Food solutions

I try to be a positive person, and am usually pretty hopeful about things.  But at the same time, I find myself increasingly concerned about our present food situation.  The long-term story is that our food system has been taken over by companies that have little interest in good, healthy food, and that instead offer a variety of unhealthy processed options.  But th short-term story right now is that droughts this year means that farmers are running into serious issues, and that the already-rising price of food will continue to climb, likely fairly drastically.

It’s not a happy situation, and it does have me seriously concerned.  At this point, although I’m still hoping for the best, I think it’s worth thinking about solutions to help prepare for any issues that are likely to crop up around food this year.  I’ve been working towards improving our food security for awhile now, but this summer, with what feels like a whole lot of crazy stuff churning around us, I’ve been spending even more time on it than I have in the past.  Here are a few things that I’ve found really helpful, and that I anticipate will help us navigate whatever comes this year with a little more ease.

Stockpiling: When food is on sale, I usually try to stock up.  This is especially true of staples.  While I do like a good sale on a favourite brand of canned soup or tinned beans to have on hand, my favourite sales are for things like dried beans, rice, and tinned tomatoes.  I’d rather buy ingredients that I can cook my own food with than pre-made foods – it’s healthier, and usually results in a lot more food for the same amount of money.  There aren’t usually coupons available for this kind of sale, but I keep an eye on the weekly grocery fliers to see what basics are on sale where, and then I stock up accordingly.

Growing: Unfortunately, it’s a bit late in the season now, but there are still foods that can be planted and grown.  Late season crops that do well into the fall are a good bet, and once I’ve worked my way through some of the summer crops, I’m going to be trying out things like kale, chard, cabbage, and hardy lettuces.  I haven’t planted a lot – I have a container garden and a community garden plot – but every little bit helps.

Micro-growing: Recently, I’ve also started experimenting with micro-greens.  This basically amounts to growing various greens and then harvesting while they’re still small.  They can be grown inside, in tubs and containers.  Because they don’t grow very big, they can be planted a lot closer together than normal, so they don’t require a lot of space.  I’m not sure how well this will work inside during the winter, but I’m going to give it a try, and I have grow lights that I can set up, if need be.

Sprouting: Most beans and grains can be sprouted fairly easily.  I use old canning jars with the zinc rings, and cut a sheet of plastic cross-stitch canvas to fit where the lid would go.  Beans and grains should be soaked for a day and then drained, and then rinsed twice a day until they sprout.  They’re very healthy, very inexpensive, and are great in salads, stir fry, and sandwiches, to name just a few.

Preserving: When I find good produce on sale, I’ve try to preserve some of it so we can enjoy it later.  Despite the fact that farmer’s market prices are on the rise, I can still find better deals than at the grocery store, and I really like to help support local food producers. This one I find the toughest, though.  Preserving tends to take at least some time and space, and our kitchen really doesn’t work that well.  But I still can jam and fruit butters, ferment pickles, beets, and sauerkraut, and dry herbs and fruit.  This year, I’m trying to do even more, and I have my eye on a pressure canner.

I think one of the scariest things about where we are now is that there are no definitive predictions.  There are calls for sudden, abrupt shifts and claims that we’ll be facing long, gradual declines.  No one really has any idea which it will be, or if we might wind up looking at something completely different.

But right now, at least one of the threats is very real and, barring any significant change in weather patterns, almost certainly bearing down on us as we speak.  There is drought.  Food prices will rise even more than they already have.  And we will likely start to feel it, especially given the economic insecurity that is already a hallmark of this time.  Taking measures to try to prepare for these eventualities is a useful thing for the practical reason that it’s good to be able to eat.  But these are also endeavors that help to build and refine skills that are also likely to be very helpful in long-term scenarios.  Knowing how to grow and preserve food, for instance, is a hugely valuable skill that not a lot of people have anymore.  While it will be helpful now, it’s also likely to be helpful for a long time after that as well.

A few of my friends have teased me about the things I do around food security (particularly when I haul home huge bags of sale lentils from the grocery store, and spend hot summer days putting plum butter through, but here’s my logic.  If I prepare for something bad to happen and it doesn’t, the worst thing that happens is that I’ve spent some time and money working on food security, and (here’s the really important bit) I still have the food, which I can always use.  There’s virtuall no downside.  But…if I don’t do anything to prepare, and something bad does happen…well, you can guess the result of that one.