There is a quiet storm wreaking havoc in the world of food and farming. Processing plants, warehouses, and refineries are burning down at suspicious rates. Two of the world’s largest producers of wheat (and fertilizer) are currently in a war with no end in sight. Countries like China are hoarding all the grain they can get, while western governments use environmental regulations to throttle farm production and raise prices.
At a time like this, we need prayerful repentance, first of all. Second, we need to cultivate our local networks of capable food producers. And third, we need to obtain truly mighty food. Food that’s ready for anything. This article is a quest to answer an ancient, but ever-relevant question:
What is the one food to rule them all?
I’m not talking about the most delicious foods — yes, I love a reverse-seared ribeye as much as anybody. Or a fresh-picked August peach, or a perfectly-smoked brisket. And when you’re far enough out on a trail in the high country, even a soft carrot makes for fine cuisine.
But sometimes, deliciousness isn’t enough. Sometimes you need more rugged performance from your food.
Because you can’t sear a ribeye on stormy seas or pick a peach in mountain pines. And a brisket won’t be ready to eat, when you need to hightail it out to the hills because the power grid is down and the *stuff* is hitting the proverbial fan.
Weak Foods NOT to Rely On
You are what you eat — so what should you eat, when you need to be rugged, stalwart, and valiant? What should you stash in your go-bag? What should you keep in your pantry, to feed your people when worst comes to worst? For starters, you definitely want to avoid the weak foods. Most foods have one weakness or another:
- Most fresh foods are heavy with water weight.
- Most foods are perishable at room temperature or in backpacks.
- Many nonperishable foods have unhealthy preservatives.
- Many natural, nonperishable foods are incomplete — you can’t thrive eating them alone.
- Other natural, nonperishable, complete foods require cooking or other preparation.
Primadonna foods! Feckless urbanite foods, only fit for a Brooklyn brunch!
What Makes for Mighty Food
But all the weaknesses of weak foods point to the true criteria of mighty food:
- Nutrient-dense (and lightweight).
- Complete (You could eat just this, for weeks, and thrive).
These criteria of strength rule out every single food in the world, except for three. And I couldn’t find a Lord of the Rings elf to teach us how to make Lembas, so that leaves us with just TWO truly mighty foods:
1) MREs (“Meal Ready to Eat”)
Both of these foods are mighty, indeed. But the title of this article demands that we anoint the one food to rule all others. The strongest of the strong. This is the final showdown.
A closer look at MREs
The digestibility and palatability (or lack thereof) of MREs has caused people to assign other meanings to the acronym, including: “Meals Refusing to Exit,” “Meals Rarely Edible,” and my personal favorite, “Meals Rejected by Ethiopia.”
Oof. It’s no wonder that soldiers typically only consume about half of their MREs, even in combat situations. They will literally go into caloric deficiency rather than finish these “meals.” This is, of course, unsustainable for long periods, especially in stressful or high-intensity situations.
Another feature of MREs is their nutrient-density. The average MRE weighs about 22 ounces and contains 1,200 calories. That’s about 54.54 calories per ounce. Not too bad. Unfortunately, many of those calories come from gluten, trans fats, and highly-processed dairy products that aren’t ideal for digestion and energy.
Let’s Compare with pemmican:
First things first, since many modern folks don’t know what pemmican is: pemmican is essentially dried meat mixed with animal fat. It was developed by buffalo hunters on the American plains, and mass-produced for fur-trapping expeditions in the 19th-century. For 100 years or so, pemmican has fallen out of favor as anti-animal-fat propaganda has swept over mainstream nutrition science. (It’s BS – animal fat is a superfood!) But today more and more people are waking up to the value of this traditional, complete food. Let’s see how it compares to MREs.
The first thing you’ll notice, when you bite into some pemmican, is that it is RICH. There is almost zero water, in pemmican — the water that has been dried out from the meat, replaced with rendered animal fat, which is extremely calorie-dense.
The density of Premium Pemmican (A tallow-based bar from Steadfast Provisions) weighs in at an impressive 177 calories per ounce. That’s basically as dense as food gets, folks. That’s like a neutron star of nutritional value.
Interestingly, nearly all of these calories come from animal fat and protein. No artificial ingredients, no fillers, no gimmicks. This clean density leads to a unique experience: Eating pemmican is kind of like the opposite of eating a big burrito. Your belly doesn’t feel bloated at all, but you experience an uncanny satiety that lasts for a long, long time.
And as for palatability, pemmican is good. It’s no ribeye or smoked brisket, but it certainly won’t be rejected by Ethiopia (and won’t, in our experience, refuse to exit). If you’re not afraid of animal fat (you shouldn’t be), then you’ll like pemmican — you’ll certainly be able to eat enough to maintain your calories.
A Flawless Victory?
There is one other comparison between MREs and pemmican that’s worth mentioning. The military alleges that a soldier can survive on MREs for 21 days. Hopefully after that, fresh food supplies will have arrived. 21 days — that’s quite a while! How does pemmican’s completeness compare?
Well, history says that native hunters, fur trappers, and explorers would habitually live on pemmican for weeks, or even months, on end. There were likely some long winters where pemmican kept the people alive until the prairie snows thawed. So, basically: we can rely on pemmican for weeks and even months. And during that time, we can not only survive, we can thrive.
Thrive?! Yes. That’s because pemmican, in addition to being complete, natural, non-perishable, and ready to eat, is also:
- Whole and minimally-processed.
It’s clear: pemmican is the mightiest of all foods – the one food to rule them all. Pemmican places awesome power into your hands – the power to go anywhere with complete nourishment. And unlike the ring of power, this food has no ulterior motives and no influence over your morality. At worst, pemmican will make it hard to return to high-sugar, highly-processed, preservative-laden foods for adventure and survival.
Pemmican is the best traditional food to sustain the valiant, on their noblest journeys.
This is the food you want stacked in your pantry, in preparation for… well, anything. And if it doesn’t feed you, it may well feed your descendants — this video shows a man opening and eating a jar of pemmican from 1906. Yes, 1906! I’ve never even met anybody that old, much less eaten anything that old. But it turned out great, because pemmican is a stalwart provider, and a truly timeless source of nourishment.
So, now that we’ve crowned pemmican as the one food to rule them all, a new question emerges: How does one obtain this powerful substance?
How to Get Pemmican in your Life
As we mentioned above, the popularity of pemmican dwindled in the fat-phobic 20th-century. But a pemmican renaissance is emerging, and now there are a few newer companies offering pemmican for sale.
My favorite of these companies (full disclosure – it’s my company) is Steadfast Provisions. We make pemmican that is –unlike much of the pemmican out there— actually delicious. We source everything from family-owned pasture farms. And we don’t take any shortcuts in our production. This is traditional pemmican brought to its highest modern potential. Check us out at Steadfast Provisions!
If you’re adventurous and crafty in the kitchen, you can also make pemmican of your own, using rendered tallow and dried beef. There is a decent video that goes over the process here. I’ve found some simple different techniques for home pemmican production that make a much-improved product – you can email me if you want my tips on making the best pemmican.
Congratulations on making it to the end of today’s pemmican journey – you are officially strong enough to eat pemmican. Stack some pemmican in your pantry today. Get ready to be strong in the wild.
David Treebeard is an Orthodox Christian, organic writer, and creative farmer. His company, Steadfast Provisions, crafts traditional nutrient-dense, nonperishable foods based on pure pastured animal fat.