CHURCH HILL — “It’s about balance. It’s about connections. It’s about learning to live and eat like humans again,” say the Schindlers, Bill and Christina.
The Church Hill residents and educators took their journey and shared it not only with their family, but through social media and the web to anyone who wanted to be able to share the experience of living life abroad for a year with them. Covering four continents and 13 countries, the Schindlers — along with their three children — embarked on their trip in August 2017 and returned to Maryland just before school began this past fall.
The two are self-described opposites. Christina formerly oversaw instructional technology at Queen Anne’s County Public Schools and now works for Caroline County, and Bill is an archaeologist-chef and expert in primitive technology at Washington College in Chestertown.
They quip, “she can build a website, but he can knap a stone tool.” Blending those opposite ends of the technology spectrum make for amusing conversations over fermented home cooked meals, say the couple, but there is no denying they are both aligned to finding a healthy balance in this modern world.
Dubbed The Modern Stone Age Family by a news article in the London Times, the name quickly took hold. Although, their travels and interest would soon gain notoriety, when Christina first began depicting the family’s adventures on Instagram she said, “We are far from perfect. If anything, The Modern Stone Age Family is a way to show how much we need to learn. By visiting different countries and learning from different cultures, we can develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and truly how to live again — not just be alive. This journey is about finding out how our family operates, how we can improve to be our best selves possible and how we can support one another along this journey.”
Their year abroad, living just outside of Dublin city center in Airfield Estate, a 38-acre farm, came at a time that was fitting for both of their careers. Bill was on a sabbatical from Washington College to conduct research and to write, while Christina was able to take a leave of absence. That didn’t mean though that they were granted a year’s vacation, said Christina, they would continue to travel and work across Europe and Asia, and visited Thailand, Germany, Italy, Sicily, Slovakia, Greece, Crete, and in Africa, Kenya and South Africa to name a few of the 17 countries they visited. The children‚ Brianna, Billy, and Alyssa, in high school, middle school, and elementary respectively — were enrolled in school while the family used Ireland for their European home base as an opportunity, Schindler said, that allowed them to become very involved in the community, forging relationships with parents and other students along with colleagues.
No stranger to bringing his concept of living and eating like our earliest ancestors, three years ago Bill co-starred in National Geographic’s television series, The Great Human Race. The year in Ireland was in many ways an extension of the National Geographic experience and was a powerful research collaboration bridging two academic institutions — Washington College in Chestertown and University College Dublin in Ireland — with Odaios Foods, a cutting edge food-service provider in Ireland to form an innovative Food Evolutions project. The project fuses anthropological knowledge, food and farming sciences, culinary arts, and experimental archaeological evidence to encourage leadership, innovation, and change in modern food habits and culinary practices; and to educate the public to take control of their food and eat like humans again. The Food Evolutions project helped to lay much of the foundation on which Bill’s newest project, The Eastern Shore Food Lab at Washington College, is built.
Learning to cook from scratch is an important part of their family dynamic, says Christina, whether making homemade pasta, cooking fresh venison or baking a birthday cake, all three kids are hands on with their food and diet, and take an avid interest in their father’s work.
Spending a year together brought the family closer and allowed the couple not only to have quality time with each other, but also created new relationships with their children. Away from the constant flurry of their American lifestyle and friendships, Christina said, it allowed them to have more individual time with each child, to get to know them as individuals and deepen those relationships.
All the children have become excellent cooks, she added, noting her son’s quick meal of risotto created one night before soccer practice. He blended in a cheddar that was surprisingly delicious, she said, and their daughters have honed their baking skills and consistently fill the house with sweet things.
Dublin also offered a very safe environment, she said, the children could safely travel by public transportation into the city and frequently did. Healthcare was also surprisingly affordable, she noted, as well as travel among the British Isles and within the continent.
With Christina’s background in technology being so diverse from Bill’s career, she shared her thoughts on both the pros and cons of technology in modern life. As a mother, Christina often has the role of maintaining schedules, travel arrangements, and keeping in touch with the kids — and technology certainly plays a helpful role in that, she said.
It isn’t unusual, she said, now that as a family we are all together sitting in the same room to binge watch a show physically touching, but also individually and engrossed in our separate phones or screens. Remember being on the phone in the kitchen, she said, knowing that your parents or siblings could overhear every conversation you were having? The difference now, if we aren’t aware, our children could be communicating with practically anyone.
She also laughed at that awkwardness when encountering someone in a public place feeling like you are intimate with them because they have played out there lives on social media — including what they had for dinner last night and you haven’t seen them face-to-face in over a year. There is definitely the fear of creating a false reality through social media and use of technology, she said.
However, being connected more has its benefits. Christina said that during their year abroad Bill was able — via Skype and email — to complete plans for the Eastern Shore Food Lab that would be nearing completion on their return. And just recently, she and Bill were asked to present at an archaeology conference — his presentation on ancestral diets was followed by hers on using using social media to share research, it was more well received than she would have anticipated, she said.
Although technology has provided for more advanced communications, sharing data and information and speeding research, sometimes widespread use of information backfires, said Schindler, citing The London Mirror that took their story from the London Times and spun it laughably out of proportion.
The Mirror said, “But he doesn’t just teach others how to be a caveman, he lives like one, too.” Bill doesn’t live like a caveman, notes Christina.
“Despite wearing a homemade deer loincloth under his robes and chasing after wild beasts with his bow, Schindler and his family are not any less modern.” Bill wore a loincloth under his collegiate robes when he gave a speech after winning Washington College’s Distinguished Teaching Award. He doesn’t wear them daily nor do we chase wild beasts, she added.
Shortly after that article was released, a Kenyan newspaper spun the London Times article into one about “Professor Caveman” who lives in a cage and has “reportedly been living in a cage for nearly his entire life.” Not only is this completely false, but at that very moment we were enjoying the luxury of a Disney resort celebrating my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, so it was ridiculously ironic, she said. They both laughed over the article which came out the year before they began their trip abroad.
One year later, the family would visit Kenya and tour a cave with a cage inside. So maybe there was some truth to the “fake news” after all, joked Schindler.
The journey afforded the Schindler family the opportunity to experience how food is harvested and prepared in different parts of the world. One blog post from the beginning of their journey: “Landed in Ireland with the family only 4 days ago and now we are in Belderrig, Northern County Mayo cooking with Michelin Star Chef, Kevin Thornton!
“From our vantage point on the hill while we cook we can literally see the waters from which they came and the harbor where the very fishermen that caught them come in. It’s all here — the food, the knowledge, the context ... It is a magical way to begin our journey in Ireland.”
Another day saw the family discovering place-based, hands-on learning about the first farmers in Ireland with Seamus Caulfield, emeritus professor of UCD School of Archaeology. Seamus, his son Declan and his grandson Fionnán spent spent several days teaching us about the prehistory of the area by giving us guided tours of the geology of the area, the prehistoric fields, the Mesolithic site, the archaeology lab and research center in Belderrig, said Christina.
Tracing the history of food and its preparations is of course, Bill Schindler’s passion, “This is what my work is all about ... prehistory, terroir, nutrient dense meaningful food,” he says.
Another highlight and one of Bill’s focus points at the college — insect eating featured heavily when they visited Thailand. Schindler had lobbied for many years to be allowed to serve insect-laden foods he prepared with his students at events at Washington College and was only recently granted the privilege of actually bringing the event into the dining hall so that the campus community could experience eating insects in a context that conveyed the message that what they were eating was, in fact, real food.
“Our first full night in Bangkok we were scheduled to experience a meal at Insects in the Backyard, but, first, we had to go to the Unicorn Café! I had made a deal a few weeks earlier with my 10-year old daughter, Alyssa that if she promised to try all of the insects while we were in Thailand we would take her the one place in Thailand she wanted to go — the Unicorn Café. This café is fully focused on unicorns — the décor the food and even the Onesies you can rent and wear at the table are themed, Unicorn! Everything has rainbow swirls, glitter and usually has some sort of a ‘cone’ representing a unicorn’s horn stuck in it. She was in unicorn heaven and I had absolutely no problem making this deal because I knew it would be equally magical for her to experience traditional entomophagy with an open mind.”
From unicorns to insects — the family then got a real taste of what it is like to fuse modern cuisine with a Stone Age diet. They joined Nathan Preteseille, the coordinator of the ASEAN Food and Feed Insects Association and an innovator in insect product development inside the Chang Chui Bangkok Plane Night Market for dinner at chef Mai Thitiwat’s restaurant, Insects in the Backyard, for an incredible meal filled with several different varieties of crickets, bamboo worms, silkworm pupae, ant and ant larvae, said Bill.
Chef Mai did not attempt to “hide” the insects in the food, but instead found incredible ways to highlight their unique flavors and textures in delicious and beautiful dishes. The insects were front and center of each and every meal, but in an artistic and well-planned and executed way. It was obvious as we looked and and tried these dishes the amount of planning, execution and skill it took to create them, said Schindler.
“Visiting the food market in Thailand: The sights and odors and state of the floor were strange and sometimes off-putting to our Western senses. But, there was something beautiful and visceral about the entire thing. There was no question where the food was coming from and who grew/raised/harvested it. There was a direct connection between the producer and consumer. During each and every transaction — the producer and consumer saw one another, spoke to one another, and inadvertently touched hands when they passed payment of bags from seller to buyer. You cannot put a price tag on that, he said.”
The family then journeyed to Africa. Eating practices vary greatly from what we are accustomed to here in the U.S. says Schindler, following their trip to Kenya where drawing blood from a live animal and mixing it with raw milk is considered a sustainable and nutrient dense resource.
“When you peel back the layers and take an informed, contextual look at the consumption patterns of people all over the world what would initially seem odd takes on new meaning,” he said. “In fact, the more I learn about traditional eating practices in other parts of the world, the more I come to the realization that it is actually our own modern western diet that is strange. We label the consumption of earth as pica, a disorder, but it is perfectly ‘normal’ to consume massive quantities of nutrient-free ‘food’ that is full of sugar, chemicals, and preservatives.
“We wouldn’t consider eating ash or charcoal, but have no problem spending significant quantities of our paychecks at the health food stores on artificial supplements and medicines to supply the minerals lacking in our modern diets, control the pH of our blood, and settle our fragile upset tummies,” he said. “We consider drinking blood taboo even though it has the ability to nourish us far beyond almost anything we do eat on a regular basis. And, saving the blood and using it as a source of food from the massive quantity of animals we slaughter has not only dietary but also ethical, sustainability, and monetary implications.”
Nearly a year later and back in the states, Christina wrote to their Modern Stone Age Family followers, “We miss Ireland. A lot.”
“It’s crazy how some things will hit you out of nowhere and you realize how much you have been missing something and didn’t even know it. Today that happened for me. We were driving to go shopping to get decorations for the Eastern Shore Food Lab and Ed Sheeran’s ‘Castle on a Hill’ came on. Before I knew it, tears were welling in my eyes. No more random castles as we drive down back country roads. No more walking down our hill and hopping on the LUAS to head into Dublin for a night out. Our life (in the states) is wonderful, but totally different living (in Ireland).”
From family pizza making lessons with Chef John Nocita of the Italian Culinary Institute to the Valley of the Temples in western Sicily, and a behind the scenes tour of Google headquarters in Dublin — the Schindlers had nothing less than a whirlwind year.
She said she knew it couldn’t last forever, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t miss the trip planning and more relaxed mornings enjoying coffee with Bill.
“It was truly magical,” says Christina, “and I sincerely hope everyone can experience a fraction of what we had as a family last year. Love to you all.”
Now, the next chapter of the Schindler’s journey continues. The Eastern Shore Food Lab at Washington College recently launched — providing an incredible infrastructure from which to reconnect students and the community with their health, environment and one another through an approach that fuses a comprehensive understanding of our ancient dietary past with modern culinary techniques in very accessible, meaningful and practical ways. The book Bill was writing during his sabbatical leave is nearly complete and will be available soon, Christina said.
Over the Christmas break, the entire family is learning the 6,000-year-old process of nixtamalization first hand from traditional groups in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. Although this incredibly powerful ancient food processing technology is the only way to make available to the human body all of the nutrients in corn — it is practically absent in the modern western world.
And, of course, they have plans to return to Ireland in January for a brief reunion with their new found Irish friends, and are already scheming how to stretch airline miles and get flight deals to visit their other new friends in places like Kenya, Crete and Mongolia, said Schindler.
If anything, this year abroad for the Schindlers have taught them just how culturally rich and diverse the world is and, that food is a powerful vehicle through which to experience it. Gathering, preparing, and sharing food with people from all walks of life has allowed them to not only connect with other people, but also with their health, environment, and one another in life a changing ways. And, for the Schindlers, that is what eating like humans is all about.
You can follow The Modern Stone Age Family on Instagram and Facebook @themodernstoneagefamily or via their website at www.themodernstoneagefamily.com. Follow along with Bill’s work at @drbillschindler and www.ancestralinsight.com as well as the Washington College Eastern Shore Food Lab at @esfoodlab.