One of the haunting memories of my childhood was my father from a family of twelve children surviving the Great Depression saying, “You don’t know what it’s like to go to bed hungry.” We always had a store of food in the basement: a freezer half a cow and pig, bushels of vegetables: corn, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet peas, and carrots blanched and frozen each fall. Neighbors tended large gardens, the produce of which they spent days canning. Large batches of tomatoes steamed in sweaty kitchens. Cabbage turned into sauerkraut; cucumbers became pickles; vegies, garden salads; and peppers pickled.
Few of these skills were passed on, those that were soon forgotten, as my generation relied on just-in-time delivery to freshly stocked supermarkets and stores and cheap frozen fruits and vegetables. Oh, we did set aside supplies for a few days against hurricanes when we lived in Florida, not when we moved north.
A few years ago, the TV series Doomsday Preppers was a hit for a while. Typically, a show covered three families revealing the calamity they feared and their preparations. Being a reality entertainment show, the subjects were treated half-seriously, the line between reality and script obscured as they stumbled through their preparations and stockpiling of supplies.
Everyone knows about the dated lifestyles of the Mennonite and Mormons storing food. In older days, women oversaw the house, especially the stores of foods and goods, dispensing what they deemed suitable, stretching supplies to the next harvest, giving rise to the archetypes of stingy versus frivolous women. In one epic Greek poem, a legendary figure wanting to give a gift to his guest asked his wife for permission, what could he give? In medieval times, the wife wore the keys to storerooms on her belt. When most of the men in the Donner party died, the survivors, predominately women and children but some men from a few families, their wives and mothers were credited.
With power outages crossing California, environmentalist blocking pipeline construction creating winter natural gas shortages in New York and New England, and now the coronavirus, the CDC is extending their recommended storage to two weeks of storage up from three days before Katrina to a week after. What next, a month’s worth against a zombie apocalypse? Our lazy respite from the old ways appears to be over.
No need to panic, practice prudence and prepare. Remember a community will survive better than an individual, and everyone hates a bandit.