• Chris

First Steps

Updated: Mar 1, 2019

Converting EAT-Lancet's Healthy Reference Diet into something both attainable and enjoyable

Three things we did after committing to EAT-Lancet:

  1. Convert all of EAT-Lancet's food group measurements to pounds per year.

  2. Assign the total consumption of various food groups to seasons.

  3. Gave ourselves a full month to harden ourselves off to the diet.

This wasn't by design; item naturally flowed into the next. I'll discuss each in turn.

FIRST STEP: Conversions

EAT-Lancet's healthy reference diet, in true European form, lists all food groups in terms of grams consumed per day, rendering it tight, concise, and wildly impractical as published. So the first thing we did was fire up a spreadsheet and convert everything to pounds per year. You can have a look at the spreadsheet yourself here.

An American like me has no idea what 29g of chicken per day looks like, but converting those grams to pounds and then multiplying by 365 days yields something I can work with: ~23 lbs a year; or about six good-sized chickens.

That's not much chicken, but it seems doable. The per-year numbers for other classes of animal protein, on the other hand, are far less encouraging: 5.6 lbs of beef, 5.6 lbs of pork, 22 lbs of fish, and 10.5 lbs of eggs (about 75 eggs). FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR.

Looking at these figures for beef and pork yields the rather depressing thought of one burger (or plate of bolognese) per week, or a single steak (or pork chop) per month, spread throughout the year like too little butter on too much toast. It became immediately apparent that things might be much more bearable, if not enjoyable, if they were consumed seasonally.


We're in the mid-Atlantic of the U.S., so the food/seasons intersection hews roughly to the following schedule:

  • Spring: tender greens, dark leafy greens, wild greens, strawberries, eggs, chicken

  • Summer: nightshades, potatoes, sweet corn, okra, peppers, cherries, bush berries, fish and shellfish

  • Fall: winter squash, tender greens, dark leafy greens, sweet potato, sunchoke, tree fruits, wild game

  • Winter: pork, beef, winter squash, root vegetables, preserved items (canning, drying, curing)

Staples like corn and rice, and utility items like oils and sweeteners, are evenly distributed across all seasons in our spreadsheet.

Spring brings an abundance for farm fresh eggs, the poultry harvest, and family hunts for wild leeks, plantain, dandelion leaves, oniongrass, and wood sorrel to make cheery wild pestos. Summer is smoking fish and baking clams by the beach, gorging on hot steamed crabs, churning through corn cobs drizzled with cotija and chili powder, and biting into juicy tomato sandwiches. Fall still gets to be pumpkin-everything; replete with spreads of wild turkey, juniper-braised venison*, apple butter, paw paw custard, and stuffed squash. Winter brings savory soups and stews as you stretch your meat allotment with stocks and broths from beef and pork bones**, augmented with the occasional celebratory steak or roast.

Assigning items - especially things we love, like meat - to seasons gives us the ability to gorge on and really enjoy them for a discrete period of time rather than eating a pitiful morsel once a week or once a month. When you think about things this way, the imposed scarcity of certain foods actually becomes a benefit, giving you something to look forward to as one season's harvest gently gives way to the next.

*EAT-Lancet doesn't discuss the health or sustainability impacts of foraging; a missed opportunity. We'll discuss our stance on wilding and it incorporation into our diets in later essays.

**EAT-Lancet does not go into detail in the sustainability handicap one might be afforded for use of bones as opposed to flesh, where no meat is actually consumed.

THIRD STEP: Hardening Off (a carnivore problem)

As much as we're looking forward to eating with the seasons, make no mistake: this way of eating is going to require serious mental adjustments for those of us accustomed to eating developed-world levels of meat. It's going to be all the harder for us on this particular farm - a livestock outfit where we all have free access to hundreds of pounds of world class meat sitting in a walk-in freezer right outside our front door.

EAT-Lancet means:

  • Eating vegetarian, and even vegan, most of the time

  • Stretching meat with bones, broths, and stocks applied to otherwise vegetarian fare

  • Going for months without foods that, today, we're accustomed to eating on-demand, year-round

  • Wasting almost zero food*

To that end, we're spending the 21 days between this writing and our official start of the program (on the March 20 vernal equinox) slowly letting go of our various bad habits:

  • Limiting direct meat consumption to fewer than 1 in 3 meals

  • Cutting fast food and convenience foods as close to zero as possible

  • Diving into the "broth cultures" of regions that seem to do it best (e.g. southeast Asia)

  • Reducing a.) the kids' food waste and b.) letting leftovers languish in the fridge

This hardening off period will also allow us to incrementally adjust our shopping and cooking habits - from sourcing to scheduling - in a way that's minimally disruptive to our family and farm.

*We'll have a discussion sooner or later about the pros and cons of "negating" food waste with homesteading assets like laying hens, and how urban collectives might trade food waste for sustainable protein.

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