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For many of us, eating sustainably means remembering to bring our reusable bags to the grocery store. But Rob Greenfield wanted to go further. Much further.
The sustainability, equity and justice activist has garnered a large following with self-imposed challenges to raise awareness. A while back, he simplified his life down to just 44 possessions. Then there’s the time he rode his bike across the United States and bathed only in natural water sources like lakes and rivers.
In 2019, Rob embarked on what might be considered his most extreme feat yet: an entire year of growing and foraging all of his food. No grocery stores, no restaurants, no takeout, no dinners cooked by friends. Rob is writing a book about the project, titled Food Freedom: A Year of Growing and Foraging 100 Percent of My Food and Why It Matters.
“I had to figure out how to grow everything or forage it because there [were] literally no exceptions,” the 35-year-old says. “For the entire year, every single bite, every nutrient—calories, protein, fat, vitamins. I ate no pharmaceuticals, no vitamin pills. Literally, everything that I put in my mouth, I had to grow or forage—except my toothpaste, but I didn’t swallow that.”
Rob had previously lived in San Diego, but for the yearlong endeavor he relocated to Orlando, where the nonprofit Orlando Permaculture provided support.
“I was a complete beginner, a complete rookie, and I needed to be where there was both the knowledge and the resources,” says the Wisconsin native, who lived about two miles from downtown Orlando.
He built a tiny house in the backyard of an acquaintance and planted fruits, vegetables and herbs on friends’ nearby properties in exchange for sharing the bounty.
And boy, was there a lot of bounty to share. Rob grew more than 100 plants, including papayas, beets, spinach, sweet potatoes and the superfood moringa. For protein, he fished for mullet and ate even venison from dead deer he found. He flavored the foods with herbs he grew and salt he foraged from the ocean. Yes, really.
“Nature is abundant in flavors,” Rob says. “One element of that is readjusting your palate” from processed foods.
To indulge his sweet tooth, Rob raised honey bees. The only craving he couldn’t satisfy was chocolate.
Now that the yearlong experiment has ended, Rob once again enjoys food from grocery stores, restaurants and potlucks with friends. But wherever he goes, he still makes an effort to grow or forage at least some of his food.
Rob knows his endeavor is unrealistic for most people. But he hopes his project inspires all of us to change our relationship with food.
“So many people are incredibly intimidated by growing food, by foraging, and I think one of the reasons why is that’s intentional,” Rob says. “We have been intentionally intimidated away from having this connection with our food so that we’re dependent upon corporations that we’ll buy our food from.”
Rob Greenfield’s advice for eating more sustainably
“Drop social norms.” These days, it may seem odd to grow or forage your food, but humans have eaten this way throughout history.
Start small. Grow a pot of herbs on your balcony or learn to identify one forageable plant each month. Don’t compare yourself to Rob or anyone else. “Don’t be too hard on yourself,” he says.
Don’t go it alone. “The idea isn’t to do it on your own,” Rob says. “It’s about coming together as a community.” If you grow salad greens and your neighbor raises chickens, then you can swap veggies for eggs. Also support farmers markets and consider joining a community garden.
Forgo the latest kitchen gadgets. Use only tools that add value, not clutter, to your life. For Rob, that meant investing in an Instant Pot and plenty of jars to can his food.
Educate yourself. Get more Florida gardening tips at robgreenfield.org/grow.
Thank you to our sponsors: Seitenbacher and TECO Peoples Gas