Growing potatoes on Mars with Matt Damon

And other lessons for humankind from “The Martian”


See trailer at end of this article.

Spoiler alert. If you don’t like to read anything about movies before you see them, you should stop reading for now. I do recommend this movie highly.

Lessons from the movie Martian

  1. The sensibility of plant-based eating. The most obvious lesson is that plant-based food is by far the most efficient and, hence, the most sustainable way for humans to feed ourselves.
  2. The goodness of human nature. With a single life in peril on a planet 33 million miles away, the global outpouring of interest, care and support is staggering.
  3. The power of international teamwork. Against all odds and a zillion possible things that could go wrong, the international community joins together with incredible resolve to bring this single American back to Earth safely–while the entire world nervously watches this modern-day miracle in space unfold.

Let’s start with the first one–growing potatoes on Mars in Martian soil while using human waste as fertilizer. Once it sinks in that even with the quickest of possible rescue scenarios to bring him back to Earth, Watney calculates that he will run out of food  many months, if not years, before his earliest possible rescue.

Fortunately, he is a botanist and quickly goes about doing what any botanist would do in that situation–he figures out how to grow some plant-based food. (A quick Google search appears to validate his potato farming method on Mars as doable.)

Here is Watney in his potato patch on Mars.

Here is Watney in his potato patch on Mars.

While watching how he is able to sustain himself indefinitely by growing potatoes, I was reminded of just how totally absurd, wasteful and harmful, our current method of eating animals truly is. Of course, Watney probably would’ve liked to have had a steady supply of burgers on Mars…but not if he had to do all the work.

Just imagine how much work it would take to feed, grow, slaughter, process and cook meat when you’re all by yourself on a planet that is 33 million miles from home.

My conclusion is that growing meat makes absolutely NO sense on Mars–and it makes NO sense on Earth either. Why not? Because, on a per calorie basis, it takes over ten times as much land, water and energy (on Earth) to grow meat calories than it does to grow plant calories. End of discussion when you consider that we don’t have nearly enough land or water on Earth to feed even half of our population–if everyone tried to eat the way we do in the United States. So where does that lead us?

the-complete-guide-to-the-martianFrom incredible complexity to blinding simplicity. I am talking about comparing the rescue of one astronaut to the rescue of billions of future humans. But what about that “goodness of human nature” and “power of international teamwork” mentioned earlier? Why has there been none of that when it comes to saving not just one human, but millions of current humans, billions of future humans and trillions of future animals?

Why have the smartest and most powerful people in the world ignored the incredibly simple power of food when it comes to saving our ecosystem and our civilization–necessary steps for preserving our future as a species?

Like this crowd in Times Square, billions of people all over the world were captivated by this incredible international drama.

Like this crowd in Times Square, billions of people all over the world were captivated by this incredible international drama.

I have answered that question in at least 200 online articles and now in two books. The entire disgusting reason is a combination of “money, ego, power and control.” Our global feeding system for humans has locked the minds of the smartest, most powerful and most influential leaders. That system has resulted in the ubiquitous protein myth that exists in ALL of the wealthiest countries in the world. (See movie preview at end of this article.)

The Bottom Line. We have the knowledge to fix our biggest problem on Earth–the way we feed ourselves for the rest of this century. I call it the most important issue in the history of humanity because the future of humanity is riding on those food choices. As for relevant complexity, the solution I am proposing is wonderfully simple and imminently doable. 

Consider this. The method for fixing our feeding model (and saving our ecosystem) compared to rescuing Mark Watney from Mars is like comparing first grade arithmetic to nuclear physics. Nothing could be simpler than shifting to a diet of mostly plants–like Watney did on Mars. The seemingly impossible part is identifying and motivating enough influential leaders to make it happen.

Click on this image to review and/or purchase this powerful book on Amazon.

Click on this image to review and/or purchase this powerful book on Amazon.

In closing, I am reminded of a few relevant quotes from famed Harvard professor of biology, E.O. Wilson in his latest took, The Meaning of Human Existence. These four quotes all appear in the final chapter, “Alone and Free in the Universe.”

Human beings are not wicked by nature. We have enough intelligence, goodwill, generosity, and enterprise to turn Earth into a paradise both for ourselves and for the biosphere that gave us birth.

The problem holding everything up thus far is that Homo sapiens is an innately dysfunctional species. We are hampered by the Paleolithic Curse: genetic adaptations that worked very well for millions of years of hunter-gatherer existence but are increasingly a hindrance in a globally urban and technoscientific society. We seem unable to stabilize either economic policies or the means of governance higher than the level of a village.

Too paralyzed with self-absorption to protect the rest of life, we continue to tear down the natural environment, our species’ irreplaceable and most precious heritage. And it is still taboo to bring up population policies aiming for an optimum people density, geographic distribution, and age distribution. The idea sounds “fascist,” and and in any case can be deferred for another generation or two— we hope.

Scientists who might contribute to a more realistic worldview are especially disappointing. Largely yeomen, they are intellectual dwarves content to stay within the narrow specialties for which they were trained and are paid.

As for that last sentence, although there are an estimated 10,000 nutritional scientists in the world, NONE of them have had the courage to step out of their narrow specialties and publicly endorse the world-changing scientific findings of Dr. T. Colin Campbell. If they did, their careers would be over. What a terribly sad state of affairs.


AZ jpg Book AdI mentioned that I have written about the simple solution to sustainability in hundreds of articles and in two books. The most recent book is our 4Leaf Guide to Vibrant Health. Related to this article, here are a few chapters that you might find  enlightening. All  37 chapters are five pages or less:

  • Chapter 4. Why should we eat mostly plants?
  • Chapter 27. Cancer, climate change and world hunger
  • Chapter 29. The brain-locking protein myth
  • Chapter 31. Sustainability is paramount.
  • Chapter 32. Profound lessons from Easter Island
  • Chapter 36. New world of harmony

A few relevant articles on this “big picture” topic:

The following six books can be purchased on Amazon for a grand total of less than $60—and will enable you to understand the overwhelming challenges we face—along with the single most-powerful solution of all.

Six-Pack from Hicks—for health, hope & harmony on planet Earth

  1. 4Leaf Guide to Vibrant Health, powerful new book by Kerry Graff, MD and yours truly
  2. Healthy Eating, Healthy WorldThe “big picture” about food (my first book)
  3. An essential scientific resource: The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell; the primary book that influenced Bill Clinton to adopt a whole food, plant-based diet.
  4. Primary cause of cancer is not bad luck. Stop Feeding Your Cancer, by John Kelly, MD
  5. A horrifying wake-up call for leaders. TEN BILLION by Dr. Stephen Emmott
  6. Food choices are the primary cause of our environmental problems, yet our world leaders, scientists & experts are Comfortably Unawareby Richard Oppenlander.

Why should we be eating mostly plants? The “big picture” in 4 minutes.

Want to find out how healthy you are eating? Take our free 4Leaf Survey. It takes about two minutes. eCornell is now using our survey in their plant-based nutrition course.

International. We’re now reaching people in over 100 countries. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter or get daily blog notices by “following” us in the top of the right-hand column. For occasional updates, join our periodic mailing list.

J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

To order more of my favorite books—visit our online BookStore now For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, visit our 4Leaf Program website, which is now being used by an ever-growing army of enlightened medical doctors who are fed up with “disease care” and want to promote true health for their patients.

Got a question? Let me hear from you at

—J. Morris Hicks, board member since 2012; click banner for more info:

Nutrition Certificate

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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1 Response to Growing potatoes on Mars with Matt Damon

  1. Joanne Irwin says:

    Outstanding blog entry. You’re so right about Professor Campbell’s courage and integrity. Look at what one voice has accomplished. Now, there are legions of voices proclaiming his message of how whole, plant based foods are not only healing for us humans, but for the sake of our precious planet’s survival. I haven’t seen the “Martian” as yet; my son-in-law couldn’t put the novel down, but your lesson on international teamwork will only manifest, I’m afraid, when the ‘whole’ of species becomes threatened. Man’s ego continues to get in the way.
    Great work, Jim. So thrilled that your 4Leaf Guide is in the hands of many physicians.

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