Monday, October 17, 2011

Emergency: Starve or Thrive?

    Since 2008, the U.S., along with the rest of the world, has been in seriously dire financial straits and the view from where we're sitting doesn't look like things will be improving anytime soon.  If anything, the "experts" say we are headed for round two which will be worse than the last three years.  I know a lot of people who have already lost their jobs, cars, homes, credit, savings, and don't have a lot left to lose!  The entire world is on the brink of financial disaster, we are having protests at home, riots abroad, etc. and no one has a solution.

With a high likelihood of difficult financial and sociopolitical times ahead, what are you doing to prepare your family to make it through should things get really tough?

We've had a difficult time addressing all of our concerns here at our house.  If our preparation for 'disaster' was something along the lines of the steps normally taken to prepare for a short term emergency such as a hurricane or even flooding, the issue would be more clear cut.  It would be easy to target specific areas of preparedness, such as having a 72 hour water supply for a hurricane and a few boxes of candles, batteries, and maybe a hand-crank radio along with the requisite stockpiles of food.  However, the approaching storm seems to present a much deeper and wider set of possible problems which, should they hit hard, have a high probability of persisting for a much longer time than a measly three days.

One problem with real potential to occur is a sudden spike in food and energy prices.  These two areas of concern are of such close correlation they can hardly be separated.  The United States has already seen a substantial increase in both food and energy prices over the last 18 months or so.  If the current Iranian issue really came to a head, the closing of the Suez canal by Iran would immediately put oil, and thus gasoline prices, through the roof.  We got a taste of gasoline price hikes and shortages not too long ago here due to a hurricane which damaged a few Texas refineries, and it quickly came to the point of truckers, especially owner-operators, simply not being able to afford to put their rig on the road.  During the recovery after the hurricane, gas was so limited if people saw a gasoline tanker on the road they would literally follow it until it pulled in at a gas station and immediately take a place at a pump.  Once word got out that a station had gas they were mobbed with lines of cars that stretched for miles.  To secure gas for the family vehicle, Racey had to go and wait in a line for nearly two hours at 3:00 a.m. to get some. 

The translation of energy costs and shortages into food is direct.  Many people are unaware of it, but nearly all grocery stores restock their supply of goods approximately every 24-36 hours.  As soon as our nations fleet of trucks stops delivering their precious cargo on a regular, uninterrupted basis, the food in the grocery stores will be either limited or gone within a single day.  Even if the supply lines remain intact, if the cost of diesel were to go up even a few dollars, the price of the food and other goods being hauled by those trucks still on the road would almost instantly increase accordingly.  Have you considered the impact on your family of bread reaching $5 per loaf?  How about milk jumping to $8 a gallon?  What if the price of nearly all food jumped a modest 20%?  Our budget certainly couldn't accommodate such an event.

In response to these concerns, we've tried to learn all we can about food preservation as well as how to cook from scratch.  If you're not used to cooking from scratch you'd be surprised at the variety of foods that can be prepared from staples such as wheat, corn, and oats. We've spent a fair amount of time learning how to make everything we can from the staples so we don't rely on things like Bisquick for pancakes or Pillsbury for biscuits.  Stockpiling staples does little good if you're unfamiliar with how to cook with them.  During a crisis isn't usually the best time to learn so we advise starting immediately as time appears to be growing short.  This blog may certainly help, but don't wait on us to learn the basics because we haven't made a post about it yet.  However, if you have questions about something we haven't addressed here yet, certainly feel free to send us an email and we will be forthcoming with everything we've learned regarding your question or concern.

Many voices have expressed concern about the state of basic infrastructure in this country.  What would we do if strikes by unions and other workers or even civil unrest disrupts the provision of essential utilities such as natural gas and water?  The U.S. had a close call last winter with a shortage of natural gas and heating oil nearly running out completely in the northeast.  Could this winter be worse?  Even if none of these more apocalyptic scenarios play out, which is less unthinkable these days as it may have been in the past, what if cost increases or unemployment in your home makes these services unattainable or unaffordable?  Have you made any preparations regarding how you would deal with a situation such as having no power or gas to your home for days or possibly weeks?  The loss of either one of these things would likely present problems for nearly any household.

In our home, natural gas supplies the energy with which we cook, heat our water, and heat the home itself.  Electricity is responsible for our air conditioning in the summer as well as lights and other home appliances.  Foregoing hot water for showers and heat for the home, a gas shortage would leave us unable to cook in the usual manner.  In response we've done several things:  stockpiled charcoal to allow us to cook on our outside grill, stockpiled firewood for both the fireplace inside which could provide heat for the home as well as for use in our outdoor fire pit and obtained a grate/grill we can place over it to cook over an open fire.  Lastly we keep at least two full propane tanks on hand allowing us to use a propane-powered stove like appliance we installed on our back porch.  We figured our usual kitchenware may not be ideal for these applications so we've obtained, cleaned up, and seasoned a number of pieces of cast iron cookware much more suited to such use.  We only use a few skillets and maybe the dutch oven on a regular basis, but the rest is seasoned and ready to go if we need it.

Electricity, or the loss of it, does present fewer problems, but those problems are potentially larger and more difficult to deal with.  We certainly don't have any worries about the loss of lighting as we have obtained plenty of candles, oil lamps and oil to see us through the darkness.  Not having any air conditioning in the heat of the summer would be extremely uncomfortable to say the least, but no one would die (even if Racey says he would!).  The major Achilles heal of the loss of power would be the inability to run our refrigerator and freezers.  Our budget simply doesn't allow for the purchase, fueling, and maintenance of a generator that would be up to the task.  At this moment we have almost no way of addressing this concern (but feel free to donate a large generator and a few hundred gallons of fuel if you like!  Just kidding.  Sorta.  lol).  The only less-than-ideal response we have right now would be to rush to the store and buy as much dry ice as we could get, and who knows how well that would work out.  This is the reason so much of our preparedness revolves around food storage that doesn't require refrigeration or freezing.  Canning and dehydration have been our major focus thus far.  We've been canning as much fruit and veg as we can, and we're beginning to can meat as well, but even that has been difficult since most of our food budget is required to actually feed us and leaves little overage for 'extra' pounds of meat to go on the shelf.  Dairy has also been a concern that has been a tough one to wrestle with.  Dairy generally can't be canned at all (ghee is the only exception we've found), and we don't live on a farm or have direct access to cows or goats.  Having no milk or eggs of any kind really limits what you can make with staple foods, so we did what we felt we had no choice but to do.  First, we purchased as much dried milk as we could.  If you've purchased large containers of dry milk recently you know it's not only expensive, but prices are increasing constantly and substantially.  Second, we scrimped and saved and bought one each of powdered eggs, cheese, sour cream, and butter packed in #10 cans from this site:  Shelf RelianceSidenote:  If you intend on purchasing anything at all from this site please let us know before you do.  We have a way to get you lower prices than what's listed!

All of the above is just a little bit of an overview of what we've done to attain a sustainable, somewhat long term food supply as well as the means to prepare it if times get really tough.  Even if this sounds like a lot to you, we still feel it's not enough.  We wonder sometimes if we're not making a mistake by failing to stockpile heirloom seeds and getting a hold of some good gardening tools and learning how to cultivate at least enough food for the family. 

Hopefully some of this post has gotten your wheels turning about some of the questions and concerns we've wrestled with over the last while.  Specifically, we'd like to solicit both comments and questions about what you've done to prepare your family for possible emergencies in whatever form they may come.  Let us know what you're doing!  And if you have questions, ask away!

Next time we'll address the more important, more difficult issue of water preparedness....

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