By January 25, 2010

Apocalypse Chow Book Review

One of the reasons I like zombie movies is that they are conversation starters for disaster preparedness. “What would you do if there was a zombie apocalypse” is a nice science-fiction way of saying, “what would you do if the world went crazy for awhile?” I credit Romero’s Night of the Living Dead for starting my interest in disaster preparedness and how to comfortably survive a disruption of service.

Out here in Virginia, the only things we have to worry about are ice storms, hurricanes, and maybe an odd flood or two. There are “bug out bags” in the house, but the central strategy here is to wait out a disruption of services of up to two weeks. During the first time I lived in Virginia, one of my co-workers went two weeks without power. Her family wound up staying in a hotel, but it was not uncommon for folks to be out of juice for multiple days. When you live in a house powered by all electric appliances, that is a big deal.

So it was with anticipation that I started reading “Apocalypse Chow: How to Eat Well When the Power Goes Out,” by Jon and Robin Robertson. I had hoped that it was the cookbook equivalent of Night of the Living Dead, and that the book would help me evaluate my current food stores and how I prepare them.

Unfortunately, the recipes are too complex and are made up of things an average American house probably doesn’t have. The book violates a few rules of thumb in the preparedness community, and as such Apocalypse Chow has limited usefulness in your preparedness library.

On general preparedness and the need for a plan

One of the things I like about Apocalypse Chow is that author Jon Robertson does a good job explaining why you need to prepare for a disaster. He details his experiences with hurricanes in Virginia in an accessible way, especially for people who haven’t thought about “preps” before. His experience is useful, especially since he and his wife were better prepared for their second disaster, and how that positively affected their situation — both physically and mentally. Robertson makes the good point that eating well and being prepared do just as much for your spirits as it does for your tummy.

What’s in your pantry?

There is a very important, standing rule for stocking up at home: only buy things you would normally eat anyway. What good is a ten pound bag of flour if you never make things from scratch? You may just wind up throwing expired food out, or worse yet have a pantry full of food you don’t know how to prepare.

Depending on who you are and what you like to eat at home, Apocalypse Chow may shatter this rule. I don’t eat pasta at my house, but almost every recipe in Apocalypse Chow calls for it. Even if you do eat pasta, you may not have the types of pasta called for in the book. Granted, you might be able to substitute out one pasta for another, or add Apocalypse Chow’s recommendations to your typical pantry. I don’t recommend changing your usual eating habits in order to prepare for a disruption of services.

I guess this is a good time to point out something I wish I’d known before buying the book: the authors are vegetarian. I’m not. They cover this at the start of the book, but it’s one sentence and not mentioned on the front or back cover. It doesn’t make a whit of difference to me what their eating preferences are, but I was expecting a book on how to use canned tuna fifty different ways and not a treatise on fine gourmet seeds.

The book continues to go sideways when Robertson starts recommending kitchen utensils and home appliances. Do you use a mandoline on a regular basis? If so, you don’t need to buy one according to the book, and if you don’t use one on a regular basis, why would you buy one now? Do you really need a hand-crank food mill if most of your food is canned or otherwise preserved? Robertson makes a good point to eat perishable first — then why all of the recommendations for tools used only in preparation of fresh food?

Too tired to cook?

Robertson states that he and his wife were super bored during their prolonged power outage due to a Virginia hurricane. This echoes a lot of other sentiment I’ve heard and read from other disaster survivors. Robertson mentions that cooking helped them alleviate some of their boredom. His wife is a professional cook, so I can totally understand why they might turn to cooking to pass the time.

However, what if you don’t like cooking? The recipes in Apocalypse Chow can be complicated or involved, especially if one doesn’t cook on a regular basis.

What if you are busy most of the day with disaster cleanup? Robertson mentions that many of his neighbors had damage to their property due to fallen trees, but they escaped relatively unscathed. There are over a dozen oak trees in my back yard, and if some of them fell on my property I would have to go out and clear them.

The last thing I’d want to do is cook something complicated with a lot of steps. When I’m hungry, I’m hungry. It would be nice to have a set of recipes that can go from inside your pantry to inside your stomach in a short period of time. Ten minutes? Fifteen minutes? Sounds reasonable.

Summary

Apocalypse Chow may be a good fit if you already eat all / mostly vegetarian and don’t know much about disaster preparedness. There are some good insights in the book, and it’s nice to read a perspective different from a gung-ho survivalist ala GlockTalk or similar forum.

My personal eating habits obviate most of the recipes, but they may be to your liking. See if you can peruse the book in a store or borrow a copy from the library.

As-is, for most of the folks I know, I’d say this book is

not recommended.

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