Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Survival Biscuits and Famine

It seems approximately one million years ago that my old friend Pat Kinney and I discovered a tin of civil defence crackers in the basement behind the band room at Lincoln High School in Nebraska.

We trembled slightly opening it, feeling the powerful Cold War apocalyptic magic coming off it. The tin was rusted and looked like it had been forgotten back there years ago. Within a couple of feet there was a FALLOUT SHELTER metal sign screwed to the back of the concrete wall. We managed to perch on top of a pile of metal chairs and divided the biscuits into two neat stacks. There was just barely enough light trickling through the vent to the band pit to see what we were doing.

We both tried to imagine what it would be like after a nuclear war, cramped inside this awful excuse for a civil defence shelter (really nothing but a crawlspace ventilation conduit beneath the school) to have nothing to eat but these biscuits. Both of us understood just how poorly the United States was prepared for nuclear war and this can we held in our hands summarised the extent to which they had given it any serious thought. We imagined what it might be like to sit there in darkness eating these biscuits and trying to tune a jimmy-rigged longwave radio to WGU-20 to hear about the recovery efforts, decontamination zones and casualty reports by city across the country. We could hear the signal coming from a radio network (DIDS) that was never put into operation. Too expensive. Too much trouble to go to for civilians. It would have been incredible. Even smoke detectors would have WGU-20 devices built into them to monitor the signals from the Federal Government.

The crackers were surprisingly good. A bit tough but with a nice baked flavour considering they had been in storage there since 1963 (the year I was born) according to the can date.

Here's the funny thing. In a famine following a nuclear war, these crackers with clean water (we never found any water drums back there) would almost certainly keep you alive quite a while. What was also amazing was the palatability of the biscuits. They managed to retain some taste and texture after 10+ years in storage in less than optimum conditions (moldy cellar). Those of you who know anything about food storage know that is pretty impressive. Better storage food can last much longer and taste far better but not too shabby for a government job. These biscuits were designed to excel and endure in all situations, not just temperature controlled dry environments.

Ordinary people didn't know what real hunger feels like. (Neither did I at the time.) They didn't know that these biscuits upon which they heaped so much scorn as a half-measure, would in fact be the best thing they ever tasted in their lives after three days without a solid meal. They would be very interested to know the biscuits could be ground into flour and used in bread, cakes and as fillers to bulk out other foodstuffs. People normally don't understand any of these things until they are really hungry.

Somehow, sitting there in 1974 eating those biscuits it made a permanent and lasting impression on me. I never forgot that moment and I knew it would stay with me forever when I was putting those biscuits in my mouth. Pat and I had a sense of just how ugly survival after the bomb could get and we knew those biscuits were probably one of the most brilliant innovations to ever come out of the U.S. Civil Defense program. We were the only ones who had cared to even pick up that tin in over a decade and we knew what we were holding was important even if the rest of the population did not. Having hardened food like this to source after the apocalypse would be the difference between life and death by starvation.

P.S. Yes, my old friend Pat Kinney became a globo-warmthinkist. What is really amusing is that when we were going to school, Pat was lauded as a savant and clearly gifted student where I was largely ignored as some kind of slack-jawed, feebleminded village idiot he had picked up as a sidekick/gimp. It was only later in life that the truth came out - I had a clinically tested IQ of 183 and was probably the brightest person who had ever attended Lincoln or for that matter, any other school I was in during my chaotic and transient childhood. Nobody knew it back then. Most people I know think the same of me today - I'm a shuffling, dribbling dullard who probably should be under the care of a nurse. To be honest, I have always liked it. I know how Clark Kent feels about anonymity. It is good to be ignored and overlooked by others. It is much underrated and often the path of least resistance. If people find out you are an exceptional person and do not agree with their peculiar politics it enrages them and makes them hate you a lot. Nobody cares what a village idiot thinks on any subject and a cretin is merely despised.

P.P.S. My wife said Pat looks fifty plus years old in his photo and I still look somewhat like an adolescent at 50. I think if Pat saw me he would be convinced I was ageing in reverse like Benjamin Buttons. (Pat has a 12 year old photo up there now, that was at 40 it was taken. Today at 52 it looks like Pat is going on 92) Neanderthals mature much more slowly than Homo Sapiens. If I lost a little weight and didn't have some gray at my temples nobody would peg me older than early 20s. Somebody suggested I still looked like the sort of guy who might be asked for his ID if I tried to buy alcohol. Funny thing is somehow, I sensed this when Pat and I were 12 years old. I knew Pat's kind would age more rapidly than my kind. You could feel it. It was that obvious. A lot of kids I saw when they reached 18 they were already beginning to wrinkle and leather. It is almost like Sapiens were never exposed to natural sunlight in their evolutionary history. My kind were standing as fully developed hominids underneath Earth's Sun for a million years. It doesn't trigger Methuselah Syndrome in us when sunlight hits us. That's rational and what you would expect. Sapiens, on the other hand … something just isn't right there.


Amy said...

Last night, before falling into an uneasy rest, I thought about how the US is not really prepped for disaster. We might think we are, but have all contingencies been anticipated? I don't know. I don't think so. And I think it's hubris on my part to think I'll be prepared, though others are not.

I've reversed my stance on subsistence nutrition; we can live on wheat, and beans, and rice, and maize, but not thrive. Living is enough, passing on your genes is enough. And the children get the best of the table, else what will live on?

If it comes to living on bread and being able to pass on my genes, or eschewing the Evil Wheat for the sake of Perfect Health And Body Composition, I'll choose to pass on my genes any day. Imperfect though they be. The prerogative of life?

The paleo diet ideal has opened my eyes to much about nutrition and human life from subsistence up to decadence as a means to existence, but sometime I wonder if it isn't a conceit as much as veganism: the notion that Eden can be obtained if only we could "un-eat" the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil once and for all and be free of disease.

It replaces faith in God and Christ with something akin to Him, but decidedly not him.

Texas Arcane said...


Biggest problem with storage foods is that most of easiest and longest lived foods are carbohydrates. They keep you alive but you need fatty acids and protein from somewhere. Powdered milk is pretty good in a pinch for this.

bicebicebice said...

I liked that last bit, very true indeed, gave me a good chuckle!

Leftists doesnt have any humour, they are very negative people, full of misdirected dogma.

No wonder they have weaker immune systems, it is probably self-defense of the body when they collapse and die from a simple cold, there is no good spirit in there to maintain, nothing to save, so to speak.

A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything. Irish proverb

samhuih said...

Pemmican is one answer. People say Pemmican will last almost indefinitely. I don't know if this is true. I do know it was the main source of food for the early trappers, miners, explorers in North America. Takes about a pound and a half a day for average male.

Great book on making pemmican,

Whey powder is not bad priced.

You need seeds for sprouting. Sprouted seeds make all the vitamins you need. If you buy seeds for sprouting from the feed store you can get them super cheap. Make sure they're for feeding animals and not for planting. The planting type might have toxic coatings.

Mex Arcane said...

Funny you say that about the age thing, Tex. I'm 34 and was asked for ID by some kid working the door at a Melbourne bar recently, who did a double take when he saw the birth year my driver's licence.

The humble Australopithecine matures at a slower rate than our lumbering neanderthal cousins. Indeed, some would even say that maturity is a relative term, at best.

Grognard said...

Yeah, my family has aged amazingly well. Everyone else around here looks half dead at 40.