I speculated recently that if Americans provided just 10% of their own food via gardening and hunting, Monsanto would have a cow. I wondered further: Could any elected official propose such an alarming change in the national status quo? More importantly, Could the average American even pull it off?
Ten percent. Every day. Michael Pollan spent a year and wrote a whole book about making just one meal on his own. It seems unlikely any more casual effort would do the trick.
Yet, of course, millions of Americans routinely fed themselves almost entirely from their own gardens, barns, pastures and woodlots up until about the middle of the last century. Obviously it can be done.
Henry challenged us to try to calculate what a 10% self-sufficient garden or game larder would look like. There are probably 100 or more ways to calculate this, and mine can’t be the best. I know some wise-cracker will leave a URL in the comments that has it all tallied up. But for a few minutes’ scratching with a pencil, here are my thoughts:
First, what we grow in the yard: Beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, lettuce, strawberries, and blackberries.
What game we commonly eat: Rabbit, dove (also quail and rail), squirrel and deer.
How much of each? A quick count. We have:
- 40 bean plants
- 8 tomato plants
- 40 lettuce plants
- 2 pepper plants
- 1 blackberry bush
- 3 strawberry plants
- (plus herbs, not counted)
My hawk hunts mostly small birds and rats he eats by himself on the spot. We are not usually hunting “for the pot.” But he does get about 30 rabbits a season and maybe 20 table-ready birds, all of which we eat. Rina catches or I scavenge (don’t tell) about 5 squirrels for gumbo each season; and we have all the deer products (stew meat, sausage, etc) we want from friends. Even so, we don’t eat as much of it as we could.
You need, say, 2000 calories a day. A nice round figure, pun intended.
10% of that is 200 calories, call it the Revolutionary Threshold. We can extrapolate that to 6000 calories a month per patriotic American male.
How much home-grown or self-killed food do you have to eat in a month to join the Revolution?
Here it gets real fuzzy. I found a few sites online that provide rough calculations of caloric value for fruits and veggies. My wife, who does some nutritional counseling in her work in athletics, has a nice computer program that lists same for game meats.
I just now ran around the yard counting fruits and plants and weighing cherry tomatoes, etc., on the hawk’s gram scale. Super-duper fuzzy now. But here we go.
- 100g beans (20 beans) = 25 cal.
- 100g cherry tomatoes (5 ch.tom.) = 17 cal.
- 100 grams lettuce (20 leaves) = 13 cal.
- 100 grams peppers (2 peppers) = 18 cal.
- 100 grams blackberries (20 berries) = 20 cal.
- 100 grams strawberries (10 berries) = 70 cal.
So right there you can start your engines. You could, for example, eat 200 blackberries a day and call yourself a Revolutionary Hero.
But say that’s not practical. Say it’s more berry than you’d care to eat. And since my single bush probably makes only 300 berries in an entire season (which only lasts a couple months), you see it’s not even possible with berries alone.
And to calculate how much garden I’d need to provide 1 person 200 calories a day, I have to know how much garden I have. Back to the plants:
- 40 bean plants X 20 beans per month = 800 beans = 1000 calories a month
- 8 cherry tomato plants X 100 tomatoes per month = 800 tomatoes = 2,720 calories p/m
- 40 lettuce plants X 40 leaves per month = 1600 leaves = 1040 calories p/m
- 2 pepper plants X 2 peppers per month = 4 peppers = 36 calories p/m (WOW)
- 1 blackberry bush = 300 berries per season = 300 calories
- I won’t go into strawberries; mine sucked wind this year.
Our Revolutionary Hero would need 6000 calories of veggies per month. I’m making (by the above super-fuzzy mathematics) a little over 5000 calories. Another bean bed would put me in the running.
But what about my wife and kids? Count Revolutionary Wife at 4,500 calories per month (10% her normal ration), and Revolutionary Drummer Girls at 5,000 per month combined, and that will require a garden about three and half times the size of our current one.
Doable, but not actually being done.
But hey! We haven’t even killed anything yet!
Meat may be murder, but it’s also chock full o’calories. If you round the already-pretty-close caloric values of those above-mentioned lean game meats, you get about 130 calories per each 100 gram serving. If you eat a supper of those 3.5 ounces of game, a side of 20 beans, a salad of 20 lettuce leaves and 5 tomatoes, and you top it off with a handful of berries, you’ve got your 10% daily intake right there. Welcome to the Revolution!
If it wasn’t nearing my bedtime, I’d break down our rabbit-to-deer ratio for those who’ve read me this far. But it isn’t necessary. I think it’s clear that if you combine game meat (1 deer a season, a few good rabbit and dove hunts), with an active garden on a normal-sized suburban lot, you can provide 10% of your caloric needs without ever stepping foot in Whole Foods Market or bowing at the foot of Monsanto. If you fish, you’re in like Flinn. And if you brew your own beer, brother, you’ve got it made!