Tuesday, June 25, 2013

INFORMATIVE - When the Food's Gone

The world is running out of food.

It sounds like the premise of an "end-of-days" type film, starring Bruce Willis, but unfortunately, it's a real thing. A combination of population growth, population concentration, world relations and climate change are causing us to reach a tipping point where there will - quite literally - not be enough food being produced by the planet to sustain all of its people. Experts are saying that we could start feeling the effects of this as soon as the year 2025.

So what can you do about it? Well, there are two scenarios that you need to prepare for: the immediate, where you're the victim of a natural disaster or other incident and don't have access to grocery stores, etc, for an extended period during recovery efforts, and the long haul, when the world can't provide food for you and you have to come up with your own. That scenario comes with its own problems that you need to be aware of.

The Immediate

Natural disasters are an unfortunate occurance in many parts of the world, and as I've stated in previous articles, they're going to become more violent and more frequent as time goes on. When they strike, your local community can be thrown into turmoil. What if, for some reason or other, the supermarkets in your area got emptied and weren't re-stocked for a few days? What about a couple of weeks? What about 3 months? A good example of what happens in this sort of thing is the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma.

Tom from WeaponsEducation goes into this in scary detail, and tells a chilling tale of how things went from bright to dark in only a week or two. It pretty much went like this:

Day 1 - Everyone was helping each other. Strong community spirit. Helping those in need, sharing food and water, helping with repairs and putting people up in their homes.

Day 2 - People realised that there was no access to supermarkets or stores, and those that were open were emptying by the minute. The community became more tightly-knit as a group survival method.

Day 3 - Food and clean water started getting scarce and people became less inclined to share what they had, as it was barely enough for themselves.

Day 5 - People started door-knocking, asking/begging for food. People became suspicious of each other, separating and becoming more isolated.

Day 8 - The first of the break-ins started occurring. People desperate for food started TAKING it from people who had it.

Day 10 - Anarchy.

Luckily, it was around this time that relief efforts reached his area and order was restored, but everyone living there got to see the darker side of their community. The neighbour that you exchange pleasantries with each morning and whom you would happily lend your garden tools to can and will turn into a dangerous, potentially violent scavenger in less than a week, and those who have supplies and means are considerably more at risk than those who have not.

Defending your stash and your property is another topic entirely, which we'll cover in future articles. For now, let's go into what you can put aside to keep you and your loved ones fed during a short-term case of isolation.

Equipment you should invest in:
- A solar shower (hygeine as well as morale)
- A rainwater tank for your yard.
- Some means of easy water purification. Perhaps a dynamo UV light sanitizer or a pump-based filtration system.
- A thorough medical kit (since doctors won't be available)
- A solid food store
- A wood-fire oven in your yard (even a simple one)
- A small, portable gas cooker with plenty of gas canisters (used for stealth cooking only)

So how can you construct a decent, long-term food store? It's cheaper and easier than you'd think, and there are multiple ways you can do it.

Hand-assembled - Using food-grade buckets, oxygen absorbers and mylar bags, you can prepare and store many food types long term. Even using 2L soft drink bottles or self-canning can work for you.

MREs - If you want to eat in style, and have a very compact food store, many MRE companies sell bulk-lot MRE meals in food grade buckets. One excellent supplier in Australia is Survival Supplies Australia, which sells a huge range of long-term food stores at very realistic prices.

Constructed - You can raid your local grocery store and find all kinds of things you can put together to make a combination-style mix. This is the method I use personally, but that is because it works for me. Here's what's in my food store as it currently stands:

- A 60 meal MRE bulk pack (more as a treat than anything, as they are very high quality, and if only used for dinners, will last myself and my wife for a month)
- 30 cans of baked beans
- 30 cans of spaghetti
- 60 packets of 2 minute noodles
- 15kgs of basmati rice, separated into mylar bags with oxygen absorbers
- 10 cans diced tomatoes
- 10 boxes powdered mashed potatoes
- 16 cans of creamed corn
- 5 cans of condensed milk
- 20 cans peas, corn and carrot mix
- 4 packets beef stock cubes
- Multiple packets of various herbs
- 4 packets powdered milk 1kg
- 5kgs museli, separated into mylar bags with oxygen absorbers
- 2kgs salt
- 2kgs peanut butter
- 2kgs vegemite
- 12kgs of white flour, separated into mylar bags with oxygen absorbers
- 30kgs of white sugar in a food-grade sealed bucket
- 20L of olive oil

While this store works for me and my tastes, other people may have different tastes and get things that suit them. My store is designed to provide options and alternatives. Morale is a big deal when you're stranded, and you don't want to be eating the same thing every day.

A couple of things you need to remember is that not any old plastic container is good for long term food storage, and you'll need to make sure you find food-grade containers. The quickest way to tell if a plastic container is food-grade is to check the recycling symbol. It will have a number in it between 1 and 7, inclusive. The container is safe for food storage if that number is 1, 2, 4 or 5.

Certain foods such as sugar, salt, dried beans, etc, are good to just dump into a sealed, airtight, food-grade bucket and store long-term in a cool, dry place, but other foods need much more care. Rice and any sort of grain, such as flour, are some of these foods. Generally speaking, most flour or rice that you buy is filled with microscopic weevil eggs which are harmless to eat, but if left long enough, they will hatch and infest your food store with weevils.

This sounds disgusting, because it is, but there are ways around it. Weevil eggs are killed at extremely low temperature, and also in low oxygen environments. A good practice when planning to store flour and rice long term is to get 1L mylar bags and oxygen absorbers. Divide your store into these bags and freeze them overnight in your freezer. Put the mylar bag inside of a larger, sealed plastic bag (such as a ZipLok bag) to prevent moisture from entering the store. Once that's done, drop an oxygen absorber sachet into the mylar bag and seal it shut with an iron. Over the next 24 hours, the oxygen absorber will suck up all of the oxygen in the bag, killing off anything that survived the freezing process. This way, when you go to use a bag, you'll only be opening 1L at a time, and so you'll be able to use it all long before any remaining eggs could hatch, or re-infestation could occur. It's a hassle, but it's safe.

The Long Haul

Prepping food for the long haul is a very different process, as the availability of canned and packaged food requires people to make it and people to transport it. During a global or even just national food shortage, this won't happen anymore, and it'll be up to you to provide your own.

To do this, you'll need to do several things:

Create a large water catchment system

Remember that depending on your climate there may be long delays between rain, so the larger your catchment, the better. You can lower or even eliminate the risk of mosquito infestation in your water system by installing a solar-powered pump to keep the water moving near the surface. Growing Duckweed in your supply is also a great way to lower mosquito population as well as provide you with an alternative food source.

Cultivate a produce garden 

Grow foods that are appropriate for your climate, and grow as many as you can. Excess food can either be stored or used as barter material for other supplies, so you can never have too much. Grow fruits, vegetables, herbs, medicinal plants, root vegetables... Anything you're able to. Keep in mind that for you to remain healthy, you'll need to include a good protein source (spinach), a good nutrition source (silverbeet/swiss-chard) and a good vitamin C source (oranges). Another handy hint is to replace any lawn that you have on your property with clover, as it is not only a food source, it attracts bees, which are a vital part of keeping your plants healthy. We'll be going into plant cultivation more thoroughly in a future article.

Get some chickens

The average egg-laying chicken will lay an egg once every day or two. This may come as a surprise to some people, but it only takes around 28 hours for a chicken to create and lay an egg. Remember that chickens kept in cramped spaces with lots of stress will only produce eggs for 2 to 5 years before stopping, but some healthy, happy, relaxed chickens have been known to lay eggs for 10 to 12 years! Take good care of your pets and spoil them rotten. When they stop laying, you also have a meat source. Be careful when keeping a cock in with them. It's a good idea to have one, but you'll need to keep him separate until he is "needed". Don't forget that chickens CAN fly, despite popular belief, but not far. They'll find ways to get out of their coop if you're not careful. Many people think of chickens as being quite dumb, but they're more clever than you might give them credit for. Keep them warm, keep them well fed, give them lots of space and they'll give you many eggs for many years.

Create a means of regular breadmaking/meat smoking

Build a wood-fire oven in your yard which includes a smoking stack for preserving meats. If you manage to hunt game, your best option is to preserve the meat by smoking and salting it thoroughly, as this will make it last a long time without refrigeration. Jerky is not only delicious and healthy, but it will become a delicacy very quickly in a food shortage environment and will be an incredibly valuable bartering tool.

Prepare a defense plan

If anyone identifies your property as being a source of food, then you will be at risk in a big way. Maintain watches, secure the perimeter, and be prepared to defend what's yours. We'll go into property defense in a future article.

So hopefully this has given you a few things to think about with regards to your food storage options. Remember, you don't have to be scared if you're prepared!

- CumQuaT

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