So we’re finding ourselves in a rush once more. The reality of a pandemic is setting in and people are buying up as much freeze-dried supplies as they can get their hands on. But while I don’t think the physical consequences for an overwhelmingly large percentage of healthy persons will be severe, I do think that the economic disruptions, and the trickle down interruptions in our food supplies, have the potential to be far-reaching. Then again its one of the very real reasons that a good number of people I’m friends and neighbors with have taken every opportunity to move towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Its not just about having solar power or ‘living off the grid’ for my own sake, but a creation of better resiliency against these sort of inevitable disasters. So you’ve got all those beans and rice put back, but how are you gonna cook them? And are you cooking off-grid? I draw on lessons I learned from my childhood growing up in the rural south and as an adult living in the third world, among Iraqis and Afghans, where a supply chain wasn’t taken for granted. Top among those lessons was the value of cooking for a whole community.

Discada- a giant steel disk that people have been effectively cooking on for over a millennia.

In America we’re culturally predisposed to thinking individually, permeating all the way down to our eating habits. This has led to incredible amounts of wasteful practices, but its also led to us isolating ourselves to a large degree. In many respects this filters down to our own preparedness practices; the things we buy, the things we buy in bulk, and the justifications behind them. It is an attitude of “I GOT MINE!” negating the reality that hungry masses are motivated masses- and they’ll simply take what you have when they get desperate enough.

On the other hand, a community protects what a community values.

The annual stew.

Every fall in the rural southeast communities have a stew. Every church, every volunteer fire department, and many civic clubs. Its a good fundraiser but its a hell of a lot more than that. Its a tradition and a symbol of our cultural connection with the land. Back in the less-modern era people ate a diet based on what they had at the time. Vegetables followed the harvest seasons, meats followed the livestock slaughter schedule, and at the end of the year and through the winter, stews were made from whatever was left over to prevent spoilage. Crops and livestock were hard earned like everything else. Waste not, want not.

Its a tradition that my own family and friends still follow today, and one that I always look forward to. The Fall is my favorite time of the year for a lot of reasons, and making a hearty stew, chili, and chicken mull is a big part of that. But that annual stew wouldn’t be possible without a few critical tools. I have a large cast iron stew pot, its iron stand, a large steel disk wok, a large dutch oven and a medium dutch oven, all cured with lard and easy to cook on off-grid. With these tools I can make nearly any meal and feed large groups of people in the process.

Corn tortillas and four cups of boiled white rice. Dirt cheap meal that can feed a lot of people.

There’s a strong parallel to this and those cultures overseas, especially in Afghanistan. In most rural cultures around the world you’ll find a community kitchen in the small villages or groups of mud huts. In the center you’ll typically find a firepit, a few pots, usually a pressure cooker, and in some places a large metal disk much like the discada that I use. Its cooking gear that they’ve been using for generations, much like we did not that long ago.

Marinaded chicken, bell, poblano and serrano peppers and mushrooms. All locally sourced, cooked off grid, prepared for eight adults.

The community kitchen, so to speak, is built to feed everyone- not just individually. A group learns to live off what they have, source their food from their environment, and know what goes a long way to sustaining the most, quickly and efficiently. Rice and beans are a staple food in most parts of the world. Cooking them is fairly straightforward and its a cheap food to stock up on. You can pick up a 20lb of rice and another 4lb of red beans for just over $30 total- and that will feed a small group of people for a good while. All you need is clean water and wood for the fire, and you’re good to go. Add in some bullion cubes for flavor and have some canned meat for long term storage and you’ll be the rock star of your group when people get burned out on freeze dried food or MREs.

Maybe its the attitude I hold towards greater sustainability, maybe its my ongoing love of re-wilding, or maybe its partly trying to squeeze everything I can out of my hard earned money, but my approach to prepping and survivalism is to know how to provide and prepare that next meal for my family- not just tomorrow, but forever. There’s a learning curve to it, but for me at least its worth it on many levels to have and practice the skills to survive rather than simply bank on prepared foods alone to carry us through. I have those too, but they’ll be the last in the rotation after I’ve exhausted every other option. No matter what the crisis, I’ve got the tools and skills to use it. And you should too.

Don’t panic. Just prepare.

 

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