Why I Wrote The Ancestral Table

With early copies of The Ancestral Table making their way into the hands of media and reviewers this week and next, I’ve been getting a little reflective lately. More than once during some recent marathon email sessions, I’ve had to remind myself of why I wrote this book in the first place (hint: it wasn’t to get more emails). After sitting down to think about it more than a few times, I thought you might be interested to hear why I wrote my cookbook.

2010 vs. 2011

1. To help you on your journey to better health.

My own path to healthy eating was quite the adventure, filled with nasty stuff like strokes, autoimmune diseases, and open-heart surgeries (full story here). I hope that people who have traveled a similar medical path will find relief by cooking through my book. At the same time, I hope that perfectly healthy folks will be able to prevent adverse health events through my recipes!

The simple fact is that while it didn’t totally cure me, changing the way I ate had an immediate, profound impact on my life and I feel that mine is a story worth sharing.

Moreover, it appears that obesity and health issues related to diet aren’t going away any time soon. I hope to contribute to a growing movement where we take control of our health in the cheapest, most satisfying way possible – through our stomachs.

Chili Con Carne, Pesce al Sale

2. To show you that Paleo is more about what you can eat than what you can’t.

It appears that the more attention that Paleo gets, the more quickly people dismiss the diet, for various reasons. One of the main reasons is that the diet is “too restrictive.” I disagree, and this cookbook was written with variety in mind. I chose a balance of classic favorites and new tastes to showcases the rich, delicious variety of foods you can eat within the Paleo template. Yes, even without bread.

As I’ve mentioned before, The Ancestral Table pushes the boundaries of typical Paleo books by offering some “gray-area foods” like white rice, potatoes, and some forms of dairy. I provide an in-depth reasoning for why I included these items in the book, but here’s a quick gist:

– Despite common Paleo biases against these foods (for example, white rice is often denounced for containing anti-nutrients, but it actually has a lower anti-nutrient profile than common Paleo foods like coconuts and almonds), they can possibly add variety and depth of flavor to dishes with no adverse health effects.
– Every individual is different, and if these foods are well-tolerated, they can be a part of a balanced, sustainable approach to eating that never gets boring.

My belief is that if you’ve already tried a strict Paleo approach, or aren’t ready to jump into the movement head-first, these foods are excellent additions to your diet. The book also contains a handy guide for anyone looking to convert my recipes to a more conventional interpretation of Paleo.

Butter Chicken, Borscht

3. To bring traditional recipes to the forefront of your kitchen.

Regular readers of this blog know that I champion traditional recipes, those which have been passed down over the years to new generations. Humans have been cooking for thousands of years (some estimate as far back as 1.6 million years), and we’ve learned a lot along the way. Rather than come up with a bunch of brand new creations, I picked over 100 of my favorite traditional recipes and redeveloped them to fit an ancestral template.

Like for many of the recipes on this site, I researched each dish to find the most common traditional preparation and updated or simplified it to make it doable for any home chef. Each recipe is accompanied by a history of the dish.

Roasted Root Vegetables, Seafood Paella

4. To help you become a more confident home chef.

I started cooking nearly 20 years ago, and haven’t looked back since. Along the way, I’ve learned a few vital techniques that have enabled me to create meals that are consistently delicious. I hope to impart some of this knowledge to you through The Ancestral Table. While there are a ton of simple, quick recipes in this book (over half of them can be made in less than an hour), there are quite a few culinary challenges as well, with very few shortcuts. That isn’t meant to deter you from buying the book, but rather deliver on a promise that if you cook through this book, you’ll come out a better chef.

When writing the book, I felt it was more important to provide you with the reasoning behind making certain dishes, as well as variations, instead of making you feel tethered to one specific recipe. For example, you won’t find a dozen roasted vegetables recipes in the book; you’ll find one, with ideas for how to use this technique with different vegetables. This template-style approach to cooking is very important to me; instead of teaching you to cook fish, I teach you how to fish. Well, that’s a bad analogy, since I do actually teach you how to cook fish. But you get my point.

Additionally, many of the dishes are thematically linked. So instead of making just Southern Fried Chicken, you can make a whole meal that includes Meaty Collard Greens and Dirty Rice to accompany your chicken.

5. To have a physical reference for our own kitchen.

Okay, this reason is purely selfish. We really wanted to have a physical book to use as a reference when making my dishes (yes, I don’t have every little thing about each recipe memorized!). I figured if I wanted a physical copy for myself, there were other people out there that wanted one, too.

More info:
The Ancestral Table landing page
Full recipe list

29 thoughts on “Why I Wrote The Ancestral Table

  1. All of your reasons are great! Any “why” that inspired you to write this cookbook is very much appreciated. I love, love, love your traditional, regionally diverse recipes (and beautiful pictures!) but hate having electronics in the kitchen. Add that to being a cookbook junkie and you have a fan that pre-ordered as soon as you made your announcement. So excited to have it in my hands at last!


  2. Great job – my only criteria with any diet is that it is from scratch with natural ingredients that provide a high content of nutrients and adequate amounts of the essential food groups that we have evolved consuming. We need as many voices raised as possible if we are to avoid the perfect storm of obesity and lifestyle related disease waiting off shore.


  3. Knowing all your reasons is really nice. I suppose that makes me weird. I’m always being told that I explain things too much. Curious to know if you get that, too? I am waiting for your book to appear at my local Barnes and Noble, and look forward to purchasing it there. I have a secret fear of bookstores vanishing, so I try to support them. Really looking forward to having your recipes all in one place!


  4. I am truly looking forward to the release of the book, more so than I have for other paleo & primal cookbooks; your philosophy is one I really like. And this:

    “I hope to contribute to a growing movement where we take control of our health in the cheapest, most satisfying way possible – through our stomachs.”

    Cheapest, most satisfying…and delightfully human. I’m still waiting to see if my collie will figure out how to spiff up his own eats! ;) I think we’re the only creatures so fascinated by the whole process, by manipulating foods with others, and so forth.

    Your “template” idea is great. Especially after realizing a few weeks ago that my fair-sized cookbook collection was actually tearing the cabinet they were all in off the wall *post purging*. New cookbooks will have to be very wise about their page usage!


  5. I followed a link from the WordPress Starting 2014 Off Right post, and I’m really glad I did. While I certainly wouldn’t consider myself on the Paleo bandwagon, per se, I do appreciate and agree with what they stand for – natural, unprocessed foods and a healthy lifestyle. One of my main requirements for cookbooks these days is that they include more than a recipe. I love sitting down to read cookbooks, and it sounds like I can do just that with yours. It’s going on my wedding registry, and if no one purchases it for me, I’ll just have to order it myself!


  6. Beautiful, just beautiful. I love the “whys” behind your cookbook as much as I enjoy drooling over the amazingly photographed food. Keep up the good work!


  7. Hi, your book and foodphptogtaphy look stunning, can’t wait to see it, cook from it and review it on my blog!
    Totally hear what you’re saying about white rice by the way. I eat it too occasonally. I just like to call my way of eating more “clean eating” than strict paleo, and it serves me and my body well ;-)


  8. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on writing this book. From everything you’ve shared about it, the photos etc, it shows how much of your heart and soul you put into this book, I’m looking forward to receiving my copy and cooking up a storm in the kitchen! :)


  9. Your reasoning makes me want to get the book. Note that this is my first visit to your blog and I haven’t been interested in cookbooks since I changed my diet :)


  10. Hello Russ

    While I have never come across the Paleo philosophy until today, I admire the food choices you have made and have shared with the world through your book. Well done!
    I also enjoy cooking with fresh ingredients that are healthy and tasty. Keep up the good work.

    Cheers from Down Under,


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