As part of the ongoing Chowmageddon series, I talked to Post Apocalyptic Author Marcus Richardson about eating after the End of the World...
1. How long have you been writing post-apocalyptic fiction or non-fiction?
I’ve been writing PA since 2003. I started writing an online story I’d been kicking around since 9/11 and found an audience at Frugal Squirrels. The story continued off and on for ten years. I finally finished it and put it into a whopping 220,000 word book before publishing it on Amazon as Alea Jacta Est, which later became book 1 of a series after I had several fans ask me to continue the story. There’s three books in the series now.
2. What kind of apocalyptic event do you find most interesting?
To me the most interesting PA event is a supervolcano (Yellowstone)—or at least it’s my newest fixation. Once I write about one type of event, I move on to another…so right now, it’s a supervolcano eruption. I’m doing all kinds of fun research in preparation for writing a new novel/series.
3. What kind of apocalyptic event do you fear the most?
The event I fear most is a CME [Coronal Mass Ejection]. Lots of people will rant and rave about how bad an EMP would be for America, but I think a CME would be orders of magnitude worse since it has the potential to affect the entire planet, thus rendering overseas aid unavailable. If the US government is willing to admit a CME/EMP event in the United States would lead to 90% fatalities in the first year, imagine what that would look like on a global scale and you’ve got something far more scary than even something like the Black Plague (which only killed 50-70% of Europe).
4. Are you a prepper? At what level do you consider yourself?
I am most definitely a prepper. I’m not of the opinion that you have to be one to write about it, but I think it definitely lends a certain amount of realism you just can’t get if you don’t really know what you're talking about. As to what level, I’d say it depends on what type of prepping you’re talking about. I consider myself pretty prepared for natural events like snow/ice storms, hurricanes, etc. (I wrote AJE while living in Florida and survived the crazy 2004 season, riding out 4 hurricanes in 2 months). Do I consider myself prepared for a CME? Hardly. There is always room for more food storage, more water storage—not to mention solar power, backup generators, fuel storage…the wish list goes on and on. However, my family is a one income household with three small children, there’s only so much dough to go around so I have to be smart about what I prep for and everything has to serve multiple purposes. As far as mental preparation and learning skills, I’d give myself a moderate level. I’m no Crocodile Dundee, but I know enough to survive out there and make sure my family can get home from wherever we are if the balloon goes up. Can I survive for a month, living off the land? Well, there’s always more to learn.
5. Where do you think the ideal place to live is prior to an apocalyptic event?
The ideal place would definitely be a working farm close to a natural water source, a decent ways away from major cities but close enough that if you had to walk to—say, find a doctor—it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I think you should always strive for the balance between being out in the boonies and close enough for creature comfort (and power lines).
6. Shelter-in-place, or bug out?
That’s a good one. I’ll fall back on my law school training and answer: it depends. It depends totally on your prep level, situation, and skill set. If you live on an island and your TEOTWAKI event is a Cat 5 hurricane direct hit, bugging out is a no-brainer. If you’re up in the mountains in a sustainable log cabin near a lake with plenty of game to hunt in a secluded forest preserve and an EMP hits, sheltering in place is more prudent. For the average Joe out there, living near major cities (maybe in the suburbs) sheltering in place is probably going to be the best bet until you determine it’s time to leave (maybe because the local population has switched from a “let’s wait and see what happens” attitude to a “let’s burn this mother down and take everything because there’s no cops!” attitude. As with almost everything re: prepping, situational awareness is critical.
7. What do plan to eat in the apocalypse?
Food. Seriously though, I plan to eat what I store while trying to get more from whatever resource is available. For me and my family that means a combination of canned and dehydrated foods, things easily prepared with a minimum of boiling water. In the beginning, we’ll eat the stuff in the fridge and freezer to keep waste to a minimum. Depending on what type of event and how long it lasts or how long I think it will last will determine what happens as the stored food starts to run low (hunting, scavenging, trading, etc.). Food is less of a worry for me long term than water. Luckily we moved into a new house near a pond with lots of trees to fuel fires to boil water, but a month ago, water was very high on my priority list to store. After all, it only takes 3 days without water to bring you to the point of death but most people can probably afford to live without food for three days.
8. What foods do you regularly stock in your home that would be adaptable to a post-apocalyptic situation?
As I mentioned before, I have an average budget, meaning everything I stock has to be multi-purpose. So I store what I eat and eat what I store. We have lots of canned goods (the sodium isn’t great, but as long as you balance your meals, it’s not too terrible) and dried legumes and rice—the common staples for beginners. We’re moving into wheat and flour storage, yeast, salt, the kinds of things you can use to make dozens and hundreds of other meals. It’s fun to experiment by making things in a grid-down drill to see the reactions of my family (I do most of the cooking in our house so they have little choice!). It serves to broaden their experiences and give me a heads up on what might cause trouble if the event were real.
9. What is your preferred preservation method for post-apocalyptic foods?
My preferred method of storage is a combination of everything. I’m a firm believer in the “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” theory. I have some dehydrated, some freeze dried, some canned, some preserves…
10. What's the primary factor for you in deciding on a survival food? Taste? Weight? Nutritional Value? Ease of preparation?
This is another one that depends on the situation. For my get home bags and car kits, everything is based on nutritional value and shelf life (they’ll be stored in some of the harshest conditions in my house, namely the car/garage). In those kits are layers though—stuff that will stay with the car, so weight is no factor, and stuff that remains in the bag in case we have to ditch the car and hoof it—in which case weight is the primary factor. Food won’t do you any good if you don’t/can’t carry it with you. For storage at home (assuming I’m bugging in) I go with shelf life and nutrition, followed by cost (obviously weight is much less of a factor if you have a basement and sturdy shelves, etc. but if you are in a small apartment and have to store stuff under a bed, then size and weight might be more important than shelf life—just eat what you store and rotate new stuff). If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my studying and reading and writing is that in a TEOTWAKI situation (and especially in preparing for such an event) you have to adaptable.
11. What's the worst "survival food" you've ever tasted?
I don’t dislike much when it comes to food (unfortunately) but I’ve heard some real horror stories about certain MREs. That’s on my list of things to do this year—start trying MREs, which have been until now, prohibitively expensive. Of what I have tried, I’d have to say Campbell’s Cajun Jambalaya was the worst. I grew up in Louisiana and had an honest to God Cajun as a neighbor (his legal name: Bubba). That Campbell’s stuff is just plain nasty compared to what Miss K (Bubba’s wife) use to make from scratch (luckily I was too little to real know what went in it and I probably don’t want to know now…).
12. What's the best?
The best survival food? What you have. Seriously though, I don’t know if it’s classified as “survival food” but there’s a dehydrated chili mix called “Darn Good Chili” made by Bear Creek that is labeled to last for about 9 months or so…you add water and boil and it tastes fantastic. I’m going to experiment by putting the mix in a mason jar and vacuum sealing it to see if it will last longer without air.
13. Any special survival recipes you have up your camouflaged sleeves?
I wish I had some special recipes! I’m still somewhat of a rookie when it comes to the food preparing from storage department. I’m trying to kick the flavor up on my rather boring staples to keep the family happy so it’s a learn by doing thing.
14. What's the best survival food tip you've ever heard?
The best tip I’ve come across is to use a Ziplock hand pump vacuum sealer with the FoodSaver Mason Jar adapter of your choice to seal jars by hand. Hey, if the power goes out, that FoodSaver will be a paperweight, but with that little $4 hand pump (that I can only find on Amazon, not in stores) you can continue to vacuum seal stuff (I’ve been using it for a few years and now and while it takes more time and elbow grease, it seems to work great for up to a year…I haven’t tested it for more than 12 months so far).
You can find out more about Marcus and his Post Apocalyptic writing at: marcusrichardsonauthor.com