Alternative Foods in Famines, by ShepherdFarmerGeek

Several future scenarios include or produce famine on a very large scale. The goal of a famine feeding strategy is to get people from the beginning of the famine to the end alive and not permanently damaged. In extreme circumstances this may call for unusual measures…

Preparing for famine. We can be reasonably confident that any future crisis will include food scarcity. From EMP to pandemic, from war to drought, food is a critical resource. (The projected death rate from an EMP, including death from a variety of causes including famine, is 9 out of 10 Americans!) The sooner we can educate people about the dangers ahead the sooner every family can begin to prepare. Every little bit will help. And the sooner we start the better.
People need to know the facts in a non-inflammatory way and in a way they can relate to, “painting them a picture” so to speak of how it could affect them and their family. They need to know they cannot expect a government rescue, they need to take personal responsibility for their preparedness. And they need hope – to believe that their efforts can make a difference in the outcome.
Americans have been manipulated, lied to, cheated, and stampeded from issue to issue by unscrupulous people in government, education, the media, and even the church. We need a well thought-out strategy so that we don’t sound like crazies predicting the end of the world or selling something. That’s not going to happen without a lot of deliberation and work.

One of the reasons for getting a head start on famine preparedness is that the real experience of famine is horrible – it is surreal and disorienting and frightening. People need mental preparation, a sort of “mental inoculation” so that they are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually up for the challenge. Without this inner preparation many people will give in to paralysis and hopelessness and make an already dire situation worse.
Consider all the time and effort and materials that are going toward creating lovely politically-correct landscaping in 99% of American cities. Most of that landscaping could be replaced with food-producing plants, pasture grasses, fruit- or nut-producing trees, edible decorative plants, and even simply gardens. Fruit trees take several years to come to maturity – if people are going to plant them they are going to need to get going now..
As a group or a church becomes prepared their efforts will be multiplied by those in the community who catch the vision and understand the dangers. City policies for landscaping, even public landscaping, could be improved, and laws examined to allow emergency contractual changes to neighborhood covenants.
Gardeners need to be educated on how to grow insect resistant crops that don’t require pesticides, or that can be treated without commercial chemicals that will in all likelihood be unavailable. Cold-resistant and drought-resistant crops should be encouraged and seeds (for more than a single season’s planting!) and know-how distributed.

Stored foods. Clearly the best option in the face of famine is to buy food in advance! The challenges are (a) the cost of accumulating food over and above everyday consumption, (b) storing a large quantity of food, some of which will need special storage conditions, (c) making sure there is a nutritional balance, and (d) trying to guess how long a famine might last and how much might be needed. Because we can make some advance preparations now we even have the luxury of asking a nutritionist to help us develop a nutritionally sound plan, or of finding some individual or organization that has already done this basic meal planning. (A good resource is the LDS storage food calculator.)
In addition to a centralized storehouse, food storage should also be dispersed to individual homes as much as possible to make it harder to be all stolen or destroyed in one emergency or raid. Dispersed storage also means greater storage totals, and greater participation as people take personal responsibility. Bulk foods purchases could feed as many as 1,000 people for around $100 per day.

Raised foods. Raising basic, hardy crops such as beans, cabbage, beets / sugar beets, and potatoes can contribute significantly to the food available. It’s difficult to raise grain in a gardening situation, except for corn. Whether or not corn grows well will depend on what caused the famine in the first place – it typically needs a long, warm growing season which may not happen in some areas. Bean pollination can be improved (if insects are affected by cold or disease) by growing larger varieties and hand-pollinating. Sprouting grains in spring could provide an early “crop”. Unless massive amounts of vegetable seeds are made available to a community in advance, with gardening help, the first year’s crops are not going to come close to meeting the need.

Livestock. Livestock that can survive on foods that people do not eat (like grass) are an option (cows, sheep, rabbits, etc.), but livestock that requires grain input (chickens and turkeys) may not be an efficient use of the calories available. Care must be taken (if possible) not to eat livestock that may be needed for other essential purposes, such as oxen or horses for plowing or transportation. Growing children, the elderly, and the ill would benefit greatly from additional protein (eggs/meat) and fats.

Purchased/traded foods. In a famine some food typically continues to be available from traders or markets or even in stores, but at a significantly higher price. Saving up money to purchase food after a famine begins would be crazy, since far more food can be purchased for the same amount of money before it begins. But it’s possible that a delegation could be sent to other areas with a surplus to trade for food. A survival community theoretically could bring back additional food to sell to the public to cover the expenses of the trip.

Hunted/found foods. Hunting, fishing, trapping, and foraging are all good sources so long as there aren’t thousands of other people competing for the same resources. Once famine has thinned the population and concentrated people in the cities for government feeding programs, wild game and edible weeds/plants may rebound and be more available.

Gleaned foods. Combining a wheat field leaves significant amounts of grain still in the field where the combines miss the stalks – that grain can be collected. There may be fruit on fruit trees that was too difficult to reach or that was overlooked by pickers. All food harvesting processes should be investigated as possible gleaning candidates.

Discarded foods. An organized effort to collect food thrown out by restaurants and grocery stores could make a significant contribution to feeding people, and if nothing else scavenged foods may be fed to livestock to supplement their feed and indirectly contribute to feeding people. Fruit left in the field because of blemishes or damage, insect damage or rot, might yet have an edible portion. Even rotten, disgusting foods may provide highly-nutritious food for maggots (rather than feeding on feces), which can be safely consumed by humans.

Livestock feeds. Animal products like “All Stock” are made with bran, minerals, and molasses. It contains 12% protein (red wheat is typically 14%), 2% fat, 15% fiber, and vitamin A and D – it could be consumed by humans. “Cull peas,” a product of split pea manufacture, are peas that are too small to be processed for human use. A serving of pea soup has 8 grams of protein, 26 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fat, and 161 calories. Chicken scratch is just coarsely ground corn and wheat. It costs more than just plain whole corn and wheat, but if whole grain is not available the scratch is edible. The one thing to watch out for is that some foods unfit for human consumption are sometimes dumped in the livestock market – grains contaminated with mold, pesticides and other chemical contamination. Great care will need to be used to detect and avoid harmful feed (and it’s not good for the animals either!)

Insects. Millions of people around the world already know that the local insect population can be considered a potential food source. Maggots, or other large insects / bugs / worms such as earthworms and cicadas and grasshoppers are edible and nutritious when properly prepared. In ideal circumstances insects could even be raised, rather than having to be foraged for (found foods, below).  Insects could be fed foods that are unfit for human and livestock consumption and produce high quality protein in return.

Lake “seaweed”. Not all algae is edible (avoid globular and floating!), but the long stringy strand-types can be boiled (or pressure-cooked!) and consumed, containing starches and even fats. There may be water pollution issues, but in a worst-case scenario that would be a secondary concern. Blooms of algae (floating on surface or making the water turbid) can be highly toxic and make everything in the water, including fish, toxic. Saltwater kelp/dulse (sea lettuce) is edible.

Non-traditional foods.  Some things are edible (or could contribute nutrition to a meal) that are not commonly considered food. Some foods consumed by other cultures may have been rejected as too spicy, disgusting, or strong.  Even dogs, cats and horses in excess of what is needed for security and agriculture/hauling should be considered if times are desperate enough.  Bones discarded by butchers (turkey bones, chicken bones, etc.) contain valuable nutrients, as do organ meats including heart, lung, kidneys, liver, and intestines. They’re all edible, all safe and nutritious, and all consumed in many other non-Western cultures today. See e University database of foods known to be used by populations around the world in famine.  Just three crops – maize, wheat and rice – account for about 40% of the world’s consumption of calories and protein. 95% of the world’s food needs are provided for by just 30 species of plants. In stark contrast, at least 12,650 species names have been compiled as edible (Kunkel 1984)

Fillers. Historically, chaff and fine sawdust have been added to breads to make the flour go further and still be filling. It’s not nutritive, but it’s filling as a last resort. Steel-cut (pin-cut) oats can be added to chopped meats to extend the meats because the oats take on the flavor and are nutritious in themselves.           

A note about Vitamins. If every family would stockpile a year’s supply of a good multivitamin for each person it would be a huge help toward meeting their nutritional needs (particularly Vitamin D.) People escaping famine by pouring into Irish cities in the mid-1800’s died more frequently from disease caused by crowded conditions (and weakened immune systems) than directly by starvation. “In famines, most people do not die of hunger but of hunger-related fevers and diseases,” according to the excellent Multitext Project in Irish History.

Where do we start? “The minimum survivable calories varies between individuals, with 600 to 1,000 given as a standard range, according to the US Army Survival Handbook. The less active an individual is, the fewer calories he can eat and still survive.” There are a lot of variables to consider, and active, contributing persons would need more food than inactive and barely surviving ones. We don’t know how bad a famine will get or how long it will last, but we have to start somewhere:
The last time I checked, locally purchased wheat straight from the silo costs $200 a ton. That’s just 10¢ a pound. At 92 calories per ounce that works out to 1472 calories/pound, and around 14,000 calories per dollar (roughly 72¢ per person per day). Bulk, un-winnowed wheat could be the cheapest calories per dollar deal we can find, and could be the foundation for a desperate food planning strategy. If I did the math right about 1,000 people could be fed on $72 per day. It’s not impossible to save a lot of people.

“Pinto beans are much more nutritious but more expensive ($1,600 per ton at Costco), and corn, potatoes (dried or stored in cool/humid conditions), oats, sugar, oil (corn oil keeps and is inexpensive) – all can be bought in bulk. Using the figures from Paul B.’s SurvivalBlog article Staple Foods Storage By The Numberstarget nutrient categories per person per day are 112.5 grams of protein, 412.5 grams of carbohydrates, 100 grams of fat, and 40 grams of fiber. Much of that can be met with wheat, supplemented with other bulk foods as well as the alternative food sources mentioned above in this article.

Replant, Store, Raise, Hunt, Trap, Fish, Forage, Scavenge, Glean, Trade, and “eat outside of the box” – these are all famine survival strategies, but without a plan very little is going to get done. The effort in your community, your church, your club needs to begin NOW – today – and be led by the “vision bearer” – the person who “gets” that there is a storm coming and who has the leadership charisma to organize and motivate people. (This person might or might not be a person in the officially sanctioned ranks of an organization or church!)

Preparing for a famine, to prevent widespread death from hunger in our community, will be hard work that requires leadership and sacrifice and focus. We can probably save ourselves – those of us who have already been “prepping” for years – but the compassion of God calls us to save as many others as we can.
Find a way. Be Prepared. Trust God. We can do both.

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