Thursday, August 5, 2010

Food for Thought Updated

Part 1 -- Pyramids in Argentina
Part 2 -- Bricks without straw
Part 3 -- Still Thinking
Part 4 -- Health

If I were a real prepper, I'd probably talk about air next. So, you can only live about three minutes without air. Breathe deep. And whatever you do, don't stop breathing — unless you are under water or possibly buried alive in the old mine you knew you shouldn't have entered and Lassie stood at the entrance and tried to block your way but you were going to show the dumb dog so now your only hope is that she can convince June Lockhart to ring up Big John or Mr. Edwards on that funky wind up telephone to come and dig you out. Or you could just avoid getting into places where you can't breathe, which is my recommendation.

Next I should talk about water. Everybody needs water. I need water to make coffee. I will actually discuss water a little more in a later post.

That brings us to food. One of the perniciously persistent ideas people cling to is that of "living off the land". There is a deep-seated belief that if we just had the skills, as Napoleon Dynamite might say, we could survive like our ancestors as hunter-gatherers. First, let me point out that there are over 300 million people in the United States. Without the advantages of modern agriculture, a significant portion of that 300 million would get mighty hungry. Second, my grandmother taught me to skin squirrels. She thought two or three squirrels could make a decent meal, but she usually made the tree-rat equivalent of chicken-and-dumplings. Straight fried squirrel does not go very far. Even if you eat squirrel brains, there just isn't much there to start. Rabbit is the same way. They might be a good, if limited source, of protein, but you are going to get little necessary fat from them. The same is true of most game, except for bears, opossums, and raccoons — or so I hear. Grandma also thought groundhogs, aka woodchucks, were good eating. Groundhogs carry quite a bit of fat by the end of summer. But that is only the beginning of the problem.

If a large portion of the human population were to start seriously foraging, wild game would get even wilder, as well as more scarce. In Texas and Oklahoma, and increasingly in southern Missouri, we use armadillos for speed bumps. In Ohio, they apparently use whitetail deer. I remember driving through a park in Cleveland thick with deer that hardly had sense enough to get out of the way of the car. If people get hungry, the dumb deer won't last long and the smart will quickly learn to avoid humans altogether. If poaching and jacklighting were to become widely practiced, we could see whitetails pushed, if not to extinction, at least to the point of scarcity. That may sound unbelievable to a generation accustomed to urban deer and other wildlife, but many of us remember when wildlife was much less common.

In short, I would not plan on living off wild game except in emergency situations. It is not sustainable for a large human population. The same is true of foraging for other wild edibles such as berries, nuts, and roots. Hickory nuts aren't bad. Blackberries are hard to beat. I wouldn't count on them getting me through the winter.

Humans started agriculture for a reason — so they would not starve. Raising food — grains, vegetables, livestock, poultry, etc., allows for a positive ROI — not in money but in calories, as well as time. It is much more efficient to have a domestic milk cow, despite the trouble and routine work involved, than to hunt down and attempt to milk a buffalo, for example. That's just not prudent.

I love to hunt. I like to get out in the woods and get away from everything. I like sitting somewhere, being both relaxed and alert, enjoying the wild world and being a part of it as a predator. But I'm not so naive as to mistake enjoyment for efficiency. Hunting is inefficient in terms of time and often the energy invested. Trapping and snaring are a little better, but it's still not as efficient as being able to walk out in the garden or the field and harvest what you have grown and tended. Keeping a few animals along with growing some grain and vegetables is the best way to get the necessary energy to live — aside from going to the store and buying it off the shelf.

I think everybody should have at least a little experience growing their own food. If a person has a yard, they should have a garden. I also see more community gardens and places where apartment dwellers can rent a small plot. It's a good investment of both time and money. If you are going to try gardening, I suggest using heirloom seeds — that is, non-hybrids that pollinate and germinate true to the parent plant. A couple of sources that I can recommend from personal experience are the folks at Sustainable Seeds and Baker Creek Seeds. Baker Creek has a nice catalog that you can get to help nurture your gardening impulses.

A small backyard garden can be a substantial, even vital supplement if the soil is built up and maintained. There are lots of sites that will give you guidance on composting for soil enrichment. I have nothing against commercial fertilizers, but they can be expensive. They can also be hard to get. Plus, their composition is limited. Compost and manure add trace elements and a certain je ne sais que — an aroma of the life-force for want of a better phrase. Good soil is living soil.

Given adequate space, I think it's possible to raise much if not most of your own food. When I was a kid, our garden was probably about an acre, plus we had a separate plot — usually about a quarter acre, just for potatoes. We always grew enough potatoes to get us through the winter. Mom canned tomatoes, beans, corn, pickles, beets, and jelly in copious amounts. We bought a big chest-type freezer and froze even more food. We raised our own chickens for eggs and meat, and we butchered a hog or two every year. We had a smokehouse for the hams and bacon.

We never lacked food, but it was a lot of work, and it required a certain level of skill and experience. My parents and their parents and their parents' parents had known how to sustain themselves by agriculture. I know a lot of stuff they didn't know. I know some of what they knew, but not nearly all of it. Life was getting easier for us, and I was on the tail-end of those generations of subsistence farmers. I saw it done. I know how to do a lot of it, but that's not the same as being able to do it. Overconfidence is the opposite of prudence. Thinking that I know it all can be fatal. We need to learn, develop, and hone our skills before things get too critical, while there is a little room yet to fall back and survive a failed attempt.

To summarize:
Learn to grow at least some of your own food, preferably with seeds that can be harvested and saved for the next season.
Learn to preserve your own food by canning, dehydrating, freezing, smoking, etc.
Start developing your skills now. Don't wait until it really is life and death.

Though people should learn to grow and preserve at least some of their own food, it is also important to have a good store of food right now. To recap my view of the way things are going, I think we are facing a breakdown in our economic system. Our current situation is unsustainable in terms of government debt, and the government's ultimate solution will be to devalue the dollar even further. Food, fuel, and utilities will become more expensive and possibly decrease in quantity and quality. I think things will become difficult for a lot of people. Therefore, it is important to prepare as much as possible while you have the resources to do so.

If you want to buy hard red winter wheat in bulk and store it in nitrogen-sealed food-grade containers, please do so. Personally, I'm buying canned chili. Seriously. Forget, for a moment, economic collapse, and consider something as simple as an ice storm. A few years ago, a nearby city was hit with a huge ice storm. Not just tree limbs but trees were toppled. Power lines were down everywhere. The city crews were busy fixing the lines, but much of the damage was done to weatherheads on homes, which were the homeowners' responsibility. Imagine thousands of people needing the services of electricians at the same time. People sat for days with no power. Initially ice made ground travel hazardous. When travel was possible, every generator within a fifty mile radius was gone in about fifteen minutes. Store shelves were cleared of food and bottled water.

There is a place for MRE's. If you have to head out with just what you can carry, a supply of MRE's will be lighter and take up less space than anything else. If you think you might have to evacuate your home for whatever reason, MRE's should go in your bug-out bag or your boogie box or whatever you have. Meanwhile, if you are playing at home, you can eat tuna right out of the can, no heat or water needed. Are those Vikings? What’s that they’re saying? Spam? Think of it as pemmican in a can. But let's not limit the selection to Starkist and Spam, there are all kinds of foods that a person can get off the grocery store shelves right now that will keep body and soul together for an extended period of time. They require little to no preparation aside from the use of a can opener, and you can even use your Swiss Army Knife or P-38 if you want to feel manly. The main thing is to stock stuff that requires little or no water or fire to prepare. The less resources used the better in any kind of challenging situation. Always store food you like and will eat in any case, rotate and replenish. I've heard Dinty Moore Beef Stew is still good after ten years. I think I'll let someone be the test case for that.

Keep a good supply of staple items that you normally use such as salt, sugar, flour, cornmeal, oil, tea, COFFEE, beans, etc.  Don't forget spices.  If, in the course of dealing with economic difficulties, you find yourself getting by with some of the less prime cuts of meat, foraging for small game or whatever, a good supply and variety of spices will make those items much more palatable.  You can buy salt or sugar cure mixture for preserving meat, but kosher salt works.  I prefer it to "table salt" in canning as well.

It the event of power failures or interruptions, a full freezer will last longer than a half full one.  Invest in some plastic ice packs and use them to take up the empty space as you use up the food.

No comments:

Post a Comment