Three Letters Re: Food Storage Extremes – Avoiding the Expensive Pitfalls

Although John L.’s article brings up a lot of interesting points, I think his definition of only two archetypes of persons, the clueless yuppie and the deluded urban survivalist is a little over the top.  I truly hope he was using hyperbole to make a point.  The truth at least from my perspective is that there are a lot of prepared persons that don’t fit either of his stereotypes.  Perhaps it’s because I live in a rural community where most of my neighbors could go weeks to months without a trip for groceries if the need arose.  That just comes natural to most country folk when the nearest grocery is a 15 mile round trip, and the nearest big box grocery (Kroger, Wal-Mart) is twice that distance.

I also found it interesting when he tells us the classic “Store what you eat, and eat what you store” and then proceeds to tell us what we should be eating and avoiding.  JIF peanut butter with it’s partially hydrogenated oils does not enter our home, but the “organic-health peanut butter” that is actually just ground peanuts and salt is what we eat (and store).  We have wheat in both buckets and cans, and have both electric and hand-powered ways to grind it.

“Canned Tuna – (preferably in oil)”, yuck!!!  We prefer the flavor of tuna, not the oil and then there’s “Macaroni & Cheese – Buy Kraft brand, do not try to “save money buying a cheaper brand.  The quality/edibility of other brands is terrible”.  There actually are some good store brands, or you could make your own with macaroni and a little cheese.  Neither of these are things we eat, so storing them would not be useful.  A well stocked pantry and a little experimentation can yield an enormous variety of meals.

In short, he got the “Store what you eat and eat what you store” part correct, but he makes many assumptions that don’t appear to have been well thought out.  If he’s right and I’m wrong, then I’ll just have to live with it, hunkering down on our rural retreat with its well, creek, garden, and livestock, and make the best of whatever comes. – LVZ in Ohio

I think that John L. is making some very broad generalizations about “Deluded Urban Survivalists” that paint an inaccurate picture of many people who would like to relocate to less-populated areas but who for various reasons are “stuck” where they’re at. I live in a county of about 100,000 people in the Midwest, but the raw population numbers don’t give an adequate picture of why a lot of us in this area consider it to be “home” and where we feel comfortable settling down.

First of all, I have dozens of friends and family members in this area who are willing to pitch in and help in the event of crises. We all came together a few years ago to help each other after a historic flood devastated much of the county, thankfully with no loss of life. While a county of 100,000 people might seem too large to some people in a post-Schumer-hits-the-fan situation, it’s the character of the people that matters more than the number of people. On top of that, while the city proper has 60 percent of our county’s population, at least 50 percent of the land in the county, maybe more, is farmland and quite a few people live on and work around those farms.

Second, my family has to live inside the city limits and be near bus lines and medical facilities because of my wife’s disability. Living half an hour away or more would put us farther away from our jobs and would make our commute much more cumbersome. We bought this particular house because it has a totally enclosed basement where we could not only store our preps but all we have to do to conceal the door to the basement is put a piece of carpet over the basement door and nobody knows it’s there (although we’ve also piled boxes on top of the door as well to further conceal it). We live just a few blocks from a secondary road that we can take several miles straight south into farm areas and meet up with other family members if the situation warrants it.

Which brings me to my next point. John L. also doesn’t seem to think that “Deluded Urban Survivalists” have pre-positioned any gear or food or that we’re not stocking up what we eat anyway! Yes, my wife and I have several hundred pounds of rice and beans in our storage pantry, but we also have several dozen quart-sized mason jars full of spices that we’ve been using to experiment with literally hundreds of different soup recipes using rice and beans as our base. We’ve found soup-recipe downloads on eBay and other sites for just a few dollars each and we can have soup every night for the next three years and not use the same recipe twice. That’s not a bad deal for “only” rice and beans! And we’ve also pre-positioned much of our storage pantry several miles away at the more-rural location where another relative lives, so just because we happen to live in the city doesn’t mean that we’re “deluded”!

John L. also derides the stocking up of canned goods and bottled water, stating that with regard to canned goods, “water is very heavy, very bulky and the enemy of food enzymes and longevity.” As I’m typing this I’m glancing over at my secondary pantry in my kitchen (my main storage pantry is elsewhere) and quite frankly I’m glad that I’ve got several cases each of canned tomatoes, carrots, spinach, chicken and salmon on hand just in this one room (and many more cases elsewhere)! And while John L. has a point that water degrades food enzymes over time, that’s exactly why foods should be rotated first-in, first-out according to the expiration dates stamped on the cans, but even those expiration dates are conservative, as studies have shown the nutritional content of canned goods to be good for much longer. My family doesn’t complain that we “only” have canned food when I incorporate each item into “only” soup that we have for quite a few tasty meals!

And as for stocking up on bottled water, why do stocking up on bottled water and having a water purifier have to be mutually exclusive? We just added another 24 gallons of bottled water to our storage last week and have enough water on hand for two people for a month if the tap were to run dry. The one thing that John L. doesn’t mention is that water purifiers only work if you have water to purify! When my wife and I moved into our house last fall, there was a glitch in transferring the water service into our name so we were without running water for almost two days. I was very happy to have bottled water on hand!

And something else I noticed was that John L.’s reference to “five-gallon pails of anything” mentions a couple things that nobody except restaurants buys in five-gallon pails, in this case pickles and mayonnaise! We’ve got several hundred pounds of rice and beans in mylar bags sealed up in, yes, five-gallon pails, but all of our spices, condiments and other such items are in quart-sized jars, not five-gallon pails. We have more than five gallons of spices, but we put such items in much smaller containers because we aren’t going through mayonnaise at the same rate that we’re going through rice and beans.

And with regard to rice, beans and other bulk items, I find it curious that John L. is advising people to stock up on “Rice-A-Roni” instead of buying bulk bags of rice, storing smaller quantities in individual bags and making their own rice dishes or other such items. Besides the fact that boxed items such as Rice-A-Roni will absorb moisture over time and leave the contents tasting less-than-pleasant, buying pre-packaged, prepared foods is a lot more expensive! I can feed my family for a few months with a 50-pound bag of rice and beans and copious amounts of meats and vegetables we’re dehydrating on our own. I don’t think Rice-A-Roni, Hamburger Helper or other such pre-packaged foods will deliver anywhere near the food mileage for the money. Likewise with John L.’s advice to buy only the Kraft brand of macaroni and cheese, why not instead buy bulk bags of store-brand macaroni, vacuum-seal them in mylar and get a lot more food for the money?

And speaking of money, John L. seems to think that the money that the “Deluded Urban Survivalist” spent on stocking up on food would be better spent paying off the mortgage rather than having “several tons” of food and no place to put it. I won’t deny that there are probably people who are pouring so much money into their preps that they’re neglecting the obvious and most important things. But to lump all “urban survivalists” into that group is an insult toward those of us who for whatever reason have to stay where we are but are making the best of the situation. My wife and I might be living in the city, but we’re not just sitting here piling up our preps to the exclusion of all other necessities. We’re also paying 15 percent more on our mortgage payment each month and having the extra applied directly to the principle so that we’ll have our house paid off several years earlier because we love where we live and all things being equal we could see ourselves living in this house for the rest of our lives, which given our ages could be another 50 years. We love where we live and we’re growing the relationships with our neighbors while not tipping our hands about our prepping. For all we know, some of our neighbors may also be preppers–our neighbor across the street is in her 80s and grew up during the Depression, so she might be on the same page as my wife and I with regard to food storage and other things.

So while John L. is probably right about the survivalist-wannabes out there who are overdoing the wrong things and ignoring the most obvious things that they should be doing, he’s overlooking the thousands, maybe even millions of us who are living in the city but quietly prepping and trying to gently encourage other people to do the same. – C.S.

Dear Jim,       
After reading the article written by John L., I couldn’t help but to give my head a little shake at the reasoning of some of his ideas. At first read, when I came down to the food storage recommendations of what to buy and what not to buy, I thought he was joking until the article ended and I realized that he was serious.  I’m totally for the idea of that everyone should have their own ideas and should implement them after researching thoroughly which sometimes involves trial and error over a period of time, so with that In mind I won’t be harsh, however, let me correct a number of John L’s overly presumptuous assertions and ideas with that of correct principles based on tough lessons learned.  

Firstly, I agree with you Jim, that one should be doing everything he can to immediately  get out of Dodge now, before the scenario John L played out on paper in a population high zone. Get Out, folks otherwise, you can expect some version of John L.’s scenario’s or worse yet will visit your front door.  

Secondly, I would like to announce myself as the “EX” Food Saver king of North America. Years ago I thought Food Saver bags were the ultimate!  Boy was I wrong and boy did it cost me an arm and a leg! Through what I like to call the process of “Survival Evolution” which many of us  survival/ prepper vets can relate to, we tend to figure out what works/ what doesn’t over time and what to stay away from. Often we look back on our history and laugh a little at what we may have once thought was good or where we were at in our preps. I do this quite often. Food Saver bags is one of those things I tend to look back at and wonder why I ever spent that kind of money on a system which was never designed to take me and my families preps for the long haul.  

Here is what I found – My wife and I spend lots of time dehydrating food in our Excalibur 9 tray dehydrators. We own four of them. Currently, they are full 24/7 thanks to the hard working hands of my dear wife and six children.  Hands down, they are the best, in my mind! (Once again, we had to literally “burn out” a couple of the standard round style dehydrators before we realized  where we needed to put our coin.) Dehydrating food properly for long term storage requires that you remove ALL of the moisture from the food item until that food is crispy or “Snaps” when you bend it. If you do not remove the moisture you will find yourself in a situation where your entire family is dealing with botulism and likely there after multiple funerals.  When you put truly dried foods into food saver bags and attempt to remove the air by vacuum sealing them, you will poke holes into the bags from all the sharp edges of the dried food. Rarely did I ever not pop a bag thus allowing oxygen and moisture back into the foods which then rehydrates the food over a period of time thus leading to rot and botulism.  

If you’re lucky enough to not puncture the food saver bags, then you need to place the bags into a Rubber Maid storage style bin to further protect the bags from being poked or popped. Food saver bags are terrible for long term storage and are a very poor investment. They are however good for many other things which is why I haven’t sold my “Food Saver – GAME SAVER TURBO PLUS” model yet. By the way, when I did buy one years ago, I called the Food Saver corp and asked them which model they have had the least amount of returns/ warranty issues with and they indicated that the model which I just named is by far the best unit they have had in respect to warranty issues. Naturally, this model tends to be one of there most expensive. Go figure. In the end, after throwing away thousands of dollars worth of punctured Food Saver bags and replacing them with #10 tin cans and oxy packs, we should have simply avoided the Expensive Pitfall of attempting to use a Food Saver vacuum sealer for our long term food storage plan.  

What we eventually replaced the Food saver unit with was a hand-cranking Can Sealer model 1502 purchased from the ALL AMERICAN Can Sealer Corporation. It was a small investment, however, we now purchase empty #10 steel cans (same as the cans from Mountain House), oxygen absorbers, extra snap on plastic lids and cardboard cases from the LDS Church canneries who sell these items and many others to anyone, church member or not out of their storehouses at cost or close to which can be found in almost any region across North America.

One might think that these cans are costly and out of reach financially, but you would be surprised. Before I “dumped” my food saver bag system for proper long term storage, I worked the costs out down to the penny between food storage bags and # 10 Cans. Here is what I found : We were using a 15″ food saver bag off the roll. The exact cost including taxes when I purchased them worked out to $ 1.02/ bag. A #10 tin can with lid, oxygen absorber, label, cardboard boxes (holds six cans each) cost me $ 1.32 total. For us, it was a no brainer, our valuable food was now totally protected, sealed up, watertight, airtight and in Marked and labeled cases. Also, a # 10 tin can holds more than a 15″ food saver bag. All this for only 30 more cents, and I can sleep better now, knowing that my preps are safe and stored properly.  

The #10 size steel cans and Food Grade plastic pails with airtight gasket lids are by far the most superior way to store all your bulk foods in such a manner that you can egress and bugout quickly. I have looked and searched and prayed and pondered all the many ways egress could be made easier and I have found no other answer other than to be where you need to be first off and then to have your needed supplies stored in such a way that if you had to bugout into the backwoods, you could do it hopefully over a short period of time or have caches stored in the water and air tight methods discussed above. There is a reason that the LDS use and sell at cost, #10 cans to their members and anyone else who personally needs them. This is simply because these storage methods work and cannot be easily refuted as one of the best methods.  

Any person that has not purchased and stored properly larger quantities of bulk staples as described by John L. and has not learned to cook and use these types of whole foods, will no doubt find themselves rationing hard in the long run where there is no food at best. At worst, they will find themselves mentally and physically depleted from the lack of nutrition due to eating mac and cheese and peanut butter and Nutella (LOL) for the last couple of years. Learn and store now the very foods John L has advised you not to buy and store. Store them in the exact methods with oxygen absorbers that John L has told you not to store them. I think its safe to say that the vast majority of “hard core” preppers have come to the final conclusion that these are the most sound ideas for long term storage and until there are other better options, these are the best foods and methods to store them. – M.B. in Alberta Canada