Are You Prepared for Peak Chicken?

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three-step-chickensWe have all heard about peak oil. But have you heard about “peak chicken?” Or peak almost everything else that composes the modern human diet—dairy, meat, corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, vegetables, and sugar?

According to a study in Ecology and Society,1https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss4/art50/ we’ve already been there and done that. We peaked on just about every food-related product considered critical to human survival, except farm-raised fish, in or before 2010.

Thank goodness for carp, catfish, and tilapia! If you don’t like those, you might want to start working on some new recipes and get used to them….

Once you get your head around the idea of peak food—meaning that food production is stagnant or declining—then do an Internet search for “world population clock.”

Sit back and watch as the world’s population increases before your eyes.

It is interesting to watch, until you do the math and realize that declining food production + increasing population = a big problem. Suddenly that population calculator looks a lot like a ticking time bomb, and the $60,000,000,000,000 (global public debt)2http://www.economist.com/content/global_debt_clock/ question is: “When does it explode?”

The truth is that we don’t know if, how, or when the bubble will burst.

Reason to Worry

But according to the authors of the Ecology and Society study, we should be worried. Their findings show that 20 of the 27 key resources for human survival peaked within the 50-year period ending in 2010.

The fact that so much of our food supply peaked within the same time frame makes sense at an intuitive level. Growing food with current industrial processes requires adequate water and fertile land suited to maneuvering large equipment. When we run out of fertile land, we develop undesirable land by leveling or clearing the earth, adding synthetic fertilizer, and pumping in water for irrigation. That works until we exhaust our water stores and deplete easily accessible nitrogen sources.

As land, water, and fertilizer become less available, the natural result is that food production declines, prices go up, and distribution gets contentious.

Those of us fortunate enough to live in wealthy countries like the United States have been insulated from most of the deprivations of peak food.

  • But if you live in rural Mexico, you probably already know what a 733% increase in the cost of a staple like tortillas feels like.
  • Or if you’ve lived in parts of Venezuela in the last few years, you know what it’s like to go to the grocery store and find the shelves inexplicably empty.
  • In India, farming-related debt is so high and weather events are destroying crops so frequently that suicide among farmers has reached epidemic levels.

These are just a few examples of peak-food-related issues already occurring around the world.

According to the USDA’s Agricultural Projections through 2022,3https://www.usda.gov/oce/commodity/projections/USDAAgriculturalProjections2022.pdf “Although agricultural prices decline in the near term, continued growth in global demand for agricultural products holds prices at historically high levels.” This means that for those of us who live in the United States, Japan, or the EU, our days of food cost stability are numbered as developing countries are expected to outpace us on demand, economic growth, and strength of currency in international markets.

Additionally, the USDA’s Food Price Outlook, 2017-20184https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-price-outlook/summary-findings/ for the U.S. indicates that the most notable inflation increases in food have occurred, and will continue to occur, around the perimeter of the grocery store.

The Rise and Fall of Peak Nutrition

Poultry, dairy, eggs, seafood, and fresh fruits—the most nutritious foods available—are becoming less affordable, and this is expected to get much worse.

In response to price increases, such as the market price of beef going up 10 percent in two years in the U.S., consumers have already diverted their budgets from nutrient-dense natural foods to prepackaged, high-calorie foods, which tend to be less nutritious.

Just as it makes intuitive sense that peak food would follow quickly on the heels of peak land, we can also assume that trading fresh, healthy foods for processed foods to make ends meet will lead to peak nutrition—after which our collective public health will begin to accelerate in its decline.

So, is there anything we can do to change our food future?

In light of their disturbing findings regarding synchronous peak production, the authors of the Ecology and Society study suggest that we need a “paradigm shift” in our use of resources if we are going to be able to adapt to our post-peak realities.

That seems like a polite way of saying, “we need to radically alter our methods for growing and distributing food, or we’re in big trouble.”

Finding Answers

The good news is that you, I, and other members of The Grow Network community are already starting to work on this. The peak calculations were based on data from the 2013 FAO Statistical Yearbook5http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3107e/i3107e00.htm. That report includes figures reported by international governments like Gross Domestic Product, and is dependent on financial information provided in tax returns and financial statements.

All the home-scale food growing taking place around the world is not included in determining these peak food calculations.

The study also does not take into consideration the black markets and barter markets that are already prevalent throughout much of the world, and may be used by two-thirds of the world’s population by 2020.

Unfortunately, for the same reasons that these data are not included in peak calculations, it is impossible to determine how much of an impact home food growers, barter economies, and black markets are making in relation to peak food.

Anecdotally, though, we know that there has been increased interest in home-based food production:

  • Just look at the number of self-sufficiency publications showing up on supermarket and bookstore shelves over the last ten years.
  • The number of farmers’ markets have increased by nearly 500% over the last 23 years, according to the USDA.6https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/NationalCountofFMDirectory17.JPG
  • There’s been an explosion in intensive growing practices—raised beds, vertical gardening, companion planting, permaculture, aquaponics—methods that use significantly less inputs than industrial agriculture while producing a superior product with excellent yields.
  • The Obamas put a garden on the White House lawn, and Oprah started a farm in Maui.

These are all positive signs that a transition to more sustainable food-growing processes is already under way.

A 3-Step Solution

Taking a closer look at the details reveals that our current “peak food” problem is really more of a “peak industrial farming” problem.

What the Ecology and Society study makes absolutely clear is that we cannot feed the world using only industrial farming methods because they depend on resources that have peaked, or will peak, in the near future—such as constant nitrogen inputs, spray irrigation, and mono-cropping on cleared land.

However, we can continue to improve our outlook with regard to peak food by choosing to support a few clear, actionable solutions:

1) Diversifying What We Grow
2) Reintegrating Local Farming Into Our Communities
3) Supporting Community Food Security

Let’s take a closer look at these solutions…

#1. Diversifying What We Grow

sweet-potato-vinesThe fact that our key resources list can be narrowed down to just 27 items that include corn and sugarcane is both an indictment of our modern diet, and a mandate for change.

The Case for Corn

Corn, for example, could be an excellent “calorie crop,” meaning that it has the potential to provide a high calorie-per-acre yield. It has culinary versatility: corn bread, polenta, grits, tortillas, eaten on the cob and off the cob, popcorn, and as a supplemental feed for poultry and pigs.

But less than 1 percent of peak corn grown today actually makes it to your table directly. The rest is inedible for humans as it is grown specifically to go into our cars as ethanol or to be used as feed for livestock like cows, which would never touch it if they tripped over it in the pasture. A good portion of the corn used in our human food supply is corn syrup that is arguably a leading contributor to epidemic rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Fields of monoculture corn swaying in the wind might even seem pretty—but don’t walk barefoot in those fields because they are loaded with toxic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that require protective gear to apply.

For the home grower, corn can be a fun food to grow as part of a balanced diet, if you have the space. You need to grow enough corn stalks for good cross-pollination or you need to hand-pollinate, and you have to take some extra precautions to prevent contamination from cross-pollination if you want to save your seeds.

But an even better option is to focus on more nutritious foods that don’t make the peak list.

Think about cabbage, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and winter squash. These are also versatile in soups, sauces, and pies, and they can be mashed, added to breads and pasta, roasted, and fried. Pumpkin and squash take space to grow, but there is no reason that they can’t be grown in vertical space. There are compact varieties of sweet potatoes like Bunch Porto Rico that can be grown in containers. These alternative calorie crops also store well without additional processing and they are relatively high in nutritional density, according to the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index.7https://www.drfuhrman.com/learn/library/articles/95/andi-food-scores-rating-the-nutrient-density-of-foods

Mix these alternative calorie crops up with a long list of other highly nutritious foods that you can easily grow at home or pick up at your local farmers market, such as tomatoes, chard, beets, turnips, arugula, watercress, lettuce, and you will be on your way to post-peak food health and happiness.

A Not-So-Sweet Staple

Now for a not-so-sweet subject: sugar. Sugar is a staple of our diets … really?!

Why is something that significantly increases our chances of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease (according to the American Heart Association) a resource considered necessary to our survival? Sure, it’s got calories, but they are non-nutritive.

If you consume your calories as sugar, you must either overconsume other foods to make up the nutritive difference, or run a nutritive deficit. Both roads lead to poor health.

Currently, roughly 898,000 acres of sugarcane and sugar beets are grown commercially in the U.S. alone. That amount of land, replanted using intensive farming methods, could grow enough healthy vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy products to feed 400,000 people a healthy, balanced diet.

If you’ve got an incurable sweet tooth, how about satisfying it with a source that takes almost no land to produce, is good for you, and the production of which actually increases crop productivity in the immediate area? This is not some manufactured miracle sweetener that we will later discover causes cancer. It’s the oldest known sweetener on the planet, so revered at one time that the pharaohs of ancient Egypt were buried with it in their tombs, while indigenous communities risked life and limb to extract it.

Of course, you guessed it: The miracle sugar alternative is raw honey.

Raw honey is loaded with good nutrition. It may also help reduce the intensity of seasonal allergies, which are expected to increase in length and severity as a result of climate change, resulting in greater losses in productivity. Keeping bees near your garden increases pollination rates and raises yields. Since every third bite of food we eat requires insect pollination, and most of this is done by honey bees, adding honey to our key resource list makes much more sense than sugar.

If you want to keep your own bees, try a top-bar hive. You can make it out of scrap materials and it does not require expensive extraction equipment. If you can’t keep bees, buy raw honey from your local beekeepers to encourage more beekeeping activity that benefits our entire food supply.

stevia-growing-in-herb-gardenOr how about growing stevia? Stevia is an acquired taste, but once you adjust your palate, it becomes a viable alternative to sugar in beverages.

The leaves have negligible calories and can be boiled with teas and iced to make a sweet-tasting soda alternative. You can grow stevia from seeds obtained from a reputable supplier or you can grow it from cuttings. The plants do well in containers and can overwinter indoors in zones 7 and below with adequate light. When you harvest leaves by trimming the plants between leaf segments, similarly to how you harvest basil, the plants will become bushier and even more productive.

Corn and sugar are easy targets because there are delicious, available alternatives. But there are endless ways to diversify your diet:

  • Swap rice for bulgur, quinoa, lentils, or split peas.
  • Try goat or duck as a beef substitute.
  • Use buckwheat and amaranth flour instead of wheat.
  • Substitute sunflower seed meat for almonds.

Study your shopping list, identify the things you buy regularly, and then seek substitutes that can be grown in your community. You may be surprised at how much variety is available when you make the effort to look for it.

#2. Reintegrating Local Farming into our Communities

peak-chicken-peak-eggs-fullThe expression “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” has never had more relevance than it does right now.

Checking Into Chicken

Chickens are fairly easy to raise at the home scale and they add fun and beauty to a landscape, so if you are seriously thinking about raising a backyard flock, now might be a good time to start. Make sure you know your LORE (laws, ordinances, rights, and entitlements) before taking the plunge. Also, talk to chicken owners you trust or do research to determine best practices in buying and keeping chickens in your area.

If it’s against the “LORE” for you to keep backyard chickens or you don’t have the space, how about rallying your community to turn underutilized common areas onto vegetable gardens and raise egg chickens or egg ducks there? Not only does this concept make common space meaningful again by doing something productive with it, but it can create opportunities for new farmers to enter the profession, and opportunities for residential “lawnscapers” to become organic “foodscapers.”

baby-ducks-and-chickensLaying Off Lawns

And this leads us to another method for countering peak food—let’s overcome our lawn addiction. North Americans devote 40,000 square miles of prime growing land to lawns.8https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/edible-ground-covers That is more land than we use to grow wheat or corn, it requires half the American residential water supply to grow, and it uses heavy doses of post-peak nitrogen and chemical products that end up soiling our waterways.

In the era of peak food, we really need to kick our lawn habit to the curb.

If you are a DIY type and you already take care of your lawn and landscaping, swap your holly hedge for blueberry bushes, replace flowers with flowering herbs, grow veggies anywhere you currently grow annuals, or build raised beds right over your lawn. Fruit trees like paw paw, jujube, Asian pear, mulberry, and elderberry are less needy than many ornamental trees like dogwood or flowering cherry, so use those as your starting points for planting a “foodscape.”

Surround the trees with a living mulch of Russian comfrey and borage. As the trees grow, prune them for good airflow and a less dense shade profile so you can grow shade-tolerant spinach, lettuce, and peas under the trees. If you have good southern exposure in front of your trees, plant fruit bushes there, plus herbs like chives, lemon balm, and mint to attract beneficial insects. You can also vine grapes up the trunks, making use of that vertical space.

herb-spiral-for-microclimatesIf you are not the DIY type and you spend on lawnscaping, reallocate your budget toward foodscaping to support a new generation of growers.

Many professional farmers and landscapers are excellent machine operators, soil scientists, irrigation experts, and pesticide applicators. But they may not have the expertise to grow a variety of foods without the aid of heavy equipment or purchased fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.

To beat peak food and take advantage of prime growing land located within our populated communities, we need more small-scale farmers and growers skilled in controlling pests without chemicals, adding fertility with organic inputs produced onsite, minimizing water usage through smart planting, and applying intensive planting methods to increase food production.

There are plenty of people who want to do this, but we need to create the economic opportunities for them to be able to make a living at it.

To get started, talk to your current landscaper about having them do the work for you. If they don’t have the skills and they aren’t willing to gain them, talk to your local agricultural or gardening extension office, farming schools, vendors at farmers markets, or nearby permaculture schools to find people who are able to help you.

To keep costs low, you can make agreements to let student farmers sell surplus crops and keep the profit in exchange for doing the work. There are also a lot of budding permaculturists who offer their consulting services at discounted rates to develop their resumes and client bases.

Finding ways to grow food in our homes and neighborhoods should be a priority for anyone concerned about peak food.

#3. Supporting Community Food Security

Planting food instead of lawns not only increases food production, but also raises awareness of the importance of doing so. A surprising number of people are not even aware of the issues surrounding peak food. An even more surprising number of people are aware of some of these issues but feel powerless to do anything about them.

By bringing food growing to the forefront of our daily lives, we create opportunities to share our knowledge and help others collaborate with us. Our window of opportunity to beat peak food gets smaller the longer we wait and as weather becomes more erratic and resources less available, so the sooner we spread the news and help others get involved, the more impact we can have.

If you have any doubts about the urgency of building food communities, look to China for guidance. The Chinese government has encouraged its food corporations, through loans and preferential economic policy, to purchase and accumulate companies from around the world that grow and process food products (e.g., Smithfield Foods). This is part of a concerted effort to ensure food security for China’s growing population. And, it might be a wise policy given the reality of peak industrial food.

Yet not all governments are this proactive, and even when food is stockpiled or production is secured, distribution systems may not be fully developed. Also, goods may be distributed with preference for specific populations, like wealthy cities and wealthy citizens.

Realistically, unlike the Chinese government, most of us here don’t have $5 billion to buy up 25% of the pork production in the U.S. “just in case.” But most of us do have some kind of grocery budget and/or a food-growing system in place. Instead of spending our money and resources to support a post-peak industrial food system, we need to redirect our efforts toward local and sustainable food-growing activities.

Home growers can set up food-swapping networks with other growers to exchange products and increase diversity. Non-growers can take their food budgets to the farmers’ market and buy direct from local producers, or pick up weekly baskets from a local CSA. Greater demand for local food means more local growers. More local growers means more food security when declining industrial farms can no longer meet the food needs of a growing population.

We can adapt our eating and growing habits, and make the paradigm shift required to overcome peak food, if we acknowledge the problem and meet the challenges individually, and in our home communities, through thoughtful effort.

We can reach critical mass and cause real change in our society.

But the clock is ticking….

 

 

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

(This is an updated version of a post originally published August 14, 2015.)

References   [ + ]

1. https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss4/art50/
2. http://www.economist.com/content/global_debt_clock/
3. https://www.usda.gov/oce/commodity/projections/USDAAgriculturalProjections2022.pdf
4. https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-price-outlook/summary-findings/
5. http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3107e/i3107e00.htm
6. https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/NationalCountofFMDirectory17.JPG
7. https://www.drfuhrman.com/learn/library/articles/95/andi-food-scores-rating-the-nutrient-density-of-foods
8. https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/edible-ground-covers

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Eating Bugs and Offal

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Eating Bugs and Offal Micheal Kline “Reality Check” Audio player below This show might make you queasy.   If you are squeamish you might not like this one, but it’s a subject that needs to be covered and something you might benefit from. So why talk about this?  Why bother? Listen to this broadcast or download … Continue reading Eating Bugs and Offal

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3 Forgotten Ways The Pioneers Built Fires Without Wood

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3 Forgotten Ways The Pioneers Made Fires Without Wood

Image source: Library of Congress

I’m fortunate to call the windswept prairie of the Great Plains my home. If you get out of farm country, it’s just grass as far as you can see. In fact, there are still places nearly unchanged since pioneers first tried settling this area more than 100 years ago.

Although quiet and expansive, there are real challenges to living in the plains. This rings especially true for a person who pursues knowledge in woodcraft. One of the biggest barriers to settling the plains was the lack of timber. Historically, people all around the world have overwhelmingly depended on wood as a natural construction material. The lack of trees on the prairie was one of the biggest obstacles pioneers faced when they looked into the Great American Desert. Wood was, and is, such a central part of our life, especially when forging a living from the land. Lack of timber seemed to make settlement nearly impossible.

While most Americans during the mid-19th century looked at the prairie as an inhospitable land, there were already people living happily in this treeless expanse. An array of Native American societies were established, each developing strategies for living a life that depend on wood as little as possible. Adventurous mountain men and explorers had also learned these lessons the hard way. They, too, knew how to survive in a land devoid of such a pivotal resource. One thing everyone on the plains had to know was how to build a fire without using wood as a fire fuel.

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Even today, we can take a page from their book and remember there are other excellent fire fuels besides wood. Here are three examples of resources you can burn when heavy timber may be in short supply:

1. Buffalo chips/cattle manure

Buffalo chips is a reference to the dried manure of buffalo that once dotted our grasslands. Once dubbed as “Plains oak”, buffalo chips were widely used as fire fuel for generations on the plains. When cattle were brought north, their manure also was collected for the same purpose. Both sources were a very common source of fuel, and actually offered several advantages to wood fires. For starters, in such a dry environment, buffalo chips don’t throw sparks like wood fires tend to do. Manure fuels smolder more than they actually burn. The smoldering actually helps control the fire, rather than constantly setting the prairie ablaze.

3 Forgotten Ways The Pioneers Made Fires Without Wood

Image source: Pixabay.com

This smoldering characteristic also made buffalo chips ideal for burning in tipis and other natural shelters. Another advantage of using a fuel “cut by the cows” was the saved labor. Rather than spending hours cutting and splitting wood, people living on the plains simply gathered and stacked the chips. In a region so difficult to make a living, this saved labor would have been nice.

2. Woody shrubs

Although there is a lack of trees on the Great Plains, there are locations with an abundance of woody shrubs. Most prolific in my area are sagebrush and yucca. At times, these sources of fuel came in especially handy. One mountain man, Osborne Russell, kept a journal of his experience depending on sagebrush for fire.

Russell and a few companion’s horses had been run off, and the group was on foot. Back in those days, being afoot on the prairie was akin to a death sentence. They headed for an army fort they that lay across a sagebrush sea more than a week’s march. While making their way across the barren land, they carried little more than their rifles and basic gear. No blankets, no food, and none of the small comforts their rough lives knew. As they traveled, they shot buffalo when they came upon them and used the hides to sleep on. While caught in his sagebrush sea, a mix of rain and snow moved in upon the group. Russell’s account of the incident leaves no debate that the trip was miserable. After many, many cold and wet miles, the group finally safely walked into an army fort and survived the ordeal.

Along the way, though, the group needed to build a fire each day. With no wood in sight, they turned to a nearly endless source of fuel in the sagebrush. Russell noted that at times these fires consisted of no fuel larger than thumb size. Needless to say, it kept them alive in poor conditions.

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Sage and other woody shrubs should not be overlooked for their potential as a fuel source. As with buffalo chips, small shrubs offer the advantage of keeping a fire small. Again, in a place that is so dry and windy, keeping your fire small is important. An old mountain man adage was “the bigger the fire, the bigger the fool.” By keeping the fire small, they not only limited the chance of spreading fire, but they saved labor and decreased their chances of being seen by those who meant to do them harm.

3. Animal fat

A final alternative fire fuel people utilized is animal fat. In the past, animals like bear provided not only meat for the larder, but fire fuel, such as for burning lamps. If the pioneers or Native Americans happened to be in an area devoid of animal manure or shrubs, fat would have been a viable option.

In my own experience, I’ve used raccoon fat as a fuel source while building a campfire. I can testify to its ability to put out some heat. A word of caution, though: Unlike the previously mentioned fuels, fat burns extremely hot and very fast. Just toss a bit of raccoon fat on the fire and step back. It is best used in small amounts; otherwise your fire could easily get out of control. Have a bucket of dirt on hand. (With a grease fire, water only would heighten the problem.)

Do you have any fire-starting advice? Share your tips in the section below:

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The Cheap, Easy-To-Make Survival Lamp Your Great-Grandparents Used

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The Cheap, Easy-To-Make Survival Lamp Your Great-Grandparents Used

Imagine you are sitting in a log cabin, or perhaps hunkered down in a lean-to or some other makeshift shelter in the woods. It’s dark, and you’d like more light than your fire provides so you can do some chores.

Maybe you are mending your socks, or sewing a button back in place, enjoying a meal, or just trying to do a little reading before bed. Or maybe you are in a survival situation, and have lost modern means of lighting, or the grid has gone down, and your rural homestead still needs lighting. Or maybe you just like the tools and skills of the past. Either way, it’s dark and you want some light. There are a number of traditional means of lighting your home or shelter, ranging from kerosene lamps, to wax or tallow candles, to the often-forgotten tallow lamp.

Illumination through combustion was the first way our ancestors fought off the darkness, starting with fires and torches, and reaching a point of refinement with pressurized white gas and propane before the electric light won out in the end.

Until petroleum refining took off in the mid-19th century, natural fats and oils provided that illumination. In the Middle East, olive oil was a popular illuminating oil, and at one time, whale oil lit the homes of the well-to-do and wealthy in Europe and America. However, by and large for the common person, candles provided that light. But hunters, natives and the very poor knew of another light that could be as simple as placing melted tallow (a rendered form of fat) in a shallow dish and setting it alight, or using a bit of cloth or porous fiber, string, twine, etc., to serve as a wick. It is a traditional method of lighting that has existed for thousands of years.

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These very simple lights can be made from material readily found in the wilderness, and a tablespoon or so of tallow has been shown to provide useful light for about 45 minutes, making it perfect for working on evening tasks before bed, or even just a few minutes with your Bible or another book. Like all simple tools, the tallow lamp can seem more complex than it really is to our modern mind, so let’s take a look at a common way of making them.

Seashells were one way of holding the tallow, but you also could do it with a piece of bark, a stone with a hollow in it, a small dish, or really anything capable of holding the tallow. For a wick, an inch or two of simple string or twine will suffice, as will a strip of scrap cloth.

Melt the tallow and pour it around your wick (it can be laying sideways if needed), or even press unmelted tallow or fat around the wick. You also can run the wick through a button that will hold it upright in the pool of tallow (a so-called button lamp) and make it a bit more efficient.

What you get with just a minute or two of work is a crude, but effective, lamp. This would not be suitable as your primary lighting source unless you had no other choice, but it becomes invaluable for the stranded hunter or in a total societal collapse. (It’s a great way to use up rancid or heavily used cooking fats, though.)

One of the biggest drawbacks to the tallow lamp, aside from the low levels of light it produces and the fact that it is both smoky and can put out an odor, is that it demands the use of edible fats. You can make lamps along these lines with any kind of natural oil, and as we all know (or should know) fats are very important in a survival situation. Fat consumption provides valuable caloric energy, so this puts tallow lamps strictly in the realm of something to use when you have a sufficient fat supply.

Making tallow lamps isn’t hard. While they are not the greatest source of light, they are more than sufficient for personal use, and are a useful tool when you have no other source of light.

Have you ever made a tallow lamp? Share your tips in the section below:

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Fall Food Preservation!

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Fall Food Preservation James Walton “I Am Liberty” Listen to this show in player below! That smell is in the Its also getting colder, bacteria, flies and the like are getting slower and less prolific. On the East coast Fall is an incredible time of the year with apples to be picked, cider to be had … Continue reading Fall Food Preservation!

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Everything You’ve Heard About Drinking Whole Milk Is Wrong

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Everything You've Heard About Drinking Whole Milk Is Wrong

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Skim. Low fat. Two percent. One percent. What type of milk do you choose for your family? If you are like most Americans, you steer clear of whole milk, believing that it contains too much fat and calories.

Since the early 1970s, whole milk has been criticized by scientists and nutritionists for its high content in saturated fats, which have been believed to lead to weight gain, and because of its high LDL level (or bad cholesterol level), which has been thought to contribute to heart disease.

According to the USDA, sales of whole fat milk sales decreased by more than 60 percent between 1975 and 2014. During the same period, on the other hand, sales of 2 percent milk increased by almost 106 percent, and sales of 1 percent and skim milk soared by about 170 percent and 156 percent, respectively.

Some critics have called a glass of whole milk no better than a glass of liquid fat. Others have said that whole milk consumption can be a contributing factor to the onset of diabetes.

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However, recent studies are showing that we have been sold a bill of goods where whole milk is concerned, and that drinking whole milk actually may be better for you than drinking low fat or non-fat milk. Here’s one reason: The fat content in milk helps bind its other ingredients, such as calcium and vitamins, so that the body can absorb them more efficiently, studies show.

A recent article published in the European Journal of Nutrition reported that people who consume full-fat dairy products, including whole milk, are not more likely to develop heart disease and type 2 diabetes than people who consume low-fat dairy products.

Dr. Mario Kratz, first author of the study review and a nutrition scientist at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, reviewed 25 studies for the published research. In a press release accompanying the review, he reported that none of the research suggested that low-fat dairy is healthier or is better for humans in terms of obesity.

Everything You've Heard About Drinking Whole Milk Is Wrong

Image source: flickr

A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care in 2013 reviewed the dairy consumption and obesity rates of about 1,500 middle-aged and senior adults. It found that those people who frequently consumed full-fat dairy products had lower obesity rates than those who consumed low-fat dairy products.

How is it that a food with more calories can be better for maintaining a healthy weight? The answer lies in the fact that not all calories are the same. Kratz and his team theorized that the fatty acids in whole dairy products help you stay fuller longer and thus eat less in the long run. Dairy fat may also help the body regulate hormones and help your body burn energy.

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United States commercial dairies process milk of all fat contents similarly. The cream is separated from the whey. With the exception of skim milk, the cream is then added back in. Low-fat milk contains 1 percent or 2 percent fat, and whole milk contains 3.25 percent fat. (Of course, if you drink raw milk, you don’t have to worry about that.)

Not surprisingly, the taste of low fat and skim milk is less rich and creamy than low fat varieties Frequently, dairies add flavors to low-fat and skim milk to make up for the loss of taste when the fat is removed. In those cases, the sugar content can increase by as much as 14g per eight ounce serving.

Whole milk contains fewer carbohydrates than low fat or skim milk because more of its volume contains fat. Whole milk also contains slightly less protein than low fat or nonfat options.

Recent research also shows that the saturated fats in whole milk may protect against certain diseases and are not associated with heart disease as previously thought.

If are concerned about the use of growth hormones or antibiotics in commercial dairies, check out organic milk options at your grocery store. You also could consider purchasing your cow’s milk straight from a dairy farmer whose cows are raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics.

Scientific recommendations vary on how much milk we should drink on a daily basis. The Harvard School of Public Health, for instance, recommends consuming one or two servings a day of milk and dairy products. On the other hand, the International Food Information Council’s latest dietary guidelines suggest three servings of milk, or of an equivalent dairy product per day.

How much milk you should drink each day may be unclear, but it does appear that drinking whole milk is something you can put back into your diet in moderation without any misgivings.

Do you believe whole milk is healthy? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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Here’s How To Make Lard, The Easy Way

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Here's How To Make Lard, The Easy WayGrowing up on the farm we made lard in an iron kettle over an open fire. That’s the old-fashioned way to melt pig fat. You had to watch it constantly and keep the fire hot. Too hot and you would scorch the lard, too cool and the fat wouldn’t melt.

I make much smaller quantities today, and it’s simple and easy thanks to my good old crock pot.

Where Find Lard

If you are not on a farm, you can find lard at many butcher shops or small processing plants. Of course, you can also have the butcher save the fat from your own pig if you have one slaughtered and packaged. Ask them to separate the leaf lard from the rest, as you will want to render it by itself. (Render is the proper name for melting pig fat)

Leaf lard is the highest-grade fat from around the kidneys and the inside of the loins. It is used mainly for baking, as it has little or no pork flavor.

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The rest of your lard will be from the fatback and trimmings that the butcher has left over when cutting and packaging your pork.

How to Make it

Here's How To Make Lard, The Easy WayStart out by cutting all the fat into similar-size chunks. This will help ensure the fat all melts down at about the same rate and aids in stirring the fat as it renders down.

Put about half of a cup of water in your crock pot or slow cooker. This keeps the fat from scorching until enough of it melts to replace the water. The water will evaporate off by the time you are done.

Turn the crock pot on medium to high, add the chunked-up fat to the water, and place the lid on top. You can expect it to take around eight hours if you get your crock pot just hot enough to melt the fat and not much hotter. Getting the temperature too high can result in scorching or burning the fat, which gives it a burnt taste and dark color – not what you want!

Stir the fat occasionally as it renders, which will help you determine if it’s getting too hot and aid in breaking up the small bits of meat, etc. that will not melt.

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When the lard is about done, you will notice that it has stopped melting and you have only smaller brown pieces much like curds. If the skin were left on the pig, this would be cracklings. Growing up on the farm, we always left the skin on the pig so it meant straining the lard and pressing these cracklings in a lard press.

Here's How To Make Lard, The Easy Way

Lard, prior to it cooling.

Almost all pigs today are skinned, so what you have left after the fat renders completely can be strained off and fed to the birds, chickens or thrown away.

I use a small strainer that fits a quart Mason jar and cut a small piece of cheesecloth to fit the bottom of the strainer. This ensures nice, clean lard, although if you do have a bit of material get through, it will settle out if you let the lard solidify at room temperature.

Once the lard has rendered down, simply pour through the strainer into clean containers and allow to cool. I prefer to use glass jars. Once the lard is cooled down, refrigerate it. You should freeze it if you are going to keep it for the long-term.

This method of making lard is easy and can be completed while doing other things. Just make sure to check it often in the beginning to make sure it’s not getting too hot.

All that’s left is to enjoy your lard for cooking some delicious food and baked goods!

What advice would you add for making lard? Share your tips in the section below:

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How To Make Garlic Pan Bread On A Campfire

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Pan breads are quick and easy to make, adding a great element to your camping menus. The are delicious, punching above their weight in terms of flavour. They are also both filling and calorific, providing not just…

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