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In countries that have cyclical periods of famine and plenty, reminiscent of the seven-year famine in Egypt during Biblical times, storing enough food for adverse times was a way of life. Many native cultures with a measure of affluence hoarded certain foods in the good times that they identified as lean-time sustenance. These food items typically had high nutritional value and keeping quality.
The Importance Of Preparedness
Dried grains, pulses, starchy roots like tapioca, dried fish and meat were some of the foodstuffs people stored for emergencies. We see in the novel “The Good Earth” by Nobel laureate Pearl S. Buck how a small stack of soybeans kept the fictional Chinese family alive during the famine.
In modern times supermarkets are our storehouses, and we rarely anticipate situations where we would not have access to food directly off the shelves. We may consider ourselves immune to droughts and famines that may precipitate scarcity of food, but natural disasters along with economic and governmental instability should serve to shake us out of our complacency.
Indigenous people in the poorer parts of the world, who have a hand-to-mouth existence most of the time, suffer greatly during periods of drought with little or no stored foods. They depend on barely palatable grasses, barks of trees, succulents and slightly toxic seeds that they wouldn’t eat at other times. Unlike them, we do not even have access to foraging; and with no stored food, we would be in a worse situation.
Food Shortage In The Midst Of Plenty
Hurricanes typically do not come without warning. Tropical storms usually gather strength over a few days before they finally turn into a hurricane and cause great devastation on land. Many people will prepare themselves by storing essentials for a few days in that type of situation. Nonetheless, people in some inundated areas may suffer a shortage of food and could become dependent on the National Guards.
In the future, not every disaster may come with ample warning, and our preparedness may be put to the test if such situations isolate us for even longer periods.
We tend to think of food storage in connection with the refrigerator and the deep freezer. In the absence of power supply, as is the case in many emergencies due to natural calamities, refrigerators are useless. It’s time we explored alternatives to frozen food.
Foods For Long-Term Storage
Warding off hunger and starvation may be the principal function of food stores, but by no means is it the only one. Food during shortages should be healthy, nutritious and satisfying, too. Dry fruits, nuts, whole grains, and pulses fit the bill. Besides meeting all the normal nutritional requirements of the body, they should build resistance against diseases, a very important requirement during difficult times. They should also be:
- Non-perishable – Foodstuffs that can last a long time without loss of nutrients and without harmful changes like rotting or going moldy or rancid.
- Affordable – When large amounts are to be stored away, inexpensive choices are the best bet.
- Free of harmful chemicals – Foods containing preservatives or genetic modifications are a big no-no.
- Versatile – They should lend themselves to different modes of preparation. The alternative to being starved does not need to be boring.
Must-Have Super Seeds For Survival
Seeds are nature’s way of storing food for the future; the future use of the baby plants. We can also take advantage of these little packets of goodness.
Soybeans are highly nutritious but have lately fallen out of favor due to conflicting views about their anticancer/pro-cancer properties, and because of allergic reactions and the fact that they are often genetically modified. But there are better alternatives like chia, hemp seeds, and flax seeds.
1. Chia  (Salvia Hispanica) – The Little Seed That Was Long Forgotten
Chia seeds have a history dating back to the Aztecs. In fact, for the natives of Mexico, it once held the place of a staple food much like corn. This nutritional storehouse packs 4 grams of high-quality protein, and 9 grams of fat, in every ounce; the rest being mainly dietary fiber. It is rich in minerals like calcium, manganese, and phosphorus too. What makes chia great for health is the heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid  present in them which research has found lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease.
As a food, chia seeds are highly versatile; they can be eaten raw or incorporated into almost any preparation, including breads and smoothies. Since they have been used as food for several centuries without any reported allergies or contraindications, the seeds are safe for use by anyone.
Chia seeds have a very long shelf life; even ground chia can be stored without harm for up to two years. Being a comparatively cheap superfood, they are ideal for stocking in large quantities to meet emergencies.
2. Flax Seeds (Linum Usitatissimum) – From A Plant Called The “Most Useful”
It is no surprise that the Latin name of the flax plant literally means “most useful”; the plant indeed has many uses. The stem of this plant was the only source of plant fiber for making clothes before cotton became popular. Linseed oil has many commercial applications as well.
Flax seeds are highly nutritious, containing the highest amount of alpha-linolenic acid compared to other foods. They are a good source of essential amino acids too. With 40 grams of fat and 20 grams of protein in every 100 grams of the seed, they are ideal famine food. But it is the lignans present in the seeds that make them a superfood.
Lignans are known to have anti-cancer properties in certain hormone-sensitive cancers like that of the prostate, breast, and the uterus. Anti-inflammatory properties and resistance to viral, fungal and bacterial diseases are also attributed to these compounds. Other medicinal uses of flax seeds include treatment for gout, flu, lowered blood sugar levels , lowered cholesterol and respiratory diseases. The mucilage present in the seeds acts as a natural lubricant and aids bowel movements. They are rich in vitamins and minerals, too.
The seeds can be ground and added to bread flour. Roasted seeds have been part of the diet of people in Northern India. They can be eaten raw or sprouted. Whole flax seeds can be stored for long periods. However, its ground form called flax seed meal is highly unstable when exposed to light and air, going rancid within a short period.
3. Hemp Seeds (Cannabis Sativa) – The Fountain Of Health
Hemp has been grown from time immemorial for its fiber which is the strongest among natural fibers. But the stimulant drug marijuana and its derivatives like hashish have brought ill repute to this highly useful plant, and have caused its cultivation to be restricted in many countries. The seeds of this plant, the ultimate superfood, often do not receive the attention they deserve.
Hemp seeds are a “complete” food source for proteins  because they contain all 21 amino acids, including the essential ones that our body cannot make on its own. They are superior to other common sources of proteins like eggs, milk and even meat. Besides, they have the distinction of containing the highest amount of edestin, a globulin very similar to the protein molecules found in our blood.
Immunoglobulins in the blood are responsible for fighting diseases causing organisms that invade our body. Foods rich in globulins naturally increase our resistance to diseases. Hemp seeds are also rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, including linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid, which make them good for cardiac health. They have been traditionally used for treating malnutrition due to tuberculosis as well.
Hemp seeds can be ground and mixed with mashed potatoes and sauces. They can be eaten raw in salads or as hemp milk.
Storing The Seeds
The seeds for emergency use should be stored in air-tight containers with proper labeling. Keep them in easy-to-use carry bins along with other essentials and in a cool place like a cellar. Also, ensure that they are accessible at a moment’s notice.