Food Security 101: Part Five

By Ken Ross

“So, here we are at Part 5 and still no mention of how to grow spuds and carrots. I’m not sure why I’m sticking with this, are you? All these definitions, talk of food energy and politics. Hard to see where this is going.”

I have to agree with you, but there was a major point to be made, especially if you are ‘new’ to
some or all of this. So now I’ll attempt to summarise in three steps.

1        Humans need food; good, nutritious food, on a regular basis to function fully, and sensibly. Most people are aware of how children behave when they are hungry – loud, fractious and unreasonable (it’s not really ‘unreasonable’). Adults are like that too – except they get very loud, very angry and can be brutal, so it pays to not get super hungry, if you can help it – especially if you are in the middle of a whole heap of other ‘super problems’ as well.

2     In this country, we are surrounded by food (and non-food posing as food), though not everyone has good access to it. However, this food and non-food we are surrounded by and constantly reminded of, is a bit like a mirage – it isn’t quite real. For starters, some isn’t even ‘real food’, even though the wrappers make it look so. The ‘abundance’ of it isn’t real either, even though the shops seem to be full of it, all of the time. So, we get sucked in to a sense of security because we appear to be awash in ‘food’, but our sense of security is false because we have absolutely no say or control over what is grown where, how it is grown by whom, what will happen to it once it is grown, or even, what might happen to us if you eat it (please note that I said, you/I/we have no control over it).

3        Most of the food grown in this country is grown for a buck – not because YOU need it. The ‘Free Market’ is in charge, andthat buck can come from anywhere, it doesn’t have to be yours. What is grown where, when, how and why bywhom, is none of your business, so just get in line with the right coloured buck, or move on. The Free Market’s eye is on the buck, not the person and it’s a hungry world, so just get in line (does that explain food recovery organisations, school lunches, food banks, soup kitchens and hunger, for you?)

If you are not perturbed by the 3 items above, and also, feeling a strong need to do something about it, there is no point in you continuing to read any further. I suggest you go have a fag, coffee or beer and watch some sport on the tele or take a nap on the couch.

For the ‘Perturbed’ with a strong need to ‘do something’, let's glide on.

For the moment, I am going to assume, that like me, you view this extraordinary situation we have been discussing, as going well beyond the borders of ‘bizarre’. As a ‘human ecologist’ by training, I have talked about this situation, probably thousands of times over many decades, but
the stupidity of it all never ceases to raise some form of reaction within, when I find myself raising it, again. I am also going to assume, that you are exploring the concepts of food sovereignty and security because of the current situation we are in, AND also, because of what a deteriorating situation is likely to deliver.

Before we start to explore what might need to be done to improve food sovereignty and security where you live, I want to say something that might seem incredibly selfish. I don’t see it that way, for the following reason. If you are a medic attending aserious accident, before you rush forward to offer urgent assistance such as CPR or halt serious bleeding, you pause. You pause to assess the level of danger to yourself should you go forward, and the possibility of further harm to the already injured.

In our work to improve levels of food sovereignty and security where we live, here is our pause – what- ever your living circumstances – make sure (starting today if you haven’t already done so) that you are as food secure in your household as you can be, for as many months as you possibly can be, up to approximately a period of one year, if possible.

The reason for this is that we, who already perceive the problem, will be of very little help to
hungry people, if we and our dependents are starving. I am also aware that it is impossible to be well fed amid the starving for any length of time, and that we can never be ‘food secure’ in a very hungry community. How ever you choose to use food stocks is over to you, but if you want to help yourself and your community, find a way to stock food, so your body and mind can deal with helping others and not be focused on your own and your family’s hunger. If you think you might store a year’s food supply but it might only last a month because you will feel the need to share it, then have a strategy for dealing with that situation also. Your personal food security is ‘buying time’. The reason I suggested a period of approximately one year above, is because it fits annual gardening cycles. The rest of this article will focus on the ‘personal preparation’.

For the moment, our personal food security preparation will most likely occur in ‘normal conditions’ – well stocked shops, functioning water supplies and an operational electricity supply. It won’t always be that way so use it wisely, while you can. Below is a short list of issues to consider.

Water: It’s crucial to life. If there is any possible level of insecurity in your supply, seriously consider having some form of storage. A 1,000 litre tank with a tap, that is filled by a down pipe from your spouting, could make a huge difference in a calamity. It could also help to water essential food plants if water is restricted during a drought.

Food stock considerations:

1.       Purchase: Purchased dry goods can last a long time, and be used to provide carbohydrate and proteins for the diet. This includes rice, flours, pulses, oats and other grains, pasta, fungi and seaweed. It’s tempting to buy bulk, but if weevils get in to a 10kg bag of rice, the whole bag can be jeopardised. Its more expensive to by 10, 1kg bags of rice, but safer for storage. If you are breaking larger into smaller amounts, use strongbags/containers. We store these items in large (60litre) screw top drums, and place bay leaves throughout the drums to deter pests. Canned and bottled items store well also, but make sure bottled food items are in the dark, and that everything is stored in a cool space with little temperature variation. Canned fish, meat and pulses (beans, lentils etc.) will complement the grains. Seeds for sprouting are easy to store and can quickly provide food.

2.      Growing: If you are able to grow fresh food over a year it reduces the amount you need to purchase and store. Think carefully about what works best for you. If you are not an experienced gardener with an established system and good resources, keep it simple. Do your best to grow some excess if you can –to compensate for loss, and/or to help others or trade if it all comes to fruition. Real basics are potato, carrots, cabbage, silver beet &/or spinach and beans of some kind. Stepping up, add pumpkin/squash, kumara or turnip, peas, shallots and go mad with greens of all kinds. Buy only open pollinated seeds and save your own propagation material as much as possible. Foraging, fishing and hunting can provide food in many circumstances, but as soon as a larger number of others are active, the rewards from those activities could dry up.

3.      Preserving: Basics here include bottling, fermenting, drying and smoking of whole food items, plus the making of condiments such as relishes, pickles, chutney, jellies, jams, ferments, vinegars and sauces. There is a tremendous amount of information available on line, plus in publications and in families. Learn the basics, including the safety, and start now if it hasn’t been your thing to date. Preserving food is hugely important for extending food ‘life’, and also enables the use of partially blemished food items and sudden surplus.

Other thoughts:

The above doesn’t mention ‘freezing’ because there is an issue if freezers break down or if you experience power cuts (we experience more than enough over an average year).

If your cooking capacity is totally reliant on electricity or gas, you may have to think about alternative cooking methods. Most BBQ’s are gas fired and gas might be limiting, so a camp oven, grill and stone fire place in the yard might be an option if you don’t have an outdoor wood oven. Having a stock of matches will also be important. If you are thinking of relacing a wood fire in your home, getting something with a cooking top (and even better, also an oven) might be a good move.

Salt is an important item in our cooking and diet, and you probably have a number of other condiments/herbs/spices that make your food more acceptable or comforting. Think about those.

Every thing above is on an ‘each-to-their-own’ basis, and in all of this we have to follow our heads and hearts. Some people will find it difficult to bale their own boat out first when so many people are already drowning in a sea of want. It’s a natural instinct to rush in with help, but the problems with food security and sovereignty have been with us for a long time and they are going to get a lot worse, before they get better (just look at how all the important contributing factors have been trending and are continuing to trend). We have got to be prepared for a long haul, and we have to be prepared personally, for all we will be called upon to do, in our communities. That’s next time.