Survival food expert Jonathan Richards on why we all need food insurance during the climate shift. With his dark blog “Survival Acres”, Richards explores the junction between the ultimate threat of global warming and our way-too-fragile food system. In this rare interview, myths, scams and mistakes are revealed. Why we struggle to survive despite signs of doom.
When climate change hits the fragile just-in-time grocery system, where will your food come from? How long can you eat? You probably have house insurance, or renters’ insurance and car insurance. So why don’t you have food insurance?
Our guest has helped Americans prepare with emergency food stocks for almost 30 years. He’s a homesteader, and wise blogger at survivalacres.com, and now at foodassets.com. From somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, we welcome Jonathan Richards to Radio Ecoshock. This is his first interview in 23 years, despite requests from ABC News and others, especially during the Y2K “crisis”.
Every time there is a hurricane or other natural disaster, the TV shows us people crushing the food stores and empty shelves. A lot of citizens have little to no food supplies at home. In these times many people seldom cook. They relying on fast food and restaurants. Apparently tens of millions of other folks can barely afford food, much less stocking up. Jonathan, is prepping just for the middle and upper class? Surprisingly, the billionaires may be stocking up basement shelters in multiple homes, but not so the middle class. Jonathan tells us poorer people know that food can run out, and tend to be more likely to prepare, even on a limited budget. We discuss the most popular options to get started on a food insurance policy.
Jonathan explains the many ways that “climate change means food shortages” here.
Ten years ago, as the world financial crisis shook faith in the system, I put away a year’s worth of wheat and rice. The hard unprocessed wheat berries can last decades or more, but rice I’m not so sure. Next month, I’ll crack open one of my buckets of rice, sealed air-tight in a Mylar bag, and packed with oxygen depletion sacks. Jonathan expects that if my storage techniques were good (air-tight, oxygen depletion, kept cool) the rice will still be edible. Properly packed, rice can stay decently edible for 30 years he tells us. I like rice and canned sea food because in an emergency, both can be eaten without cooking. You just soak the rice overnight to get a mealy but nutritious food.
We know the Mormon Church used to require believers to stock up 3 years worth of food. I think they have since reduced that to 1 year food supply. I learned a lot by watching Youtube videos with Mormon women showing how they did it. Just put these words “mormon canning tips” in the YouTube search bar at the top. In this interview, we talk about the role of religion and preparing emergency food stocks. Some Christians are also preppers, expecting the End Times, although for some reason, even those people are preparing less in the last year or two.
What are the biggest prepper mistakes? Not storing what you really eat, says Jonathan. If you stash food that you actually like, then you can rotate it as part of your diet, and if hard times strike, you can eat what you have.
There are some prepper industry food scams, which Jonathan explains on this site. Prime among them, if you really calculate the number of calories advertised in a “one year food supply” – you may find it realistically would only last 3 months or so. You would need to buy several of those kits to really get by. That’s even more true when you consider: in an emergency situation you will probably be more active. You may be in search of other food, firewood, or supplies, instead of sitting in front of a screen. That means you need MORE calories during an emergency, not less.
THE STATE OF FOOD PREPPING
The state of the prepper “industry” is rather sad. In the last few years people are ignoring the risks of our fragile food system (see below). Sales of long-lasting foods have gone way down. Some suppliers have gone out of business, and even a few canneries may have to close. That’s not a good thing. I wonder: Is the prepper movement itself fading, or just changing to a new generation? Is the ideal of individual (or family) survival actually helping to prop up a dying system?
Jonathan writes to me:
“It doesn’t make any sense. People still haven’t actually internalized that deadly climate change is actually happening. They’re not making the essential preparations to build in the resilience and adaption steps that are necessary. It is my opinion – that they do not really believe bad things will happen to them personally. Or that government will step in and fix any serious issues that will occur. But we’ve seen that already – Trump attacks the people when they’re down. He just pulled the funding for Puerto Rico and I’m sure you know what he said about California.”
Of course there is another side to the prepper coin. We should be prepared to sit out an emergency in our homes and local community, BUT we should also be prepared to get out quick, with a few necessary supplies. Living in the Northwest, we know a fast might need to happen with every summer wildfire season. How do we prepare to leave? Jonathan isn’t a fan of “bugging out”. Read Part 1 of his essay ”’The Fallacy of Bugging Out” here, and Part 2 here. However, the wildfires last year had my wife and I rechecking out “bug out bags”, in case we had to flee. Of course we just needed enough to keep us going until we could reach a safer community, where we might be put up in an arena or something. We didn’t expect the whole system to fail. That is another story.
AN ACCIDENTAL TEST OF AN EMERGENCY FOOD SUPPLY
Let me tell a story of how an emergency food cache got tested by accident. When my wife and I purchased our lot in a rural village, there was an ancient mobile home on it. I ran into a poor man incapacitated after serious heart problems. We agreed to let him stay for a few months while he recovered. Going out the door, I mentioned there was a 5 gallon bucket of rice in the closet, and a stack of 12-can flats of soup – vegetable and mushroom. He was sick, without any real income, and lived on that for almost two months. Afterward our guest said he may never eat rice again. Shortly afterward, he turned 65, got his Canadian old age pension, and found a space in our local old age home. He’s OK now and eating three meals a day.
My point is: as Jonathan said to me in an email, we don’t have to wait for the collapse – sometimes the collapse comes to us, whether it is losing a job, illness, or just old age. Are you prepared?
FOOD RESERVES AND NATIONAL SECURITY
There are no big food warehouses in the cities anymore. In North America, the food is all in trucks rolling down the highways. They call it “rolling warehouses”. I don’t think the public knows that, and they don’t know how totally risky that strategy is. What happens if the trucks stop for any reason? Or what if two or three of the world’s main grain producers have a failed harvest?
The United States has a Strategic Petroleum Reserve. But I was shocked to learn the American grain reserve system set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt was abolished by the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act. Americans do not have a national grain reserve. Even the ancient Egyptians knew to store grains against a bad harvest. Are Americans immune to starvation?
In 2019, Australia predicts it’s grain production will drop by 20 percent, and climate is a big reason why.
CHINA HOLDS HALF THE WORLD’S GRAIN RESERVES
Back in 2012, the UN estimated world food reserves worldwide would last 74 days. Hundreds of millions more humans, living more meat-intensive lifestyles, have been added to the planet since then.
By contrast to America, half of all world grain reserve stocks are held in China. China began a buying spree around 2013, as part of their national security plan. So when we hear the world has enough grain to last just over 2 months, remember 99.9% of my listeners will be shut out from half of it. So we really only have about 1 month ready, in case volcanoes blow, or a meteorite arrives, or climate heat wipes out major crop areas one year. Doesn’t that seem way too fragile?
The United Nations called for an international grain reserve in 2008 (didn’t happen) and then warned of our fragile food situation again in 2013 (ignored). According to the Guardian article in 2013:
“World grain reserves are so dangerously low that severe weather in the United States or other food-exporting countries could trigger a major hunger crisis next year, the United Nations has warned. Failing harvests in the US, Ukraine and other countries this year have eroded reserves to their lowest level since 1974. The US, which has experienced record heatwaves and droughts in 2012, now holds in reserve a historically low 6.5% of the maize that it expects to consume in the next year, says the UN.”
In 2016, Germans were told to stockpile food and water for civil defense. Even the U.S. government is pleading with people to have a minimum of 3 days of food in the house (most people don’t!). Recently, the American government also announced that both Russia and China had the capability to crash the electric grid over large regions via cyber attacks, and the grid might not come back up for months. That means service stations cannot pump up or accept payment for diesel fuel, and that means the food stops. Would you be ready?
Check out the American FEMA preparedness guide here.
Lester Brown, the founder of WorldWatch Institute, used to hold regular press conferences to discuss prospects for world grains. I recorded several for Radio Ecoshock. You can find info about my 2010 interview with Lester Brown here. At age 85, Lester retired a couple of years ago and dissolved his later organization, Earth Policy Institute. Now, nobody is telling the public how much grain we have and can expect. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find out how near the edge we are. China keeps it’s grain reserves secret. The other largest grain trader Cargill is a very private multinational corporation. We know how much carbon is in the atmosphere, but it’s a huge secret how much food we have left.
When the Soviet Union stopped supply Cuba with food and oil, the Cuban government managed a local food revolution. Even the city of Havana broke out into victory gardens to start feeding itself. Could Americans or Europeans do it in a collapse situation? If the supermarkets of America run out of food for a week, would you expect rioting and gunfire, community organizing, or a huge line of traffic trying to escape somewhere? I worry the explosion of living life online has created humans out of touch with physical reality. If the grid goes down, and Itunes doesn’t work, people are not mentally prepared to cope.
WHY FOOD MAY STOP COMING…
While we know the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, we do not know how long humans could feed the current population if there were multiple failures in major grain producing countries. One such scenario is a volcanic winter. But climate change may disturb rainfall, or deal out heat, or sudden cold shocks, that could kill off some grain. Rice is already at it’s top heat levels, and can’t take much more. Plus, with mono crops on vast scales, a new disease (like a rust) is also possible. Trade breakdowns and civil unrest seem in the cards, in the current collision of ever-expanding population, climate change, and mal-distribution of both food and wealth. Even an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) event, like a solar storm, could knock out grids and perhaps halt the trucks that must always move to keep cities alive.
This is why each of us who can afford it needs to create a year’s worth of survival food, replacing the missing former food warehouses and national grain reserves. In the age of extreme weather due to climate change, food insurance is more important than house insurance.
BACK TO THE PERSONAL
Getting back to personal food insurance, what do you think about growing more of our own food? I built a small geothermal greenhouse partly to protect against weird weather. I hope to put out a video course about that next fall. Right now in the new winter of 2019, I’ve got cold-tolerant salad greens and herbs in there. But I started thinking, if there was a real emergency, maybe I should be growing a dense food crop like potatoes in the greenhouse instead.
In 2010, the Russian grain harvest was decimated by extreme heat. Russia stopped wheat exports, including to countries like Egypt which is now totally dependent on importing wheat. If a similar heat wave hit the U.S., and then Australia the following winter, there would not be much bread around. It is pretty economical to store raw wheat, if you can find it. Supermarkets do not sell raw wheat “berries” for example. Of course there are no food warehouses stocking it either. I went to a professional “grain seller” – but he asked me how many boxcars of wheat I wanted to buy! Eventually I found a small boutique grain storage place at the edge of town, and purchased enough to fill ten five gallon buckets. Their food usefulness will probably out live me.
But if we survive until the next growing season, wouldn’t we also need a cache of seeds too? Jonathan isn’t a big fan of buying packages of “survival” seeds. Most folks do not know how to grow them, or when the narrow time of planting is. I always keep some extra seeds, and try to harvest more each year from vegetables that are “heritage”. They “hybrid” plants sold by most seed companies can give a better yield, but their seeds may not produce good veggies the next year. Hybrids do not breed true, their seeds are unreliable. Seeds from heritage plants are more reliable.
I think preparing to be a senior has similarities for preparing for social collapse. Older people have less and less energy, and less capability. So we need to build personal systems that will work when we are less able. “Prepping for your senior years”. It’s like “when collapse comes to you”. Of course we also need to get in better physical shape, practice the ability to fast, and learn about wild foods. That is all preparation.
Jonathan Richards is not still in the survival food business. But he still volunteers to help with his old food company. In his blog Resolution for 2019, Jonathan said “I want to save the world”. That new stimulus comes from his new grandchild, which has lit up his life and added determination to at least try to save a livable future for him. I am in the same situation.
Jonathan Richards’ survivalacres blog has been influential for me and many others. He also has posts at foodassets.com. Thanks for talking with us Jonathan, and I hope to meet you in person when it warms up.
Thank you for listening – and a very special thanks to all the listeners who have donated in the past few weeks. I’ve seen an increase in financial support which just encourages me to dig deeper for everybody. Thank you for reducing my financial worry. Now I can concentrate on Radio Ecoshock.
PHOTO CREDIT FOR THIS WEEK’S SHOW
“A slightly exaggerated impression of the real shape of our warped and twisted Milky Way.” from Xiaodian Chen (National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences).
A REMINDER: DENIAL IS HUMAN (SAYS AJIT VARKI)
At the end of this program, I replay a short except from an interview we must never forget. A listener suggested I contact Ajit Varki, about his book “Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind.”
We spend a couple of minutes with the awe-inspiring Professor of Medicine and pioneer researcher, from the University of California in San Diego. Following his beginning in India, Ajit Varki led American explorations into cellular and molecular medicine. His multi-faceted mind also ventures into the origins of humans, and as it turns out, a critical mechanism of human consciousness. Understand the role of denial, says Varki, and you understand a lot about your own life, and the civilization around us. Read more about it, and get the whole interview here.
This interview was suggested to me by Rob Mielcarski who blogs at undenial.wordpress.com. Rob has prepared a short summary of Varki and Brower’s work. It’s an excellent doorway. Rob has also posted a longer summary of this theory of human denial, as written by Ajit Varki and Danny Brower. Surf Rob’s undenial blog – it is still going strong. It’s worth your effort to get this information about Varki, to see how we manage to deny so many realities. It’s a wonder we survive at all.