Let them eat lentils

In preparation for the imminent collapse of the UK economy, it is now prudent to begin stockpiling essential supplies that might at least see you through a couple of months of severe shortages*. That means food and medicine.

I won’t pontificate about medicine, since no two people have the same specific physiology. All I can say is that raising the topic has reminded me to stock up on the one medicine I take regularly: ibuprofen (400mg, natch, 200s are useless). I bought a box of 24 last month but I think there are only about 10 tablets left…definitely not enough, I get through them like smarties! This unfortunately means a trip to the chemist down Suicide Gulch Splott Road and enduring the perfunctory mandatory interrogation by a bored pharmacist’s assistant. But it will be worth the pain – I couldn’t possibly survive without my go-to, all-circumstances hangover remedy. Note to self: get two jumbo packs.

I am, however, able to provide some helpful tips on what food to lay up for when the UK topples over the precipice and gets a taste of the suffering, poverty, starvation and chaos it has been inflicting on the rest of the world for centuries. Being an unreconstructed 1970s hippy thoroughly inured to, and perfectly happy with, a diet of brown rice and lentils, I’ve long since rejected the mass-produced junk of the food industry. So the impending shock of empty supermarket shelves and freezers will be irrelevant to me because the two food groups I rely on for sustenance are, indeed, ‘brown rice and lentils’ – ie: grains and pulses, the abundant, cheap, unrefined, uncorrupted staples of humanity since the beginning of recorded history. My larder is always pretty well-stocked with the complete spectrum of them in assorted jars, out of which I’ve learnt to concoct an infinite variety of quite adequate meals. All of the many different grains and pulses are nutritional, healthy, adaptable and, because they are dried, keep for ever – perfect foods to ride out the upcoming famine!

If you must buy them in a supermarket head for the dry goods aisle, but it’s far better to use Asian, Middle-East or wholefood shops, where there’s a greater choice and they can be bought at half the price and in bigger quantities. Only this week I sloped up to Roath and splashed out on top-up bags of lentils and split peas at two of my favourite Cardiff shops: Spice of Life in Inverness Place and Beanfreaks in Albany Road. I recommend squirreling away the following:

■Lentils These legumes, the seeds of the Lens culinaris species, come in many colours and varieties. No kitchen should ever be without supplies of the common red, brown, black and green lentils and, if you fancy going a bit gourmet and are willing to spend a little more, the beautiful speckled blue-grey puy lentils. Do what I do: keep them on open display in chunky kilner jars to show off their appealing rainbow of colours and, as a bonus, make casual visitors feel inadequate, compromised and impure. None require soaking before cooking and they can be boiled, fried or baked in under half an hour, depending on what dish you’re attempting to produce. The essential key ingredient in a multitude of curries, soups, stews and salads and, combined with rice, the default daily supper of half the planet, lentils have an earthy flavour that can always be made more interesting to the contemporary jaded palate with the addition of spices and herbs (see below). By the way, it’s not true that lentils make you fart. Take me for instance: I live on lentils yet never fart – instead, I stand on my head and, depending on the volume and velocity, call it a belch or a burp.
■Beans Where would we be without beans? The term “bean” covers a host of legumes across many species that contain larger seeds in their pods than lentils. They are ok bought in cans pre-cooked, and there can’t be many who don’t have a tin of baked beans (haricot) in the kitchen cupboard, but buying them dried, soaking them and cooking them yourself is better for the bank balance and the taste-buds. The aforementioned haricot plus borlotti, cannellini, flageolet, kidney, pinto, black, black-eyed and butter beans should be panic-purchased NOW, and while you’re at it you would be well advised to find room for a sack of dried soybean mince, a protein-packed, all-purpose replacement for meat in bolognese sauces etc. Treat yourself too, if you can, to some exotic beans like aduki, mung and urad – all particularly delicious and likely to be widely unavailable when Theresa Mayhem has achieved the Hard Brexit that was always her aim and the M20 has been turned into a 15 mile long, giant lorry park for 2,000 empty freight carriers. There’s no point stockpiling the beans that are grown in the UK and eaten fresh (broad beans, green beans, runner beans). They’re perishable and, as is the case with all perishable vegetables and fruits, people are just going to have to go without until and if the summer harvest happens, and instead make do with seasonal produce like swede, turnips, potatoes and brassicas. That’s how I eat in any case and that’s how the whole world ate until turbo-capitalism’s planet-wrecking globalisation project was launched 40 years ago – so being deprived of avocado and kumquat should be no problem for the Bulldog Brit, he sniggered.
■Peas Yes please! Do whatever it takes to ship in split peas, both yellow and red. They are fundamental to dead-easy tarka dhal (with garlic), chana dhal (with chickpeas), cawls and casseroles, and boast magnificent subtle colour and a glorious creamy texture. For hummus, falafel, gram flour and aquafaba, chickpeas are a must in their own right, despite needing to be soaked overnight and taking forever to cook. As for the native garden pea, Pisum sativum, a large bag of frozen petits pois should be kept in the fridge, bien sûr, but other than that grow them yourself if you’ve got access to any sort of cultivation ground. They’re a wild and wanton climber that can be crammed into a small space if trained up sticks. I manage a decent harvest most summers, if I can get to them before the weevils, and if I can resist guzzling the sweet sensations straight from the pod as I pick them. I must own up to a regressive weakness for dried marrowfat peas, which often come with a sodium bicarbonate ‘steeping tablet’ – chuck the completely unnecessary E number additive straight in the bin. Beware: if even slightly overcooked, marrowfats suddenly become ‘mushy peas’, a repellent British favourite only good for repointing the outhouse brickwork while taking a peas…

The cultivation of the cereal grains around 10,000 years ago marked what has turned out to be a disastrous transition from hunter-gathering to agriculture. All are members of the huge Poaceae family, the ubiquitous, versatile grasses. Yes, humans are as dependent on munching grass as cattle. As a matter of urgency, before the food riots make going out too dangerous, obtain sacks of these basic grains, prioritising the formats listed, and lug, drag or haul them home:
■Wheat Wholemeal flour, plain flour and self-raising flour.
■Barley Pot barley and pearl barley.
■Oats Oatmeal and rolled oats.
■Rice Brown rice, white rice, short-grain rice, pudding rice, red rice and wild rice.
■Maize Cornflour.
■Pasta Naturalmente.
Fill jerrycans with good olive oil and bog standard sunflower oil and, if the budget can be stretched, also stash away buckwheat, rye, millet, semolina, quinoa, couscous, farro, bugger I mean bulgur and spelt, which I think I’ve spelled correctly.

Complete the survivalist strategy with herbs, spices and flavourings. Without them, devouring most of the above will be like chewing chaff and you’ll soon be longing for an unobtainable Rum Baba. Do I need to mention things like salt, pepper and sugar? On reflection, no – not with my highly intelligent readership. Grow every herb possible in pots on every windowsill possible through the summer, starting around now really, and meanwhile sprint to the nearest 24-hour superstore TONIGHT and clear the shelves of virtually every dried herb they’ve got, from tarragon to thyme, marjoram to mint as well as every bag of dried fruit, from apricots to tomatoes, currants to prunes – well, perhaps not prunes. The world’s cornucopia of indispensable spices can be accumulated more serenely over the coming weeks at those fantastic Asian and Middle-East shops. You will be needing powders like allspice, chilli, cinnamon, curry, ginger, nutmeg, mace, paprika and turmeric, and plenty of the seeds of caraway, cardamom, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, mustard, nigella, poppy and sesame, to pick out just a few. And I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t want to survive without cloves, juniper berries, lemongrass, star anise, vanilla pods and strands of saffron.

I just pray onions will be available – if not, I might cry. That said, finger on the pulse and against the grain, I’ll conclude on an optimistic note: at long last the Tories are taking measures to tackle the obesity crisis!


*NOTE As a Deep Deep Green in favour of abolishing the very idea of an ‘economy’, I’m actually in favour of shortages. I abhor abundance, of anything from money to Box Sets. I don’t require the endlessly-expanding ‘choice’ offered by consumer capitalism. Call me a sentimental old fool, but I’d prefer a habitable planet. Duh. Economics is not a science, nor is it an art, or even a body of knowledge; it is irrational hocus-pocus, an ever-shifting set of man-made ‘rules’ contrived to commodify and monetise everything. In so doing economics has crushed humans’ natural inclination towards redistribution and reciprocity and normalised the profoundly unnatural notion of wealth. There is only one cast-iron economic principle that invariably holds true, a principle that has been understood since the Mesopotamians first started keeping account ledgers 7,000 years ago: scarcity = value. Thus diamonds are very rare so they cost £50,000 per gram, while wheat is very common so a gram of it is worth next to nothing. This unbending law, never forget, also applies to people. The more there are of us, the less each individual is valued – in all senses of the word. For instance, the only time in the entire history of humanity when labour costs rose in real terms and over a sustained period was following the ‘Black Death’ pandemic of the 14th century which, in Europe alone, wiped out half the population. Because humans were suddenly comparatively scarce and therefore comparatively precious, this ensured that wages rose faster than prices for an amazing 200 years until numbers had recovered to a level where we could be regarded as disposable, two-a-penny nonentities again. Today there are eight billion of us, a number that has doubled in the last 50 years largely to suit the purposes of globalised capitalism – perpetual population growth guaranteeing an ever-expanding army of voracious consumers to exponentially crank up profit margins. In fact, there are more people alive today than the cumulative total of those that ever lived and died in the 200,000 years since homo sapiens came down from the trees. Such a huge ‘surplus’, allied to the development of robots, automation and Artificial Intelligence, means that the super-rich are now in the luxurious position of being able to organise one of their periodic culls without harming profits. The British ruling-classes have been particularly efficient in ridding themselves of the ‘uneconomic’ and undesirable time and time again, even to the extent of removing 10% of the population by transportation to landgrab whole continents between the 17th and 19th centuries. By means of Brexit chaos, they will have no qualms about disposing of multitudes yet again, particularly the poor, the weak, the young, the old and the vulnerable.