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Dehydrated foods for scouts and other campers, survivalists, and homesteaders.

This is a response to a Contact placed by Scoutmaster Andy Bryant, requesting information on food for backpacking, which has applications for emergency and survival rations as well.

J. B. Wallmo, Loveland, Colorado Dear Andy,

I am certain your mailbox has been full of responses, but you have a concern that my troop and family tackled some 20 years ago and over those years I have discovered many ways to solve it, in a palatable way.

First let us distinguish between "dehydrated" and "freeze dried". The first is somewhat self-explanatory. A food is subjected to a dry warm air process that reduces the moisture to a certain percentage that varies in different foodstuffs. "Freeze dried" is a process of extreme, rapid freezing and drying. This is a process of sublimation of water vapor, not just dehydrating.

The expensive "high-tech" backpacking foods are mostly freeze dried. They require "hydration" (soaking or slow cooking) prior to cooking in water. Although they are much improved over these many years I have three major complaints. 1. They still taste bad. 2. They require more time in preparation and more fuel and water use before they are ready to eat, which is a major drawback in areas where you carry in water. 3. The price has gone up, not down with increased production, but they now come in fancy expensive looking packaging which has no function on the trail.

Scouts need protein, carbohydrates to make blood sugar, and raw sugar at times for high energy snacks and that systemic short-run burst of energy for the late afternoon, cold nights, or hypothermia (candy bars, hard candy, etc.) For most conditions I recommend care in high sugar foods since our insulin allows for the breakdown of carbohydrates for longer, safer blood sugars.

General Mills, General Foods, and others, have put much research into dehydrated and freeze dried products. They like to comer the market. Their efforts, I believe, far exceeded the "techy" food makers that supply the fancy equipment stores. And they taste a heck of a lot better. Takes less time to prepare, and less water and fancy packages of foils and plastics with little pictures of pretty girls climbing mountains. You can find them in any grocery store in the free world and the packaging is a cardboard box which can be discarded before the outing. The inner container can be used as fire starter and not be packed out or turned into trail litter. And the very same foods are available for pennies on the dollar in comparison.

The store variety of noodle packs come in really fancy flavors, like garlic cheese, romanov, broccoli, bacon cheese, etc. Full of carbohydrates. Stores carry powdered eggs, with bacon, at a third the price of the same stuff at a backpacking store. And they taste better.

Dehydrated foods carry a little less food value maybe than freeze dried, but this varies from food to food and producer to producer. The weight difference between the two, to produce the same amount, is almost imperceptible... like in micrograms.

Our troop did a lot of research, as I did with later involvement with mountain rescue and wildlife and engineering studies that I worked on as a guide and logistics guy in my years of work in Alaska with the Park Service, and the Div. Of Wildlife in Colorado and Alaska. And of course, my own recreation.

In my early troop days in Arizona, we discovered that the Mormon church has a major food dehydration program for bulk supply to their members. They have a plan to survive holocaust and whatnot by having members store at least a year's supply of food for every family. They have major distribution centers throughout the U.S. They will sell to non-members. Their fruits and vegetables (dried) may be the highest quality/flavor/nutrient available. There are drawbacks. 1. Everything comes in huge bulk and must be repackaged for back packing. 2. They will try to recruit you and your troop for years after they get your name and address. But the price is incredibly low and again, the food is really good tasting and high quality.

We learned to get overstock of fresh foods from grocers, or right before they took them off the shelves either through reduced pricing or outright free contributions. (Think of the PR value! "We supply the backcountry foods for troop #97!" Then they write off the donation on their taxes.) We would then slice thin and dry our own fruits, vegetables and jerky. In Arizona and Colorado this works easily. But your high humidity region will require a dry heat source to do the same, and then sealing in plastic or freezing in containers to keep the dry foods from soaking up the humidity and spoiling.

I now have a commercial dryer. It is a box with oven racks, a fan and a tiny heat source. It requires very little heat. (You must avoid cooking while drying, especially with meats, sausages and jerky.) Almost everyone has an oven at home that can be your dryer if you turn it on warm only, leave the door open and set a small fan or blower to the edge. I have probably jerked five hundred pounds of meat in my mother's oven, and had only one small batch go because I cooked it and it spoiled.

I won't go into detail here because you have scouts who can go to the library and get many books on the subject for the temperatures, recipes, time and whatnot.

Another thing I strongly suggest is Roger Torey Peterson and Euell Gibbons guides to edible plants in your areas. I can't tell you what a relief it is to have fresh foods that you gather along the trip to supplement, to teach survival, and to get the kids interested in botany.

Do not waste your time with mushrooms! Although they are very tasty, they have no food value and amateur mycology is a very dangerous business. Accurate identification of mycorrizae is a microscopic science! Some can be gastro-intestinal affecting, cerebro-spinal, or get this, blood dissolving, and look just like a harmless meadow button from the grocery. My suggestion to you, and scouting, is no mushrooms, and get those interested into studying mycology at a university. A relatively harmless variety could sit well with all of the troop while one youngster has a violent alkaloid reaction, alkalosis of the blood, or severe allergic reaction, anaphylactic shock and respiratory arrest that can kill a person in less than five minutes.

While we are on the subject, this can occur also from nut oils used in foods, iodized salt (iodine), and from foods like crabs and lobster. It can occur from a single bee sting. And I strongly suggest every scoutmaster be able to identify anaphylaxis, carry three sizes of oropharangeal airways, and carry a "user" syringe of Epinepherin (synthetic adrenaline) that your doctor will prescribe as long as you and your JASM know what to do. Of course, you must know your CPR and that airways will not work on a conscious patient. It is an ugly thing to wait till the convulsions and spasms stop, but the airway will not work on a conscious breathing patient, unless you are an intubation specialist or anesthesiologist. Airway damage will result, and you will not succeed in getting the airway in.

Oh yes: make certain you are dealing with the inflammation of anaphylaxis, and not an airway obstruction since the artificial airway will complicate everything. Just remember: ABC -- Airway, Breathing, Circulation. The rules of all first aid.

Keep a running list of all scouts with any form of allergy, signed by their parents, and check all foods against this list. Nuts can kill. The old epi-syringe has saved many a life in the woods and I wouldn't go on a group without it. (Period!) Scouts forget to bring their own.

Well, while I am busy trying to scare you, I need to say something about dehydrated, dry, dried and freeze dried foods. There is a problem with kids (and adults) which has contributed to many deaths in the sticks. In times of bad weather and hypothermia and exhaustion and just plain foolish food hoarding in the tents, people will nibble on the dry food. Some scouts have even eaten an ounce of raw dry foods after a day of dehydrating hiking. The food will rehydrate with your own fluid in your stomach and intestines which can cause ruptures and bleeding as well as a life threatening dehydration that can only be cured with intensive intravenous blood fluids (DSW or saline), stomach pumping, etc.

Even in small amounts it can contribute to normal dehydration from exertion. Remember that each scout, even the smallest, should consume one-and-a-half quarts of water a day. (Do not count the water used to cook or rehydrate the dry foods!) I recommend carrying a carbon microfilter water purifier so that you can make wild water safe. Boiling is good but won't remove the chemical pollutants and neither will purification tablets that will make your water taste so bad the scouts won't drink enough, and in fact the tablets can be a poison to some, or to all if misused. If you micro-filter and boil for ten to twenty minutes you are relatively save. In survival situations, or whenever possible, let the water stand so that it will settle out much of the organic and mineral pollutants to the bottom before the filtering and boiling. Dip out the top water carefully with a cup, and discard the lower fourth to a half. And if you guys ever get out west to the Rockies, be alerted that our wonderful pure mountain runoff water is full of Giardia protozoans in the summer (and some other nasty little critters) and that mining sites from a hundred years ago are tucked away all over and the dang runoff below these sites contains contaminants that you cannot filter, boil or treat away. It has killed many.

Be Careful and Be Prepared! And my hat is off to you for doing this wonderful work for all. Your efforts to work with kids can be a thankless task full of frustration and danger, but our society is losing its knowledge and skill that scouts learn. We have very poor records of how our Indian brothers lived full lives off the land, without any prepared foods and very little damage to the environment. We are losing touch with the planet we live on, and your work with these youngsters will pay us all back with a better future, for them and for us.
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Author:Wallmo, J.B.
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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