Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Preparedness and Food Security

Lacto Fermenting. Garlic Scapes, dill pickles, and chow chow.

I have been wanting to write about the subject of food security for a few months now. This subject has come to the forefront in my thinking since watching "Island on the Edge"  a film that looks at the possibility of no outside inputs to bring food to Vancouver Island. On the Island we only grow about 10% of the food locally that we eat throughout the year. So what happens if we have a major storm event. A huge cold front from Alaska hits a warm current in from the Pacific, a winter weather bomb. Massive snow, hurricane force winds, power outages and impassable roads. Nothing is moving for potentially days, maybe a week. Your power has been out for three days, your children are cold and hungry, food in the freezer is starting to thaw and the perishables in the refrigerator have all been consumed. So what do we do?

This situation is pretty extreme for the Pacific Northwest. I have never seen such an event in my years of living on Vancouver Island, at least the mid to southern parts. I know the north end has been hit with many huge storms that can close off the lone highway between communities and the rest of the rock. Could something else happen, or something worse? Of course. Earthquakes are a real possibility, so are forest fires, or floods. There are other worldly things that could possibly happen, but you get the picture. We need to be ready, in a pinch, if and when something out of the ordinary happens. Do you have three days, a week, a month of food on hand at all times. Food that will not spoil, in long term storage? What about water, heat, cooking? So many possible situations.

For years the idea of having food items long term stored in a pantry has been an interest for me. I have canned some fruits and jams, frozen berries, fish, and veggies. As a hunter/gatherer I have had many bits of wild edibles around, including deer meat, salmon, wild mushrooms, ducks and nettles. Long term storage has  basically been about freezing with some dehydrating involved. With the purchase of a pressure canner last summer my long term storage food preparations have gone up a couple of notches. Salmon, mushrooms, other meats are safely canned, and soups, stocks, sauces and stews can be bottled and put away for future use. A properly home canned product will last easily for a year or more. It is safe, easy and fun. Just follow the instructions to a tee with the recommended times and pressure. Low acid foods can not be safely processed in a water bath canner. They need to be brought above atmospheric pressure and above the boiling point to actually kill all the bacteria that could potentially spoil your food and make you very ill.

Other means of long term storage include lacto fermenting. Lacto fermenting uses the naturally occuring bacteria that are found all around us to cure the product. Fermenting is only limited to ones imagination and the amount of salt you have on hand. A few extra containers of coarse sea salt is something that every home should have in your cupboard. It is crucial in the preserving with lacto fermenting, as well as drying meat. Salt curing is on my list of things to try this winter when I have some deer meat around. The salt will pull the moisture out of the meat and allows it to be stored out of refrigeration. It is similar to jerky but it takes much longer. Biltong is an example of this kind of curing. Hams and salami are other types of cured meat using salt and wood smoke. I have never made any of these items, and they are also on the list of interesting things to try.

Many simple things that people can do to prepare for a bad "week". I suggest keeping a plastic tote somewhere safe and dry with various bits of storage foods in it. Include a bag or two of rolled oats, some whole wheat pasta,, canned fish like salmon or tuna. Sardines are another option. If it is within your means dehydrate a mix of vegetables and mushrooms. They are great additions to a soup that is easily made by boiling water, adding some jerky, pasta, bullion cube and dried veggies. Jerky is as easy or as complicated as you want to make it. Recipes abound on line and find one that looks tasty. Just remember to remove as much of the fat as possible. The fat will go rancid and ruin your prep. Plant a garden to help with your own food security. Start small, every little bit helps. If your municipality allows for backyard hens, leap at the opportunity.  Eggs are one of the greatest sources of protein and healthy fats, plus hens will eat almost anything. Kitchen compost scraps are great food for your flock, turning waste into food. I plan on having backyard hens as soon as we can convince our municipal government that they are okay.

The greatest thing that we all can do is to support our local farmers. More food that is grown locally the greater our food sovereignty. Less inputs from off the island means we are potentially less affected by major interruptions in transportation. Buy in season and put stuff up by canning, freezing, dehydrating and a combination of the methods. Don't be afraid to try things. If you don't have success, you will have learned something so next time it will be better. Read, ask questions, and play in the kitchen. It is so fun and satisfying to look in the cupboard and know that if there is a disaster, you, with your own hands, made it possible to eat even if SHTF. Getting out and meeting your neighbours is so important. The closer relationship you have with the folks is your community, and show them that you are a good person is the best security one can have. People will have to band together and help out. It is much easier with people you know and care about. It is much easier to feed your neighbours than to.....well we don't need to get into that. Keep it Local.

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