This work is dedicated to all those who love this earth and want to give back to her as well as to receive her bounty.

Are You Average?

Most books would start you with your yard, how much sun it gets and what your soil is like. This is great, however, for our purposes, the real beginning is with what you will eat. This is because most garden books are aimed at hobbyists. The average person spends about $400 a year on their yard (most of it lawn) for a total of 40 billion dollars spent anually in this country for Americans' favorite hobby. Americans spend more for their cars and for their pets, but their yards are the big budget item for hobbies. Yet less than ten percent of that 40 billion is spent for growing vegetable gardens.

The average person spends about $3,000 a year on food, half of that for take-out food and restaurant food. A family of four spends about $10,000 a year on food and that price is rising very fast. Americans spend over a trillion dollars a year on food. To put this into perspective, for ever dollar spent on a yard, Americans spend $300 on groceries. The bad news is that Americans spend the least of the Western world on groceries. In 1900 the average family spent half their income on food. In 2000 the average family spent only 13 percent of their income on food. However, in poorer families more of the budget goes to food, but most of that is money the average American spends on their cars--which is more than they spend on food.

Americans have experienced low food prices because they get their food from far away where machines and cheap labor make it profitable for large companies to sell food at very low prices. Americans eat more cheaply, but the food they eat is of poor quality. The average American eats 22 pounds of shortening every year and 158 pounds of sugar and corn syrup, but this does not include the sugar Americans eat in booze and soda, although it does include coffee. Americans eat 200 pounds of grains every year, 100 of which is white flour and most of the rest is in the form of corn chips. A third of what Americans eat is dairy, eggs and meat, and only ten percent of what they eat is fresh fruits and vegetables, mostly in the form of potatoes or sandwich ingredients. This is called the SAD diet and contributes to the 100 billion dollars they spend annually for basic health care. For every dollar an American spends on food, they spend ten cents on going to the doctor. Yet by the time an American is 40, this health expense triples until by the time they are 60, about half of every dollar spent on food is spent on the doctor.

It may seem strange to you to start a book on cooking and gardening here. But gardening books assume that you are growing, at most, ten percent of your diet in your yard. This means that they can easily talk about growing a vegetable patch that gives 200 square feet of growing space for every family member. That will supply your vegetable needs--if you are average.

How much and What do you Eat?

The average family of four spends about $1,000 a month on food if they are good with their budget. This is a fairly good diet as well. I know families who eat well on $500 a month and other families who spend more like $2,000 a month. There are hundreds of articles and books written on how to spend less money on groceries. One of the easiest ways is to stop going out, for the average family spends $500 a month eating out, but gets only a few meals a day doing that. But the point of this excercise is so that you can see what you eat, how much it costs, and where you can save, not the average American.

A note: Everything you see here is in pounds per year. For those people who are not Americans, I apologize. 100 grams is about 2.8 ounces. 16 ounces in a pound. A pound is roughly 453.6 grams. A rule of thumb might be to multiply by four or five, add two zeros and convert to kilos if that is easier and take off a bit or add a bit.

Food Product Average AdultVegetarian MaleRaw Food Female
Meat & Dairy 11238540
Red Meat 11800
Poultry 68100
Fish 151515
Eggs 421025
Milk 78000
Other Dairy 100500

Food Product Average AdultVegetarian MaleRaw Food Female
Total (w/water) 210930140
Nuts & Seeds 33075
Grains 20240010
Legumes 1550030

Food Product Average AdultVegetarian MaleRaw Food Female
Total Fruit 298100520
Total Fresh Fruit 13350500
Total Processed Fruit 1655020
Fruit Juice 204500
Melons 581050
Total Vegetables 413650650
Fresh Veggies 192400650
Processed Veggies 2201500
Potatoes 156500
Tomato Sauce 63600
Green Veggies 44150400
Iceberg on Sandwiches 2500
Corn (not in chips) 30500
Orange Veggies 2210150

Food Product Average AdultVegetarian MaleRaw Food Female
Oil 293020
Shortening/Other 3100
Margarine 800
Sugar 683000
Corn Syrup 8900
Honey 1100

Food Product Average AdultVegetarian MaleRaw Food Female
Total Pounds Consumed 227017051345
Meat, Dairy 11238540
Nuts/Grains/Legumes 210930115
Fruits, Veggies 7116501170
Total Fats (added) 683020
Total Sweeteners 158100

The average person numbers are courtesy of the USDA. There is a bit of skewing in that the fruits and vegetables are weighed at the purchase point, so waste is not included. However, this does not include pre-processed juices and canned goods. Note that almost all the fruits consumed by average Americans are in the form of juice, just as the bulk of vegetables are in the form of potato products and tomato sauces and ketchup. Even mustard counts as a vegetable in the USDA lineup. Most fresh vegetables are consumed on sandwiches in the form of tomatoes and lettuce. Onions are also a large part of the vegetables consumed in this country. This number also includes stuff like dried parsley and other ingredients used in sauces and prepared food like vegetable soups where most of the onion, celery and carrots are consumed as soup stock.

The second thing to note is that for all three people, the poundages are roughly the same, but the numbers are very different. A typical vegetarian will get most of their food in the form of legumes and grains even though they may eat way more vegetables and dairy than this man. The raw foodist is not a vegan, for reasons that will be discussed later, but does eat some sashimi and raw eggs. The raw foodist has a serious grain allergy but eats sprouted rye, lentils and mung beans.

What about You?

You can do this as well. It may be very difficult for you based on how much you go out to eat. You can get to the point where you can estimate weights by looking at your grocery receipt. You will see the weight of the produce that you buy. If you are a Weight Watcher you should alredy be familiar with what food weighs. For reasons I'll discuss later, I've thrown out the calorie counting method. What is important for you, in any exploration of health or gardening or budgeting or food storing is to figure out how much you and your family eat. Here are some guides:

  • An easy way to do this is to get a scale that goes to ten pounds like a postage scale

  • Weigh the empty dish, then weigh the dish with food. Eat all the food.

  • Roughly, how much of it was meat? How much was grain? How much was lettuce?

  • A slice of bread is about 3 ounces or 100 grams. You can go to a web site or get a book that has calorie counts in it and find out that a large carrot weighs about 4 ounces, etc.

  • Until you know how much you eat, it's hard to plan for the future.

  • If you are a snacker, you may have to go by what the bag or box says, or weigh out a small amount of nuts or such on your scale before you eat it.

  • Make a chart or just take notes for several days. You should begin to see patterns emerge.

  • Do you always have two eggs and a piece of toast for breakfast?

  • Do you always have a potato for dinner? Are your salads always in the same bowl?

  • Do you always have the same amount of juice? Do you eat an apple every day?

  • If you don't want to weigh right now, just start making lists of what you eat.

  • Look up calorie counting on the web and go to these sites. They have done a lot of weighing!

  • A good calorie site will tell you how much fat, protein and all is in everything, even fast food.

  • Keep track of this until you feel comfortable with what your "diet" is.

  • Can you lay out what you eat into broad categories?

  • You may be suprised to find out what your spouse and kids eat away from home!

  • When you get all this done, you should have a picture of how many raw veggies you eat, what you will eat, and then you can begin to plan your garden.

  • When you get all this done, you should have a picture of what you eat and what you need to keep on hand for that week of snow or when there is a trucking strike or some other emergency.

  • I'm going to talk a lot about prices of things. If you spend too much money on food, keep your list on hand. I can tell you what to cut with no loss of taste or quality. Of course, we ALL spend too much going out to eat!

Although this seems like a lot of work, for any diet you do, you are required to know what you eat and in what quantities. Your doctor should also have a record of this. You can't make any headway to better health or spending less money or growing a good garden if when you are asked, "how many vegetables do you eat?" you shrug and say, "how in the hell should I know?" No one else will. Yes, we're all lazy--I know I am. But spending a bit of time with something like this saves a heck of a lot later. You'll have to take me on faith for that one for a bit.

I'll talk a bit about calories and then we can go on.

The Calorie Myth

Counting Calories does not work. In 1997 WHO (World Health Organization) acknowledged that counting Calories is not a very accruate way to measure what food energy is metabolized. But Calorie counting might be related to the weight of the food which might be a better way of trying to solve the problem of how much you need to eat. But what are Calories? It's amazing how many people don't know what a Calorie even is. A calorie is the amount of fuel it takes to heat a gram of water one degree centigrade at one atmosphere of pressure. A large Calorie is the amount needed to raise one Kilogram of water one degree. This is the calorie used by the food people. The Europeans spell it "Kcal" and the Americans just capitalize it. How and why does food have Calories?

Scientists cleverly came up with this system in 1840. It worked well for solving steam engine problems, so why not for humans? They burned food and heated water. It's difficult to do, but they did it quite a bit and have Calorie counts for almost everything we eat. But there is a problem with the Calorie thing. The problem I see is that foods are composed of different materials and the body doesn't even absorb them all at the same rates. A stick has more Calories than a leaf of lettuce, but you don't see people eating sticks. Water doesn't tend to be combustive, but cellulose, alcohol, and fat is. So foods high in water will have less Calories than dried foods, but are they less nutritious? Alcohol is not a food, but does drinking alcohol put on weight in the form of "empty Calories?" Just because it burns? Hm. The Calorie counting thing is so popular that it's even hard to criticize it, but I've yet to see that counting Calories works. Here is my observation: according to the Calorie charts, I don't eat enough to stay alive. Yet I never lose weight. Hm. My husband, according to the Calorie charts should eat five hundred more Calories a day than I'm supposed to, but he eats about 3,000 more Calories a day than I do. He doesn't put on weight. If you have tried restricting Calories in order to lose weight, you may be frustrated.

Yet, as I said, I think that one of the reason sthe Calorie thing might work is that foods that are high in water tend to have less "food" than foods that are less watery. Beef is about 60 percent water, but a carrot is about 95 percent water. Water is more dense than fat, but after water, fat has the most kcal/g and the most density, followed by alcohol, carbs, proteins, and then sugars. So rather than restricting Calories, maybe we could look at what foods have more food in them or proteins, sugars, starches and fats. I'm not sure alcohol is in this category, since it is not a food. It has "empty Calories" but is that just because it burns? I'm not sure it puts on weight. But most drinks have a lot of sugar in them. THAT might be the problem. However even this might be suspect since different people metabolize fats and sugars differently under different conditions.

Diet fads are often insane, like the one that makes you lose water. Humans contain mostly water, ten-fifteen gallons of it, or 85-130 pounds of water or more. About 80 percent of you is water. So if you drink a lot of water you will weigh more. Another place people store weight is in their colon. Some diet fads cause you to lose water, others to empty out your colon, which usually has 10-20 pounds of matter in it. If you do this, you will put "the weight" right back on. It's not body weight, it's food waste. Losing water is not losing weight--it's dehydration. Americans are obsessed with the weight thing. I think we need to just toss it aside and look at the quality of food and how we feel, not our weight or body mass index or any of those fads.

But back to Calories. According to the nutritionists, getting enough Calories is a problem for people eating out of their gardens. Growing food in your garden involves growing food that is going to be enough "Calories" to keep you alive. John Jeavons and his crew at Bountiful Gardens ( estimate that people need about five pounds or more of veggies a day to live on without starving. As you will see, that is a lot of food to grow (let alone eat). Rather than the two hundred foot garden, you need ten to twenty times that space, PER PERSON. That's a big garden, bigger than most of you are prepared to deal with. Imagine weeding and growing a garden for a family of four that is not 20 by 20 but 80 by 100 feet. And that's just the bed space for the veggies. Add in foot paths and you've got an area that is 100 by 120 or 12,000 sqare feet. The average LOT size in the US is 100' x 130'. Take out space for your house and garage, driveway and sidewalks (about 50 x 50) and, well, you can see that something is not going to work. Which is why you go shopping! But seriously, folks, I'm going to talk about this and look at it from a different perspective other than that of Calories. When you toss the Calorie model, suddenly many other problems clear up.

This is the way our food chart would look if we did it using Calories:

Total Calories Consumed 2,072,000981,500519,600
Meat, Dairy 750,000127,50060,000
Nuts/Grains/Legumes 315,000604,500300,000
Fruits, Veggies 107,00097,500152,000
Total Fats (added) 300,000114,0007,600
Total Sweeteners 600,00038,0000
Calories/Day 567726891424

As you can see, the average person does not eat twice as much as the raw foodist in weight, but gets four times the calories. There is some relationship here, but I think the numbers are skewed a bit.

© 2008, A.R. Stone

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