Jen has a very interesting post up with a review of the book The End of Food and some comments on gardening. I wouldn't have thought of gardening as subversive--I worked in the yard yesterday and felt that I was, in fact, becoming very suburban-cliched, though I suppose I was weeding the flower beds and spreading mulch (and getting rid of the stupid landscaping fabric the previous owner put down and then didn't adequately cover) at the time rather than planting seeds. But I see what she means; my same-age peers have always been amazed that I cook my own food, let alone grow it.
(My broccoli seeds sprouted. I don't know where I'm going to put all this broccoli. Not to mention the tomatoes and eggplants and basil that are crowding my southern windows. And I've still got zucchini and cantaloupe to start in April. I'm going to see if the mothers want any plants, or if anyone at work does. Next year, when I have more confidence in the inherent ability of seeds to grow, I'll plant more wisely. Was this another facet of society's growing disconnection from the earth, or just simple lack of faith in myself?)
There was a post on a gardener blog I read recently--I can't remember where; I've been all over the blogosphere lately, staving off boredom when I run out of things to do at work--in which she posited that you could save only five seeds (species) to survive on after an apocalypse. She chose three vegetables--one was the tomato--and two flowers, as I recall, snapdragons and something else with an edible tuber. She said you can't live without beauty. I considered this and decided that mine would be some sort of grain (amaranth/wheat/rye/quinoa--I'd have to research their nutritional and growing properties to choose properly), a bean (protein, stores well), potatoes (healthy, filling, stores well), flax (seeds for eating, fibers for clothing, and hey, the flowers are pretty), and I'm not sure about the last--some sort of vegetable, maybe a green since I don't have any, but then greens don't keep and if anything botanical has survived, I bet dandelions have and we could eat those. I considered tomatoes, since they have lots of vitamins and can be dried for winter (I was really concerned about winter--though one of the first things I'd do if it became evident I was going to have to live off the land and my two hands is move south), but then the rest of the plant is poisonous. Maybe carrots. They'd store well too. Or raspberries or blackberries, maybe--fruit would be important, but trees would take years to get established and we could die of scurvy before then.
I mentioned this to Eric last night--he suggested corn as an alternative to grain or flax--and this got us on the subject of whether we'd survive an apocalypse, assuming it weren't the nuclear-war-everything-is-going-to-die kind. Perhaps a modern Black Plague wipes out 99.9% of the population (Eric got concerned about the gene/labor pool and I pointed out that 0.1% of the population is a lot more now than it was in 1346), or non-nuclear warfare devastates the country/planet, or asteroids hit, or Prada and Lean Cuisine go out of business the same day and most of the world commits suicide in despair. I can garden (at least a little, and if the apocalypse holds off a few years I'll know more), spin, knit, sew, and cook. Eric said, "I don't think I'm going to be very useful," but then he knows a lot about chemicals, smelting, medicine, and random stuff generally, and he's good at building things. If we had his mother along we'd be okay for water (she's head scientist at the local water company), and if we had his sister along we'd be good for medical care (she's a nurse). We discussed what we'd need, what we'd want put into an emergency pack or stash. This is the first time I've ever heard him willing to own a gun. We discussed what we'd do with pets, how to get people to band together for survival, whether it would be best to head away from the remains of civilization for a few years, what to do with useless or dangerous people, how long it would take to communicate with other continents and to rebuild if we knew what we were building toward. We'd want to record things, to make sure that we didn't lose what knowledge we have, and to try and avoid whatever mistakes led us to the apocalypse. I said, "There would be no more chocolate. No tampons, no birth control…and no epidurals." And no World of Warcraft, but then, we'd kind of be living it. He said, "This would be an interesting book to write. 'In Case of Apocalypse, Read This Book.'"
The Parable of the Sower discusses this a little--the story is about a collapsing American society and a girl who prepares for the collapse with an emergency pack and survival skills that she eventually has to use and is able to begin a new community with. (It doesn't mention epidurals.) And Eric says I need to read Nightfall the novel, as it also discusses how to start over and the political types who would try to take advantage of other people. But mainly I want to start reading more practical stuff--I wanted to learn more about canning and preserving anyway (I have some apple butter in the cupboard, but if I have as many tomatoes this summer as I hope to I'll have to branch out), and I have books on medicinal herbs and basic survival skills, and of course I want to learn more about growing things, and as my family gets bigger my gardens will get bigger. I hope I won't ever truly need these skills--I think--but I'd feel a lot better knowing them.