Archive for January 27th, 2009

Getting Your Family on Board With Food Storage

Sharon January 27th, 2009

Ok, I’ve convinced you - you need a reserve of food, you want to learn to can and dehydrate, you want to start eating more local foods.  But you haven’t done anything yet, because, well, the rest of your household isn’t on board.  Before you go there, you need to convince them.   So I offer up this handy guide of answers to common protests about food storage and preservation.  I also offer up some suggestions on what not to say, just in case you need them, mostly because that part was fun for me to write ;-) .

Protest #1: It will be too expensive!

Bad answer: “But honey, the world is going to come to an end soon, and male life expectancy is going to drop into the 50s, so you won’t need your retirement savings anyway.  Let’s spend it on food so I have something to eat in my old age.”

Good answer: “I’m glad you are so concerned about our finances, and I share your concern.  I think in the longer term this will save us money, allowing us to buy food at lower bulk prices and when it is at its cheapest, and thus will insulate us from rising prices.  But let’s sit down and make a budget for what we think it is appropriate to spend on food storage.”

Protest #2: No one has time to can and preserve food anymore!  Isn’t that a leftover form the bad old days?

Bad answer: “Of course you’ll have time to do it, sweetie - can’t you get up before the kids do to make pickles?  You already get 5 hours of sleep a night, so what’s the problem?  Here, read this woman’s blog and you’ll start feeling guilty that you don’t love the kids enough to make your own salsa.”

Good answer: “What I think will end up happening is that we’ll save time later from effort spent now - and we’ll know that our food supply is nutritious and safe - I don’t feel good giving the kids processed foods with all the recalls and contaminations.  But let’s definitely start slowly - I’ll make some sauerkraut, and then if you think we should, we’ll look into plans for a dehydrator.  But we’ll do it together.

Protest #3: Where are we going to put all that stuff?  There’s no way it will fit!

Bad answer: “On those shelves where you keep all your old vinyl records, silly.  As soon as I get that stuff out to the trash, we’ll be ready to build our pantry.”

Good answer: “I think there’s some unused space in that guest room, and if I clean out this closet, I know we could put shelves up and store some food.  I guess I should think about cleaning out some of my junk, right?”

Protest #4: Storing food is for wacko-survivalist types - that’s not us.

Bad answer: “Oh, didn’t you read that stuff by Nostradamus that I gave you?  Oh, and do you know how to use an uzi?”

Good answer: “No, storing food is what my grandmother did to get through the great depression.  It is pretty normal, actually - so normal that FEMA and the American Red Cross recommend that every American store some food.”

Protest #5: Nobody in our house is going to eat Garbanzo beans.  I’m certainly not going to - they make we want to puke!

Bad answer:”Oh, you’ll eat those beans, young lady,  or you’ll spend the rest of your life in your room!”

Good answer: “Ok, you don’t like chickpeas.  That’s ok - what would you suggest we get instead?  Would you like to come with me to the bulk store and help me pick out some storage food?  It needs to be about 1/3 protein sources to grains - what would you suggest?”

Protest #6: I don’t want to think about bad stuff that might happen, or be reminded of it!

Bad answer: “Ok, you don’t have to.  But have you ever seen this great website, The Automatic Earth?”

Good Answer: “But remember, we’re not just storing food for bad times, we’re storing food so that we can save money, go shopping less, have more time for each other, and so we have to worry less about money.”

Protest #7: Things will never get bad enough that we need our stored food, so what’s the point?

Bad Answer:  ”I expect things to get so bad that we seriously consider whether or not to eat the hamsters - probably by next Friday.  After Pookie and Herman, the neighbors will be next.”

Good Answer: “Well, this is really about a whole way of eating - not just storing food for an emergency.  So no matter what happens, we come out ahead - we have the food, and it will get eaten.

Protest #8: Ok, I’m willing to think about some food storage, but storing water?  That’s for whack jobs.

Bad Answer: “Ok, well I’m storing water for me, and if anything bad happens, I’m just going to sit there watching you shrivel up.”

Good Answer: “Remember the floods in the midwest this summer?  A lot of areas had contaminated water, and I don’t really want to go for days with no water to wash hands in or to cook with.  All we’ve got to do is take these recycled soda bottles and fill them with water and a couple of drops of bleach, to know that we won’t be in that position.”

Protest #9: Home preserved food isn’t safe - I heard about someone who died from eating home canned food.

Bad Answer: “Oh, you are right.  Let’s only eat industrially packaged food with lots of peanut butter in it.”

Good Answer: “It is true that unsafe canning practices occasionally result in home canned food hurting or killing someone.  But think of all the trouble we’ve had with the industrial food system - the melamine in dog food, botulism in canned chili, salmonella and ecoli on tons of things.  I agree we have to be very careful, especially when pressure canning, and I plan to be.  But we can preserve our own in lots of ways that are completely safe, and overall, home preserved food is actually safer, not to mention more nutritious, than commercial canned food.

Protest #10: There are so many things about this that are hard - it takes time, energy, new tools, money.  It may be a good idea, but why would you want to take it on?

Bad Answer: “Because Sharon (yes, that woman on the blog you call “the nutjob”) says I should - she fed me the zombie paste, and now I have no will of my own.”

Good Answer: “Because I think we deserve better food than we’re getting.  I want it to taste better,  I want the money we spend to help do things we’re proud of. I want to depend on ourselves more and on corporations less.  I want us to be healthier, and I want us to work together on this as a family.  I want us to feel like when we are eating, we’re doing something good - for us and the world.” 

Best of luck on this!


Utility Shut-Off Deaths Begin

Sharon January 27th, 2009

I’ve been worrying for a long time about what is going to happen to many of us when we can no longer pay our utility bills - and urging people to put what resources they can to being able to live without their utilities.  I’ve written about this a number of times.

 Now a reader (thanks, Edward!) has sent me this, the story of a 93 year old World War II veteran who died of hypothermia in his home because he couldn’t pay his electric bill.  Marvin Schur’s death is the first case I know of during this Depression that involves someone freezing to death in their home due to a utility shut off, but it will not be the last, I fear.

Bay City Electric Light and Power, which is owned by the city, said a limiter was placed on Schur’s electrical line.


The device limits the power that reaches a home, and it blows out like a fuse if power consumption rises past a set level.


The manager of Bay City said the limiter was tripped sometime between the time of installation and the discovery of the man’s body.


The city manager said city workers keep the limiter on a house for 10 days, then shut off power entirely if the homeowner hasn’t paid utility bills or arranged to do so.


A medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on Schur told TV5 and that Schur died a painful death due to the hypothermia.


Dr. Kanu Varani has done hundreds of autopsies, and he said he’d never seen a person die of hypothermia indoors.


A neighbor who lives across the street from Schur is angered that the city didn’t personally notify the elderly man about his utility situation.


Schur’s neighbor, Herndon, said Schur had a utility bill on his kitchen table with a large amount of money clipped to it, with the intention of paying that bill.”

This is, of course, a horror and a shameful thing to allow to happen.  But a life with few or no utilities is probably in many people’s future - already families are unable to fill oil tanks and are making do with electric space heaters.  What happens when the electricity goes as well?  While many states have limits on utility companies shutting off during the heating season, some places have suffered chronic violations of these laws, and the pressure to shut off is likely to rise steadily as more and more Americans are in debt to their utility companies.  At last check 26% of all Americans were overdue on at least one utility bill.

This is one of my older articles - I’ve written about this a number of times - but my own conviction is that many, many of us will live without utilities, not because the grid crashes (which might also happen), but because we will increasingly be priced out of basic services like lights and heat.  I don’t want this to happen to anyone else - so find ways to live comfortably without power if you can, and please, please keep an eye on your vulnerable neighbors.  The elderly and disabled have the fewest recourses and are the most likely to die - and they may be ashamed to ask for help.  Don’t make them ask, be there offering, so that no one will ever die this painful death again. 


Food Security as a Cottage Industry

Sharon January 27th, 2009

It would be great if all of us had the luxury of putting our community’s food security needs at the top of our agendas, simply because we care.  The problem, of course, is the need for us to meet other requirements - to make a living, get food on the table, tend our families, etc…  One of the ways we can find more time for this project is to shift some of our income to local food security work.  So what kind of jobs are there that allow you to improve your local food economy?  How might you make a cottage industry niche for yourself that might simultaneously improve your family’s economic security in tough times, and also help your community maintain a food supply?

Now obviously if you and your partner already work two full time jobs, or you are a single Mom struggling to just get through the day, the last thing you need is a new business.  But for the retired, underemployed, unemployed or for at-home parents who might need a little extra income, this offers the possibility of doing good and also keeping the wolf from the door.

So here are some jobs I can think of (I’m leaving out jobs as growers or raising livestock - I’ll do a post on growing and producing food for income next month during the Garden Design class) - I’m sure the rest of you can come up with others. 

Let me be clear that anyone dealing with food is going to have to decide how they want to operate in relationship to food laws.  Know your local food laws, and know how they are enforced.  The recent Manna Storehouse raid suggests that we need to take care.  I believe that many food safety policies do exist for a reason - but the fact that they so hugely prioritize the well being of rich corporations, who still can’t keep the food supply safe (witness the current peanut contamination and cyclical contaminations that show up every few months), that we’d be better off allowing more small scale food production.  I personally don’t have a lot of problem circumventing the laws, or campaigning to overturn them, but I do want people to understand the risks.

 1. Bulk food/local food sales.  My friend Joy now operates a storefront that sells bulk foods, local dairy, cheese and eggs, and also makes homemade baked goods and sells sandwiches.  Her place operates as a convenience store/sandwich shop and bulk goods store.  That might be a little much of a project for beginners, but her example is timely because before she operated her storefront, she did bulk food sales out of her house, ordering bulk foods, repackaging them in smaller quantities for sale and recruiting customers.  Her prices are a bit higher than my local coop, but I want her and her family to succeed.   This is a great cottage industry for someone - or even for a couple of people at home.

 2. Home baker - now food sanitation laws can make any kind of food production at home difficult - most states require certified kitchens, with equipment most of us don’t have.  Some of us may have access to certified kitchens somewhere - we may be able to use them for a small fee or even barter for their use during times when they aren’t open, and then sell home-produced food.  If you are going to work outside the law, the place where there are the fewest risks is in baking - it is genuinely challenging to poison people with bread.  In addition, Amish communities routinely sell home baked goods outside the law, and are mostly ignored, setting a precedent that might be useful.  So if you are going to try and set up as a food producer outside of a certified kitchen, I suggest baked goods.  In fact, I’ve done this - when our CSA was in operation, we used to include Challah in our deliveries.  At one point, we were baking 50 loaves of bread every Thursday, without legal approval.  We were very clear with our customers - we were neither certified nor we were certified kosher, although we keep a kosher kitchen and take challah when baking.  The bread was a gift, never mentioned in our literature, and not part of their purchase.  We still could have gotten into trouble, but I mention this as a possibility.

 3. Other cooking - basically, I think the “ratio of things likely to get you in serious trouble” runs this way baking is the lowest because illness from bread is unlikely.  Homemade meals or “lunch bags”, delivered to neighbors or brought to a workplace are probably next lowest risk, particularly if you can simply have them pay you for “grocery shopping” enough to cover.  I personally would not mess with selling dairy or home canned goods - just in case something goes wrong, but then again, I live in a state with draconian dairy laws.  Find out what your local laws are and work with them - or know what you are risking working around them.  If you have access to a certified kitchen, or can get some institution to certify a kitchen for the collective good, by all means explore these routes.  We are going to need more people cooking - and this is a reasonable source of income. 

4. Teaching food storage, preservation and food security.  There are a couple of ways you could do this.  One is through your local community college extension courses, another is privately.  You might run classes out of your home or you might offer private lessons if the market will bear it - you go to their house and help them with their first canning attempts.  You will probably need a fair bit of experience and some practice or credentials - my suggestion would be to teach the classes for free a few times through a local coop or health food store, as a volunteer, and then use that to leverage yourself into being able to charge.  This will depend on the market and local interest - but it is worth a shot.

5. Canning on shares - if you can find a certified kitchen, what about preserving other people’s food for them?  They could pay you, or they could give you a portion of the preserved food as part of the deal - which, if it was canned in a certified kitchen, you could then sell.

6. Produce sales - you talk to local gardeners who grow enough extra to want a little cash, but not enough to be worth setting up a stand.  Find 5-10 of these and ta da - you pay them for their extra strawberries and sweet corn and you sell it, either from an actual produce stand at the farmer’s market or through a stand at your house, and you keep the markup.  You can do eggs this way too, and even local crafts, soap, etc…

 7. Food access expansion.  When Eric and I were caring for his grandparents, his grandmother wanted very much to buy local, fresh food.  The difficulty was that at first, she was nervous about driving to unfamiliar areas, and later, unable to drive herself.  It was easy enough for us to pick up extra produce when we went to our local farmstand.  And gradually we noticed that other seniors in our rural area had the same problem - they missed the fresh raspberries and really “chickeny” chicken of their youth, but trips to the farmer’s market were hard - they were often tired or relied on other people to take them shopping.  Extra stops and out of the way areas were simply too overwhelming.  So, for a time, we’d stop by and pick up extra produce for them too.  Now this was a not-for profit thing, but the seeds of a business are there - either shopping on comission for those too busy or unable to get out, or transporting people to farmer’s markets or farmstands in order to increase demand for local food.

8. Set up pantries.  I suspect there are some people out there concerned with food storage who have more time than money - they want to build food storage, but don’t have time to clean out space, set up a pantry and stock it.  So you be the “provident pantry” dude.  You volunteer to come over, clear out the shelves, place and pick up the bulk order and put it into buckets.  You might also offer menus and suggestions for using food storage.  I should note that I generally shy away from strategies that mostly involve serving the affluent, but in this case, I actually think food security is one of those things that serves everyone - everyone in the community is better off when people have enough to eat. 

9. Teach cooking classes - teaching people to cook bulk staple foods and to adapt their diets to food storage and local eating is important work.  If you haven’t taught before, do it as a volunteer a few times.  Consider seeing if you can get local grant money from any organization to cover your time, so that you can offer classes for free for those who may need them but can’t afford to pay - many towns have budgets that might locate a few hundred dollars to pay you to help low income folks be able to make better use of low cost foods.  These classes can be taught anywhere, though - through churches, out of your home, to teenage homeschoolers and even through workplaces.

10. Combine items, but don’t ”cook” them - there are plenty of grey areas here that might allow you to sell home produced foods, but without getting into the legal mess of selling cooked items.  You can mix teas, spice mixes,  beans for soup mix, make flour mixes for gluten free or specialty baking, make herbal tinctures (don’t do this unless you know what you are doing and are familiar with the laws about making health claims for herbal medicines), and otherwise take other people’s products and mix them without doing anything that can get you in trouble. 

Ok, other suggestions?  The reality is that with almost 70,000 jobs gone in just one day yesterday, a lot of us are going to need ways to do good work and make a living.