As a youngster, I used to live in city with a chocolate factory. We all envied the workers enormously, because they were allowed to eat all the chocolate they wanted. No limit. They couldn’t take any home, but they could eat as much as they could cram in each day during their shift. Truly, a child’s dream come true.
But the chocolate factory managers were smarter than we children gave them credit. After a possible brief period of gluttony, without exception, the workers lost interest in the chocolate that surrounded them. They were suffering from selective ‘appetite fatigue’.
Appetite fatigue is one of those things that few people ever have cause to think about. We eat something today, something different tomorrow, and different again the next day. Even for something that is a favorite, like ice cream, we can go to Baskin Robbins and choose from 31 different flavors (actually, count them next time you’re in a BR store – chances are it has way more than 31).
But if you’re hunkered down in a difficult situation with merely whatever food you’ve stored on hand, your menu choices might be more limited. Rice and beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day. Try that sometime – well, actually, better you don’t. Trust us on this – after only a very few days, you’ll find yourself preferring to starve rather than face another plate of rice and beans.
Appetite Fatigue Can Kill
We are guilty of trivializing appetite fatigue by talking about eating ‘too much’ chocolate (apparently there is such a thing as too much chocolate – who’d a thought?). Appetite fatigue was first understood when people were discovered who had starved to death, while still having food around them. The appetite fatigue they experienced was so overwhelming that the people ended up starving rather than continuing to eat food which no longer had any appeal.
Appetite fatigue is a problem for combat troops in the field, who in the past would be eating the same rations, day in and day out, for extended periods. The decline in appetite and eating as a result caused health problems for the soldiers and diminished their combat effectiveness, which is why a supply of reasonably decent and varied food is now an important part of the support system of modern soldiers.
More recently, appetite fatigue has been a problem for astronauts as well. It isn’t just extravagant indulgence that sees astronauts enjoying more than the science-fiction postulated concept of unvarying concentrated food paste for every meal.
There’s a subtler element to appetite fatigue as well. Even if people continue eating, albeit unenthusiastically, their morale will drop if the food is unvaryingly bland and boring. One of the greatest essential factors in your ongoing survival and success will be your ability to maintain a positive mental attitude, a ‘we will win/succeed/triumph’ approach to your life, and an upbeat way of handling life’s various ups and downs. Good varied food helps this enormously, bland boring food hinders it equally enormously.
Appetite fatigue is generally thought to set in after about 30 days of routine eating, but some people report suffering from it after much shorter periods.
You need to very carefully guard against appetite fatigue, by varying your daily food as much as you can. Don’t take the easy way out and simply follow the cooking instructions on the side of the pail of dehydrated food you’re eating from. Use those to understand the general approach to cooking the food, but after you’ve understood that, use the entire range of other foodstuffs and cooking procedures you have available to you in terms of how you cook the food.
Here are some suggestions.
Style of Cooking
Most things can be cooked either by boiling or with a drier heat – in the oven or in a pan, and maybe also by frying, and while barbecuing is basically a variation on a dry heat cooking process, no-one can deny that the smoky flavor it imparts to food almost qualifies it as a different form of cooking entirely.
Talking about barbecuing, in an emergency, mildly burning the food can help to add a different flavor to the food, too (but don’t get too carried away with this – burning food adds carcinogens, although that is probably going to be the least of your worries in a survival situation!). In addition to fast barbecuing, there is also slow smoking as a totally different cooking process too.
So be as creative as you can in how you cook your food.
Mix different foods together to create different types of meals – with different appearance, different flavors, different mouth feel.
One strategy can be, if you have (for example) four different food items, work out all the different combinations of two of the items and try moving through them so each day you have a different meal. In the case of four items, A, B, C & D your choices would be AB AC AD BC BD CD – six different ways to combine four items.
Also consider adding some non-traditional items together. While many of us are probably fairly traditional ‘meat, potato and veg’ type eaters, one of the strategies that award-winning top rated chefs use to create ‘interesting’ dishes is to combine food types and flavors that aren’t traditionally combined. Raisins or sultanas or fruit with meat, for example.
Be a bit careful with your experimenting, and better to do some experimenting with your long-term bulk stored food items prior to a Level 2/3 situation, so you know in advance some of the things that work and the ones which, alas, are failures. Start building up your own cookbook of recipes that can turn ordinary food into imaginative different eating experiences.
Spices for Food
One way to vary your food is to use a different spice palette with the food one day compared to another.
We use the term ‘palette’ advisedly. Spices can be a bit like paints. If you randomly mix paint together, you always end up with a muddy brown, right? It takes skillful selection of colors to create interesting new colors that are different to each other, rather than all generically brown.
It is the same with spices. You want to selectively mix spices together to create specific flavor combinations, rather than end up with a generic mix of all flavors. Maybe one day you make your rice spicy with a pepper sauce. The next day you add a curry blend. The next day might see some Italian type herbs. The next day might see some cumin, then maybe paprika, then maybe lavender, then the next day perhaps a salty beef stock, and the following day a vegetable mix. That’s eight different flavor sensations, all very different to each other.
Of course, the underlying product is still unchanging rice, but by selected use of spices you have changed its flavor profoundly from one day to the next. There are still remaining elements that contribute to appetite fatigue such as mouth feel and visual appearance, but you can work on those too. Fluffy rice on day, sticky the next, fried the day after, for example.
Spices are an essential ingredient for any cook who feels the need (as we all should and must) to extend our bland generic foodstuffs and to make them more interesting to eat. They will help us fight off appetite fatigue.
Spices as a Trade Good
Spices can be a great trading item. They take up very little space, they last a long time, and they can be very high value.
Another positive feature of them is that you can profitably buy herbs and spices in bulk at massively lower costs than you pay to get a small container of them at the supermarket. It is common to see products being sold in 5lb or larger bulk quantities at prices per pound the same or even less than the price you pay per ounce for small jars of the product in your local supermarket.
So quite apart from any increase in value that they’ll gain in a Level 2/3 situation, there is an underlying profit opportunity as between what people perceive a given measure of a spice as being worth and what you can buy it for.
Needless to say, if you’re buying spices in bulk, you’ll need to be careful how you store them so as to get longest life from them and to preserve their distinctive smells and tastes.
We suggest you also stock up on salt – a seasoning so essential and commonplace that many people take it for granted. The great thing about salt is that it lasts forever, with no special storage requirements (well, best to keep it in as dry a place as possible, but that is all).
Sugar is another product that pretty much lasts forever and which could make a suitable trading good, and one thing is for sure – most people have a great appetite for sugared foods. If you had to choose between sugar and salt, we’d advocate salt, because a month or year supply of salt is much less than what a person might hope to have in sugar – in other words, you can sell less salt for more money than you can sugar.
We mentioned, above, one of the ‘secrets’ of good cooks – combining food items that you’d not normally consider combining so as to create new taste experiences.
Another ‘secret’ (we put quotes around this word because it isn’t really a secret at all, it is just something many people overlook) is the preparation of sauces to go with prepared food.
A sauce can transform something as bland as chicken breast (which, as you surely know, scores about zero on the flavor intensity scale if just boiled by itself) or pasta (another thing with close to zero built-in flavor) and make it into an explosion of intense flavor. If your main entree item choices are limited, consider creating a variety of different sauces to accompany them. So you can have your chicken breast (or whatever else) first varied by how you cook it, secondly varied by some spicing and seasoning, third varied by what other food items accompany it, and fourth varied by different sauces.
Talking about liquids, there’s another way to provide food – both vegetables and meat – and that’s in the form of soups.
Soups are not only a nice change of eating experience, but they are also a great way to use leftovers and discarded food items. Soups (and stews) can use ‘seconds’, present as a way to get more nutrition from bones, and also provide a strong base to add flavors too. A generic vegetable soup with some sort of stock base can then be flavored several different ways to make it seem like quite a different soup, and can have different types of garnishes to further change its appearance.
Maybe you can take your generic vegetable/bean/pea soup, and one day then add a bunch of fresh carrots to it and serve it as carrot soup, then the next day, repeat with broccoli and have broccoli soup, and so on.
Food Presentation and Appearance
Food that looks good is usually as easy to prepare as food that doesn’t. If you can vary the presentation of your food and make it look nice and dress it up on the plate, the eyes tell the brain that the food will be nice and enjoyable.
There is a reason that restaurants garnish their food with little bits of stuff that you mightn’t even eat. Truly, eye appeal is almost as important as taste/flavor. You should do the same. Little bits of presentation pizzazz add greatly to the overall morale and ‘feel good’ factor in your group, too.
Candy and Dessert Too
Talking about morale, which – as we mentioned above – is almost as important as nutrition, comfort and snack and ‘treat’ foods are an enormous morale booster. Boiled candies have a very long life (and are easy to make), and can add a dash of color on the side of a meal, as well as providing a small treat.
Desserts and cakes are also positive experiences, and while you don’t need every meal to include a lavish selection of sumptuous and sinful dessert confections, it is great to occasionally include these trivially small but greatly appreciated indulgences and treats.
Occasional Special Meals Help Carry People Over
Even if you are doing all the things we mention above, you are still going through an unvarying ritual of meals that are similar in overall eating experience. Just the routine of sitting down at the table, at a similar time, and eating a similar sized meal on a similar sized plate with similar knives and forks becomes boring.
So we suggest you vary the style and presentation of the food. One variation can be on a formal scheduled basis – for example, families used to have a traditional ‘Sunday roast’ where once a week there’d be a more special meal and family event. We suggest you do this, with perhaps a two or three course meal instead of a single course, and maybe use different plates and cutlery if possible too – why not even dress up for the meal.
This sort of event not only helps measure the passing of time, but also reminds you of your overall ‘civilized’ nature and the ongoing success of how you are managing in your Level 2/3 situation.
We also suggest, on a more random basis, so as to add to the casualness of it, that you occasionally have different formats for eating. Maybe ‘build your own burgers’ (or tacos or whatever) which you then eat with your hands. Or have a ‘hot pot’ type meal where people gather around a boiling pot of broth and stick thinly sliced pieces of meats and vegetables in to quickly cook and eat them that way.
However you do it, you want to vary every possible aspect of the eating experience so as to fight off appetite fatigue and to maintain a positive morale in your group.
When planning meals during any sort of extended situation, you need to consciously make an effort to vary the type of food you are eating by varying how you cook it, how you flavor it, what you combine it with, and how you present it. Varied meals help to maintain the group’s positive morale and also combats potential appetite fatigue.
In your preparing, you want to first make sure you have several different ways to cook food. Second, you want to vary the type of food you store as much as possible, so as to have flexibility in your meal choices. Third you want to present the food in different formats and ways, so as not just to be altering the food experiences but also the eating experience too.
One key consideration is to have a generous inventory of herbs, spices and other seasonings and garnishes, both for your own use and as a potential trading good.