Update on Food

I think today is day 15 of Project 31, which means I’ve been up here over two weeks now including the two days that preceded Day Zero. I’ll be posting a mid-term report in the next couple of days, but today, I’m going to devote a whole post to the topic of food.

First, the final list of food I ended up buying for Project 31 (see the original shopping list):

6lb organic russet potatoes
2lb sweet potatoes
2lb yellow onions
2lb sweet onions
6 bananas 
2lb organic carrots
2 granny smith apples
1lb green beans
20oz mushrooms
2lb zucchini
2lb greens (mustard, turnip, collards, spinach)
2 celery hearts
2 avocados
1 head cauliflower
3lb brussel sprouts
3 stalks of leek
2 tomatoes
3lb oranges
1 butternut squash
1 kabocha squash
2 lemons
1lb asparagus
1.2oz freeze dried blueberries
1lb mixed nuts
8oz dried cranberries
1lb prunes
4 cans diced tomatoes
3 cans tomato paste
1 can mustard greens
1 can cranberry sauce
1 can carrots
1 can pickled beats
1 can green beans
1 can spinach
1qt sauerkraut 
1 jar cherries

36 eggs
1lb smoked Gouda cheese
2lb cheddar cheese
2lb plain yogurt
2.25lb pork tenderloin
1.6lb chicken breast
2.2lb pork shoulders
2lb turkey ham
12oz salted pork
12oz bacon
24oz chicken sausages
2 cans clams
1 can shrimp
1 can salmon
2 cans anchovies
1 can pickled herring
3 cans teriyaki-flavored fish
2lb butter

2 loaves bread
15lb medium grain "sticky" rice
80 tortillas
1lb dry black beans
2lb dry split peas
6 bagels
5lb flour

2qts soy milk
4 bottles root beer
26oz dry milk
750ml rum (for cooking)

Dry goods/misc:
2lb sugar
12oz chocolate chips
1 jar green curry
12oz honey
box of crackers
2 boxes toaster pastries (healthier version of PopTarts)
1 bar chocolate
1 box fruit bars
7 ready to eat curry pouches
1 jar organic mayo
1 jar olives
3 cans soup
1 can turkey chili
2 cans Chef Boyardee
1.5qt vegetable oil
1 jar Nutella
1 pack dried somen (Japanese vermicelli noodles)
1 pack dried yakisoba (Japanese chow-mein)

I might’ve missed a couple of things, but that’s most of it. That list also only includes food I bought immediately prior to Project 31, but doesn’t include the larger list of foodstuffs I already had here and have been consuming. For instance, on Day Zero, I had half a dozen eggs and most of a loaf of bread still left over from January. There’s also things like instant coffee and other powdered drinks, as well as spices. So, for the most part, I’ve found that I have pretty much everything I need or want, and about the only things I noticed missing are ginger root, and cooking wine (red and white).

With that said, if it seems like a rather long list, well, it probably is. As I said elsewhere, my goal wasn’t to just buy the cheapest food to sustain me for a month, but to have a decent variety and mix of fresh and preserved (or preservable) ingredients. My desire to have fresh foods also introduced a level of uncertainty, since I wasn’t sure how long fresh vegetables and meats would last, and it also meant I had to buy a decent quantity of less perishable foods in case the fresh stuff didn’t last as long as I’d anticipated. For instance, in addition to 6.5lb of fresh meat, I also got about 5lb of various cured and salted meats (bacon, sausages, etc) which have longer shelf-lives, which were in turned backed up with assorted canned protein. With vegetables, I mixed in hardier vegetables like winter squashes and potatoes with vegetables that I knew wouldn’t last long (mixed greens, for instance), and also got canned vegetables as backup. So, that necessarily meant that I had to get more food than I’d strictly need, mostly for the sake of fault-tolerance. After all, I’d rather have too much food, than too little.

So far, my food stores have survived better than I’d feared, mostly thanks to the colder-than-average temperatures of the past couple of weeks. Vegetables left in Hut 1.0 or in coolers outside froze, and stayed that way, helping to keep them preserved. Though, it turns out the best place to have stored my veggies might’ve been in Hut 2.1, where temperatures generally stayed above freezing. I have a cardboard box on the floor which has so far stored the potatoes, onions, 1 head of cabbage, lemons, apples, avocados, tomatoes, asparagus, zucchini, leeks, and winter squashes. All of those veggies are still there (except for the leeks which I used to make potato leek soup last week), and it’s all still good. I didn’t put all my veggies in Hut 2.1 because, I was concerned that they would spoil sooner in the warmer temperatures. In reality, most of the heat rises, leaving the floor at an optimal temperature. The frozen veggies in Hut 1.0 and the coolers outside, on the other hand, may spoil unless it gets colder again and stay frozen (past couple of nights have been mostly above freezing).

It also seems clear at this point that I have too much meat. As of this morning, I had consumed a grand total of 6 slices of turkey sandwich meat (leftovers from January), 2 slices of bacon, 2 chicken breasts (1lb total), and 1lb of boneless pork ribs. That’s a little over 2lb of meat in 16 days, and I started with over 11lb of fresh and cured/salted meats. My total fresh meat supply is still far less than the 18lb of meat the average American consumes in a month, but it turns out, as long as I have eggs (of which I’ve so far consumed 22), I don’t need to eat a whole lot of meat.

Part of the reason I haven’t been eating meat is because it’s a hassle to prepare in terms of sanitation. After handling and cutting meat, I have to worry about sanitizing the cutting surface, the utensils, my hands, and without a proper sink, that can all be annoying.

In general, reducing meat consumption is a rarely cited yet highly effective way to lower our environmental footprint. Meat is problematic in all sorts of ways, whether it’s the waste run-off from industrial feedlots, the increase in methane (a greenhouse gas) cows fart out when they’re on grain-based diets, or the increase in grain production required to feed them. This last point, the increase in grain demand/production, itself has a high environmental cost in terms of water and land usage, pollution of water and soil through agri-chemicals, as well as energy used to grow, process and transport the grain. Let’s also not forget the fact that humans in poorer countries may be competing with cows and pigs in richer countries for the same wheat and corn, contributing to higher grain prices, which in turn lead to malnutrition and hunger, or even political unrest.

With all that said, not all meats are equal. Grain-fed beef is the worst offender no matter how you look at it (and the reason I’ve largely removed beef from my diet, excepting grass-fed beef and the occasional lapse), pork is slightly better, with poultry being the most efficient. It takes 2lb of grain to get a pound of chicken, while it takes seven pounds of grain to get a pound of beef (I believe pork is about 3-4lb for 1lb). Naturally, scale also matters. A person who eats a couple of pounds of beef a month will still have a lower footprint than someone who eats 20lb of chicken, though, having cut out beef, I can say that replacing beef with more efficient options like pork and chicken isn’t hard. If you crave a burger, try a turkey burger instead — they’re healthier, and better for the environment. The ultimate, of course, is to become vegetarian or vegan. For me, though, that’s too much of a sacrifice, and when it comes to sustainability, making sure your acts of sustainability are themselves sustainable is also important. After all, my cutting out beef and sticking with it has done far more for the environment, than if I’d tried to become vegetarian but reverted to old habits after a couple of weeks.

Speaking of grains, I also over-bought on bread. When I started Project 31, I still had most of a loaf of bread left over from January, and I’m still working on that loaf (which is still perfectly good, by the way). I’ve been mostly eating tortillas and rice, and have only made a few sandwiches this whole time. This also might be a seasonal preference. I know I eat a lot of sandwiches in the summer, since sandwiches don’t require cooking, but now that I have the wood stove and use it every night, cooking a pot of rice on it makes more sense. Though, I also might try and improvise an oven and bake bread using the stove… We’ll see how that goes.

Over all, I think this might just be the healthiest diet I’ve kept in a long time. I’m cooking most of my meals, and as you can see from the list, I have very little junk food. My diet has been rich in vegetables, low in meat, pretty low in sugar, and probably lower in sodium than when I eat out a lot. I also eat when I want to eat, what I want to eat, as much (or as little) as I want to eat, which I think is healthier too. Note that “as much as I want to eat” doesn’t mean I eat until I’m over-stuffed; it means I eat until I’m full, instead of eating until my heaping plate is empty. I also generally only eat two meals a day, with snacks of varying sizes thrown in between, which I think helps regulate my own caloric intake to match what my actual needs are.

For the most part, I’m not worried about my food supply, though my vegetable selection will likely dwindle in the next week or so. A bout of warm weather could exacerbate that problem as well. Though, I’m pretty sure I’ll come out of the 31 days with plenty of food left over, so I’m more worried about letting food go to waste than not having enough (which is why I made a giant pot of vegetable soup seen in the photo above, and used another pound of pork to make chili verde also in the photo to the left).

11 thoughts on “Update on Food

  1. Cool. So the next time that you do this, you don’t need to take any meat at all. A few rabbits and a squirrel here and there should be all that you require.

  2. I dug my cellar in the side of a hill sloping to the south, where a woodchuck had formerly dug his burrow, down through sumach and blackberry roots, and the lowest stain of vegetation, six feet square by seven deep, to a fine sand where potatoes would not freeze in any winter. The sides were left shelving, and not stoned; but the sun having never shone on them, the sand still keeps its place. It was but two hours’ work. I took particular pleasure in this breaking of ground, for in almost all latitudes men dig into the earth for an equable temperature. Under the most splendid house in the city is still to be found the cellar where they store their roots as of old, and long after the superstructure has disappeared posterity remark its dent in the earth. The house is still but a sort of porch at the entrance of a burrow.

    – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

  3. Dude – Are you losing weight?

    I don’t suppose that you brought the bathroom scale along, but without enough fat in your diet, you run health risks. Are your pants a bit looser? Did your belt have to go a notch tighter to hold your pants up? Do you have a mirror? Keep an eye out for warning signs. Hunger increases fatigue which increases the risk of accident. You are all alone up there – if you stopped blogging, is there someone who is near enough to come check on you in case you get sick/injured/delirious? Can you call for help if you need it?

    Carbs are fine. Carbs are wonderful. But they are not enough. You CAN get enough nutrients on a vegetarian diet, but usually supplements are required. I hope you at least have some vitamins. If I were doing this I would bring some protein powder beverage mix as a supplement.

    For fats I see you have bacon, butter, and vegetable oil. These are the calorie dense foods, and if you are going to be out in the cold, you are going to burn off those calories.

  4. Hi Ryo,

    Sounds like you’re doing quite well. Excellent! Have you considered a “Hay Box” for your cooking? An extremely simple device to make, and it gives most of the benefits of a slow cooker or a simmer without using any energy. It’s really just a large insulated box that will fit your pot. What every insulation you use, it should be of a hi-temp kind, and should fit your pot snuggly.

  5. My experience on my own plot of land has been: sustainability of one food vs. another depends largely on your specific piece of land. I have mostly zero top soil, so most vegetables and calorie rich grain and tubers will not grow. However I have 3 acres of wild blackberries and optimal native grass and brush forage for goats or cows. So the things I find I can grow immediately with zero outside inputs are goat/cow meat, berries, and southern foods like sweet potatoes, black eyed peas, etc. Over time, I can build up some good organic soil for a productive veggie garden with barn liter from the goats. But in my experience (or perhaps due to my limited experience), that doesn’t happen overnight (unless of course I want to truck something in).

  6. That actually looks looks like a fair amount of food to me (but then I am a 59 year old woman) I would be very interested in knowing , how much you ate, how much was left over an how much had to be tossed out due to spoilage. I guess I am most curious about how “minimal” you can be and still be healthy and satisfied.

    • I would highly recommend checking out the book “What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets”. It has collection of 80 individual’s daily diets from around the world with pictures, biography about what their typical daily life is like, what constitutes a typical day’s food, and it is all sorted by calories per day from about 800 to 12300. Best coffee table book ever.

    • I’ll definitely post at the end to report what’s left. I’ve hardly lost anything to spoilage so far, but that could very easily change in the next 2 weeks. Either way, I’m quite certain I’ll still have a lot of food left over.

      In general, I won’t deny that my food selection is far from minimalist, and I’m sure some will even say it’s excessive. I think people come up with varying needs and desires when pursuing a fairly minimal lifestyle. Some might need a hot shower every day, while some of us can forego the shower, but might splurge on food. But, it’s also an on-going process of trial and error at the individual level too.

  7. Ryo, I just found your blog and am enjoying reading the “back issues”. Something you might want to add to your staples–sprouting seeds. It’s a great way to get your vitamins in the winter, and the seeds store for a long time.

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