I had this realization recently, perhaps ironically while beginning to read Michael Ruhlman’s definitive guide to Charcuterie … It got me to thinking about that perennial question that you so often hear, or may ponder yourself, about the grain-free way of eating (and if you’re not familiar with this, here’s some helpful info on why one would want to pursue such a diet) – “If grains are so bad for you, why did humans start growing them in the first place?  Why have humans been eating them regularly for millennia?”

Couple this question with a more recent endeavor to restock our emergency supply stores with things I can actually eat – as opposed to the crackers and canned beans that currently occupy the “Take first” bags.  (This has primarily been an intellectual endeavor so far, as I haven’t done much in the way of actually doing anything about fixing these stores—still in the planning stages, and debating how much I want to actually accomplish, given that we hopefully will be moving in the not too distant future.)

When you take a look at the generally recommended supplies for emergency food storage, you quickly realize that very few of them are GAPS/paleo-friendly.  (Well, theoretically lentils, navy beans, and lima beans would be GAPS-friendly, but legumes in general seem to be very unfriendly to me, and are definitely out on the paleo plan.)  Even nuts, especially properly-soaked “crispy” nuts, ought to be stored, long-term, in the freezer, to avoid rancidity, so they can only make up so much of an emergency supply, unless I plan to get an extra chest freezer — which I have no space for anyway!

So much of what J and I eat these days (meat, veg, fruit … yup, that’s mostly it!) has an extremely short potential shelf life, especially if we were faced with an emergency evacuation or a long-term power outage.  (Enter Ruhlman and co. – we plan to make serious headway in this department in the not too distant future!)  But what in the world did people do before refrigeration, before massive food distribution systems, before large- (or even medium- or small-)scale grain production?

What did Paleolithic hunter-gatherer groups do, when a severe food shortage reared its head, and for whatever reason, more could not be hunted or gathered?  They starved, that’s what they did.  What did early civilizations, with the capacity to grow and store grain do?  They survived.  Until the famine had passed.


This made me think of the story of Joseph in Genesis 41:

‘Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. 36 This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.’

Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it. 49 Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.

The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. 55 When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.”

56 When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. 57 And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.”



Growing grain is a really good thing – a great thing – something that could sustain human populations through the worst of times – prevent a society’s children from dying, and sustain the scrawniest of cattle, even the ugliest ones pictured in the Pharaoh’s dream, until a drought had passed and fresh green grass would grow again.  The domestication of grain-producing plants could be seen as the turning point in human existence, from basic, bare-bones subsistence to being able to assure that this and future generations could effectively thrive, no matter what circumstances the weather or earth threw at them.

Grains (and beans, which can be stored indefinitely at room temperature, assuming they are protected from rodents and bugs) are the ultimate survival food, the ultimate emergency supply — which, remarkably, can be self-regenerated when it becomes possible to grow food again.  (Yes, cheeses and cured meats last a long time without refrigeration – but they’re not self-regenerative, and eventually they become old, dried out, and virtually inedible.  I’m pretty sure you can’t effectively store good cheese, even at cellar temperatures, for 13 years — 7 years of feast, and the first 6 years of famine — and have it still be edible.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But that’s a task that grain is perfectly designed for, if you can keep rodents and bugs out of them.)

But grains are not something that human bodies were designed to live off indefinitely, as the basis of the diet.  They cannot replace the nutritionally-rich food that should be consumed during the feast years—fresh cream, butter, fresh and smoked meats, fresh or cellared fruits and veggies, along with the fermented foods like cheeses and hams and sauerkraut that are great for short-term (say a year or two or maybe even three) storage.

The problem is, we’ve taken these nutritionally-deficient (and aggressively toxic!) substances which will sustain a human body through a famine, and made them the basic staple of our diets – AND abandoned all preparation techniques (like fermentation and sprouting) which render them less toxic and more nutritionally useful to our bodies – AND added in all sorts of processes (like extrusion) and non-naturally-occurring substances (like artificial colors and flavorings and industrial seed oils) that make them even more violently toxic.  It’s no wonder that so many people today are dying from ailments that can be directly connected to nutritional deficiencies.  Our race is, on the whole, living on very poorly prepared famine food.

Now that is not to say that I don’t think humans in a time of feast should not eat grains.  (Ok, that’s a triple negative there … sorry.)  I mean, the axiom is, “Eat what you store, store what you eat.”  And if you’re storing up emergency supplies, they should probably contain some grains.  Because that’s what grains are so good for.  And not a lot of us can afford to go out buying food we’re not planning to eat.

However, maybe unhealthy humans shouldn’t eat grains.  Especially unhealthy humans with gut dysbiosis.  Because grains can be really hard to digest and require particularly complex processes to make them nutritionally useful to the body.  And it could probably benefit a large segment of contemporary society to take an extended break from grains, just to see how it might improve their health.  (Well, there are so many other things like processed foods, industrial seed oils, artificial colorings and flavorings and sweeteners, sweeteners … which should probably be on the list of taking a break from ahead of grains … but I digress …)  Of course that could never happen, with farm subsidies and agribusiness and so forth.  But anywho.

I’ve been off grains since last November.  I had some sourdough bread in December, but aside from that, the first time I tried grains again was this past week, when I had some pre-soaked and fermented, then thoroughly cooked, granola which I had made long ago before cutting grains — I used to eat it pretty much every day.  I had been thinking about oatmeal, like constantly, for several days.  So I thought, maybe my body is trying to tell me something.  So I tried some.  Within minutes, I started to get a funky brain fog.  About an hour later, I got really, really sleepy, and could barely keep my eyes open.  Later that night, my heartburn, which I haven’t had for months, came back with a vengeance, along with plenty of burping — despite the fact that I had taken a whole bunch of activated charcoal to try to interrupt the toxins after my first symptoms appeared.  And I just felt generally awful, down and depressed, lethargic for most of the rest of the day.

So I’m thinking that grains are not in the cards for me as of yet, at least certainly not the granola!  But I’m also thinking that eventually, some day, they will hopefully be back in the picture — not as a staple, but as an occasional “treat”, and that we’ll be able to reasonably keep some grains around for emergency supplies and have the confidence that eating them, after proper preparation, won’t necessarily make us feel awful.


Photo Credit:  Frapestaartje on Flickr.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday, Healthy2Day Wednesday, Women Living Well Wednesday, Gluten Free Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Pennywise Platter Thursday, and Paleo Rodeo.

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17 Responses to Grains Are Famine Food

  1. Thanks for the thoughts. I hadn’t thought of grains as famine food before, but you’re right! My diet strays more and more toward the “paleo.” I’ll have to try it all-out and see what happens.

    • Megh says:

      Thanks! Yeah, it took a while for me to think it out … We’ve been basically grain-free on GAPS now for quite a while, and it’s definitely doing good things! It’s hard, taking the grain-free plunge, but has definitely been worth it for us. Good luck!

  2. jill conyers says:

    Great info and lots to think about and research. I currently consider myself a “clean” eater and have been happy with the difference it has made. Now, I’m curious to know more about Paleo.

    Blog: Life As I See It [Fitness, Health and Happiness]

    FB: Life As I See It [Fitness, Health and Happiness]

  3. Dana says:

    What did Paleo people do when the food supply diminished? They moved to a new area. You no more develop agriculture to forestall starvation than you sew a parachute after you jump out of a plane. There are people who study this issue who think the first grain fields were developed because the people growing the stuff wanted to brew beer. I think that’s a bit more plausible than “avoiding starvation.” Besides, if you take a good look at populations forced to subsist on grain and little else, starving is exactly what they’re doing, with some nasty nutritional deficiencies to boot.

    Going back to what you were writing here about emergency food storage? For a hunter-gatherer, no refrigeration is necessary. Meat stores itself–on the hoof or paw. Plant foods store themselves on the shrub, tree, or vine. You go out and you get some. For free. There you go.

    Daniel Quinn is an instructive person to read here. You could also look up Jason Godesky’s Thirty Theses on Google–that was a real eye-opener for me. We assume so many things about the way our ancestors did things that really don’t make sense when you finally sit down and pick them apart. And the worst part is, you don’t even know they should *be* picked apart til someone comes along and tells you, they are *so* ingrained (ha) in our culture.

    • Megh says:

      Wow, thanks for all the information — I will definitely have to look into these sources! I have to admit, with a homebrewer for a husband, I certainly can certainly sympathize with the whole growing grain for beer thing! :)

    • Uly says:

      Agreed. Hunter-gatherer groups that have been studied are/were (not many exclusively hunter-gatherers left today) far less likely to be hit by famine than farmers.

      When your food supply dries up, and you’re a farmer, you’re stuck. You’re tied to the land.

      When it dries up and you’re a gatherer, well, you move a little earlier than schedule. It’s not ideal, and maybe you go a little hungry, but you generally don’t starve.

      (Also, hunter-gatherers tend to have smaller populations than farmers, including fewer children per family. This means, of course, that you have less mouths to feed. And they don’t work as much as farmers do – actually, they seem to spend very little time working!)

  4. nanabella says:

    RE: Food storage: I have been buying #10 cans of freeze-dried cooked meats, cheese shreds, veggies and fruits from various online suppliers… no preservatives and very low or free of sodium… these are to be reconstituted w/ a little (heated or not) water when ready to eat. They feel and taste mostly like fresh… the beauty is, because they are freeze-dried, they can all be eaten without reconstituting at all. They are not rock hard like dehydrated food, but crunchy and highly flavorful, sort of like chips, only real food! That’s why I buy this stuff! And it’s all w/in the low carb, almost paleo way of eating …

    • Megh says:

      Thanks for the comment! I do like freeze-dried food stuffs too — some of the fruits are flat-out delicious, like candy! However, I haven’t yet found a supplier of freeze-dried meat (or dairy) which uses grass-fed and/or pastured products. Because of my sensitivity to soy-fed animal products, I have to be so very, very careful! Are you aware of any places that offer 100% grass-fed? Or organic fruits and veggies? I’m not nearly so sensitive on the organic produce end, but since I’m going to be eating it, I’d rather have it be organic. I’d like to get around to making some of my own, eventually, although I’m not sure that’s going to happen any time soon!

  5. Lili says:

    Could not agree with you more! Very nice post!
    Love Paleo way of eating!

  6. lydia says:

    Great post! The title grabbed me – I agree completely! I feel so much better with little to no grains in my diet – they really are nutritionally superior whether you soak and properly prepare or not. Unfortunately they are WAY more affordable than a heavy meat diet, and I think that is why many people lean towards grains (not to mention the addictive effect they have on you, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing……)

    • Megh says:

      Yeah, that’s where the grains get you … the bank account factor. But when I think about how much better I feel too without the grains, I suspect that the saved medical costs down the road will at least partially make up for all the meat I buy! Thanks for commenting!

  7. Charlee says:

    I am researching freeze drying my own meats with dry ice. Looks pretty straight forward once you get the technique down. There are very expensive freeze dry units that would be a dream for a group of SCD/GAP/Paleo to unite and produce supplies together. As an educator in all things regarding emergency preparation I have a sense of urgency to address food storage of at least 45 day supply that would bring peace of mind.

    • Megh says:

      Interesting. I give my cats freeze-dried chicken treats, and I’ve always wondered how easy it might be to make them myself (with better meat!), but I figured it required, as you say, expensive special equipment. Keep me posted!

  8. [...] stored without electricity, you’ve got a pretty good bet of keeping grains around longer. In case of famine, grains are a good thing to have around. Sure, they may make some people sick and shorten some people’s lifespans, but overall [...]

  9. susan says:

    just found this article (but have seen and enjoyed your blog before), doing a search on grass fed freeze dried beef for emergency food supplies. i would say there is certainly a market for this! i know the farmers raising beef on grass don’t have much extra time, but it sure would be great if one of them could get their product to someone who could do the freeze drying and packaging.
    hmm maybe i need to learn how to do this!

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