One Person’s Garbage…

Those of you who follow this blog know of my love of volunteering; I only discovered the joy in doing so once I retired but in those few years volunteering has become a staple in my existence.  I do so love the ‘warm’ feeling I get from engaging in efforts which I know will directly assist other people but the real beauty is how much more I get out of my actions than I invest!  As such volunteering for me is a true ‘win-win’ situation.  My first love was working with elderly dementia victims; this was brought about by regularly visiting my mother as she slowly succumbed to the horrific ravages of that wicked disease Alzheimer’s.  In hindsight it’s a miracle I even tried this work as I had no formal training and as so many who knew me across the decades pointed out I did not suffer fools gladly.  But for some reason I found the patience and especially the empathy to enjoy working with such folks.  Herein lies another wonder of volunteering; it caused me to really push my comfort zone and try things I never would have thought of doing.  This same situation is reflected in the volunteering I do at the local radio station (KTNA 88.9 MHz/ktna.org); as a young child I spent years in speech therapy and was never comfortable speaking in front of other people.  Yet now I handle the Friday evening newscasts and host a music show on Monday evenings.  Volunteering has also proven to be a well-spring for developing new friends and acquaintances; this was essential as when I relocated to the outskirts of Talkeetna I knew no one.

While I enjoy my KTNA efforts they are largely something I do because I enjoy live radio although I know it also helps out KTNA by filling air time with local broadcasting and the station is the only source of timely news, weather, announcements and local information for the upper Susitna Valley.  The work I currently do that really nourishes my spirit involves volunteering with the Upper Susitna Food Pantry (aka ‘the Pantry’).  By investing just a few hours a week I know that I am helping insure that local families and individuals are getting more nutritious meals and in some cases even meals at all.  Most of my time involves driving to specific warehouses (those that handle receiving ‘Food Bank of Alaska’ donations) in Palmer and Anchorage to sort through donated food stuffs, load up my vehicle and haul my load back to the Pantry where it’s cataloged and then distributed.  I truly enjoy interacting with the representatives from the other 10 to 12 food charities in the Mat-Su Valley.  We meet at these warehouses on specific dates just in advance of an arriving semi loaded with donated foods.  We then divvy up the food, get it segregated and weighed by group, assist each other in loading our vehicles and haul our loads.  The folks are really great people and I really love just interacting with them.

The ‘Food Bank of Alaska’ does a great job in collecting a variety of foods and getting them to these locations where generally they are completely utilized by the charities.  But sometimes there are remnants and sadly many times they go to the dumpster or refuse collection point.  It breaks my heart to see perfectly edible food being just thrown away.  The food we see is completely edible but sometimes has cosmetic defects – mainly fresh produce – or has passed its shelf life.  As such it’s deemed ‘donate only’ although it’s still completely safe to consume.  Having spent twelve years in food manufacturing and food R&D as well as obtaining a BS from Michigan State University in Food Science I understand the potential liabilities with such food products most of which we can thank the damn trial lawyers for exacerbating.  But as a culture we have some very ‘unrealistic’ concepts regarding what is edible and what is not; it’s these concepts which cause us to be so wasteful.  Because of my background and experience I know the general costs associated with most food groups; this goes far beyond what the foods might fetch on the open market.  So when I see a pallet of bananas destined to be dumped because they are brown and a bit ripe I recognize we are truly wasting good food.  I’m not suggesting we learn to eat ‘green’ meat or fuzzy bread but certainly could eat much of what we currently deem as garbage.  The aforementioned brown bananas can be frozen and then used in bakery products or in drinks.  People often throw cheese out when it shows a bit of mold yet with a sharp knife on can easily remove the mold and a bit of the cheese as well such that the mycelium and similar contaminants are separated from the otherwise perfectly acceptable food.  One should also remember many cheeses would not exist were it not for molds and their actions.  I could go on and on but you get my drift.

The United States literally does feed much of the world and as such we are in a unique position to be able to begin to affect changes in our own cultural beliefs regarding what is edible.  For so long we’ve been so rich that it was viewed as almost our ‘right’ to waste food but such times are coming to and end.  As the earth’s population continues to increase there are more and more mouths to feed but we continue to deplete our soil base and have to turn to ‘mega-farming’ to economically continue to crank out huge quantities of basic food stuffs.  Over the long haul such practices are most likely unsustainable; they will be further negatively impacted by climate changes.  Now is the time for we Americans to begin to really recognize that our gift of fertile lands, copious water sources and farming technology is not without limits and we must work to better live within these limits.  On a longer term I can see where currently unacceptable food sources will have to be utilized; insects as a source of protein is just one of these sources.  To most Americans the thought of consuming ‘bugs’ engenders feelings of disgust but it’s amazing what hunger will do to one’s perspective regarding food.  If in doubt just talk to someone who has spent five days in the wild with only the clothes on their back!

Currently our difficulties in feeding our own people stem mainly from distribution issues and can be solved.  But we will soon face honest food shortages if we continue on our current path.  It really is time to reassess what we as a culture deem to be unacceptable for consumption as food; all too often what we view as ‘garbage’ would gladly be accepted as wholesome food by others.  So allowing such foods to simply go to waste is unacceptable.  We need to learn from those around us who are more than willing to consume what we currently term as ‘refuse’; it’s a simple case of one person’s garbage being another person’s treasure..!

A Helpless America..???

I’m going to change the focus of this blog with this piece although it does have ties to learning to live successfully in south central Alaska.  A buddy of mine who blogs on this site recently posted some thoughts about the uncivilized behavior in large SE cities tied to the approach of another winter storm.  I completely agree with his thoughts and observations but wanted to take some of the reflections a bit further.  Like Pete I was shocked to see and read about the uncivilized behavior in some SE cities regarding ‘runs’ on grocery stores to grab food before the predicted storms arrive.  I saw similar when I lived just north of Cincinnati; when NWS would predict just four inches of snow the days leading up to the storm would see long lines in groceries, full grocery store parking lots and short stocks of many items.  Although I grew up in Michigan I can relate to the southerners not wanting to have to drive once the storms hit.  Up north we always laughed at their inability to negotiate just a few inches of snow; however, once I experienced a few of these storms I understood the issues.  Said storms almost always start with ice and then sometimes change over to snow.  I’d dare even the most savvy northern driver to safely navigate two to four inches of snow atop a glaze of ice!  And these cities are not equipped to handle such storms with respect to salting, sanding and plowing.

But my issues don’t center on this situation but rather the entire concept that people seem ‘driven’ to clear out groceries in the event of an approaching storm.  Are so many folks literally living day by day purchasing the food they need for each meal just prior to when they need it..?!?!?  My sense is ‘no’!  Virtually all of use have refrigeration and I’d wager most fridges have at least some food items in them; if not why are people paying for the electricity to operate them?  In addition I’d bet most people have at minimum a few cans of soup, some rice or pasta, some cans of fruit and vegetables along with maybe some cans of meat or fish and additional food like peanut butter, oatmeal, bread, crackers and similar.  If you have even just some of the aforementioned you have food for days if not longer!!  Sure, it may not be up to the standards you’ve become accustomed to enjoying but it’s not like you’d be eating garbage, either!  I’d wager half the world would kill to be eating that type of cuisine on a daily basis.  While mixing a can of tomato soup with some rice and adding some cheese may not be gourmet fare its solid, sustaining food.

And in the final analysis, let’s get real here; the average human can last for at least two weeks and probably three to four without food…period.  Sure, it’s not comfortable and one does run out of energy and struggles with other effects after maybe five days of starvation but it’s not completely debilitating.  So having to subsist on just Mac and Cheese or pasta and mushroom soup or peanut butter on bread is hardly the end of the world.  So just what drives people to run and strip stores bare with the approach of a winter storm..?  I suspect at least part of the mania is fed by the lame-stream media hyping the approaching conditions and ‘we the people’ being willing to let them lead us around by the nose instead of thinking clearly and critically about the event.  The worst of these winter storms ‘paralyzes’ a large SE city for no more than five days and generally for less time; as I stated any of us can easily go five days without any food.  So why the mass rush on food and supplies?  Sadly I’m sure some of it is because as a people we Americans have become wimps with little ability to actually care for our basic needs.  I see two facets to this group:  1) those who are so used to be given things they have no ability to truly understand what they require to survive, and 2) those who only know how to survive using a high degree of technology.  I know a lot of folks in the latter category; if they cannot pull a processed meal from the freezer and pop it into the microwave they are helpless regarding preparing a meal.  And, yes, I was once in this category myself long ago; sadly many males remain so even at advanced ages.  Obviously things had to change when I moved to rural south central Alaska because the closest grocery of any size is 60 plus miles to the south; however, I have been self-reliant regarding my meals and all ‘domestic’ chores since my middle twenties.  I only needed to step up my preparations by a notch or two after relocating up here.  No, I do not hunt for my food but if I was forced to do so I could and I also know how to butcher wildlife if I was forced into doing so to eat.  Sadly I’d bet I’m in the 1% of American males being able to make such a claim…

Those in the former category are largely products of the ‘nanny state’ and showcase all that’s bad about cultivating such a system.  Yes, there are folks in this group that have seen truly horrific times and are just using the system to regain their ‘footing’ such that they can move ahead; for them I gladly give up my taxes that support such functions.  But there are many who just subsist on handouts and would be completely incapable of surviving without a government supplying them with food, drink, a roof over their heads and the like.  These people are ill-equipped to survive large-scale disasters of any kind because once their handouts are gone they lack skills to allow them to fend for themselves; after all, the government has always been there to prop them up.

This is something all Americans should reflect upon as I believe it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’ the country will face a truly massive disaster that quickly overwhelms all government assistance.  Iran is known to be test firing intermediate range missiles from the decks of ships; now imagine if they could put even a modest sized nuclear warhead on such a ship based missile.  It would be child’s play to sail the vessel to American coastal waters and launch the missile such that it detonated at a very high altitude over the central US.  The resultant EMP would likely fry 80% to 90% of solid state devices without shielding.  This means no cell phones, no broadband, no TV, no radio; in addition most vehicles on the road rely on some form of solid state device to operate the engine.  If this is only 70% of the total vehicles imagine 7 out of 10 cars, SUVs and trucks unable to operate.  Now understand that grocery stores stock just three days worth of perishable goods and not much longer for non-perishable foods.  If the trucks cannot run then how will groceries get their product?  The military has spent millions hardening their gear against EMP but if this event affected most of the lower 48 are there enough of them to maintain order when people begin to go hungry?  The mob mentality that has raised its ugly head in advance of some winter storms would hardly be a pale shadow of what would happen within a week of such an attack and happen in any and most likely all large cities.

This is just one plausible scenario that could wreak havoc upon our technologically based society; there are many tens of others.  As a people we are ill-equipped to survive such occurrences yet as we progress we become even less able to endure such disasters and more dependent upon government for our day-to-day needs.  This is a sure path to eventual chaos yet we seem locked into this dead-end.  And so I find myself once again reviewing my own preparations and find even them lacking although compared to most Americans I am very well prepared.  Even though I can make this statement I take no pleasure in it because there are so many Americans without a clue as what life might be like without our technological base.  If you think life without sat TV or cell phones or your computer is unthinkable you might want to reflect upon life without electricity.  Sadly few folks can do this accurately because they’ve never been without the electrical grid; trust me, its amazing just how many things require electricity in our world.  This is the classic case of not realizing just how important something is until it’s no longer available…  Our forefathers knew how to supply themselves with food and shelter from a variety of sources; sadly we as a civilization have become ‘one trick ponies’ in this important skill set.  In our current existence this seems superfluous but I guarantee you that should the worst occur there will be millions of people wishing they’d learned just a bit more about general survival skills…