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Doing the meat math myself

August 3rd, 2004 · No Comments

On my post discussing the Corp of Discovery’s diet, Rayne commented

The Corp of Discovery probably did eat that much meat — but the guesstimated daily amount of 8-10 lbs. is probably gross weight, including all skin, sinew, bones, antlers and hooves, less desirable organs or tissue that may not have been consumed as food. During the winter the men would have needed additional calories to keep warm; they may have been living an enforced near-Atkins-type diet, without much carbohydrate to round out their caloric needs. The guesstimated daily weight of meat consumed may also reflect unprocessed meat; surely some of it was dehydrated/smoked to preserve it, releasing a lot of water and weight. Was there any indication from the guides at Fort Clatsop to the contrary?

That’s one of the important benefits of blogging, over that of diaries like Lewis’ and Clark’s. We can collaborate more fully, use both push and pull seamlessly to get to more of the truth. If only we could have heard the real depth of exchanges between Lewis and Clark…

The guide giving the presentation did mention that the guesstimated 8 to 10 pounds a day was probably based on the gross weight of the elk instead of subtracting out skin, antlers, inedible organs, hooves, etc.

What Rayne wrote caused me to consider the calculations. During the presentation at Fort Clatsop, I think I was a bit distracted by the kids for a moment or two during the talk, and I missed the precise details.

I do remember that he used these two figures:

number of elk: 131

average weight of an elk: 750 lbs.

Here are two more I’ve researched:

days at Fort Clatsop: 102

elk-eating adults in the Corp: 32

I found a paper written by professors of meat science at the University of Wyoming and members of the Agriculture and Game and Fish Departments that provided statistics on elk and body composition. In the .pdf version, I extrapolated the following equation from Table 1:

boneless lean (meat ) = 35% of whole weight

So if I use the guide’s figures as well as the information I found on the Web, here is what I calculate:

131 elk x 750 lbs/elk x .35 pounds of lean meat/pounds of elk = 34,388 pounds of lean elk meat

divided by 102 days of camp and 32 adults =

10.5 pounds of lean elk meat/adult each day!

And these calculations assume *lean* meat…

Even when I account for the difference between edible elk and other body parts, I am still finding a number consistent with the legend of 10 pounds/day for each Corp member!

The University of Wyoming paper seems to have a lower average weight for elk, closer to 500 pounds. If the elk were smaller, that would result in 7 pounds of elk per person per day.

Elk was most of their diet. They also ate some roots (here is an on-line version of journal excerpts!) but it was, as Rayne said, an intense Atkins diet.

Elk meat is leaner than beef at approximately 500 calories/pound (31 calories an ounce). So 7 pounds/day would be 3500 calories a day. That doesn’t seem to be an excessive figure, given the amount of physical work required for daily life and the needs of the fort and the winter weather, as Rayne pointed out.

Also the journal entry about jerky also proves this intense rate of consumption. From the recipes I’ve read, the ratio of raw meat to final jerky product seems to be 3 to 1 or so. If each man ate 3 lbs of jerky a day then each man was eating 9 pounds of fresh meat. Of course, the process they were using then, which was sometimes only partially completed by the time of consumption, may have been less effective at dehydration. But even a ratio of 2 to 1 would result in each person eating 6 lbs a day of raw meat.

If I’ve made an error somewhere please let me know. This has been an interesting exercise. I could try to quip that one shouldn’t believe anything a government worker says, or that you shouldn’t believe everything you hear.

But I think that this discovery that I’ve done here at the keyboard with help of a search engine and a calculator only further proves Rayne’s point

That’s one of the important benefits of blogging, over that of diaries like Lewis’ and Clark’s. We can collaborate more fully, use both push and pull seamlessly to get to more of the truth.

Thank you, Rayne (and others!) for collaborating, pushing and pulling to get to more of the truth….

Tags: travels