Archive for April, 2009

Upcoming Stuff: Poultry Party and Food Preservation Class

Sharon April 29th, 2009

Two fairly cool things (I hope).

 1. This Saturday, if you live near Beverly, MA and want to learn more about urban poultry keeping, my Mom and Step-Mom are holding an open house to encourage more people in the area to get chickens (I gather there are only six permits in the town of Beverly).  You can tour the coop, meet the girls, check out the new babies (six peeps, two of which are staying and four of which are moving in with my sister who already has three others), eat a chicken shaped cookie and vote for the best names for the peeps.  If things work out right, one of my sons will be dressed as a giant chicken as well (What?  You don’t have a chicken costume?).   Learn more about why you personally need chickens.  Or more chickens.  Because you know you do.

The address is 10 Harrison Ave, Beverly, MA 01915.  Questions?  Email [email protected].  More details here.

2. I’ve been getting a ton of requests lately to run the food storage and preservation class again, and after sitting down over our spring/summer schedule, I’ve figured out I can, if in a slightly different format.  I’m glad to be able to do so, with a heavy emphasis on preservation techniques, because this means that people who take it should be ready for the summer preserving season.

The class will be run online over six weeks, with new material going up on Tuesdays from mid-May to the end of June.  You don’t need a fast connection – dial up is sufficient.   The first class is Tuesday, May 19 and it will run until Tuesday June 23.  This class does *not* have to be run in real time – that is, you can follow along any day or time you want, asking questions, but Tuesdays are the days that I’m wholly available to you, and new class material and assignments will go up. 

I’ll post a syllabus later this week.  I’m hoping the new schedule will make the class more relaxing for most people, who often feel compelled to absorb a ton of material in my classes in a very short time.  We’ll cover the major methods of food preservation and what works best for each food (or each household).  We’ll also go over both beginner and advanced food storage and management – how to build up a pantry, what foods to store and for how long, where to keep them, how to find money in the budget, as well as water, medicines, special diets and non-food storage items. 

I do have a few spaces for low-income participants who can’t afford the class.  Email me if you’d like a scholarship spot (I have a few of them reserved for people who didn’t fit into other classes before, so if I promised you one the next time I ran the class, remind me).  These spots are for people who really can’t afford to take the class – because that number rises rapidly, I ask that people ask only if they really need them.  Every once in a while someone is kind enough to donate a spot for someone else – if you’d like to do so, bless you and email me to make arrangements. 

Cost of the class is $150.  You reserve a space by sending an email to me at [email protected] (please don’t use my yahoo address, simply because I am easily confused – I try to keep all the class materials in one place ;-) ) – I’ll send you a confirmation email within a few days with all the details. 

Cheers,

 Sharon

Independence Days Challenge, Year Two!

Sharon April 28th, 2009

Returning to your regularly scheduled program, time to really get started on the second year of the Independence Days project.  For those of you who participated before, the goal is to see if you can do even more than last year.  For those of you who are new to this, the goal is make sure that you make a little progress every day (or week, or whatever) towards your goals, and that you get to see and record that progress.  I think a lot of us have in our heads the idea that putting up food, or getting into the garden has to wait until we have time.  But of course, that time rarely arrives.  Thus, I’ve found it tremendously helpful to simply do a little bit each day.  It is also enormously useful to my morale to know that I got a little ahead in my goals that day – even when it is hard to believe it.

I wish I could take credit for coming up with the idea, but I stole the idea, the name and a lot of good other things from Carla Emery, author of the absolutely necessary _Encyclopedia of Country Living_ now in its 10th Edition.  Carla died a few years ago, and I was lucky enough to know her.  In the “all hands on deck” situation we’re in, I think her ideas and words are still desperately needed, even if she can’t be here herself:

“All spring I try to plant something every day – from late February, when the early peas and spinach and garlic can go in, on up to midsummer, when the main potato crop and the late beans and lettuce go in.  Then I switch over and make it my rule to try and get something put away for the winter every single day.  That lastas until the pumpkins and sunflowers and late squash and green tomatoes are in.  Then comes the struggle to get the most out of the stored food – all winter long.  It has to be checked regularly, and you’ll need to add to that day’s menu anything that’s on the verge of spoiling, wilting or otherwise becoming useless. 

….

People have to choose what they are going to struggle for.  Life is always a struggle, whether or not you’re struggling for anything worthwhile, so it might as well be for something worthwhile.  Independence days are worth struggling for.  They’re good for me, good for the country and good for growing children.”

When you do it piece by piece, a little at a time, when you start building in the time and space into your life, it turns out that the big struggle – for Independence Days – isn’t really such a day-to-day struggle at all.

In _Independence Days_ (which will actually be out in July, earlier than I expected!), I wrote on this point,

All of us need to devote some energy to fighting battles that will probably be lost, simply because we have an obligation to fight the good fight.  But most of us can’t live on a steady diet of tilting at windmills.  We also need to do work where we know we can accomplish something and where we know we matter.  That’s why I think food preservation and storage matter so much.  Ultimately, we are talking not only about the fairly manageable question of what to have for dinner, about about transforming our society, our use of energy, our food culture, and, of course, all of these things are a large part of our culture as a whole.”

It is easy to forget how important this “little stuff” is – easy to think that your little garden doesn’t matter very much, or that your preparations won’t be enough.  But we should also remember the exponential power of saying “no” and doing for ourselves.  The corrollary of the fact that every calorie of food takes 10 of fossil fuels is that every stir fry or salad you eat from your garden saves 10 times the oil as the calories contained within it.  The fact that almost every packaged ingredient uses 7 times as much energy to create that packaging means that your choice to buy bulk oatmeal just saved 7 times as much energy as the package contains.

In 1944, American Victory Gardens grew as much produce as did every vegetable farm in the country – fully half US produce came from home gardens. And while no one was sufficient, all together were something big.  Every bite of food you grow, every bite you preserve, every bit of waste you reduce is a contribution to a larger project – keeping everyone fed.  Every bit of compost you add to your soil, every bit of organic matter, every tree you plant is a contributor to a larger project – storing some of our emissions in soil, so we can have a future.  Small things are the roots of vast and powerful ones. 

Every kid who tastes a cherry tomato or a strawberry from your garden comes away with something that they take back to their homes and forward to the future.  Every neighbor who stops to chat as grow on your lawn or water the peppers in containers on your stoop is a new connection in your community, and a potential future gardener.  Every seed you plant multiplies and produces a hundred, or a thousand more seeds for next year (not to mention the food).  Every dollar you save you save on groceries that goes to the food pantry means your plot feeds not just you, but others.  Every time you point out that you are storing food and preparing for a different future, even if people don’t get it, a seed is planted somewhere in the back of their heads, where they realize…people kind of like me think about this stuff.  The future depends on a whole lot of little things.

I’ve quoted this poem from Marge Piercy before, but I think it bears repeating:

….Alone you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousands, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no, it starts
when you say “We”
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.
-Marge Piercy “The Low Road”

As Carla says, you have to decide what you are going to struggle for.  This is where I’m putting my struggles – and my pleasures, because there’s nothing better than food you grow or preserve yourself, the sense of security and the ability to be generous that accompany a full pantry, the pleasure of serving others a good meal.

Ok, on to practicalities.  How do you sign up?  Post a message in comments!  When do you report?  I’m going to try and go back to weekly reports, but you should do it when you want to.  I’m deeming Monday as my official reporting day, because it means that I can tell you what you did on the weekend, and make it look good, but you should do it when you want.  Where do you report?  In comments here, or link to your blog!  Do I have to do every category every day/week?  Yes, absolutely, and if not, I will send my personal thugs over to your house to break your kneecaps ;-)  (note the smiley - the real answer is – No, of course not, do what you can when you can!) 

Is there a cool graphic?  There was last year – La Crunch made it for me (thank you Crunchy!) and I’m sure someone here can post in comments and tell you how to find it and put it up (I’m a techno-moron, so I’m not very helpful.)   What if I can’t do it one week?  So, you get up and do it the next week.  Should I tell you what I didn’t do, how I failed?  Absolutely not – this all about what you *did* accomplish – so even if it is one thing (and remember, btw, I’m a part-time professional farmer, so if you look at my list and think “oh, Sharon did this and all I did…”  you are doing it wrong – remember, until the International Olympic Committee makes gardening and food preservation a sport, you are officially forbidden to treat it like one ;-) )

Ok, overwhelmingly, people liked the categories, but a small minority felt (and I agree) that there were too many of them, and that they weren’t clear.  So I’ve decided to consolidate them somewhat, but keep them.  If you hate the categories, well, since I’m a lazy dictator, you can just go ahead and not use them.  So here they are:

1. Plant something – I doubt this one needs a lot of explanation.  Obviously, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are doing a lot of this right now, but it should be a reminder that gardening isn’t “put in the garden on memorial day and that’s it” – most of us can grow over a longer season than we do, and even if you live in an apartment, you can sprout seeds.  So keep on planting!

2. Harvest something - some people are full swing here, but even if you just picked the first dandelion from your yard, it counts if you ate it or saved it.  Don’t forget to include food you forage – whether from wild marginal areas, or even just from the neighbor’s trees that he never harvests (ask, obviously).

3. Preserve something – this starts around now for me, as asparagus, nettles and rhubarb are up.  Canning looks like a big scary project if you have to can a truckload of green beans on a hot day in July.  Dehydrating seems overwhelming if you have to pick the pits out of 4 bushels of plums in a single afternoon when you’d rather be doing something else.  And yes, sometimes everything comes ripe at once, some big jobs can’t be avoided, and you just put on the loud rock and roll and go at it.  But a little at a time is possible, you can be canning corn relish while you are washing up from dinner, or stick the strawberries in the sun to dry on your way out the door.

4. Reduce waste – This category covers both the old “Reduce Waste” and “Manage Reserves” group.  Once you’ve got food, whether purchased or home preserved, you have to keep an eye on it.  In this category goes making sure you use what you buy or grow, cutting down on garbage production by minimizing packaging and purchasing, composting, reducing community waste by composting or feeding scraps to your animals, and taking care of your food storage – everything from keeping records and writing dates on jars to checking the apples and making sauce when they start getting soft.  BTW, reduce waste also refers to money and energy – stretching out your trips to the store and not “spending” gas on your food, cutting your grocery budget and reducing cooking energy.

5. Preparation and Storage – This is the category where you report the stuff you’ve done to get ready that isn’t growing/storing/preserving food.  That means the food you buy for storage, the things you build, scavenge, rescue and repair that get you further down the path.  Did you get a good deal at goodwill? Scavenge some cinder blocks for your raised bed building project? Find a grain mill on Craigslist? Buy some more rice and put it away?  Inventory the medicine cabinet? Pick up a new book that will be helpful?  Tell us!

6. Build Community Food Systems – Great, we’re all doing this stuff at home.  But what did you do to help spread the message, because that may even be more important.  Did you talk about your victory garden at your kid’s school?  Offer to share space with a neighbor in your sunny yard?  Bring a casserole over to the family that lost their job or moved in?  Donate to your food pantry?  Teach the neighbor kids to make yogurt?  Offer to teach a canning class?  Show someone else where the nettles are growing wild?  Talk about your food storage or gardening plans?  Share a plant division or seeds? 

7. Eat the Food – Sometimes I think people have more trouble actually eating their garden produce or CSA shares than they do growing or buying them.  Ultimately, eaters have more power over our agricultural future than they know – farmers can’t necessarily lead the way – they have to sell what eaters want.  So cooking and eating are the way we will change the food system.  This is where you tell us about the new recipes you tried, or the old ones you adapted to new ingredients, about how you are actually eating what you store and store what you eat, or getting your kids to try the kale.

I’ve taken out most of the other categories, particularly “learn a skill” because I’ve got another challenge coming up later on that one.  I think seven is the maximum number I can manage personally. 

Ok, come Monday, I’m going to want to hear what you’ve been doing.  Welcome to Year 2 of the Independence Days Challenge!

 Sharon

The New Swine Flu Review

Sharon April 27th, 2009

I was all psyched to tell you what I learned about water pumping in the North Country, but when I got back, my in box was filled with swine flu news and requests for what to do.  So I thought it was a good time to post a short review of what to do if swine flu does become a pandemic – you’ll find that a surprising amount of it is precisely the stuff we all have been doing anyway.

As I understand it, swine flu is nothing to get complacent about, but generally less virulent than avian varieties, because we’re better adapted to it.  So far, all the US cases have been very mild – the outbreak in Queens involved everyone being sent home.

My own personal response is to watch and wait.  Both Eli and Eric are going to school today.  I’m still planning on travelling by public transportation to Maine next weekend for a talk, although this could change if events do.  A few years ago I wrote a piece about the potential intersections of pandemic flu planning (and actual outbreaks) with peak oil and other potential crises.  I think most of what I wrote is potentially true, particularly the fact that a not-terribly severe flu epidemic could be used easily for political purposes – we tend only to be able to deal with one crisis at a time, and so one concern is simply that while the news is focusing on flu, they won’t be reporting on what is happening in the economy.  This may not happen – it is merely speculation, but while we should be concerned about a major flu outbreak, we should also continue to look at the world critically, rather than simply getting scared.

So the first thing to say is DONT PANIC – so far, the swine flu, while potentially very widespread, doesn’t necessarily seem to be that serious.  Yes, 160-odd people in Mexico have died.  But lots of people die here of the flu every year – it is actually a very common cause of death among the elderly. So there’s no reason immediately to assume that this is a particularly virulent or unusually serious version. 

The second thing you should do is WASH YOUR HANDS and stay a step back from people.  You obviously should be particularly careful about this if you have elderly or medically fragile people in your home, or are elderly or medically fragile.  Wash your hands *a lot* and wash your kids hands.  If you have appropriate N-95 masks, you can wear them if you have to be out, if that makes you feel better.  They are tough to keep on children and they aren’t a perfect solution, so I tend to think of them as of largely psychological value for many people, but it can’t hurt.

Ok, what’s next on the agenda.  Well, the first thing is to avoid getting swine flu if possible.   That is, you probably don’t want to spend a lot of time hanging out in large public venues, if you are concerned about it (of course, our family just spent the weekend at synagogue, the greenmarket, the public library, but what can you do).  The best possible strategy for controlling the spread of illness is for people to mostly stay home.  Mexico City has already closed its schools, universities and public venues, and I won’t be surprised to see this happening over other regions as well.   

You don’t have to wait until they close your school – you can take your kids out earlier if you are concerned.  Jobs are tougher (trust me, my husband teaches at a large state University) – you may or may not have the option of staying home.  At this point, I wouldn’t lose a job based on what we know.  You are going to have to balance this one.  But the best possible strategy is to stay at home as much as possible – at least give up Bingo night.  Don’t fly if you can avoid it, and I’d wear a mask if I did – airplanes are particularly likely venues of transmission.

If you think you might have Swine flu, you should probably be checked – call your county or state public health office to find out where.  Otherwise, this would be a good time to stay away from hospitals and doctors offices, where people with viruses that might or might not be swine flu may be found.  So you might want to cancel routine checkups, minor surgeries and anything else that can wait – note the emphasis on *can wait* – don’t skip essential medical care. 

 This is also a good time to update your prescriptions – pharmacies are also a place where sick people congregate.  If you can, get your doctor to call in an extra refill, telling them you are concerned that if there is a quarantine, you may run out.  Also a good time to pick up elderberry syrup, rehydration liquids, tylenol, etc…  Don’t forget whatever you might need for children, the elderly, etc…

If you are going to be in Quarantine, you will need a supply of food.  How much?  Well, if you wish to give your paranoia free reign, probably at least 2-3 months.  Why?  Because the CDC has suggested that in a real pandemic situation flu would come in waves – and that extended quarantines might have to last as long as 2 months – and that there might be more than one of them.

Now I’m sure a lot of you have plenty of food, and the odds are very good that this time you won’t need it.  But I’m not sure I would want to bet real cash on that – I’m risk averse.  If this turns into a major issue the *stated policy of our government* (and Australia and Britain’s as well, and New Zealand has already begun to implement quarantines) is quarantine, and it could last at least 8 weeks. I wrote about this in my essay about why FEMA’s 2 weeks of stored food is not enough here.  You might want to do as little shopping in public venues as possible for even longer than that.

What if you don’t have 8 weeks worth of food supplies?  Well, you’d best go shopping.  This is one of the reasons that I wrote this essay on crisis shopping a while back.  I knew that some of you would wait until the last minute ;-) .  Note, while there is no reason whatsoever to run around screaming “the sky is falling, buy spam!” it would be nice if you were to ask an elderly neighbor or a busy young Mom if you can pick up any supplies for them.  And if this motivates you to get to work on food storage, so much the better – as I always mention, this is *not* the ideal way to go about food storage.

In addition, you want to pick up items that will allow you to treat minor injuries and mild cases of illness at home – think about what your family needs when you are sick.  Ideally, you already have a first aid kit, a store of meds, and these things.  Don’t forget to make some chicken soup or miso soup and freeze or can it.

On the home front, it is worth remembering that you may be stuck at home for a while – jobs may be closed down, schools shuttered, and people’s travel restricted.  What are you all going to do together?  Well, assuming no one is sick, now’s a great time to work on the garden and your food producing infrastructure.  Make sure you’ve got seeds and the things you need to grow food, feed for animals and pets, and a plan.  If your kids are used to being at school all day and in front of the computer or tv all afternoon, and you don’t usually all stay home together, you will rapidly find that you get on each other’s nerves.  Now is a good time to think “what will we all do” when we are actually forced to find out how much we like being together.

So now’s a good time to pick up that raised bed building materials, or the new tile for the bathroom.  Now is a good time to think about something you’ve been wanting to do or learn together.  Make sure the kids bring their books home from school at night if you think the schools might be closed.  Plan a family project.  Plan a visit to a local state park or other place not likely to be filled with other people.  Make the change as enjoyable as you can – think of this as a home-based vacation.  And if you don’t know how to have a good time for a few weeks at home, this is your next project – getting to like staying home with your family.

Finally, talk to your neighbors if it seems like this will turn into something significant.  First of all, if by some chance you have to stay home for a month or two, you will be desperate for a little local company, so you might as well hang out now.  Second of all, they may need your help – or you theirs.

Also, you might talk to family – some family may leave population centers to come to a safer location, or you may not want your elderly father to endure quarantine alone. If you are going to consolidate for the emergency, plan ahead – you want to do it early, and ideally, without passing infection back and forth.  If you may need to leave your location, get organized now, and figure out your plan. 

Again, this is not meant to be a “Zombies, run” kind of post – it is simply a reminder that the same basic mechanisms that serve us when preparing for one potential crisis serve us in almost all of them.  That is, sooner or later most of us will have something happen to them – whether a natural disaster, a political crisis, an extended job loss, a pandemic, an extended illness, etc… and the very basic things – take care of yourself, connect with your community, help others, have a plan – will help you no matter what.

 Sharon

Rates of Return

Sharon April 24th, 2009

Well, I admit, when I wrote my “All Better Now” post, even I was thinking that it might be a week or two before it became completely clear that we weren’t better.  The bad news comes in fast, faster than your local apocalyptic prophetess of doom can even keep up with ;-) .

The worst news is not that GM is dead or that the government is definitely, absolutely not expecting Chrysler to go into bankruptcy(does everyone find that as reassuring as I do?), although that is very bad news indeed, especially for the midwest and for many, many aging pensioners.  The worst news is that we finally have the beginnings of a tally of the rate of return on our investment.  Oops, did I say return?

Here’s Ilargi  over at The Automatic Earth (with a bit of help from Elizabeth Warren whose appointment to the government financial watchdog role, and whose blunt commentary are one of the few bright spots in this whole mess) on what we’ve gotten for our money:

“Six months ago, in October 2008, the IMF predicted that American financial institutions would have to write down $1.4 trillion in toxic loans and securities. Three months later, it increased the prediction to $2.2 trillion. We find ourselves another three months later today, and the number has risen to $2.7 trillion, or roughly two thirds of the $4.1 trillion the IMF claims will need to be written down globally. I don’t know about you, but I know a trendline when I see one: the chance that the IMF has this time gotten the numbers right, as in high enough, are zilch and nada.Of the “American” $2.7 trillion, about one third has been actually processed so far, which means US banks will need to write down another $1.8 trillion. Against that backdrop, we need to turn to Elizabeth Warren, who has estimated that $4 trillion has to date been injected into the US financial system. If we were to simplify the issue somewhat, we might say it has taken $4 trillion to write down $900 billion, and that’s without counting the remaining $8.8 trillion in loans that are floating out there somewhere in the economy.What we’ve seen the past few days are positive earnings reports form the main banks, which were so obviously founded on accounting tricks and other bells and whistle style decorating that Bank of America got rewarded with a 25% share value loss yesterday, basically for trying to fool the markets. Today is supposed to be Super Tuesday, the day that midsize and small banks come with their numbers. First off was Bank of New York Mellon, which reported first-quarter net income was down 51%. This should be fun.But it’s the larger picture emerging from all this that we should focus on. The $4 trillion the banks received so far under the guise of encouraging them to restart lending, the actual numbers for new loans are down 23%. Yet, here’s a New York Times headline today: “Credit Markets Still Sputtering, Geithner Says” You pump one third of the entire annual US GDP into them, they react by cutting lending 23%, and you call that “sputtering”? Let’s get a life, shall we, Tim?

In other words, it’s all been a complete failure….

Back to the larger picture: if commercial banks lend 23% less, despite all those trillions in incentives designed to make them lend more, the question arises: What is their core business, how do they make money? Right, by making loans available. So the less they lend, the less they are likely to recover or even survive. Catch 22,3,4. And how do you get out of that catch? By throwing in another $4 trillion? The first batch didn’t work, why would the second?”

Ok, so you invest 4 trillion to get 900 million of assets written off.  Gee, anyone want to sign up for a mutual fund that gives that rate of return? 

I think Ilargi has, with his characteristic bluntness, put his finger precisely on the problem.  We have spent unimaginable amounts of money, and made unimaginable commitments to get us…a couple of little bumps in the stock market.  If the Government had actually wanted to alleviate the crisis, they could have done so by disbursing the same money directly to consumers, or by using it to lend directly to them, it could have done so in a host of ways that would absolutely have been more successful than this one.  I didn’t love the Bush disbursements, but let me stand up here and say that sending people cash is a heck of a lot wiser than flushing it down the toilet.

Meanwhile, in the real world, people’s lives are getting worse quite rapidly.  Der Spiegel, in an excellent piece on the crisis’s effect on the poor and middle class, observes,

In New York City, soup kitchens must make do with sharply reduced budgets, even though demand for their services has quadrupled. According to the city government, free meals were provided to 1.3 million people in 2007. From October to November 2008, the number of New Yorkers living below the poverty line suddenly jumped to 3 million.

More recently, city soup kitchens have been literally overrun by their clientele. The Church of the Holy Apostles in Manhattan currently distributes 1,250 meals a day, but even that is not enough, says Joel Berg, director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. “Many people leave without having received a meal.”

Ilargi goes on to observe that the IMF is wildly understating the losses that American banks will have to absorb.  Amd since the states are already struggling to keep functioning, and stripping benefits from the poor, rapidly undermining the social safety net from school kids, the elderly and the disabled and a host of others who can ill afford the losses.  The Federal Government, losing revenue left and right, must sell more Treasuries than ever to keep afloat – even as other nations begin to pull back.  Who will buy them?  And who will pay the rapidly increasing debts?

All of our assumptions – every single one of our national and collective responses to this crisis has been built upon an overarching assumption – that things *will* get better and soon.  Now I don’t swear this is not true – however, as I’ve pointed out before, the last two deep and major financial crises in the US essentially lasted a decade or more - both the Great Depression and the “two recessions with inflation and no real recovery in the middle” of the 1970s and early 80s lasted a full decade.  Every plan we have made assumes that will not happen to us – but not because we have good evidence it won’t, but because we don’t want it to.  Well, not wanting it is insufficient.

Of course, you could easily (and correctly) make the case this is typical.  That is, our climate change policy has always assumed that we wouldn’t wait too long, we had plenty of time and that the optimistic and politically acceptable targets would reign.  Our energy policy has always assumed that the optimistic targets for depletion and renewable energies would reign.  Most of us live our lives on the assumption that optimistic assumptions about progress and wealth will be accurate.  Thus, we do not have any sort of backup strategy, even of the most common sense sort. 

In fact, we reject pessimistic outcomes in our basic assumptions – look at the constant crowing that US unemployment is nothing like the Depression’s 25% rate.  Well, ummm…duh – that figure comes from 1933, four years after the stock market crash.  If you figure our stock market crashed back this fall, in September,  let us compare (we all know about Shadowstats, right, and that the US official figures are umm…tweaked).  In 1930, within a year of the crash, the official unemployment figure was umm…. 8.7 percent.   

What, seven months after our stock market crash, is the unemployment figure?  Hmmm… the tweaked national figure for March was 9%.  That is, we’re doing a little worse than in the Depression for the parallel point in the crisis.  Does this mean we’ll end up with 25% unemployment?  I have no idea, and I don’t claim to – but I do know that comparing irrelevant statistics out of context doesn’t really do much but screw with people’s understanding of events – which is probably the point.

Nouriel Roubini’s latest forecast does predict an eventual, slow, sluggish recovery - assuming, of course, that nothing else bad happens.  That definitely sounds like what we want to bet on, right?

My analysis of the data suggests that the global economic contraction is still in full swing with a very severe, deep and protracted U-shaped recession. Last year’s economic consensus forecast of a V-shaped short and shallow recession has vanished. While the rate of economic contraction is slowing compared to the free fall rates of the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009, we are still a long way away from the economic bottom and from a sustained recovery of growth. In particular, in Europe and Japan there is little evidence of a positive second derivative of economic activity.However, by the end of the first quarter of 2009, there were some signs that the pace of contraction had slowed in many economies, especially in the U.S. and China, where policy responses have been more significant and leading indicators in the manufacturing sector may have bottomed before they did in Europe and Japan. However, major economies, including all of the G7, will continue to contract throughout 2009, albeit at a slower pace than at the beginning of the year. Moreover, the global recovery might be sluggish at best in 2010 given the overhang of the credit losses of financial institutions, the lingering credit crunch, the need for retrenchment by overstretched and over-indebted households in current-account-deficit countries, and a slow resumption of demand prompted by extensive government stimulus.
It is simply common sense to have a rational backup plan for an extended economic crisis without an easy recovery, or a series of ever-deeper recessions that cover a decade or more - period.  And it is also common sense not to put all your eggs in one basket.  We’re gearing up for a bigger crash than we needed to have.  And that’s something, coming from me.  There are going to be a lot of broken eggs.

Sharon

Friday Food Storage Quickie

Sharon April 24th, 2009

Ok, this week we’re going to add some more stuff to our pantries – I find that my food storage gets down to its lowest ebb around now.  The fall’s meat is being finished up, the vegetables are down to the ones no one is excited about.  The greengage, raspberry and peach jams are all gone, leaving rhubarb and one lonely jar of strawberry.  The potatoes have sprouted and gone soft, so have the onions, and there’s still not much out there in the garden.  And with all the spring stuff to do, it can be hard to think about shopping.  So it isn’t a bad idea for me to remedy some deficiencies.   For those of you just starting to think about food storage, picking up a little extra each week at your regular grocery shopping is a good way to get started.

Of course, you’ll get much better deals and better food if you can afford to buy in bulk, perhaps from a local coop, direct from farmers, or through a buying club, but food storage isn’t just for people with easy access to these things, or with enough money to buy 50lbs of this and big sacks of that.  It is something that everyone needs, that can be built up incrementally.

Don’t forget, if you so desire, to pick up a little extra for the food pantry – or to make a donation if you can.  Remember, food pantries are really strapped right now.

Ok, this week we’re going to buy rice.  Why?  Because nearly everyone can eat rice, you don’t need any fancy equipment to prepare it – just a pot, and you could use an old tomato can or a soup bowl (in the microwave)  if you had to.  Nearly everyone likes rice in some form, too.  And some rice keeps a very long time.

Now this is where rice gets tricky.  At most stores, you can buy two forms of rice, brown and white (I am leaving out instant or converted rice, which isn’t good for you and which no one really needs – you can make regular rice even if all the cooking facilities you have is a microwave).  Now most people know that brown rice is the healthier one, and if they imagine having to live on their food storage, they want a lot of it.

The problem is that brown rice goes rancid very quickly – in a matter of months at room temperature.  So if you buy more brown rice than you can eat in six months to a year, you are likely to have rancid rice.  Some percentage of the population will be able to taste that it is rancid, but a lot of people can’t taste rancid oils in grains, and they don’t realize it is – and rancid oils are not good for you (if I had nothing else, I’d eat rancid brown rice, but I don’t recommend it otherwise).

The reason for this is that brown rice is not, as most of us imagine, whole rice.  When rice is harvested, it has a hull on it.  The hull is not very digestible, and most people don’t have a way of removing the hull at home, so it is removed in rice processing.  When just the hull, but not the germ is removed, you get brown rice.  When the germ is removed as well, you get white.  Of course, the germ is very good for you, but it also contains oils that are oxidized in contact with air, so like ground whole wheat flour or cornmeal, it doesn’t last very long.  White rice lasts 30 years.

That means that if you are going to buy more than six months worth of rice, you should probably buy white rice or some whole grain, like barley, to be cooked and eaten like rice.  This is the bad news.  The good is that six months of rice is a lot, and that almost everyone can eat rice – in fact, it may actually be impossible to have a true allergy to rice.  So even if white rice isn’t the most nutritious food, it can be useful to have a supply of it for emergencies – it is up to you. 

The second thing we’re going to buy (which is way less complicated) is some kind of non- animal, long lasting protein.  This could mean dry beans (the longest storage life, and better tasting when you cook them yourself than canned beans), it could mean lentils or dried peas, canned beans (I don’t really recommend canned baked beans, but you could, if you like them), soymilk or shelf-stable tofu (Mori-Nu is the most readily available brand).  Personally, I think all food storage programs should probably have a variety of these – at least several kinds of legumes – beans, lentils, split peas, cowpeas.  The range of flavors and textures is quite dramatic.  I also think some shelf-stable tofu is really nice to have for stir fries and other treats – I can’t make drunken noodles without it. 

Why would you buy beans and tofu if you eat meat?  Well, there are a number of good reasons.  First if you buy dried beans, you will have the cheapest form of dense protein you can buy.  Second, lots of meat eaters like tofu, beans *and* meat – it isn’t an either or.  Diversity is always good.  Third, the reality of the future is that we all need to eat less meat than we do now.  Plus, even if you aren’t a vegetarian, you may want to invite one to dinner.  Most of all, these are good foods – if you think tofu and beans don’t taste good, you just haven’t learned to cook them yet.

Finally, in our non-food section, we’re going to check out your lighting situation.  Ok, right now – do you know where all your flashlights are?  Can you find them in the dark?  Do you have at least two for everyone in the household, in case one breaks?  Do you have rechargeable batteries, and a solar charger?  Flashlights that can be powered without batteries?  Do you have a headlamp for outdoor chores or two handed projects at night?  An LED nightlight for children who are scared of the dark?  LED night lighting for elders vulnerable to injury?  What about candles or oil lamps?  Do you have those?  Do you have a safe place to hang/put them, away from pets, children and fire hazards (I like wall sconces and hanging lanterns, personally).  Do you know how to clean and maintain your oil lamps?  Do you have matches or lighters, and lamp oil?  And again, can you find what you need in a low light situation, by flashlight?  Even if you can’t get the whole thing put together this week, at least consider picking up some extra matches, checking flashlight locations and batteries, and gradually adding to your list.

Cheers,

 Sharon

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