When Robert E. Peary prepared for his final attempt to reach the North Pole in 1909, his provisions included an astounding list of supplies: 16,000 pounds of flour, 10,000 pounds of sugar, 10,000 pounds of “biscuit”, 100 cases of condensed milk, 3,000 pounds of dried fish and 30,000 pounds of pemmican. The expedition was a success, largely due to Peary’s previous experience in the North which gave him the knowledge of “exactly what I wanted and how much of it.”
In today’s world, it’s difficult to wrap our heads around planning meals beyond tonight’s dinner and referring to a shopping list that contains 10,000 pounds of anything. One of my neighbors, a longtime resident of Kodiak Island, remembers when groceries arrived by ship — once a year. “I remember my first strawberry,” she once told me.
On February 13, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released new 10-year agricultural projections, including food prices through 2021. How they can extend data points out to 2021 is beyond me, but after wading through the corn, poultry and beef projections (where’s the fish?), you get to the good stuff. Turns out we are thinking more about how and what we eat. Phil Lempert of SupermarketGuru.com for example, says more people are choosing to eat at home to save money. [Well, duh.]
Ever heard of Extreme Couponing? A new one on me. There are cooks out there who pride themselves on making the most for the least. Isn’t that what cooking from scratch, using basic ingredients is all about? I say issue a slow cooker and a copy of Joy of Cooking to every household.
Size matters, too. Americans are using smaller pieces of beef, chicken and pork (again, where’s the fish?) and filling the rest of the plate with grains and vegetables; which by the way, is just what the Dietary Guidelines recommend. So perhaps the upswing of a down-turned economy is that we not only save money but also eat healthier.
Last year, global food prices hit an all-time high. Whether you call it a time to tighten our belts or ditch the Doritos, I’m even more convinced that we have an obligation to ourselves and the world, to grow at least some of our own food. No room to garden? Grow herbs on a windowsill, sow a few salad greens in a container, or participate in a community garden.
What can we learn from Robert Peary’s grocery list? For one thing, he didn’t just drive his Suburban up to a big box store and load it up with 30,000 pounds of pemmican. The famous explorer was a master planner, and he knew a little something about nutrition.
“The absolutely essential supplies…are few, but they should be of the best quality,” he noted in his journal. “They should be prepared in such a way as to secure the maximum of nourishment.”
Interesting, eh? Securing the maximum of nourishment. Like making the most for the least. In terms of our own health, we need to cook from scratch more often; and shop with intention, keeping the motto, maximum nourishment in mind while navigating grocery store aisles, visiting a farmer’s market or buying seeds online.
In terms of the planet’s health, how about reducing the number of times you go to the store? Could you go for a week–or a month–without buying groceries?
I’ve put together a Top 40 List of Vegetables to Grow; one that I share in my weekly column and with my Organic Gardening students. Though the varieties are more suited for Southcentral Alaska’s growing conditions, the list contains a lot of helpful information. If you’re interested, I’m happy to email you a copy.