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A Lack of Surplus

January 29, 2015

For breakfast I ate (what else?) rutabagas with ground beef and sage. I find it interesting that I am still able to enjoy these simple ingredients so much even entering week five. True, I’ve turned on turnips, but they were on thin ice at the outset. Generally, I find each meal I eat immensely satisfying, and I haven’t been exceptionally hungry since the first week. The more difficult aspect is the prospect of my diet continuing in this vein, and perhaps even growing more limited, for months to come.

Which is to say, it’s still a huge stretch for me to imagine what it would be like if I was actually relying on the land in a life-or-death sort of way. It’s easier to focus on what I don’t have (I write as my wife grinds her coffee) than to imagine how deeply grateful I’d be for every last carrot if I was truly limited to my current stores. But I still try to imagine, as much as possible, what it would be like if the stakes were higher.

Knowing that I can go to the store if my health is actually in danger of being compromised has allowed me to be comfortable with a small margin of error. If the beets all rot next month I won’t starve. One certainty is that, if I was really living off the land, I would make a point of growing a lot more food. This excess would primarily serve as a buffer against any one particular crop having a low yield or even failing outright, but it could be fed to pigs to contribute to the year’s meat supply.  After all, one wonderful quality of a pig is its ability to store surplus perishables for later, delicious use.

Even if I consciously know that I have unlimited food potentially available, I’m not certain my body has gotten the memo. I haven't lost any weight, but my basal metabolism does seem to have slowed way down. I’m wearing more layers inside just to stay comfortable, and my hands get cold when I go outside much faster than I’m used to. I’m not lethargic in that I have plenty of energy to go do chores and everything, but I do feel like I could sleep a couple hours most afternoons if I wanted to. Ed reports similar symptoms.

I’m curious as to the cause. My best guess is that, even though I’m now eating three meals a day where I used to eat two, my total caloric intake has nevertheless dropped. Onions, turnips, rutabagas, and even beets are not particularly concentrated sources of calories (less than two hundred calories in a pound, which is a large serving). This is good news for anyone who’s counting carbs, but it’s not so good if, like me, you generally eat noticeably more in the colder months and only feel capable of putting away so much tallow in a sitting. Potatoes are calorically dense, but, as I’ll write about soon, the crop this year was not what I'd hoped for.

Having an excess of food available has been such a fundamental part of life that I had hardly considered it in any but the most abstract terms. In truth, I still do have an excess, it’s just a much more limited one. So this is another reason that, if I was growing all my food year in and year out, I would grow extra and grow as wide a variety as possible - it would be nice to not have to work quite so hard to eat enough, and it would be a comfort to have more variety.

Garth Brown

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