How can you survive the Apocalypse? Part Three: Food

Tesco’s motto might be Every Little Helps, but in an apocalypse Britain’s biggest supermarket will probably be offering nothing–unless you raid one of its depots early before the rest of the desperate get there. Then you might be able to snag a year’s supply of petfood or something.

But, pillaging aside, what can the appliance of science do for your eating habits when Armageddon falls?

First off, it should be noted that the cultivation, reaping, preservation, preparation, cooking, and all the other activities pertaining to the consumption of foodstuffs to keep you alive during whatever apocalyptic winter you have found yourself enduring, is a subject way more complex than can be described in one simple blog post. For this part of the survivors guide, further research into soil chemistries, migratory patterns, edible taxonomies, animal husbandry, hunting tactics, and a whole host of other topics should be explored at your leisure.

Having said that, a few short tips underpinned by some sound scientific knowledge should go a long way to holding you in good stead. For the non-wandering survivor, the development of strategies to ensure food is available all year round will be critical; nature’s bounty, unlike the local supermarket’s, varies through the seasons.

A plentiful garden will live and die on the fecundity of the soil, and if the local environment doesn’t satisfy in this regard, a good composting heap will be essential. In essence, a compost heap is a place where bacteria convert food waste into plant food, breaking down spent foods into the building blocks of future grub. For a small heap, non-vegan organic matter should be excluded to avoid any soil contamination. This means no fecal matter from non-herbivorous species, and no flesh or dairy of any animal. All other food scraps can go in.

A good mixture of carbon and nitrogen is the key to a succesful compost. Carbon can be found in dried lawn refuse–straw, sticks, and leaves, while nitrogen can be found in foodstuffs and freshly cut grasses. As all good high-school biology students know, bacteria break down organic matter best in damp, hot, and well-oxygenated conditions. A poorly ventilated compost will lead to anaerobic respiration and foul smelling gases like methane. Don’t suffocate your bacteria! For heat, solar reflectors made of abudant and otherwise useless materials like compact discs, are perfect. When the compost is rich brown and crumbly it is ready!

After growing bountiful crops while conditions are ripe, the second thing a seasoned survivor will do is ensure that she can preserve her harvest through the fallow months. Food preservation is built on the principle of preventing the growth of bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and other microorganisms, as well as slowing down the oxidation of fats that cause rancidity. A whole cornucopia of ingenious methods exist to these ends–many of which a clever survivor can leverage.

Dehydration causes the food to dry, thus inhibiting bacterial growth. Avoid direct sunlight to prevent the food getting too hot and not drying fully. Refrigeration slows down the growth and reproduction of microorganisms, and slows the action of enzymes. A buried fridge or a watertight container immersed in a cold, running stream, will work for those not considering a mechanical refrigerator such as a reverse-run Stirling engine. Vacuum packing will deprive bacteria of oxygen. Curing–or salting–food draws moisture from meats through the process of osmosis (as outlined last week!). Smoking foods over a badly-oxygenated fire will aid preservation as the smoke acts as an antioxidant. Pickling in an edible anti-microbial fluid such as brine, vinegar, alcohol, or vegetable oil, will kill or inhibit bacteria–and get you sloshed if you have some good liquor! For those with access to radioactive sources, irradiation will kill bacteria, molds, and insect pests, but not viruses. To be honest, if you had your own gamma ray source I might be suspicious about your role in the apocalypse in the first place . . .

As to hunting, for the cowardly survivor who doesn’t want to take on the more dangerous beasts, a small dab of honey will usually lead to a profusion of ants that can be fried up nicely for a good dose of protein!

Any more tips?

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