The keyword “sustainability” has a less commonly known sibling, “resilience”. While Sustainability concerns the ability of a system, community, or person to continue to enjoy a particular behaviour or standard of life long-term, “Resilience” concerns the short-term ability to survive shocks and disruptions.
Resilience is usually evaluated and designed with respect to systems and communities, but not all of us are so blessed, yet. What can an individual do to be more resilient?
As it happens, Resilience has a more individualist and right-wing-associative cousin, “Prepping”. Prepper blogs and videos often serve as a good inspiration on how to prepare for individual or familial resilience, but you have to watch out for the far-right memes and opinions that correlate with the topic. And honestly, that's just depressing and tiring.
One of the big differences between a leftist individualist resilience and the right-wing version would be the lack of isolationist and violent rhetoric: in a collapse, a leftist resilience “prepper” might want to help bootstrap emergency resilience for as many of their neighbours as possible, on a tight time-scale, rather than pulling out a shotgun and killing them for their jams.
I enjoy this stuff as a thought experiment. Climate collapse and oil decline are a guaranteed thing now, and Capitalism is getting more brittle every passing decade, so an economic collapse is practically guaranteed. I generally expect the decline of oil-powered civilisation to be a slower and more adaptable thing, with society collectively landing on new plateaus of temporary stability and gettting some bearings before the next shock.
But, resilience is resilience, and food being one of the most immediate needs, What kinds of hacks are available for rapidly scalable food production that would be resilient and easy? Here are some of my favourite ideas:
This catch-all term covers lots of different little floating plants that can be raised as feed for fish/fowl, or eaten directly. Their doubling time is often low enough to produce food exponentially given enough surface area and nutrition, and many duckweeds offer valuable protein and uncommonly productive fat reserves. Nutritionally, a short-term way to produce quality oils is an amazing hack.
I recommend directing attention to Wolffia arrhiza, AKA “Watermeal”, because it has fewer or no antinutrients and it can be grown in such a way as to optimise starch and fat, or protein production. It also apparently tastes fine and grows very quickly.
Mulberry silkmoths are responsible for 90% or more of silk production in the world, but of the rest, the Eri silkmoth is the chief producer. Unlike mulberry silkmoths, Eri silkmoths are more versatile in their food plants and can be successfully fed a number of very vigorous hedging plants including privet and laurel.
The full generation time, given a warm temperature and suitable care, is about 2.5-3 months, but the time from egg to pupation can be 1-1.5 months. Unlike a lot of food organisms recommended for resilience, the feedstock for eri silkworms can be collected freely from gardens, estates, and wild (even invasive) plants nearly anywhere urban and temperate. They can probably be grown continuously rather than in batches, with enough effort and space, but generally it's going to be batch operation. They also produce loads of dry frass (bug manure) which can be fed to plants or perhaps used to fertilise W.arrhiza ponds.
The caterpillars cannot be eaten but the pupae can, and traditionally are. The contain a lot of protein and some fat, making them an excellent emergency ration. They can also simply be fed to chickens to ‘launder’ them into more palatable eggs.
I like this method (note: hypothetical, I'm a vegetarian except in extremis) because the food plants are rarely eaten by anything else because of their cyanide content, so this is a way to launder abundant toxic matter into edible and nutritious food.
Sprouts and Microgreens
This is perhaps more a way of rapidly bulking out nutrient-dense seeds, but in some cases this also makes the nutritional value of those seeds far more available. Seeds that are quite small can slip through chewing and end up undigested: if sprouted to microgreens, they can be fully chewed and digested, and perhaps they can absorb a little extra nutrition before harvest, too. Many seeds have an excellent shelf life, so this doesn't necessarily qualify as ‘scaleable’ so much as ‘rapidly expandable’.
Leaf Protein Concentrate (LPC)
So, this is a hack if ever there were a nutrient-acquisition hack. It amounts to ‘leaf curd’, by which it is also known. The process is to collect enough of an edible leaf to be useful, and then to blend up the leaves finely and seive them. The liquid fraction is then fractionated into protein usually by heating, though other methods familiar to cheese and tofu producers could be attempted. The ‘curdled’ leaf protein is pressed into nutrient-dense curds and either eaten directly or used as an ingredient or bulking matter.
Some cursory and scattered reading suggests this method may actually reduce certain kinds of antinutrient, so it's possible, with extreme care and fore-research, that this method could allow one to launder inedible leaves into edible matter (much as one can do with eri silkworms).
I love this problem: how to rapidly scale to meet requirement, using ambient or perennially available inputs to feed as many people with quality food as possible. I'm happy to receive suggestions, hit me up on the fediverse!