When times get larder: “Food Security for the Faint of Heart” reviewed

food-security-for-the-faint-of-heartThe potential for disaster surrounds us every day. The aftershocks of the earthquake in Haiti may seem too big for many Americans to grasp, but we too should have a plan for possible local emergencies such as severe storms that wipe out our power supply for days, earthquakes, long-term illness, or unforeseen personal economic crises. Because when something catastrophic does occur, food security becomes critical: how can you keep yourself and your family from going hungry when hard times hit?

Robin Wheeler explores that question in her book “Food Security for the Faint of Heart,” which emphasizes the need to bring control of our food supply back home through gardening, preserving food, stocking up on basics, supporting local growers and community organizations, and sharing with others when disaster strikes. Many of her reasons for encouraging people to develop this home-grown food security are familiar — the bumpy effects of the global economic crisis, the need to wean oneself from dependence on fossil fuels, and the desire to avoid GMOs and pesticides. She also stresses, however, the community-building aspects of keeping money local and becoming “a new community asset” through sharing skills and resources.

Less than a hundred years ago, Wheeler points out, maintaining home gardens, preserving food, and keeping a full pantry used to be merely common-sense planning, not tarred with the damning label of “stockpiling.” Homes of the time were built with “that wondrous space” — whether a pantry closet or a basement room or a root cellar — “where you just fling a door open and rows of cans and jars shine out at you.”  Despite the trend over the years away from such storage to quick-fix meals, she assures us that we, too, can become food secure.

A handful of chapters cover the obvious techniques of developing garden skills and preserving the back-yard harvest for winter, but Wheeler also goes further. To cover all the bounty provided by nature, she adds a chapter each for herbs, edible flowers, foraging, and medicinal plants, all useful categories to help people identify additional food (and emergency) resources when the usual ones have dwindled.  She also covers water storage (a vital but often overlooked part of emergency planning), buying pantry staples on a budget, and working with others in your community to spread the means to develop food security.

In each chapter, Wheeler offers plenty of ideas, to-do lists, and goals, opening readers’ eyes to the possibilities in community gardens, gleaning, sharing knowledge and tools with others, and more.  She encourages joining with friends and neighbors to pool diverse skills and to work cooperatively on projects such as building raised garden beds or compost bins, not to mention canning or drying an abundant harvest.  Instead of remaining at “the bottom of our food chain” and subject to the “choices” made for us by corporations, she says, we can choose to grow and cook our own food and to prepare ourselves for hard times in a way that “will actually make our world a better, safer place.”

dillybeansWhile the book offers a sprightly overview of the topic of creating food security at the individual and community levels, it lacks depth in key areas. For example, I hope readers will exercise caution in embracing the chapter on canning: Wheeler offers information that is somewhat incomplete or questionable, including information on processing times, washing the food before canning, and storage.  (Her recommendation for home-canned goods -– “It is safe from bugs and mice, which means it can even be stored in a ratty old crawlspace” — ignores the fact that vacuum-sealed glass jars may not take kindly to the potential humidity or extreme temperature fluctuations found in such spaces.)  If you are looking for a real how-to introduction to food preservation, you’ll want to revisit our earlier review of some key canning, drying, and other preservation books. If you simply want to explore the ethics and the social implications of food security, though, Wheeler provides plenty of good ideas to consider.

“If I was dishing out advice,” Wheeler muses, “it would be to always plan for an emergency food supply several months before an unpredicted disaster. It would be much better if many people knew how to garden for themselves, and how to choose nutritious crops that last (or can be stored) over a long period.” Add to the pot knowing how to cook and preserve food, keep a well-stocked pantry, and work amiably with others in the community, and we can all cross food security off our list of worries that keep us up at night.

5 Responsesto “When times get larder: “Food Security for the Faint of Heart” reviewed”

  1. Hello -
    I am writing in response to Jennifer M’s lovely review of my book, “Food Security for the Faint of Heart”. It is interesting to see where this book has ended up and I am grateful for the coverage! I was startled though at Jennifer’s comment that readers should be wary, for example, of the information given concerning canning skills – that the information was “incomplete and questionable”. I ran for my bookcase and pulled out my copy – and I am thinking Jennifer likely missed the highlighted paragraph  on page 66.
    There are so many books already existing on food preservation that my own chapter was designed as a primer for those who don’t have experience in this regard. I have overviews for 10 types of food preservation including a list of pros and cons for each one. The highlighted paragraph near  the beginning of this chapter reminds folks that – “It’s important, once you understand and want to try a technique, to make sure you are doing a thorough job of it” -” and that the techniques outlined are discussed in greater detail in the books listed in the Resource section …” 
    If I get a chance to have this book reprinted, I will certainly clarify that passage further to make sure people see this chapter as an introduction and overview to get them started, and not a final thesis!
    Thank you, Jennifer, for helping to spread the word on food security – it is a great feeling that we could all feel safer.
    Robin Wheeler

  2. The idea that really bounced out at me from this article is how far we’ve moved from preserving food as “common sense planning” to “stockpiling” with all the connotations of oddballs in army fatigues that word conjures up.  When really, any one who has a garden can see the benefit of preserving food for later in the year.  After all, there are only so many tomatoes a family can eat or give away in the month or so of harvest, yet for almost every family they are a year round staple for salads, pastas, sauces etc.

  3. Yes, Heather, and that very fact gets discussed as well! Grandma never called it stockpiling …

  4. Tip…don’t make the mistake we once made. Many moons ago we made the mistake of building a food storage in preparation for a storm. (We waited until the emergency to start preparing). The grocery store was packed with panicked people who had the same idea. There was hardly any food left on shelves and battling the crowd was insane.

  5. Mike Johnson says:

    It’s interesting (and perhaps, pertinent) to think about food security, and it seems strange that such a concept should appear as a novelty, as something that folks at large should be educating themselves about, and not something that is commonplace. Perhaps it’s how I was raised, but I was already privy to most of the tips in the book, although I did learn a few things also. :-)