My response to “Patagonia; In Search of the Hidden Glaciers” regarding portable nutrition for expeditions: animal fat and Pemmican!

I was very attracted to this video as a general type of expedition I might like to undertake some day:

Patagonia; In Search of the Hidden Glaciers from Erin Bastian on Vimeo.

Looks like an amazing adventure in spite of the foul weather. I must admit though that I was a little horrified by their choice of provisions and I left a comment on Vimeo to that effect.  It’s interesting to see their apparent elation when they finally get ahold of some “real food” in the form of a nice fresh fish!

I was pleasantly surprised when Erin from the expedition replied wanting to know what kind of alternative provisions I would suggest. Here’s what I sent her:

Hi Erin,

This is Eric from the Vimeo comment about your provisions and my suggestion is generally take a lot of fat and cut way back on carbohydrates, especially sugars. According to information I can find the energy from 1 gram of fat is measured at 9 calories while 1 gram of carbohydrates is only 4 calories. This alone is great news if you can switch to carrying calories that weigh less than half of what you would normally carry!

Now what kind of fat to bring?

Vegetarian alternatives include, EVO, Avocado Oil, Cocount oil, and others. If you’re using pre-packaged freeze dried meals you can at least give each one a heavy dose of olive oil just before eating.

Traditionally though explorers and adventurers would carry animal fats, like Salt Pork, Butter and Tallow. Butter can be clarified so that it keeps well without refrigeration, and bits of salt pork can be used for cooking egg crystals like the OvaEasy brand that I highly recommend for the taste alone. Butter can be put in or on anything including those freeze dried meals also.

The nutritional value of animal fats can be very high if the fat comes from organic grass-fed animals. Grass feed is they key here, I don’t have any supporting research handy but you can easily Google that.

Now when it comes to Tallow it can be used to fry anything, and that’s why people used to love the taste of McDonalds french fries so much back when they were using pure beef tallow in their friers. It’s even better with more exotic and nutritionally dense root vegetables and plantains but of course it’s not so easy to carry those things on extended expeditions.

The best way to consume large amounts of grass fed Tallow on expedition is to bring along lots and lots of Pemmican! I believe Lord Shackleton is quoted as saying “we should have brought more pemmican”. I always say you can never have too much pemmican. Now it is an acquired taste but when it’s prepared properly and you’re really hungry the taste becomes very easy to acquire. The way I make it with generous amounts of dried fruits and nuts along with raw honey and pink salt make it much more palatable. Preparing it with raw meat makes it much more nutritionally complete and dehydrating the meat and saturating it with fat means it can keep almost indefinitely without refrigeration. You could carry little else on your expedition and be perfectly satisfied and healthy at all times and the other foods you bring would just be for a little variety. Now I’m not so sure how much you should rely on a pemmican with a lot of fruits and nuts but I know for a fact that North American natives and European explorers would survive on Pemmican made with meat and fat only for months and even years at a time.  I also know from experience that I can eat fruity, nutty pemmican all day without getting that nasty feeling I get from eating more than 1 or 2 Cliff bars, that “I ate too much Halloween candy” kind of feeling.

A diet of mostly pemmican can be augmented with different things like the egg cystals and pork I mentioned and also with something else I’ve just started using: a soup or stew made with beef jerky. I do not use a commercial jerky as they all have too much sugar and spices. I make my own with a marinade based on Sofrito (pureed onion, carrot and celery) and black pepper. I just break it up and boil it in my titanium mug for a few minutes with sun dried tomatoes and you can add any other dehydrated veggies you have. It will taste simple and watery just like that though, it requires a good amount of butter or olive oil added just before eating to make it into a satisfying meal.

As a luxury I also like to take along some cured meats like dried sausage/salami and well aged cheese like Manchego or Pecorino and some greek olives. Powdered drink mixes based on organic fruits and vegetables are not a bad idea either, this one seems promising: https://aloha.com. Dark chocolate is another great and highly portable delicacy as you probably know already. A gluten free bannock mix is another nice treat if you have a dutch oven to bake it in the coals of your camp fire. I’ve been experimenting with using an aluminum “caldero” as a light weight alternative to a traditional cast iron dutch oven. It works very well for frying and making scrambled eggs. It’s a bit heavier than a non-stick Ti frying pan but I think it works much better.

So there in a nutshell is the state of my current thinking on portable nutrition. It is still evolving but I think I’ve really got the basics down now, Pemmican is really key. I’ve been working on a how-to article for my blog that I will publish soon and send you the link. Also I want to point out that a high fat diet takes a little getting used to and you should try to transition into it gradually before you start your next expedition.

And here’s a great article about traditional high fat diets that has been very influential on my thinking recently so you don’t think I’m just making this stuff up 🙂  http://www.meandmydiabetes.com/2010/03/23/steve-phinney-on-pemmican-and-indigenous-diets-will-become-public-in-2-weeks/.

Cheers!
Eric

I used to take a lot of bread and pasta on my so-called “expedtions” in more civilized regions. As you can tell my thinking has shifted considerably in recent years 😉