Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
13 Mar

Can We Feed the World on the Primal Blueprint Diet? – Part 3

Regardless of how well Primal living has worked for you, you’re eventually bound to hear something like the following: “Sure, you’ve lost a hundred pounds, ditched your statinsregained your fertilitydoubled your squat 1RM, gotten your diabetic cat off insulin, saved a couple hundred bucks on fancy shampoos, traveled to Southeast Asia and had no problems with the squat toilets… but can you feed the world? Yeah, exactly. I didn’t think so.” What can you do when confronted by such a query? While I sometimes don’t quite get the knee-jerk resistance some sustainability types have to the Primal Blueprint lifestyle, this line of questioning is a prevalent one that deserves an answer. In last week’s installment of this series, I addressed two of the main global sustainability issues commonly raised by detractors or skeptics of the Primal Blueprint – the environmental impact of “all those cows” required to keep us “eating steak for every meal” as well as the (non)issue of supplying 3700 Primal calories for every man, woman, and child on the planet – and today, I’m going to cover something else.

One big point contention with which I actually agree is that to feed a world on the Primal Blueprint diet, concessions would have to be made. We couldn’t all eat steaks and roasts exclusively, as I said last time. People would have to get adventurous. They’d have to try offal and make bone broth and eat goat for the first time. They might have to ditch their zero-carb diet and eat a plant for once. We might actually have to change our ways.

Let’s see what might have to change:

Tear up that lawn.

One of America’s biggest crops is lawn turf. To the tune of around 40 million acres, we’re sitting on good old grass in the form of front lawns, back lawns, and golf courses that could easily be repurposed to provide food. Sure, the economic activity generated by kids mowing lawns for allowance and then buying candy is considerable, and ice cream men across the country would protest at the subsequent drop in business, but we could absolutely turn those lawns into productive gardens and chicken runs. If you balk at the labor required, just think of all the labor and hydration you contribute to keep that pristine lawn alive. I don’t know about you, but I find the idea of tending to a wild, bounteous vegetable garden with bare feet and dirty knees rather romantic. So does Robb Wolf.

And it’s actually quite possible. Consider the victory gardens that sprang up during World Wars I and II. At the behest of their governments, folks in the UK, America, Germany, and Canada grew fruits and vegetables in backyards, vacant lots, rooftops, and public parks. In the U.S. during the second World War, 20 million Americans produced up to 40% of all produce harvested nationwide. Decry governmental involvement all you want, because I’m not calling for that. I’m simply showing that the space and ability exists to get it done. It’s also worth noting that victory gardens gave us awesome slogans like “Can the Kaiser!”

Instead of a chicken in every pot, add a few egg-laying chickens to every yard. Feed them kitchen scraps, raise bugs, allow them to forage, and provide feed when necessary. Compost the manure and use it to fertilize your soil. Complain about the dearth of pastured eggs in your area no longer.

Eat some starch and fruit.

Starches are a contested topic in the ancestral health community. A low-carb Primal eating plan is still, in my experience and honest opinion, the best way to lose weight and free yourself from the seemingly-inextricable grasp of the modern industrial food system. The leaner, those who have stalled, those who are active enough to earn them, and the insulin-sensitive among us can benefit from some added Primal starches, like tubers and roots and fruit (and even white rice, as I’ve mentioned before), but when an obese middle-aged person with an as-yet-unfilled prescription for Crestor, an addiction to baked goods, and achy joints comes to me for advice, I’m going to suggest a low-starch, low-carb approach. It just works. That recommendation is not changing.

That said, I question whether we’d really be able to feed the world on a diet of meat and non-starchy vegetables. I’m simply not sure the sheer amount of calories are there. Thus, for this lifestyle to work for 7 billion humans and growing, we’re going to need some calorically dense plants in the mix. Take grains. Why do you think grains are so ubiquitous around the world? They take a huge amount of work to prepare and they come with a lot of inherent nutritional negatives, but they yield a lot of calories per acre.

Romaine lettuce might yield 12,000 heads per acre. At 106 calories per head, that gets you almost 1.3 million calories per acre. That’s okay, and leafy greens are absolutely important in a healthy diet, but they don’t provide a lot of caloric bulk. Not like the tubers. Last year in the US, potatoes yielded 39,700 pounds per acre. At 400 calories per pound, that gets you 15.8 million calories per acre. For sweet potatoes, the national average was 20,800 pounds per acre, or 8.5 million calories per acre. What about fruit? An acre of apples could yield 36,000 pounds of fruit. At 235 calories per pound, that’ll get you 8.5 million calories per acre. An acre of cherries yields 8440 pounds and pack a similar caloric wallop as apples. They’ll get you 2.4 million calories per acre. Not bad, huh?

Meanwhile, wheat yielded an average of 4284 pounds, or 71.4 bushels, per acre. At 672 calories per pound of wheat berries, an acre gets you around 2.9 million calories. “Better” than lettuce, sure, but not potatoes, apples, or sweet potatoes. Corn is more productive at 7.5 million calories per acre (how many will pass undisturbed into the toilet, one wonders), but every grain is outstripped in calories per acre by the humble potato. And considering that we only actually eat about 12% of the corn we produce (the rest goes to animals), no one would even miss it.

Yes, if the whole world were to go Primal, perhaps we couldn’t all eat steaks, roasts, and chops for every meal, and a bunless burger salad on every plate probably might not cut it, but we could produce plenty of calories through Primal-friendly starches and fruits. And they’d be more nutritious than the alternative (whatever we’re doing now). I’m not saying we all have to become Kitavans or anything. We’d just have to, as a people, include more plant foods of sufficient caloric density. I think that’d be okay (especially with all that outdoor gardening we’d be doing!).

Eat bugs.

Before you log off in disgust, consider a few things that, in my opinion, make insects a wholly viable source of food for humans:

1. Insects enjoy the largest share of terrestrial animal biomass. Heck, ants alone make up about 15-20% of the biomass of land animals. Even if we only focused on wild-caught insects, there are plenty of chitin, mandibles, and thoraces to feed a world of Primal eaters. If we began farming insects en masse (it already happens), we could produce even more.

2. Insects are nutritious. Revisit this edition of Dear Mark in which I discuss their nutritional qualities. Then, check out this PDF entitled, “Feeding Captive Insectivorous Animals: Nutritional Aspects of Insects as Food.” They’re talking about feeding lizards and anteaters and other insectivorous zoo animals, but they could just as easily be talking about the insectivorous animals known as humans. When you look at the tables in the paper, CP is protein content, EE is fat content, and Ash is mineral content, all as percentages.

3. Insects are already on the menu for many people across the world (so there are lots of recipes out there), especially across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Indigenous Australians famously eat the large witchetty grub, Cambodians enjoy fried tarantulas (I know, I know, not an insect), Mexico has the chapulin, the French have their escargot – and those are just a few examples. Besides, modern hunter-gatherers utilize them as food, and it’s likely our ancestors did the same. It’s our birthright.

4. Insects are, well, icky. They aren’t fuzzy and cute. They don’t produce adorable offspring (although I’ve seen some attractive larva in my day). Most importantly, the prospect of their consumption doesn’t induce empathy-based guilt. Simply put, insects are alien beings to us. We don’t relate to them like we do other animals. They frankly frighten many of us, and even many vegetarians and vegans won’t have as visceral a negative reaction to insects as a source of animal protein and fat.

Insects make sense. They are highly nutritious and a great source of protein, fat, and minerals. They are plentiful. There’s already precedent for eating insects (in just about every culture imaginable). And even a vegan will swat a mosquito.

“Rubber, this lovely gentleman is Road.”

Thinking is easy. Imagining is fun. Getting online and researching a ton of stuff that you could totally see yourself accomplishing someday is all well and good, but what about actually doing the thing? That’s where the rubber hits the road, where thought becomes tangible reality. And if we want to even entertain the notion of feeding an entire world on healthy, well-raised animals and nutrient-dense plants of all (non-grain) kinds, we’ll need some serious self-actualization.

That’s right. We can’t rely on others. We can look to others for guidance or knowledge, but ultimately it’s up to us to make that decision to plant that garden, hatch those chicks, hoof to the farmers’ market despite the rain, and spend that extra $2 on the pastured meat. We talk about those small changes snowballing into something lasting and wide-reaching, and for all the talk of hormones and synapses and neurotransmitters affecting and even directing our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, I maintain that the decision – to do anything – rests with our conscious, self-aware minds.

The fun part of all this is that even though feeding the world on Primal is a fantasy, a mere thought exercise, this last factor – the call to self-actualization – is extremely relevant to everyone who reads this. And it’s the most important, whether you want to save the world or lose some weight or, heck, get a job, because anything worth doing requires that the crucial first step be taken by a person to be successful. By an individual who has decided to do so.

Is that you?

Thanks for reading, folks. This is a tough topic with no real right answers. Good points are made on both sides of the argument to which everyone must answer (even us), and I just hope I was able to dispel some myths, assuage some guilt, and provide a bit of ammo for annoying vegan friends. Take care and be sure to leave your thoughts!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. hell yes – bugs and starch! i eat both. i like meat too :)

    jakey wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • I would love to get into eating bugs… but I don’t know if I can bring myself to do it. I don’t even know where to get them, other than outside in the dirt lol.

      Burn wrote on March 13th, 2012
      • On hikes my son and I have grabbed black ants and gobbled them up. They are actually quite tasty. Grasshoppers would be a lot tougher (I bet you would really want to cook them) but ants are really easy and I would recommend them to anyone. Once you get used to that I bet you could move on to other stuff you can catch.

        spayne wrote on March 13th, 2012
        • Spayne, do you just eat them alive? Or cook them somehow?

          John wrote on March 13th, 2012
        • Insects have their own parasites such as nematodes, so you shouldn’t eat raw insects, lest their parasites become your parasites. @Burn, grab a copy of “Man Eating Bugs” from your local library for extensive resources on where to find or raise edible insects.

          Edward wrote on March 15th, 2012
  2. i knew it :)

    francisman wrote on March 13th, 2012
  3. TEAR UP THE LAWNS, YES!! I studied horticulture at school and I must say, I hate lawns. They take over 10x the amount of water and fertilizer/pesticides than crops do! (Well, that somewhat depends on where you live… definitely is true for us in Florida!). That is outrageous… especially considering that the most limiting factor to agriculture in the coming years is going to be water.The people don’t even use their lawns where I live… I’ve (literally) never once seen ANYONE in my neighborhood playing/lounging/utilizing their lawn for anything. My favorite is when the sprinklers are on after it rains.

    “If I were president” I would tax the SHIT out of lawns. Our country is in debt and could use the revenue. “Tax LAWNS?! That’s just tyrannical!” Ok, fine- let’s just continue to cut funding for education, health, and research… because God forbid that anyone touch the sacred, mostly unused, unproductive lawn.

    Elizabeth wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • Good thing you are not in power. There is this old notion called “private property rights” that is the basis of western society.

      I’d say look at the economics of lawn care and I’d argue the most vital commodity is water. EVERYTHING in the world is finite and therefore scarce.

      Anything that is subsidized produces more of it.

      The price of municipal water is set not by the market, but by decree. People think twice when the cost of a product or service goes up and shift their purchasing behaviour.

      Besides, using your draconian logic, why stop at lawns? Why not apply taxation on everything you consider not high in value and is a drain on resources? Thats the rub, though; because everyone values things differently. The only true gauge of value is the pricing mechanism.

      Taxation is nothing more than redirecting capital politically with a complete disregard for market pricing and true profit/loss incentives. Except for the later, where the ones who profit are typically linked politically on who received the money and/or other subsidies.

      For the record, in terms of productive capacity I think lawns are pretty wasteful. However, to me there is an aesthetic component and I enjoy a nice landscaped property. No different than enjoying a piece of art, which as we all know is VERY subjective. Yet I do not hear anyone belly aching about there being to much art.

      And yes, I would get rid of art/educational subsidies for the same philosophical reasons of eliminating all government subsidized programs: 1)they distort true market price 2) causing the misallocation of finite/scarce resources (this is what drives artificial boom/bust cycles) 3)Not on my tax paying dime.

      Let people keep more of their money and as individuals we can each choose how we deploy our OWN money, which could be via donations or the purchasing of goods and services. Ya know, this thing called “the pursuit of happiness”-which could be voluntarily devouted to the eliminatin of lawns :)

      liberty1776 wrote on March 13th, 2012
      • Clarifying my subsidization statement: the “it” should be “demand”.

        liberty1776 wrote on March 13th, 2012
      • “Besides, using your draconian logic, why stop at lawns? Why not apply taxation on everything you consider not high in value and is a drain on resources?”

        I was slightly joking (only slightly, though… not that congress would ever pass it even if someone tried). But I mean, come on… that’s like the argument “If gays can get married, then what will stop people from marrying animals?!” Also, maybe the enjoyment of looking at a lawn is similar to that of looking at, say, a painting, but the painting doesn’t have to be constantly maintained by our earth’s natural resources, doesn’t take up valuable space, and doesn’t infringe on natural habitats. Sure, lawns are shallowly beautiful to the gazing eye, but they’re sort of like an attractive person with a crappy personality (nice to look at, but would you really want to date one?).

        Though I support high taxes in general, the comment I made was totally off-the-cuff. One thing that IS being done in some areas, though, is giving tax BREAKS for having less lawn space. Also, in some areas you can now legally override your homeowners’ association’s rules about having to have x % of front lawn if you instead maintain a landscape that follows certain parameters to promote sustainability. An example of this is the Florida Friendly Landscaping program.

        Elizabeth wrote on March 13th, 2012
        • “Though I support high taxes in general”. You do realize those taxes you support go toward subsidizing Big Agra which artificially lowers the price and incentivizes grain and soy farming, right?

          Trav wrote on March 14th, 2012
        • Sure, there are some things funded by our taxes that I don’t support (like big ag subsidies and our insane military budget), but that’s a crazy generalization you’re making. Our taxes also go toward social programs, the preservation of environmental and natural resources, and grants for land trusts that, in many instances, are the only way that small farmers can afford to buy land that would otherwise fall to developers.

          I’m not exactly sure why everyone is attacking me… I made one silly comment about taxing lawns and everyone is up in arms! I was merely expressing my combined disdain for both lawns and skewed values, not trying to delve into economic/political theory. Sheesh!

          Elizabeth wrote on March 18th, 2012
        • I am not attacking you as a person, but your ideas and logic, and it is also a forum :)

          1) The gay/animal point you made is a strawman argument. People have the right to assemble. No laws are needed to prevent people from marrying animals. Why? Because the majority of society would ostercize them.

          2) Rights are applicable to all humans. A marriage or civil union requires a state license for “property rights” due to contract law. Marriage is often more of a religious ceremony vs. a civil union. Denying a gay union denies two people who voluntarily enter a social contract, and it affects their “pursuit of happines”.

          3) Paintings DO have to be constantly maintained by the Earth’s natural resources. How much energy, water, materials, personnel are required for museums? And valuable space? Just to name a few musuems, have you seen where the Guggenheim, the Lourve, and the Smithsonians are located? High land value locations.

          4) Your point on lawns vs shallow people proves my points regarding private property (lawn) and the right to assemble (shallow people).

          5) Here is analogy I like to use on subsidies/tax breaks: A person has $200 on them and are mugged on the street. The victim pleas with the mugger and the mugger decides to take $180, leaving $20. The mugger was so kind!

          6) Regarding home owner associations: A person voluntarily agreed to the contract. No one forced them to purchase that specific property. Versus taxation, which is NOT voluntary. I kid around and say, “Don’t pay your property taxes and you’ll find out who really ones your land”.

          7) Local tax, sales, etc I am okay with because I can control where I live and locally vote on how local taxes are appropriated. Similarly, I can freely chose what I consume and pay a sales tax. All other taxes are a transfer of wealth and distort price. I’m guessing you do not lose a good percentage of your income to taxes.

          I hope you can see the difference between a person peacefully and voluntarily, exercising their free will as best as they see fit versus being forced or coerced into doing or not doing something they would not voluntarily choose to do.

          liberty1776 wrote on March 19th, 2012
        • Wouldn’t just de-subsidising municipal water take us %75 of the way there? And then de-subsidising food would probably do the other 20%. The hypothetical (and arbitrary) remaining %5 would probably be people who actually use their lawns to play on, or for whatever reason, feel they absolutely must have a lawn. Axing homeowners associations and municipal restrictions on lawn use wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

          Blakery wrote on March 28th, 2012
      • Private property rights are the basis cash crops.

        Rojo wrote on March 13th, 2012
      • Good post, liberty!

        jc wrote on March 13th, 2012
      • I couldn’t agree more. Hope you are going to vote for Ron Paul :-) I wish I could, but I am not a citizen.

        einstein wrote on March 14th, 2012
    • Even the lawns that get watered by sky only, and don’t get fertilized, like mine? ALL HAIL ST. AUGUSTINE GRASS!! All I have to do is mow it.

      Wenchypoo wrote on March 13th, 2012
      • Nah, those are fine… there are some areas where lawns are more benign, for sure (like in parts of Arkansas). It’d have to be a county tax, methinks 😉

        Elizabeth wrote on March 13th, 2012
        • So you are into selected, special interest grasses. Fascinating. Would these grasses be tax exempt?

          liberty1776 wrote on March 19th, 2012
      • No hu hu. You could avoid mowing by simply contracting with a farmer for grazing rights. They bring the electric fences and and the cattle, sheep, goats or ‘roos. Mayhap a payment dependent of the size of land and how fast the grass grows.

        Walter Bushell wrote on March 29th, 2013
    • AMEN!

      HopelessDreamer wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • Elizabeth, you make such a good point. I have never thought about the sheer wastefulness of lawns. And I think it is totally reasonable to consider–at the very least, as a thought experiment–a tax on them. I think many people in this country would agree that the other things are more important and worth the sacrifice of a front lawn. Anyone who has a knee-jerk reaction against this idea in defense of “personal liberty” isn’t willing or able to use good critical thinking skills. After all, we all make sacrifices for the common good; this is unavoidable. You’ve just suggested a way to make a difference that I have never thought of, a way that seems viable, at least at first blush. Interesting. Thanks!

      Kathryn wrote on March 13th, 2012
      • The only way to promote the “common good” is to serve others. Fairly serving others means voluntary interaction where all parties involved in any exchange do so because they think they are getting a higher value in return.

        “Fair” is also a subjective term; besides, life is NOT fair. Like Sinatra sang, “That’s life”.

        The US is a Republic, not a democracy. Democracy is mob rule in a business suit. The President is not elected by the popular vote.

        Please explain to me why you are against individual rights, liberties, and freedoms? I am curious because your wording implies a strong probabilty your political views lean towards the liberal side.

        Now lets look at the word. The root of the word is “liber”, the origin being to be free; as in liberty and liberate.

        I am all for helping others as I see fit but I need to take care of myself and my family first. Theft is still theft even if it comes from voting.

        liberty1776 wrote on March 19th, 2012
      • A knee-jerk reaction in defense of “personal liberty”?

        What other kind of liberty is there besides personal? Do not individuals make up groups? Is not the individual the common denominator?

        Personal rights and liberty are the outlier, not the norm in the history of humankind.

        Tyranny has been the norm.

        liberty1776 wrote on March 19th, 2012
    • I like this lol :
      because God forbid that anyone touch the sacred, mostly unused, unproductive lawn

      In Arizona people have lawns and I find it wasteful especially in the desert setting- it is waste of water and resources- I think people should utilize what they have and not what they think want or need..

      on a side note I also find it stupid that a lot of people mention the cows only! What about all those damn deer in Texas!!! I kid you not driving through west tx is like driving through the deer grave yard!!! and the deer is wasted on coyotes mostly ( hey no fair I love deer jerky!) over populated- me thinks we should eat deer!!!! But seriously we have so many other sources of meat that could be utilized not just the beef!

      LexxyV wrote on March 14th, 2012
      • Nevada has some pretty neat incentives for people to get rid of their lawns and replace them with desert landscaping. They pay $2 per square foot of lawn that you remove. What with water scarcity and an exploding population, encouraging people to look at their water consumption habits makes a lot of sense. While I don’t think that we should spend sleepless nights pondering over how we can feed the world, we should all be concerned about how we can reduce waste in our own communities.

        Sabrina wrote on March 14th, 2012
        • And just where does the Nevada gov get that $2 per square foot?

          Trav wrote on March 14th, 2012
  4. best part of the series yet

    Jake wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • also i think a definitive guide to eating insects might be a worthwhile venture, i would love to take part in this but i don’t really know where to start. maybe a list of common edible insects, list of insects you would potentially want to avoid, etc. i think it would be helpful for a lot of people

      Jake wrote on March 13th, 2012
  5. Excellent series.

    Harry Mossman wrote on March 13th, 2012
  6. We used to fry up grasshoppers and ants in biology class. Cover them with a little chocolate, yummy! Now my friend would eat earthworms for cash, I don’t know about that?!?!

    MadMav wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • Earthworms:

      They eat dirt. Crunchy, gritty, dirty dirt.

      So, moisten (not soak) a few paper towels and loosely place them in a jar. Add a handful of earthworms. In about 2 hours, they’ll pass the dirt they’ve eaten, and they’re ready to eat.

      I recommend quickly dicing (just to kill as quickly as possible) and add to an omelet. Or sautee’ with onions & add to a stew. Your family will never know….

      Tom wrote on March 14th, 2012
  7. John Jeavins book on “Biodynamic Gardening” “How to grow morw vegetables on less land than you ever imagined..” Snappy title for a brilliant book, that will show you how to look after your land and get the best from it to maximise it’s potential.# Leeks and onions are some of the crops which come out at the highest yirld per acre, there are tables of yields and alsorts of other stuff in this book.
    Using this and good “forest gardening” techniques would really go a long way to providing food for a healthy world. In fact there are already people doing just that in places around the world, from India to Scotland. Search the internet and you’ll be amazed.

    jane wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • When I interned at Chicago Botanic Garden, I had full-access to their library. I picked up this DVD on a whim and it’s what introduced me to and got me interested in biodynamic principles. It’s a short documentary that I think most people would find palatable and inspiring; it’s mostly about the actual application and how it’s affecting small farmers in India (it doesn’t go too much into the more abstract, spiritual stuff)

      Elizabeth wrote on March 13th, 2012
  8. Crustaceans- I think of them as insects of the ocean. Yummy!

    For now I prefer my insects in omellette form via my neighbor’s free range chicken eggs.

    liberty1776 wrote on March 13th, 2012
  9. I think I’ll stick with my vegetable garden and pass on the bug snacks for the time being. Great post though.

    Casey wrote on March 13th, 2012
  10. Say it with me people… “Population control!”

    Grokitmus Primal wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • Amen, brother!

      Wenchypoo wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • NO!!!

      Jon wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • Are you going to be the first to volunteer for extermination?

      cjbrooks wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • You go first!

      Pete wrote on March 14th, 2012
      • Exactly what I was thinking. Interestingly- and disturbingly- people who advocate this sort of thing never seem to see themselves as part of the “too many people”.

        Trav wrote on March 14th, 2012
        • I can’t exactly go back and tell my parents not to produce me, now can I? And if you are suggesting I take my life to profit all others on earth, that’s just dumb. What is wrong with standing up for and believing in limiting family size? The world is overpopulated as I see it.

          Molly wrote on March 14th, 2012
  11. Psssht. Insects can be pretty darn cute.

    MC wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • Especially the ones that look like shiny sports cars

      Sharon wrote on March 13th, 2012
  12. Mark, have you read “Meat: A Benign Extravagance” by Simon Fairlie? It’s a really good, extremely detailed (but readable) book on the sustainable aspects of different types of agriculture. (Not to spoil the dramatic tension of the book, but his end conclusion is that an organic permaculture-type system that involves animals is probably best for long-term sustainability.) However, I’m pretty sure that he has different figures for the calories per acre, with potatoes coming in somewhat under wheat.

    Also, if you imagine a world in which the cost of fossil fuels becomes prohibitively expensive, all the things you’ve listed become a lot more attractive to the general public… grain is really fuel-intensive if you want those super-high yields. I’m not sure about potatoes, although mechanical harvesting might be an issue (on all crops). Monocultures in general might want to go away pretty soon though!

    Sarah wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • I’m pretty sure Mark’s potato stats are approximately correct compared to grains. Potatoes were part and parcel to the Irish famines of the 1840s because they enabled the population to grow by leaps and bounds in the decades prior to famines. When the blight hit it wiped out the only crop capable of feeding so many people on such small parcels of land. Of interest – Today Ireland’s population is only about half as big as it was in the 1840s (both emigration and starvation caused the decline).

      Edmund wrote on March 13th, 2012
      • Oh, forgot to mention that I believe paddy rice is capable of producing roughly the same number of calories/acre as potatoes.

        Edmund wrote on March 13th, 2012
      • Ireland was exporting food during the famine. The famine was a political outcome.

        Rojo wrote on March 13th, 2012
        • True.

          Catharine wrote on March 14th, 2012
        • Interesting…more info please?

          Mountain wrote on March 16th, 2012
  13. It is my dream to have a garden that sustains us. With chickens and fruit trees and vegetables. I’ll trade my crops for meat raised and killed by someone else but the idea of spending hours outside in the yard seems heavenly.

    My grandfather was a master gardener feeding all his neighbours from his garden during WWII; they kept and killed rabbits for meat. There *is* something totally romantic about doing something similar – without the threat of war over our heads, of course.

    Alison Golden wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • I was waiting for someone to mention rabbits. They also eat scraps, are much more prolific than chickens, more acceptable in urban/dense neighborhoods, easy to keep and very quiet.

      Kate wrote on March 14th, 2012
  14. I’m totally with you on the gardening. I’ve gardened for years and in England where I grew up everyone had a garden – regardless of how small – in their back yard. And you’d see lots of spry 90 yr olds out there digging, so obviously it was great for keeping people in shape.

    I think that’s something that’s worth making more popular, and there is nothing better than by example. After eating my salad greens and tomatoes for years my neighbours are now trying to grow their own, which I think is great.

    But eating bugs? … Not so much. I know it’s unusual for a woman, but I like bugs. At least some of them. They all work together in my organic garden, and I have a pet spider in the corner of my kitchen (her name is Charlotte after the famous one) who catches all the flies that would otherwise bug the heck out of me.

    So I think, like in anything, moderation is the key. More gardens – terrific, a few tubers for variety – great …. but let’s let the insects do their own thing.

    Joanna wrote on March 13th, 2012
  15. I used to live in Australia and toured the Northern Territories. I ate live green ants which were actually rather nice with a strange citrus flavor, but as for witchetty grubs all I can say is; don’t do it.

    PeterB wrote on March 13th, 2012
  16. Its good that you left out fish for this issue. Does this suggesst that you agree that it’s unsustainable for the entire world to regularly eat ocean caught fish and fish oil? Even with the bulk of the population living towards coastal areas. Mabye I’m naive but I don’t see how this would be realistic to do. Unless we figured out a “right way” to farm fish…

    Michael Seiser wrote on March 13th, 2012
  17. So, where would you recommend we buy edible bugs? My foraging location and skills likely aren’t enough to divest many of my calories from the current structure.

    Jason wrote on March 13th, 2012
  18. Right on cue, a counterpoint: Any thoughts?

    Brad wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • Did you see part 2 of this series which includes this article ??

      And a link to ORNISH?! You must be new to these here parts…

      Mountain wrote on March 16th, 2012
  19. 3700 calories for every man, woman, and child? I couldn’t eat that much! I can barely eat 2000 as it is.

    As for tearing up the lawns and installing chicken runs, that won’t fly in the big cities–zoning regulations. My neighbor one block over is trying to get a PERMIT to raise a few chickens in his backyard–he’s 89, and trading in gardening for farming. He hasn’t heard back from the city.

    I’m interested to see what he plans on doing with them in hurricane season–we’re on the East Coast.

    Wenchypoo wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • My friend lives in an urban setting with hardly any yard space, yet he was able to easily acquire the right permits to keep chickens (it’s roosters that they’re usually more iffy about, because of the noise). He also keeps rabbits for meat, and grows some vegetables. And I’m telling you, his yard is TINY!

      Elizabeth wrote on March 13th, 2012
  20. Insects. I have never eaten one myself but I am willing to try something that is prepared well in the near future.

    I think feeding the world on primal foods is definitely sustainable. There is no one right way to do it. I think we all need to do the best we can right now and continue to educate and inform the world on primal living.

    Primal Toad wrote on March 13th, 2012
  21. Great post. My 2 cents:
    First off – We could probably feed the world beautiful grass-feed meat and fresh vegetables on the land allocated to growing junk food, chips, candy etc. – not to mention the land and resources allocated to manufacturing non-food junk (cheap plastic goods – think: definitive list of absolutely essential fitness products). Until we have eliminated those wastes, why attack grass-fed meat?

    Secondly – if you think that meat products are essential to health (I do!) Than saying their isn’t enough for everyone is the same thing as saying their are too many people on the planet. I certainly don’t know the answer to that problem (probably better and more education), but if you follow the argument that their are too many people we have to share, to it’s logical conclusion you end up in a world of 10 billion all starving, and saying things like ‘ hey, you can’t eat leafy greens, their are too many people you should just be eating potatoes – we have to share!’.

    And Finally – I am all for living ‘lightly’ on the planet, I think we should share. I am also all for living as close to optimum health as possible. I wonder how much food you could grow using the land and resources dedicated to treating diseases of life style.
    peace – out.

    bob wrote on March 13th, 2012
  22. The ultimate “problem” of whether we can feed the world, on ANY diet, is one of whether we can stop people who have little access to food from massively reproducing. If that factor isn’t under control, then you’ll soon be asking whether it’s possible to feed a population of 30 billion people on this diet. The answer is that it’s not possible to feed a population of 30 billion people. It IS possible on the other hand for a community of like minded people to create a LOCAL environment of both sustainable food production and sustainable population.

    John wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • Yep.

      rarebird wrote on March 13th, 2012
  23. Imagine how wonderful it would be if the entire world were primal. No more searching menus for some semblance of primal fare. No more awkwardly turning down the fresh baked cookies offered by little old ladies everywhere, and last but not least, no more funny looks while walking down the street in vibrams.

    Nick wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • No more vegans and vegetarians, no more PETA, no more T. Colin Campbell, no more heart disease, no more cancer, no more diseases of civilization.

      Brandon wrote on March 13th, 2012
  24. Hi,
    I’m a long time reader, very interested in sustainability and our energy predicament, I wanted to throw in my 2 cents.
    First Principle: This is what we are meant to eat, and there’s no denying this.

    The obvious conclusion is: No, “we” cannot feed the world on the PB and “we” should not even try, because it’s trying to that has led to this disaster. I know there are busy-busy little world-improvers out there trying to tell everyone how and what to eat and how and why to live a certain way. Don’t! See for yourself and your loved ones, and forget about changing the world.
    I highly recommend Daniel Quinn’s writings on the Food Race, along with his novels, and Albert Bartlett’s little arithmetic lesson on population and energy.

    p01 wrote on March 13th, 2012
  25. “…traveled to Southeast Asia and had no problems with the squat toilets.” HA!

    gilliebean wrote on March 13th, 2012
  26. Mark,

    Great article! I believe that this gets back to treating symptoms rather than the disease. The symptom of obesity/poor health is caused from eating non-primal high-carb diets, however, that in and of itself is not, in my opinion the disease. The disease is global overpopulation. Planet earth does not have the ecosystem to continue to sustain this many human beings (be it with food, energy etc.)The advent of agriculture contributed to the population boom, which created this vicious cycle of high calorie/carb farming required in order to support the compounding population growth which then created more agriculture….(you see where I’m going here!).

    If the human race stuck with the “primal blueprint” going back 10,000 years we would have a sustainable population equal to that of our natural food source(s).

    Unfortunately, with the current road we as a species are on, I don’t see how we can decrease global population gradually. The only way I see it happening is through mass famine, disease and potentially global conflict. Sorry to be such a downer, but the disease needs to be identified……

    Mike B wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • Bird flu! All the govts and scientists have been spending lots of time and energy on whether or not to publish the ‘news’ that a couple of (known, probably more unknown)labs have managed to make an *easily* transmissible (but still horrendously virulent) H5N1. (HPAI H5N1: “highly pathogenic avian influenza” H5N1.) They’re all looking at/”planning for” a screw-up that releases it or a terroristic act that releases it — and forgetting to notice that NATURAL reassortment of the virus is easier than they knew!
      Read Peter Sandman’s answer here:

      Elenor wrote on March 13th, 2012
  27. More “yard owners” should consider owning a small chicken tractor and raising a few backyard chickens or ducks. It would be good for their lawn, their own health and they would have a consistent high quality food source. I love my pastured eggs and I plan to raise a few meat ducks and chickens too.

    Larger lawn owners should consider a couple of pastured sheep or goats. And for the larger 3+ suburban yards who don’t like the taste of mutton, I’d possibly consider raising grass fed beef. It could be done if you could find a couple of calves from a quality small sized breed like Lowline Angus or Mini Hereford.

    TJ wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • How does a chicken tractor compare to a backyard coop? Is one a more sustainable setup than the other?

      We already grow vegetables in our backyard… and this has me thinking about adding chickens.

      Any information and resource recommendations are appreciated!

      Primal Texas wrote on March 13th, 2012
      • Primal Texas,

        A backyard coop refers to a stationary structure that the chickens sleep in at night. Sometimes, coops have attached runs so that the chickens have a fenced off safe area to roam around when they wake up and leave the coop. Runs typically have an open bottom and allows the chickens to scratch the earth for bugs.

        A chicken tractor is both of those things in one package. It typically has wheels or can move easily. The idea is that your chickens stay in the tractor 24/7 and you move it around your yard every few days to let the chickens eat fresh grass and scratch for bugs. It also lets the last patch of grass re-cooperate from the chickens.

        I don’t know where in Texas you are, but if you’re in Austin, there is a lot of resources for getting started with chickens. The Austin backyard chicken meetup group is a great place with 1,200 members.

        My setup is like this: I’ve got a wood coop that the chickens sleep and lay eggs in. It protects them from the cold snaps. It is attached to a large run made of wood framing and wire mesh. Every day I let the chickens have free range of my entire backyard, but having a run is nice for times that I need to keep them locked up and safe from predators.

        jc wrote on March 13th, 2012
      • A coop is basically a permanently fenced area whereas a tractor is meant to be moved every day or two. Sustainably, I feel a tractor would be better if you only want four or so eggs per day…chickens love fresh grass and catching bugs. Beyond that point you’ll either need a larger tractor (and more brawn to move it) or multiple tractors (and more time to move them). Chickens en masse are highly destructive when left in even a large enclosure…I have 40 hens and 3 roosters on about a 1/4 acre and in two years they’ve turned it into a desert where only wild aster grows. As they decimated their environment, I’ve watched the feed bill consistently rise. This season I’ll be trying to rectify this situation by cross fencing which will allow me to rotate their pasture.

        Indigo Wells wrote on March 13th, 2012
        • Indigo Wells, that’s a good idea to add cross fencing. While you’re letting the other enclosures rest, try mulching the one the chickens are currently in. My chickens love attacking a bale of straw, looking for seeds, and they spread it around their yard, which protects the ground. I also sprout seeds and throw them out in the mulch and they really go for it. The ones they don’t eat sometimes take root. I have a lot of pea shoots in there now because it took me awhile to notice the chickens weren’t actually eating the sprouted peas from the “pigeon mix” of birdseed that I had been sprouting for them. No waste in nature, though.

          Jeanmarie wrote on March 18th, 2012
      • There is a book called Chicken Tractor. That’s what I used. Hey I live outside of Austin too.

        Catharine wrote on March 14th, 2012
  28. I have always fantasized about turning our yard into an all edible landscape. Over the years I have planted various vegetable gardens and fruit trees in various parts of the USA, some more successful than others.

    No one else in my family was ever interested in helping. Plus, tenacious grasses along with a huge assortment of weeds and critters were interested in the destruction of my efforts.

    I know others have been enormously successful growers. Me, not so much. However, I do have to say, gardening is endlessly interesting and I highly recommend it. I especially like having some control over my food supply.

    Now in my old age, I am thinking to leave the growing to the experts and shop the farm markets and freeze, can or dry the harvest.

    I am sure I will continue to grow a few crops. Garlic for one and a neighbor just gave me some basil seeds that I will plant.

    As to world population, an enormous concern of mine…. Efforts to cut the population are difficult because of religion, politics, poverty and probably some other factors.

    As far as I know, the only thing that has reduced population is getting women to actualize their lives beyond the home and children. As people’s standard of living rises, the population declines. But I suppose they then use more of the earth’s resources.

    Good grief we need to figure this out or our success as a species will be our demise.

    Sharon wrote on March 13th, 2012
  29. I like this. I still believe switching to Permaculture is the way to go.

    Jean-Luc Boissonneault wrote on March 13th, 2012
  30. Glad to hear you mention bugs–so many others around the world eat them, it’s just a matter of time. Shishkabob crickets anyone?

    Tore up the front yard last year, put in blueberries on one side (6 bushes), veggies on the other–getting ready to plant again!

    Tom Bassett-Dilley wrote on March 13th, 2012
  31. Indigenous New Zealanders (Maori) also eat the Witchetty grub, among other things, but we call them Huhu grubs. Tastes like peanut butter chicken.
    Y’all gotta try a Maori hangi one day. It’s the best way to cook meat ever!

    Nion wrote on March 13th, 2012
  32. YUM Escargot. I always encounter scrunched up noses when I talk about it. But seriously people, try it! I had the most amazing escargot at a french restaurant on a cruise ship going around the hawaiian islands. I can only imagine escargot at a french restaurant in France. It is AMAZING. Sorta like a scallop.

    Also in regards to turn your lawn into a garden:- If we can get by idiotic laws and our neighbours:

    Thank you for this series, though. It really gets my mind ticking as to all the things I could do to be more self-sufficient.

    Carly wrote on March 13th, 2012
  33. I love the smart, thinking, conscious people on this site! My wonderful, forward thinking, grandmother told me years ago that the most intelligent and evolved among us MUST reproduce. This was at a time when I was considering the alternative. I said that the world was over populated. But, she said, if only the ignorant had children, the world would be overrun and civilization would be lost. In any case, I think population control is a crucial issue if our species is evolve.

    TruckerLady wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • I agree with your grandmother.

      rarebird wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • Did your grandmother write Idiocracy?

      primalzen wrote on March 14th, 2012
    • And this is why I have happily had two children, despite my concerns about over-population. I have studied Permaculture and am doing a degree in Ecological Agriculture and hope that one day, my kids will help further knowledge and interest in this field too :)

      Em wrote on March 13th, 2013
  34. Agree with all of your points today, Mark. I would add a couple more:

    1) The way we currently feed the world makes most of us sick, and isn’t indefinitely sustainable anyway because it relies entirely on fossil fuel inputs.

    2) If you can’t feed everybody a healthful, sustainable diet, then there are simply too many people. Period. We shouldn’t try to feed more people than we can actually support; doing so harms everyone in the long run, and by everyone I don’t mean just humans.

    Uncephalized wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • Let’s start by killing chinks because they eat too much rice.

      Brandon wrote on March 14th, 2012
      • Really? I’m amazed that you would be so blatant about posting something as offensive as this; it shows just how ignorant and stupid you are.

        Andy wrote on March 15th, 2012
  35. Great post! Just remember, grass is incredibly useful; if you are keeping chickens or goats or cattle. That’s the deeper reason we love grass; we know subconsciously that in nature, green grass will draw all the good stuff; birds, buffalo, deer, etc.

    Goats are a great meat & dairy animal for people w/small amounts of land, and chickens can fit in almost anywhere with a backyard.
    Or, if your yard is too small, get a beehive and trade honey for other people’s fruit, veggies & eggs. Bees will also improve your garden and orchard productivity by leaps and bounds.

    fitmom wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • Grass is generally a beautiful, natural, necessary thing (meadows, savannah, rangelands); I think Mark is referring to TURF grass, specifically (i.e., lawns)

      Elizabeth wrote on March 13th, 2012
  36. great post, marki’m thinking it may be worth researching a good recipe for dark chocolate covered ants!

    mark bouvier wrote on March 13th, 2012
  37. I’m curious how much grass-fed beef could be produced on the rich farmlands of the midwest that are currently used to grow wheat, corn, and soybeans if they were converted to grasslands? How would the calories per acre compare?

    Ron wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • Ron, that’s quite a complicated question and depends on the system used. At each point in the food chain, only about 10% of energy is passed on to the next trophic level, so say you have 100 calories worth of grass – by the time it goes through the cow and to the human, there is only 1 calorie of useable energy (this is highly simplified btw). That might make it seem like a tiny energy yield, but you have to take into consideration that much LESS energy is being used on the same piece of land by heaving machinery to plant and harvest the grains. Also, a system like the one Joel Salatin uses creates a more complex energy flow, so a lot more can be produced on the same amount of land.

      Em wrote on March 13th, 2013
  38. I started a square foot garden last summer and this year I’m going to expand it. It is totally awesome and rewarding to grow your own veg. I started out with one box, and going to add three more.

    I seriously urge everyone with (a little) garden space or a balcony to read Mel Bartholomew’s “Square foot gardening”. It can feed a lot of people with only a few square feet of space and a tiny amount of effort.

    Fair Flavors wrote on March 13th, 2012
    • Fair Flavors, I’m with you on the square foot gardening. I absolutely love it! We have a tiny little back yard and have as many raised beds as we can fit, approx 150 square feet worth. We live in Phoenix and even have blueberry bushes (low chill hour variety) in large pots thanks to how-to videos from Dave Wilson’s nursery. Freakin’ internet!

      Chris wrote on March 13th, 2012

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