Emergency Planning: Food Edition

I don’t think the current H1N1 / Swine Flu crisis is going to bring about the fall of western civilization, even on a very localized or temporary scale. I could be wrong, of course – but even if I’m not, a little bit of forward thinking emergency planning never hurt anyone. I don’t necessarily mean stockpiling guns, ammunition, gas masks, and toilet paper – though I’m not going to stop you if you want to do that, however limited in usefulness it might be.

A lot of the survivalist / emergency preparedness community seems to place an emphasis on acquiring “gear”, which kind of makes me wonder if they’re just using preparedness as an excuse to stockpile, you know, everything under the sun. I, personally, think that’s a bit short-sighted – I’d be much more concerned about acquiring skills and knowledge, myself.

Consider, for example, the issue of food.

In my household, we can go somewhat over a week on the food we have on hand – probably two weeks, if we really stretch it out, or society collapses the day after we go grocery shopping. I figure that’s probably true of most people who, you know, can actually cook, and don’t survive on takeout and fast food. (New York City, I am led to understand, is absolutely screwed come the apocalypse.)

But what do you do after that? What if the interruption in normal life as we know it lasts longer than a week or two?

For a lot of people, this is when the guns come out, and the squirrel, pigeon, and rabbit populations start getting depleted in a hurry. Or, you know, they break out the MREs and other survival foods they’ve got stocked away for just that sort of situation.

I mean, the way people panic, a week after a major disaster, all the supermarkets are going to be pretty well cleaned out, either by looting or otherwise, so you probably shouldn’t expect to be able to go shopping, right?

I’m actually pretty unconcerned about the food situation, though.

Why? Because where I live, I’m in easy walking distance – two or three miles – of around ten family-owned ethnic corner stores. Mainly Asian grocery markets, but also a latino market or two and an African one. I don’t mind shopping there, if I have to – or looting them, if worse really comes to worst.

The thing is, I know how to cook most types of Asian food – and I’ve got the equipment to do so, even without gas or electricity. (Woks and various types of burners and other heat sources.) The way I look at it, if civilization were to come to a standstill, and looting were to break out, the last stuff on the shelves, anywhere, is going to be the oddball stuff that most of the looters don’t recognize or don’t know how to eat or cook. Even after the desperate crazies have come and gone, there are still going to be hundreds of cans of coconut milk to be had, a mountain of frozen eels, frozen frogs, whole frozen fish of various sorts, canned straw mushrooms, canned Asian fruit, and jars of pickled garlic waiting for a new home.

So, you know, that’s one of my tips for survival preparation: If you live in a part of the world that has little family-run corner stores that target immigrant communities, learn a couple things you can make with, say, coconut milk. Or chorizo. Or whatever. Because most of your neighbors have no idea what Cha Lua is or what to do with it, okay? Don’t work harder – work smarter.

On a related, culinary note, one of my few cooking-related forms of emergency preparedness is to make sure we always have a couple pounds of flour on hand at all times. Why? Well, it’s not because I want to bake bread, come the end of western civilization; far from it.

Rather, I want to be able to make gravy, and lots of it.

Why? Well, in part because it’s very practical – it’s a good way to make use of the fat, in particular, that would otherwise be mostly lost after you cook your meat/fish/poultry/unidentifiable ethnic foodstuff. Now, I realize it’s not the healthiest thing in the world, but it’s energy, and every little bit is probably going to help.

The other reason is because, if things ever to get to the point where we’re eating rabbit and squirrel and pigeon – which we’re equipped to do, I might add – I’d like to be able to do something a bit more civilized than, you know, spitting it, roasting it over a fire, and gnawing the meat from the bones. Among other things, that’s going to get old, really quick. Chunk it up, roast it up, and serve with gravy over rice… easily twice as palatable, to me.

I don’t care if I’m roasting pigeon in an old hubcap over a coffee can filled with burning wood in a post-nuclear-apocalypse America, I want gravy with it, damnit.

If you have a little practice, making a halfway respectable gravy isn’t terribly difficult – and if you understand how it works, you’ll realize that you don’t really need butter, for example – any sort of edible fat or grease will work. And, likewise, you should understand that there’s more than just (cow) milk you can add to gravy to thin it out – coconut milk really does work, honest. So does broth. So do, probably, a lot of other things – but there’s unlikely to ever be a shortage of coconut milk or boullion cubes, so…

The French would undoubtedly not approve, but, hey, it works, and that’s what matters.

Likewise, learn how to cook rice the old-fashioned way, without a steamer or rice cooker.

My other big suggestion would be to figure out how you’re going to cook, come a major disaster. If you have a gas stove, cooking without electricity isn’t a big deal… as long as the municipal gas supply is uninterrupted. You don’t necessarily need a grill, though they’re useful; you can dig a firepit and cook on that, if push comes to shove. What I think goes overlooked too often is the whole acquisition-of-fuel end of things. What do you do after you run out of charcoal? The answer is “wood”, and you’re going to hate post-disaster life a lot more if you don’t have an axe or at least a hatchet, and know how to use it.

Water is important, and I guess I should mention it, but there’s really not much to say. Know how to purify water, and figure out what your best options are for acquiring it in a disaster. Me, personally – I’d pop manholes and source my water from the storm sewers. Around here, when it isn’t raining, 95% of the water in storm sewers comes from underground springs, and 4% comes from lake overflows. I know a lot of people are all “urgh, sewer, bad”, but, seriously, the water in a storm sewer is – around here! – far cleaner and much less contaminated than what you’d get out of any area lake or river. I’d still boil it and filter it and add water purification tablets, of course; I just wouldn’t have to go very far to find it. (If you live in an area where the sanitary – i.e. poop – and storm sewers aren’t fully and completely separate – “decoupled”, in engineering speak – I’d strongly recommend against using the storm sewers as your personal water supply, unless you’re really, fantastically, diabolically desperate.)

Anyway, those are my thoughts on preparing for the collapse of life as we know it. Remember: you can’t eat ammunition, and if you have to evacuate, you can’t take a year’s supply of stockpiled supplies with you; knowledge doesn’t weigh anything and is always with you.

Published in: Geekiness, General | on November 3rd, 2009| Comments Off on Emergency Planning: Food Edition

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.