Last year, our local paper, the Cape Cod Times, did a story about Kevin and me and our flock of turkeys. We made the front page (it was a slow news day), and there was a gigantic picture of Kevin, above the fold, carrying a turkey. There was a smaller picture of me, and the story had an in-depth account of our attempts to get our food first-hand.
For weeks, we were regularly recognized. People would stop us and say, “Hey, aren’t you those people who live off the land?” Most people thought it was interesting, and we had some excellent conversations with strangers. It made for a problem, though, when we went to Stop & Shop. The question become, “Hey, aren’t you those people who are supposed to be living off the land?” They’d peer into our basket to see the chronicle of our failure.
“Paper towels,” Kevin would say. “We’re buying paper towels.”
We never aspired to live off the land; as fans of inter-connectedness, we don’t value self-sufficiency as a goal. And a good thing, too, since we’re way too lazy to put in all the work required. We just wanted to see what kinds of things we could get by hunting, gathering, and growing.
But looking back over the year in first-hand food got me wondering. Just how much sustenance did we have to show for the unconscionable amount of time we spent hunting, gathering, and growing? So I did the math. I made a list of everything we procured, estimated the quantity, and calculated the calories to see what percent of our annual yearly requirements we fulfilled.
I figure Kevin and I, between us, knock back about 5000 calories a day, which comes out to 1.8 million calories a year. How many of those 1.8 million were first-hand?
Let’s start with the big-ticket items. We raised six turkeys and six ducks, and we gleaned one roadkill wild turkey. That’s a total of 48,500 calories (I’ll spare you the calculations). Then there were the eggs, about 25 dozen this year, for another 22,500.
Moving on to the water, we caught about ten striped bass, 25 bluefish, 4 trout, 4 sea bass, and one magnificent tuna. It came to about 170 pounds of actual fish, for 87,000 calories. But that wasn’t all. We got 20 pounds of lobster, 10 Jonah crabs, and a whole mess of shellfish (a gallon of steamers, 15 cups of chopped clams, and about 500 of our own oysters). All of these are pathetically low in calories, and add up to a mere 12,000.
That’s it for “animal,” and we move on to “vegetable” and “mineral,” where the caloric news isn’t nearly as good. Mineral, particularly, comes up wanting. We made pounds and pounds of sea salt, and have not a single calorie to show for it.
On to vegetable. The single biggest line item was our hundred pounds of bland, watery squash. It was a little hard to figure the calories, since it was clear that Sasquash isn’t nearly as calorie-dense as other winter squashes. I guessed at half, about 100 calories per pound, and tallied up 10,000.
The other significant yield was tomatoes. We harvested about 40 pounds of them, for another 3200 calories.
From there, it’s on to leafy greens. We had a lot: collards, kale, mizuna, radicchio, romaine, beet greens, a weird Chinese green, mache, catalogna, and herbs up the wazoo – mint, basil, tarragon, chives, marjoram, oregano, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. This is a wild-ass guess, but I’m estimating we had about 30 pounds, total. Unfortunately, leaves don’t add up that fast. And, although calories vary, I went with a middle-of-the-road hundred calories per pound. That’s a measly 3000.
The rest of our garden yielded:
1 quart of strawberries
5 lbs of rhubarb
10 lbs. of beets
6 lbs. of onions
15 lbs. of cucumbers
a ton of hot peppers (about 6 c., chopped)
15 bell peppers
6 delicata squash
All this comes to a paltry 8,300 calories.
“Animal” and “vegetable” don’t cover fungi, and we had some of those – five pounds of shiitakes and another five of wild mushrooms, for a total of 1500.
There were some miscellaneous odds and end. A handful of raspberries, a couple tablespoons of honey, ten perfect figs, a few pine nuts, a couple handfuls of wild onions, two asparagus spears, several stunted carrots, and a whole bunch of cattail shoots that we didn’t eat because cattail shoots are not very tasty. I’m saying 1000 for the lot.
Drumroll, please. That’s 197,000 calories. Call it 198K, to be generous, and to make the math come out to an even 11% of our yearly calories. And, to be clear, we didn’t actually eat them all. We gave things away, we froze things, we bartered. But we also ate some of last year’s frozen things, and got some great stuff in trade (like a quart of our friend Dave’s maple syrup). The point of the exercise is simply to get a glimpse of how hard it is to sustain yourself on what you get first-hand.
It’s really hard.
A few changes would up our percentage considerably. If we raised a pig and managed to shoot a deer, we’d have most of our protein needs taken care of. In the garden, we’d need to be better gardeners overall and to do more with staple crops like beans and potatoes. If we could manage to keep a beehive going, the honey would add up fast. An apple tree would help a lot.
We could also turn that 11% into 12% just by eating a little less overall – something that would help Kevin and me lose our collective extra thirty pounds.
The 11% will never be 100% – we’re not giving up wheat or rice, wine or beer, mangoes or bananas. Cows and goats aren’t on the agenda, so we won’t be making our own yogurt or butter. We will always have chocolate. Even so, I think we can do better next year, and I actually have a goal: 20.12% of our calories from first-hand food. (Yeah, you see where this is going.)
I know a lot of you out there do some of the same things we do. If you’ve ever tried this exercise, or want to give it a go, I’d be very curious to see what kinds of numbers you come up with – despite the fact that yours may make mine look pretty pathetic.
And if anyone else want to shoot for 20.12% in 2012, let me know. We’ll make a game of it. We’ll trade ideas. We’ll offer moral support. C’mon, it’ll be fun.
Happy New Year.