Friday, October 22, 2004

Update and food storage tour

I know, I know, it has been a long time since I posted. Things have been much as usual, except that I had three days of food poisoning (ugh). Eric thankfully saved me by taking care of the kids, the house, the skunked dog (ugh), the disabled grandparents and his job with a grace that is completely normal to him and unbelievably admirable to me. I don't want to sound like the post-feminist wife here, but *no one* can run our life alone - *NO ONE* - it is simply too complex. And he did - beautifully. I love him so much.

This is proof positive that academic life unfits women for domestic work - literally. I got food poisoning at a talk I attended on Macbeth, one of my rare forays back into the world of scholarship from the world of motherhood/farming/writing/etc... I spend an evening thinking of high minded things and neglecting my other work, and then spend three miserable days heaving, neglecting my life as vague commercial jingles and ugly images of childhood screw ups floated through my nauseated and exhausted brain.

In other news, Eli is horseback riding!!! Isn't that the coolest thing (if I ever learn to post pics, I will - he is so cute). A program for autistic children to ride has accepted him in late, and he was so excited. He's very good with animals (he and Rufus, our collie, have a special bond, and even the chickens like him), and he was so relaxed, comfortable and happy up there on a horse - no fear or anxiety at all. Even the helmet didn't bother him.

Anyway, here's part one of an ongoing (ie, when I get around to it) tour of my home food storage.

Cheers!

I don't know if this will be useful to anyone, but I recently had occasion to start writing up a description of the ways we're preparing for Peak Oil, and I thought I'd post it. I'd love to hear comments/suggestions/critiques, and I thought this might be useful to those who are just starting to acquire materials or store items. I'm including the ways that we've found to pay for these thing/make them cheaper, since for us, at least, money is the biggest obstacle to preparation.

I'd like to emphasize that there are two layers to our preps, and both of them are equally important. First, there are stored items designed to ease a difficult transitional period, but that are unsustainable in the longer term. Then, there are the preps that are designed to allow us to replace lost items, to be fundamentally sustainable. We make choices between the two regularly, and some of the choices weve made might not work for someone else.

I also think it is worth noting that not everything we do has a dire inevitability around it - most of my preps work great even if nothing bad ever happens. My food storage cuts down the number of trips to the store, my yarn and fabric stash drops gift and clothing costs, the grain grinder means we eat healthier, etc... The thing is that none of this should be perceived as a miserable necessity, but as a useful plan with positive immediate consequences. And lord knows, don't go into debt for it.

Finally, ours is a particular family in a particular situation. We are 7 people, 3 small children, 2 elders, 2 healthy adults. We have a large amount of land (27 acres) and a large house (4000 square foot farmhouse) and a number of outbuildings. The size of our house, for example, shapes our preps in several ways - we certainly have the luxury of storage space, but we also are not trying to heat the whole house, so warm blankets and winter clothes figure more than in a much smaller space. Because we have children and elders, some of our preps are specific to them.

Ok, caveats done. I'll start with food/toiletries, since that's one of the most urgent things.

Our food storage covers several rooms in our house. First, is the kitchen. We have an old, ratty kitchen, and we havent done much to make it decorative - but we've enhanced its usefulness by putting in a wood cookstove, and filling the (fairly large) room with cheap metal shop shelving - the kind you buy for $20 at home depot. We have four of them. We also have made additional counter space by building into the walls (we are bad carpenters, so this is not an aesthetic enhancement, although my step-mom did a nice job with some counters), and we have some cabinets as well. We store beans, some grains, whole spices, etc... in the canning jars and storage containers that are not suitable for actual canning. The grains we use a lot of - brown and white rice, whole wheat, rolled oats, are stored in those decorative metal popcorn tins. One will hold 25 lbs, and they cost less than 50 cents. The kitchen is where we keep all the food ready for immanent use. There is somewhere between two weeks and a month worth of food there at any given time, along with the same amount of food for dog and cats. In addition, we store some of our food preservation equipment there - the pressure and water bath canners, the food mill, dehydrator, etc...

We also have our grain grinder there - there's no piece of equipment I'd recommend buying more. Whole wheat stores forever, is cheap and bread is infinitely various. I actually have several - I picked up a couple of cheap corona mills (the cheapest model, mostly made for grinding corn) one of which I use for rice dehulling, another for grinding nut butters and coarse cornmeal. But the one we use every day is Lehman's Best, and is terrific. I've never seen one at a yard sale, although occasionally a good deal shows up on ebay. But they are worth paying full ($150-200) price for, or asking for it for a gift (very kind MIL gave it to me for my 30th birthday, although I don't think she quite appreciated how glad I was to have it - she thinks we're nuts.) We grind wheat for our bread, and for the bread of our 20 customer families by hand. It is great exercise, and the bread tastes so good. We also malt barley and grind that, which adds a sweetness and lightness. If you haven't read Sally Fallons Nourishing Traditions definitely do so - sprouted grain breads, lactofermentation, etc... are a big part of our diet.

We try very hard to eat from our storage - in part because I believe it is a healthy way to eat, in part because we like it, in part because it is cheaper, and also because it will make the transition less painful. Thats not to say that we don't eat citrus and spices, etc... but we do try to mostly eat locally and a sustainable diet. So the food in our storage is only slightly different than the food in our kitchen for dinner. We eat a lot of beans, a little home-raised meat (mostly chicken, although we trade eggs for milk and beef as well), sweeten mostly with honey, make grains primary in our diet, and eat a lot of meals in the asian style. So we have on our shelves lots of grains, lots of beans, lots of sauces and spices, very little meat and fish, and lots of vegetables. If that doesn't sound appetizing, all I can say is that no one every turns down an invitation to dinner at my house.

The next part of our food storage is the downstairs guest room closet. Grandma is none to pleased with this, since she thinks guests should have more than 6 inches of room to hang their clothes, but she deals. That closet is devoted to storing two categories of things - diapering materials and canning materials. My extra canners (I have two pressure and two water bath - all acquired at yard sales for less than $5), canning jars (I have about 600 - and I never pay more than $3 per box), along with lots of lids, parafin (yeah, I know it isnt recommended), rings, and pickling salt. Canning isn't necessarily the least energy intensive or most sustainable method, but it is an essential element of our food storage now and through the transitional period, when having complete foods with all their water intact may be essential if we ever have a real emergency. The investment in canning materials has been small, compared to the return - I'm not sure I'd recommend it if you had to buy everything new, but if you check out yard sales, canners and canning jars are generally in good supply. This means that most of the canned soups, broths, pickles, jams. vegetables, beans, etc... come from our garden, without pesticides, and are processed fresh.

Also in that closet are diapers. My oldest son is autistic, and at 4 1/2 not entirely potty trained. My middle son, at 2 1/2 is also not fully trained, and my youngest is only 10 months old. We cloth diaper, but we make a point of storing several hundred plastic diapers for each child, in case we are unable to wash, or have water restrictions. Since our well is electrically powered, although we have non-electric backups, we'll probably begrudge every drop of water we have to haul - so they'll be well worth the landfill costs.

Under the guest room bed (thankfully Grandma hasn't noticed yet) is space for 14 5 gallon buckets of beans and grains. We have the same under our bed. All told (in various locations), we have at present 500lbs of wheat, 500 lbs whole rice, 200lbs white rice, 50lbs brown rice, 500 lbs beans of various sort (we grew about 1/2 of them), 100lbs lentils, 200 lbs soybeans, 150 lbs barley, 600 lbs oatmeal, and various smaller amounts of grains and beans. We buy them cheaply in bulk from a food coop, and move them into containers in the kitchen as needed. All are stored with easy removal lids and oxygen removers. Fortunately our house has strong floors. The nice thing is that it keeps mess out from under the beds - theres no room.

Going upstairs, we've converted one of the closets in our bedroom to food storage. In there are most of the canned goods, tinned and home-canned meats and soups, the pasta, extra beans and rice, sauces and seasonings (I buy spices in bulk from penzeys.com), 150 lbs of sugar (should be more), 100 lbs of salt (ibid) (all bought in bulk), as well as things we just happen to like. We store vegetarian oyster sauce, sambal olek, korean pepper paste, hot bean paste, etc... for asian cooking. We store Tang and Vit. C koolaid for vitamin C for the kids, pickles (for appetite enhancement), shortening (disgusting, but lasts forever), Canned and dehydrated tomatoes (from our garden), hot sauce (by the gallon), and lots more, which I'll pick up next time.

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