No Products in the Cart
The idea didn’t seem that crazy to me. But when I told friends and family about it, they were incredulous. Flabbergasted. Flummoxed. Some were even worried.
They asked me question like, "What about fiber?"
"What about your cholesterol?"
And (worst of all, for many of them) "Won’t you get bored?"
And then they would all ask their main question:
It was sort of out of character, for me. Usually, I’m pretty normal.
But it was, in fact, my normalness that motivated me to eat only Pemmican, for 30 days.
I wanted to show that an all-Pemmican diet is actually a pretty normal thing to do, historically speaking.
And I wanted to put my mouth where my money is. My money is on Pemmican as a “complete” food — one that you can live on for extended periods of time, without eating anything else.
It worked during the past three centuries, so why wouldn't it work for me?
In his book “The Fat of the Land,” anthropologist and Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson dedicates several chapters to Pemmican - especially its role in the fur trade and other exploratory ventures. In story after story, Pemmican enjoyers praise Pemmican’s utility and power. The quality of the sources is broad and very high-profile.
According to William Temple Hornaday, who wrote an authoritative tome about American Bison, Pemmican was “Much sought after, for… its particular staying powers, due to the process of its manufacture, which yielded a most nourishing food in a highly condensed form… of inestimable value to the traveler who must travel light or not at all.”
Pulitzer-price winning historian Bernard De Voto wrote, “Pemmican is by far the best concentrated food I’ve heard about… It is certain that both Indians and trappers lived on Pemmican for very long stretches at a time… a considerable fraction of every year. It is equally certain that both Indians and trappers greatly preferred Pemmican to merely dried meat.”
These fur trappers often traversed the far-northern plains during the Arctic summers, when humid heat could exceed 100º F, and thick clouds of mosquitoes made it hard to breathe. Each man had to be able to carry at least one 90-pound “piece” of Pemmican. Stefansson cites the journal of one of these trappers, a Vermont-born 22-year-old named Daniel Harmon. From August 3, 1800: “Pimican (sic) is a very palatable, nourishing and healthy food; and on it, our Voyagers subsist, while travelling in this country.”
These accounts, which are both firsthand and scholarly, are impressive. But the most powerful historical testimony about Pemmican comes from Admiral Robert E. Peary, one of the greatest American Arctic explorers. Peary wrote a book called “Secrets of Polar Travel,” detailing his successful mission to the North Pole.
When describing the foodstuff for the journey, Peary wrote: “Of all foods that I am acquainted with, Pemmican is the only one that, under appropriate conditions, a man can eat twice a day for 365 days in a year and have the last mouthful taste as good as the first… Pemmican is an absolute sine qua non.”
See? It’s really not that crazy to eat only Pemmican, for 30 days. Fur trappers, for over a century, ate only Pemmican for months on end, while performing epic feats of strength in the most strenuous conditions imaginable.
But I didn’t want to take history’s word for it. After all, those explorers almost seem like a different breed of human. I’m a pretty strong backpacker, but I don’t even want to imagine carrying 90 pounds of solid Pemmican on my back, in 100º heat. I’m a normal modern specimen. So I felt that I needed to test whether I would thrive on Pemmican as much as the fur trappers did, eating their diet.
Here was my experimental question: Does Pemmican, in 2022, have the same complete food value as it did, 200 years ago?
Completeness is one of the best selling points of Pemmican (along with non-perishability and nutrient-density).
If I could thrive while eating only Pemmican, then I would keep claiming that Pemmican is, indeed, a complete food. On the other hand, if I suffered poor health because of the diet, or couldn’t stomach it, or had some serious nutritional deficiency, then I would stop calling Pemmican “complete.”
I figured that 30 days was a good length of time, for an all-Pemmican fast. I could extrapolate from there to infer how one might fare for longer periods, on Pemmican alone.
On a late summer adventure with only Pemmican to eat.
I had an educated guess about how the experiment would proceed, based on historical testimony. So I formulated a five-part hypothesis, being as specific as I could. Here’s what I predicted:
Basically, I predicted and prayed that my experience would be the same as that described by Admiral Peary and the other historical Pemmican enthusiasts.
And so, on a sunny September morning, I walked out of the blood-test lab and ate breakfast: a 4-ounce bar of pure Pemmican. And then I had another one for second-breakfast, and another one for lunch, and another one for dinner.
And then I had another Pemmican bar for breakfast, the next day.
And a very strange thing began to happen, in my mind.
A New Food Sensitivity
Usually, if I eat just one thing too much, I get sick of it. By the end of blackberry season, I’m ready to wait until the following August, to eat another. Even my mother’s renowned mushroom risotto would lose its savor, if eaten more than twice a week. They say variety is the spice of life.
And so, I thought I needed all kinds of different flavors, in different combinations, to be stimulated. But I was wrong.
Sure — during the first five days of the all-Pemmican diet, I occasionally craved fruit (and cucumbers, for some strange reason). But once that adjustment period was over and I had entered (more quickly than ever before) into ketosis, I experienced a profound gustatory equanimity. I craved nothing. In fact, my appetite in general had less intensity than ever before. My thoughts about food were strangely… rational. And strangest of all, the sensitivity of my taste buds was dramatically heightened.
I have done a music fast before, when I would go for a month or so without listening to music. During the days when music returns to the ears, the experience is dramatic. Every note moves you. It’s as though a layer of wax has been removed from the inside of your ears, and you can truly hear, again. This is what happened to my sense of taste, while I ate only Pemmican.
As I ate the unseasoned Pemmican, the true depth of meat’s flavors blossomed before me. I had never before appreciated how sweet meat can actually be — in a non-sugary way. The salt I had always poured onto the meat had obscured that flavor. And as my palate’s sensitivity heightened, I began to notice different savory notes, in the meat. Maybe I was tasting different types of grass, different notes of terroir, in each different bar.
I began to realize that my hypothesis had been partially wrong.
I had predicted that I would get sick of Pemmican, by the end. Instead, the opposite happened. I began to enjoy it more and more. I would eat it slowly, savoring the nuances of flavor. And I didn’t crave anything else. By the end of 30 days, I would have been perfectly happy to continue with only Pemmican.
The testimony of Admiral Peary was true: the last bite tasted just as good as the first.
In fact, I only stopped at 30 days because I ran out of Pemmican. If there had been Pemmican on hand, I would have kept going.
But would that have been healthy? How was my body doing, at that point?
^ Blood tests before the Pemmican Diet ^
Physically, I felt great, after 30 days of only Pemmican. Everything was basically normal. I slept well, I worked as well as typically do, my workouts felt good. My hair wasn’t falling out. I was ready to go. But what did the numbers say?
^ After 30 days of all-Pemmican Diet ^
On the 30th day of all-Pemmican (and coffee, and an occasional whiskey and steak), I took another blood test.
The results almost confirmed my hypothesis. Very little had changed, almost everything was still normal (at least according to the lab’s standards).
The only major change was a significant increase in LDL cholesterol, from 104 to 174 miligrams per deciliter. That starting point, 104, was already considered high, by conventional mainstream medical science. But neither of these numbers worried me.
(It’s true that I do eat a lot of cholesterol. I’m not convinced that cholesterol is bad, either in diet or in the blood. The cholesterol rabbit hole is a deep one — this podcast is a good primer on the subject: https://www.carnivoremd.com/resource/how-high-cholesterol-can-be-healthy-and-low-cholesterol-could-be-harmful-with-dave-feldman.)
Other than cholesterol (and slightly-lower phosphorus), my bloodwork was almost identical, pre- and post-Pemmican fast.
The other test I had run was on body fat percentage:
Before the Pemmican fast, I was at 14% body fat, at 212 pounds body weight.
After the Pemmican fast, I was down to 12% body fat, at 207 pounds body weight. I hadn’t lost any muscle mass at all. I was leaner and stronger! Ready to haul beaver hides through the wilderness.
It makes me wonder what those fur trappers must have looked like. Excellent physiques, no doubt.
After undergoing the Pemmican fast, I’m prepared to say that the historical accounts of Pemmican are essentially correct.
Pemmican is a complete food that, somehow, tastes just as delicious after a month of continuous consumption as it did on day one. In fact, I found it even more delicious, the more that I ate — I became like a sommelier of dried beef.
And so, as a survival food or as provision for an extended adventure, I can, in perfect conscience, recommend Pemmican alone.
So, will I be continuing an all-Pemmican diet in the future?
Maybe, but only for survival or expeditionary purposes. There are three reasons why I’m not still on an all-Pemmican diet, today.
First, fresh meat is significantly cheaper than Pemmican, because it requires much less processing.
Second, I am not a diehard devotee of ketogenic / carnivore diets. I love meat. I love animal fat. I think they are crucial parts of a healthy diet, which everybody should enjoy. But my instincts tell me that ketosis is not an ideal metabolic state for me, in the long-term. I like fruit and potatoes, and I don’t feel any harm from consuming them.
Third, eating is a social experience, for me. I like drinking wine and breaking bread with my friends and family.
That said, Pemmican is still a very frequent part of my diet. I love it more than ever. To me, a Pemmican bar and a good apple is an absolutely perfect lunch. I chow Pemmican snack sticks multiple times per day. And I feel great.
Pemmican is, historically and even today, the STRONGEST single food in the world. Whether you eat only Pemmican, or use it as an adventure stash or convenient food supplement, there is no better option to rely on, to help you be strong in the wild.
(I like mixing it with mustard or honey.)
There is a subset of keto eaters who are classified as Lean Mass Hyper Responders. Their HDL and LDL cholesterol will both rise. Triglycerides will drop. They even have a Facebook group of which I was a member. They tend to be fit gym goers. You can learn more about this phenomenon Dave Feldman’s Cholesterol Code website.
Love your article, love everything about it. Really has me “chewing” a lot of thought.
But this is only worth it if we make it ourselves. I understand why you might need to charge $97 for three days worth, but who can do that? It’s even remotely financially viable. Only has a possible hiking food.
Keep up the great work.