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Nicole Walker navigates disaster through food, community in new book

Nicole Walker navigates disaster through food, community in new book

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Preparing for the end of times is nothing new for Flagstaff author Nicole Walker. Having grown up within a Mormon family in Salt Lake City, Utah, although never herself a member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, earlier generations ingrained preparation and survival in her mind. Grow tomatoes, can peaches, boil bones to make aspic. No food product should go to waste—we’re not guaranteed more in the future.

Her newest book, Processed Meats: Essays on Food, Flesh, and Navigating Disaster, will be released through Torrey House Press on Tuesday, March 9. The collection of essays explores how we prepare for and cope with the unexpected, a timely discourse following a bumpy 2020.

“There's something really, I guess, domestic about dealing with disasters on top of the quotidian details of the day you still have to get through,” Walker said. “You still have to feed your kids, you have to do the dishes. [Processed Meats] talks about these everyday actions of having kids and growing, trying to raise them with their fruits and vegetables properly, and it merged those two things really well before the pandemic.”

The publishing process began before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the topics easily relate back to today’s quandaries. How many people truly feel urgency when they look into a foggy future and imagine a lack of running water, or lack of oxygen in drowning lungs, when they’re own faucets and bodies are functioning perfectly fine at the moment?

From ringing in Y2K with her husband and a group of friends in an off-grid cabin to growing tomatoes in Salt Lake City and wondering how to make her body more fertile like the soil she carefully nurtured, Walker connects it all back to food. Like making fresh mozzarella, conceiving a child requires the right temperature as new shapes (hopefully) start to form. And even after the child is born, there’s the matter of getting them to eat nutritious foods in shapes other than square, making sure you’re not contributing more than your fair share of life to an overpopulated planet with limited resources.

While younger generations have no say in the quality of the planet they inherited at birth, they do have a say in what actions they can take in their lives to make a difference, something Walker has seen from her own children, Zoë and Max.  

“I do feel like the conversations about climate and environment are much more mainstream, at least in Flagstaff,” Walker said. “Their teachers and their fellow students are worried and thinking about it all the time, they're thinking about how to get the plastic out of the ocean and they talk about water use in Flagstaff and they talk about aquifers drying up. It's becoming part of the conversation, which is really refreshing and hopeful.”

Preparing for disaster, natural or otherwise, has also become a bigger part of the conversation as people realized supply chains aren’t always reliable after seeing row upon row of bare shelves at grocery stores this past spring. Far from the stereotype of a hermit stockpiling food and water for their family in a bunker deep underground to survive nuclear war or a zombie attack, prepper mentality is about knowing how to navigate life’s little disasters, from having candles or a solar power bank on hand in the event of electrical failure, cold medicine to bring down a fever when leaving the house is too much, changing a flat tire in the middle of nowhere—hoping that's all one should be prepared for, but ready to meet whatever challenges they encounter, do-it-yourself enthusiasts coming together with survivalists.

One of the goals Walker said she had in packaging these essays together in Processed Meats was to emphasize the importance of shared resources and knowledge.

“My real thought process has changed a lot about DIY,” she explained. “Canning my own tomatoes is great fun and all, but what I think really needs to happen, and what real prepping means, is to build local communities that are much more strongly knit and to keep your people close and your neighbors close and to know what we can do for each other if the government disappears.”

Walker pointed out the hopefulness she felt seeing people making masks for each other, donating time, energy and money to fundraisers. Most recently, Flagstaff Cash Mobs launched at the beginning of this year with groups of people spending around $20 each at various local businesses as support during the pandemic, all of this demonstrating in real time how misfortune can present opportunities for altruism and connection.

Perhaps if people take advantage of the possibility each day brings to build community and thoughtfulness in our actions, whether that’s choosing to eat less meat, drive less or have fewer—or no—kids so that our carbon footprint is lighter, the people already here can live out their life as comfortably as possible, and future generations can have access to the same resources without worrying they’ll be wiped out by greed.

“I want equity to be something reachable in my lifetime,” Walker said. “Crises will be flying around us at all times and we will be buffeted by storms, but if you have this basic sense of, ‘Right, the storms are coming, but every day I'm going to do one bit for my family, one bit for my community, one bit for my country, one bit for my world,’ you're going to at least be making headway against crises, against devastation, you'll be turning that gigantic Titanic boat at least a little bit.”

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