Thursday, February 20, 2020

Keys to surviving nuclear war: Caves, laxatives and tobacco

When I wrote about the Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices two years ago, discussing an, ahem, interesting "spaghetti" recipe, I noted that a writer in The New York Times had once called the book "one of the greatest oddball masterpieces in this or any other language."

Oddball might have been an understatement.

The Herters, George and Berthe, had a lot of opinions. Most of them were about food and recipes. But they also chimed in on whatever they felt was right and wrong with the world in the 1960s. And, like many folks living in the midst of the Cold War, they had themselves some notions about what to do in the event of nuclear war. Of course, everyone thought about that topic to some extent. Many even had plans, perhaps. But the Herters had thought about it a lot. And they published those thoughts in the book, in the form of telling readers what they believed was the best approach to Surviving the Nuclear Apocalypse.

It is, in fact, one possible approach.

Here are some excerpts from the unforgettable two pages that conclude their book:

  • "In reading some of the official rot put out about survival in case of a bombing attack it shows that people putting it out have no first hand knowledge of what they are talking about. I am just going to take the time to say a few words about it here as if an attack comes I do not want my friends dying needlessly. I have been through bombings and have talked to people all over Europe who have been bombed out and what I say here are the true facts of the matter not political dribble."
  • "The would-be authorities tell you to go into your basement and put up a wood lean-to against one wall and get under it. This is the surest way to get killed in a bombing attack and is the thing you must not do."
  • "Get in any kind of cave, ditch or valley as far away from buildings as you can and lie on the ground face down. If at all possible get in a cave."
  • "If the weather is cold all canned goods will freeze and spoil."
  • "If the weather is cold have a reserve of lots of blankets."
  • "Have a reserve of food consisting of dried beans, dried peas, dried potatoes, dried milk, bacon, canned shortening, sugar, peanut butter, powdered coffee, and tea, chocolate, salt, pepper, macaroni, flour and baking powder."
  • "Have at least 1,000 matches in a waterproof container. In World War II matches in some countries were $25.00 a box on the black market when available."
  • "Have a small .22 caliber rifle and at least 1,000 rounds of ammunition. It will kill small game and birds and can be used to protect your home."
  • "Have a pint of iodine, a year's supply of laxative and 100 bufferin tablets. If you live in an area where biting flies and mosquitos abound have a year's supply of bug dope and ten yards of a bug net."
  • "Have 5 one pound cans of tobacco. This is your fortune. If there is any food or material available that you need, the tobacco will get it for you when money will not."
  • "When you get away from buildings stay in a cave for 3 days to avoid radiation fall out."

I'm not sure where to start. Obviously, basing nuclear war survival plans on World War II air-raid survival tactics is folly. There wouldn't be a black market. No one would care about money. It is unlikely anyone would trade food for tobacco. And I'm not sure how long that carefully stashed bacon is supposed to last.

Of course, whether you're on the Herter Plan or the one once provided by the State of Delaware, the likelihood of long-term survival in a nuclear winter is not good. So maybe sitting in a cave with some chocolate and laxatives is as good a way to go as any.

I'll close with some excerpts from Goodreads reader reviews of Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices:

  • "This is possibly the most incoherent, bizarre, misinformed, misanthropic, and unintentionally hilarious cookbook ever written . . . insofar as it can be called a cookbook at all."
  • "Whether you want the Virgin Mary’s favorite spinach recipe or how to prepare for a cobalt bomb, Herter covers it."
  • "Half of this book is utter bulls--t. The other half is useful tips that made my cooking better. ... I actually found many of his ideas had some merit and tried them, finding some surprisingly good outcomes."
  • "One of my favorite things about Herter's books is that so many of them feature pictures of toddlers holding shotguns posing by dead animals."

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