I realized when I was planning last year’s garden just how fantastically hard it is to grow enough in the summer to replace an entire year’s food from the grocery store.
And, even though it is a somewhat frustrating activity while even the day time temps are below 0 F, I find myself planning this year’s garden.
[see photos of how we have built our 1024 square feet of raised beds and grown gardens in 2007 and 2008]
This is a fantastic activity but it also means that I am thinking a lot about food, which is fine because we are not without it. If my job search is not fruitful pretty quickly in the new year we may be exploring the world of food stamps to bridge the real gap between now and when our harvest comes in MANY months from now.
These thoughts could take me in any number of directions but the two come together to prompt me - how much food is enough?
The question of water is very easy - no ambiguities. You need it every day and you need it in one flavor - clean.
Food, well, food is a whole other monster because we humans make it more complex than it all needs to be.
While simply boiled beans and rice can provide complete protein, some people can not even eat it once without having a bad experience the first time eating it (their GI tracts being unused to fiber, a temporary condition that goes away in time) and others cant face eating this simple meal more than a couple of times in a row.
The truth is that we need variety. There is a physiological basis to this. In natural pre-industrial diets, the need for diversity (even seeking out and ritualizing unusual food types) was a means for people to get rare minerals and other nutrients and co-factors.
In a survival situation, pre-industrial people knew how to mete out dwindling resources and how to enhance their food with wild-caught food sources and also how to spice or include “waste” fats (bacon grease for example) to increase the palatability of meager rations.
Not only do we not have these skills any more, we would probably not be very interested in those strategies.
Cynically, I think the only solution for the modern junk-food diet replacement would include a single industrial chemical - MSG (monosodium glutamate). You can sprinkle this on cardboard and people will eat it. Further, our diet is so saturated by MSG that we have become not so much addicted but accustomed to a constant input of this neurotoxin. Obviously, the LESS MSG we eat the better and I think that MSG is used now to mask our food poverty as it is.
I return to my root query though - what is enough and how do we make certain that the “enough” is not boring and that it doesn't become an agent for depression in of itself.
If you look at what the FDA suggests in terms of caloric need - you will see that there are recommendations based on the basal metabolic rate that is a function of one’s weight and the needs of your body to work properly. If you go below this base caloric need, you will lose weight. If you go above, you will gain. Obviously, not all weight is the same and losing muscle due to a lack of protein in the diet is a very serious matter if you are having to use your body to obtain more food.
If you get those calories from nutrient depleted foods (like most of the meats and vegetables and dairy and eggs we find in our stores today) then you force your body to either pull from it’s own seriously depleted stores of co-factors and other nutritional elements, or the body simply doesn't perform correctly because all the building blocks simply are not in place and so things like new proteins are not made and toxins are not cleared, etc.
Even though the western world is awash in obesity, we are also starving from malnutrition.
If we find ourselves with little food, provided to us on an emergency basis from central feeding centers in bigger cities (MREs anyone?) - we will be two steps behind because we are already experiencing chronic malnutrition.
If we try to anticipate this by growing and storing our own foods, how do we decide the best diet for adults and children when we have only really known an abundance of calories and food choices?
I would love to hear from you, your thoughts. I am at the beginning of this particular path. As a gardener I know how hard it is to have success growing enough food to eat and store. Its not just a matter of buying a load of different plant types. You have to also grow long storing ones (potatoes, other root crops, squashes, dried corn and meats, canned everything) and also learn how to store them in a way that is good for you.
To close this open ended post (just for now), I will share something I made the other day.
I love many of the products from Bob's Red Mill and have lots of their flours on hand. One that I had on hand but had not worked with yet is Rye flour. I used the recipe on the bag for rye crackers and also modified it a bit.
My interest in crackers comes from the use of similar though fat-free crackers called Hard Tack in survival situations. We here in the North East see them now on the shelves as oyster crackers or cream crackers.
The wikipedia tells us this about hard tack:
a simple type of cracker or biscuit, made from flour, water, and salt. Inexpensive and long-lasting, it is and was used for sustenance in the absence of perishable foods, commonly during long sea voyages and military campaigns.
Because it is so hard and dry, properly stored and transported hardtack will survive rough handling and endure extremes of temperature.
To soften it, it was often dunked in brine, coffee, or some other liquid or cooked into a skillet meal. Baked hard, it would keep for years as long as it was kept dry. For long voyages, hardtack was baked four times, rather than the more common two, and prepared six months before sailing.
Mix together dry ingredients and seeds. Work in margarine until fine. Stir in milk. Form into ball and roll out to 1/8 - 1/16 inch between waxed paper. Cut into desired shapes, prick with fork and transfer to ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 F for 5-6 minutes until lightly browned on edges. Cool on rack. Store in airtight container.