Thursday, November 6, 2014

Heed the Warnings?

Within the prepper movement I have seen people cite a variety of reasons for why they decided to start preparing for disaster and crisis. Since I see prepping as a good thing, I'll not judge your reasons as long as you are doing something to get yourself better situated to handle a crisis. However, there is a lot of misinformation and panic-inducing fear-mongering going on. This is nothing new; the concept of crisis management requires a crisis, and if one is not available, it is common for people to invent one.

A good example popped up in a local used-book store a few weeks ago. I picked up a copy of “Famine and Survival in America” by Howard Ruff for a whole 50 cents. Since I read a lot, read fast, and I have time at my job where I'm waiting for other work to get done, I'll pick up pretty much anything that may be interesting and keep it in my bag. This book was written in 1974, so most of the predicted calamities (crop shortages, fuel shortages, population explosion, global cooling etc.)  failed to materialize.

The first half of the book is an interesting look back at how life looked when I was a teenager. The second half of the book covers the basics of food storage from the perspective of nutrition, and I haven't found anything horribly wrong in the information presented. In support of Mr. Ruff (the author of the book), he divested himself of all financial ties to prepper supplies before writing his book, and he made no recommendations by brand or maker. He was already a millionaire before he wrote the book, and seemed to be more intent on getting information out rather than making money from it. Consider this article part book review and part social commentary.

Part One
The first seven chapters cover problems as seen from 40 years ago. For those of you who weren't alive back then, the US was in the middle of some serious problems at the time:

  • Climatologists were predicting a “Little Ice Age” similar to what occurred in the Middle Ages. 
  • The oil producing nations in the middle east had just united and formed OPEC as a way of controlling petroleum prices, and gas stations were rationing how much fuel you could buy because the supplies were short and prices went through the roof. 
  • We'd just seen our President resign rather than face impeachment and the political scene was still a mess. 
  • The war in Viet Nam was winding down and the protests were doing the same.
  • There were several thousand nuclear weapons poised to annihilate both sides in the Cold War. 
  • Race relations were a touchy subject, with sporadic riots still occurring. 
  • We had three channels on TV and the internet was still about 10 years from being more than a novel way to exchange files between universities. 
  • Runaway inflation was a concern as was government deficit spending. Banks were starting to show signs of weakness and there were serious doubts about the stock market.

Any of that sound familiar? Instead of the “Little Ice Age” that was predicted as inevitable, we are now being told that “Global Warming” or “Climate Change” will cause massive problems. “Peak Oil” was a big thing a few years back, until someone figured out that there is a lot of oil locked up in shale that can be extracted by fracking. OPEC is losing market share to the US and Canada today. Our political system hasn't gotten any better, and neither has the subject of race relations (Ferguson, MO). The Cold War is over but Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea have developed their own nuclear weapons and Iran wants to. Wars large and small continue to pop up and feed the animosity between political factions. We have more options for getting information, but many people still rely on the old-school “mainstream” media which has shown its bias over the years. Inflation is a fact of life and there are still economists warning of hyperinflation and market crashes.

Twenty years ago it was the depletion of the essential nutrients from our soil (fixed if you buy the “special blend” of vitamins and minerals). Dire warnings of drought recur about every 8 to 10 years, usually followed by warnings of floods.

Rachel Carson's accursed “Silent Spring” has probably caused more human suffering and death than a major war by eliminating one of the most efficient methods of controlling mosquito-borne diseases (DDT), and Paul Erhlich's “Population Bomb” idea is still floating around out there, despite having been proven wrong many times. Now we have the uproar over GMO food, an outbreak of Ebola, an “epidemic” of obesity, and the dangers of vaccines. It seems to be true that “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.

And yet we survive, somewhat the worse for wear.. We've gotten through the Savings and Loan crash ('84), Y2K, the AIDS “epidemic”, 9/11/2001, the housing market debacle ('08), and a variety of other disasters that have hit in the last 40 years. The doomsayers survived as well, still trying to scare people into buying whatever they are selling. Pick your conspiracy theory (there's no shortage of them) and someone will be trying to make a buck off of it. Case in point: how full are the ammo shelves in your local gun store? It's been almost two years since I've seen a steady supply of 22LR on the shelves and I don't see the situation improving for a while. Too many people “hoarding” ammo and buying everything that they can due to perceived threats to the supply has resulted in almost the same situation as an outright ban would have.

Part Two
Part two of the book (Chapters 8 and 9) cover some of the myths of food storage with emphasis on making sure you know how to store proteins with a complete set of the eight essential amino acids. The author stresses that proteins can be converted to sugars in the body if needed, but the reverse is not true. Carbohydrates are only burnt as fuel, while protein is used for building and rebuilding tissue but can be burnt as fuel in the body (starvation). I'm not quite comfortable with his suggestions of stockpiling dried milk and wheat as the main source of protein, but it may be something that will work for you.

In Chapter 9 he rips TVP (Texturized Vegetable Protein) up pretty well. It may look and taste something like meat, but it doesn't have the same protein content and can lead to deficiencies if used exclusively.

Part Three
This is where Ruff covers his approach to nutrition in a food storage program. He uses a “Bulls Eye” diagram with the essentials in the center and the less viable options in the outer rings. Roughly, his strategy (in descending order) is;
  1. Protein, vitamins, minerals
  2. Wheat, dried milk, seeds for sprouting, MREs or emergency foods
  3. Dried fruits and vegetables, salt, honey, and TVP
  4. Frozen foods, home and commercially canned foods.

As a strategy for planning your food storage , his system makes more sense than the “Food Pyramid” that the FDA keeps tweaking to fit the theory of the moment. His emphasis on animal protein over plant protein has some valid points, the main one being the excess of carbohydrates that come with the plant-based diet. Calories matter, but not at the expense of amino acids and complete proteins.

All-in-all, the book isn't a horrible place to find nutrition information. If you want a strategy to modify to fit your own needs, this one will work as well as any other. Bear in mind that it was written 40 years ago and take the dire warnings with a grain of salt, or at least a slight smile. He got a lot wrong, but I'd bet that a lot of the current crop of “experts” wouldn't fare any better if you were to look back on their predictions in 2054.

Any time you hear someone predicting the end of the world, first check to see if they're selling something and then keep in mind all of the other end-of-the-world predictions that have been made. Unless you enjoy stress and panic, take everything as merely a possibility and remember that prepping does not mean freaking out. I haven't seen anyone able to predict the future in detail in my 50+ years of life and I tend to be skeptical of anyone who claims that they can. Trends and general directions can be worked out from historical data, but I'd advise caution if someone starts throwing out specific dates and locations.

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