consumption and burn of our ancestors, contrasted with the modern office worker
[00:29:30] Arthur’s Personal Fitness or Movement Routine
[00:31:13] Podcast Sponsors
[00:33:49] cont. of Arthur’s Personal Fitness or Movement Routine
[00:42:00] How indigenous diets fit within the context of the modern ketogenic or carnivore diets
[00:51:48] Arthur’s thoughts on the carnivore diet as a sustainable lifestyle choice
[01:00:07] How the variety of species of plants that we currently consume compares to what our ancestors would have eaten
[01:05:12] How the micronutrient or vitamin content in modern produce compares to wild plants
[01:13:48] Where would grains fit in?
[01:22:14] Ancestral skills Arthur believes rewilding modern humans should have
[01:30:15] Closing the Podcast
[01:32:25] End of Podcast
Arthur: There’s no doubt we have some really amazing qualities today, but the fact is, is that we do display these features, our digestion, our nutrient needs, and so on are all based on these evolutionary exposures that happened over this period of over 300,000 years. Diet can be an actual therapy that allows us to live this free life where we’re not connected to the pharmacies, and that sovereignty is really wonderful to be free of that.
Ben: I have a master’s degree in physiology, biomechanics, and human nutrition. I’ve spent the past two decades competing in some of the most masochistic events on the planet from SEALFit Kokoro, Spartan Agoge, and the world’s toughest mudder, the 13 Ironman triathlons, brutal bow hunts, adventure races, spearfishing, plant foraging, free diving, bodybuilding and beyond. I combine this intense time in the trenches with a blend of ancestral wisdom and modern science, search the globe for the world’s top experts in performance, fat loss, recovery, hormones, brain, beauty, and brawn to deliver you this podcast. Everything you need to know to live an adventurous, joyful, and fulfilling life. My name is Ben Greenfield. Enjoy the ride.
We’ve got a good podcast today with my friend Arthur Haines. He wrote a really good book. I’ve been wanting to interview this dude for a while. I think you’re going to dig it. We talk about being outside, taking off your pants, getting naked, getting sunlight, throwing spears at shit. You get the idea.
This podcast is actually a special podcast because we just are about to kick off the 5-Day Meditation Challenge we’ve been working on behind the scenes at my company, Kion, for quite some time. At the time that this podcast is released, the meditation challenge begins in two days. We’ve got folks like Paul Chek and Emily Fletcher coming in to teach live guided meditations. We’re going to teach you how to tap into all of the health proven benefits of meditation. So, if you have always wanted to try meditation and you don’t know where to start, or if you want to learn a whole bunch of new meditation tricks and tips and hacks for your meditation toolbox.
I personally play around with all different kinds of meditation. ECOMeditation by my friend Dr. Dawson Church, who wrote the book, “Mind to Matter.” I’ve taken Transcendental Meditation courses. I even fiddle around with Muse, that headset, and also the Headspace app. I go outside and do traditional Native American Sit Spots. I even meditate in my sauna looking at a candle or an hourglass. All sorts of ways to meditate.
So, if you want to join in on that meditation challenge that starts Monday, July 15th, just go to getkion.com/meditation. That’s getK-I-ON.com/meditation, and you’ll be off to the meditative races.
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Alright. Let’s go talk to Arthur. Well, folks, as I was outside this morning, early in the wee hours, I got in about 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. Finally, by the time I got to sleep from the Swiss Alps, but I went outside this morning at about 5:00, and got a little bit of sun, and went for a barefoot walk. And I shot my bow, and I jumped in the cold water, and as I was doing that, I was thinking a little bit about today’s podcast guest because he’s all about this kind of things. Perhaps not flying on a 747 and getting in in the wee hours. But just about everything else related to living a little bit more like our ancestors.
He has even written an entire book about this. It’s called “A New Path.” It’s a tome. My friend Daniel Vitalis first told me about this guy and his book. And the entire book is just a complete guide to all things foraging, and ancestral skills, and botanical medicines, and plants. And it’s just a wonderful read that was really, really precious for me. And so when it comes to diet, and water, and medicine, and nature immersion, and hormesis, and even community, and ancestral technologies, not many folks know quite as much as my guest on today’s show.
His name is Arthur Haines. He is based out of Maine. He’s a hunting and recreation guy, a forager, ancestral skills mentor, obviously, an author. This book is called “A New Path.” Again, he’s a public speaker. He’s a botanical researcher, and this is what he does. He teaches people. He has a wonderful YouTube channel. He focuses on foraging, on wildcrafting medicine, on primitive living skills.
Everything that Arthur and I discuss on today’s show, I will link to, and I will also include a link to his book, and his website, and his YouTube channel. And you can find all of that over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/anewpath, which is also the title of course of Arthur’s book. So, Arthur, welcome to the show, man.
Arthur: Thanks a lot, Ben. That was a great introduction. I hope I live up to it.
Ben: Yeah. I just make up shit as I go, and hope the audience doesn’t catch on that I just interview gumshoes who don’t know much about this stuff. No, I jest. Your book is–what is this thing? Four hundred pages long or so, I would say, maybe a little under that.
Ben: And it’s fantastic. I have so many pages folded over. As I do, when I interview someone, I don’t necessarily like to tell them a bunch of stuff. They could just find in the book themselves. But there are certain things I’d love to take a deeper dive into with you, and of course, weave in throughout some questions about your own fitness and movement and dietary routine that you personally follow. But I think to set the stage, you talked about this concept in the book of human domestication, and what it means for a human to be domesticated like a cat or a dog. I think you have four criteria that you lay out that would define a modern domesticated human.
Arthur: Yeah. These are features that animal breeders use to identify when an animal is considered domesticated. All of these are features that are held by sheep and cattle and chickens, and the other animals that humans rely on extensively now around the world. And those four things that we use to define domestication is an altered temperament. Obviously, we need these animals to be tamer than their wild relatives. They need to allow us to approach them to be able to be around them without being in danger. So, that’s really an important piece because some of the animals–
Ben: Right. Be able to feed our dog kibbles without the dog wanting to eat us.
Arthur: Exactly. And think about the cows, what they come from, the auroch, which is a pretty fierce animal that would have guard people to death if it was to approach them. One of the really interesting things that I think about a lot when it comes to defining domestication is the altered social hierarchy. You have to establish that the humans are the leaders, so that the cows or the sheep, or whoever we want to talk about has to recognize that the humans are in charge. And this may be completely different from what these animals experience in nature, where they may have had a more equal or egalitarian formation of the herd, or they may have had an alpha male or alpha female. Whatever the case might be, they now have to recognize the humans as alpha. And, of course, this is really pertinent because humans come from egalitarian and far more equal cultures than what we experience today.
The third one, and a really important one, they have to tolerate an altered diet. This issue is really pertinent as well because when we take whatever animal we want to discuss out of its wild habitat, it has to be able to eat, well, like you mentioned, the kibble that we feed to the dog that includes a really high proportion of carbohydrates derived from various plant sources. It’s a really unnatural diet. And it’s completely true of humans, the diets that we experience today given the refinements, the added calories, the added components, the nutrient poorness of these diets is a really different thing that we’re experiencing.
Ben: Yeah, or chickens, I think you talked about the red junglefowl in the book, the original chicken, this jungle bird that ate plants and insects, and even invertebrates like ants and termites. You can position that in stark contrast to, of course, the modern grain-based diet of the chickens that tend to be the prevailing chicken we find these days.
Arthur: Yeah, exactly. And the last one is this ability to breed in captivity. We know that there are certain zoo animals that they have a notoriously difficult time breeding when they were moved from their wild ecosystems. But we need to make sure that domesticated animals, particularly those that we rely on for food or labor have really no issue breeding in captivity so that we can replace them. We don’t want to continually try to tame them out of the wild because this is a long process. We just want them to be born into this domestication. And I really think of the way we now view birthing in the human societies that we all find ourselves living in, where it’s an institutionalized program where we consider it to be an ailment in many cases. And this is not a judgment of anybody.
Ben: You mean giving birth?
Arthur: Yes. That we now also essentially breed in captivity when 99% of the births that we have are institutionalized births, where we take moms out of the habitat that they may feel the most comfortable in, which might be their home or the property around their home, and put them in places where it is, well, nothing like they’re used to experiencing when we put them in a hospital room.
Ben: Bright lights. And there was a recent study that showed that hospitals are even overridden with flies that carry MRSA, which is a wonderful environment to be born into.
Arthur: Absolutely not what you want to be exposed to when it comes to birthing because the mom may have experienced cuts during that process that you want nothing to do with something like Staphylococcus aureus, particularly when you’re dealing with a population with a lot of immune compromise. And so you look at these four features of domesticated animals, and the fact is, is that we display all of them. And that’s a really hard thing for people to accept enough. I’ve gotten a lot of really nasty comments about this, Ben.
But the fact is we want to view ourselves as supreme, as the highest form of humans that have ever existed. And there’s no doubt, we have some really amazing qualities today. It’s not to claim that all has gone off the rails. But the fact is, is that we do display these features. And I really do think that modern humans could be described as a domesticated form based on our wild progenitors, the hunter-gatherers that we have observed around the world.
Ben: Well, that being set up as kind of the theme of today’s podcast, towards the end of the show, I actually want to ask you about how we can, as you say, rewild ourselves and get out of this cycle of altered temperament, and altered social hierarchy, and altered diet, and breeding in captivity to become less domesticated humans.
But before then, I want to dig into some of the nitty-gritty specifics of the things that you lay out in the book. One of the first, I was actually thinking about today as I was shooting my bow, you discussed some of our hunter-gatherer ancestors who, of course, didn’t have CrossFit and 24-hour fitness. But you talked a little bit about how fit you imagine that they are, or they were, or how fit they’ve been proven to be. Can you describe the approximate fitness of our hunter-gatherer ancestors despite them not having access to gyms per se or barbells?
Arthur: Yeah. It was clearly a much more active lifestyle. And it was active out of necessity, depending on what the resource density. And I’m using the word resource to refer to your food and the materials that you build your shelters from, the fibers that you use to make your clothing, whatever the case we want to talk about. Depending on that resource density, people had to move about their environment to get it. There’s a really cool thing about this when you’re required to do it, you’ll do it. And on those lazy days, when it’s not a requirement, when you haven’t established your life way to force you to get outdoors and move, you’ll sometimes avoid that activity that could be really beneficial for you.
And when you look at the home ranges as a signal of the activity that they received, one of the ways I really like to frame this argument, you look at some really serious distances that people traveled on foot. You look at the Mi’kmaq, that’s a group of First Nations people that still live here in Northeastern North America. But they were estimated to have traveled over a million-acre home range during their yearly travels. I mean, this is crazy. And it’s obviously as you go into the north, when you get to the Netsilik, the Inuit, and other groups where you’re talking about a polar climate resource density is even lower, these are people that had a home range of over six million acres that they traveled within. I mean, these are massive areas, and we look at what we travel within today on foot. It would be a tiny fraction of that.
I do think there’s this movement where people are suggested to take 10,000 steps a day as a way toward recovering some of this ancestral movement, and that’s pretty close to what the average was for hunter-gatherers. We know that on average, it was about five to ten miles a day. Of course, some days were leisure, some days were much more than that. But we can look at it not just in terms of how much they moved around, but even their bone density, the draw weight of their bows compared to what modern people draw back these days.
Ben: Yeah. I want to hear about the draw weight because that blew my mind. But that 10,000-hour thing is interesting. Do you know that the modern, at least the modern Fitbit-esque recommendation for 10,000 steps a day, the origin of that was not necessarily looking at epidemiological evidence from our ancestors, but instead it was in the ’60s, a Japanese company was developing a new pedometer, and they called it the Manpo-kei, the Manpo-kei pedometer? And Manpo-kei apparently literally translate as 10,000 steps in Japanese. And so that just trickled down into modern-day fitness devices to where they all say, well, 10,000 steps are the goal to go for. Now, fortunately, as you’ve just alluded to, that turns out to be a decent starting off recommendation. But it wasn’t based on research at all.
Arthur: Ben, that’s so crazy because I actually looked at what’s the average stride for a human. I measured this out, multiplied it by 10,000, and found that it came out pretty darn close to what hunter-gatherers were doing as an average. I never looked into the origin. I just assumed that somebody was doing something smart with that recommendation.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. I wish. But with you, I know you’re outdoors quite a bit. Do you quantify at all? Do you actually take a look at how many steps you get?
Arthur: Not a bit. In my personal life, which I wouldn’t describe as necessarily athletic on a daily basis, but we are active. Our activity sometimes takes forms that are hard to quantify when we’re canoeing, for example, while we’re fishing, or when we’re treading rice, which is essentially this twisting motion that we have to do for 30 to 40 minutes to peel off the husks from the grains of the wild rice that we gather. A lot of it is really difficult to quantify, and so we’ve established our life to make sure that it always remains active.
Ben: Yeah. I think that’s the key. I just got back, as I was saying, from Switzerland. And because I was at a health retreat over there, I didn’t have a lot of my daily normal work, like being in front of the computer consulting, or writing, or reviewing labs or articles or research, or anything like that. And even without that much effort, I was averaging 23,000 steps a day just doing things like walking to the lake to get into the lake, and walking back, and going up and down the stairs repeatedly because the dinner room was seven stories above my bedroom, and just engaging in activity all day long.
Because frankly, I think a big part of it was I just wasn’t relegated to being in front of a computer. I had no office there. And so yeah, I think that the way that you set up your lifestyle is, of course, very important. And I know for a lot of folks listening in, I’m preaching to the choir, and you’re aware that you must alter your environment or hack your environment so to speak to keep yourself physically active. But back to the bows and the weight on the bows, this one blew my mind. Tell me about that.
Arthur: Well, for people that don’t know, the bow is a hunting weapon that originally began as a piece of wood that would be bent, and when you bend it, it stores energy and that stored energy is used to cast this projectile called an arrow. And the stiffer the bow is, in other words, the more energy that’s required to bend it, the more energy that is stored in the two limbs of the bow–the upper and lower limb–and therefore, the more energy can be imparted to the arrow, so the arrow can fly faster and travel farther, hit harder, penetrate more deeply into animals, what it was designed to do. And all of this is really important. When you look at the modern hunting bow, and I’m not talking about pulley bows or so-called compound bows, but I’m referring specifically to bows where there is no mechanical advantage to assist you once you’ve drawn back to assert distance.
Ben: No cams.
Arthur: Yes, yes. Whether it’s fiberglass or wood, it doesn’t matter. Most of the bows that are sold today are right around a 50-pound draw, and that is the very, very standard. Some people shoot with as low as 40, some people are up to 60. But most people I know, and as the study questions when they asked a large series of hunters found it was around 50-pound draw.
Ben: But that’s 50-pound draw with no cam, right?
Arthur: That’s right. So, you’re holding that 50 pounds at its highest point of force, that full 50 pounds at your draw before you release the arrow. Now, when they look at hunter-gatherers and tested the draw weights of their bow, they found something really interesting. What they found is that depending on the group you looked at, there were higher draw weights of bows. For example, they found the Hadza of the African continent, their average draw weight was 70 pounds or just shy of 70 pounds, which means some folks were actually drawing more than that. And I’ll tell you that 20 pounds makes a massive difference. I would not be able to accurately shoot a 70-pound bow because I couldn’t hold it steady at draw. I could pull it back, but I would be trembling with force to hold it there.
Ben: Yeah. And to put this in context, for people who don’t shoot a bow or haven’t handled a bow, probably the best way you could approximate what this might feel like is go to the gym or find a dumbbell and kind of bend down as though you were going to do a single arm dumbbell row with one hand stabilized against the bench and the other arm rowing the dumbbell. And then I think the average you said was about 69 pounds. So, grab a 70-pound dumbbell and pull that back, and then attempt to hold for, let’s just say, before release a shooter might hold for 5 to 10 seconds. So, try to hold that in isometric position, a 70-pound dumbbell for 5 to 10 seconds in a bent dumbbell row position. Don’t use a cable machine because that has cams. We’re talking about a cam free. And that’s an approximation of what these folks would be able to pull and hold at average.
Arthur: And some of the highest recorded draw weights of the hunting bows were a 132 pounds of force were required. I don’t think that I can draw this, Ben, without using my legs.
Ben: No, you couldn’t. I mean, I draw 70 on my compound bow, and that anymore isn’t that difficult for me, but I can’t imagine trying to do the same thing on a recurve or a bow without a cam. What about the amount of calories that these folks actually burnt? Because if I remember right, it was a couple of years ago, maybe longer, that they actually started to study the calorie burn of our hunter-gatherer ancestors or modern tribes with that of the average American office worker. So, what can we draw from that research?
Arthur: There is a little bit of conflicting research. And it’s cool that you brought this up because it shows that many of these things we’re still trying to learn and figure out what our ancestral norms truly were. The reality, and not to turn this into identity politic issue, but we have extirpated from the world most hunter-gatherers, not because we necessarily killed them all off, but because they’ve become acculturated. And so it means that we have sometimes a hard time making modern comparisons because we can’t find people who were living truly as hunter-gatherers.
What we do know, we have some conflicting information. A study that was done in 2012 actually suggested that we use the same amount of calories while we use them for different things, movement versus thinking, and some of the things that office workers have to do a lot of. It suggested that we actually are not using any difference in calories. However, other studies are showing that they’re actually using more calories than us.
The confounding issue here is that some of the hunter-gatherer groups that they examine were taken from hot arid climates, where the adaptation to that place is to make a smaller human. And so then we have to make adjustments because smaller people need less calories to move around. But if you were to put us in the same position, obviously, we’d be using a lot more. And so they did find in fact, we, hunter-gatherers, I mean to say, we’re using more calories per day, expending more calories today than we do.
But I think one of the really cool things is to not even focus on the calorie expenditure itself, but the kinds of calorie expenditure. And what they found in one of these studies is that the hunter-gatherers were spending just over 40% of their calories moving each day, but that was 27% for the Americans they examined. So, more of it was spent in active motion doing things, manipulating things, traveling over the landscape than it’s used with modern humans.
Ben: Yeah. And we probably also, as modern humans, I don’t know if they accounted for the thermic effect of food, but I would imagine a great deal of our calorie burn comes from all the proteins that we’re consuming because those, of course, have a caloric cost to digestion. And the other thing that I kind of think about is, at the end of the day, when you look at calories burned, let’s say that they were equivalent. But you say compare a hunter-gatherer, I think the Kung is one tribe that you talk about in the book that this study was done on in terms of calorie burn. They’re moving the entire day, like squatting, pushing, poling, lunging, ambulating, and carrying out tasks associated with a physically active lifestyle, whereas you look at a Westernized, or I suppose we could say a domesticated, now that we’ve established that term modern human.
And even someone who is physically fit, they might be seated for eight hours a day, go to the gym and burn 1,000 calories in a frenzied stressed workout to try to tap into that primal urge to move that they’ve been defying the entire day, and then rinse, wash and repeat. So, it’s an entirely different calorie burn scenario at the end of the day, too. I mean, it’s not as though calories are calories no matter what.
Arthur: Yeah. I think there’s something that Katy Bowman brings up a lot, someone I’m sure that you’re aware of or know personally. This diversity of movement, because you had people who as you said were leaping over small streams, wading in a pond, climbing up the side of a hill, picking foods overhead from a tree, and all of that is lost in the gym, where the diversity of movement to me is really it’s much more sterilized, and this is not a–
Ben: Yeah. Well, this is not designed for hypertrophy, right? I mean, for the most part, you could say that CrossFit is somewhat more functional, but the majority of the modern gym movement, it’s almost paradoxical to evolutionary fitness in which you would want to conserve calories because they might be sparse, and also engage in movement patterns that are as efficient as possible. But what we do is we pick up a weight and we set it down repeatedly to tear as many muscle fibers as possible without actually carrying that weight anywhere. So, you might do five sets of 10 deadlifts to just create as much ramp muscle damage as possible to get the hypertrophy that you want or the body that you desire. And that’s just completely different than what our ancestors would have done.
Damaging a muscle to that extent would have been relegated to the realm of say like an Olympian or gladiator, or a warrior perhaps, or someone who is competing in some type of weightlifting competition, but it is odd. I’ve thought about this before even when I’m working out, which admittedly I do workouts like that. Basically, all I’m attempting to do is damage the muscle then go eat calories to fix that muscle that I’ve damaged.
Arthur: It’s a great way to describe it. And as you said, evolutionarily, it’s in stark contrast to what humans did.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. How about you? You talked about the rice treading that you do, but what is your own daily fitness or movement routine look like on average?
Arthur: We do a lot of walking, and I realize that there’s a book that’s been written that says we’re born to run. I really believe that humans are born to walk with episodes of running. And it’s clear that when you look at our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we mostly moved around on the landscape by walking, we’re efficient at it, and we could do it long distances. I really do try to get activity in whether that’s paddling a canoe, lifting that canoe onto the vehicle that’s going to transport at places, climbing and other things to make sure that there is something going on all around my body. For example, the grains that we grind are all done by hand in a grain mill, so there’s a little bit of movement there.
Really, for me, like I described, Ben, I have an active lifestyle that has bouts of athleticism. We do hike in sometimes to remote ponds to go fishing, where we’ll have eight or nine miles a round trip hiking up into the mountains to visit these high elevation ponds. I do train in Brazilian Jujitsu. I’ve done that for 20 years now. And that is my one or two times a week of very intense activity. I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck the next day. I work out hard, and I think that’s really important for a lot of different reasons that we get some intense activity in each week, and Brazilian Jujitsu is mine.
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I think what you alluded to there with the walking combined with running, that strikes close to my heart because I spent such a long time as an Ironman triathlete, a marathoner, and a chronic repetitive motion athlete with a lot of hip and knee and low back problems that I think sprung from the repetitive motion. But these days, even though I’m still competing, I generally walk typically for a half hour to an hour a day. And in many cases, I guess there’s a term for this now. It’s called high intensity. It’s not high-intensity interval training. It’s high-intensity repeated training or something like that. It’s HIRT. I forget what the R stands for. But essentially, it’s just 10 to 20-second, very brief intermittent sprints thrown in during an easier session like a walk. So, I’ll go for a walk and just do a few quick sprints.
And my average number of miles based on that that I run per week might be about 3 to 4 miles. And I still go out and do some of these races that are 8, 9 or 10 miles, and feel like my fitness and my running is just the same. And I’m not saying if you want to go win an Ironman triathlon, you can walk and do short sprints all the time. But it feels so much better, and I’m so much more injury free.
Arthur: Yeah. I can imagine that that would be really important for that type of competition. Here, what I see, I look at what would have happened with hunter-gatherers, and let’s say we’re talking about the hunter. And they go out onto the landscape, and they’re walking, they’re tracking, sometimes they’re stalking an animal. And this is not necessarily high-level exertion, although the stalking can sometimes be holding ourselves in positions in a crouch or moving through something that could be noisy. It’s like certain forms of yoga that can be intense for brief periods. But if we successfully shoot an animal, now there’s high-intensity work. I mean, the last white-tailed deer that we shot here was around 170 pounds. We had a mile to move that animal through hilly terrain to get it back here to the house, where we then need to lift this up so we can skin and butcher the animal and prepare that food to go into the freezer to be canned, however, we’re going to preserve it.
Ben: But you’ve got it before you carried it that far, don’t you? Do you remove any of the innards or?
Arthur: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. So, we’re losing some weight.
Ben: Yeah. It’s still a dead weight.
Arthur: Yeah. And the thing here in this particular landscape, we’re dragging that back through a heavily forested landscape with shrubs and other vegetation in the understory that this animal carcass at this point, this life that we’ve taken to eat is fetching up on–I mean, it’s an hour or two of incredibly intense activity, not to mention some of those organ meats. We’re also finding a way to carry them back, because obviously, that’s where we have deep nutrition to be found. And so to me, that is a typical of my life. There’s a lot of low intensity, long duration movement interspersed with high intensity, very fatiguing movement that I feel the next day.
Ben: Yeah. Having done a lot of spot and stalk bow hunting, I can tell you that from my perception that the skills necessary for that include a great deal of low-level aerobic walking. But in addition to that, a lot of planking and crawling positions both sideways, forwards and backwards, a lot of that. Oftentimes, with something on your back or something in your hand, which makes it all the more difficult to crawl, for example, as you’re trying to place your bow in front of you, crawl, place the bow again, et cetera. But also, a lot of high stepping and lunging over objects, such as logs and rocks, a lot of uphill hiking, some small amounts of climbing, like clambering over rocks or down through rocky patches.
Not a lot of running, but sometimes, for example, on a recent axis deer hunt in Hawaii, you would see where the deer were headed. And this has happened before from me on elk hunts, and you need to move pretty quickly to where you anticipate that that animal is going to be 10 minutes from now. And so there’s some quick sprints or very intense bursts of energy in the middle of all that walking. And then of course aside from whatever you happen to be carrying, as you’re covering all that territory doing those activities, as you’ve just alluded to, once you actually get the animal, then the heavy lifting begins. And usually, it is packing out a heavyweight, lifting a heavyweight up onto something, whether it’s a truck bed or whatever you might be hanging the animal from. And then of course just basically being down in a crouched position as you might be if you were dressing or even cooking the animal afterwards. And so there’s a lot that happens during a hunt.
And there’s one other thing I noticed. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but there’s a balance component, especially when you’re doing a stalk and you’re within about 100 yards or so, you’re looking at sticks or twigs that you might break. You’re often standing on one leg. And as you carry that other leg over the course of 10 to 15 seconds forward, you spend a lot of time unbalanced on one foot on uneven terrain. So, there’s a lot of skills that get woven into a typical spot and stock type of hunting scenario.
Arthur: Yeah. I feel it’s far underrated in terms of this true movement diversity, this true CrossFit, if you will, that’s being done out on our landscapes, out of the gym setting. I mean, here, you talk about sometimes we’re needing to butcher the animal into pieces to load that on our back to carry it out. Sometimes at great distances over rough terrain. It’s one of my favorite activities for a variety of reasons, and one of which is because of this natural movement that I get so jazzed about because I’m also outside in this wild environment where I think humans are meant to spend a great deal of their time.
Ben: Yeah. Not a lot of kipping pull-ups out there, it seems. I am a big fan of pull-ups. I love to do pull-ups. I have a little pull-up bars in my house, and I’ll weave in about 50 pull-ups a day just walking underneath the pull-up bar and doing 5 or 10 here and there. And that’s the one thing you don’t see a lot of in a hunting scenario. But I don’t know, what do you think? Is that a leftover, what’s it called, brachiation from our days when we might have lived in trees or what’s the deal with the pulling or the hanging component?
Arthur: I have the same thing. I have a wooden device that has a number of climbing holds on it that hangs above stairs here in my home. And I use it in the same way you do. I walk by, and usually, it’ll be three, four or five pull-ups whenever I go by this thing. I love the feeling, and I can’t describe why I feel it’s so valuable because you’re right, it’s not emotion that I’m doing particularly. I used to work as a rock and ice climbing guide, where that exercise, if you will, on that climbing board that I was just talking about fit in very well with what I was doing. But it still feels really useful to me, and I just really appreciate that movement because again it’s an intensity of movement that I can get on those days when I’m on the computer doing work.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Maybe it’s just a built-in desire to hang from shit. I don’t know. But I like it. I love to do pull-ups. Now, of course, no discussion of indigenous cultures would be complete without diving into diet. And this, of course, tends to be far more controversial even than fitness. And you discussed quite a bit in the book about the different dietary habits of indigenous cultures. One of the main things I want to ask you before we dive into some of the nutrient considerations of some of these things that we see them eating is the modern popularity of the ketogenic diet, and where you think carbohydrates fit into the context of an indigenous hunter-gatherer diet. And then also something even more popular of late, it seems, this idea of restricting plant matter due to the built-in plant defense mechanisms and using instead like a nose-to-tail type of carnivore approach.
Arthur: Yeah. Good topics. One of the things that I think is really important as the entire book, “A New Path,” is built on is examining our biological norms that we have a long evolutionary history that we have spent as hunter-gatherers over 97% of our time on this planet. And our body, our digestion, our nutrient needs, and so on are all based on these evolutionary exposures that happened over this period of over 300,000 years. The oldest remains of Homo sapiens now are somewhere in the realm of 315, 310,000 years based on the latest research. And that’s also corroborated by some DNA models and looking at rates of evolution also suggest that this is how old Homo sapiens is.
And when you look at that and just say, “Well, we’ve been eating cultivated foods for 10,000 years,” the reality is it’s actually less than that from many groups. And our transitions into this complete crop packages, where we went from eating all wild food to some wild food, to essentially no wild food for some folks happened over a period of time. So, most of us have been on a domesticated diet for a relatively short period of time, maybe in the order of only a few thousand years for some groups, others even less. You look at those here in the northeastern part of North America, you can research, I mean to say, folks living here in the state of what is now Maine, who cultivated essentially no produce until contacts. That’s been about 400 years of eating these kinds of foods.
Ben: So, are you saying that they were not eating any agricultural-based foods such as wheat or other crops that were grown in almost like a modern grain-based context, or are you saying they weren’t even doing things like gathering wild plants from the field like nettle or dandelion, or mint, or perhaps berries or tubers, for example?
Arthur: Yeah. And that’s a really important distinction, Ben. No wild plants were a huge component of their diet, and their yearly calories from plant foods in this part of the world were probably about 60%. No, they were not participating in tending crops of plants that had been genetically altered through breeding to make larger this and juicier that. Those kinds of foods are specifically what I’m talking about.
Arthur: So, we get down to this idea then that there is a biological norm to how humans eat. And the problem that people have is they look at the diets of the Inuit in the far north, they look at the diets of First Nations people in Southern U.S., they look at the African continent, the South American continent, and they’re all so different on what they’re eating that they sometimes fail to see the commonalities of the ancestral human diet.
And one of those commonalities is that everybody consumed carbohydrates or something that functioned as carbohydrates in their diet. And researchers have looked at far northern populations and identified in fact that they were not in ketosis. And there’s a number of reasons for these enlarged livers in the populations, which allowed them to turn more of the protein they consumed into glucose and even a genetic anomaly in some of the populations that prevent them from entering ketosis. And so this diet, this very low carbohydrate diet, unfortunately, turns out to be a new diet.
Ben: Now, would that include–and this is interesting because it sounds like if gluconeogenesis or I supposed glycogenolysis, might have been hampered a bit, and also there may have been impaired genetic abilities to produce ketones. Would this even mean in a fasted state such as during a long hunt that there was little ketone throughput and there was instead an ability to create glucose through alternate means such as say like muscle breakdown or something like that?
Arthur: My understanding is it is not that they couldn’t ever enter ketosis. It just wasn’t a chronic state that they experienced.
Ben: Okay, yeah. So, chronic, strict, long-term ketosis as many people are attempting to do, and have adopted from research originally meant to monitor things like epilepsy and seizures. People now doing that as a fad fat loss diet. That’s not something we see reflected in indigenous practices.
Arthur: Nowhere in the world. And I want to stress that. Nowhere in the world was this diet that is being practiced today observed. And this is not to say that this diet doesn’t have merit. You’ve just discussed several of them, and I have friends who have done amazing work regarding type 2 diabetes, in fact, even type 1 diabetes by restricting carbohydrates. But they have a chronic health issue that demands it because the health issue is really important to their health. In other words, they’ve had to eliminate the value, the immense value of plants in their diet or I should say a diverse and large amount of plant foods in their diet because they have a chronic condition that demands it.
Ben: Yeah. So, the therapeutic importance of say a ketogenic diet might be more relevant now that we are in a post-industrialized setting in which there is the need to do things like restabilized pancreatic function by limiting consumption of carbohydrates or restore an imbalance gut flora due to over fermentation on sweet and sugary starches by instead cutting off those starches for some period of time. But if we assume that many of these modern chronic diseases were not as prevalent in indigenous cultures, the adoption of a ketogenic diet for medical management would have been far less necessary, and even a state that was not as natural to be in.
Arthur: Agreed completely, Ben. And for those people that have healthy immune function, have healthy glucose metabolism, have healthy intestinal function leaping on to a very low carbohydrate diet, and missing out on the value of all of the chemistry and sweets of vitamins that we get from plant foods I believe to be a potential mistake depending on the situation that people find themselves in.
Ben: Yeah. And granted there are some very good versions such as Dr. Steven Gundry and Dr. Terry Wahls have written books that outline a plant-rich ketogenic diet that if I think one was adopting ketosis to manage some type of medical condition like diabetes or epilepsy, or MS would be the more prudent way to go versus say just like sticks of butter, and oodles of coconut oil. There are also proponents of the carnivore diet. I think we could say the same thing about the carnivore diet from an autoimmune standpoint if you look at like a well-structured nose-to-tail carnivore diet that eliminates a lot of common irritants such as gluten or lectins that there may be a case that could be made for that as a way to help heal the body in the same way that ketosis might.
But then there are others who will take this to the next level like a recent guest of mine, Dr. Paul Saladino, has argued that not only is a properly structured nose-to-tail carnivore diet excellent for managing autoimmune conditions, and because he’s trained in psychiatry, many mental gut-brain issues. But he goes on to argue that hormetic plant stressors are actually damaging to the body, and in the presence of other autophagy mechanisms, like fasting or cold, or heat, or exercise, for example, probably not even necessary in the diet at all, and that plants are a survival food that we adapted over time because we might have had a lack of access to things like fish and meat.
Now, you’ve studied a lot of indigenous cultures and their consumption of plants, and also some of the things we find in plants in general. I’d love to delve into your thoughts on whether a nose-to-tail carnivore diet is like the ultimate human diet, or whether a case should be made for plants.
Arthur: Well again, I often return to our biological norms. And I think it’s important for people to realize that there’s no group in the world again ever who were living as hunter-gatherers or herder gatherers or forager-horticulturalists, who were strictly carnivorous, or for that matter, strictly vegetarian. But we do know groups that consumed as much as 99% of their calories as animal foods, and those are far northern cultures in this case. But I think we also need to recognize that they did this because they were in an extreme environment that didn’t offer much in the way of plant foods except during a short window of time.
And then when we look at that short window of time that far northern cultures found themselves in, they gathered plant foods in immense numbers when they were available. The Iñupiat, for example, would gather a relative of our raspberry called cloudberry. And they would fill every single container that they possibly could even storing it in seal oil. And it was really interesting, a study was done looking at what their calorie consumption plant foods, and then what they got out of that. One percent of their calories came from plant foods, but 50% of their yearly vitamin C came from those plant foods. Vitamin C is really important to our dental health. It’s a water-soluble antioxidant. I mean, it has so many uses. We can’t even heal tissue without it.
And yet, these people who were out of necessity consuming these animal foods were still seeking shoots, and greens, and berries whenever they were available. So, I want to restate this again, Ben, that when it comes to a therapeutic diet, I think that it is completely acceptable for us to deviate from what our recent ancestor may have been because that may be what’s required for us to heal this. And man, anything that we can do from diet that allows us to leave that biotech drug-induced–I don’t even know what word to refer to this. But the drugs are not a therapy. They just manage symptoms and diet can be an actual therapy that allows us to live this free life, where we’re not connected to the pharmacies and that sovereignty is really wonderful to be free of that.
But when it comes to a healthy individual, man, you are missing out on a lot of things, and I wonder if even a nose-to-tail carnivore diet really can be promulgated by someone who doesn’t fully understand what value plants have at protecting us from a host of things, which includes the sun’s rays, which includes the toxins that we breathe in the air. These are chelators that help deal with heavy metals. I mean, you name it. We get so much from the plant kingdom. I really wonder if this is the appropriate diet for a healthy individual that doesn’t have therapeutic needs, if that all makes sense.
Ben: Yeah, it does. And in Chapter 9, you actually get into this concept of phytochemical hormesis, not only talking about some of these compounds may help to protect against UVA and UVB radiation, also something which you’re exploring in an article we’re going to release next week on my website that you’ve written about the interplay between sun exposure and plant intake, specifically zenohormetic compounds from plants. But in Chapter 9, you actually discussed some I think pretty relevant examples of phytochemical hormesis that I’d love to hear you get into a little bit, like some of these things like chalcones or PITC compounds.
Arthur: Yeah. These are all things that we ultimately pick up in our diet. And for people, I’m sure your audience is aware of hormesis where we take on an activity, or we ingest the substance in a small amount, in a non-harmful amount, but it ends up being very beneficial to us because it either upregulates various processes, or it helps us become stronger, gain endurance, whatever the case may be when we’re talking about activity. There’s a huge amount of research,–or excuse me, a huge amount of opinions, I should say, around some of the compounds that are found in the mustard family. And the phenylethyl isothiocyanate that you’re talking about, the PITC, is a phytochemical that we pick up in the mustard family when we eat certain things like watercress greens, which can be found in local farmer’s markets in some health food stores, and of course, in the wild.
These are meant to be deterrence to herbivores, so they are stored in various forms that become converted to this defense compound when the tissue is damaged such as when we pick the plant and when we began eating it. But it turns out that these chemicals have all of these wonderful things that they do in our body. They can protect us from cancer. They function as anti-inflammatories. They can benefit various organ systems, and so on through our body. So, the thing is when we consume these various compounds in small amounts, I’m not talking about overwhelming the body system, but to take them in in these small amounts, we end up seeing tremendous benefit from them.
You mentioned the chalcones before that we find in certain members of the celery family, for example, and they ultimately have anti-inflammatory action because they’re able to regulate our immune system. And this is a wonderful thing because obviously, we’re dealing with a lot of things in our life right now particularly our diet that are promoting systemic inflammation. And so anything that helps to reverse this in our diet can be, obviously, of great value to us.
Ben: Yeah. I can’t necessarily say that I can conclusively prove that these plant-based chemicals are necessary or unnecessary as someone like Dr. Saladino would argue. But I do think that a lot of the research on things like curcumin or sulforaphane being toxic to cells in excess amounts might be based on research that is more of in vitro based research that doesn’t incorporate a wide variety of whole plant food compounds and in in vivo setting in the human body, but may even reflect isolated dosages of those compounds that are very high. And of course, as I discussed in my interview about the book, “Nourishment” with author, Frank–I forget the guy that wrote that book. But it’s about animal’s self-selection of plants, and how animals will indeed eat to a certain extent some of the newer shoots of the new plants, and some of the more bitter, and alkaloid-containing foods, and then eventually stop and cut themselves off at a certain point where they might actually cause harm.
And indeed when you actually give those animals in research setting, anti-nausea medications, they will sometimes consume those type of bitters and plants in excess to the point where they are producing toxicity because they don’t have that built-in nausea mechanism that might keep them from excess consumption of those plants. So, I have a hunch that phytochemical hormesis is something that in moderation, especially from a wide variety of plant matter, is helpful, and that’s actually something you tackle in your book is this importance of variety. And as a matter of fact, I forget where it’s at, but perhaps you could compare and contrast this for us the actual range of plants, the actual species of plants that we currently consume to what our ancestors might have eaten.
Arthur: Yeah. This is a stark contrast to what we eat today. And I feel you’ve touched on a few different things that are super important to reiterate. You talked about how animals would consume plants and then shut themselves off, which naturally happens when you’re eating from the wild because those plants have a seasonality. They appear. They’re there at an edible state for a short period of time and frequently gone. There are very few plants that are available for us to eat year-round in the wild, and so there’s this natural protective mechanism.
Not to mention a number of wild plants that have been examined for their medicinal values, they show that they have essentially competing compounds. They may have hypotensive and hypertensive compounds both found in the same plant. Yet, depending on the state of the person, certain suites of compounds win out and end up exerting a beneficial action. So, it’s really complicated, and I obviously agree with the hunch that you stated. But the dietary diversity piece is super important.
We see that in the American diet, there’s an off stated figure that the average number of plants that are consumed a year is about 30. And I’m not talking about necessarily all the spices that would be ingested, but those foods that we would sit down and eat a serving of, and 30 sounds so low because there is such apparent diversity available in the supermarket. But of course, as you and others may well know, many of the different foods that we buy in the supermarket are actually just one species. And one of the best examples that I frequently use, if we look at Brussel sprouts and cauliflower, and collard greens, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, this is all one species, Brassica oleracea.
And we don’t pick up new and diverse phytochemicals by consuming these six different cultivated forms of the species. There are other ones, black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, pinto–see if I can remember them all–wax beans and green beans, if I didn’t say that one yet. All of those are one species, Phaseolus vulgaris. So, again, we’re not getting any diversity in our diet when we eat all of these different things.
We compare and contrast this against hunter-gatherer diets. And it starts with looking at say the Iñupiat in the far northwestern part of North America living in a polar climate with an incredibly short growing season, and they were documented to consume 40 plant foods, 40 different plant foods that they would eat over the course of a year. They actually beat out the average American. If we start looking at places where the diversity is a bit more, say the Southeastern U.S., we look at First Nations people, they’re consuming over 100 species of plants in a year. And we see numbers topping out at around 168. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than that consumed as purely as foods, though we’d have to also include in this all of the medicines that would get ingested from plants because that’s just additional phytochemical diversity that these people would be exposed to.
Ben: Right. And granted, I know there are many people, especially folks who live in relative food oases like L.A., who might actually get 70 species from the supplements that they’re buying at Erewhon, for example, and maybe we are getting the modern equivalent of some of these things just from encapsulated supplements. But at the same time, it’s shocking how many different plant species that these folks ate compared to what we might find in the produce section of the average grocery store. And furthermore, wasn’t the nutrient composition different? I think you used the example of vitamin C in modern produce compared to wild plants. But how can we compare the actual micronutrient or vitamin in these wild plants to our modern produce?
Arthur: It’s substantially less in some cases. There is a growing body of research, and I’m aware of maybe 20 different scientific papers now that have compared apples to apples, oranges to oranges. And what I mean by that is they looked at leafy wild greens and compared them to cultivated leafy greens, or they looked at juicy berry-like fruits that were wild and compared them to similar cultivated species. And in all of these studies, the wild plants on average come out ahead, and sometimes there are stark differences in not only the mineral content, especially, but in the vitamin content as you mentioned. And we’re talking sometimes 50, 100 times more of these micronutrients in the wild plants compared to the species that we think are richly endowed with these micronutrients in the cultivated plants.
One of the things that we’re dealing with is, for example, when we make big juicy berries, we’re decreasing the amount of skin that we get per unit mass because small berries have more skin per unit mass. And when most of the antioxidant compounds are found in the skin, we’re just ending up getting less of these beneficial phytochemicals. But when it comes to just straight-up micronutrients like minerals, it doesn’t matter how rich the soil is when a plant is designed to produce abundant fruits. There’s what’s called a dilution effect, such that the individual fruits end up with lower mineral content than would be found in wild plants. And these traits of cultivated species that we run into are just hampering us from reaching those nutritional levels without really extensive supplementation.
But of course, that has its own drawbacks because it’s again something that is new, what is it like to take dried powdered forms or isolated forms. We’re very fortunate, Ben. We add almost 75 species a year to our diet in wild plants here. There are many others that we know to be edible, but their taste or their textures, or their availability, and they’re scarce on the landscape, there are about 75 species here in Maine that we find wonderful to bring to the table, and that piles on top of some of the farmer’s market and supermarket produce that we get. We’re blessed to be in a rural landscape to be able to add that diversity in its food form, in the form that I think people are best served eating food when they can.
Ben: Now, for people who might still need to wrap their head around this concept of wild versus cultivated, if one were to say you have access to a backyard or a patio garden, and let’s say went to Mountain Rose Herbs or Amazon, or a local seed store, and purchased seeds and planted their own garden, would that garden by definition be considered a garden of wild plants or non-cultivated plants, or do we need to get a little bit more precise in terms of our definition of what a wild versus a cultivated species would be?
Arthur: We do because there is a difference in the genetics of most cultivated species that we might rely on as food. Our spice plants and our medicine plants that we grow in our gardens, those are different. And this is why they’re so important to us because we didn’t want to mess with their phytochemistry. We wanted to keep it intact because we saw its value, whether we’re talking about mints and onions, and garlic, and various spices. You mentioned turmeric, and one of the compounds that have been extracted from that. These are plants we didn’t tamper with very much. But lettuce is this great example of something we tampered with. The wild forms are bitter. And despite all the values that bitter have to our digestion and our fat digestion especially and all of the things that those bitter compounds did in the wild lettuce, they’re gone from the modern cultivated forms.
Now, that all said, there is also an important distinction to make between organic and conventionally raised produce. In our house, we refer to the conventional as sprayed. And that’s an idea that my five-year-old daughter understands well now. Now, I’m not even talking about the chemical residues on the plants or in the tissues themselves. I’m talking about what the plants create for phytochemistry that we eat. When we tend plants, they experience less stress. As a result, they don’t have to protect themselves from insect herbivores, for example. And so they don’t upregulate the production of defensive chemicals, these things that benefit us. And so conventionally raised produce that is highly tended is less healthy to us than is organically raised produce because even though we tend it to a degree by weeding and watering, and we’ve altered its genetics, we’re still letting that organically raised produce fend for itself more than sprayed produce. And it has an immense value to us just in that fact.
Ben: Yeah. You even talk about, for example, like grape seeds or grapes that have not had, I guess, grapes that haven’t been bred to be seedless, which is the majority of the grapes we find these days. And in the entire treasure trove of nutrition and medicine that you could find in the actual bitter grape seed versus these modern domesticated versions of grapes.
Another example would be–my children and I were riding bikes. We were somewhere in the trail of the quarter lanes riding bikes a few months ago and rode past some apple trees out by Harrison, Idaho. And these are wild apple trees. We stopped and we picked a few. And I bit into the apple, and it was very bitter, not sugary at all, a little bit hard, and far different than the luscious, sugary, unstressed Pink Lady apple that you’d find in the produce section of the grocery store, yet much more dense in terms of phytochemicals and nutrients, and minerals, and also something I’d be far less likely to consume excess fructose from.
Arthur: Yes, because there are some of these compounds that you’re mentioning in there, and just the way it is set up. I mean, we also know that wild foods give us much more fiber per unit mass. I’m talking about wild plant foods much more fiber per unit mass than we would find in our cultivated squashes and berries, and things of that nature including apples, oranges, and so on. There’s a lot of stuff that we miss out on. We alter our ancestral ratios of various food components when we miss out on some of these wild foods, which is one of the reasons that I’m a big proponent of these things that I’ve never seen anybody name it, so I created this name called minimally modified plant foods.
While I recognize that the blueberries we eat, the raspberries we eat, the blackberries we eat, all of these kinds of foods that come from cultivated groves of plants, they’re genetically altered through breeding to be a little bigger, a little sweeter. But yet, they still look almost exactly like the wild forms. It’s very different if we were to look at lettuce and bananas, eggplant, and other things, and for that matter corn, where the wild progenitor you would never recognize as being any relation to what we would find in the supermarket. And by and large, when we eat these minimally modified foods, we’re eating closer to the wild, and we derive a lot of benefit from doing that.
Ben: Where would grains fit in? Because obviously, those are vilified quite a bit, especially amongst proponents of the paleo diet or the very low carb crowds or, of course, other diets we’ve alluded to already like the carnivore diet. I know that there’s evidence of grain consumption pretty far back in the evolution of Homo sapiens, or in our ancestry, things like sorghum or perhaps millet or some of these other grasses and gluten-containing grains. But where would you say that grains would fit into a modern context?
Arthur: I tend to ground all modern health food statements and wellness statements in our biological norms, in our evolutionary history as you well know now. And when people say grains are bad for us because they lead to chronic disease, I look to hunter-gatherers who consumed grains where possible because grains, collectible and storable grains, didn’t necessarily grow on every landscape. But there are cultures we know who consume them. And they consume them as a large part of their calories, and yet they still experience none of the manifestations of chronic disease that we see people dealing with and are very much grain-based societies.
So, the question can’t be our grain is bad. It really has to become more nuanced in what is making the grains that we consume today bad for us, or some other version of that kind of a question. Because like you said, grain consumption goes back a long way. The earliest evidence I’m aware of is 105,000 years. And as you said, it was a species of sorghum that was being confused, excuse me, consumed. We know that there are stone ovens that were used for baking grains that date back 30,000 years ago. I mean, this is not a new food.
And I think you alluded to, there are some antinutrients–glutens, lectins, and other things that people rightly point out can be harmful to us when we’re eating a heavy grain-based diet. But of course, the traditional peoples who consume these, processed these grains through soaking, sprouting, and especially fermenting to eliminate and reduce these concentrations so that they maximize the nutrition from the grains. Gluten is a big one. I think it’s a very important topic in this. But of course, there are all kinds of grains that have absolutely no gluten in them. That gluten is a particular protein that is confined to one particular tribe of grasses, where wheat and spelt, einkorn, barley, rye, that group that it’s called scientifically the triticeae are the gluten-containing ones. But there are all kinds of species that have no gluten in them, whatsoever.
I mean, oats are a well-known example. Rice is an example. Millet, teff, goosegrass, these are all species that lack gluten. The reality and sort of what I try to tell people is instead of just saying that grains are bad and we shouldn’t eat them, maybe the message is a bit more nuanced is that we should diversify our diet instead of just eating grains. We should make sure that we properly prepare the grains so that we don’t experience the ill effects. And we should also make sure that we’re choosing the right kinds of grains because the nutrient density really varies amongst grains. Wild rice, there are two species that are eaten that’s native to this continent. I have not seen any grain in the world that matches up to the nutrition of this.
In “A New Path,” I have a little graph where I compare a species of wild rice that again is eaten on this continent and grass-fed beef. And of course I’m only looking at a handful of the minerals and nutrients, but just to show that this is not a nutrient-poor food, that as a small part of a highly diverse diet, grains fit in for healthy people. There may be really good reasons to avoid them for some, but I don’t think that means that all people should be avoiding grains because we knew people consume them and experience no chronic disease.
Ben: Well, I think too, part of this as context and returns back to what we were discussing in the beginning, humans living in a modern setting of captivity and altered social hierarchies, and an altered diet, the shifts towards agriculture in terms of growing large amounts of grain to feed large amounts of people, who are typically compressed into small areas–as I believe, it’s Jared Diamond who gets into this in either “Guns, Germs, and Steel” or his book, “Collapse.” I forget which one, but I read it some time ago–definitely, contribute to a certain extent to chronic disease, and some of the other things that we might see when humans are no longer migrating and are all compressed into one small living area based around fields of grain.
I haven’t thought about this when I was in Switzerland last week because I was living deep up in the Swiss Alps. And it’s a wonderful retreat far away from any city. And I was having bread every day that was handmade there from a variety of different seeds and nuts and flowers that they were producing and gathering themselves. And it didn’t feel at all as though I was in this modern agricultural setting, and yet, it could’ve easily forayed down 40k into a large city and had to fight traffic, and pollution, and close quarters, and airborne pollutants, and in large amounts of people, and the potential for disease all gathered around far larger amounts of grains available for pizza and bread and restaurants, et cetera.
And I think in some ways, context is important. It’s the same thing at our house. My wife gets these small organic non-GMO red wheat berries and makes a lovely dough for loaf of slow-fermented sourdough bread each week. And there is no glyphosate, and there are no huge amounts of population gathered around fields of grain up here in our forest in Washington State. It’s just a small batch of homemade bread that were gathered around at the dinner table. And so I think in a large societal context, this type of stuff is important to think about with regards to that as well.
Arthur: I couldn’t agree more, and I really like the way you framed that. It reminds me of one of my criticisms of the China study that looked at people from urban settings and people from rural settings and found that in that country, the people in the rural setting were consuming a farm or plant matter, which was partly based on income and their ability to either raise or purchase animal foods. But they had far less terrible health outcomes than the people who were consuming a higher proportion of animal foods in the urban setting.
And so as immediately, the conclusion was left to that plant foods are what we should really be consuming all the time, but there was no control. And what I mean by that is there was no control for the pollution that people were experiencing in the urban setting. And we know this to be a really important factor for human health, and we also know that China has some of the most polluted air in its urban centers in the world. And what may have just been happening is the diet that people were consuming in the urban areas simply was not protective against the pollution, and the kinds of animal foods caged-reared, grain-fed which is not those animals’ biological norms either. It was simply not protective against these affronts, if you will, that were being experienced by the people and their food animals.
Ben: Obviously, food and fitness, as we’ve discussed, is part of the scenario of rewilding yourselves, but are we rewilding ourselves? In the book though, you discussed a whole host of ancestral skills that you think fully rewilded modern humans should have. You go into the development of medicine by being able to harvest your own foods and gain the knowledge of the different phytotherapies and myotherapies from fungi, and even altered states that we can derive from entheogens, and the different things that we can find in nature from medicine. You get into the creation of bone and antler tools, and how to harvest the bark and understand which forms of bark would be beneficial, and the different types of shelters that one can create, the different types of fibers from plants that can be used for construction and clothing. You get into woodworking and in fire creating, and moving in nature, and personal hygiene and nature, and nature observation.
This is a lot of stuff. And I guess, from a big picture standpoint, if people are listening in and they just need to know where to start in terms of becoming a more self-sufficient rewilded human, are there schools, are there online resources, are there places you would direct people to begin to, over the course of the next few years of their life, not necessarily turn themselves into zombie apocalypse preppers, but be able to just begin to learn some of these more primitive ways of living?
Arthur: Yeah. It’s such a big topic. I mean, we know that in hunter-gatherer cultures that men would reach their peak level of hunting efficiency by age 40. So, let’s think about what that means. Somebody who’s acquiring all of their food through hunting and gathering their entire life is still learning and getting better, which means that those of us who live in a modern society have little hope of ever actually achieving this hunter-gatherer lifestyle. So, let’s not even establish it as a goal. Let’s instead look at it as a road that we’re going to walk on, and hunting and gathering is way at one end, and we’re just going to progress along this road. And the journey is about the progression, not about the end goal. We just want to go further.
And for me, the entire goal is sovereignty, to lose our dependence on industrial society. And every single tiny place that we can do that, I don’t care if it comes from harvesting plants for just one meal of the year at the beginning, or carving a spoon or a bowl that you use, or making some string that you tie something together from plant fibers, it’s all really beneficial to us because it gives us this feeling of this is what it would be like to have a complete set of skills that allowed me to live if the landscapes were intact.
I always like to suggest to people, Ben, that they begin with their health. The very first thing that we need to do is you need to recover your health. Without your health, you’re tied to industrial society. You have to recover that first, and that comes from diet, movement, and other lifestyle features that might include exposures to toxic things that you need to eliminate from your homes, from your diet, from your workplace. You’ve got to recover your health. After that, just walk along this path and start learning things, and don’t ever worry about how much or how little you know.
Of course, there are lots of schools that people can go to. And primitive living schools are cropping up all over the place. I tend to stay away from the prepper ones because I’m not really interested in this zombie apocalypse scenario despite the fact I recognize that maybe it’s going to go down that way.
Ben: It’s a different approach from you too though. That’s more like Campbell Soup and using bitcoins to buy AK-47s, whereas I think your approach is a little bit different than that.
Arthur: I just want to incorporate some of our ancestral skills as many as I can, but some of them into my life. And I start with our approach, my wife and I, our approach is this. If we were completely dependent on industrial society, what do we go there the most for? And I think the obvious thing would be food. We have to go to industrial society three times a day or whatever that frequency would be for food. So, that’s a huge focus of ours, to get wild food and to get conscientiously raised foods whether that be animals or plants from the local farmers, where we’re avoiding animals raised in terrible conditions, plants that are sprayed with ad infinitum of chemicals. That’s our first vet.
Do we need medicines? Well, that’s our next thing to learn. What about our clothing? We need to go back to industry for new clothes when they wear out. So, that’s up on the list. It’s not where food is, but it’s up on that list. Shelters, I live in a home. It’s going to last a century, while we know how to build shelters, and we love sleeping in such things. It’s just such a cool feeling. It’s much lower on my list because I don’t have to get back to industry all the time for a new home. So, we’ve set up our life to look at what do we need this crazy society for the most, and let’s free ourselves from those needs first. And I use that as a checklist to decide which skills I’m going to work on the most.
Ben: Yeah. I am making it just a long-term process with my children. Meaning, that they’ve been going to an annual wilderness survival school for about five days every year since they were six. We have used Google, which is quite handy to hunt down local survival schools, local primitive learning opportunities, local plant foraging meetups, as well as just field guides to interact with our 10 acres here in the forest, as well as to take classes locally. We have all purchased bows and learned to bow hunt, and learned to butcher, and learned to field-dress and to prepare that meat, learned how to prepare many of these plants, and even to inhibit some of the built-in plant defense mechanisms that might be harmful if consumed in excess, like slow fermenting the sourdough bread or, for example, soaking and rinsing, and sprouting the quinoa that we have.
And so, we’re learning these things gradually. But for those of you who feel like this is all very intimidating, take heart. I grew up on iceberg lettuce and Newman’s ranch dressing, and take and bake pizza, and was raised by a dad from Miami and a mom from Detroit and learned almost nothing about primitive survival skills, and ancestral living, and hunting, and proper food preparation. And it’s been a journey for me over this past about eight years or so as I began to delve into this side of living.
And fortunately, by me starting when I’ve started my children. We’re able to start at a much earlier age, and we can all affect change no matter what stage of life that we start at. And hopefully, in doing so, also affect even greater change for the generations that come after us. I think that your book, Arthur, and for all those of you listening in, is a wonderful place to wrap your head around this and start with a really good guide to what Arthur calls this new path.
So, we have only scratched the surface on today’s show. I wish we had more time. We don’t. But we’ve only scratched the surface of what Arthur gets into in his book, and also on his website, and of course all the other resources that I’ll put into the show notes for you over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/anewpath. And you can also leave your questions or your comments, or your feedback over there for Arthur or myself, and I’ll try and jump in there and reply.
But in the meantime, Arthur, you’re a wealth of information. So, first of all, thank you for what you do, and thank you for coming on the show.
Arthur: I really appreciate you inviting me to participate, and I just like to reiterate this idea that part of our lives, our child, excuse me, our childhoods, and maybe even some of our young adult lives may have been wrapped up in this very unhealthy way to live, but don’t be overwhelmed. The more we learn, the faster our children can incorporate this information, so that they learn these hacks to be able to live in a much more healthy way, a much more productive way in terms of where their energies go. They don’t have to be worrying at such an early age maybe about health issues that they might start to deal with. I just think that’s a really good thing that you brought up, and I’m happy to hear that you’re doing that with your children. I would give anything to have the diet when I was a child that my daughter is receiving.
Ben: Oh, my gosh. I think about that all the time. I’m like, “How much healthier will my gut be now?”
Arthur: Exactly. So, I hope reader–your listeners, excuse me, really take to heart what you said that this isn’t just about them, but it’s also what they can do for the next generation.
Ben: Yeah. Well, that all being said, again, folks go to BenGreenFieldfitness.com/anewpath. Check out Arthur’s YouTube channel, his book, and all his other resources, which I’ll also link to in the show notes. And Arthur, once again, thanks for coming on, man.
Arthur: Thank you very much.
Ben: Alright, folks, I’m Ben Greenfield along with Arthur Haines signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have an amazing week.
Well, thanks for listening to today’s show. You can grab all the shownotes, the resources, pretty much everything that I mentioned over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com, along with plenty of other goodies from me, including the highly helpful “Ben Recommends” page, which is a list of pretty much everything that I’ve ever recommended for hormone, sleep, digestion, fat loss, performance, and plenty more. Please, also, know that all the links, all the promo codes, that I mentioned during this and every episode, helped to make this podcast happen and to generate income that enables me to keep bringing you this content every single week. When you listen in, be sure to use the links in the shownotes, use the promo codes that I generate, because that helps to float this thing and keep it coming to you each and every week.
When it comes to diet, water, medicine, awareness, nature immersion, movement, hormesis, community, and ancestral technologies, not many folks know quite as much as my guest on today’s show: Arthur Haines.
Arthur is a Maine hunting and recreation guide, forager, ancestral skills mentor, author, public speaker, and botanical researcher. He grew up in the western mountains of Maine, a rural area that was home to swift streams known for their trout fishing. He spent most of his childhood in the Sandy River Valley hiking, tracking, and foraging. Arthur now runs the Delta Institute of Natural History in Canton, Maine, where he teaches human ecology, focusing on the values of foraging, wildcrafting medicine, and primitive living skills. His series of YouTube videos have inspired thousands of people interested in foraging wild edible and medicinal plants.
Arthur recently authored a very big book that I thoroughly enjoyed, entitled “A New Path: To Transcend the Great Forgetting Through Incorporating Ancestral Practices into Contemporary Living.” This guide is a comprehensive work on nature connection and rewilding, detailing how to incorporate ancestral practices into modern living.
During our discussion, you’ll discover:
-The criteria by which humans have become “domesticated”…7:38
- Altered temperament — milder than in the natural state
- Cows originated from aurochs (now extinct), which were very fierce
- Altered social hierarchy (establish that humans are in authority)
- Our ancestors lived a more egalitarian lifestyle than we do today
- Altered diet
- Diet today is far different, oftentimes poorer in quality
- The ability to breed in captivity
- Humans consider pregnancy/giving birth to be an ailment
- 99% are institutionalized; take moms out of their most comfortable habitat
- Arthur maintains that humans display all of the above traits of domesticated animals
-How fit were our hunter-gatherer ancestors…14:00
- Very active lifestyle out of necessity, depending on resource density
- Micmac people(still exist in N. America) estimated to travel over a million acre home range over the course of a year
- What we travel on foot today is a fraction of that
- 10k steps a day would be close to the average of hunter-gatherers (5-10 miles per day)
- Arthur does not engage in any type of self-quantification
- Draw weight of bows among our ancestors:
- The more energy required to bend the bow, the more energy can be imparted to the arrow
- Most bows today are ~50 lb. draw
- Bows of hunter-gatherers were much higher; ~70 lb.
- The highest recorded were over 130 lbs.
-The calorie consumption and burn of our ancestors, contrasted with the modern office worker…23:40
- Recent studies have conflicting results; some say it’s the same, others say it’s far less today
- Humans tend to be bigger today than in ancestral times; results in more calorie expenditure
- Hunter-gatherers spent far more calories moving
- Calorie expenditure today due to complexity of the food
- Diversity of movement in ancestral times is lost in the modern gym or fitness center
-Arthur’s personal fitness or movement routine…29:40
- Lots of walking; humans are meant to walk with episodes of running
- Paddling or carrying canoes
- Grains are milled by hand
- “Active lifestyle with bouts of athleticism”
- Brazilian jiu-jitsu 1-2 times per week
- High-intensity Repetitive Training, HIRT (was mentioned in Q&A 398)
- Moving a killed animal over terrain
- “True cross fit” training can be found in everyday life, particularly in hunting
-How indigenous diets fit within the context of the modern ketogenic or carnivore diets…42:00
- Be aware of biological norms
- 97% of our time on the earth has been as hunter-gatherers
- Homo sapiens have been shown to be as old as 315,000 years
- Domesticated human diet for just a short time
- Wild plants were a huge component of their diets (~60%)
- Ancestors were not in ketosis on a regular basis
- Low carb diet is a “new” diet
- It is efficacious in treating things like epilepsy, not so much as a weight-loss strategy
-Arthur’s thoughts on the carnivore diet as a sustainable lifestyle choice…51:48
- No group of people in history have ever been pure vegetarians
- Some have eaten mostly meat due to necessity
- Plants can’t be grown due to climate/terrain, etc.
- However, they would gather plants in large quantities when available
- Large proportion of Vitamin C would come from plants
- Diet can be an actual therapy; drugs just cover the symptoms
- Plants can help us fight off the deleterious aspects of nature (sun exposure, toxins in the air, etc.)
- BGF podcast about the book “Nourishment” by Fred Provenza
- BGF podcast with Dr. Paul Saladino
-How the variety of species of plants that we currently consume compares to what our ancestors would have eaten…1:00:40
- Plants are edible for a finite amount of time in the wild; a natural protective mechanism as a result
- Hypotensive and hypertensive compounds in the same plant; certain suites of plants win out depending on the person
- Average # of plants consumed by American diet is 30,
- Many of them are only one species; ex. collards, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, are the brassica oleraceaspecies
- No real diversity in the diet
- Inupiat peoplehave been documented to ingest 40+ different plant foods; more than the average American diet
- Over 100 foods in warmer climates
-How the micronutrient or vitamin content in modern produce compares to wild plants…1:05:00
- Stark contrast between wild and cultivated
- Sometimes up to 100x more than what we find in the store
- Small berries have more skin; large berries are counterproductive
- Dilution effect: Individual fruits end up with lower mineral content than what’s found in the wild
- Are backyard gardens wild or cultivated plants?
- Difference in genetics of most cultivated species
- Lettuce has been tampered with; it’s more bitter in the wild
- Difference between organic and conventional (sprayed) produce
- When we tend plants, they don’t need to work as hard to protect themselves
- Seedless grapes don’t have nearly the same nutritional value
- More fiber in wild foods than in cultivated
- “Minimally modified plant foods” means eating closer to the wild
- What about grains?
- What is making the grains we consume today bad for us?
- Evidence of grain consumption up to 105,000 years ago
- Stone ovens that are 30,000 years old
- Diversify, properly prepare, choose the right type of grains
- Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse”
-Ancestral skills Arthur believes rewilding modern humans should have…1:22:15
- Hunter-gatherer is not a viable goal
- The entire goal is sovereignty: to lose our dependence on industrial society
- Begin with recovering your health: diet, movement, exposure to toxins, etc.
- Don’t worry about how much or how little you know
- Primitive living schools are becoming more common (avoid the prepper schools)
-And much more
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