Eastern Shore Food Lab

This column visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore. Perhaps unknown to many of us, these individuals have had their lives transformed by the missions of these organizations and are giving back in unique ways to better our world. Amelia Blades Steward has been a freelance writer in our community for over 15 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.

Bill Schindler, Ph.D., Director, Eastern Shore Food Lab, Associate Professor, Anthropology, Washington College, and in 2016 a co-star of National Geographic’s “The Great Human Race,” presented “Food Evolution Revolution: Anthropology and the Modern Kitchen” at the Temple B’nai Israel in Easton to a sold-out crowd. The evening, sponsored by The Aspen Institute Wye Fellows, Washington College, and Out of the Fire Restaurant in Easton, revealed just how much we care about food and putting the right foods into our bodies today.

Students learn to use every part of the animal during a nose-to-tail workshop with Dr. Bill Schindler and Chef John Nocita in the Eastern Shore Food Lab at Washington College in Chestertown.

Bill’s talk focused on the role technology played in our dietary past and how the new Eastern Shore Food Lab in downtown Chestertown can connect food, diet, health, and community – teaching us to rethink the world of food. He commented, “The way we approached food in the past built us as a species, both biologically and culturally. However, our approach to food now is destroying the planet, making us sick and killing us.” He added that today we are incredibly disconnected from our food.

The goal of the Eastern Shore Food Lab is to get us more connected to our food. The Food Lab provides interdisciplinary research, teaching, and a production laboratory that is dedicated to studying and experimenting with sustainable food systems, using the Eastern Shore food-shed as its primary context. Although developed as an educational experience for the students at Washington College, the Food Lab is serving to educate the community at large through hands-on experiential learning from how we define food to how we grow it and prepare it. He spent last year based in Ireland with his family to study the fusion of ancestral foodways and modern culinary arts with indigenous groups. This experience undoubtedly has influenced how he feels we can transform food.

He explained, “The Food Lab will address food sustainability, food access, and dietary and social health, using ancient and traditional processes to increase the safety, density, and bioavailability of nutrients with modern culinary tools in ways that make them accessible, meaningful and relevant in our modern world.”

He added, “The power of our dietary past is that we have created behaviors and techniques to process foods outside of our bodies before the food even touches our lips to make it safe, nutrient-dense and bioavailable. This has allowed us to overcome our physical limitations and has allowed us to fuel these incredibly nutrient-needy bodies and brains. Basically, we have outeaten and outgrown our digestive tract.”

To simplify how we have outgrown our digestive tract, he said we have evolved despite having small digestive tracts and small teeth, but our brains are growing in size as we have figured out ways to process food outside our bodies to overcome our physical limitations. This includes developing food processing technologies to increase food’s nutrient density and digestibility before it even touches our lips. However, our modern approach to food is a complete 180 degrees, resulting in devastating impacts to our health. In his words, “The failure of our modern food system is that it produces such nutrient-free foods that, for the first time ever in the history of the planet, we can have obesity and malnutrition in the same individual.”

He added, “In our cultural and physical environments, it’s challenging to get correctly processed foods. Modern processing is laser-focused on increasing revenue and shelf life at the expense of safety, nutrient density, and bioavailability of the food. Raw materials such as grains, dairy and animals are stripped of their most nutrient-rich parts such as the germ, fat, and offal and processed in ways that do not maximize safety of nutrient availability.”

One of the challenges the Food Lab is addressing is how we process our foods so that we can enjoy the benefits of nutrient-dense food. This includes teaching foraging, butchering and fermenting techniques. Classes to be offered this fall include:

On the Rise: Reclaiming our Approach to Baking Nutritious Bread

How to make safe, nutrient dense and bioavailable sourdough bread in your own kitchen.

On the Moove: How to Make Fermented Dairy Products in Your Own Home

Learn how to make simple fermented dairy products such as yogurts, kefir, and fermented butter.

No Ifs, Ands, or Guts: The Art of Offal

Learn how to cook with all of the nutritious non-meat parts of the animal including fat, organs and blood.

Makin’ Bacon: Exploring the Belly of the Beast

An introduction to making nutritious and delicious nitrate-free bacon.

Nix it Up: Learn the Science and Process of Maize Nixtamalization

The basics of your own tortillas entirely from scratch.

Pizza. A Scratch Approach to An Amazing Food

Make pizza 100% from scratch in a wood-fired oven – you never knew pizza could be so nutritious.

Stretched Curds: Introduction to Pasta Filata Cheeses

How to make real mozzarella and ricotta cheese.

Rotten Potatoes: An Introduction to Lacto-Fermented Vegetables

Learn the basics of how to produce lacto-fermented vegetables and the magic formula that will empower to you ferment almost any vegetable on the planet.

Beak to Bottom: Make the Most of Your Hunted Quarry

Learn a nose-to-tail approach butchering and cooking wild game.

Chicken Scratch: Diggin’ Up Ways to Make Use of Our Favorite Poultry

From butchering to bone broth – learn the basics of making the most of an entire chicken.

“Through the Food Lab, people will have access to nutrient-dense food and, most importantly, the knowledge and know-how to access and create it themselves. We need to shift the paradigm and connect people to their food so that it empowers them. We will enable people to take charge of their health through food,” Bill concluded.

By 2020, the Eastern Shore Food Lab hopes to serve the public as a Community Supported Kitchen (CSK), providing ready-to-eat nutrient dense and bioavailable food products that may include bone broth, butter, cheese, cured meats, dried fruits, fruit leather, fermented vegetables, kefir, kombucha, pizza dough, prepped vegetables, salami, sandwich loaf, sourdough bread, sprouted grains/nuts, tortillas, wild greens, wild teas, and yogurt. Operating like Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), the Food Lab will enable customers to walk away with the basics for nutrient-dense meals for the week.

The Eastern Shore Food Lab is offering donor opportunities for inaugural stakeholders who want to show their commitment to this innovative proving ground for smart nutrition, agriculture, and environmental resilience. For further information, contact Fanny Hobba Shenk at Washington College at 410-810-5764.

For further information on the class/workshop offerings at the Eastern Shore Food Lab, visit https://www.washcoll.edu/departments/eastern-shore-food-lab/workshops/ or visit “ESfoodlab” at Facebook.

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