I’ve been talking a lot about growing vegetables lately, but what about the protein?
If we can’t rely on the current food infrastructure due to transportation problems and the complexity of the supply chain, where will we get the protein we need to stay alive? The common solution for resiliency is to start raising small animals like chickens, ducks, and rabbits to handle that.
But what if your local laws forbid you from raising animals because they’re blind to what is going to come over the next decade?
What if you’re a vegetarian or a vegan?
What if you’ve never been confronted with the prospect of killing an animal for food and can’t take it?
Is there a way to get the protein sources you need? The answer is yes, but you have to plan your garden now and pick up a few other skills as well.
The Basics of Protein
The proteins in our bodies are the basic building blocks for growth and maintenance. Proteins are made up of compounds called amino acids. We require nine different ones from outside sources for survival, the so-called essential amino acids. The most common way we get those is through meat and other animal products.
If you’re still carrying the old myth that vegetarians or vegans cannot keep the diet up forever or are always weak and sickly, get rid of it. There are plenty of athletes in many fields who keep to a vegetarian or vegan diet. The secret is making sure that all the amino acids are taken in.
Vegetable foods rich in proteins
Your main sources of protein in a vegetable-based diet will be beans, legumes, nuts, and certain grains. Not all of them provide all nine essential amino acids, but a few of them do. Quinoa (KEEN-wah) is a grain that has gotten more popular here in the US and it has a complete amino acid profile. If you’re feeling up to the challenge of grain growing this is a grain to look for.
However, a far easier thing to grow over here is soybeans. Those edamame you may be buying at the local sushi place are actually just green soybeans. A cup of cooked soybeans has as much protein as a good steak. They are wonderfully tasty when fresh, though can be a bit hard to swallow when cooked from a dried bean. The Japanese have turned older soy beans into a wide variety of food products like tofu and soy sauce. Learning how to make these products from your harvest could bring in some extra cash. Be warned though, making soy sauce is harder than you might think!
Soybeans shouldn’t be your only protein source though. Relying too much on a single food is not resilient! Turning to another country where vegetarian diets are practiced, India, their strategy is to eat a lot of different kinds of legumes. If you go to an Indian grocery store, you can find row upon row of different lentil varieties and big bags of rice. Combining rice with dal, split legumes in Hindi, is a very common meal. In fact, some languages in India use the words for dal and rice to describe any meal, much like how we used to call our meals our “daily bread”.
You don’t have to stick with French lentils, the common variety here, either. Do your research and find out which legume varieties grow well in your zone. You may have to grow some of them as annuals rather than perennials, but there will be something.
What about B12?
The other big concern with vegetarian diets is B12. B12 is only needed in very tiny amounts, but if we don’t have it then nutritional deficiencies develop fast. If you’re fine with eating eggs and milk products then B12 will not be a problem. However, if you cut them out then you’re going to need to turn to other sources.
The common way to supplements these days is through fortified foods, but we’re not in the business of promoting that kind of strategy. The other major sources for B12 are from those organisms that straddle the line between plant and animal. Yeasts and certain fungi can provide enough B12 supplementation to sustain a vegetarian diet. Of the two, yeast is far easier to cultivate.
If you have a healthy sourdough starter, you likely have a source of B12 running around in there, but it’s not guaranteed. Brewer’s yeast, unfortunately, is also not a good source of B12, though it is fantastic for all of the other B vitamins and you’ll make scads of it if you decide to brew as part of your resiliency strategy. It is an acquired taste though!
Since B12 is difficult to get, this is a really good reason to start raising chickens. Eggs are a reliable source of B12 and chicken manure is incredibly valuable to the compost pile. If you don’t keep a rooster around, none of them will be fertilized. However it’s a good idea to get one if your laws allow it so you can make more egg layers. Just check the eggs for an embryo with a strong light source before harvesting.
However, if you are absolutely opposed to even taking eggs, I recommend diving deep into fermentation and learning how to make a large variety of fermented foods at home. You will be reliant upon yeasts to get B12, and different yeasts like different foods. By eating a variety, you’ll raise your chances of getting enough B12. Get good enough at it and you could have a nice side job on your hands.
It is possible to have a vegetarian or vegan diet in a post-industrial society. It just takes careful planning to make sure all your nutritional needs are met. The best time to start learning how is now.