We rely on food and beverages for our sustenance on good days and bad days. For most people in the First World, there’s plenty to go around on those good days – as our expanding waistlines can attest. But all it takes is one scary event to create a bad day that will grind our complex supply chain to a complete halt and frighten shoppers into clearing the store shelves bare (yes, even the clam juice and pickled pig’s feet will be gone).
Even when there’s no natural disaster or act of terrorism, a failure of civility can block roadways and prevent the trucks from bringing in food and bottled beverages. For this scenario, let’s suppose that you’re trying to make your way home from an urban center; the grocery stores are low on food but full of desperate people; you don’t have access to any personal store of food or water along the way; and the municipal water supply has been shut down.
Find A Drink
We say “food and water,” in that order, because most people erroneously believe that food is a high priority in all survival situations. It never ceases to surprise people outside of the survival community that food is actually one of your lowest priorities in the short term. Water is always higher on the list, and if you think about it, this makes sense. The average American could last a month or longer without a morsel of food – IF they have enough drinking water, shelter and protection from harm. But even with shelter, dry foods and safety provided, they’ll only last a few days without any water.
Water In A Home
If you take shelter in an abandoned home, there may be water aplenty in every untapped water heater. For a prepper, think of these appliances as water storage tanks that also happen to heat the water too. Little units may hold a whopping 40 gallons, and bigger ones can hold twice that much or more. Keep in mind that the natural sediment from any water supply will be at the bottom of the unit, so the first water you pour from the spigot near the base of the water heater will be rusty or dirty looking. Let that run out and use it for something other than drinking or cooking. Clear water should follow.
You could also try draining the pipes by opening a faucet high in the home, and then catching the water that comes out from the lowest faucet in the home. If things get grim, each toilet tank (that doesn’t contain any bowl cleaning or deodorizing tablets) can be a water source too. So could fresh water fish tanks, outdoor water features, garden hoses, fountains, pools and fish ponds. Don’t expect it all to be safe and ready to drink. The warm tank of the water heater may start to grow bacteria as it sits, and so will other household water sources, like the garden hose. Treat it like any other raw water source.
If in doubt – boil it, filter it or treat it chemically. And for one final unexpected source of water, you can get some water from dehumidification appliances. These are like free-standing air conditioner units, but instead of producing cold air and dripping a little water on the ground – dehumidifiers produce hot dry air and lots of water. When electrical power is still available, this device can produce a gallon or more per day in semi-humid weather.
And when the humidity is high, you’ll get several gallons in every 24 hour period. Again, this only helps if the power is flowing and the air is humid, but these funky appliances do produce a lot of water – right from thin air.
Water At Work
You’re likely to find many of the same water resources at a workplace that you would find in a home. You may even have larger hot water heaters and hundreds of yards of water-filled piping. For high rise buildings, water tanks are used to regulate pressure and supply – and these can be massive. You may also hit the jackpot if the workplace has water coolers.
Five gallon water cooler jugs are heavy, yet still portable. Some even have a useful handle. They are also ready to drink, and long lasting (if sealed). Don’t feel bad about ransacking any beverage vending machines either, if your need is sincere. They’re tough to open (by design) but it is worth the effort if they are well stocked.
Water In Transit
If you happen to get caught without water between point “A” and point “B,” there are a few places you can check for water in an urban setting. You may find an outdoor spigot on a home or business. If the handle is removable and absent, try twisting the knob stem with pliers or a multi-tool. Fountains and other water features may also provide water, but expect it to be very dirty and poor quality. Finally, don’t forget about rain. If you can catch rain in a clean container under open sky, this precipitation is reasonably safe to drink without any treatment, barring any events that would launch contaminants into the air. And if you have to collect rain from roof and gutter systems, expect it to be dirty with bird guano and other filth. Treat it for safety.
Scavenge Some Food
When your survival is at stake, beggars can’t be choosers. And whether the idea of food theft or dumpster diving is repellent to you – or strangely exciting – you’ve got to provide for yourself and for those in your care.
Food In A Home
Suppose you have to shelter in a home that was burglarized while making your way through the turmoil. The cabinets have been stripped bare and the home is perilously empty of people food. If the home owners had pets, the looters may have left the pet food. Many pet foods are edible to humans, though certainly undesirable. In theory, canned dog food isn’t that far away from potted meat, but your tongue, stomach and gag reflex may say otherwise.
Most bird seed is edible too, and you can make it more digestible by toasting it in a dry frying pan with a lid. Many of the seeds will pop like tiny pieces of popcorn, making them easier to chew (keep the lid on, to keep the pieces from popping out of the pan). Now some of you may be all too eager to see what dog, cat, goldfish, iguana and parakeet taste like. But this is a civil unrest event, not a Mad Max movie. So I’m not going to explain how to combine all five pet types into a savory stew. That’s beyond our scope for today.
Food At Work
Prowling through desks and plundering the break room can provide some food for the hungry (at your workplace, or some else’s). And that junk food vending machine is no match for the determination that hunger can create. Think about the neighboring businesses, too.
Do they produce, package or deal in any food items? Gift baskets, goodie bags and other giveaways can provide shelf-stable items like candy, cookies, crackers and other snacks. It’s not steak and lobster, but calories are still calories. Whatever the source, you can live off of them just the same.
Food In Transit
Here’s the part where things get gross, and I remind you again – that beggars can’t be choosers. If things are really bad, you may have to do what people currently do throughout the Third World every single day. You may have to crawl into dumpsters and sift through the trash to find something to eat. As repugnant as this sounds, it’s the way that some of the world’s poorest people stay alive. Trust your nose for this kind of work.
Rotten food can still make you sick to your stomach, even after a thorough cooking. And even if it doesn’t smell bad, it should still be cooked due to the high potential for pathogens acquired in the trash containers (that’s called cross-contamination). And if things are so bad that garbage is on the menu, you may have to loosen your morals a bit and consider theft. Some institutions that would be shuttered during civil unrest, like schools, will have a generous stockpile of food. Just remember that you’d be breaking the law to get any of it, and don’t forget you’d have competition for that life sustaining resource. Other people will think of this too, and you may face desperate competition for those resources.
As a final thought, consider all the points along our modern supply chain where food may get “hung up,” unable to proceed to the next stage during a failure of civility. Since you’re in an urban setting, there aren’t likely to be any greenhouses or farms within walking distance, but there may be a slaughter house or fishing boat docks you could reach. You may also be near food packaging and processing facilities, wholesale warehouses and distributors.
You may even be near a truck stop or big rig service station, where food trucks would stop for rest or repair. Again, this is a civil unrest scenario – not a world without rule of law. I’m not suggesting that you hijack a Twinkie truck at your first sign of a sugar craving. These are emergency measures to consider, and pray you never have to implement them.