Whether it’s the crumble of capitalism, a hostile robot takeover and subsequent war, or an unexpected asteroid flung out of orbit and into Earth, however you (or Hollywood) imagine the end of civilisation, once the space dust has settled, you want Heather Thompson and Zayaan Khan¬†on your side.
As The Apocalypse Pantry, this formidable team is in training, teaching themselves skills to live off the land in an imagined post-apocalyptic society. Far from ‘the end of the world’, they advocate Apocalypse Optimism seeing it as the ultimate reset button.
Much more than humorous hypotheticals, their exploration into foraging for #apocappropriate resources is in fact a guide to living now, in uncertain, unhealthy times and seriously corrupt systems. And more than mere survival, their end goal is living, living well and at peace with their surroundings.
Zayaan being an entomophagist (insect eater), and Heather a chocolatier, their fateful first collaboration was a pairing of crickets and locusts with chocolate – gently roasted and softly spiced. The considerable time it took to hunt and gather the ingredients birthed an idea for the duo; the contemplation of the true value of time.
This has become a theme for their musings which they publish as visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory and gustatory¬†offerings on The Apocalypse Pantry website: a survivor’s guide to happiness in the urban armageddon.
How do you envision the apocalypse playing out?¬†
HT: For me the apocalypse is a blank slate metaphor. It’s a backdrop I’ve used since I was a girl to imagine what life would be like if there wasn’t so much clutter in the landscape of my life.¬† It has always been a powerful place for me where I can wear badass outfits and navigate my survival with my own skills and guided by my own instincts.¬† So in this way “the apocalypse” is happening everyday for everybody and is playing out in their own minds according to what they’ve got going on in there. Globally and locally we are confronted with threats to the survival of a capitalist approach to living so in that sense the apocalypse is now and I don’t need to envision it, I can just look around.
The Apocalypse Pantry deals with sombre¬†philosophical thought on survival¬†with quirk and humour.¬†How optimistic can one be about living through¬†the apocalypse?
HT: What else can one be but optimistic? It’s a survival strategy and a damn effective one. Otherwise why would anyone bother learning new skills, exploring new solutions to problems, creating new pathways or connecting with other humans? If deep down we all felt that the value of our lives was dictated by our ability to successfully navigate this current system of human organisation, we would just keel over at the sight of an empty space on the shop shelf where our favourite shampoo is meant to be.
“In an apocalypse there are no deadlines apart from the fact that low tide is between this and this hour, or that the pollen window is closing…”
Continuing¬†with optimism and attitudes,¬†do you think society¬†will change its¬†outlook on¬†life, living, and accepting¬†our mortality¬†in time to make the¬†necessary¬†lifestyle¬†
HT: Some people will, some won’t. ¬†”Society” is a word that describes a whole bunch of people and we like to think we can predict how a population will behave but that’s all conveniently worked out after the fact for the most part. Evolution isn’t a cut and dry/ right and wrong process, it’s a turning, winding, multi-limbed thing. It comes down to what traits survive to tell their story in the DNA of our species.¬† There is no time limit on evolution, it is going to happen whether homosapien sapiens are participating or not and it is happening now…. and now…. and…..now!
If society had to fall apart tomorrow, what are the vital survival tips we‚Äôll need to know about ‚Äúliving off the land‚Äù?
HT: Well first we have to remember that society as we know it is falling apart and rebuilding itself all the time.¬† Also, I don’t know a single person that owns their home let alone land, they own rents/loans/bonds/mortgages so the only survival tip I could imagine being useful in such a complex situation would be to¬†CALM DOWN AND LOOK AROUND.
What are the most underrated items for¬†surviving the¬†apocalypse?¬†
ZK: We have decided to¬†prepare¬†ourselves for the apocalypse and so have begun to unpack our own anxieties and fears so that when the apocalypse does come, we’ll be able to calm the fuck down. An apocalypse is the nearest¬†thing that will get us to starting again, a release from the clutches of consumption and control.¬† In this state we have to relearn so much about ourselves and our¬†environment.¬† This is¬†ultimately about a state of awareness, of ourselves, of our surroundings.¬† This comes with practise and time and experimentation.¬† Essentially it is a survival skill, honing into intuition.¬† Knowledge is the ultimate tool, knowing which plants are safe at which times, what to test for, how to store food correctly, how to preserve foods.¬† Also, the knowledge to read disease before it hits our bodies, understanding what aches and pains could be.
Of course you have to come to terms with your own demise, misidentifying a plant and eating something poisonous or being bitten by a snake or spider. These are Real Things that we are not equipped for, death is possible.¬† For us our needs are simple and we would be able to find what we need in the Rubbles of Capitalisma but definitely a necessary tool would be sharpness – a good knife or ideally a pair of secateurs.
“Wait, wait, knock, knock, who’s there, DIVERSITY COMING TO SAVE YOUR ASSES!¬† STOP KILLING ME!¬† How boring that we’re all supposed to like the same damn things, go to the same damn places, listen to the same damn songs and all the ladies must shave their legs.”
Your content focuses on ‘old’ rituals¬†becoming ‘New Age’ ‚Äì such as the whittling of arrows, or¬†the¬†sacred healing powers of smoking¬†various¬†plants ‚Äì¬†and emphasises your anti-consumerism/anti-consumption values. Could you tell us more about this?
ZK: It’s the very disconnection of understanding how life works that has put us into this subdued comatose state.¬† The fear of food shortages and the sufferings of hunger may be more positive than we think.¬† Our conditioning is such that we tend to follow dietary recommendations and follow this diet and that superfood trend but forget that we are a few billion people with a few billion different tastes and constitutions. We have to diversify our foods but also our consumption.¬† How boring is commoditisation, a blanket approach where diversity is the enemy?¬† Wait, wait, knock, knock, who’s there, DIVERSITY COMING TO SAVE YOUR ASSES!¬† STOP KILLING ME!¬† How boring that we’re all supposed to like the same damn things, go to the same damn places, listen to the same damn songs and all the ladies must shave their legs.
Our knowledge is also conditioned.¬† Institutionalised education and science have dictated what is healthy, what is good, what is to be mocked. In the apocalypse we have to figure that shit out for ourselves and the most exciting thing is finding new knowledge and new solutions with the same things that have always been around us.
In an apocalypse there are no deadlines apart from the fact that low tide is between this and this hour, or that the pollen window is closing, or perhaps there is a voyage we need to take that requires preparation.¬† This connection is actually a clear route to what we’re all seeking – pure unadulterated happiness.¬† When you have no deadlines and time is kind, you find new spaces to be in rituals, old or new, but rituals that transcend.
Questions by Jess Sara Wright
The Apocalypse Pantry’s Go-to Recipe for Finding Alternative, Sustainable Sources of Nutrients as told by Zayaan Khan:
The easiest option is to go to the sea, harvest seaweeds from a rocky shore that is not polluted by industry (in Cape Town this is further up the West Coast or down the Peninsula so jump on your bicycle/trusty steed).¬† The inter-tidal zone is a sure bet for finding bio-available nutritious foods, fish, molluscs and shellfish but even if you decide to stay vegan or vegetarian, seaweeds and coastal plants are abundant. You have to identify your water sources too, there is fresh water all around you, piped off the mountain. Harvesting at least three different types of seaweed will give a good array of subtle flavour profiles and will be sexy enough on the eye.
Harvest the seaweed by cutting it close to where it’s rooted to the rock, using a knife/shard of glass/flint. The fronds of fresh kelp that have washed up on the shore are a great option too. Alternatively swim out into the forest to harvest them.¬† Seaweeds grow really quickly compared to terrestrial plants so your harvesting will have a minimal dent on the abundance.¬† The stipe of the kelp ends in a bladder at the top where the blades or fronds attach. This bladder is mostly a floating device and can be used as a pot.¬† Look for a fatty.
Rinse the seaweed in fresh water but do not soak and lay it over a hot rock to dry and cook a bit. Take the summer sun as an opportunity to dry as much seaweed as you can for the pantry home base, it’s very light and can be crunched down to be easily stored. Rehydrating it restores it to its natural glory.
Now that you have your seaweed your options are endless, but here is a super simple recipe:
- Clean the bladder of the kelp by removing the fronds and stipe and rinse it out in sea water.
- Stuff the bladder with some of the seaweed you dried and if you want, some larger mussels and periwinkles and top up with some fresh water.
- Don’t fill the bladder to the top, it will release water as it cooks.
- In the sand create a ditch and make a fire with driftwood or panels of a crumbling fence or house (probably contains chemicals so make sure it’s well weathered).
- Stuff the opening to the bladder with a frond to create a lid to your seaweed pot.
- When the embers have cooled, place the kelp bladder on the fire and cook until the outside is crisped up.
- Pour the insides out into your eating device or wait until it’s cool and have a cold summer soup which you garnish with soutslaai found on the beach.
Photography by Alix-Rose Cowie