Letter Re: Becoming a Food Warrior

I appreciate your web site. It suits me right to the ground. I’d like to be an occasional contributor. Congratulations on your fastidious maintenance of this meaningful site. Just like farming isn’t it.

Guerrilla food shopping (part one)
I’m no conventional warrior, I couldn’t force myself to take a life, but I am a survivalist. Not to put too fine a point on this: I am a food warrior. As I write this, one of our battles is escalating food prices, isn’t it? What can we do as individuals to protect ourselves? Plenty! We aren’t hostages you know. Not yet.

I think we all agree that inflation has dug its claws into us. We know from experience that this ongoing dilemma never reverses itself. What was two dollars yesterday will be three dollars soon. Looking ahead to the prospects of mega-inflation of our commodities with flat-lined wages, lay-offs, firings as potential results; these trends will likely reduce our present life-style options. Let’s cover this in chapters beginning with our second greatest threat: the grocery store:

All other survival issues aside, our grocery dollar has been attacked and bloodied greatly. Before we can successfully protect our family food stream, we must understand just what’s happening. Many unrelated issues combine to make our food needs imperiled and, at this same time, our dollar’s buying power is shrinking. This is a War.

It might interest you to know that not that many years ago, food was the responsibility of the family. Here, in New England, families produced most of their needs at home. They only bought or traded for a few food basics: flour, salt, some grain products, spices, cocoa, molasses, baking soda, cream of tartar, some white sugar, extracts, salt-peter. This short list was purchased by the season, month, or year depending on how a family’s trading goods harvested or how other amounts of currency came to them.

The general store was small. It offered little choice in any of these necessary products. A bag of flour was just that: a fifty-weight of pure flour packed in a colorful sack, which would become a daughter’s new dress when empty. Sugar was weighed into the bags customers brought with them. How absurdly simple the shopping experience was. (At home the daily routine was infinitely more complicated.)
Packaging, advertising, transportation, handling and storage were minimal. Things arrived in large barrels and bags aboard a freight wagon and were handled by the family that owned the store. Licenses, inspections, salesmen callers, employees, FICA, Social Security withholdings, health insurance, 401(k)s and other issues to burden the grocer, hadn’t been invented then. The dollar was backed by a gold standard. Buyers could predict, within cents, what their future costs would be. They could plan their cash crops according to their anticipated needs. Everything made sense.
In a hundred years the entire American mentality has changed from near total family independence to near total dependence on industry, business, and government. Buddy, that is more scary than anything else happening in this country today. However, I don’t find it hard to understand why this gradual shift occurred considering the tough, committed life-style my grandmother lived.
Today, most of us aren’t equipped to produce all our products, so guerrilla shopping is our recourse.

The battlefield is our grocery store. Consider now the terrain: Blind row upon row of six-foot-tall gondolas crammed, presently, with so-called food. Our mission is to determine what foods have real value. Our trophy for winning this battle will be life-sustaining human fuel: real food.
In order to win this war we must know what is actually real food. The other stuff: decoys, useless, non-issue, and costly, empty-food-value-just-packaging. Today, most shoppers’ carts carry little or no food of substance. (Example: a can of chicken broth, presently $.89. is water, salt, a bullion cube and a glob of chicken fat. The can takes up valuable storage space where more important articles could go. Chicken broth is a simple by-product of cooking a chicken. How tough can that be?)
Going into this battle will require training, equipment, planning and the will to survive, so before we go on the attack we must ask ourselves important questions:
Am I willing to make the commitment to reduce my grocery bill, or will I continue to shake my head, complain and continue to support this fufu industry?
What part of my family’s needs can I or will I be able to produce?
What can I successfully introduce to my family?
What do I know about food values?
How much of what product do I need, to ensure that my family will be well-fed?
What can I afford to accumulate immediately, against continually rising prices.
How much space can I dedicate to this most important effort?
Where will my food reserves be in one year? Think through: Space, place, amounts.

Have you answered these questions? Good! Put on your “game-face” and let’s attack.
As you survey the landscape, you’ll see hundred-foot-long isle of cereals. Okay, we’ll begin with cereal. Consider that the decorator cereals cost more per-pound than meat! Why would you turn your hard-earned dollar into puffed oats that have been processed so many times that the food value, if ever there was, is gone?
As you warily survey this isle of worthless kid-incentives, several small items, concealed on high shelves, come to your eye. Farina: a solid hot cereal with good food-value. It requires cooking. Old-fashioned rolled oats: they are better than the dusty quick oats being that the heavy oats are the premium while the quick oats are what is left after the premium oats have been selected. Cream of Wheat, another solid cereal that can be used as hot cereal or cooked, formed, cooled, sliced and fried for an add-on to other meals. (Grits are a good choice too, but I’ve never acquired a taste for them.). Corn meal makes a fine cereal and can be as useful as the Cream of Wheat as an add-on fried. Add raisins and other dry fruits to any of these for an enticing, substantial meal. Recipes and cookbooks are available for any one of these cereals. You’ll be amazed at the versatility of just these four products.

Note: Cereal: flakes come in all kinds. The food-value is questionable. Pick a generic brand. If your family won’t settle for something different, camouflage these flakes in the family’s favorite-brand box. I’ve known children that wouldn’t eat anything that didn’t come in some kind of familiar package.)
Our trophies from the vast cereal isle: corn meal, old-fashioned oats, farina and Cream of Wheat will cook up to multiples of their dry weight. They all store reasonably well. Here are four cereals from the 100-foot row of decorator cereals, and these all have other uses besides breakfast. Do you see why it is important to review your grocery habits with a critical eye? With just these four cereals you’ve now wisely increased your inventory, increased your savings and greatly increased your per-pound-nutritional-food-values.
Every isle has its story. Every isle is designed for eye-appeal rather than solid nutritional choices. Marketers play on convenience, on price, on low-this and high-that, and popularity to move their product into your kitchen. Don’t buy into the marketing game. Chances are the best products are not at eye-level, do not have fancy boxes or gimmicks. The food containers that we are looking for will probably have dust on their tops.

If grocery food is our second biggest threat, then what is the first? : As a nation, we are so ill-equipped to handle today’s events. Few people can really cook, fewer can garden, and still fewer know even the basics of animal husbandry, farming, logging, wild-crafting all the wonders that I, as a child, took for granted. All these amazing things I learned, as a child, from my parents, and grandparents. These incredible people are gone forever, taking much of their knowledge and wisdom with them. Boy-oh-boy do we need them today!

I’m much older than most of you reading this. In the four decades since I reached adulthood, I’ve kept to the old ways, in spite of the ridicule I’ve endured from family and friends. Practicing and learning the old ways has given me much quiet joy, a feeling of accomplishment beyond measure, and a great appreciation for my ancestors who made do with very little while enjoying good, long happy lives. I’m sure they would say they wanted for nothing.

For a number of years now I’ve felt guilty about not being able to share my experience and knowledge. Each time I shared, my listeners wanted me to do their home-work for them. I wasn’t making a dent in the ignorance that would one day founder this nation.

Side note: Dozens of books are offered to make you an instant expert. These books are written by authors who read someone else’s book, digesting major points then spit them back with great color photos. No good. The knowledge you need isn’t available in a condensed “how-to” volume for $20 plus $3.99 shipping. In fact, these books can be dangerous. I once read a rather well-appointed field guide to wild edibles. It pictured a fern; they called it an edible fiddlehead. This furry fern was no more edible than the tires on your car. Please beware of these knock-offs in fancy formats.
Well, here we are in rocky times with a future in the fog. Now, finally, folks are showing some interest in becoming independent. Reminds me of college days when if it weren’t for the eleventh hour rule, little would have ever been done. Unlike academics, this isn’t about passing mid-terms. This is about survival of the human race. Does this frighten you at all? It should. The learning curve to self-sufficiency is great with many backward steps. And we are, indeed, into the eleventh hour.