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Thursday, March 25, 2010

The non-survivalist’s guide to stocking up for hard times

Dear Lou,
As a resident of South Mississippi, I think it is officially time to stock my swine flu/tornado/hurricane/foreign invasion pantry. How do I do this without filling it with a bunch of processed crap, but still manage to stock away flavorful and nutritious staples?
Kelly S.

Dear Kelly,
This particular swine flu pandemic—which may or may not be linked to factory farms—doesn’t appear to pose much of a public-health menace. But it reminds us of an old lesson: chaos happens. Regarding pandemics, our very own government advises people to keep two weeks’ worth of supplies on hand, which is truly the least the government can do given its recent disaster track record. You don’t have to be a Chuck Norris-obsessed, gun-packing paranoiac to stash a bit of canned food and water in case of hard times.
You’re worried about foreign invasion, huh? While keeping a sharp lookout for an armada in the Gulf, consider these tips before heading to the store for batteries and canned tuna:
• Don’t spend too much time obsessing about flavor. “Keep it simple. Realize what the intention is, which is survival,” explains Cody Lundin, founder of the Aboriginal Living Skills School in Prescott, Arizona. “Survival is different from living, technically. You might be eating weird shit, including the dog.” Of course, you won’t need to eat the dog if you’re prepared, which is the point of his hilarious book When All Hell Breaks Loose.
• The amount of food to stock is up to you and your available storage space. If you’re short on space, you may only be able to keep few day’s worth of food on hand (tip: store stuff under your bed, if you can secure the containers against your always-curious toddler). If you are unsure about how much food you and your family will need, check out this calculator, courtesy of the Latter Day Saints. (Note: the calculator is based on stocking food for one year, so you’ll have to do a little extra math if you want a smaller pantry.) Yes, as it turns out, the Mormon church does indeed advise its members to keep a year’s worth of supplies in their pantries. As a spiritual traveler you might be curious, so here’s why.
• Label and date everything in your pantry and adhere to the FIFO (first-in, first-out) rule. The last thing you want to discover during an emergency is that your rice has bugs in it and all the tomato soup expired two years ago. If you are not going to rotate foods in and out regularly (isn’t that what they do with Congressmen and lobbyists in Washington?), consider (gasp!) buying more processed foods, at least for some things. More heavily processed foods tend to keep longer. For instance, Lundin prefers white rice for long-term storage—it keeps longer than brown rice, which contains oil that oxidizes. “The really healthy, groovy dark olive oil oxidizes like crazy,” says Lundin. Which fat stores the longest? “Unfortunately, it’s [expletive] Crisco, ” he says. Bottom line: If you leave things in the refrigerator until they grow fuzzy coats, you might want to consider foods that store a really long time.
• Don’t rush out and buy foods that your family normally wouldn’t eat. My husband and I purchased a bunch of powdered non-fat milk for Y2K. Here it is almost Y2K + 10, and we’ve still got it. I wouldn’t eat the dog before using it, but it’s going to be one of the last things to go into my mouth when the power goes out/ice storm hits/government ceases to function/all of the above.
• Because the growing season is well underway in Mississippi, start planning along with your planting. Preserve some of this year’s fresh, nutritious bounty from your garden or farmer’s markets. For home-preservation advice, click here.
• Use food-grade plastic containers and bags for storage. If you are going to use non-food grade buckets, such as those big paint buckets you get at Home Depot, Lundin suggests that you store your food-grade Ziploc bags first. Herewith, my oft-repeated ditty about which kinds of plastic to use, courtesy of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy: “With your food use 5, 4, 1, and 2. Three and 6 aren’t good for you. And 7 sucks big-time.” (That last bit was my addition—don’t give me a guitar.) Glass is environmentally friendly but it has emergency storage drawbacks—containers tend to be small, light-permeable, and breakable. That last one is a bummer if you’re hit by an earthquake (or, say, rampaging toddlers).
Next, here’s a Gristed-up list of things to stock:
•  Preserved meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, and soups. On one hand, canned foods are often full of additives, salts, etc., and even the healthy ones may come in cans with plastic liners that contain bisphenol-A. On the other hand, Lundin points out that canned food is easy to acquire and stores for at least two years. “Try to get stuff you can eat right out of the can,” he suggests, “When you’re talking about emergency cooking, there’s going to be fuel shortages.” My tip: Instead of tuna consider skinless, boneless sardines that are chock full of Omega fatty acids, and sustainable – lower on the food chain and also lower in mercury.
• Protein/fruit/granola bars. Look for the ones without any HFCS or unpronounceable ingredients. My coop grocery store, which provided three emergency pantry lists last month (vegan, gluten-free and one for regular folks), suggests Cascadian Organic granola bars and Stretch Island fruit leathers.
• Dry cereal or granola. Granola is ridiculously easy to make and nutrient-dense: Here’s one recipe.
• Dried fruits, grains and nuts. If you can, choose organic and buy in bulk to save money. For more money saving tips here. Also consider nut butters. When I don’t buy them in bulk, I often buy Woodstock nut butters.
•  Crackers: Buy high-quality, high-fiber ones. There are some brands in my pantry that will not only keep you regular during times of stress, but also may be used to re-shingle the roof after a hurricane strikes.
Baby food and/or formula if you need it.
•  Vitamins. The idea here is that if your nutrition suffers, you can boost it with vitamins.
• Juice, plus fluids with electrolytes. Don’t just reach for your average “sports drink,” which may be loaded with lots of sugar and carbs rather than the salts and minerals your body needs to rehydrate in the event of an illness. This is the one I keep on hand.
• Water: This is key. “Water is a not-optional item. If you don’t have it, you die,” says Lundin, who suggests doubling the standard recommendation of one gallon per person per day. Also, consider storage carefully because, as Lundin points out, water is heavy (8.3 pounds per gallon). “If you live on the 24th floor of an apartment and you want to put 1,000 pounds of water weight over four square feet in your closet—that’s a bad move.” At the moment, our family uses plastic jerrycans, the ones used for camping.
• Pet food. Reach for the good stuff.
Lastly, here’s a list of non-food stuff to have on hand:
• Soap, or alcohol-based (60-95%) hand wash.
•  Any prescription meds your family needs, plus a basic first-aid kit that includes a thermometer, fever meds such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and anti-diarrheal meds.
•  Flashlights: If your flashlights use rechargeable batteries, good for you, but if the power goes out you wont be able to plug in the recharger. Consider a hand-crank flashlight (my tiny hardware store carries them) or solar-powered ones and/or emergency candles.
• Portable radio. Here’s one that operates on solar, hand-crank or battery power and has a built-in cell phone charger and flashlight.
• Manual can opener. Lundin recommends Swing-A-Way can openers because they “last and last and last” or P-38 can openers, which you can get online or at military or outdoor stores. He keeps a P-38 on his keychain. Watch Lundin open a can using a concrete curb in this clip.
• Garbage bags: Use them for trash, make-shift sleeping bags (Lundin-style, filled with newspaper) or the removal of a corpse (but let’s not dwell on that). Get strong ones!
• Tissues, toilet paper, diapers (if water is in short supply, you won’t be washing cloth diapers, so go for disposable eco diapers) and feminine hygiene supplies.
• Extra strings for your viola.
Now here’s the weird thing about all of this. You’d think it would be morbid or depressing to store up for the apocalypse. But it’s not—found it empowering and liberating. Do it, and you’ll be more in control of your fate and perhaps much less hysterical. That’s always a great feeling, no matter what the storm clouds (or flu bugs) are doing.
Your Fellow Yankee,
Lou Bendrick
[Via Grist.org]

Bunking Together During SHTF

I saw an interesting post over at Survivalblog today. It got me to thinking on the matter. While this isn't entirely focused on groups there is definitely some overlap. I can think of two quantifiable points and a few intangibles. In and around that will be some examples and thoughts.

We are generally talking about people we know well, usually friends and family. However especially in a bad situation people people tend to look after their selves at least partially in most decisions. It is a lot more likely that someone will be OK with an extended house guest if they perceive that guest as being useful in some way. Maybe it isn't nice but I think it is true.

A friend or relative might think that having a veteran/ cop with a pump shotgun sleeping on their couch during the aftermath of a hurricane might be a good decision.

Also people are far more likely to be willing to take someone in if that person doesn't need much from them. The first point is what a guest brings to the table and the second is what they take away. Being able to provide for some or most of ones own basic life needs makes a guest a lot more attractive. Generally this means having food and maybe fuel,  or water/ the means to filter it.

A friend or relative would almost surely think that having a veteran/ cop with a pump shotgun who brought a bunch of food, water and a Coleman stove with some fuel sleeping on their couch during a riot would be a good decision.

Aside from the two above observations the big thing is having a plan in advance. I am not talking about a full on group, though having one is not a bad idea. It could be as simple as having a conversation with your uncle who lives 20 miles out of town on a little farm. The point is that you don't want to find out that he would rather ride out the aftermath of a hurricane (or whatever but hurricanes are common and widespread enough to cause real problems) alone with a packed car that is running on fumes. Of course you should keep at least some fuel around, especially in hurricane country but that is another discussion. Also if you have a plan then pre positioning some supplies may be possible. Particularly if someone lives in a rural area with a bit of land (generally the sort of place you want to go anyway) then space isn't a huge issue. If they do not have a huge barn that is a relic of the working farm the place used to be rural people generally have space. I imagine at this point if you asked to put up a little shed near the main house/ shop/ whatever but out of the way they would be fine with it. Depending on your skills, budget and needs one of those pre fab things might work or you could build something nice, maybe even with a couple bunk beds if the climate suits it.

Shelter is a point of friction and when it comes to putting significantly more people than we are used to in a home it isn't ideal. However if things were ideal you would all be hanging out in your own places like normal. Climate and the situation are big factors in your options. Any but the heartiest souls do not want to sleep in a tent in the winter in Michigan. Also in a situation where defense from more than an average looter/ burglar is an issue having people divided and all over the place would be really bad. If there are 3 feet of snow and you are fighting off the people from New Burn then suck it up and have a bunch of people sleeping in the living room. Otherwise hanging out in the house and retiring to sleep in a tent might not be a bad idea. If your budget is a bit flexible then a small travel trailer might be a great answer for some of these situations. For a non super worst case scenario you could keep one comfortable at night with just the tanks of propane it could carry.

When it comes to being a house guest I take come cues from my Gypsy Uncle. He is like the Kato Kaelin of the greater Pacific Northwest and is the closest thing to a professional house guest I know of. He has 3 notable characteristics that (probably developed over years of practice) lend themselves well to this sort of lifestyle. First he is never a bother, at all. Unless you were having a conversation with him or looking at the place he was sitting/ laying  or the corner his bag was in you would never know he was there. Next he does not need to be entertained. If you have something to do he might watch some TV or read a book or take a walk or have a nap or whatever. He is certainly not anti social (in fact he is pretty fun) but if you are doing something else that is cool too. Last he is always willing to help out. If you are working in the garden he will lend a hand, if you cooked dinner he will always offer to help with the dishes.

One rather natural situation for doubling up/ bunking together is the relatively young and the somewhat older. Young people are often energetic and physically capable but have not yet been able to get onto great logistical footing let alone purchase their own retreat. Older folks (say 55+) have had decades to build up great logistics and build a retreat. However older folks often have old injuries and just plain wear and tear on their bodies that would be a real issue if regressing to a 19th century lifestyle was the only way to survive. While it is true that you see a lot of farmers who are pretty old, I think even they would admit that has plenty to do with trucks, tractors and combines. [At one point we had an arraignment like this. A fellow we know has a very sound logistical footing at a well planned retreat. His biggest needs were a younger back and help with defense as well as more hands to do work in an absolute worst case scenario. A fall of a ladder that would leave me bruised and sore the next day might take him out of action for a few days, or worse. Wifey and I could show up with the clothes on our backs and be an asset.] The thing I like best about this sort of situation is that the two groups naturally balance out each others weaknesses and it is mutually beneficial.

So I guess in conclusion: bring something to the table, provide for as many of your needs as possible, plan in advance and if you are going to be a house guest, be a good one.

A Short Post on Self Control

Most survivalist blogs cover all of the "high points" about survival--how to live off the land, how to shoot, how to make a bunker out of your downtown apartment, etc. What many blogs don't cover are the personal skills needed to be effective in any situation.
One of the most important skills a person can have is self control. Over the past couple of weeks, I have seen guys who drink, not to be amiably social, but to excess--to the point where they are rolling drunk. I have seen a guy spend his entire paycheck on the roulette tables--money that his family was probably counting on him to have in order to keep the rent paid and food on the table. I've seen more than a few people take a swing at someone, not in order to protect themselves but because some fool was mouthing off to them.
No matter the situation--whether you are having a bad day at work, you are in a physical situation that is quickly heading south, or TS is hitting TF, keeping your self control will do a few (good) things for you: your good reputation will remain in tact, you won't be known as the guy who can't hold his alcohol/temper/etc, you will throw others off balance (people may be taken aback when they can't push your buttons), you won't regret your actions later, and you will be known as the guy who can handle any situation with class and aplomb.
Keeping your self control, no matter the situation, is one of the classic personal skills that will help you during a disaster, but more often, during your everyday life.