David Hammond

During the 13-day Cuban Missile of 1962, I was in the fourth grade at Portage Park Elementary School. The day after President Kennedy gave his televised address to the nation, it was grim in the classroom: every time a jet passed overhead, all of us kids at our desks looked at each other like, “Is this it?” Even at that early age, we knew “duck and cover” was pointless in defense against a nuclear blast.

We all lived, of course, thanks in no small part to the steady and reasonable diplomacy of the Kennedy administration that stared down Russia’s Khrushchev. The leader of Russia, then an enemy power, blinked, and the world was pulled back from the dawn of a very bad day.

Now, diplomacy between the U.S. and our current nuclear opponent, North Korean, seems to have been replaced by tirades. Our dear leader has said, “I love war,” and he seems man of his word, right (?!), so I’m hoping for the best and getting ready for the worst. This time around, I’ll be a good Scout, prepared, with the fallout shelter I didn’t have in 1962.

We have a windowless root cellar that will suffice; I’d prefer a fully underground bunker, but I’m going to make do with what we have, which ain’t bad: it won’t survive a direct hit, of course, but there’s enough of the structure underground that a fair amount of the immediate radiation will be absorbed.

I considered lead plating for our shelter, but there are more cost-effective options. A radiation-proof suit can be had through Amazon for under $100, so I’ll get two of those. Suiting up ourselves is way cheaper than creating a fully radiation-proof shelter. We can hunker down in there for a few days, wait for the gamma rays to pass and the fallout to settle down, and then go out and see who else, if any, made it out alive.

Chances of survival are iffy, of course, but Oak Park is, according to several maps we consulted, just outside the “collapse area” that would follow the airburst of a nuclear weapon over downtown Chicago, so that’s something. Though it’s possible we’ll be instantly vaporized, I’m hoping we get away with nothing more serious than third degree burns.

In answer to the age-old question “Would you bring a gun into a fallout shelter,” my answer is, Hell yes! I need to get a piece, so I’m open to your suggestions, as I know there are gun enthusiasts reading this and probably reflecting on their own arsenals in case of war, civil unrest, mass cannibalism, etc. I don’t want an automatic; I prefer a simple revolver, maybe a Colt Single Action Army/Peacemaker. Solid, reliable and easy to use and clean. Judge Roy Bean had one. It will come in handy in largely gun-free Oak Park, should I become Law West of Austin.

In the time after the blast and before we emerge from our shelter, we must eat, and that’s the main question to address here.

When the sirens go off, we figure we’ll have an hour or so to clear out our refrigerator, grab some fresh fruit and veg, and put that in the basement while there’s still time.

Water is primary, so we’ll have many gallons of bottled water put by. I also plan to stock a few cases of Trimino, a protein water I usually take with me to FFC. It will provide hydration and protein, both of which we’ll need. I also plan to have many cans of tuna, sardines, potted meat, beans and tomatoes, and a case or two of Wasa bread.

A camp stove can be used to boil water for grains, and last week I got two mixed boxes of Bob’s Red Mill grains, including a Paleo pancake mix, which seems appropriate: when we walk outside in our radiation proof suits, we’ll probably be walking into something close to the Paleolithic.

With these survival precautions in place, I figure I can add hours, perhaps days to my life.

Or perhaps I’ll just blow everything right now on the best cheese and wine I can find, and then eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow…

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...