Fitness and nutrition expert, Ben Greenfield takes his food seriously.
The author, speaker, podcast producer, and coach has made a career of advising athletes on how to train and maintain good health habits. To practice what he preaches, Greenfield has transformed the kitchen in his Spokane, Washington, home into a living example of to eat locally and produce your own food. There, he gardens, hunts, and ferments—and plans to have his own chickens and goat before long.
“I love that we have a real connection with our food, and that our kids can identify the plants in our garden,” he says.
He hopes his habits will convince his clients and followers to overcome the intimidation factor in growing and sourcing food. By following some of the Greenfield family’s simple habits, anyone can take a more active role in deciding what foods to eat.
“People are out of their comfort zone,” Greenfield explains. “They don’t know where to start.”
Many of his culinary strategies are easy for novices to adopt, while others require more work, skills, and space. One of the most basic ways to start producing your own food is by gardening. City dwellers with no yards of their own can seek out a plot in a local community garden.
And because some plants require less maintenance and care than others, Greenfield suggests starting with fast-growing crops like arugula and radishes. Another quickly flourishing plant is kale, which Greenfield suggests as a staple in an athlete’s diet because of its high iron content. Zucchini and summer squash are also easy to grow, he says, adding that they can serve as an alternative to pasta for athletes looking to limit their carbs.
At Greenfield’s house in Spokane, he and his wife, Jessa, have turned their backyard into a garden, where they grow all these vegetables. Most mornings, Greenfield heads to the garden to pick kale or other dark, leafy greens for his daily smoothie, which, he swears, tastes more robust as a result. The family also grows cucumbers, berries, corn, tomatoes, herbs, and other crops.
Aside from fresh produce, the Greenfields preserve food by canning and fermenting it. They take cucumbers from the garden and brine them to make pickles. They ferment carrots, cabbage, and peppers to make kimchi, and also make their own yogurt and kefir. Anyone can ferment or can food, Greenfield explains—and they don’t even need their own garden to do so.
Greenfield suggests that fermenting novices start with his family’s pickle recipe. Not only is the process easy, but pickle juice can help athletes replace electrolytes after a long run or ride. The Greenfields place cucumbers in an ice bath for two hours, then transfer them to a glass jar with a tablespoon of mustard seed, two fresh heads of dill, two heads of garlic, one tablespoon of salt, and four tablespoons of whey. (You can get whey from a yogurt container by simply scooping out the liquid that settles at the top.) They fill the jar with water to cover the cucumbers and let it sit on the counter at room temperature for three days. During that time, they shake the jar vigorously for 30 seconds two to three times a day and briefly open the lid after each shaking to release the gases that accumulate. The pickles are then ready to put in the refrigerator and eat.
In addition to gardening and preserving, Greenfield supplies much of the household meat by hunting, bringing home 50 to 60 pounds of white tail deer each season. He plans to start hunting turkeys as well. Since Greenfield doesn’t have to travel far to hunt, he spends little on the endeavor, paying only for a license and a butcher, who parcels the meat into freezer-friendly cuts.
If hunting isn’t an option, Greenfield suggests buying a portion of a grass-fed cow from a local company, as he does every year. The Greenfields save money by purchasing the meat in bulk, supporting a local rancher in the process.
Down the road, the Greenfields plan to continue expanding on the ways they can produce their own food. They’re building new digs on a larger plot of land so they can cultivate a bigger garden, raise ducks or chickens for fresh eggs, keep a goat for milk, and possibly even build a greenhouse for growing crops that normally wouldn’t survive Spokane’s northern climate.
One day, during your struggles, you look down at your thigh. You should see a familiar scar from an old childhood wound. But now that scar has begun to pull apart, skin separating, as if the stitched seam in a pair of jeans has started to unravel.
Meanwhile, your teeth have grown so loose in your skull that, if you had the strength in your hands, you could pluck them out with your own fingers. The hair follicules on your legs have turned purplish. You bruise at the slightest touch.
As one description puts it, if this malady continues on its course, “the body will degenerate into a bleeding pulp for which death is a blessing.”
This is not some rare and frightening disease recently emerged from primate populations in Central African jungles. Rather, it is one of the oldest human maladies known. For four hundred years, it had a profound effect in shaping world history, and yet is almost forgotten today.
This “bleeding pulp” of the human body represents the end stages of scurvy.
Scurvy has probably been around as long as humans existed—Hippocrates made note of it in Classical times—but it wasn’t until about 500 years ago that it threatened the balance of emerging world powers. Basically, scurvy is caused by the lack of what we now call Vitamin C (or ascorbic acid). Most animals need Vitamin C to survive, but most of them can manufacture it in their own bodies, with the exception of certain primates, bats, and guinea pigs.
To describe its role in the human body, I think of it as a kind of atomic welder in the body’s foundries that make proteins. One of the most important proteins the body manufactures is collagen, which helps form the tough, connective tissues—ligaments, tendons, skin, blood vessel walls. Scurvy sets in when there is no vitamin C to weld together the collagen protein in these tissues.
This became glaringly obvious starting in the late 1400s when sea-going European explorers made epic voyages in search of new lands. They sailed for months without fresh food that contains Vitamin C. Scurvy typically appeared among the crew after ten or twelve weeks at sea, but sometimes sooner. Vasco da Gama’s expedition around Africa to India in 1497 suffered mightily from it, saved by an Arabian trader who happened by with a boatland of oranges. A French expedition led by Jacques Cartier, his ship trapped in the ice in the frozen St. Lawrence River in the 1530s while looking for a Northwest Passage, lost 25 out of 110 men.
Cartier ordered an autopsy on one 22-year-old victim to try to understand what this curious malady was.
“It was discovered,” according to the expedition’s journal, “that his heart was completely white and shriveled up, with more than a jugful of red date-coloured water about it.”
(One of my favorite scientific books of all time, which describes some of these events, is Kenneth J. Carpenter’s “The History of Scurvy and Vitamin C.”)
Once European nations developed navies to colonize and defend distant lands far across the seas, the death toll from scurvy skyrocketed. By one calculation based on nautical records, between 1500 and 1800, scurvy appears to have claimed around two million sailors.
What’s bizarre is that it took so long, literally centuries, for European powers to figure out a reliable cure such as the famous British Navy lemon juice, which was instituted around 1800. Countless cures were lying under the noses of every expedition and were long known to native peoples. Cartier’s expedition was saved from utter decimation through the knowledge of the local Indians, who, in the depths of frozen winter, showed the clueless Frenchmen how to brew tea from the needles and bark of a tree called the anneda, much later identified as the white cedar, or arborvitae. This happened to be very high in Vitamin C.
Other native peoples in cold regions throughout the world—where there are no fresh fruits or vegetables available in winter—had figured out over the millenia what herbs or barks or animals to consume that happened to be high in Vitamin C and would keep them healthy during the long frozen months. The Inuit of the Arctic, for example, chewed on whaleskin, extraoridnarily high in vitamin C, while the Yukon Indians knew that the adrenal glands of field mice would keep them healthy in the winter.
In my book, Astoria, I’ve written about the possible effects of scurvy on Wilson Price Hunt’s Overland Party in the winter of 1811-12. They were trapped in a huge canyon (unmapped then but known today as Hell’s Canyon of the Snake River) with little or no food. I suspect at least some members, such as the collapsing Scottish fur trader Ramsay Crooks and American hunter John Day, were succumbing both to hunger while also severely weakened by scurvy.
The Shoshone Indians saved Hunt’s Overland Party from this fate. When a group of Hunt’s party finally escaped Hell’s Canyon and reached some Shoshone villages, the Shoshone fed them, among other things, dried, pounded “wild cherries.” It’s not clear just what type of cherries these were, but some cherries (or cherry-like fruits) are extraordinarily high in Vitamin C. The acerola, or West Indian cherry, contains about 1700 mg of Vitamin C per handful, or 170 times what the human body needs daily to recover from scurvy. Experiments on conscientious objectors during World War II showed that 10 mg per day of Vitamin C cleared up the symptoms of scurvy within a few weeks.
Whatever kinds of cherries, it is almost certain that the Shoshone Indians ate rosehips, either dried and infused in teas or mixed with other foods. Rosehips are another power pill when it comes to Vitamin C (each cup of fresh rosehips contains close to 1,000 percent of the human daily requirement for Vitamin C). With pounded wild cherries, and rosehip tea or rosehips mixed in stews or in pounded meat, Hunt and his Overland Party were restored from their possible scurvy and debilitating nutritional weakness. With these mega-doses of Vitamin C from ancient, traditional sources, the Overland Party continued on its way to the Pacific to start the first American colony on the West Coast.
In this exclusive excerpt from the new book, Astoria, the legendary Overland Party attempts to establish America's first commercial colony on the wild and unclaimed Northwest coast—provided, of course, they survive the journey.
Peter Stark is a full-time freelance writer of non-fiction books and articles specializing in adventure and exploration history. His most recent book, Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire; a Story of Wealth, Ambition and Survival, tells the harrowing tale of the quest to settle a Jamestown-like colony on the Pacific Coast and will be published in March 2014 by Ecco/HarperCollins.
A widely available, dirt-cheap, eco-friendly superfood that has more protein density per bite than beef and is chock-full of vitamins and minerals? Look no farther than the crickets in your backyard.
That’s right. Those critters chirping away in your vegetable garden are more than suitable for human consumption, and with 16 to 21 grams of protein per 100 grams of cricket, the little brown bugs make for a great post- or pre-workout snack.
It’s a “no-brainer,” says Zack Lemann, an entomologist with the Audubon Nature Institute. Crickets provide more than enough protein to fuel the rest of your day. “And they contain a good, but not excessive, amount of fat and carbohydrate,” he adds.
A hundred grams of cricket contains only about 5 grams of fat and 121 calories. For comparision, a hundred grams of beef has close to 300 calories and 20 grams of fat. Although a hundred grams of ground beef has more protein (26 grams) than the equivalent amount of cricket, the nutritional quality of bovine protein is lower.
The little fat crickets do have is the good kind, unlike the cholesterol-raising fat found in beef and pork. Brooklyn-based Exo and San Francisco company Bitty Foods were quick to hop on these insects’ fitness-boosting potential early on. Both businesses offer cricket-flour energy bars in non-insect-evoking flavors like cashew-ginger and cacao nut. A uniquely low-impact and convenient form of cultivating high-protein food, cricket farms can fit in a bedroom closet or garage and require minimal effort and investment.
Sure, you can buy crickets at a store, but the ones you’ll find weren’t raised for human consumption. Store-bought crickets are usually given artificial feed, which isn’t produced with the human digestive system in mind. Farming your own herd gives you a degree of quality control you won’t find in the local pet store. And if crickets become a regular part of your diet, breeding them yourself will be cost-efficient.
For those of you who can get past our culture’s bug-munching taboos, what follows is a guide for starting and maintaining your own cricket farm.
Step One: Preparation
Get a high-sided, 14-gallon bin—this will hold 500 crickets, which are more than enough for starting out. Make sure the bin’s walls are smooth (so the crickets can’t hop over them and escape), and check that there’s proper ventilation (so the insects can breathe). Because they’ll need a constant source of water, provide a water tray that’s shallow enough that they can’t drown, or purchase a watering pad.
Step Two: Starting Out
You can purchase your crickets in bulk at a pet store or order them online. They’ll cost about a dime each. Put them in the bin and make sure they’re kept at a regular temperature of about 86 degrees.
Feed the adults plants like cucumber, morning glory, and pumpkin. What you feed them can affect how they taste, so feel free to experiment. Robert Nathan Allen of Little Herds, an Austin-based nonprofit dedicated to inspiring more insect-eating, explains: “Feed them mint, and they’ll taste minty; feed them apple and cinnamon, and they’ll taste like apple and cinnamon.” Make sure there are no pesticides in what you give your crickets (the chemicals would kill them), and check their food regularly for mold as well.
Step Three: Breeding
Get a small tray and fill it a few inches with clean topsoil: this is where the females will lay their eggs. The environment must be kept moist, so spray it every day. Once they’ve been laid, you’ll be able to see the eggs—they resemble little grains of saffron rice poking out of the soil. Next, remove the tray and keep it incubated in a hot, humid climate (90 percent relative humidity), until the babies hatch (within 7 to 10 days). Be aware that the eggs won’t hatch if they aren’t kept warm. You can use a heat lamp or a heating pad for this—and make sure to spray the soil with water every day.
The babies, which will be about the size of a pinhead, need to be kept in a separate container until they’re big enough for the main farm. Feed them high-protein foods like tofu and chicken, and they’ll grow quickly. In about a month, they’ll reach full size; a few weeks later, they’ll be ready to breed.
According to Andrew Brentano, cofounder of Tiny Farms, a company focused on building the world’s first open-source edible-bug-farming kit, there are five basics for successfully cultivating crickets:
Once you’ve mastered these steps (which won’t take long), simply keep the system in rotation. Before you know it, you’ll be a full-fledged cricket farmer. Harvest your crop, then boil it in rolling water and sauté with some salt, basil, and olive oil for a tasty snack that’s loaded with protein and good fats.