January 21, 2020

winter food

This morning, I was doing a bit of research to figure out how much food an adult should eat every year. I also wondered how much I might be able to grow, dry and transform myself.

It wasn’t an easy task, as most of the information these days seems targeted to daily consumption.

Daily Requirements

According the World Health Organization, adults should eat at least 1,200 calories per day, depending on age and activity. Of that, 400g should consist of fruits and vegetables per day. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and other starchy roots do not count within this total. Salt intake should be limited to 5 grams (and not more).1

Most of us in industrialized countries eat more than double what we need, more than 3,000 calories a day.2

I’m definitely among those eating too much these days. Most of my clothes no longer fit.

Personal Target

According to the guidelines, a sedentary woman my age should eat 1,600 calories a day, so I’ve set MyFitness Pal to 1,200 calories per day to ensure warnings as I get close to the target. In an article for Harvard Medical School, Daniel Pendick estimates that a woman of my age and weight should eat roughly 53 grams of protein a day.3

My main goal is to eat a diet that’s less damaging. I want to use local resources and prevent climate change.

As inspiration, I read about Rob Greenfield, who decided to experiment growing and foraging his own food for a year in Orlando Florida. The only challenge for him was protein; fishing didn’t provide enough for him so he relied on eating deer kill.4 Don’t think I’ll try anything that extreme this year, but his projects definitely provide a baseline of what’s possible in warmer climates.

Sustainable Diet

According to a Los Angeles Times article by Deborah Netburn, 37 colleagues from 16 countries around the world published a study in Lancet about a sustainable diet for 2050. That diet limites us to one tablespoon of red meat per day (ie one hamburger per week or one steak per month), one glass of dairy beverage per day, two servings of fish per week, one egg per week and many more whole grains, seeds, nuts and vegetables.5

I did a bit more research about that diet and discovered that it comes from a nonprofit company called EAT, which itself is funded by the Stordalen Foundation, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Wellcome Trust.

According to that diet, we should eat:

  • at least 125 grams of dry beans, lentils, peas and other nuts or legumes per day; and

  • no more than 98 grams of red meat (pork, beef or lamb), 203 grams of poultry and 196 grams of fish per week.

Everything else should be fruit and vegetables.6

Most of the resources on that site talk about transforming the industrial food system to become more sustainable, a goal I heartily endorse. I’d also like to grow as much food myself too. When I plugged info about that into Google, however, I got a lot of survival-oriented sites about storing food for a year.

What about Growing Food?

So far, the best resource I found for my needs is a blog, book and podcast series by Melissa K. Norris. Norris writes about pioneering and homesteading. In a recent post, she recommends that each person plant 10 to 20 bean plants for canned and dried beans throughout the year. She also recommends 15 bulbs of garlic, and 5 tomato plants per person, 5 cucumber plants, 3 winter squash plants and 1 summer squash plant.7

Of course, she lives in Washington, so the homegrown season lasts a little longer there than it does here in Montreal, so I’m not sure if her estimates will match what I need.

Also, since writing this article, personal trainer Andy Brown contacted me to let me know about an article that he and his team put together about healthy eating. In addition to defining healthy eating, the article explains the role of calories, macronutrients and micronutrients in a healthy diet. It then lists foods to eat to stay healthy and foods to avoid. Check out Healthy Eating, A Detailed Guide here.

Guess I’ll have to do a bit of experimenting over the coming year. Stay with me and hopefully, we’ll answer the question by the end of the year.

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3Pendick, Daniel. “How much protein do you need every day,” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, June 18, 2015, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-much-protein-do-you-need-every-day-201506188096, accessed on January 21, 2020.

4Greenfield, Rob. “I didn’t buy any food for a year and I’m healthier than I’ve ever been,” The Gardian, December 19, 2019; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/19/i-didnt-buy-any-food-for-a-year-and-im-healthier-than-ive-ever-been, accessed January 21, 2020.

5Netburn, Deborah, “Your Sustainable Diet for the year 2050,” January 19, 2019, Los Angeles Times. https://phys.org/news/2019-01-sustainable-diet-year-nuts-sugar.html, accessed January 21, 2020.

6https://eatforum.org/, accessed January 21, 2020.

7Norris, Melissa K. “How much to plant for a year’s worth of food,” April 10, 2017, https://melissaknorris.com/how-much-to-plant-for-a-years-worth-of-food/, accessed on January 21, 2020.


About the author 

Tracey Arial

Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.

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