Thursday, November 14, 2013

Grateful - Day 14

So often, when I hear about people stocking up/prepping and I see what they are buying for their stockpile, I cringe. Most of those things, I won't eat now, because they are hazardous to one's health in the best of times. Perhaps, not worse than the effects of starvation, certainly, but couple long-term systemic damage from toxic food with half starvation, and it's a really bad combination.

I saw a suggested list for building food storage on $5 a week. The problem is that I wouldn't eat the kind of food that was suggested on the list now, because most of it, we just don't like. Things like cream of chicken soup. Bleh! In addition to the several canned soup varieties (lots of salt and the plethora of unpronounceable ingredients), the list was very carb-centric with a lot of sugar and things like macaroni. There were no fruits or vegetables and very little protein (no meat, eggs, or cheese, although there were cans of tuna and peanut butter), which is okay, if we assume that the people storing the food would be supplementing with wild foods or a garden and some hunting.

The other suggestion, which seemed incredibly unrealistic and impractical and probably not a real smart way to invest one's money, especially if that $5 is going to be tres cher and difficult to part with, is wheat berries. The problem is that unless one has the equipment and/or the knowledge to use them, in a TEOTWAWKI situation, wheat berries are going to be kind of useless. How many people really know what to do with 500 lbs of wheat berries (which is what one would have after a year of spending $5/week on stored foods)?*

The problem is that, while we could get a general understanding of how to use those wheat berries, there is always a learning curve when one goes from theory to application. I can explain how to use the wheat berries, but if one isn't already using them regularly, an emergency is a piss-poor time to start learning how to use the food one has stored up over the course of several years. Also, the $5 per week storage list has yeast as one of the items, and I should point out that bread made from ground wheat is very different from bread made from that lovely unbleached white flour that we all love. Just sayin'.

Let me stop right here, though, for a qualifier. Storing food is never a bad idea. Not ever. There are too many real-world, real-life examples of people going through significant hardships. In fact, as most of my regular readers know, I'm a voracious reader, and one of my favorite genres is historical fiction - especially dealing with extreme situations, like the Great Depression or war-time survival stories. Right now, I'm reading The Siege by Helen Dunmore, about the Siege of Leningrad during WWII - and yes, people died. If more people in Leningrad had had a three or four month supply of food, lives would have been saved. If the only stored food one can conceive of having is wheat berries, by all means, store wheat berries. Absolute worst case scenario, it would be an excellent barter item, and/or it could be used for animal feed.

That said, let me emphasize, if the things on the suggested food storage list are not things one would normally purchase and use, don't store them. At best they'll be unfamiliar in an emergency situation. At worst, they'll be a $260 mistake that sits and is wasted - like a lot of the food people stored for Y2K. One would be better off with the grocery-store sized plastic bag full of Taco Bell seasonings we jokingly referred to as our Y2K soup base.

There's a second list that's been developed - actually in response to the $5 one mentioned above. It's the Real Food Storage on $10 a Week list, and I really like most of the items on the list. What might give some people pause is the need to further process some of the food, like week 24 is "cabbage to turn into kraut." For me, though, it would be an issue of time of year. For instance, if I started the food storage this week, by the time I got to week 24, it would be the end of April - a bit too early to find cabbages here in Maine ... well, except for the ones grown who-the-hell-knows-where and shipped here on trucks. I'd have to juggle the schedule a bit to fit our local foods diet.

But it's a much better list and is, quite frankly, more representative of the kinds of foods everyone should be eating. It's also a much more balanced diet, and really, if we end up in a worst case scenario and find ourselves eating our food stores, I want this kind of food in my cupboards. I loved all of the spices (a total of $20 worth, which, depending on where and how it is purchased, could be quite a lot). I was particularly intrigued with the idea of waxing my own cheese, and as soon as I read it on the list, I started looking for information about how I can do just that.

The first list I wouldn't even start, because the diet is bland and not very nutritious (in fact, one of the storage items is vitamins, but if the food stores were of higher quality, vitamins wouldn't be necessary), but with some modifications, I could see the second food storage list as being something we all could benefit from starting.

How is this related to being grateful? I mentioned, above, that I'm reading The Siege by Helen Dunmore. I recommend it. The writing is good, and it's a gripping story. One of the best things about reading a very good book is when that book really makes me think. This is one of those books.

What if? What if we were completely cut off from the rest of the world, and we had only what food was left in our community and/or in our house to live on? Starting in 1941, the German army encircled the city of Leningrad for almost three years. In the book, the siege starts in the fall, and three months in, they are starving ... to death. They are given a ration of two pieces - not loaves - of "adulterated" bread (that is, mixed with "cellulose", which is wood pulp). They are starving, and they are freezing, because there's no electricity, either. Pipes have frozen, because there's no heat in the buildings, and so there's only the water from the river for drinking. Forget about bathing or other cleaning, as they are too cold and too weak from hunger to even think about that. Imagine winter, in Russia, with no heat. Imagine.

I read about what the main character had stored at the beginning of the siege, and I read about how they are - just barely - surviving, and then, I see lists like these, and I think, even if I had nothing, right now, and I started storing tomorrow using the Real Food Storage on $10 a week list, by the new year, having spent only $60, I would have dry beans, oats and chicken, some salt and coconut milk, and about six pounds (or three kilos) of raw cane sugar, which, in the book, becomes more valuable than gold - quite literally. Six pounds of beans would be 72 servings, and stretched could be at least a week's worth of food for my family. For $10, we could have enough food for a week.

I am incredibly thankful for my full freezer and cupboards. I don't know if we could survive for three years without access to the outside sources of food we enjoy, but I know that our diet would be incredibly flavorful and varied, at least for a couple of months ... and probably into next summer, when I could plant some seeds I happen to have stored.

*What to do with wheat berries:

Grind them into flour for: pancakes (leavening agent, egg and water); dumplings/biscuits (butter, leavening agent, salt, milk or water); noodles (egg and water); crackers (water and salt for flavor); and bread (yeast, water, honey, salt).

Boil them for porridge.

Sprout them.


  1. Thanks for posting this! I have been thinking a lot about storing food as of late (realizing that I don't preserve nearly enough to get us by), and I was having a hard time finding a list that didn't involve canned soups/fruits/veggies - none of which we typically eat. This list is much more manageable based on my convictions about food in general.

  2. I have had the same kinds of issues with some of the food prep lists I have looked into. We don't eat those kinds of foods and if I am using up scarce space storing foodstuffs I want to ensure that what is being stored is nutritious real food and not dehydrated chemically laden junk. The second list seems to have a much better selection contained in it.
    One of the most important things that always seems to jump out at me is that people should be learning the skills they will need, like the cheese waxing and kraut making you mentioned.
    The book sounds a good read, I will have to try and get a copy ordered from the library, thanks for the mention.