Survivors – Comparing the TV Series, Covid 19 & the Future Part 3  ‘Food’

Survivors_LogoReviewed by Tim Bragg

Spoiler Alert: the following talks generally about ideas from the series, with specific information related to ‘Food’.

Before I start writing – or rather re-writing this article – I have to say that I lost 1,000 words as a result of a power cut. An hour or so trying to recover the original document proved fruitless. So I will turn the loss into an advantage! Needless to say I was very happy with what I wrote but I cannot recapture those particular thoughts. But this has emphasised the dependency we have on both electricity and technology – themes I shall cover in the future. And I have decided to have singular articles for Food and Medicine whereas I had intended a combination.

The plague in ‘Survivors’ is called ‘The Death’. Without food and water you die – of course. And at times, without medication, you also die. In the series, life for the survivors is an awkward mix of reliance on the past (pilfering food and medicine) and adjusting to the needs of the future. The baton of the past being slipped into their hands for them to run with. Although they have stockpiled non-perishable foods, they have to plant and grow their seasonal, fresh needs. Most survivors would be ordinary folk with few skills – those WITH skills would find themselves elevated within their small communities. The ranking of folk is also something I wish to write about later.

For the moment I am going to concentrate on food and its production. Our group has finally decided to set up in a permanent place. It’s an old manor house which offers room, protection (to a degree), plenty of grounds to cultivate, a river and some animals close by. Fortunately a lone man joins the commune with self-sufficiency skills and he is able to point out where the group’s initial husbandry is going wrong. Paul (the new member) is able to look at land and know how it is to be cultivated (or not) – he has a seasoned eye for a young chap. He understands about irrigation too and how that is to be managed. Most people will have come from urban areas and have little clue about how to grow things, when to sow crops, how to raise and treat animals, how to cure meat and pickle or dry food. In the commune there is an old Jewish lady that seems to have some of the latter skills (harking back to a pre-war time) and having Paul arrive is a God send (or a ‘writer’ send).

Apparently during the lockdown here in 2020 large rats have been invading homes in the UK as their normal source of food in restaurants has been cut off! That got me thinking about the state of towns and cities in ‘Survivors’. How long would these places yield food? With so many dead bodies – neither buried nor burnt – diseases would surely flourish. Rats would teem and likely carry disease. In one episode of  ‘Survivors’ a small community has been close to wiped out as a result of eating poisoned fish. Rivers could easily become polluted by all manner of means – not least the slurry of dead humans and animals, plus toxins leaked from unmaintained factories. Every aspect of healthy living would be challenged. What water could/couldn’t you drink (running water from high-up streams would be best I imagine)? How would you tell if a fish was poisoned? You’d have to know a healthy fish – here any anglers would play their part. I don’t eat meat or fish but as the future overtakes the past with each new generation then I imagine all people would simply be glad and thankful for the food on their plate. The magical appearance of ready-made foods would be long gone – our whole connexion with Nature and Animals (flora and fauna) would be radically changed. How good would you be at picking edible mushrooms for instance?

Food would continue to be scavenged of course but as I have written, fresh food, meat and milk would be needed. In one episode a forlorn character realises that they will never eat bananas again. Even tomatoes would have to be grown in greenhouses (in Britain). Potatoes are a great crop as they are hardy and it’s possible to get three (but at least two) yields a year. You’d need to find potatoes that have germinated and duly plant them. And keep them blight free! All crops would be dependent on the season and its weather. You’d have to think ahead – think in a way most of us have never had to. Growing vegetables and herbs isn’t ‘easy’ – okay nature does a lot of the work but you have to dig the ground and maintain the soil. And keep insects, slugs and snails (maybe animals) from eating your crop. An episode showed how our group, though it had a tractor, realised they’d need to re-learn the skills of ploughing with horses. And as soon as animals are involved you really need to know what to do. It would be likely that horse-related skills would be found within the survivors – if not, then how do you handle a horse? How do you get it to wear a harness? Where is the food to sustain it? (You’re going to have to grow that.) If you have sheep/cows/goats – do you know how to look after them. Someone would have to step in and get their hands dirty – literally. These animals need to be disease free, well fed, sheltered if necessary. And how do you milk a cow or goat – not as easy as portrayed (Jenny in ‘Survivors’ was shown milking a goat). Okay you learn. But it would be such a complete change of mentality needed. The milk would come straight from the animal. How do you keep it fresh? Where would the bull be for the cows – who’s going to take charge of him? It wouldn’t be a story-book farm or some sentimental reflection you’d previously seen on the TV.

And what about killing your ‘food’? Someone will have to break the chicken’s or rooster’s neck; someone will have to snare a rabbit and kill it – then skin and prepare for cooking; someone will have to take a lamb and hold back its head so its throat can be slit (and the blood caught and used)! None of the meat from the animals killed would be wasted, at least. I imagine a random group from a survival rate of 1 in 5,000 wouldn’t produce many slaughterhouse workers, butchers or folk used to despatching animals. Methods of killing would have to be learnt and then done as quickly and efficiently as possible to save further pain to the animal. If rabbits or deer are shot then that will require the skills of stealth and accuracy – otherwise wounded animals will escape only to die later, slowly and painfully – or find themselves easy prey (meat) for another species. And the animals which are kept will have to be raised properly – all sorts of parasites will need to be monitored. Veterinary practices will also need to be raided. Where will future replacements come from? How will future drugs be made? Re sheep – who will learn to sheer the sheep – not as easy as one might think, I imagine. Would our attitudes to animals change for the better or be far worse (in the interim period at least)?

I don’t know how long drugs can be used safely – whether there are ‘expiry’ dates. Eventually alongside the growing of plants to eat, must come the growing of plants and herbs as medicine. Alcohol and cider could be made – but a primitive distillery would be required to create high-percentage alcohol that could clean wounds. There would be a LOT of drugs/medicine to go round – but going into towns and cities might become prohibitive. Just too dangerous – too dangerous even for the collection of much needed medicine. At some point  surviving folk would have to go right back to the fundamentals of medicine and how it is obtained. We would need folklore customs and detailed books for growing and gathering medicinal plants and herbs – then their domestication. We would need to re-discover the variety of produce in hedgerows.

Food is not just about ‘staying alive’. We need variety and good taste. Vegetables would need to be sown at the correct times and rotated. Land would be ploughed. Orchards located and/or fruit trees grown close by. Much time would be spent growing and tending food – making sure each season supplies its crop. Growing food requires forethought. Food could, of course, be traded and exchanged with other local communities (that could be trusted). And each group would need manpower (people-power) to keep its existence sustained. I think there would be a return to pre-modern sex-based roles. Men hunting and doing heavy manual work with women preparing and cooking food. This food would also need to be stored correctly. In one episode of  ‘Survivors’ our group loses much of its stock as it has stored the food in a cellar – which would have seemed sensible. But with heavy rains the cellar was flooded, causing extensive damage.

Eating food is a communal act – a celebration, a bonding of folk. We used to say ‘grace’ before eating – acknowledging that all food came from God. Perhaps in some future, devastating pandemic (as in the fictional ‘Survivors’) we would either re-discover a connexion with God and/or give praise to all the souls that brought the food to the table. A recognition that it was a group effort to bring about the nourishment on the plate: those who tended the vegetable and herb garden; those who ploughed the fields; those who cured and pickled; those who reared, killed and prepared the animals; those who obtained salt; those who fished; those who collected honey; those who picked fruit; those who knew which mushrooms or berries to pick and eat (not the poisonous varieties!); those who COOKED! Those who gathered wood for the fires and those who kept them going. Everyone would be as intertwined as the life found in a hedgerow.

Through the growing, rearing, managing, preparing and cooking of food there would come a  re-alignment of our relationship with Nature and ourselves. Rain and sun would affect crops as would the phase of the moon re sowing! Wind might drive the sails of mills (re-built for grinding wheat). We would become creatures of daylight again – and fire-lighting and maintenance a pre-occupation. With our natural ingenuity and enough minds put together (along with all the tools required and books found in libraries) we certainly could manage to transform from a ‘everything you want – when you want’ society into a self-sufficient hybrid society. I say ‘hybrid’ as we would take the best of the past and use it for as long as possible to help effect a sustainable future. With enough time, the transition could be made. But we would have to live WITH Nature not against her. Every aspect of food and our relationship with it would be altered. Life might become harder but perhaps – more rewarding.

Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of ‘Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help; Notes for a Better Life’ available from Amazon


  • Starring: Denis Lill , Lucy Fleming , Ian McCulloch and Carolyn Seymour
  • Directed by: Pennant Roberts , Terence Williams and Gerald Blake

You can buy Survivors – Series 1-3 Box Set [DVD] [1975] here







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