Got Calories? Or..What’s in Your Pantry?

Since nearly everyone diets we all know what calories are…well, we think we know.  There are ten or more different kinds of calories, but the two we are interested in are the small calorie and the large.  The small calorie is the amount of heat necessary to raise one gram of water one degree Celsius (1.8 F) and I include it only because scientists use that one frequently. In the USA we more often use the large calorie which also goes by the names kilocalorie, dietary calorie and food calorie and is usually written with the symbol, Cal. This Cal is the amount of heat necessary to raise one kilogram (2.2 lb.) of water one degree Celsius.  It is also the method chosen to determine the amount of food value or food energy provided by the food we eat. Naturally, we have to consume calories to live and the United States Dept. of  Agriculture has determined that we need about 2000 calories each day. Babies and small children need around 700, men digging ditches by hand need upwards of 4000 and, unfortunately, women of uncertain age need around 1500.

That is the lesson for today, now for the fun part.  If you look into your pantry, what will you find?  Most of us will have boxes, cans, and plastic bags of food: back stock used in the creation of those tasty meals that miraculously appear on our dining tables each night. Unless you eat out, in which case you are eating food from someone else’s pantry.  If you looked into the pantry and there was nothing there and you couldn’t go to a store or restaurant to buy food, where would it come from?

But, you protest, I can go out and get more food!  Usually that is true but when it isn’t the effect on family morale can be cataclysmic.  The 1998 ice storm that hit Ontario and New England left people without power for up to a month and a half.  In December of 2009 the Northeast was hit with another ice storm and the repair crews took from 4 to 16 days just to get into some areas and assess the damages, never mind repairing them.  Ice storms occur when a layer of warm air is between two layers of cold air.  The snow falls, melts in the warm layer and freezes again in the cold air layer at ground level.  These storms are going to become more frequent as the climate fluctuates.  Heavy snow fall, hurricanes, deliberate destruction of infrastructure and acts of God can all close down supply lines.  We passed peak oil in 2008 so in the future we will see heavy increases in the prices of all that imported food, all the fruit and vegetables that come from New Zealand, Chile and other exotic climes.

We can do without many things that we normally think nothing of buying: clothing, housewares, lawn care items, the list is endless; but we cannot do without food.  Maybe we might try to fast for a day or two to jump-start one of our endless diets but after that we want breakfast, lunch and dinner, thank-you very much!

As you stand before your pantry ask your self how many calories are there, how many meals?  If there are two adults and two school age children you will need a minimum of 8000 calories…..each day.  If you could not get more food for a week could you all make it? Two weeks?  We have all seen grocery stores empty of perishable foods, milk and so forth and shelves empty of canned goods before a predicted large storm.  These shelves don’t fill up again until the roads are clear all the way back to the distribution centers.

As you inventory all the two pounds of rice, one pound of dried beans and assorted canned goods, crackers and bottles of soda, think about the meals you might make from them. With a little bit of planning you can have several weeks meals awaiting your expert touch.  Canned tuna and other meats can become casseroles, dried beans make a soup, pasta lasts a very long time when kept dry.  Dehydrated soups can flavor rice and beans, dried fruits can be cooked into oatmeal.  All it takes is a bit of creativity.

Water is always at hand when the power goes out.  You have an entire hot water heater full of it.  You can use it by opening the spigot at the base of the heater and settling and straining it if there are any particles in it.  Toilet tanks are full of fresh, clean water.  Don’t use it to flush the toilet!  If we are warned of a storm coming that has the potential to shut things down it is a good idea to have some fresh water stocked in kettles and water containers before hand.  Remember, you can’t rehydrate a package of dried food or cook pasta or rice without it.

If you have any heat at all, say a wood stove or fireplace you can plan to be able to cook with that heat. A propane stove or outdoor propane grill also work as long as you have full tanks of gas.

We have gotten off lightly this year but other parts of the world have not.  Next winter we might again be hosting snow and ice and we all have plenty of time to make some reasonable preparations.  It isn’t really necessary to count all those calories but we need to be aware that the need for them is relentless and they absolutely have to be available.  Adults can go without food for days without harm but children must eat.

Emergencies bring a host of problems but you can buffer the hardship by making sure you can feed yourself and your family until  workers have gotten in to repair your power lines, plow the streets, remove downed trees, and restock grocery shelves.

Next post, some thoughts about harvests.

About Clio

I am an organic gardener with thirty years experience, a former minister, a former home-schooler, (they grew up), a current clarinet and flute player, knitter and spinner, and swimmer. I am interested in food security issues, food and policy issues, food preservation and encouraging people to become more aware and pro-active about their own food supply. I teach home food preservation, especially water bath and pressure canning, beginning organic gardening using bio-intensive methods, and give talks on food and food security for groups.
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