The Importance of Calories in a Survival Situation, By Keith W.

Sunday, Jan 17, 2010

In this modern world the term “calorie” is almost a bad word. They are things to be limited, controlled and shunned whenever possible. We use terms like “empty” and “wasted” in regards to the consumption of calories. Obesity, the result of the over-consumption of calories, is one of the biggest dangers that we face as Americans. If and when TEOTWAWKI occurs, our thinking needs to change immediately.
The average man doing minimal amounts of work needs about 2500 calories per day to maintain weight and full functionality. Doing moderate physical labor or survival activities can easily increase that number to 3000+. When the calorie intake drops below 1200 (or half of the optimal number of calories for an individual) the body goes into a survival mode in which physical and cognitive functions are impaired. Extreme lethargy, indecisiveness, confusion and excessive sleepiness are some of the symptoms and are not beneficial to dealing with the stresses encountered when our lives are in peril. In a survival situation, therefore, calories are crucial and the more, the better. That is right, fat is your friend; remember that fat has 9 calories per gram, whereas protein and carbohydrates only have 4 calories per gram. If you only have 2 pounds of food at your disposal, what do want the composition of that food to be? Keep this in mind when you are making your preparations.

Canned goods are a cheap and easy to acquire survival staple. They have a decent shelf life, and are usually safe to consume well past their “sell by” dates. Tests run by the FDA, the US Army and Washington State University have found that 40-100 year old canned goods that were still safe to eat barring damage to the container. All canned food is not equal in a survival situation however. Many folks will purchase a case or two of whatever is on sale and consider the number of cans when deciding on the duration of their preparedness. A can of green beans for example, has about 120 calories. It would take 10 cans per day just to meet the basic needs of an average man. Those calories do not include much in the way of protein or fat either- both of which are critical for health. On the other hand, a can of Vienna sausages has about 450 calories and has the requisite protein and fat. Very simply, when you are purchasing canned goods for preparedness, devote at least one-half of your purchases to high calorie choices with ample protein and fat. Include some starches like beans, corn and potatoes, since carbohydrates are easily metabolized and turned into the sugars that our brains require. Fruits and vegetables have fiber and some vitamins that cannot be obtained from other sources, so don’t ignore them.

Drying food is one of the oldest methods of preservation and is still a winner in terms of shelf life and durability. Dehydrated foods can have a shelf life of 20-30 years if properly stored. Visit Grandpappy's web site for more info. While ready packed #10 cans of dehydrated foods are great to have, they are somewhat expensive and hard to transport. On the other hand, 1# bags of rice and dried beans are cheap, filling, and readily-available and supply complete proteins when used together. If you have a vacuum sealing machine, a good “ration pack” can be made by placing 1# of dried beans, 1# of rice, 1/3 cup of dehydrated onions, and 2 tablespoons of a salt-based seasoning in separate bags and sealing them together. The contents of that pack can easily feed 4 people for a day.

In the event that you have meat that is ready to spoil due to a recent hunting success or a prolonged power outage, take a page from our ancestors and dry it. There are several methods for drying meat or anything else with a high moisture content. If you are in an arid environment, drying is dead easy. Cut the meat into ¼" slices, rub it with salt and spices (if desired), and either spread it out on a grating or hang it for 2-3 days in an area with decent air flow. Salt is a cheap and bulky ingredient, so it is ubiquitous in seasoning blends and sauces and aids in the preservation process. A cheap “bullet smoker” can be used as a dryer and smoker. Hang the strips of meat from the grates, using toothpicks or a similar item and build a very small fire in the bottom fire bowl. Ideally, the temperature should remain between 110 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit so the product is truly dried- not cooked. The addition of wood, corn cobs or nut shells will impart smoke, which aids in preservation as well as flavor. Window screens or furnace filters can be used in conjunction with rapidly flowing air to dry foods in a day or so. Get creative! Once the foods are thoroughly dried, store in a closed container with hard sides. Plastic bags hold moisture close to the food and will cause the food to partially hydrate and eventually rot. Dehydrated foods can be rehydrated in hot water and used in soups or stews. The dehydrating process reduces the weight of most meat and produce to about 6-10% of its regular weight, so a lot more food energy can be carried per pound.

An unlikely source of survival rations is your local convenience store. Or more likely, the Big Box store where the convenience store buys its products. Individually packaged snack foods are designed for portability and shelf life. Those preservatives that everyone loves to hate are put there to make the product last for months or years in the vending machine with little discernable loss of flavor. The products also have a very low water content (making them cheaper to ship) and very high energy density. The individual vacuum packs of trail mix, nuts, jerky or individual sausages (such as "Slim-Jim”) make for a readily packable addition to your BOB that provide a lot of calories with minimal weight and space. The individual packs of sports drink powders are also a worthwhile addition. Everyone knows that feeling of lightheadedness and nausea that hits when your blood sugar or electrolyte balance goes low. The electrolytes and sugar in those packets is a quick fix for that. These items may not be part of a perfectly balanced diet, but carrying 9,000 calories in a backpack takes some compromises.

In terms of fresh food, think outside your normal comfort zone. Hunting, fishing and foraging will be necessary to augment your food storage. Many people live in areas that are devoid of large animals like deer or elk. Killing, butchering, processing and preserving large animals is a big effort anyway. What good is 200 pounds of meat for a family of 4 when there is no refrigeration handy and they are on the move? Better is to supplant the above mentioned beans and rice with a couple of pigeons or a squirrel bagged along the way. As the Cajuns say “…anything that flies, walks, crawls or slithers is good for gumbo”. Crickets are good additions to the pot as well, just remove their legs at toast them. Some bugs are indeed poisonous or at least really unpleasant to eat- so do your homework while you still can. There are also plenty of plants that are just ready to be foraged for food. While it would be hard to find enough wild onions to live on them alone, they will greatly improve the taste of a pot of soup. Other plants will give you essential vitamins and ever-important fiber. Regularity is often under-appreciated until you don’t have it. There are hundreds of area-specific guides to edible plants that deserve study and a place in anyone’s library.

The human body has a fantastic calorie storage mechanism built in. Our early ancestors rarely knew when or where their next meal would appear. As such, our body has adapted to store food energy “on site” in fat stores. This mechanism allowed us to get through times of scarcity and replenish during times of plenty. In an extended period of scarcity, fat stores might be the deciding factor of who lives or dies. Every pound of fat contains roughly 4000 calories of energy. A person that is 20 pounds overweight therefore has about 80,000 calories of energy in reserve. While the body’s survival mechanisms do not readily lend themselves to following formulas and everyone’s mileage may vary; that means that an extra 20 pounds will buy you extra time to live.

This is not meant to try and convince anyone to switch to a diet of donuts and bacon. Obesity still carries a major penalty in many other aspects of survival both in our current reality and in a worst-case scenario. The ability to live without medications for hypertension, or cholesterol or diabetes is critical when the pharmacies all shut down. Too much fat will indeed kill you. The focus should be on general health and stamina, especially in terms of manual labor and walking. A person with a large muscle mass and very little fat effectively has a huge engine with a very small gas tank. The big engine is helpful, but the tank must always be refilled. A person with little muscle mass and a lot of fat has a small engine and a huge gas tank. It doesn’t matter how much fuel there is if the engine is too small to do the job. A person with decent muscle mass, good cardiovascular health and a little extra “cushion” is the best suited to prolonged survival. The ability to walk while carrying weight and the ability to do strenuous work are the most vital elements.

In summation, calories are an important and overlooked aspect in any survival plan. Imagine the tasks that will need to be done when the lights go out and stay out for an extended period of time. Nearly every task will involve significantly more energy use than it does in our current reality. In human terms, energy comes exclusively from the burning of food energy in the form of calories. The truly prepared will have enough calories available to do what needs to be done to survive and prosper.


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