Famine And War, An Uncertain Future

News of the Day

I want to feature an article that came to my attention this morning courtesy of News.com.au (not usually one of my regular or recommended news sources, but we all have our good days) via AFSA, the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance.  The AFSA comment on this is:

A fairly alarmist NewsCorp story but it brings into focus why food sovereignty – for all countries of our region and globally – is a much better way to go than food dependency, which is what ‘free trade’ is creating.

There are two things to which I want to give expression here.

First Thing

The article itself.

This article, under the title ‘World food production report has serious implications for Australia’s security‘, I deem to be one of the most important I have read in recent times even though its source may be less than impeccable, coming from the NewsCorp stable of Rupert Murdoch.

Because news has such a short life cycle and this article is likely to disappear within a short time, for posterity I will try to summarise and provide links to supporting papers quoted in the article.

The world is beginning to struggle to feed itself both because of falling agricultural yields around the world and a rapidly increasing population.  For those interested in scientific data, the following report is referenced:  Yield Trends Are Insufficient to Double Global Crop Production by 2050.

Unrest, to say the least, is forecast for our region, where tensions are already growing and there is some likelihood of local wars erupting in the coming decades.

Retired Major General John Harley is quoted as saying to The Australian earlier this week: “There is the potential for significant food shortages in our region by 2025,”.  It is also noted that Australia is facing the concept of becoming a net food importer, something that we have never before needed to contemplate.

Here are some quotes from the article, which may be taken as NewsCorp alarmism but which I take very seriously:

“Shortages and rising prices may create a double whammy: Average families struggling to put food on the table, while at the same time government is forced to cut back on social welfare programs,” Dr Ganguly said.

“Growing anger may spill over onto our streets, leading to law and order problems. In the worst case scenario, food riots may break out, undermining Australian internal security and domestic stability.

“We need to focus our attention on increasing food production; in short, domestic food production simply must keep pace with the food requirements of a growing population.”

I personally think that we should not ignore or dismiss these things lightly.

Second Thing

The article includes a publicity photo for the remarkable Australian book based film of 2010 ‘Tomorrow When The War Began‘.  This movie was in my view, while ostensibly being merely a teen-flick, a much underrated highly prescient, predictive and, it has to be said, very enjoyable work of entertainment.  Even for a senior citizen like myself.

Tomorrow When The War Began

I have even bought and downloaded the movie to my computer so that I may watch it whenever or show it privately to others.  This story is from the first of a series of young teen books by Australian writer John Marsden. Note to self: Must buy the books or read for free online.

A brief synopsis of the story could go like this, which is entirely my own words:

A group of seven Australian teenagers arrange a weekend of camping in a remote area.  While there they see a huge number of unknown aircraft flying overhead. Curious, they head for home only to discover that the nation has been invaded and largely taken over, with little in the way of resistance, by an unnamed foreign power which turns out to be of vaguely asian origin (you don’t actually see much of their appearance, just the face of one very young dead soldier, because they are helmeted and goggled as active military tend to be these days and could really have been of any nationality).  The rest of the movie consists of their exploits to rescue one of their number who is trapped and in danger of being captured by the enemy followed by their brave mission to blow up a key bridge to slow down the movements of the foreign troops.

The reason that I found this movie so captivating was that I had realised for some time that such a scenario is entirely possible and even likely to eventuate at some stage in the type of world situation that we are living through today.

Does it not make sense that foreign investors in our land, when situations become desperate, such as the food shortages predicted by the article referenced above, that they will want to claim access to their vested interests here as security of resources for their own people.  In reality there is little that we could do, notwithstanding our famed military skills, to prevent such a well planned and executed invasion of our shores by any of our neighbouring nations or even by our current allies.

A scary thought.

Pumpkin Pow(d)er

Somewhere else I recently commented that we need to get our failures (and the reasons for them) out of the way, in safety, before they have the opportunity to occur at some more critical (and possibly injurious) time.

I experienced a failure of sorts myself last week and am only just beginning to gather myself to talk about it.  It wasn’t a bad failure or a complete disaster, more like things didn’t turn out the way I had hoped.  Problem is, I don’t know for sure what caused it and so cannot guarantee there won’t be a repetition.  Let me tell you about it.

I had a much better than expected pumpkin harvest last year.  Well actually last Summer, earlier this year.  So much so, that I was able to give away quite a few pumpkins and still lay up in storage around another dozen or so.  Some of my stored pumpkins got used in the weeks that followed, while others simply disintegrated.  I do know why that happened. Just last week I decided to do something with the remaining three examples pictured below.  These beauties were now in the order of six months old, having been harvested around April or early May as far as I remember.

Last of the Pumpkins

There was not enough pumpkin here to make a batch of soup so I looked around for information on dehydrated pumpkin with a view to keeping the dried material for later use. To my surprise I found that it is possible to make pumpkin powder which can be re-hydrated later to form pumpkin purée, instantly ready, or within 30 minutes or so, to be used in recipes that call for this delicacy.  This was going to be a new experience for me.  Would it work?  Whatever happened, it was another use to which I could put my recently purchased Sedona Food Dehydrator to the test, instead of the regular dried apples and pears that it produces.

I found a YouTube video with all the necessary information.  With hindsight I should have continued searching for more details, but foresight is not something that I possess with regard to anything new that I happen to be doing at any particular time. So, onwards I pressed.  To infinity, and beyond!

Preparation of the pumpkin is fairly simple.

  • First they need to be washed and dried because they are going to be baked in their skins.
  • Then I cut them in half lengthways after removing the end where the stalk is attached.  It was at this stage that I discarded the small striped pumpkin because it had started to go a little mushy at the stalk end.  My loss, worm farm’s gain.  No matter, there was still, as it turns out, a good four cups worth of flesh in the two remaining pumkins.
  • Finally, I scraped out the seed cavity, using a soup spoon.  These particular pumpkins (Waltham Butternut) are noted for having a small seed cavity and therefore a very high percentage of usable pumpkin flesh.  There were no seeds to speak of in the first one that I opened.   It was probably picked too soon.  The second one however, yielded over 100 good seed specimens which I will save for this year’s planting.

Preparation: extracting the seeds

The prepared pumpkin halves were then placed on a baking tray and popped into a 180C oven for 35 minutes.  Ready for baking

When done, the pumpkin skins should be fairly easily peeled off, taking care not to burn ones delicate pinkies while doing this.

Baked pumpkins. One has been peeled.

The now naked pumpkins were then transferred to a bowl and mashed with a standard dining fork.  Again, with hindsight, the baking time should probably have been extended to 40-45 minutes as when it came to the mashing of the peeled flesh there were one or two areas that were barely soft enough to effectively purée.  However, a satisfactory mash was achieved and this was spread onto two of the flexible plastic tray liners that fit into the normal dehydrator trays.  About two cups of purée to each tray.Puréed pumpkin ready for drying

Next, the dehydration process.  Without having any clear knowledge as to the appropriate dehydrator settings, I left the temperature at the default 45C level and set the timer for 6 hours.

The idea is to flip over the partially dried pumpkin after a few hours to ensure complete dehydration.  At the 5 hour mark I paused the process to take a look how it was going.  Well, it wasn’t at all what I expected to see from the YouTube video and this was where things started to break down.  The pumpkin was supposed to have lifted from the tray liner and to be easily flipped over.  Instead, it was firmly stuck to the plastic and not at all dry enough to peel off.  The time was about midnight and I wasn’t thinking too clearly.  I decided to raise the temperature a little and restart the process to run all night, or at least for the next 7 hours, go to bed and continue with the experiment in the morning.

Into the dehydrator

Next morning the pumpkin was drier but still a little rubbery in places and worst of all it was still firmly stuck to the plastic sheet.  I won’t bore you, or embarrass myself further by telling how I eventually prised enough of the dried material from the sheet, to do something
useful with.  Suffice to say that 4 cups of pumpkin purée should dehydrate to about 1⅓ cups of dried pumpkin.
Pumpkin powder

I ended up with a little over ⅔ cup, from which I was able to grind ⅓ cup of powder and a little over ⅓ cup of what more resembled the consistency of cornflakes.

Pumpkin cornflakes

I realised that this was not such a bad result after all while cleaning up the dehydrator tray sheets.  On immersing the sheets in water, the stuck-on pumpkin immediately re-hydrated and easily slid off the surface of the sheets with a simple wipe.  That gave me great confidence the dried material that I had obtained would react in the same way when I wanted to use it and this was confirmed a few days later when I made delicious pumpkin pancakes which included about half of the ‘cornflake’ material I had made.  It worked just as it was supposed to do when combined with about half a cup of boiling water and left to stand for 30 minutes.  The general rule is that ⅓ cup of dried pumpkin combined with 1 cup of water will reconstitute to 1 cup of pumpkin purée.

The intention is to use the rough textured material first as I am unsure how long it will keep in storage compared to the powdered batch, which should have a shelf life of at least six months and possibly up to a year.

My sincere hope is that I have not laboured this post to be a too drawn out affair but I hope I have shown that even what appears to be a failure is not always a total loss and can turn out to be a valuable lesson.