The term ‘prepper’ has had a lot of bad press and negative connotations due to some typical media portrayals over the years. But anyone who lives in an area prone to annual natural disasters, such as tornadoes or hurricanes, should be a prepper, or prepared for the events that can, and do, happen. Unfortunately, despite the regular occurrence of these events many people are not prepared even for basic emergencies. If you are serious about protecting your family then you have done a threat and hazard identification risk assessment, commonly called a THIRA in emergency management. This is where you have looked at the possible threats and hazards that could happen and have made appropriate plans and have the appropriate supplies so that your family can survive an event. The techniques for doing one of these is beyond the scope of this article. However, just looking at the news these days and you can’t miss one obvious potential risk right now.
The COVID-19 virus has a lot of domino effects and we are beginning to see the next ‘round.’ Currently in the news are the impacts on the food processing plants with workers becoming exposed and infected. This is resulting in plants closing for deep cleaning, and when they reopen checking employees temperatures before they come into the plant. Another, and perhaps not as visible, impact is the number of workers who are not coming back to work for various reasons. This is all manifesting in the normal sensational headlines like “the food supply chain is broken,” and “significant food shortages coming.” Pork production is down about 44% and beef around 10% which is resulting in less stored processed meat being available to the consumer. Another thing that should concern the informed is that Smithfield Foods is the largest meat processing company in the U.S., and probably in the world. In 2013 it was bought out by a Chinese company and has since bought out nearly all of its rivals. If you do some quick searching around the web you will be astounded by the number of other companies owned by Smithfield, and thus the influence this one Chinese owned company has on the U.S. food supply chain.
First off, there is no shortage of beef, chickens, pork or other meats. In fact, there is an over abundance as many farms lost a lot of business when the restaurants were forced to close. Additionally, back in February the Agriculture Secretary opened the U.S. market to import beef from Africa and Brazil and this has forced the hoof price of beef to extremely low levels that it is difficult for U.S. ranchers to survive. The bottleneck, and the main problem and concern, is the number of processing plants and their stranglehold on the whole farm-to-market process. Ranchers are being forced to ‘depopulate’ their cattle in order to have enough feed and grazing to keep some of them alive.
This is where being a ‘prepper’, i.e., one who is prepared, puts you in a position not to panic. If you do a search on social media you are bound to find some local ranchers and pig farmers. Many have been innovative since all the restaurants stopped buying from them and are selling to the general public and advertising through social media pages on Facebook. In some states legislative changes have been made to allow them to do so, whereas it was previously prohibited. You will need to do some homework to find out how they are selling the meat. They might be selling it by the whole, half or quarter, where you will need to then take to a local butcher to have cut up and packaged ready for your freezer. A local butcher will usually charge by the pound and will cut it into steaks, roasts and ground meat for burgers etc. They will be your best resource on the best way to process the meat. The more you buy the cheaper it ends up being. This is where going in with friends can provide you significant savings.
A group of like-minded preparedness families and friends is called a mutual assistance group (MAG). These are friends you know and trust and where you work together for savings on bulk food and other large purchases, like a freeze dryer machine. A freeze dryer allows you to create your own freeze-dried foods and can pay for itself in a year, but they are not cheap. Bulk purchase of things like a whole steer can be significant savings. Visits to local pick your own farms can yield large quantities of vegetables. In addition to purchases you can share and trade skills and services.
So once you have all this meat, or vegetables when they are in season, what are you going to do with them and how are you going to keep them? Well the simple solution is a freezer, however meat and other items do have storage limits in a freezer before they get freezer burnt. Packing in good quality vacuum bags before putting in the freezer will extend the time before freezer burn sets in. I’ve tried a couple of different vacuum sealers over the years and ended up buying the most common, and expensive, one after others failed and I’ve never regretted that purchase.
Another option is canning. Canned goods will remain viable far longer than those in a freezer, and are not susceptible to power failures. Canning was done long before there were freezers and food can be kept for 10 years or longer if the seal hasn’t broken. All meats, and many vegetables including potatoes, can be canned. You can even make meals such as stews and chili and can them so all you have to do is reheat and they are ready to eat. These are ideal in an emergency since you can quickly have a hot meal with a simple camp stove or similar. It is important to follow proper canning processes and the Balls Blue Book is the number one guide to canning and preserving food. Canning does take time, with the preparation and then the jars have to be in the pressure canner for about 90 minutes, varies depending on the food, then let it cool down before you can remove the sealed jars and put another batch in. This is another area where a mutual assistance group comes in handy to have a canning party at one person’s house. The amount of food that you can process with half a dozen burners and pressure canners in a garage in a day is staggering.
There is no need to panic over the sensationalized headlines of a “food shortage.” Get some trusted friends together, find a local farmer and go in together for some beef, pork or other meat and find a local vegetable farm once the season gets here. Plan on a canning party and preserve your food for use when things are in short supply at the local store. While not within the scope of this article you can also buy rice, beans and other dry goods in bulk and pack in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers for long term storage.