Monday, June 20, 2005


To the rare traveler that has actually asked my advice on how to live, I have always mentioned two things; #1: live as simply as possible and #2: build up a minimum three month financial cushion. This axiom has stood me well over the past ten years since I became more reality based. It is the very reason that I can afford these two years of marginal employment while I get through the CCSF Nursing program. Picking up the thread I was unspooling the other day, I would add a third rule: #3 store up three months minimum of water and nonperishable food.

We are a week’s worth of groceries away from starvation. Living in towns on the eastern seaboard, I know first hand what even the rumor of a storm can do to a grocery store. Even so, out there in hurricane alley as well as here in earthquake, fire, flood, mudslide prone California, we do not think about putting food and water in storage except tokenly. I have a friend who has a gallon of water in the back of her closet. “What’s that for?” I had once asked, “Oh, that’s for emergencies.” One gallon. The body’s minimum daily requirement is a half a gallon.

This is not just a Peak Oil issue. When I first came to San Francisco seven years ago, I listened with fascination to the stories of those who lived here during the Loma Prieta quake of ‘89. Apparently, there was no electricity or gas for cooking for several days; it could have easily been longer. If the disaster is large in terms of geography or time, it might be weeks before help arrives and in the case of global disaster, help may never come.

The following accounts are reprinted from the Walton Feed website and portray what I am trying to say fairly well:

“…from the preface to Ms. Geri Guidetti's book, Build Your Ark! Book 1; Food Self Sufficiency, where she experienced first hand the "Blizzard of 96" on the East Coast. MS Guidetti is the founder of The Ark Institute.

...The bread, milk and snack aisles of all the local grocery stores are empty. All of the other food aisles are decimated... Ground travel is paralyzed...

Day 3, post blizzard: [There are] fights for a shipment of milk from a local dairy. Stores... have reportedly hired armed guards...

Day 5: I stood with a shopping cart in aisle after aisle, watching and listening to folks' reactions to depleted stocks...

Woman: "No bread... I can't believe there's no bread." Store Manager: "Well, Ma'am, we're sorry, but the delivery trucks can't get through. But we do have flour left to make bread." Woman: " that how they make it...flour? But I don't do that."

Man: "I can live without everything else, but I can't live without my chips." ...[He] removed every bag off the shelf into his cart as I watched.

Another woman: "What do you mean you don't have dinner rolls? I don't want bread, I don't want milk...all I want is my dinner rolls. It's the only kind of bread I'll eat."

Man: "No milk!! What am I supposed to tell my kids? They live on milk." Store manager: "Well, Sir, we're sorry, but there are a few boxes of powdered milk left over here." Man: ..."What do you do with that?"

Angry woman: "But you have to have Kellogg's Raisin Bran; it's on sale this week. Don't you honor your sales?"

Woman looking scared: "I can't believe this! Look how they're pushing at each other. People are like animals!"...

Other images of Americans faced with a sudden loss of food and water are still vivid after several years. Just hours after the Northridge Quake in Southern California a few years ago, a television reporter and cameraman for a national news network... were summoned by the owner of a neat little suburban home that was now without power. With his two little children in tow, the man gestured toward his refrigerator. "Look, look!" Inside, the camera focused on ...three cans of Coke. "This is all we have, and they're warm `cause of the power outage. We always go to the store for dinner, and now the stores are closed. What are we gonna do? Somebody has to help us. Tell the President!"

I found myself flooded with questions. Why on earth would parents of two young children, people living in earthquake-prone Southern California, keep no food in their home? ...Do they really believe that their government will always be capable of responding instantaneously to a natural or manmade disaster save them?

What if the devastation was so enormous that government and disaster relief agencies were too overwhelmed to respond effectively? We have already seen this happen when Hurricane Andrew leveled whole counties in Florida. I'll never forget the angry woman shouting at a television reporter, "Where's George Bush?? We're starving down here!"...

The three month minimum cushion gives you room to think. It keeps you from being one of those people in the above story. It gives you a chance to implement plans B, C and D (which we will be covering in future chapters). It is not a solution in itself, any more than having a financial cushion could liberate you from ever having to work again (unless of course, that cushion is at least a million bucks and you are near retirement age; that’s a horse of a different color.)


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