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The Doomsday Diet

The 1950s Cold War craze for fallout shelters was a serious undertaking for the US government. Nuclear war with the Soviets seemed inevitable, and the prudent thing to do was prepare for it. While public campaigns urged families to prepare their own shelters, stocking them with food for a long period underground was going to be difficult, especially in cities where people did not have adequate personal storage space. What were all those people going to eat in crowded municipal shelters?

That coldly logical approach, combined with an extensive 1958 study by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, led the government toward a single commodity as the foundation for its plan to feed a nation: The “parched wheat form known as Bulgur,” one of the simplest ingredients known to man. The main ingredient in dishes like tabbouleh, kibbeh, and pilafs, bulgur is nutty, nutritious, high-fiber, and supremely safe. “Bulgur was selected for this investigation because it is processed from a basic agricultural commodity, whole-grain wheat, which is plentiful in the U.S., low in cost, highly palatable, and reportedly very stable,” one government report explained.

That last thing stood out in particular, because it would need to hold up for years inside fallout shelters, awaiting the apocalypse. “Indeed a long shelf life may well be the single most important criterion for choosing bulgur in a stockpiling program,” the government reported. As part of its research, the USDA eventually landed on crackers as the best medium for bulgur-wheat rations in a bunker scenario; after 52 months of storage it reported merely a “discernible but inconsequential decrease” in flavor.

Producing, distributing, and storing those "all-purpose survival crackers" posed its own problems. Read about the scheme to feed the nation during nuclear war at Eater. -via Metafilter

(Image credit: The National Archives)

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The "coughing fits" quote was from the 1970s, the Guatemalans who ate them in 1976 got “severe gastric disturbances”, and the article goes on to say that the Feds said in 1978 “As a result of recent laboratory and other tests, a high probability exists that all of the cereal-based rations stored have become rancid,” so ... I think I'll trust the article over a few Metafilter comments? I dunno.
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Given the number of All-Purpose Survival Crackers made, I wasn't that surprised to see they are available on eBay right now. Only 54 years old. Though "The mere smell from the newly opened tin caused coughing fits." and "They basically taste like rancid oil" ... Nah, I won't give them a go.
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