The Doomsday Diet
December 12, 2017 10:33 PM   Subscribe

As the 1950s unfolded, it became clear that buying a few extra cans of food at the grocery store wasn’t going to feed the entire country sufficiently. In urban areas, high-rises, and many southern states where homes lacked basements, there would need to be larger government-run shelters. People couldn’t be expected to bring their own supplies and food; everything they would need had to be ready and waiting inside a shelter when nuclear war arrived. The Eisenhower administration embarked on the quest to develop the perfect “Doomsday food.”
Meet the all-purpose survival cracker, the US government's Cold War-era nutrition solution for life after a nuclear blast.
posted by Rumple (27 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
i lived in the midwest in high school (think mid 80s). with permission from jackie's dad, chris and i would take a .22 and .20 gauge out in the hedges along his cow pastures.

every so often, we'd come across a *massive* tower of these survival crackers. like, 10'x10'x5'. jackie said her dad used them as emergency feed when the weather was too shit to get to town - he must have got a great deal.

i told you that story so i could tell you this one: if chris and i had an appetite come on, we'd pop open a tin and help ourselves. crisp and fresh as the day they were made. imagine a 'tougher' sort of saltine, with more flavor.

teenagers and their appetites, amirite?
posted by j_curiouser at 10:46 PM on December 12, 2017 [15 favorites]


Relevant Wordshore: In the Mansfield Library of the University of Montana, librarians discover some cold war rations, produced in 1962. Their reaction was to eat them. “I took a taste of one [of the survival biscuits]; It’s like a stale graham cracker with a hint of vanilla in it. It could be far worse.” Making your own food time capsule? A few suggestions.
posted by Rumple at 10:55 PM on December 12, 2017


Not surprising the crackers went off...whole wheat has a fair bit of oil and protein in it, and they also weren’t packaging them with O2 absorbers or under inert atmosphere.

Prepper tech has improved significantly nowadays. Mylar-packaged white rice, with desiccants and O2 absorbers, has a shelf life of over 30 years if kept at moderate temps.

Interestingly, at the guideline of 700 calories a day, rice is still bit cheaper than those crackers were in the ‘60s. Of course, it does require heating and water, which might not be ideal in some bunker situations.

Huh...I wonder if cooked rice cakes could be turned into a survival food...
posted by darkstar at 11:33 PM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


Huh...I wonder if cooked rice cakes could be turned into a survival food...

If these are the "rice cakes" that I tried like 30 years ago, aren't they already "survival food"? FWIW, a couple of years ago, I squirreled away a few days of freeze dried backpacking food, just in case the pantry gets thin. I guess I fail as a prepper since I didn't stockpile the needed water. I do have (a) gas grill + extra tank in the backyard and (b) a "I can't believe they sold those" Optimus 8R camping stove and a can of white gas somewhere around here. The propane coleman stove is useless without a can of propane, btw, and of course the grill tanks don't work with that unless I get another adapter....

tl;dr: Don't count on me in an emergency. ( I do have a wicked good first aid kit from the Volunteer Ambulance Corps days though )
posted by mikelieman at 11:58 PM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


I think I've eaten these! I grew up on Northern reservation land, and the nuns used to hand these out with a glass of warm, improperly mixed powdered milk every afternoon at school. They were super-hard to chew.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 1:48 AM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


there’s even a Subway franchise deep inside the mountain that feeds the bunker’s regular workforce. At least some lucky air force personnel would continue to eat $5 foot-longs after the end of the world.

The government gets subsidies for its food AND swank accommodations is my take away.

That and the one picture with the big glass jug is moonshine. Because if you are gonna go at the end of the world, blackout drunk sure seems like as good a plan as any.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:09 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


...schools in an Indiana county tattooed children’s blood types under their armpits — rather than on their arms, which could be blown off — to help speed transfusions in the event of injury.

Uh
posted by XMLicious at 2:23 AM on December 13, 2017 [7 favorites]


A little more about those Indiana tattoos is here. I’d never heard of them, on either schoolchildren or SS troops. I have tried survival biscuits. Apparently the dorm I lived in in my freshman year of college (1981-82) was a fallout shelter and had a bunch of tins stashed in the attic. Some intrepid urban explorers on our floor found these and brought a tin back to the rest of us. We broke it open and a few of us sampled the contents. I don’t recall them being rancid, just slightly stale and very bland.
posted by TedW at 2:46 AM on December 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


“I’m a vegan. I’m used to things tasting horrible.”

but what if they're made of people
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:33 AM on December 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


I don't think any survival biscuits or crackers made it into the Fallout game, unless Fancy Lads Snack Cakes count.
posted by exogenous at 5:24 AM on December 13, 2017


Also surprised these aren't a Vault-Tec product. Or that vault dwellers don't have a zillion recipes for survival crackers a la king, survival crackers au gratin, general Tso's survival crackers...
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:28 AM on December 13, 2017 [5 favorites]


My father gave over a portion of his warehouse basement to a municipal bomb shelter installation, on the North-side of Pittsburgh in the 1960's, which was basically just several pallets of boxed supplies.

In the late seventies, us kids started going through the boxes. Aside from barrels of water, the bulk of the supplies, in the big boxes, consisted of these crackers packed together with large tins of lozenge-sized hard candy.

The smaller boxes were more interesting: they contained Geiger counters, gas masks (not enough for everyone, presumably just for the recon expedition), and a giant bottle of Phenobarbital tablets.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:56 AM on December 13, 2017 [6 favorites]


The Grand Canyon Caverns along Route 66 in Arizona were selected as a fallout shelter. The food and water supplies are still there. Due to the caverns' low humidity (2%), the food and water are supposedly still fresh.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 10:21 AM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


"among a certain Silicon Valley set, enthusiasts have embraced the idea of Soylent “Ready to Drink Meals.”

It's my understanding that powdered Soylent (and its imitators) isn't a long-shelf-life survival food meant for when current stores of real food are tainted or unavailable, but amounts to a rejection of current stores of real food as too time-consuming and fiddly for the streamlined postmodern workplace. I dunno, that was my "we are the apocalypse and the apocalypse is us" take-away from this article.
posted by All hands bury the dead at 10:49 AM on December 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


It's my understanding that powdered Soylent (and its imitators) isn't a long-shelf-life survival food

It's not; they've got a 1-2 year expiration date, depending on recipe, and since that's likely a conservative estimate, are likely good for at least an extra year. But they haven't been tested, and they're not sold in packaging designed for long-term storage. And they're a high-tech multiple-source ingredients food; unlike wheat crackers, you can't make a reasonable approximation in a post-industrial society.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:03 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


at NORAD[...] there’s even a Subway franchise deep inside the mountain that feeds the bunker’s regular workforce.

Of course there is.
posted by BS Artisan at 11:27 AM on December 13, 2017


I don't think any survival biscuits or crackers made it into the Fallout game, unless Fancy Lads Snack Cakes count.

Fancy Lads are definitely a reference to Hostess cupcakes or -- more likely, due to the "infinite shelf life" myths around them -- Twinkies.

So, yeah, it's actually kind of odd that survival crackers never made it into Fallout. Some cursory wiki diving suggest that the Fallout universe has no crackers whatsovever, not even saltines! There are cookies, though.

Falling deeper down the rabbit hole, it appears that there's a promotional item for Fallout 2 that mentions crackers on its label and two of the parrot pets in Fallout Shelter have references to crackers in their descriptive text. The mainline games are entirely cracker-free, however.

The only logical conclusion is that FEV destroyed the entire world's supply of crackers, relegating the very idea of toasted flatbread wafers to the status of a vestigial cultural memory along with things like "not dying in an irradiated wasteland".
posted by tobascodagama at 12:08 PM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


If you want to buy something a little like this, try grabbing some Sailor Boys from your local supermarket! 20 year shelf life, and they're used as emergency rations by Alaskan bush pilots, so that's got to tell you something. I love 'em.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:44 PM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


I’ll add that, if you’re not able to find the Sailor Boy brand, Future Essentials sells a similar pilot bread cracker.

Amazon has them, though they are on the expensive side per calorie. But, they’re packaged in sealed cans, with desiccants and O2 absorbers, with a 30 year shelf life, so better for longer term storage.

As always, temperature fluctuations (esp. warmer temps.) can significantly shorten the shelf lives of even the best packaged foodstuffses.
posted by darkstar at 2:00 PM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm sure that all the crackers in the Fallout world simply turned into snakes as all Wheat & Wheat By-Products tend to do.
posted by cirhosis at 2:54 PM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


I too went to college in the 80s and was able to find these in rooms labeled as fallout shelters (but no longer maintained as far as I could tell). They were fairly palatable with peanut butter.
posted by inexorably_forward at 12:43 AM on December 14, 2017


I too went to college in the 80s and was able to find these in rooms labeled as fallout shelters (but no longer maintained as far as I could tell). They were fairly palatable with peanut butter.

In college, you just need to own a nice blazer and some presentable pants, and you can live by crashing receptions for speakers. Your diet is cheese cubes, carrot sticks and broccoli from those Gus Fring trays, peanuts, and white wine, but that sounds better than survival biscuits and peanut butter.
posted by thelonius at 5:12 AM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


Sure, but then you'd have to hang out with Those People instead of spending time in old fallout shelters with your nerd friends.
posted by exogenous at 12:14 PM on December 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


I’ve been thinking about the costs, and ruminating on the various permutations of twice-baked breads as a long-term storage food. Zwieback, bappir, mandelbrodt, biscotti, other forms of rusk, etc.

I wonder if you took a nice loaf of bread from the store, set it in the oven, and re-baked the hell out of it as you would hardtack, whether you’d get something useful. Perhaps toasted first to get a little maillard browning for flavor, then bake it to hardtack stage. I’d bet it would keep a long time in the freezer, and probably 20 years if Mylar bagged with O2 absorber and desiccant.

I may have to try that out, just to see.
posted by darkstar at 2:26 PM on December 14, 2017


I'll check back in 2037 to see how it worked out.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 1:27 PM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


LOL! Yeah, that’s the challenge with determining whether long term food storage works...you have to wait, and then open and test it, to actually know.

I’ve found you can get semi-reliable indicators on whether a food is going to last by testing it after about 5 years. If you open it then, and things are still okay, it’s a good sign. But I’ve only been storing food for a little over 11 years now, so I’m also relying on lore from others who have set aside food for 20 or more.

On further reflection of my earlier comment, though, I don’t think off-the-shelf breads twice-baked would be a very good option. Too many oils/fats to keep well. That canned pilot bread I mentioned, though, that’s the real deal.
posted by darkstar at 3:31 PM on December 21, 2017


No surprise to see a snide quip from Angel of Death Herman Kahn in there.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:29 PM on December 28


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