Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Edible Plants for Preppers: Food during a crisis (Chpt 1)

Plants for Preppers by Amanda Rofe. £2.50 Amazon Kindle.

In light of the uncertainty facing the world these days, we have decided to publish a series of chapters from Edible Plants for Preppers. Available from Amazon Kindle for £2.50, it provides a lot of useful information for UK preppers on a vegan or plant-based diet. Please note, while it encourages food to be eaten uncooked, and in its natural state, it is not a raw food book.

Links to other chapters

CHAPTER 1: Food during a crisis

Causes of a crisis 

A crisis may be a personal emergency affecting a single individual or family. It may be a catastrophe on a national or global scale affecting thousands or even millions of people.

The causes of disasters throughout the world are many and they usually adversely affect food supplies leading to 'food insecurity'. The following are some examples (in no particular order): weather (drought, floods, snow), climate change (rising sea levels, more frequent extremes of temperatures), terrorism, war, industrial or nuclear accident, disease, the reduction in oil supplies (peak oil), social unrest, population growth, the breakdown or interruption of global technology and communications (loss of mobile phone and internet connections) and the machinations of banks and governments.

The UK, self sufficiency and food security

Before 1750 the UK was 100 per cent self-sufficient in food (Rusource, 2007). The population was low at under 10 million and mainly worked the land, so selfsufficiency wasn't surprising. After the industrial revolution in the late 1700s the urban population rose dramatically and levels of self-sufficiency dropped. The UK population currently stands at around 64 million (ONS, 2014) and is around 62 per cent self-sufficient in food (DEFRA, 2012).

These self-sufficiency figures are based on market values. Figures are not easy to calculate and current statistics certainly do not take into account all the complex variables such as the way the UK depends on imports of fuel, fertiliser, machinery, animal feed and imbedded water and energy.

Being self-sufficient in food, particularly with home-grown produce, can increase food security for individuals as well as whole nations. Food security can also be achieved by a variety of other means such as trading with other countries.

The UK currently depends very much on international trade for food security. Unfortunately this does mean the UK is vunerable to all things international including the vagaries of global market forces, adverse global weather patterns and social unrest or war in other countries.

On a local level, and for most individual households in the UK, food security is heavily reliant upon continuing supplies from one of the large supermarket chains which brings in food from all over the world.

The four largest supermarkets in the UK are Tesco, Sainsbury's, ASDA and Morrisons. Coined the 'big four', they currently supply over 70 per cent of groceries to households in the UK. Supermarkets, along with fast food outlets who currently supply over half the meals eaten outside the home, rely very heavily on long supply chains. Any one of the links in these chains could break down preventing deliveries to individual stores. Supermarkets generally rely on a regular, often daily, supply of goods being delivered and often do not have more than a few days supplies in stock ready for an emergency situation.

It is unwise to rely on supermarkets for food supplies during a crisis. They can run out of food and other essentials very quickly. This means each individual household must rely upon itself to ensure that there is enough food and water to last a crisis of a few days, months or longer.

The last major food crisis

The last major food crisis affecting the British Isles occurred during World War 2 (1939-1945). Food rationing was introduced for butter, bacon and sugar and later extended to nearly all important foods. Some foods were supplied irregularly or were subject to seasonal fluctuations such as milk, eggs, oranges and potatoes. Imports of meat and bacon from the continent ceased entirely and production in the UK was drastically reduced. Britain concentrated on crops for direct human consumption such as cereals, potatoes, sugar beet, vegetables and milk rather than on meat production because of the excessive amount of grain and fodder that needed to be grown for animal feed.

Rationing continued for fourteen years in all and for some years after the end of the war. However, Britain succeeded in feeding itself. Supply ships still made it through to British shores and the British people rallied to produce a lot of their own food. The Dig for Victory campaign launched by the British Government was very successful in encouraging the production of fresh food. Promoted by Mr C.M. Middleton, the Alan Titchmarsh of the 1940s, fruit and vegetables were grown in lawns, flower beds, parks, school playgrounds, golf clubs, tennis courts and even the moat at the Tower of London. In 1944 British gardeners produced an estimated 2-3 million tons of food overall.

What happens during a crisis

At the onset of a crisis certain things immediately become scarce. Those items that are available may become very expensive. Within hours supermarket shelves will empty of food, bottled water and other essentials such as toilet rolls, nappies, batteries, candles, matches, etc. Bread and milk are usually the first foods to disappear. Fuel will be in demand and petrol stations will quickly run out. It is very difficult to predict what will happen after that. It very much depends on what the disaster is, how bad it is and how those in charge respond to it.

There are legitimate concerns that those in charge will not come through for us. This was abundantly clear in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when 80 per cent of New Orleans in America was flooded displacing more than a million people in the Gulf Coast region (The Data Center, 2013). The hurricane was the most destructive natural disaster in American history. Its aftermath, including the inability of those in authority to respond adequately, has been widely reported.

There would be every reason to think a well equipped and highly organised country like America could respond quickly and efficiently to an internal crisis such as this. However, it didn't happen and it shocked the world. It was a stark reminder that America, and other similarly wealthy nations, can be just as vulnerable as people suffering from a disaster in the majority countries.

Humans can survive for many weeks without eating providing water is available. However, in reality people become very distressed in quite a short space of time. It is very tiring and extremely bad for morale to be without food.

In a crisis people suffer stress, lack of sleep, cold and may have to move around more doing a lot of physical work. Other people, such as family, friends and neighbours who are less able, may need support. More calories and high energy food will probably be required and may be essential. The NHS (National Health Service) say that an average man needs around 2,500 calories a day to maintain his weight and a woman 2,000 calories a day. But these figures will vary depending on age and levels of physical activity, among other factors.

Those who are smart will have already stored enough food to last through the initial days, weeks or months of the crisis. It is likely they will be eating a familiar diet with a wide range of nutrients. The type of food will vary from family to family. As time goes on there may be less familiar food available. As the crisis deepens, eating patterns may change significantly. At some point people may have to simply take what they can get.

Can the UK feed itself?

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in their document 'UK Food Security Assessment: Detailed Analysis' (DEFRA, 2010) explored whether the UK could feed itself during an extreme event. They concluded that:

"A radical and prolonged breakdown in European and international trade or shipping would not undermine the UK's fundamental ability to produce enough nutritious food for the population, albeit with much simpler diets."

and that:

" ... the use of crops for human consumption rather than animal feed suggests the UK will exceed the needs of the population."

They go on to say:

"Maximising calorie production would require a dramatic reduction in livestock production with all crop production used for human food where possible instead of animal feed."

Using plants instead of meat as a main part of the diet is a very reliable way to feed a population. Most staple foods are plants. A staple food is one that is eaten regularly and constitutes the dominant part of the diet supplying a major proportion of energy and nutrient needs.

Rice, wheat and maize are the top three staple foods throughout the world. Staples are usually well adapted to growing locally and may be tolerant of drought, pests or soils low in nutrients. Farmers often rely on staple crops to reduce risk and increase the resilience of their agricultural systems. Staple plant crops will feed more people and use less natural resources (land, water and fuel) than an agricultural system based on meat so are ideal for crisis situations.

Wheat is a very useful staple which has been widely grown in the British Isles for thousands of years. It is the most widely grown arable crop in the UK covering around 2 million hectares and producing about 16 million tonnes each year. The UK generally exports between 2-4 million tonnes of wheat for cheap feed for intensive livestock production (UK Agriculture, 2012).

An acre of grazing pasture could support enough animals to provide meat for around 1-2 people per year in the British Isles. That same acre could produce between two and three tonnes of wheat which could support around 20-30 people per year. This is based on each person using around 2kg of wholegrain flour each week of the year for 2 x 500g loaves of bread and an extra 1kg for cakes, biscuits, crackers or to put in storage.

Certainly there are places that wheat or other food crops cannot be grown easily or at all but even the most northerly areas of the British Isles grow fruit, nuts, vegetables and grain. On some of the islands off the north tip of Scotland bere has been grown for thousands of years. A landrace variety of barley, it is very well suited to the local region with long daylight hours and a short growing season. It has an excellent flavour and can be used instead of wheat in any recipe.

In the UK around 75 per cent of the land is farmed. Even taking into consideration areas where food cannot be grown, there is still more than enough land to produce food for a plant-based diet. In addition the British Isles is comprised of thousands of islands and is able to source food from the sea including sea vegetables (seaweed).