Friday, October 14, 2011

Finally, a Machete that Works in the North

Having done some bushwacking in Africa and South and Central America, I appreciate good machetes. They are to jungles what axes are to northern forests. They don't translate well to our hemisphere, though. They're meant for yielding, green vegetation, and they're made light so that they can be swung for hours at a time.

This is an Indonesian style called a "golok", and made by Condor Knife and Tool in El Salvador. It's got a relatively short (14"), heavy blade. Comes with a well-made leather sheath, and weighs about two pounds total. It'll fit in a pack, and isn't too awkwardly long on a belt. It'll zip through green hardwood saplings with a drawing stroke, and can be batoned through fairly impressive diameters. No idea what kind of steel it is, but it's hard enough to hold an edge without being difficult to sharpen. For clearing brush, building shelters and processing enough firewood for a tent stove, it's a pretty good tool. Works well as a drawknife, too. It's the first machete I've come across that I would consider carrying instead of an ax on my canoe camping trips.

The handle is walnut, and comes a little thick, so I've been reshaping it. After using it a while, the high spots become apparent and I file them down. Once it's comfortable, I'll refinish it. It's a very practical design that allows for a loose, non-tiring grip with no worries about it sailing out of your hand. It's got a full tang, so no worries about it breaking, either. Three brass pins and a brass-lined lanyard hole give it a classier look than any plastic handle could.

Long-Term Emergency Food Storage

The information collected here comes from the USDA, Brigham Young University's Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science, the Utah State University Cooperative Extension, and the Church of Latter Day Saints website on 'provident living'. Those crazy Mormons, they're really into food storage, and they're nice enough to share their knowledge with Pagans like me. I also learned quite a lot from a professor in the Food Science Department at Utah State, whom I contacted with some questions and who was very patient and helpful.

Long-term emergency storage foods are meant to keep you alive if you had almost nothing else to eat. That means water, wheat and other grains, legumes, salt, honey or sugar, powdered milk, baking soda and cooking oil.

According to the US gov, the average American man is 5'9" and weighs 190 pounds. The average woman is 5'4" and weighs 164 pounds. We average 37 years old, and eat 2,700 calories per day, which translates to 1996 pounds of food per year, including:

85 fats and oils
273 fruit
24 coffee
415 vegetables
56 corn
198 sweeteners
200 flour
32 eggs
16 fish
74 chicken
110 red meat
600 dairy products other than cheese
181 milk
30 french fries
23 pizza
24 ice cream
31 cheese
3 salt

In some places, the Mormons (who as I said above have made a very serious study of food storage) publish the following recommended amounts per adult per year:

Rice/wheat/corn: 180 kg (397 lbs)
Sugar or Honey: 30kg (66 lbs)
Salt: 4.5kg (10 lbs)
Dry Beans: 36kg (80 lbs)
Powdered Milk: 27kg (60 lbs)
Olive Oil: 10 liters ("extra virgin", i.e. unrefined. Shelf-life of about 2 years) and/or
Coconut Oil: ("virgin", i.e. unrefined. Shelf-life of about 5 years)

In other places, the Mormons recommend putting away 5 pounds of beans and 25 pounds of grains per person per month (that would be 60 pounds and 300 pounds per year, respectively).

For our family's planning purposes, we have settled on 5 pounds of legumes, 25 pounds of grains, 1/4 pound of salt, and 1/8 pound of baking soda per person per month. (Per year, that's 60 pounds of legumes, 300 pounds of grains, 3 pounds of salt, and 1.5 pounds of baking soda.) (Baking soda is necessary for cooking tough old beans and making sourdough bread, and is also useful for cleaning, brushing teeth, etc.)

We don't store a lot of sweeteners because we have our own beehives. We don't store water because we live on a clean lake - although we do have containers in case we anticipate the water becoming fouled.

We also stock up on necessities that require high technology and have a long shelf-life, like razor blades, medicines, soap, shampoo, paper towels, toilet paper, etc.

Probably the most effective and still practical long-term food-storage packaging method is with oxygen absorbers and metallized plastic (Mylar) pouches.

PETE bottles are
more permeable to oxygen and moisture than metallized plastic, but still provide a good barrier and are recommended by the Mormon food storage people. PETE bottles are clear plastic made of polyethylene terephthalate. They will have a “1” in the triangular recycling symbol on the bottom, and will probably have the letters "PET" or "PETE" as well. Bottles made of other plastics, such as HDPE, are not suitable.

Mylar pouches and PETE bottles can be used with oxygen absorbers to store food that is dry (less than 10% moisture) and low in fat. PETE bottles that were made for liquids such as juice or soda will have proper tops for this purpose. They will screw on, and have plastic seals, not paper or foam. The oxygen absorbers will prevent insect infestations, and help preserve nutritional qualities. Oxygen absorbers are small packets that contain an iron powder. As the iron oxidizes, it absorbs the oxygen in the bottle, leaving the nitrogen behind and forming a partial vacuum.

1. Place a fresh oxygen absorber packet in each bottle or pouch. (Oxygen absorbers begin working as soon as they are exposed to air, so it's important to use them within about a half hour of taking them out of their original packaging.)
2. Fill with bulk dry products that are low in moisture and oil content.
3. Seal.
4. Label and date.
5. Store in a fairly cool, dry, dark place that is safe from rodents.

Storage at temperatures below 60°F is optimum, but usually impractical. Do what you can. Concrete floors will wick moisture to containers, so set them on something that allows air circulation underneath them.

Foods that are reported to last for 30+ years when stored in this manner:

White rice, not brown.
Split peas
Dry beans
Pasta made without eggs (read the ingredients)

Non-fat powdered milk will allegedly last for 20+ years packaged with oxygen absorbers.

White sugar may harden when packed with oxygen absorbers, but can be bottled without the absorbers and will last indefinitely.

Ditto for baking soda, which is an important ingredient for preparing old, tough beans.

Salt will last forever without oxygen absorbers.

Foods that are NOT suitable for long-term storage:

Brown rice
Pearled Barley
Sesame seeds
Flax seeds
Brown sugar
Milled grains other than oatmeal

What stored foods tend to lack is vitamin C. The good news is that we're literally surrounded by vitamin C, mostly in the form of things tea can be made from. Wintergreen, pine needles, hemlock needles, rose hips, etc.

Another thing that might be handy to know about PETE bottles is that they can be used for solar water disinfection by ultraviolet radiation. It's as simple as filling them with water and setting them out in the sun for a few hours. Not even glass can be used for that, since although it's transparent to visible light, it's opaque to ultraviolet radiation.

Shelf life is one thing, palatability is another. Thirty-year-old food could keep you alive, but you might have to be some kind of hungry to eat it. According to the aforementioned professor, properly packaged dry foods will remain nutritionally stable (except for vitamins) for "dozens of years", but begin to be unpleasant to eat after about the decade mark.

Our current tentative plan is to store salt, sugar and baking soda in PETE bottles without oxygen absorbers. They should last, for our purposes, forever.

Wheat does not need to be stored in a low-oxygen environment, but a couple weeks of such an atmosphere will ensure that no bugs are present. We store it in PETE bottles with oxygen absorbers. ("Hawaiian Punch" gallon bottles are our favorite containers. We don't drink it, but the folks at our local recycling center save them for us.)

Everything else is probably best in Mylar pouches with oxygen absorbers.

We also stock up on necessities that require high technology and have a long shelf-life, like razor blades, medicines, soap, shampoo, paper towels, toilet paper, etc.

After about ten years, we plan on using our stores - converting them to fresh eggs by feeding them to our chickens if nothing else - and replenishing them with fresh stock.

We'll probably never need to use them 'for real', but I'm glad we have them every time I see someone in the aftermath of a hurricane or earthquake shouting "Even if we have money there's no food to buy!" at a TV camera.

Live debt-free, have food put away, plant a garden and some fruit trees and bushes, assure access to water, reduce dependence on oil, have a bicycle and a patch kit, learn to forage, build good will with your neighbors, get healthy. It's just common sense, which isn't very common.