Archive for March 26th, 2008

Bunt To the Whee! The Battle Cry of Food Storers!

Sharon March 26th, 2008

Ok, the title is a little weird, especially for my very last post in this series.

You see, my littlest, Asher is a head first kind of guy - we calling him “the flying squirrel” because he thinks he can fly, as long as an adult is holding his hand (we hold on TIGHT).  He has no fear, merely boundless enthusiasm.  And when he was about 18 months old, he would yell “Bunt to the Whee!” when ever he was about to leap head-first into things. 

Well, it occurred to us that everyone needs a battle cry, and since “Spoon!” was already taken ;-) , “Bunt to the Whee!” would do pretty well.  And just in case you don’t have a battle cry, I wanted to offer to share mine.  Because I think you might need one too. Enthusiasm, and the courage to screw up are what is needed to feed yourself these days.

The thing is, there’s lots of things to write about in terms of food storage and tons to consider.  But it is one of those things that takes time and practice, and gets immediately clearer once you start doing it.

The thing is, starting up any big project - growing food, storing it, preserving it - all of these things are overwhelming at first.  And despite my hubris in teaching this class, we certainly haven’t mastered it.  Every year we mess new things up, and forget old things and make new mistakes.  But every year we get a little closer to our goals - to having a reserve to share with others, and to living off our own homegrown and home preserved, to taking fewer trips to the store and to being able to accomodate guests at any time. 

The thing is, sometimes you just have to dive in even to know what you don’t know.  Sometimes you have to make foolish mistakes so that you can figure out what it is that you are trying to accomplish, or how to adapt an idea from me or someone else to your real life.  To an extent information can help.  And to an extent, it probably can’t - you just have to dive in.

So I offer you my son Asher’s battle cry - Bunt to the Whee!  Now is the time to dive in - to make that first bulk purchase, to save those first seeds, to start cooking one or two meals a week from storage, to try the pressure cooker or canning jam, to experiment with whether you can dry those things in the sun, to build that solar oven and try that new lentil recipe, to ask the farmer at the market about buying bulk peaches or your neighbor whether she wants to come over for a day of canning. 

This has been a lot of fun for me - I’ve organized my own thinking in a host of new ways, I’ve met amazing people and learned as much from others as anyone could have from me.  I’ve had a lot of requests to run this class again, and I think I will run it in August, during peak preserving season, with a greater emphasis on putting up the harvest.  There’s also talk of turning this class into a searchable CD-rom or even another book.  It is all very cool for me, and I hope it has been enjoyable for others.  And I admit, when I first thought of doing this, I thought I was nuts, and that it would be impossible, and that I didn’t know enough and should wait ten years.  I’m glad, instead, I took the flying squirrel approach and just dived in - it was wonderful.  

I also hope that people will keep emailing me and posting in the comments about what they are putting up and storing and buying and seeing in the market - because that was the very best part. 

For those who were registered for the class, there was a yahoogroup on which our discussion took place.  The members of the class overwhelmingly want to keep the food storage discussion group open and continue it, and I agree - it is a great class, with tons of great resources and materials and discussions.  And now that the formal class is over, we’d like to invite anyone interested in discussing this further to join the group.  All you have to do is to register through yahoogroups - you send a message to [email protected].  For those who haven’t ever been a group member before, sometimes all the posts can be overwhelming, but if, after you register, you find yourself getting too many emails, go to the website through, login, and click at the top on “edit membership” which will allow you to either switch to digest form (one long email a day) or to (my personal preference) read posts at the website only. 

 But most of all, I hope you’ll all jump in, and not be afraid to make a mess of it.  The mistakes are part of the process, and the process is central to the project.  What project?  Well, economic security - saving money so you can either do other things that matter to you or keep your house and meet other needs.  Food security so that you can feed yourself and help out those in need around you.  Political action - so we can stop giving our dollars to industrial agriculture, and start voting with them for something better.  And a little step back towards democracy - the ability to no longer be beholden for the food in our mouths to corporations we abhore.  The chance to depend on and trust in our neighbors and those around us building real and good food systems.  Community.  Better food.  All those good things.

That’s why we need a battle cry.  This isn’t just about the rice or the garden or the canning jars.  This is a small but important step in making a better way of life.  And I admit, it brings me a great deal of joy to know that some people out there are trying new things and making changes.  I sort of think about it (of course, I’m clinically insane, as we all know)  and my own efforts as a whole bunch of us, holding up our seed packets, jar lifters, grain grinders (the not too heavy ones - we don’t want anyone getting hurt) and wooden spoons up above our heads, ready to take on the world and the screwed up food system!  BUNT TO THE WHEE!


Food Storage For Elderly and Medically Fragile People

Sharon March 26th, 2008

I worked my way through college (and saved for college in high school) by working in nursing homes and hospices.  It was good work, I liked it (although I often disliked the places I worked) and it gave me an education that came in very handy later, when Eric’s grandparents came to live with us.  I think it was helpful to me to learn early on something of what it was like to become vulnerable, dependent and fragile after a life of autonomy and independence.  One patient of mine once said to me, “You kids have no idea how hard it is to be old - you just see how hard it is to live with us.” 

So as I began to write this particular post, I’ve been thinking not only of how to handle the physical needs of the elderly and disabled, but more, how whenever possible, to make it easier to *be* them, not just to care for them.  I’m not sure that I have answers that I can pass on in this post - most of them have less to do with food storage than with relationships.  I think I will have to write more about this later. But for all of you who are now caring for an elderly family member, or may do so in the future, I think it is helpful, when you can, to remember that our goals should be balanced between making the very hard work of caretaking accessible and making the very hard work of being elderly less hard.

In a purely dietary sense, caring for the elderly or medically fragile could be just like feeding anyone else - or it could not be.  Many older people are restricted in their consumption of sodium, fats and other ingredients.  As we get older, the western diet tends to wear bodies down and people have to be more careful about what they eat.  Much of this is fairly specific - that is, your grandmother might require pureed, low sodium food, while my grandmother can eat anything she wants. 

 I’m going to assume here that the people we are talking about are either very elderly, towards the end of their lives, and suffering from debility of some sort, or have some kind of serious medical condition that requires them to be cared for.  Someone who is more capable and can do more of their own self-care should probably be consulted up front - approach them now and talk about what they might need - don’t assume.

So I’m going to focus on a few things that are fairly common across the board.  The first is the issue of dehydration. Many medically fragile people do not drink enough  (this applies also to young children when they get sick), and can rapidly become dangerously dehydrated.  This caused the death of a number of elderly people during Hurricane Katrina and causes deaths each year during heatwaves.  Dehydration can happen very quickly.  Everyone who cares for a child, elderly person or someone medically fragile should know how to recognize the signs of dehydration and also what fluids are best to rehydrate people with.  A study in The Lancet in 1978 observes  “The discovery that sodium transport and glucose transport are coupled in the small intestine so that glucose accelerates absorption of solute and water (is) potentially the most important medical advance this century.”

Someone suffering from dehydration due to heat, stomach illness or fever should not be given large quantities of cold water.  Instead, breastmilk (usually for children ;-) , gruel (very thinned out cereals with a bit of sugar and salt added), green coconut liquid, carrot soup, dilute fruit juice or a rehydration liquid made with sugar (or better, molasses, which contains potassium) and salt should be given at room temperature.  There are more instructions here.  While this is especially important for those caring for the elderly, children and medically vulnerable, EVERYONE should familiarize themselves with this site and how to rehydrate someone suffering from dehydration.  Print the information out and store it somewhere too - it could save a life.  And store the elements of rehydration fluids somewhere readily available.  Slippery elm bark makes a gruel that can be eaten even by very nauseous people and stores for a good long time.

The other problem that plagues the elderly and those on lots of medications is often constipation.  This can be exacerbated in almost anyone by a sudden dietary shift, as is common when people start relying entirely on food storage. While such a diet is naturally high fiber, which is good, it is also unusual in the US.  The best cure for this is again, not to allow a major dietary shift - that is, to have elderly people adapt their diets now to food storage.  But if they are not already living with you, or object, this may not be possible.  So keeping a supply of stool softeners around and strongly encouraging people to drink a lot may make a huge difference.  In older people, if the option exists, try and transition them as gradually as possible.

Over time, lots of fiber and lots of liquids, lactobacilli (yogurt and other live fermented foods), exercise (even very frail people should get some movement every day, if necessary with you helping them move their limbs - this also helps with memory, overall sense of well being and a host of other problems) and high magnesium foods like leafy greens and seeds.  Sprouts might be especially important, since low magnesium levels are associated with chronic constipation.

Laxatives are a good thing to store for true emergencies but DO NOT overuse them - people become addicted to them physiologically very quickly - they become unable to move their bowels on their own. 

Generally speaking, food for the medically fragile or elderly, outside special diets, should be easy to chew (unless they are lucky to have good teeth and jaws), appetizing (that is, it should look and smell and taste good), come in small quantities - generally speaking, multiple small meals are better than three large ones, and be familiar whenever possible.  The best way to get these qualities are to become familiar right now with cooking out of your food storage in good ways.  Develop comfortable recipes, so that it doesn’t feel like a major transition when you shift.

My own feeling is that it is much more pleasant, appetizing and dignity enhancing for those who can’t chew well to get food that is soft in its natural form, ie, soups, stews, fruit sauces, compotes,  porridges, mashed vegetables, rather to puree up ham sandwiches or whatever (which, horribly enough, one of the nursing homes I worked at once did ;-P).  It should look and taste like food, be well seasoned and tasty.  I find that people are much more likely to eat that food, particularly if everyone else is eating that or something similar, than they are to eat mashed up foods.

Obviously, if you know of special diets, now is the time to think about adhering to them - learning to bake without sugar, storing milk replacements, or dealing with wheat intolerances early on is important.  On the subject of wheat, neither children nor the elderly should get too much of it - remember to keep your storage BALANCED - wheat is a common cause of digestive trouble.

But in the end, my own feeling is that food storage for the elderly, seriously disabled and fragile may be less about food than our attitudes towards them.  It can be hard to deal with someone who cannot do much work and has a lot of special needs - both psychologically and personally caretaking is difficult and can be exhausting and stressful.  But it is important to remember that this is all of our future - we are them.  The same needs will most likely come upon all of us - and what we do and learn here will shape us - and those who come behind us and will face the same dilemmas some day.



What Do You Really Need?

Sharon March 26th, 2008

I think there are a lot of people who are really worried about all the new things from this class that I’ve now given them to spend money on.  Right as the economy is getting unstable, now you’ve got this big, new shopping list.  Not only do you need hundreds of pounds of food in a time of rising food prices but a grain grinder, pressure canner, dehydrator, freezr etc…  This runs rapidly into money, particularly if you are already pressed.

So let’s put this shopping list in perspective.  First of all, let’s note that most of these tools have existed in the current forms we use them for less than 150 years.  Canning is of comparatively recent vintage.  Through most of history grain grinding was either done in large mills or by hand, using a metate or other manual grinding process - or the grains were eaten whole or processed for beer or alcohol and then eaten after fermentation.    Dehydrating was usually done by laying food in the sun.  Root cellars weren’t fancy basements, they were holes in the ground. 

The thing is, human beings did just fine without all of these tools.  That’s not to say that the tools we use aren’t extremely valuable, but many of us are stockpiling for a time when the current time press of the growth economy may not be so much of an issue - that is, we expect to be unemployed. Most of the tools we’re talking about save time and human labor - but in a world where time isn’t quite at the premium it is for many of us, and when humans to labor are fairly abundant, it really won’t kill anyone to use older techniques.  We tend to look back at the recent past and see it as *the* past - and there are good reasons for this - the home grain grinder is an improvement over the metate - in some ways.  It certainly relieves us of time spent grinding grain. It also changes the texture of the grain, the flavor of the food and means we have to find work for those who used to grind it, but the net is probably positive.  It just isn’t the be all end all of the world.

So if you are reasonably healthy, or have healthy family members, and not much money, maybe you don’t need a lot of these tools.  Maybe you can dig holes when the time comes, and grind your grain in a manual coffee mill, a mortar and pestle or not at all - you could, for example, simply not grind grain.  Instead, you could store more rice, whole corn to be made into Hominy, and wheat berries to be eaten as porridge or whole in salads. The fact is that much of what we’re storing is to enable us to keep our diets as similar to the ones we have now as possible - and that’s a fine goal.  But we should never confuse our desire for that with the idea that it is necessary.

But there’s more to this.  A lot of us who are building up homes filled with tools and storages are doing what a person I once knew on another newsgroup called “building the village and waiting for the villagers to arrive.”  That is, we forsee a need for these things, and our desire to meet our needs isn’t so much part of what it seems to be - a self-sufficient little household, each with its own pressure canner and grain grinder, mimicking the suburban model in which everyone has their own vacuum cleaner and waser - but the center point of a new community.

 What do I mean?  Well, the thing is, everyone doesn’t need a grain grinder - but someone in the neighborhood might need one to keep everyone comfortably in bread.  Everyone in the neighborhood doesn’t need a pressure canner - a couple will do, to be shared around. A lot of us who have middle class(ish) incomes know that *we’re the ones who better buy these things* because our neighbors don’t know they want them yet.  We’re buying for our extended families and friends and neighbors - and frankly, I think this is a good use of our money, if we’ve got it.

For those who don’t have money, though, it is ok to say ”I’m not going to be able to build the whole village.”  Those of us who can do this are lucky, or priveleged - often because we started early, when things were cheaper and worked hard at it.  Those starting later in the process with fewer resources simply may not be able to keep up.  And that’s ok.  It is ok for two reasons.  The first is that your neighborhood can, as mentioned, get along without a grain grinder.  Sooner or later in difficult times, milling will pop back up, however it is powered - it always does.  And until then, even if you don’t have the grinder, you have the knowledge to say “ok, here’s how you cook whole wheat berries.”  That’s a gift too, just like the grinder.

But the other reason is that maybe eventually, you’ll have the grinder - but not the pressure canner.  But there’s a cultural shift on the horizon - it is already starting as people garden more and eat differently.  So maybe it isn’t so crazy to imagine that sooner or later, your neighbor will get a pressure canner, and you can can together.

It is worth remembering also that some people don’t know the value of what they have - dehydrators, canners, canning jars, even grain grinders show up now and again at yard sales, on freecycle, on craigslist.  So even if it seems like you can hardly contribute anything, just keeping an eye out might get you further than you think.  We’ve never made more than 40K for our family of six - often quite a lot less.  My first dehydrator, my water bath canners, my first grain grinder, all my hundreds of canning jars came from yard sales, often for a few dollars - or even less.

The thing is, I think it would be easy to panic if you imagine that you have to prepare your household for an isolated future in which you have to meet every one of your needs.  It might be possible for wealthier households to approximate this in some ways (not all), but poorer ones are screwed.  But the reality is that we need each other - we’re building villages now.  Those of us with enough money should contribute what we can to the future and the village.  And those without it should contribute what they can - whatever that is, for even knowledge and courage and enthusiasm are vast and important things.


Food Storage If You Have To Leave

Sharon March 26th, 2008

All these discussions of food storage are predicated on one assumption - that you are going to be in fairly stable place.  Either you are going to stay where you are, or move infrequently, with lots of horsepower to get you and your reserves where they need to be.

Now I don’t think this is a bad presumption, quite honestly.  The reality is that in a majority of crises you might face, the foods you store are an asset, not a liability - in a job loss, extended illness and host of other crises, having food matters. 

But what about if you have to evacuate?  Being able to leave in a hurry, and have some mobility is also essential for most of us.  Every region has the potential for different natural disasters - and some not so natural ones.  Whether chemical spill or a hurricane, earthquake or other disaster, all of us might have to leave home in a hurry. 

 Or we might have to leave in not so much of a hurry, but some of us may end up moving into a household already full of people - with family or friends because of an extended disaster like Katrina or a personal loss like a foreclosure.  Either way, moving hundreds of pounds of food storage may be tough.

On the other hand, sudden evacuations tend to leave people hanging for a time, and during that time people need to eat.  And arriving at someone’s house with multiple mouths to feed can also be a big burden?  How do you finess this?

 For the very short term, there’s the bug-out bag.  This is simply a light pack of urgent necessities - food (the kind that doesn’t require much, if any heat or cooking - this is the place for cup a soup, instant coffee, dried fruit and power bars), a change of clothing, essential documents, something to do with your hands and brain (light trashy novels, knitting, woodworking - once out of the immediate range of the disaster, they are usually pretty boring and involve a lot of waiting), water, toilet paper,  emergency supplies like matches, a space blanket, medications, small first aid kit and anything specially required for children or elders.  Kids can even pack their own bags, and choose a toy to go.

The idea is that while in transit, in a shelter or otherwise dealing with a crisis you’d be able to meet immediate, urgent needs.  The bags should be light enougt that you can carry them if necessary on foot or on a bike if roads are closed or you don’t have gas for a car. 

 But once you get to your destination, what do you do?  How do you descend with your family, pets and other needs on a family member who may also be struggling to make ends meet?  Family consolidations are likely to be the name of the game - I’ve written about that here:  How can you make your food storage help out, even if you have to leave home?

I can’t take any credit for figuring this one out - the answer was given to me by reader and new friend (met her in person at my food storage class) Catskillmamala.  She wrote me about this, and I thought it was absolutely wonderful.  She’s kindly given me permission to post it here.  Here’s what she wrote:

“…I  have an emergency bag containing all important family papers,
water filter, etc., and a plan to go to mother-in-laws house 1.5 hours west
of here if there is a need to bug out (such as a nuclear accident at Indian
Point).  I cannot show up at mother-in-laws house with 8 hungry mouths to
feed and no food.

So, this last weekend, I prepared a number of emergency food storage
buckets.  These are NOT part of my regular food storage plan.  Rather they
are packed for a period of time say 3 years and will be taken back and
redone at that time.  I have given these buckets to family members who
refuse to do any food storage for themselves.  For example, my parents joke
that have 3 days of food in their house.  In addition, I have given several
buckets to my mother-in-law in case I ever need to go to her house for an
emergency vacation.  Below is how I packed and what I packed…

The buckets contain:

White rice
Coffee or Tea
Freeze dried broccoli
Freeze dried carrots
Peanut butter
Dried fruit
Dried beans (lentil, kidney, garbanzo and black)
Sesame seeds
Yeast or baking powder
Powdered milk
Jello or pudding

The buckets are mylar storage bags, packed within 6 gallon buckets with
gamma or other good sealing lids, oxygen absorbers and a slice of bread for

Even better, she sent me a link to her new blog, complete with pictures!!!  I  think this is a great idea for a gift, but similar buckets could also be packed to be quickly loaded in a vehicle and taken along.  Catskillmamala tells me that while her MIL thought she was crazy, that her reaction to the gift was to feel more secure.

Not everyone has a car.  Not everyone can afford this.  But for those who can, I thought it was a wonderful solution!