If a global catastrophe strikes, chances are that efforts to store food will keep most people fed for only a year. But, before everyone loses their heads and begins reenacting the Donner Party, here are some tips from two researchers who have come up with ways to live off what's left of the land.
Image: U.S. Marine Corps
Joshua Pearce, an engineer at Michigan Technological University, and David Denkenberger, a research associate at the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, teamed up to develop solutions for providing enough food to sustain Earth's post-disaster population for five years. Their study, Feeding Everyone No Matter What, takes into account potential realistic scenarios, such as crop blights and nuclear winter.
Pearce summarizes these key ideas in a recent interview with Nautilus. In the event of a nuclear conflict between two countries, for instance, most of humanity would survive, but they would have to contend with darkened skies that would cause massive crop failures. So what do they do until we gradually get more sunlight?
There are many things that you can eat that we don't normally consider food, particularly in the west. Leaves are one of them. You can eat leaves. You just have to be careful about how you do it. Leaves are high in fiber and we can't digest any more than half of it, but if you chew the leaves and spit out the fiber you can draw out nutrients from it. Or you can make teas.
Tea in particular is a relatively easy one to do. Pine needle tea has more than 100 percent of the vitamin C of orange juice. One could actually make pine needle tea from the pine tree in your backyard and get your vitamin C for the day. It's actually a really good superfood.
The other obvious one is insects. The conversion ratios between biomass and food in insects is much better than say, in cows….It's not like you have to eat insects raw. You would never know the difference between say, a sausage patty, a veggie sausage patty, and an insect sausage patty. It's all the same! It's just the spices. Let the food scientists go crazy on it.
Then there's the bacteria that we can grow directly on wood. Or on leftover mushroom waste. And so this would be taking down a tree, pulverizing it, turning it into a slurry, and then letting the bacteria go at it….So for instance, there are bacteria that secrete sugars they then use to feed themselves. You can pull out the sugars, and eat those ourselves and leave the bacteria and the partially decaying wood pulp
Pearce says that one significant lesson that emerged from the research is that some of these unconventional techniques can be used to feed people now. "We still have little kids starving to death every day and yet, I know now that we can feed them on wood pulp," he says. "It would certainly be possible."
Read the rest of the interview at Nautilus.