The problem of getting enough to eat and staying healthy is not as easy as society would have us believe. For most of us, food costs money. For most of us, our food choices are very limited. It is only in the cooking and preparing of this food that it seems like there are a lot of option. However, even in our "meat and potatoes" (and bread) society, there are ways to deal with the problems facing us in lang management, health, cost, and nutrition.
I'm going to begin these pages with some basic assumptions. First I'll begin with four assumptions about food and nutition and then I'll talk more about gardening and storing food. On the next pages, I will give you details about growing, storing and eating food. I urge you to read a little, but if you want to link to the subject page, go to the bottom of this page.
We all start in the same place as little babies who will try to eat anything. But even before that, our parents fed us and that is the beginning. Our parents continued to give us food or take food away, to monitor our eating as too much or too little, to supervise and direct our tastes toward what they preferred and what they could afford.
There are two ways of looking at the ideal human diet. One is to look at our stomachs, beginning with our saliva and teeth and going through our intestines. The other way to look at what humans need is to look at what happens when they don't get what they need. The USDA and other agencies like it came up with the Required Daily Allowances charts based on this kind of research.
However, there is one big problem here already. You are not the average person--no one is. Part of the Western philosopy is that we should need our needs by getting too much. This usually affects parents who worry contantly whether their children are getting enough protein or calcium or iron or other vitamins and minerals. Usually parents don't say, "is my child getting enough fat and sugar?" because our diets are over-abundant in fats and sugars. They are also over-abundant in protein and the first thing most people ask vegans is "where do you get your protein?" as if it's some scarce mineral.
Feed something to the baby, the baby barfs it up, it's not good for the baby. Breast-fed babies rarely barf like formula-fed babies. They also don't need to be burped. What is also not well known is that breast-fed baby poop does not smell bad. It doesn't smell much at all, leading some people to play pranks with diapers and mustard. But even among breast-fed infants, there is a wide variation. Some babies poop several times a day and some only every few days, but in huge quantites.
The first rule of eating is that what goes in comes back out. We are basically huge donuts. Our intestines are so that most of what we eat NEVER GOES INTO OUR BODIES. There is an assumption that, somehow, what we eat is made into us. But this is tiny, tiny amount of what we eat. Most of what we eat is digested, yes, but most of it passes back out again. If you are healthy this is what you should experience.
You must look at what you excrete. The texture of your poop can tell you much more than anything else. Doctors used to examine fecal matter. If you eat very dense food with a high fat content it will have a different effect on your digestive system than if you eat all fruit or food with a lot of fibre. People will tell you "eat enough fibre" and you may even run out and buy something with fibre such as bran or psyllium hulls in order to push the food through you. But people also say "eat enough fibre" if you have the runs all the time. The problem is that they don't usually look at your fecal matter! You are the only one who can do that.
Moms can tell right away when they switch foods on a baby. Sometimes the food goes right through the baby without digesting much at all. Sometimes the baby's poop really starts to stink. Whether a mom wants to know or not, as long as she's changing a diaper, she's going to know. Once we can make our poop and pee vanish down the toilet, we seem to think it's best not to know anything about it. I know it sounds gross, but it's the best way to know if you are healthy or not. Most of us are not.
Some people burn a lot of so-called calories. But what are calories? A calorie is the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of one gram of water (at one atmosphere of pressure) one degree centigrade. Well, how do people determine how many calories are in that hamburger? They burn it. Seriously. They take that hamburger, dry it out and burn what's left and see how much fuel it generates to raise that gram of water to what degree. Seriously, folks. It's a very, very clever idea, but there is not all that much proof that it has anything to do with health.
Yes, I know, everyone and I mean everyone talks about calories. You will even hear savvy gardeners talking about high-calorie foods to grow. The rule is that if you are sitting around, you burn less calories than if you are running around. Yes, that's true, but it's an odd way to say it. We do burn fule and the process is called ATP. The mitochrondia in our cells make ATP for us to live on. But this is such a miniscule amount of what we eat that the whole calorie myth gets more people in trouble than saves them. But there is a reason why it works. This is why.
Foods differ in the amounts of water that they have. If you light a dried stick it will burn more easily than if you try to light a soaked stick. If you light a nut it will burn better than trying to light a piece of lettuce. Lettuce has about 90 percent water and that nut has about 10 percent water. So, of course a handful of beans has more calories than a handful of lettuce or ever carrots--because the fresh veggies have way more water. The irony of this is that the water is a bigger part of it all than the calories.
If you run up the stairs, you will lose more weight sweating than you will burn in calories. Often super-jocks sweat so much that they have to drink quite a bit of water to compensate. People will weigh less in the morning because they are dehydrated. The problem with "calorie" dense foods is that often they are just dry. BUT, this is the best way to store food. The drier a food is, the less it tends to rot. So dried food plays a huge part in our diets because it can be stored. And the big part of cooking is re-hydrating dried foods.
If you eat foods that are less dense, your stomach will fill up with water, that water will help you use the chemicals in the food better and that water will help eliminate wastes and make your poop easier to pass. Look at babies again. All they do is drink and it doesn't seem to hurt them. The reason that eating vegetables can be better for you (but see below) is that most of us eat very dense food and then drink drinks that dry out our bodies rather than re-hydrate them. But did you ever try to drink a half-gallon of plain water a day? Blech! Most people get their liquids through beer, coffee, tea, sodas and other beverages that are diuretics or chemicals that dehydrate the body.
One of the easiest ways to lose weight and to get detoxed is to eat food that naturally contains a lot of liquid, which is most fruits and veggies. By eating this food, you provide your body with what it most needs, way, way before calories or iron or protein: water. The average person is 10 gallons of water. All your cells operate in a wash of liquid. They will stop functioning if they do not get enough water. Rather than drink bottled water, eat a piece of fruit. I'm against juice myself, but some people do really well on juice. For others (like me) it acts like candy and sends them into blood sugar hell, but eating most fruit and veggies will rarely do this with a few exceptions.
Two more assumptions about food and then we will move on to some assumptions about gardening and storing.
I'm not sure where this got started. Americans get so much protein that most of them have severe protein problems like arthritis from eating too much meat. Vegans are told to make sure that they combine their foods to get enough protein. For most people eating beans and grains at the same meal is asking for gas, stomach upset, and (PEE-EW!) stinking poop.
Basically, folks, this is the scoop. We are primates, large apes, closely related to chimpanzees. What most primates crave is sugar in the form of fruits. Our bodies are designed to eat fruit, and this includes all vegetables that are fruits like tomatoes, squash and peas. We can eat seeds and leaves and insects and mammals, but basically, all this other stuff gets broken down into simple sugars. That is what we eat--sugar.
There are terrible problems with sugar. Some people quickly have blood sugar problems if they eat too much sugar. But the problem is not that we were not designed to eat sugar, but that most of the food available to us is so loaded with sugar that it's pretty toxic. And this is not just cookies and candy, but modern fruits. Most fruits were selected and bred to be less tasty and to be more sweet. Modern apples are very, very different from crab apples, yet most kids PREFER crab apples. What to their moms feed them? Applesauce. So cook down the sugary apples, add sugar to them, and voila! a fruit-like substance that tastes like it should be good for us and can make some of us really sick. Diarrhea, sugar high and crash, gas, vomiting--all this over applesauce, which most nutritionists say is benign. If that's benign, then what about the rest of it?
Our sugar needs are satisfied with fruits much lower in sugar than most fruits in the grocery store. So what can you do? Well, you can grow your own fruits, but that's pretty involved. You can also follow your kids' instincts for sour and get more sour fruits, even grapes are easier on the system than apples, but much better are raspberries, pomegranates or even cherries, all of which have vastly changed from their wild relatives. Part of the problem is not what to eat, but that we don't have the right foods available to us.
The fat controversy is even worse. Humans are an ape that adapted to live near and in the ocean and then moved back onto the plains of Africa. Scientists know this from looking at our brains. Humans need a 1 to 1 balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. The best way to get this is with seafood. Humans spent a million years or more growing huge brains on a seafood diet and then moved onto the plains where they suddenly were without all that Omega 3 that they needed. They ate animals, the closest they could come to fish, but most people now realize that humans are way, way more healthy if they eat fish instead of cows.
However, there is also too much of a good thing with eating too much fish--and yes, that's the excess protein again. Also too much Omega 3 (and the doctors will never tell you this) is bad for some people. 1 to 1, remember? The doctors assume that you're overloaded with Omega 6 from eating all those cows and need a balance. That means Omega 3. You need both.
Humans are fat apes, and I mean fat. Especially babies. They don't get fat from eating fuits. They can, but they have trouble eating that much. People need fat to survive, but again, the quality of fats is so poor that most people get toxed on fat and are better for NOT eating what is availble. So Vegans are healthier, sort of. They are certainly thinner, but most of them crave nuts and oils and can be fat and sick from rancid oils and nuts.
The three food groups are: Fat, Sugar and Protein. Everything else is indigestible. That's good, because our digestive tracks need a certain amount of roughage to push through the food or it gets trapped in pockets and we get constipated or have diarrhea. Remember that poop again. (You're going to get really tired of me saying that!) But seriously, these are the three magic ingredients of our food. Everything else is just decoration, including iron.
Humans tend to be fat. Most sea mammals need fat to stay warm. People put on fat in different ways. Some people tend to gain weight eating starch and sugar, others by eating fats. Most people do not gain weight eating foods with a lot of water in them--there is just so much you can eat. But losing weight is not something humans were meant to do. That's why it's hard. The right way to approach health is to pay attention to how you feel. The first thing to do is to look at your weight every day, several times a day. How much does it change? Once your weight is stable, then you can simply reduce the amount you eat if you want to lose weight. This can be almost impossible.
The other thing you can do, which is easy, is to start changing the ratios of sugar to fat to protein in your diet. Some people lose weight eating a high protein diet because they are not eating the sugars and starches (carbohydrates) which make them put on the pounds. They may be also getting satisfied with less food. Eating is such an emotional problem. People may only feel right if they overeat. Others may only feel right eating foods that are creamy in consistency. Others may crave certain kinds of food or crave things in foods and overeat those foods, still unable to extract out what they crave (potassium, for instance).
Boy, this one gets me. Probably 90 percent of "age-related" problems are because of diet. This is because the food we eat is generally very toxic. Also our environments are pretty toxic. Most diseases are a result of toxicity, not of age. Before you go thinking "Garden of Eden", however, be aware that our diets have been toxic since we left the water and went back onto that African Plain. The illusion that people might have been healthier in the past is aggravated by the fact that people died earlier in the past.
There was a discovery of skeletons in Scotland of a people that were very short and fine-boned, looking much like children, living in stone houses, dying in their mid-thirties and all of whom had arthritis. These people lived maybe 10-12,000 years ago. Arthritis is one of the problems that is supposed to be age-related.
It's also said that people stop making as many enzymes, so that by the time they are 40, they maybe make half the enzymes as they made at 20. This is supposed to be age related and the reason that older people have digestion problems. Cancer is supposed to be age-related. Food allergies are supposed to be common in older people, yet young people also get them.
The body is an amazing machine that is extremely resiliant. Otherwise we would not be here. Young people have not been on the planet as long and of course are not as unhealthy. Humans have been making due with what they could eat for many many hundreds of thousands of years and surviving better than most of the other species on the planet. Yet most of them died pretty early. People don't die as early any more, but they do get sick and this sickness is called aging. Sunburning is not related to age, yet repeated sunburning over years and years will cause the skin to wrinkle more and that is associated with aging. But the skin is not so much aged as toxed out.
That's right. It's in your control. Even if you are extremely poor by American standards, I can show you how to avoid most of the health problems you are faced with. Even if you have health problems, you can make them less. Your doctor can help treat some of your symptoms but your doctor CANNOT make you well. You must, must stop looking at your doctor as a miracle worker. That's unfair. If you eat badly and expect your doctor to make it better, that's just crazy. But your doctor is in business to try to help make it better and they will try, hard. And you will pay, more every month for insurance with every decade you survive. Why not take control of it yourself? If you are not too busy to go to the doctor, you're not too busy to eat better. If you are rich enough to have insurance (yes, even if your company pays for it), you're rich enough to eat better. Do something about it, or resign yourself to the long slide into death. It might take forty years of pain for you to suffer before you die. Why do that? No one should have to go through that.
I'm going to give you four other assumptions about growing and storing your own food that you may find enlightening. At the end of this chapter, you will find the link that will take you to the page of subjects covered in these pages.
I realize that this title is a bit bleak. But it's a big problem. And I hardly blame you if you are a gardner or do store food and despair of being able to do it right. Most of the problem is because of the way that we're taught to go about it.>
I'm sorry. It won't. IF you garden the way that the books tell you to garden. It's not their fault, either. People garden as a hobby. Farmers grow food for a living.
The people at Bountiful Gardens (bountifulgardens.com) led by John Jeavons are the most savvy gardeners out there. They are into the biodynamic approach to gardening, but what makes them savvy is that they tell you what you can expect from each vegetable you grow as far as the amount of food you can get. John Jeavons says many times that a person can meet their vegetable needs on as little as 200 sqare feet of garden space. What Mr. Jeavons does not tell you is that he is going by what the AVERAGE American eats in the way of vegetables. The average American gets about 10 percent of their caloric needs by eating vegetables.
But Mr. Jeavons talks about something he calls high-calorie gardening because he knows that if you try to meet all your caloric needs from a garden, you have to expect a lot out of each square foot of ground. If you are a person who needs 2000 calories a day, you will need (by my estimate) about 1500 square feet of bed space per person--probably more. This is a bit larger than a garden of 200 square feet.
But, if you want to try to go with 10 percent of your food out of your garden, that's a great place to start and every garden book on vegetables is oriented toward that. If you assume that this is roughly ten percent of your food bill, then you can do some math. If your food bill is about $400-500 a month, then you can spend up to $40 a month on your garden and save money. After that, it's a hobby, meaning that it's fun, but it's not saving you money.
Okay, bear with me here.
According to the USDA, most Americans eat between 150-200 pounds of fresh vegetables a year, including potatoes. To give you a counter example, my family of two now (we are vegetarians) eats between 1500 and 2000 fresh vegetables a year, not including dried beans, potatoes or tomato sauces and other canned goods. If I was to supply all of our vegetable wants, I would have to grow about 3000 pounds of vegetables a year or more, say, ten pounds a day. If I were to grow fruit and nuts as well, I would have to add in another 500 pounds. However, I'm not yet talking about my garden, but a garden of the average person. Let's just say that two of you will eat 200 pounds of veggies.
A book on gardening is going to be aimed at the average eater. If you are a good gardener, you can get about one pound per every square foot of space you have to grow on (not paths). If you are average, you get about one pound of produce for every two-three square feet of space. So, for 400 pounds of veggies, the garden book estimates that you will need maybe 5-600 square feet of space in a 1000 foot garden, say, maybe a space that's 20 feet wide by fifty feet long, about a third of your back yard. This is a serious garden. Most books recommend that you begin with only about 400 square feet, or a space that's 20 by 20.
Okay. At $100 a month (for two of you), we get about 50 pounds of veggies or less a month. But we can't garden all year in most situations, so let's look at about 60 pounds of veggies for 6 months, that's about average for a garden. So that's $120 time six or $780 before it's more expensive to grow than to buy. But this is assuming food prices are at about $2 a pound for veggies.
Okay. Bear with me. Let's assume that your time is free. So you have cleared a spot in your yard, about 400 square feet (just for your veggies.) The first thing you need is seeds. Okay, let's grow peas and not worry about potatoes. Peas: no problem. Well, you can expect about 1 oz of peas per plant. So, sixteen plants is going to give you a pound of peas. A seed pack usually has about 160 seeds, easy--that's ten pounds. If you only want to grow your USDA average of food (peas is just an example) you want 200 pounds of peas (or tomatoes and squash and whatever). So (math again) one pack of seeds equals ten pounds of produce, hm, we need 20 packs of seeds. Well, that's $40, if they are cheap seeds. Okay, that's all right, you may think.
One for the cutworm, one for the crow, one to get sick and one to grow.
I'm a really good gardener. I expect 90 percent, look at it again--90 percent--failure. This little rhyme expects 75 percent failure. Okay. plant four times as much as you think you need. That's suddenly about $160. Okay. I'm still way under budget. Most people don't buy tomato seeds, and buy a lot of starts. But we'll be really fair and include that price in our $160. So $160 from $730 still leaves us $570. No problem.
If you are a normal gardener, you're just growing on the soil that you opened up in your lawn. If you're a good gardener, you've added stuff to it. You read all about acid soil or alkaline soil or clay soil or sandy soil, etc., etc., and you're a good gardener so you make some corrections, maybe even buy some compost. Okay. Let's just do compost. The books (and store people) say about a quarter of an inch on top of the soil. No problem. A bag of that stuff is about $4 for half a yard. At 1/2 inch, that bag will cover about 2,592 square inches of our garden. For those who want more math, that's about 18 square feet. I've got 200 square feet of space, but I'm going to go a bit on the thin side, so I only use 10 bags. There's another $40. No problem. I have $530 dollars left, I've planted my 200 square feet with starts and seeds and now I'm set. Or so you might think. I know, I'm teasing you. But not really; we already figured for the bugs getting stuff in our rhyme.
What you didn't figure for is water, but that's all right. A garden takes as much water as grass does, about an inch a week. In the East, the garden will cost you about $20 a month to water during the summer months. So another $100. In the West, that garden will cost you about $100 to water, if you can water overhead outside. Some places won't let you do that. In the West, if you don't have water restrictions, your garden just broke you. But, like me, you're hard headed. You're going to put in a watering system, leaky tape or pipe or something. That broke you, too, but only for the first year. The next year, you only spend about half the amount on watering, so you made $200 out of your garden.
Here is a list of how you can save money, but I will be explaining much of this on the following pages. But here is a start.
Let's talk about doing something; I'm tired of moaning about the problems and getting all depressed about it. If you're curious--read on!
© 2008, A.R. Stone