Paleo Prepping for the Long Term

April 3, 2013

The biggest impediment for Paleo preppers is the notion that meat has a short shelf life.  Preppers storing food are naturally attracted to grains that can be stored long term without refrigeration.  The assumption being that electricity is essential for meat storage.  Storing meat without relying on a continual supply of electricity is a lost skill but, one that can be revived.  You will be doomed to an unhealthy existence if you don’t have a plan that allows you to regularly consume essential proteins and fats.  Can you regularly hunt the meat you need?  Maybe but, you are taking a big risk if you don’t follow the foremost time honored food storage principle which is to store your excess during times of plenty.

In the past, when people had a more rural existence and produced most of their own food, they were on an annual food storage and usage cycle.  Most foods, including meats, can be stored using traditional methods if they are used within a year.  An uninterrupted food supply throughout the year and the ability to freeze and refrigerate meat has made us accustomed to having meat that can be obtained with little effort and held semi long term.

By all means, use your freezer if you can but, what if you had to live without electricity; not just the temporary loss of power causing you to fire up the generator to bridge the gap but, what if you didn’t have electricity for years?  The diminishing purchasing power of fiat money may cause you to economize significantly and to cut down on or eliminate the use of grid provided electricity in your home.   There are underutilized traditional methods for storing and preparing meats without refrigeration.

Some of them are jerking (drying), storing with spices, smoking, salting, pickling, and canning (heat sterilization).   These procedures are often used in conjunction with each other and there are various factors at work that assist with preservation.   Although most people have heard of these things, they may see them more as food preparation methods devised to add a unique flavor or consistency to meat to suit individual palates.  These techniques originated as food preservation methods before there was refrigeration.

First consider jerky.  Jerking meat is one of the simplest meat storage techniques.  You don’t need to use an oven or a commercial drying device.  Growing up as a rancher in a hot climate, the advantages and simplicity of jerky became readily apparent to me.   How easy is it?  String some barbed wire between two trees and hang up strips of meat over the barbs high enough where predators can’t reach them.   That’s it.  Putting some salt and pepper on the meat before hanging it up will improve flavor and help to inhibit growth of microorganisms.   You can’t get much simpler than that.  You may assume that butchering should be done during cold weather but, when meat becomes available during hot weather, embrace the heat and get your meat out into the sun in thin strips and dry it out.  After it is dry, store your jerky in a folded cloth or in plastic bags with the ends open in a cool area.  It can be harmful to seal in any remaining moisture (unless you can vacuum seal it) which will allow a slime generating greenhouse to form in the bag.   Allowing any remaining moisture to freely leave the jerky is better than trapping it in.  You don’t always have to eat it as jerky either.  People with bad teeth that don’t enjoy gnawing on jerky can boil the jerky which will add water back in and soften it up.  Jerky is a great way to add meat to a vegetable soup.  This is a very traditional cooking technique that Paleo preppers may be overlooking.  Drying meat is a time-honored preservation technique.  Like all traditional meat storage techniques, use your stored meat within a one year cycle.

Next, let’s look at storing and preparing food with spices.  Many herbs and spices with antimicrobial properties were traditionally added to food to allow longer storage.  Herbs and spices such as mustard seed, garlic, cinnamon, sage, cloves, and chilies were often added to aid in preservation before the advent of electrically refrigerated food storage.

Common manifestations of this technique can be seen in sausages and in hot spicy foods.  Different cultures have used different spices to preserve meats and to extend their edibility; and in some cases to do damage control after meats have been eaten beyond their ideal shelf life.   Grinding meat and adding spices to make sausage and preserve meat became common in Europe and in other cultures around the world.  The range of sausages is great and various preservation factors come into play with different sausages.  Different sausages rely on various combinations of the preservative actions of spices, drying, heat, salt, fermentation, and reduced interaction with oxygen provided by the casing or smoked outer surface to preserve the meat.  The hot spicy food tradition is also something that aided to extend the edibility of meats.  This food preparation technique is often seen in hot tropical climates where meat storage was historically difficult before refrigeration.  The chillies reduce somewhat the susceptibility of food to bacteria and parasite development.   Hot chilies also have significant action against parasites in the digestive system.  These hot spices are not very effective in longer term food storage techniques but, they have been used as a short term method to inhibit bacteria and parasite development in food and in the digestive system.  They obviously have no action against chemical toxins that are by-products of decay but, hot chilies can be used as an effective gut parasite regimen if you are already infested.    Eating hot chilies will kill most intestinal worms and other digestive parasites.   If you eat cheap “street food” in a third world environment and you get that boiling sensation in your stomach indicative of parasites, then eat some hot chilies.  That’s what the locals do and it is effective against many digestive system parasites.

Smoking meat is another traditional method to facilitate meat storage.  In the modern era, smoking is considered to be a way to add flavor to meat but, traditionally it was a way to preserve meat.  Up until about 60 years ago, most American farms had a small building apart from the main house called a “smokehouse.”  Meat was smoked in this building for periods from several days to weeks.

Sometimes two or three meat preservation factors are at work in the smoking process.  The wood smoke reacts with the meat adding natural antioxidant compounds such as phenols that slow rancidification of animal fats and inhibit growth of bacteria.  There are various degrees and types of smoking, some which add a low continual heat that also cooks the food, like a cured ham, sufficiently that it may be eaten without additional cooking after storage.  Other techniques involve cold smoking.  The use of salt or brine is also often mixed in with the smoking process to add another food preservation technique.

That brings us to salting meat.  Most of us remember hearing in a history class about the use of “salt pork” or other salted meats carried by early explorers in barrels as they crossed the oceans.  The salt was used as a storage technique and can still be used effectively to preserve meat if you are a Paleo prepper.  The much maligned commercial product “Spam” is an example of salt preserved meat.  In the case of Spam, heat in the cooking process, in conjunction with salt, are used to aid in the preservation of the meat.  Salt can be used in conjunction with other preservation methods to enhance their effectiveness.  As mentioned before, salt can assist to preserve dried meats like jerky or smoked meats like ham.  It can also be added during the boiling of meat in a traditional canning process to inhibit bacterial growth.  Salting was the primary method of meat preservation until the 19th century.  Bacon is an example of a meat that uses salt curing to inhibit growth of unwanted bacteria.  “Kippering” is another name for the technique of preserving meat, usually fish, by curing it with salt.  Salt inhibits the growth of microorganisms by pulling water out of cells thereby killing them.   Preserving meat by salting can be done very simply by cutting the meat into thin slices and packing it in a Rubbermaid type container alternately with layers of salt.  The layers of salted meat should consist of at least 20% salt in the layering process.  Salted meat and fish are still dietary staples and essential meat preservation techniques in parts of Africa, China, Scandinavia, and Russia.

Pickling is another method of preserving food.  It is more often used with vegetables but, it can be used with meats.  Pickling is a process of using an acid produced by fermentation to inhibit microbial growth.  The food is stored in an acidic solution which is usually produced by fermentation in brine (heavily salted water) producing an acid such as lactic acid.  Other pickling methods involve marinating with (adding) an acidic solution, usually vinegar (acetic acid), to the food to be stored.  This preservation method is sometimes used in conjunction with a preservation method already mentioned such as the addition of antimicrobial herbs and spices.    When pickling meats and eggs, the marinating process is used since the fermentation process is not self-generating as it is with certain vegetable pickling techniques (e.g. sauerkraut or Korean kimchi).

Boiling and canning foods stored in water is familiar to most Americans.  Most supermarkets still carry the Mason or Ball type jars and other essential items needed to preserve foods by heating them in water and canning them.  The process involves heating the water/food mixture at a high temperature for a sufficient length of time to kill the bacteria.  It is much more common to see home-canned vegetables but, meat can also be canned at home.   When canning meat at home, consider using the heat canning method in conjunction with some of the other traditional preservation methods, like salt and antimicrobial spices, to lengthen shelf life and to improve flavor.

There are other factors that Paleo preppers may want to consider that are not storage methods but, ways to assist in maintaining a supply of essential proteins and fats coming into your diet.

You should consider where you live.  A cold climate can readily facilitate meat storage during the many cold months.  A hot climate can allow access to vegetarian sources of essential fats in the form of tropical oils like palm oil and coconut oil.  Obviously, living in an area with water and fertile land allows the ongoing production of animals that can be used as meat sources.  Living by a pond allows you to maintain a stock of catfish that are happy to live off of kitchen scraps.  The fish will be available as a source of protein and fat whenever you need it.  You don’t have to worry about storing the meat for future use.

Consider smaller animals if you live in a hot climate.  Chicken dishes are popular in hot tropical climates because the animal can be consumed in one day eliminating the need for storage.  Eggs are a continual source of protein and essential fat.  Chickens eat kitchen scraps and bugs and will even clear and fertilize an area for your garden if you “graze” them in a specific area.

Get a milk cow.  There is no better way to have a continual source of milk fats coming into your diet.  Hand milking is easy.  You can make butter with a hand churn.  Make quick basic Mexican cheese by simply dropping some rennet into your excess milk and squeezing out the whey.  There is also the advantage that you know what the cow eats and can prevent harmful supplements from being injected into the animal.  It is also a way to stick it to the man by avoiding totalitarian and unhealthy raw milk prohibitions.

Get a “root cellar.”  Root cellars were a traditional part of American farm life.  Making a storage facility underground provides cool consistent temperatures during the warmer months.  This really aids in the preservation of all your foods.  Even if you can foods or use other preservation techniques, you should store them in a root cellar or a “dug-out” cave in a hillside to allow for cooler temperatures.

Buy a share in an animal or an entire animal from a rancher or a farmer.  This allows you to know the source of the meat and the diet of the animal including the type of forage and any supplements given to the animal.  You can get meat cheaper this way and avoid the fascist and harmful FDA/USDA grading, dietary, fat content, and processing requirements since you own the animal.  You can direct a butcher to cut and package the meat the way you want or you can easily butcher it yourself with some basic tools like a bone saw, meat cleaver, butcher knives, and meat grinder.  If you buy an animal, you can choose how much ground beef you want versus roasts or steaks.  You can do efficient mass processing like boiling and canning scrap meat off the bones in one session or grinding all your meat or preparing bulk amounts of sausage during one session.

Learn to “age” beef and other types of meat.  This is something that really improves the tenderness of beef and eliminates the “gamey” flavor.   Supermarket beef is rarely aged and the reduced flavor and gameyness is noticeable when compared to aged beef.  It is simple and involves storing beef in a cool but, not cold area for a 10-day period so that the beneficial microorganisms can break down tough muscle fibers before the microorganisms are killed or put into stasis during the preservation process.

Consider hogs.  Besides being a source of protein and essential fats, hogs were the traditional method to “bush hog” land before tractors took over the task.  Fence off an area and your hogs will root up and clear out all the thorn bushes and vines and prepare rough land for garden planting or pasture.

Learn the food market in your geographic area and eat and store what is in season or what is available locally.  You may live in an area that has plentiful nut orchards.  You may live in an area like Guaymas, Mexico or in New England where seafood is plentiful.  Be flexible and try to adapt your diet to the sources of protein and good fats that are plentiful where you live.  You may live in an area that is infested with rabbits.  Then, learn about rabbit meat, learn when it is safe to eat it, and get a supply of .22 ammunition.

Paleo prepping is not that hard.  I hope it doesn’t come to the point where we have to give up modern conveniences but, it doesn’t hurt to prepare as we see the regime pushing us down the road to ruin.  Remember to store food during times of plenty and to use up your stored meats and fats on an annual schedule.  Confront some of these time honored meat preservation techniques and make your prepping have a Paleo flavor to it!

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