An insidious epidemic is sweeping across Australia, the UK and the US, and governments are unable to do anything to control it. No, I’m not talking about the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, but it’s long shadow, the epidemic of fear spreading before it!
Modern, technologically advanced nations like to project an image of orderly, stable society to the world. Some might even say they harbour a conceited view of their assumed cultural superiority, but beneath the thin veneer of civilization, we find concealed all of the unacceptable aspects of collective human nature. When citizens become gripped by fear, the facade quickly falls away and the ugly side of humanity reveals itself in short order, as we’re seeing from the panicked masses in response to the threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The illusion of government control and societal stability is quickly shown up for what it is when human fear disrupts the delicately balanced processes which keep a nation running, when the modern just-in-time supply systems of manufacturing and retail fail to cope with irrational emotional human behaviour and mass hysteria.
When the reality hits the masses that their governments have no vaccines or treatments available to deal with a growing global pandemic, people become anxious over the external threat which they have no control over, and they panic. The inappropriate psychological response we’re seeing is that people try to exert some control back over their lives by hoarding everyday supplies without thinking about the effects on others or the long-term consequences of their actions.
Why irrational? Because there is no evidence, from China or elsewhere, that an outbreak of this pandemic will disrupt the supply of food and essential items. Australia exports two-thirds of its food supply, and the government even brags about it. There is plenty of food to go round in the meantime before future climate change impact huts. Fearful people have created a food and essential items crisis way before the impact of a pandemic has actually hit hard. Instead of dealing with one crisis, we are now dealing with two, one due to natural causes, and one purely man-made.
To quote two separate articles from news.com.au on 17/03/2020, “The panic buying in supermarkets is showing no signs of slowing despite assurances that Australian food supplies are not at risk because of the coronavirus pandemic. While demand first started with toilet paper, it has now spread to pasta, rice, tissues, frozen vegetables and mince.” …”Woolworths says it is selling the equivalent of a week’s toilet paper each and every day. Although many other aisles seems to have adequate stock.”
Having had prior warning of a looming epidemic, the question on many people’s minds is whether we could have handled this better?
Preparedness Done Right
Being prepared is all about being ready for something before it happens, and that implies planning and strategy, not reacting in panic after the fact!
Many groups around the world have sought to prepare themselves to create a more resilient lifestyle, either alone or with others, so there are lots of examples to follow without the necessity of reinventing the wheel!
The US, with its long history of rugged individualism, its pioneering spirit, as well as a healthy distrust of its government, has been drawn to systems of individual self-reliance and community self-sufficiency. As a result, we have seen two distinct systems of preparedness emerge from the US.
- The first is the homesteading movement, which is characterised by a lifestyle of self-sufficiency through subsistence agriculture, food preservation and production of some essential household items such as textiles, clothing, soap, candles and many other items. This approach resembles a village-based organic farming lifestyle in many ways.
- The second and more recent is the survivalist and prepper movements, where individuals prepare for extreme ‘end-game’ scenarios which they refer to as TEOTWAWKI or “The End Of The World As We Know It”. These individuals focus on training themselves in both urban and wilderness (bushcraft) survival skills, they stock up on canned and preserved food, essential items and medical supplies which can last them over extended periods of 6 months or more. Their supplies are gathered slowly over a period of a year or two, and they keep their supplies fresh by using their oldest food supplies first, replenishing them with new stock constantly. So they’re not permanently living off canned food, their diet consists of both stored supplies and fresh food to maintain a balanced and healthy diet. They only stock what they use, so all purchases are planned, and the way they cycle through their supplies is also planned to avoid waste and spoilage. This lifestyle takes quite a bit of commitment, dedication and discipline, but it is a preparation for worst-case situations after all. Many preppers and survivalists also have skills in hunting, trapping and fishing to supplement their food supplies, and some incorporate gardens or farms to supply fresh food over the long term, as well as a replenishable supply of water if possible. To defend their investment in a major disaster or end-of-the-world scenario, some survivalists and preppers in rural areas may construct secure sites designed to be defended against intruders, and to this end many are proficient in firearms use and also stockpile supplies of ammunition to this end.
Other preparedness and resilience movements have emerged from various countries and spread worldwide, including the US.
- A different approach to resilience comes from the more environmentally focused off-the-grid lifestyle groups, who aim to create self-contained homes which supply power, water, and food while processing all waste onsite. The goal here is to live sustainably while creating the smallest ecological footprint, the aim is to ‘tread lightly’ and leave the planet a better place than how we found it. Such groups also have a tendency to be more communal and cooperative, working with like minded individuals, sharing their produce and making work easier through combined efforts. The homes here may range from conventional dwellings to ones made of sustainable materials such as mudbrick, strawbale, cob or rammed earth, all utilising energy-efficient design. Other approaches include tiny houses, mobile and RV living, housing made from recycled shipping containers, underground houses or ones embedded into the sides of hills, Earthship homes as pioneered by Michael Reynolds, and permaculture designed homes.
- Taking a more back-to-basics approach are the the primitive skills groups which aim to regain the basic ancestral skills which kept humanity alive for most of its existence, such as fire making without matches, construction and use of stone and wooden tools, basket making, finding clay and using it to making utensils, cleaning and preparing of animal hides, identifying and using edible and medicinal plants, and even constructing ancient weaponry such as bows and arrows.
All these approaches work well to prepare certain types of individuals with outdoor skills, but what if you’re a typical domesticated urban dweller with no self-reliance skills whatsoever?
There are a range of sensible measures available to everyone to increase self –reliance, regardless of who they may be.
Sensible Urban Prepping
Learning to plan in life is important, rather than living day to day and paycheck to paycheck, in case the unexpected happens! Resilience is the ability to cope with unexpected change, and to survive and thrive.
Irrespective of where we live, It’s always a good idea to keep a well-stocked pantry with a range of foods which have a long shelf life and don’t require refrigeration – if power fails, a whole fridge of frozen food can quickly spoil!
Top 30 Foods for the Urban Prepper Pantry
There are many foods that will last for ages in storage and are quite healthy, that can also serve as an emergency food supply and also be used regularly to prevent spoilage.
It should be obvious to point out that you should buy what you like eating! Don’t make the mistake of thinking that someone else might like it…
Use common sense when buying canned foods, avoid foods which are very high in salt or sugar, or which contain mystery ingredients listed as numbers, these are unhealthy additions such as flavours, preservatives, colouring which you can do without.
Here is a list of the top 30 foods that belong in a well-stocked prepper pantry, are healthy and also last a long time in storage:
- Canned fish– as a source of protein, especially oily fish such as tuna, salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel, herring and anchovies, as they contain up to 30% oil in the flesh, making them rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and a good source of vitamins A and D.
- Canned meat – as a source of protein, such a chicken, ham, spam, corned beef. Be aware that processed meats may be high in salt and preservatives, so choose the healthier options where available.
- Canned fruit – as a source of vitamin C, dietary fibre and natural sugars. Select products preserved in natural fruit juice rather than in sugar. Select a few different fruit so it doesn’t get monotonous eating the same thing over and over.
- Canned vegetables – as a source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. Canned legumes such as beans are an excellent protein source. Once again, select a range of varieties to keep things interesting.
- Canned soups – these combine a variety of ingredients to create a fairly nutritious balanced meal. Quite expensive for a single serve but provide great convenience, just heat and eat.
- Dried salted meat – such as beef jerky, great source of protein, available in a variety of animal and poultry meats, may be purchased marinated, spiced, smoked or sweetened, so be sure to try for taste. Avoid jerky containing artificial preservatives, they’re bad for you.
- Long life dairy or dairy alternatives – milk is available in the UHT long-life containers which doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and has a long shelf life, as do many milk alternatives such as soy, rice, oat and coconut milk.
- Water – better than storing water is having a water filter of some sort or other water purification system to make your own drinkable water when you need it. The charcoal and ion-exchange filters will take a lot of impurities out of the water, reverse osmosis filters will take out almost everything and water distillers will produce pure distilled water.
- Dry legumes – legumes such as beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas are a good source of protein and dietary fibre.
- Rice – white rice, as well as basmati, jasmine, wild, and Arborio rice will keep indefinitely, but are only a good carbohydrate energy source, while brown rice, which still has the most nutritious parts of the grain, the bran and germ intact, is much healthier than white rice, but it doesn’t keep as long, only 3-6 months due to its higher oil content.
- Pasta – a good carbohydrate source, a ready to use ingredient for easily prepared meals, choose whole grain pastas for a more nutrient rich meal.
- Crackers – can be used as a base for easy snacks, usually high in salt, versatile with a long life if kept in an airtight container.
- Bread – can be frozen in small quantities and defrosted as needed. Nearly any other kind of bread is better than white bread, which is the most heavily processed and least nutritious.
- Potato flour – a good carbohydrate source, and more nutritious than white flour, can be used as a substitute.
- Oatmeal – Oats are a gluten-free whole grains, a great source of vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre and antioxidants, they’re one of the healthiest grains and make an excellent nutritious breakfast.
- Muesli – a nutritious mix of cereal grains, with or without nuts or dried fruit, another excellent nutritious breakfast
- Nuts – are an excellent source of protein, beneficial oils and dietary fibre. Keeping a variety of nuts on hand is a good idea as a mix of nuts increases nutritional benefits and is nicer to eat than just one type.
- Seeds – sunflower and pumpkin seeds are highly nutritious, ready to eat and can be purchased from a grocery or supermarket.
- Honey – a great natural sugar energy source, adds some variety to foods, can be used in place of sugar, and some varieties, such as Manuka honey are medicinal and have antimicrobial qualities.
- Sugar – white sugar is processed, brown sugar is more nutritious as it doesn’t have the molasses removed.
- Molasses – is the by-product of refining brown sugar into white sugar, it’s loaded with vitamins, minerals and it’s very nutritious. It’s sweeter than regular sugar and can be used in place of honey, brown sugar, and maple syrup.
- Jams and jellies – provide a way of adding fruit and berries into the diet, and berries contain health-giving anthocyanins, the darker the berry the better, blackberries and blueberries contain very high levels of beneficial anthocyanin compounds.
- Peanut butter – just like eating peanuts, but in a spreadable form, high in protein and fat, good energy source.
- Salt and pepper – for flavouring food, use iodized salt or even better, sea salt or Himalayan rock salt for extra minerals.
- Coffee, tea, hot cocoa or hot chocolate – the caffeine in coffee serves as a stimulant, tea also contains caffeine but other nutrients also, Chinese green tea also contains valuable antioxidants which are great for health, while hot cocoa or hot chocolate make nice comfort drinks for the evening.
- Green smoothie powders – contain ingredients such as dried powdered vegetables, spirulina and chlorella, are quite expensive but make a quick nutritious supplement drink when mixed with water or fruit juices.
- Condiments – such as sauces, mustard and relishes, to make food more interesting to the palate!
- Vitamin tablets – multivitamins are useful to supplement any dietary shortfalls.
- Fitness energy bars – these are a concentrated source of protein, carbohydrates and other nutrients, quite expensive but great for a meal on the run. Avoid the ones containing artificial sweeteners such as sucralose, saccharin or nutrasweet, as these synthetic chemicals are really bad for your health.
- Camping MREs and freeze dried meals – are instant meals that have extremely long shelf lives. The military meal-ready-to-eat (MRE) foods don’t have much of a reputation for taste, while the backpacker type meals are meant to taste better. These are expensive emergency meals with very long shelf life.
There are a few other items which aren’t foods but are important to have on hand in case of emergencies.
- Keeping a first aid kit and a basic supply of over-the-counter medicines is a great idea, just keep in mind that medicines have a limited shelf life, much like the contents of a first aid kit. It’s best to learn to use the contents of a first aid kit before any emergencies, and to replace items when they reach their expiry date on the label, so keep that in mind!
- Another option is herbal medicines, they’ve served humanity for most of its existence, and dried herbs have a shelf life of approximately two years. You can buy them packaged or grow your own and dry them. Once again, learn how to use them before you need them.
- Also, don’t forget your pets, if you have any little or big animal companions, keep a supply of food and litter materials for them too!
Safe Storage of Foods
Store all foods in a cool, dry, dark location for maximum shelf life.
All cereals, nuts, grains, legumes, flour and dried fruit should be stored in in sealed containers to stop insects such as pantry moths and weevils getting into them. Glass jars with screw-on lids, such as mason jars commonly available at the grocery, make excellent long-term storage containers.
Don’t leave food products in their paper or cardboard containers, even if they have plastic bags inside them, as many kitchen pests may eat through them.
A well –stocked pantry can provide good short term self-reliance, but the best way to achieve longer-term self reliance is by growing your own food. I don’t mean growing all your food, just some of it. Even if it’s a token amount, it’s a valuable survival skill that all humans once possessed before urban domestication!
Taking the Next Step of Growing Your Own Food
Growing food is not that hard, you don’t need to be a ‘green thumb’, it just takes some practice, like most things. Remember they teach children to grow vegetables and much more in kitchen gardens in most primary schools (elementary schools) these days, so how hard can it be?
To grow annual vegetables, all you need is:
- A bare patch of ground, a raised bed filled with soil, or a container filled with growing medium (potting mix).
- Seedlings or seeds.
- Fertiliser or manure.
- A gardening calendar, so you know what to plant when.
To get people started, I’ve included a free to downloadable copy of the e-book, Sustainable Gardening Australia – Home Harvest; How To Grow Your Own Delicious Fresh Food. It doesn’t matter where in the world you might be, the basic gardening principles are all the same, so it’s worth giving it a go!