Nick Barnard, founder of British natural food company Rude Health and author of the cookbook Eat Right —an essential recipe collection for anyone truly committed to eating whole foods—sat with us recently to discuss his philosophy on food, global ancestral culinary practices, and where modern nutrition is headed. Here’s the first in a series of installments on that interview.  
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Cooking Light: While proper nutrition has become a greater priority for more people in recent years, diet-based health epidemics persist. What are the core problems as you see them?

Nick Barnard: Most of us eat dead food. That cheap sandwich that you bought for your rushed lunch is dead—how on earth can your digestive system get anything out of it? Your digestive system is meant for a workforce of bacteria to breakdown foods. What if that dead food is built not to break down? It makes all of us weak, change shape, change moods. We have pursued food as fuel and pleasure around convenience and cheapness. And the storm of malnourishment is upon us, whether it’s Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, or other chronic illnesses.

Our ancestors didn’t have the chronic lifestyle illnesses we have. They were leaner, fitter. They didn’t have—didn’t need Vitamixes and Nutribullets. They fermented, sprouted, cooked, baked—they ate from a varied and exciting landscape. We have narrowed our eating landscape to 15 fundamental types of food instead of 150 types of food.

CL: So how do we right the ship?

NB: Each of us can make our own small steps to reacquaint ourselves with food, whether it’s sprouting seeds at home, baking your own bread from flour you’ve easily ground from grain, growing a container of lettuces, or just realizing that you must eat some fermented foods three or four times a week to create more bacterial diversity in your body. This is living food. Fundamentally inexpensive, simple food. And if I can make foods like this, anybody can. I’m not a chef. They’re time-honored family recipes, and very simple.

Up Next: Barnard Shows How A Few Small, Delicious Changes Can Instantly Upgrade Your Diet (and a few words on “tooth-butter”).