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Cooking Methods

wonderbag_mainWe’ve never run an article verbatim from another site before, but yesterday I stumbled upon this one while I was searching for something else and the story moved me. It’s about a product that was conceived of during a blackout. It doesn’t just solve a problem. It changes people’s lives. Here’s the article, with some further comments by me at the end:

Sarah Collins couldn’t sleep. It was 2008, and rolling blackouts had darkened the city of Johannesburg. There were severe, ongoing energy shortages throughout South Africa, and everyone was affected. Cities and towns, hospitals and schools — all had power only once every several days, and then only for a few hours. It was during one of these blackouts that Sarah leapt out of bed at two in the morning and woke up her roommate. “I’ve got it!” she said. “I know how I’m going to change the world.”

Sarah had devoted her entire life to searching for ways to empower people in rural Africa, especially women. She worked in AIDS orphans clinics. She did environmental conservation work. She started community-based businesses to help rural women generate an income. She even created a political party and ran for government.

But the night of the blackout, Sarah flashed back to her childhood. Growing up on a farm in a remote part of the country, she had watched her grandmother bundle blankets and cushions around a hot pot of stew to keep it cooking and conserve her limited fuel. “Why wouldn’t that work?” she thought. Then she remembered watching the San people bury food in the ground while they were cooking. “I thought to myself, ‘This is the oldest technology in the world.’”

The next day, Sarah created the prototype for her heat-retention cooker, the Wonderbag. After food is brought to a boil, the pot is placed in the heavily-lined bag where it slow-cooks for up to 12 hours. “Finding firewood for cooking takes a huge amount of rural women’s time,” explains Sarah, “and gathering it is very dangerous. The wood fires used to cook then cause indoor pollution, a leading cause of death worldwide in children under five. Having the Wonderbag would empower the women to feed their families, generate an income, and save them time.”

“Right away I knew it would work,” says Sarah, “I just knew it. I called my brother and said, ‘I’ve found it! I’ve found my life, I’ve found my destiny, I found the way I can help make a difference.’ And I described the idea, and he joked, ‘Sarah, for years the family has been looking for an excuse to have you institutionalized, and I think I just found it.’”

Sarah brought her first bag to a grandmother she knew who cared for nine orphans. The woman earned a meager living selling food that she cooked all day over a wood fire, but still struggled to meet her family’s basic needs. The tarpaulin where they lived was always full of smoke. The kids weren’t in school, because they had to spend their days gathering firewood. “I said to her, ‘I’ll live with you while we see whether this works.’ But she got the idea right away,” says Sarah. “Their lives were completely changed. Within three months, the children only needed to gather firewood once a week, and they were all in school. They had money for shoes. It was a catalyst out of poverty for them.”

Five years later, Sarah has sold or donated more than 700,000 Wonderbags throughout Africa.

The Wonderbag is now available in the U.S., through Amazon, and Sarah’s new goal is to sell one million to people worldwide. For every bag sold, one is donated to a family in need. “I chose Amazon because I loved the idea of combining the oldest technology in the world with the most high-tech, efficient, environmentally-friendly way of doing your shopping,” says Sarah.

“Having the Wonderbag on Amazon brings healthy, wholesome, slow-cooked portable food into mainstream kitchens. Just as important,” says Sarah, “it empowers consumers, by giving them innovative ways to be part of the solutions that the world is looking for.”

Phil’s Comments

  •  This is a prepper story. I wasn’t aware of the rolling blackout problems that this story talks about, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they occurred in America eventually. As flaky as our crumbling infrastructure is, the most vulnerable element seems to be our aging power grid. Prepping is about more than just storing beans, bullets, and band-aids for a potential future emergency. It’s also about making changes to our lifestyle now, before anything happens, to better train and equip ourselves to deal with hardship when it comes. One huge aspect of that lifestyle change is learning to make do with less. The less you use, the less you need. The slogan “Reduce – Reuse – Recycle” is beginning to resonate with me. A great place to start is to find ways in which you can meet your needs while using less energy. Sarah found a way to use less fuel energy by cooking in a Wonderbag.
  • The Wonderbag isn’t a new idea. Sarah plainly says as much in the article. She watched her grandmother bundle blankets and cushions around a hot pot of stew to keep it cooking. She got this brainstorm for  a new product that was actually a very old idea. “Old school” techniques and technology rock, especially in a prepper situation. Keep your eyes peeled for information on how people got by in the pioneer days or during the Great Depression. It might be helpful someday. And look for ways to update some of these old ways. You might be able to put a new spin on an old technology and have a life-changing impact on many people like Sarah did.
  • Because this is “the oldest technology in the world” and Sarah’s grandmother was able to accomplish the same thing with blankets and cushions, you don’t have to buy a Wonderbag to cook your meals. Use your own blankets, or dig a hole in the ground and put your pot in it. Sarah’s new-fangled Wonderbag may work better than those approaches, or it may not. I don’t know. Clearly, more research is called for. (Perhaps I should apply for a government grant.) The answer to your problem isn’t always to spend more money or to buy a new product. Sometimes you just need to use what God has already put in your hand in a new and different way.
  • At the a selling price of $56.57 (as of the time of this writing), the Wonderbag is over-priced. Intentionally. For every one you buy, they give one to a needy person or family in Africa. You can’t buy one for a lower price and not have one go to Africa. They don’t give you that option. If that bugs you, you can always try making your own or try the digging-a-hole-in-your-backyard approach. If their forced philanthropy appeals to you (as I’m certain it does to many), you can buy two Wonderbags. Keep one for yourself and give the second one to the person of your choice. (I strongly believe that prepping is about sharing, but I very strongly believe that I should be the one who gets to decide who I share my stuff with.) And you can feel good about blessing two families in Africa.
  • If the Wonderbag works as well as the reviews suggest (out of 237 customer reviews on Amazon, 166 of them are 5-stars), it’s selling price of $56.57 is a bargain. When I read the article, my mind instantly went to a group of  contemporary products that do the same thing. They’re called thermal cookers, and they use the exact same principle — bring your food to a simmer and then transfer it to a thermal-retention unit. It continues to slow-cook on residual heat for hours. The one I’ve seen the most positive comments about on other prepper sites is Saratoga Jack’s thermal cooker. People rave about it, but at $110 plus $13.50 in shipping it makes the Wonderbag look like a bargain. And Saratoga Jack’s isn’t the most expensive such product by a long shot. Zojirushi (whose products I hold in high regard) sells one for $194.65, which makes the highly-rated Wonderbag looking down-right cheap by comparison.

The bottom line is that necessity is the mother of invention. Plato said that, a very long time ago, and it still holds true today. Whether you buy a Wonderbag or try to cook stew in your sleeping bag, we need to get creative about using less and making due with what we have. It will save money in the short-run, which could enable you to buy more stuff that you need in the long-run.

Emergency ChecklistIn my previous National Preparedness Month blog, I encouraged you to review what preps you’ve made in the past year and consider strategic purchases to improve your preparedness position. Some of you know off the top of the head what your highest prepping priorities are, but for most of us, I’m guessing a more directed approach to evaluating your preps would be helpful. We’re here to help. Use the Preparedness Check and Challenge checklist below to evaluate where you are now and where you want to be.

There are more areas in which we need to prepare – communications, transportation, and medical, to name just a few. But our readers tend to be beginners in prepping, so we’ll stick with these basic topics for today’s blog.

We’re still working on every area (of course), but we’re making progress. My personal challenge for September is to complete a 3-day and a 1-month food plan with recipes. As I was writing this blog and explaining my alternate approach to evaluating my stored food, I realized that I can easily look at my pantry and evaluate if I have the necessary food to meet my immediate and short-term needs. Today, that is. That wouldn’t be the case in an emergency. You see, cooking is a weakness for me. Phil can grab ingredients and make good food. I can’t. I used to become paralyzed in video rental stores – there were just too many options. I also become paralyzed when faced with an immediate need to make food if I don’t have a plan.

So, by the end of September, I hope to have several written menus for the first three day s and first month of an emergency, and make sure that we keep all the ingredients on hand to make those meals. If we don’t have the ingredients in stock, the menu plan isn’t worth anything.

Let me urge you – spend a few minutes reading this brief checklist, then challenge yourself in one area. Set a specific goal of what you want to accomplish before the end of September (National Preparedness Month). That’s only two weeks away, so be reasonable about what you might be able to do, but don’t be too easy on yourself. The harder you work now, the easier you’ll have it when you need it.

Water

  • Recommendation: The government recommends 1 gallon per person (and pet) per day for drinking and cooking. We say more is better, but 1 gallon is a minimum place to start. Oh, and if you want to keep yourself and your things clean, plan on needing more water.
  • How much water do you need/want to store:
    ____ (Number of people/pets) x ____ (number of days) x 1 gallon
  • How much water do you have stored: ________
  • What are you going to do to upgrade your water storage and/or purification capabilities?

Food

  • Recommendation: The average adult intake is about 2000 calories/day under normal conditions. In an emergency, you’re likely to be burning more calories than that, so if you can plan for 3000 calories/day, that’s a good thing.
  • How much food do you want/need to store:
    ____ (Number of people) x ____ (number of days) x _____ (number of calories)
  • How much food do you have stored: ________
  • Don’t forget pets. If you have pets, how much do they eat each day? Multiply that by the number of days and you know how much pet food you need to have stored.

An Alternate Approach — Having just given you the formula, let me tell you that I don’t use the formula any more. I did at first, as I was developing my plan and understanding of long-term food storage. Now I take a different approach. I consider my preps in three stages: immediate, short-term and long-term. I approach my evaluation according to these three stages:

  • Immediate: How many meals can I make with little or no preparation in the first 72 hours? My goal is 3 meals per day for 6 people. I can easily look at my pantry and determine if I am at that goal.
  • Short-Term: How many meals can I make from my pantry with minimal dipping into my long-term storage food during the first month? My goal is 3 meals per day for 8 people, with some desserts added to help keep up morale. Again, I’m going to visually inspect my pantry to determine if my goal is met.
  • Long-Term: How much long-term food do I have? Phil and I met our one-year plan for the two of us last year, so now we look at how many other people can we help.

Cooking

  • If the power grid is down, do you have the capability to cook the food you have? What key purchase would allow you to say “yes” in response to that question? Consider a propane camping stove (don’t forget to store some propane), an outdoor fire pit with grill, a rocket stove and/or a solar oven. (I have plans for a DIY solar oven that I can’t wait to try. Oh if there were just enough hours in the day!)
  • Do you know how to cook the food you have with the cooking method(s) available?

Shelter/Heat

  • If for any reason your current shelter is no longer available, do you have a backup plan? Where will you go and how will you get there? What kind of challenges are you likely to face in getting there? What will you take with you? What do you need to be able to make the trip? How quickly can you be on the road?
  • In a no-power-grid situation (whether it’s from a snow storm, a tornado, a hurricane, or a power-grid failure) do you have a plan to keep you family warm? Start with buying extra clothes and blankets. Add to it by developing an alternate heat source.

Security

  • Is your home an easy target for being broken into? What can you do to “harden” your home? (Think about things like upgrading your entry doors or planting thorny bushes under first floor windows.)
  • Are you prepared to protect your family? What do you need to do to become more prepared and better trained?

Documentation

  • How’s your prepper notebook coming? Read more about it here. People tend to put off gathering important documents and creating a prepper notebook. If this is the one thing you do during National Preparedness Month, you will have done a good thing.

What’s your Preparedness Check and Challenge goal for this National Preparedness Month?

EDIT: This bundle is no longer available. It was a great deal, but the consortium of prepper authors who put this together were true to their word about this being a very limited time offer. They’re talking about some other products in the future. We’ll let you know of any worthwhile specials that we find.

We don’t do a lot of selling on this site. That’s not what we’re about. The purpose of this site is this:

  • To inform people of the potential dangers we all face in these unstable days we live in
  • To motivate people to take steps to prepare themselves for an emergency
  • To educate people about what they can do to make those preparations

But sometimes the best way to accomplish one or more of those goals is to recommend a product. This is one of those times.

A group of preparedness authors have banded together to offer a package deal of their books and instructional materials at a discount so deep it’s too good to pass up. It’s only $29, but that price is only good until this coming Monday (September 23, 2013). I don’t know what the price will jump to then, but it is an absolute steal at this introductory price of $29. They say the retail value of the package is $700. I haven’t done the math, but a cursory glance at the wealth of materials will confirm that they’re darned close. I bought one for myself right away. It was a no-brainer. I got enough stuff in this bundle to keep me learning and prepping through the cold winter months to come.

Ultimate Survival BundleThe Ultimate Survival Bundle is a collection of downloadable books, videos, and audio presentations that covers most of the critical areas of emergency preparedness or survival. Included in the package are a couple of books that give a comprehensive treatment of preparedness and it is well worth the bundle price of $29 just to get those two books. They are Making the Best of Basics (edition 12.5) by James “Doctor Prepper” Stevens, which sells on Amazon for $28.99 (one cent less than this entire bundle); and The Untrained Housewife’s Guide to Getting Prepared (also sold on Amazon).

Topics covered by resources in the Ultimate Survival Bundle include food storage, gardening, alternative energy, security, homesteading, medical preparedness, raising animals, and ethical issues. A total of 46 resources from 36 different authors. Some are very broad while others are highly specialized. Here are some examples:

  • A 150-page book on dehydrating food, written by the author of a book on the same topic for the “Complete Idiot’s Guide” series that you’ve seen in bookstores
  • A 101-page guide to herbal medicines, which sells for $29.67 on Amazon (I’ve looked up all of these Amazon prices myself to get a sense of the value of this package)
  • A 266-page book about wind power from a consumer’s point of view
  • A 106-page book on “apartment gardening” – growing your own food in limited spaces
  • A book on solar energy that sells for $19 on Amazon
  • A 40-page booklet on how to build a fire
  • A 228-page book on raising goats
  • A 62-page book on building and living in a yurt (after browsing this bad boy I am really wanting to get me a yurt!)

Click on this link to go to a page that gives details about all of the many products included in this package.

Besides books, there are also a few videos that you can download. Two of them are instructions on how to build a greenhouse, companion videos to a book on that topic that is also a part of the package. These video files are very large and will take a while to download. One is two hours long (2 gigabyte file size) and the second in a little over an hour long (1 gigabyte). Another video is a half-hour presentation on hand-to-hand self-defense techniques.

I could go on, but I’m going to try to contain my enthusiasm. The bottom line is that if there’s not something in the Ultimate Survival Bundle that gets your juices flowing, you’re not a prepper. At $29, this is one of the biggest bangs for the buck that I’ve encountered in a very long time. I can blow that much on pizza in a week. This is a deal that will give me something to chew on for much longer than that. When you’re ready to order, click here. Get it while you can get it cheap.
UltimateSurvivalBundle.com

Retro pressure cookerAre you stocking up on dried beans in anticipation of hard times to come? Me, too. Dried beans are nearly perfect prepper food. They store well, they’re versatile in recipes, they’re high in protein and fiber while being low in fat, and they’re crazy tasty. Nearly perfect.

Nearly. But not quite.

The downside of dried beans is that it takes a long time to cook them. Long cooking times generally means lots of energy consumption. Preppers are all about energy conservation, so the challenge becomes finding ways to cook foods that require long cooking times without burning huge amounts of energy. There are a number of good solutions to this problem, but if you took the time to read the title of this posting you’ve probably been waiting for me to stop beating around the bush and get to the topic of pressure cookers.

Your patience has been rewarded.

Pressure cookers are old school, but you may have noticed that a lot of prepping skills are old school. When it comes to prepping, we all need to “unplug” and step away from the gadgets (says the guy who’s writing this blog on his laptop while watching satellite TV on his HD big-screen). But I digress.

Pressure cookers cook slow foods really quickly. Pinto beans cook in 12 minutes. Compare that to anywhere from one to three hours of cooking in a conventional pot. Lentils are ready to eat in just 7 minutes.

Sandy asked what I was writing about and said, “What do you know about pressure cookers?” The true answer is “not much,” but I’m about to get a lot smarter because I’m about to read this awesome infographic that I downloaded from www.HipPressureCooking.com. They have graciously given permission for this excellent graphic to be used on our humble site. Be prepared to be entertained while you’re being educated.

pressure_cooker_infographic