I’m pretty confident that you could drop me in most any climate and I could survive. I attended the Air Force’s Combat Survival Training course, learned that many things are quite edible, even if they do taste like crap (most notably: boiled thistle stalk!). It’s tough to “find” table salt in the wild, but ants are surprisingly tasty, full of protein, and practically everywhere (and the scent trails that they leave on fresh greens tastes like Italian dressing… sort of). Food self-sufficiency doesn’t seem that tough. Likewise, people can meet their basic nutritional requirements quite easily through gardening in a very small space—though endless boiled potatoes and roasted turnips doesn’t sound very appetizing. Never the less, the potential for food self-sufficiency is critical for my theory of rhizome society, as it is broadly predicated upon the notion of “minimal self-sufficiency.”
But that’s where I draw the line. I know that I can “get by,” but that doesn’t mean I want to give up fine foods. So what are the prospects of combining food self-sufficiency and a gourmet diet? I laid out the kinds of food I would like to “survive” on—those things that I usually cook at home: a wide assortment of ultra-thin-crust pizzas, Spanish tapas, Mediterranean appetizers, hearty salads, fresh fruit, occasional Thai or Indian curries, etc. Fortunately (and perhaps not coincidentally), the climate constraints that I am dealing with (in this case,
Here are my calculations:
Olive Oil: ¼ cup/person/day (360 calories) = 30 cups/year = 2 gallons/year. @ 2 tons per acre olives yielding 30 gallons/ton = 60 gallons per acre. 2 gallons/year requires 1/30th acre = 1500 square feet.
Flour…sacrilege, I know, but I’m not foregoing my pizza :) ½ cup/person/day (200 calories) = 180 cups per year = 50 lbs/year. @ 17 lbs yield per 100 sqft = 300 square feet.
Eggs: 2 / person/day (150 calories) requires roughly 4 chickens per person. 100% forage on ¼ acre (11,000 square feet), shared with goats.
Goat Cheese (5 oz) OR Yogurt (1 cup)/person/day (500 calories). One goat producing 200 gallons of milk per year = 120 lbs cheese & 400 pints yogurt/year, providing 1 pint yogurt AND 5 oz cheese per day. ½ goat per person provides either one daily. 100% forage on ½ acre per goat requires ¼ acre per person (11,000 square feet) shared with chickens.
2-3 pieces of seasonal fresh fruit and ¼ cup almonds daily (350 calories). Roughly 2000 square feet orchard per person (grapefruit, blood orange, cherries, apricots, almonds, lemons, etc.).
Fresh vegetables & herbs (300 calories): additional 500 square feet of intensive beds per person: culinary & medicinal herbs, artichokes, eggplant, peppers, chilies, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, capers, zucchini, cucumber, onions, garlic, etc.
That totals to 15,300 square feet per person (just over 1/3 acre), providing roughly 1860 calories per day, and allowing me to cook most everything that I like. There is no meat in this diet, as the chickens and goats are viewed more as a “perennial crop,” but they would certainly provide meat on an occasional basis.
So, with the regional and practical limitations on meat and seafood taken into consideration, this 1/3 acre would still allow me to grow enough of the right kinds of food so support one person with my favorite pizzas, tapas, fruit, and salads. Sure, goats don’t divide in half very well—this system is really intended to work on one or two acres supporting 3-6 people, where the labor could be divided more efficiently but remain within a single family unit, thereby not creating external dependencies. At only 800 square feet of intensive garden beds per person, with the remainder coming from livestock on perennial forage and olive/fruit arboriculture, this system would actually be fairly labor-efficient. I’m sure there are some spices and such that wouldn’t be worth the effort to grow (saffron?), there are rainwater harvesting considerations to be incorporated in my chosen climate, and it would be nice to have some cured meats and fish, but this is really intended as a thought experiment: self-sufficiency does not have to reflect a dramatic decrease in standard of living. I’m confident that this would adapt well to other diets and other climates. If I look at the kind of food I want to eat, and the climate I will possibly be in, the “self-sufficient gourmand” is probably realistic. Certainly beats ants and boiled thistle stalk, but that's just my opinion...
Sources & References: the calculations here are based primarily on the tables in John Jeavon’s “Grow More Vegetables,” and assume yields in the middle of the range given. Olive oil calculations are from a UC Davis report, and again use moderate values for yield. Forage estimates for chickens and goats are estimates roughly based on performance of a similar system designed by David Holmgren at his home.