Posted: September 07, 2009

Entirely Homegrown: Shrunken stomach makes for breakfast letdown

Pounds gone -- appetite, too

Mike Taylor

During the month of August I spent subsisting solely on my backyard produce, the question I got most often - besides "aren't you hungry?" was "What's going to be your first meal when this is over?"

Not much, it turns out.

I had launched this hyper-locavore undertaking with a final meal late at night on July 31 with a Good Times feast of three Mighty Deluxes, a strawberry shake and onion rings, which tipped the needle on my bathroom scale to 193 pounds. 

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Two non-laying hens were put to better use in August.

It was all downhill from there weight-wise, even though weight loss wasn't really a goal. I'd merely wanted to see if I could live off the grid nutritionally all of August. But an entire month of living off potatoes, spinach, broccoli, carrots, eggs, corn and other produce whittled me down to 175 pounds by the night of Aug. 31 when I brought home an 18-inch sausage and mushroom Anthony's Pizza and wedged the massive box into my fridge for later.

 My plan was to stay up - or wake up - at 12:01 a.m. and celebrate the onset of September and the end of my month-long backyard-only diet.

I woke up around 4 a.m., had two slices and went back to bed.

Later that morning, I met a friend for breakfast at Pete's Café near the University of Denver. My once-formidable appetite was even less impressive there. I ordered a plate of ham, eggs and hash browns and barely finished half of it.

The hardest part of this experiment as it turns out, wasn't dietary or hunger-related. Nor did I feel much temptation, the one exception being that Burger King commercial where they show a closeup of a juicy burger and a guy with the British accent says, "Tender, crispy onions. ...Tender crispy onions." That one got to me.

Otherwise the bigger hardship was the emotional aspect, the constant, lingering anxiety over whether I had enough food in the garden to last for a month. Part of that is because my most important and abundant food were potatoes, and you can't get an idea of your potato inventory until you dig for them.

 I had about 30 potato plants, and some of the healthiest and biggest plants yielded potatoes no bigger than golf balls, while some of the scrawny plants produced baseball-size gems and bigger.

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A typical harvest

So it wasn't until the last week of August that I figured I was home free and could eat as much as I wanted from then on. I was getting two eggs a day from my two hens (I had my two other non-laying hens slaughtered the second week of August) and I still had about eight bags of frozen cool-weather vegetable crops in the freezer for insurance.

The only rough period was Day 17. I clearly wasn't getting enough protein. My soybean crop didn't materialize at all and my pea crop was meager, so my sole source of protein came from two eggs a day -- about half what the minimum requirement for an average-size man. So on that Monday morning of the 17th, ColoradoBiz publisher Bart Taylor looked at me and said, "I can't have you going south like that. Go get a protein drink."

I did, and I felt better immediately. I had a protein drink about every other day for the remaining 14 days of the project. A major compromise, but probably a necessary one.

The other difficulty I hadn't counted on was the feeling of isolation I got from subsisting in a totally self-contained environment, alone. Food, or dining, is a very social, even communal, activity. I'd go out with friends occasionally and felt like an outsider when I was the only one not ordering food.

Last week I went to a business luncheon downtown to hear former U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow speak. The lunch looked fantastic. I told the server I wouldn't be eating, and she took my plate away. Everybody at my table dug in to their heaping plates of pasta and shrimp topped with red pepper slices, followed up with cheesecake. I sipped my water. Afterward I went home, dug up two potatoes and cooked them with an egg on top.

The biggest things I learned were 1) you can indeed live off your backyard for a month; 2) I need a lot less food to live well than I ever imagined.

Of course, I also gained a heightened appreciation for what it takes to produce the food I eat: The sun, the soil and the labor. I'd encourage anyone to try this, if not by themselves then with a small group so as to cover all the food groups and have others to commiserate/celebrate with.

One bit of advice: Grow lots of potatoes.

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Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

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Readers Respond

Hi Mike. Thank you for inspiring all of us who have been following your saga. I recently saw a couple of movies - "Food,Inc." & "Supersize Me" - that really drive home your point of how we need to take a closer look at our eating habits and try to incorporate healthier, and truly organic, meats, fruits and vegetables into our diet. Your odyssey was fun to follow. I hope you'll consider doing a similar "experiment" with a non-profit organization next planting season. For example, Earthlinks is a local organization that helps children and the homeless re-connect with the environment by planting vegetable gardens, etc. Best Wishes Always, Pam Burrell By Pam Burrell on 2009 10 14
That sounds great, Rosanne. I've heard raised beds are the way to go in Colorado. I didn't have a raised bed, but I did get a cubic yard of bio-compost, and that plus chicken manure improved the soil a lot. By Mike T. on 2009 09 08
Don't know why the last comment about our garden in the Springs came out as events submit - Rosanne Gain By Events Submit on 2009 09 08
Glad to hear that you made it, Mike. This year we built an 18 foot long, 4 foot deep raised garden on the south side of our house here in Colorado Springs. Planted yellow squash, tomatoes and jalapeno peppers. We have a boatload of vegetables: the squash buttery in flavor, tomatoes that taste like the real thing and zesty peppers. Yum By Events Submit on 2009 09 08
Oh yeah, I've changed my eating habits. It was quite a revelation to learn how much less food I require to function well than I'd ever thought. I have to say, though, I wasn't feeling all that healthy around mid-August. But I do now! By Mike T. on 2009 09 08
Good job! You've got to feel a lot healthier, too. Now that you've completed your experiment, have you changed your eating habits? By Roz on 2009 09 08
Well, we were wondering what had happened to you, had visions of you in the hospital, weight down to 125 pounds, being fed milk shakes and liquid hamburgers intravenously. Not a pretty picture. What an experiment - and your experiences should be picked up by the national media as a lesson for all of us. Several lessons, actually. Good job. By Vicki on 2009 09 08

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