What You Can Do Now!
Whether it’s supply chain failures, avian flu, consolidation under corporate farming, or inflationary pressures, some foods we eat with such regularity that we take them for granted may soon or may already be in shorter supply. The growth of corporate farming, consolidated food production, and a movement away from cooking food from scratch raised locally and confined to the region we live in have all created an overdependence on very particular food staples.
This blog will look at five specific staple foods that may become in short supply or too expensive to afford and what you can do, from substitutions to preservation. Understanding we can’t cover it all or all the foods that could become in short supply, we hope to provide you with enough real and actionable information to be able to successfully pivot in a crisis and enough knowledge to be aware of what you can do today to lessen the impact of food scarcity in the future.
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Whether it’s beef, pork, chicken, or fish, we turn to these resources as our primary source of protein and also as a source of fat. Our bodies need both proteins and fat to survive. Though other sources are available, your average modern grocery store meat department isn’t likely to carry elk, moose, venison, alligator, goat, rabbit, quail, or any of the other hundreds of different meats available. The American palate has essentially narrowed in on just the four: beef, pork, chicken, and fish. Though we could examine the failings of any of those four, let’s focus on the one most prominently in the headlines today–chicken.
Americans eat almost 22 million chickens per day. Modern broiler farms have replaced smaller farms to keep pace with that level of consumption. Modern broiler farms for chickens can concentrate 25,000 chickens in a 22,000 square foot Grow Out farmhouse. One large farm can have several of these houses. A large operation could easily have 150,000 chickens confined to 132,000 square feet. With that level of concentration, when a variant of the avian flu breaks out, it can require the culling of the entire flock. If you think that turning to free-range chickens is the answer, even if it costs a little more, you would be wrong with this latest outbreak. The latest outbreak is being spread through wild birds congregating with poultry birds. From France to Philadelphia, even zoos are taking precautions as this latest H5N virus becomes endemic, and the peak is not yet known. The cases could grow more extensive or fizzle out from here. That’s not the problem. The problem is that one particularly virulent strain in such large concentration areas could result in chicken or turkey no longer being an affordable part of our diets.
This is just one example. Similar illnesses have impacted both the pork and beef industries. Beyond diseases, beef and pork processing plants were threatened by cyberattacks last year. The year before that, the meat industry suffered from a lack of skilled and healthy cutters, partly due to COVID-19 outbreaks and closed borders. The fishing industry also suffered from the pandemic and remains susceptible to interruptions caused by inclement weather patterns. Any of the primary protein source meat industries are vulnerable to a broader collapse. If one or more fail simultaneously, the supply and demand equation can spin wildly out of equilibrium, sending prices skyrocketing and supplies into scarcity.
So, given the fragility of the supply, what can you do? Basically, you can either raise your own or start to incorporate other sources of proteins and fats. Having a backyard flock of chickens or a small herd of goats might not be a practical solution for most and isn’t likely to be well received by most homeowners associations. Having your own flock also charges you with the responsibility of maintaining the health of the animals, immunizing them, feeding them, and protecting them. Still, if you were considering raising chickens for meat or eggs, now, around Easter, would be the time to get a few. Livestock stores already had their orders in for spring chicks before this latest bout of Avian flu.
More and more grocery stores are offering half or whole hogs or beef. This allows them to sell in bulk, package in bulk, and cut some corners in the process. It also allows them to get pre-orders and guaranteed orders to accurately adjust production forecasts–the supply side of that equation, which is entirely out of whack because of ranchers downsizing because the cost of feed is so high. If you have a large freezer or know how to can meat or preserve it, this will be a bit extra work. For the average consumer, though, it means that individually packaged slices of meat under 5 pounds or so will go even higher in price. Team up with others and buy in bulk.
Most, however, will need to turn to alternative or stored sources of proteins. Wild rice, lentils, some sprouted grains, chia seeds, nuts, oats, amaranth, quinoa, hemp seeds, spelt, teff, beans, chickpeas, and soybean, are all vegetable sources of protein. The vegetables with the most protein include broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts, which typically contain 4–5 grams of protein per cooked cup. Green peas are the powerhouse vegetable protein source with 9 grams, more than an ounce of steak per cooked cup. If the meat shortage becomes too great, you may have no other alternative but to turn to one of these alternative sources. Some, like Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes, and green peas, you could be producing in your backyard or your patio. Whatever you choose to do, take a good look at proteins in your diet and reduce your reliance on meat as your only protein source.
With the growing avian flu problem, panic buying, and inflation, you will likely see a rise in the price of eggs, if not scarcity in your area. Scarcity stokes more panic buying and exacerbates the existing problem or creates a whole new one. Again, raising your own hens isn’t possible for the average American. If it is an option for you, returning to a wartime posture of Hens for Uncle Sam, like many of our ancestors did, is probably your best option. Just two hens will keep a family in eggs.
Dehydrating or freeze-drying eggs for extended shelf life may be enough to get you through any future periods of scarcity. You can still find a #10 can of Whole Powdered Eggs–the equivalent of 6 dozen eggs–with a shelf-life of up to 10 years for under forty dollars. You can make scrambled eggs or bake with them. Having the security of 6-dozen eggs stored away for up to 10-years a year after opening is a massive leg-up when facing disasters.
When it comes to baking, know your egg substitutes. When used in baking, Eggs are agents of binding, leavening, moisture, flavor, and appearance. Some baked products can be flat, dry, or flavorless without them. Thanks to people with egg allergies, though, there are many alternatives to eggs for baking. Applesauce, mashed banana, ground flax or chia seeds, vinegar and baking soda, yogurt, aquafaba, arrowroot, and nut butter can all be used in place of eggs. Some of those will also provide you with comparable protein.
Dehydrate eggs, purchase eggs dehydrated for long shelf-life, raise your own, or explore egg alternatives, but do something to ensure your egg security in the future. Make sure that scarcity in the future will not impact you as hard and know-how to pivot into different solutions.
In its weekly report, USDA noted that ongoing labor and freight shortages would continue to limit the butter supply in 2022. Overall butter production declined 2.8% year to date, and prices have skyrocketed 40% this year. The process to get butter to your table is complicated, but it starts with a healthy cow somewhere eating nutritious feed. If feed grain is too costly, milk production drops, trucks stop running, grids go down, or any of the processes become muddled, stalled, or fail, you aren’t likely to pull out your butter churn, milk your cow, and make your own. It’s not likely that anyone within a hundred miles of you is ready to simply start making their own. It’s a highly commercial process, and butter only has about three months of shelf life. Still, as much of a luxury that butter is, it’s a critical source of healthy fats. There are two easy solutions to keep you in butter after SHTF. One or all of these solutions will keep you in this precious yellow fat.
First, you can learn to can butter. Canned butter is real butter sealed in a can or Mason jar. Canned butter dates back to the Alaskan gold Rush in the late 1800s and made further advances when the Navy in 1912 started exploring ways to preserve butter. Canned butter has a shelf life of three years or more if stored in a dark, cool place. This method simply involves melting the butter, pouring it into mason jars heated to at least 225 degrees, then affixing the warmed lids and rings. Some people pressure can or water bath their jars, but I don’t think it’s necessary so long as the butter, jars, and lids are all hot in the process. Butter sealed in jars this way will easily keep for 3-years and probably much longer if left in a cool and dark place.
The second method is much older. It’s turning your butter into ghee. Ghee is a type of clarified butter that dates back thousands of years before modern refrigeration. I make a batch at least once a month. Ghee imparts a nutty flavor to the butter that you will soon crave. Ghee has a non-refrigerated shelf life of 9-months- triple that of butter. An opened jar will easily stay good for 3-months on the countertop and a little over a year in the refrigerator. I think a water-bath, unopened jar of ghee would last even longer than a year. Regardless, you will know when it starts to turn, as ghee is butter oil with the fat solids removed. As an oil, it will turn rancid and sour when it starts to go bad. Even then, fatty oil has many uses that don’t involve consuming it.
In its simplest terms, ghee is the fatty oil left behind when the milk solids are removed. The best method is to start with at least a pound of unsalted butter. I have done this with salted butter, and it comes out fine, but there are a lot more solids and much more work skimming. Melt the butter in a saucepan to a temperature between 220 and 245 degrees. Skim the froth and foam from the top continually until it’s almost entirely transparent. I jar this foam separately, especially if I am using salted butter, as this is still great for basting poultry. After maintaining the melted butter within that temperature range and skimming off all the foam, you should see the milk solids hardening at the bottom and the clarified butter becoming more see-through. When the foam stops forming, turn up the temperature to above 265 degrees. These solids will brown at the bottom through what is called the Maillard process on the bottom of the pan and harden. This browning imparts the rich, butterscotch -like, nutty flavors. If you find you don’t care for the flavor of the finished ghee, which is crazy because it’s delicious, keep the temperature below 230 degrees for longer to make more of a clarified butter. Turn off the heat and let it cool slightly. Pour it off into your jar through a strainer, coffee filter, or paper towel to remove any hardened solids. That’s all there is to it. You could heat the filled jar to 225 for twenty minutes in your oven, then seal it for the ultimate shelf-life.
Can butter or turn it to ghee, but don’t expect the supply to remain limitless.
Several countries worldwide are currently or will soon face a wheat shortage and, therefore, a flour shortage. The Russo-Ukrainian war isn’t helping. China hoarding grain isn’t helping. Crop failures aren’t helping. Wheat shortages aren’t new, either. The Great Wheat Shortage of 1797 forced many to turn to potato breads to extend their supply. I have a video on pulling yeast from the air using a potato. That might be advantageous to watch right now, too. That 1797 shortage was a result of poor harvests. Today’s problems facing the wheat industry range from war to fertilizer to corporate farming to seeds to supply chains. They are far more fragile and far more intricately woven. If the system breaks now, it isn’t likely your neighbor is growing some wheat you can help harvest for a share.
Some countries will just pivot from any wheat shortage that manifests and start using other grains, and some countries don’t have that luxury. Understand the alternate flours out there you could use. Potatoes, Cattails, Acorns, Peas, Corn, Oats, Barley, Buckwheat, Zucchini, and even Turnips have been used as substitutes for flour or adjuncts to stretch the flour you have. Whether you store wheat berries, long-term store your flour, or grow your own wheat, you can’t expect the supply of flour to be continual. The lockdowns should have shown you how fragile the wheat supply chain is. You can do several things about a potential flour shortage. First, you can store wheatberries, the unrefined berry of the wheat. Wheat berries are the entire edible part of wheat kernels: the germ, the bran, and the endosperm. There is no outer shell, and you can eat the whole thing. You simply need a mill to grind them to flour. If you store them in an oxygen-free container, they will last an incredible 30-years.
If that’s too much work, you can still store flour. Properly stored flour will last for 6-10 months. Vacuum-sealed you can extend its life to 1-2 years. Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers will keep for ten or more years. Using canning jars with oxygen absorbers or storing in 5-gallon food-grade containers with oxygen absorbers and possibly dry ice preservation might be able to push the shelf-life out to 5 or more years. The easiest method for the most extended shelf-life is by keeping wheat berries. You can also use wheat berries to brew beer, making it a definite winner after things go south.
FRUIT & VEGETABLES
When most of your asparagus comes on a boat from Peru or Chile, you know there is a problem. It has assuredly been grown somewhere else when it’s off-season, but you are still eating whatever fruit and vegetable you crave. If you lived in the fifties in New England, you probably didn’t get much citrus or tomatoes in the off-season, but you had a steady supply of apples, pears, and cherries. If you lived in the southwest United States, juicy blackberries or raspberries were a treat. Now, getting them is a quick trip to your local grocery store. Supply chains are great to be able to provide us with a cornucopia of fresh vegetables and fruit year-round, but you can’t expect that to last uninterrupted forever. Supply shortages aren’t solely based on bad seasonal storms or droughts anymore.
Fortunately, dehydrated vegetables can last for a year or longer. Vacuum sealing them or using oxygen absorbers can extend their life even longer. Powdering them and storing them properly will allow you to contain whole harvests in a mason jar for years and years. Freeze-drying takes this a step further and provides you a shelf-life of 25-years without losing flavor, nutrients, or texture. We live in a time of abundance, but we feed off the supply chain. Your goal as a prepper should be to change that. You should grow the fruit or vegetable that grows in your area. Obviously, you will not be able to grow a coconut tree in Indiana, so if you like coconuts, you should dehydrate them or buy them preserved for a long shelf life. If you do live in Indiana, you should be growing something. Consider garden bags for your balcony if you live in an apartment. Plant potatoes in a potato tower or grow bag. Start your own Victory Garden this spring. Sow a small container garden in your backyard. Plant an apple tree or a patio tomato plant. Grow herbs on your windowsill. Understand the science of gardening, then deal with the harvest by dehydrating it. Don’t let a single vegetable or fruit go to waste.
Take advantage of farmer’s markets, roadside stands, big box stores, and co-ops to buy in bulk and then process and preserve your own food. Make it a goal to learn five edible plants that can be foraged from your area per month. In a year, you will be amazed at the amount of food you walk by every day. There are so many different types of fruits and vegetables grown all across the country that a shortage of one may go unnoticed. You might believe that there is no need to set any aside in your preps with that abundance. If you eat the fruit or vegetable regularly, it absolutely should be in your preps in case supply chains fail for weeks or months. If ever it comes when you have to rely solely upon what you gather or grow, you will be glad you put fruits and vegetables in your preps and, really, in your kitchen. we are constantly tossing a handful of freeze-dried vegetables in my cooking. We’re always snacking on dehydrated or freeze-dried fruits. If your kids don’t eat their fruits and vegetables, they will probably devour the freeze-dried or dehydrated snack versions of them.
There are shortages, crop failures, and inflationary pressures that can prevent us from attaining staples we kind of take for granted right now. We have seen cyberattacks and a pandemic that shut down parts of our meat supply. War in Ukraine threatens the sunflower oil and flour production for many countries. In a time of abundance, we can often pivot to other foods to compensate for the loss of one, but we need to ensure that our staple foods are stocked. Hopefully, this video has provided you with some practices to try to enhance your prepping supplies. Take a look at my video on Building a Year’s Food Supply for specifics on how to do that, so you’re not solely trying to survive on beans, rice, and Ramen.
As always, stay safe out there.
CARD LINKED VIDEOS
#10 Can of Eggs – https://amzn.to/3JBNwZ3
How to Build 1 Year of Food Storage – Ultimate Guide – https://youtu.be/JJ46s8cz6Mo
Grow Bags – https://amzn.to/3vmSZxV