Cooking

If You Can't Stand the Heat

The joy of cooking during the climate apocalypse
Illustration: Kim Graziano/Tasting Table
Prepper Food

Sometimes I lay awake at night, plagued by those universal, anxiety-inducing questions that make sleep elusive: Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What will the climate apocalypse be like? Moreover, will there be anything good to eat while the world is ending?

Those last two, I admit, may not be as widely shared as the rest, but during December's COP21 world climate change summit, they took on a new urgency. While I celebrated the meeting's ability to create consensus around reducing emissions, further reading about the magnitude and speed of the action required to meet those targets quickly brought my old friends, fear and dread, back into the picture.

If you're someone who likes to eat, climate change is bad news. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report issued at COP21, Climate Change, Global Food Security, and the U.S. Food System, rising temperatures and wild weather are "very likely to affect global, regional and local food security by disrupting food availability, decreasing access to food and making food utilization more difficult." As an urban millennial who owes a couple thousand calories a week to microwavable meals from Amy's Kitchen, that presumably means I should start thinking about a more self-reliant approach to food.

For help with this, I recently turned to a group who's already thinking outside the box (or, if you will, outside the grocery store) on this topic: preppers. Also known as survivalists, preppers are actively preparing for any number of potential disasters, stockpiling drinking water, becoming self-sufficient and so on. Though none of the people I spoke with are concerned about climate change in particular—one, Daisy Luther, told me that "many people in the preparedness lifestyle" see the hubbub over climate change as "a hoax leading toward less freedom while benefitting large corporations"—they're certainly skeptical about the long-term reliability of the global food system. On the other hand, they're plenty optimistic when it comes to the prospects for eating healthfully and deliciously in the event of any sort of disaster.

"People think you need a special cookbook. You don't," Linda Loosli, editor of the site Food Storage Moms and author of Prepare Your Family for Survival, said.

Loosli has known she's wanted to be ready for disaster ever since she was 16, when a big ice storm hit her town. She said her aunt was allowed to buy only one pound of meat and one quart of milk at the grocery store for a while. Now Loosli stores enough dehydrated, air-and freeze-dried food to last two years. It's good stuff, she said, and she uses it in her everyday cooking, too.

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"You can make any food item you want to make with stored food. You don't have to be afraid of it. It's just freeze dried. It's just dehydrated. It's the very same thing once you reconstitute it as you buy at the grocery store. Is it as good? No, of course not. But it's workable. Fresh is always better, but it brings you peace to know that you've got green beans in the back room," she said.

Of course, making that food edible requires water, which is why Loosli keeps enough of it to last about 90 days, mostly in the form of Blue Can Premium Emergency Water, which has a 50-year shelf life, and WaterBricks, which she stacks and stores under beds, including 56 gallons' worth under one queen-size mattress that guests use.

But then there's actually cooking the stuff, which in the event of a world-changing climate apocalypse wouldn't be as easy as firing up a standard gas or electric stove. Loosli recommended getting a butane stove, since you can cook inside with it, or a solar-powered Sun Oven. Luther, author of The Prepper's Water Survival Guide and editor of the website The Organic Prepper, told me about a few more options, including the Volcano grill, which can run on propane, charcoal or wood, and the Kelly Kettle, which can run on pretty much anything you can find in nature.

Talking with Luther ultimately left me feeling pretty anxious. Canned goods and meals in jars, she said, can last only so long, and anyone who has any hopes of thriving off the grid for long stretches of time ultimately needs to be able to produce their own food.

"You have to focus on things you can grow in your home in your climate with your available resources. If you live in an apartment, and you don't have more than a balcony, you need to grow stuff inside. There are little aquaponic systems you can set up. Of course, those are reliant on electricity, so if you envision a scenario in which you don't have electricity, that's not going to work," she said.

As someone who just had to google aquaponic system—and who, in our present-day, nonapocalyptic world, actually managed to kill an air plant in about two weeks—the idea of depending on my lousy green thumb for nutrition seems a bit daunting. And I'm likely not alone. While studies on millennials' kitchen skills have produced mixed conclusions—some find that, in the words of one reporter, they "can't cook for shit," while others see signs of self-sufficiency—it's fair to say that most of us have been too coddled by modernity to be top-notch survivalists. Philadelphia Magazine's Monica Weymouth may have characterized our generation's relation to food and our low tolerance for inconvenience best when she wrote, "In 2015, you can order a hot dog-encrusted pizza to your door from a computer in your pocket. We're building waterparks in hotels and overnighting cases of paper towels. I have a plastic container of cookie-flavored coffee creamer in my refrigerator that contains neither cookies nor cream."

Millennials, of course, can be a determined, hardworking bunch when they feel like it. If it appeared that Seamless might stop delivering, restaurants might stop serving and grocery stores might close their doors, I like to think we'd figure something out. It might be totally delusional, but it helps me sleep at night.

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