Starvation as a foreign concept and its affect on motivation to store food

Originally published at Notes from the bunker…. You can comment here or there.

Anyone remember seeing the movie “The Day After”? It was the usual product of the times, a movie about a Soviet attack on the US that showed nuclear devastation and full of doomist ‘peace at any cost would be preferable’ themes. It was a thoroughly forgettable movie but I do recall one or two scenes from it. The scene I recall most is where a woman hears a noise in her house, goes to investigate and finds a neighbor kid has broken into the house to steal food. He takes an empty jar of peanut butter and is hungrily scraping the insides of it with his fingers to try and get whatever remains. As I recall the woman is aghast at her formerly all-American mow-your-lawn-for-five-dollars neighbor kid being reduced to the feral state of stealing food. I wish I could recall what happens next…I think the kid takes off running but its also entirely possible a fight breaks out. Can’t recall and the movie was bad enough that I really have no interest in looking it up to see how it went.

In the convoluted, meandering and generally incomprehensible book, “The Road”, starvation is never far from the forefront of the main characters’ thoughts. In the book they go days without food, eating things that normally we wouldn’t feed to animals, and always worried about getting more. Other characters in the book take a more pro-active approach to food gathering and kill each other for cannibalistic meals.

The slightly better book, “One Second After”, details the effects of starvation on a hungry town after an EMP strike brings infrastructure to a halt. Ugly rationing, theft, ‘requisitioning’ and dog stew are the order of the day. Although I think the pace of the starvation was a bit fast compared to what might happen in real life, it seemed to convey the starkness of the situation pretty well.

Re-reading “Stalingrad” with its descriptions of the horrors visited upon unfortunate civilians and even more unfortunate trapped Germans also provides some glimpses into the barbaric and savage reality created by starvation. People eating the flour paste off of wallpaper, sawdust bread, skewered rat, rations taken from corpses, etc, etc. Powerful stuff.

I sincerely doubt most people, including myself, have ever been that hungry. Sure, sometimes we go a day or two without food for whatever reason but that isn’t quite the same thing. Some of us, maybe, might know people who actually have had experiences like that…grandparents from ‘the old country’ who survived Stalin’s famine, people who rode out the Great Depression, folks who escaped from behind the Iron Curtain, etc, etc. I’ve done a good bit of reading on the subject and one thing that stands out is that the episodes of starvation, hunger and the desperation they cause have such a tremendous impact on those who go through it that forty, fifty, sixty years later those people still carry bits of food with them wherever they go, keep enormous pantries, hide food in their houses, and never, ever throw away an uneaten meal. The specter of starvation makes a permanent mark on those who face it.

I think the concept of actually being so hungry that food is all you can think about is a fairly alien concept to almost all of us. After all, this is a country where you can reach into your pocket, pull out a cell phone and a credit card, and have a delicious meal come to your doorstep. Theres a fast food place, a diner, or a restaurant on almost every block. I would bet that there is a supermarket, convenience store or other food selling establishment within several blocks walking distance of pretty much everyone reading this. (Save, of course, those living out in the sticks.) If I walked out my door right now, theres a supermarket five blocks away, an all-you-can-eat pizza place one block away, an all-you-can-eat Chinese place across the street, and at least two convenience stores within five blocks.

This is probably the only nation on the planet where the phrase “Theres nothing to eat” is used when the cabinets are full of food. Everywhere else it means “There is nothing to eat”, in this country it means “There is nothing to eat that I feel like eating”. To most people “nothing to eat” means “lets go out to dinner”, everywhere else it means “we are in trouble”. For many of us, a ‘food crisis’ is realizing that we don’t have anything we want to eat in the house and the stores have closed for the holiday. We’ll have to make do for 24-hours with whatever is in the cabinets or refrigerator….the horror!

Now, is this a negative statement about the state of affairs in this country? Absolutely not. It should be celebrated. I remember reading somewhere that children of immigrants in this country tend to be overweight and fatter than all their previous generations that were in the old country. This was meant to be a condemnation of the American way of eating. May be. But I guarantee you that if someones grandmother who lived through a famine in Ireland, or a politically motivated famine in the Ukraine, or a starvation episode in post-war Germany saw their grandchild in the US with fat cheeks, a pudgy face and a ‘husky’ build they would weep great tears of joy at the sight. They’d hug that kid, smother them with kisses and praise whatever deity they believed in because to them it meant that all was well, the family was safe, there was food, they were going to be fine. Imagine that…the notion of your child being fat was your greatest hope for them.

So…it’s pretty easy to understand why something like food storage gets shoved on the back burner, so to speak. The notion that somehow, some way, some day we could wind up like ‘those people’ we see on the news or in history books, on soup lines and in relief camps, is just absurd and impossible. That couldn’t come to pass here, for that to happen here would require some sort of amazingly horrific circumstance. Right?


Short of some sort of asteroid strike, overwhelming nuclear attack or zombie apocalypse I don’t think you would ever see a nationwide, coast-to-coast, all-fifty-states starvation episode in this country. Even in the Great Depression there were plenty of people who weren’t starving or in desperate straits. So, if I think such an event is probably unlikely then why am I harping on it. Two reasons – first, ‘probably not’ is not the same as ‘definitely not’. Second, while it may be unlikely on a national level, it is far more likely on a local, personal level.

On a national level, it would look like an asteroid strike, nuclear war, global pandemic, global war, or some such infrequent or highly unlikely event. But on a local and personal level it looks like a job loss, a debilitating injury, a blizzard, a hurricane, a flood, a blackout, or any of a dozen smaller, more regional, more likely events. Now, to be fair, most of those smaller events are things that usually are cleared up within a week or so. I suppose someone could make the argument that since the nationwide disaster scenario is so unlikely, and local disasters are usually wrapped up within a few weeks at most, why do you need a years worth of food? I’m really not sure what the answer to that is. Personally, I want at least a years worth because if things go south to the point that we’re eating off of what we have stored, then I want as much as I can possibly have in reserve. Sort of like how the average armed confrontation involves something like 2.6 shots fired but I’ll carry the 17 in my Glock.

My original point, however, was that given the abundant and seemingly limitless amounts of food available to us on a daily basis its understandable to find that people often don’t take food storage very seriously. Starvation and hunger are things that we have almost no personal experience with and can find difficult to relate to. As a result, we may not place the emphasis on food that we should. If you’re up for some reading, check out the various online accounts from survivors of famines, purges, and sieges throughout history, esp. in the 20th century. Theyre very informative and may challenge or influence (or reinforce) your ideas about food.