Food is important. It's not as important as shelter or water, but people have fought wars over food. In fact, much of the conflict between the indigenous people in the Americas and the Europeans had to do with hunting grounds, i.e. food. Our media would have us believe that the problems the Middle East is having right now are politically motivated, and they may be, but only in a people-tend-to-blame-their-leaders sort of way. The civil unrest in Egypt and Libya are due to an increase in food prices. People can't afford to buy food, and they're blaming the rising prices on their leaders' impotence to provide just the basic stuff of life to the people.
If those people had a way to provide food for themselves, if they weren't so afraid of starving, perhaps things would be different. How they feel is not something I want to know.
So, yes, I am rather preoccupied with food, and I don't think it's a bad thing. The reality is that the price per barrel for oil is over $100 today, and the price of food is going up. Manufacturers of processed foods have done a good job of hiding the rising costs, but those who are paying attention have noticed the price per quantity has increased even as the price per item seems stagnant. It's in the size of the packaging, which is getting smaller.
If I could grow or forage my food, I probably would relax a bit more, but I live in a cold climate, where food doesn't grow year round, and while there are things that we could eat in the dead of winter, if we don't have stored food, our choices are pretty limited.
We modern people have a lot of different options for storing food. As long as we still have electricity, we'll have access to freezers and refrigeration. Many food items will keep for up to a year in the freezer, and in the absence of a root cellar or other low-tech cold storage, the refrigerator works for keeping many of our food items fresh-ish. Things like carrots and beets and apples and cabbage will keep for a fairly long time in the crisper drawer.
Most of us, who process our garden excess for long storage, use canning. I have both a water bath canner and a pressure canner/cooker - and really, I love shredding cooked chicken (from the birds we raised in our backyard) or leftover turkey into jars with a wee bit of broth and pressure canning it for use later. It's infinitely better than anything I can get from a can at the grocery store. You know all of those recommendations for storing canned tuna? Yeah, I got that covered ... only it's not in a can that has potentially been lined with BPA, and so I don't have to worry so much about growing a little beard - with a nod to our esteemed Governor Lepage for his concerns about hirsute Maine women ;).
There are a few problems with depending on canning and freezing as a primary way of storing food. In her book, Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life Jean Hay Bright talks about experiencing a shortage of canning lids. Apparently, every store in her area was running out, and they couldn't find enough of them. If canning is the only way we know to store our food, but we don't have canning lids, it could be a serious problem.
The problem with freezing as our primary way to store food is that we may not have electricity. My mother grew up on a farm on central Ohio. They didn't have electricity at the homestead, but they did have rented freezer space at a facility in town. Perhaps these sorts of freezer rentals are in our future, but for now, what we have is our home deep freezers, but if we can't power them, we'll end up with a lot of food that needs to be eaten pretty quickly.
In a quest to find the best answer, I looked to the people who lived in this climate before there were freezers and canning jars, and I asked, What did they do?
The answer, for the most part, is that they dehydrated their storage food, either by drying it or by smoking it. In fact, the primary way to store meat was by making it into jerky, usually over a smoldering fire. The hot smoke would dry out the meat without cooking it.
Some foods that can not be preserved in other ways are particularly well-suited for drying. I love drying greens, like kale, spinach and beet greens to add to soups and stews over winter for a boost of color and vitamins. We also dehydrate onions, mushrooms, and all of our herbs. Kate, over at Living the Frugal Life has a great post up about dehydrating garlic.
There is one really, very important point to note about the timing of Kate's garlic drying. Kate only recently dried her garlic - the garlic that she harvested back in the fall. She's had it in storage and has been using it fresh since harvest and is only now dehydrating it, because it's starting to sprout. I think a lot of us will look at our storage food and believe that it's "gone past", but sometimes it hasn't. It will, if we don't act, but like Kate, we could dehydrate it, and then, store it.
I use an electric dehydrator right now, but there is a better way, which is covered in the book Solar Food Dryer. If you're interested in being the lucky person who will win a copy of the book, please leave a comment. The winner will be announced on March 12.
AND THE WINNER IS ...The winner of the subscription to Backhome Magazine is Julie. Congratulations :). Please leave a comment with the address to which you would like your magazine mailed. Comments are moderated, and I won't post your address.