When I first became serious about prepping, I looked to the guidelines found on the LDS (Mormon) website. This means grains, beans, sugars, and dairy, so I spent the next few years stocking up on these four. A few years later I discovered the Paleo diet, which resulted in great health benefits for me, such as increased mental focus, elevated mood, fat loss, and clearer skin. However, I faced a dilemma. Everything in the basic food storage I had accumulated was now off-limits. Basically, the Paleo diet consists of meat, vegetables, nuts, fruit, and “good” oils, like lard, tallow, butter, and olive oil. Of course everyone will say, “When you are starving, you will eat what is available.” To which I would like to make two points in response. First, when you are in a survival situation, the last thing you want to be dealing with, on top of all of your other problems, is a disrupted gut. Switching your diet back and forth does have unpleasant consequences. Second, the best food storage is one that you rotate, keeping it fresh. So, how does one deal with food storage and Paleo eating?
Fats and Oils
The basic Paleo diet is centered around meat and vegetables, with healthy fats/oils. So, let’s start with healthy fats/oils. Healthy oils do not include the seed-derived oils, such as canola, nor the partially-oxidized fats, such as Crisco. Rather healthy oils include the old classics, like olive oil and butter. Initially, I started with those two familiar, easy-to-find sources of fat. I was already using them, and so rotation was no problem. Both olive oil and butter freeze well, which help them keep a long time, as long as you have a working freezer and electricity. When it comes to butter, it is best kept frozen for up to a year. Also, keep it tightly wrapped, as butter absorbs odors like a sponge. The good news is that if your freezer or the electricity goes out, butter keeps a lot longer out of refrigeration than most people realize. Keep it away from light, and keep it wrapped and/or in a ”butter bell” or crock, which uses water to seal the butter away from air exposure, which turns butter rancid. It also keeps the butter soft and spreadable. Lehman’s carries these. In a butter bell, the out-of-refrigeration time frame is 30 days. Olive oil freezes well, with reports on this site giving a limit of up to eight years. It also keeps well on the shelf, although be careful to keep it in dark containers as it is susceptible to going rancid with light exposure. Freeze olive oil in plastic, to allow for a bit of expansion. Since olive oil has a strong taste and isn’t a good choice for high-heat cooking and butter will eventually go rancid even in a butter crock, I kept looking for better long-term storage choices.
Coconut oil was new to me before eating Paleo, but the good news is that it keeps well. I also discovered plain old tallow and lard. Be careful when buying lard, because you can find partially-hydrogenated lard in the grocery store. Remember partially-hydrogenated equals trans fats, which are very bad for you. On the shelf I keep tallow, lard, and coconut oil. Coconut oil has an indefinite shelf life; lard and tallow keep for at least a year on the shelf. Another good choice for long-term storage is palm shortening. If it is unopened and kept in a cool, dark place, it has an indefinite shelf life. Once it is open, it has only a three-year shelf life. It has a high smoke point for frying (meaning it can be used at high heat without beginning to smoke, unlike olive oil), and it has no odor or taste for baking.
Another choice that has a good shelf life is clarified butter (a form of which is also known as ghee.) Clarifying butter yourself is really very easy. Put unsalted butter in a pan on the stove on low heat and watch as proteins come to the top. Then, you can very carefully skim off the floaters or let it lie at the bottom of the pan and what is left, after you then pour off through a strainer, is the pure buttery oil. If you were to buy ghee, you would see expiration dates going out about one or two years, but one particular brand I found is sold in a can and has a shelf life of 10 or more years. The details are found at PleasantHillgrain.com, explaining that the canned ghee has this excellent shelf life because it has only one percent moisture content. Even after you open the canned ghee, it can be kept on the shelf for months without refrigeration so long as you keep it away from contaminants. Refrigeration is actually not recommended, because it can lead to condensation and the moisture can contaminate and spoil the ghee. So you can clarify butter, put in a bottle, and keep it on your shelf for a time, depending on how well you removed the moisture, or you can buy it canned and keep it unopened for 10 or more years, and then keep it on the shelf once opened. Clarified butter has the advantage of having a high smoke point and so can be used to cook in a higher heat than regular butter. The other advantage is that it is delicious. Face it; you cannot say that for much of the food that keeps well long-term.
My mother told me that years ago when the family went through a financial crisis and she was using the food storage to feed us that the recommended amount of oil in the LDS guidelines was far too low. She said when she was cooking and baking with the food storage every day that she went through the oil very quickly. The rest of the year’s supply lasted a year, but the oil ran out at about three months. So, even if you aren’t eating Paleo and are following standard food storage recommendations, you might want to grab some extra fat/oil.
To sum up, stock canned clarified butter and palm shortening for the long-term; freeze olive oil and keep coconut oil on the shelf for the medium term; and freeze butter and keep lard and tallow on the shelf for the short term (one year).
Vegetables, of course, may be stored in many ways. Even without a proper root cellar, I am able to keep potatoes, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, onions, and apples in a cool room for months at a time. In order to keep vegetables for longer periods of time, you can pressure can them in bottles. Various companies offer freeze-dried and dehydrated vegetables, to further help with this effort. You can dry vegetables yourself. Frozen vegetables are another option, although of course this method relies on electricity, which may be unreliable in an emergency. I am not going to spend much space on this subject in this article because it has been well covered in many other articles and publications. I will point out though that vegetables that you grow and preserve yourself have the ingredients that you provide, rather than mystery and harmful ingredients.
We are all familiar with keeping meat in your freezer, but I really don’t like the freezer being my first choice because it is dependent upon electricity. You can get freeze-dried meat at a lot of retailers. Also, I discovered in a food storage cookbook, a method for canning chunks of meat. I had never seen that before, so I did not realize it was even possible. When I mentioned it to my father, he recounted how his mother would can entire chickens in actual #10 cans, and that when it came time to eat them she would open the can and the meat would slide right off the bones. My grandmother was an Idaho farm wife and probably knew a lot more about these things than I have been able to figure out. The book I was referring to is called Cooking with Food Storage Made Easy by Debbie G. Harman. I think canning is an excellent way to keep meat without reliance on constant electricity. You can bottle or can chicken, turkey, pork, and beef. You can even can fish. This gives you a shelf stable and moist product. The official recommendations are that this keeps for a year. After that it is still edible, but the nutritional value starts to go down. So can your meat, then rotate it regularly.
Another canning option is to can broth– chicken broth, beef broth, and so on. A good broth becomes even more important in times of stress and sickness. Chicken broth made with bones and chicken feet is thick and full of healthy gelatin. It is of great comfort to have bottles of canned, homemade chicken broth on the shelf. Also, rather than plain broth, you can also make chicken soup and can it. There is a chicken soup recipe in that same book by Harman, which has carrots, celery, onion, and chicken chunks in the broth. As you can see, this gives us an excellent soup. Just open the bottle, pour it in a pan, and warm it up, or you could then add cooked rice or noodles, if your diet allows. Another addition that adds protein would be to heat the soup and then beat some eggs and add them slowly to the hot soup with a fork, creating egg drop soup. Canning chicken soup rather than just broth is a wonderful way to provide healthy quick meals for your family instead of relying on the commercial dreck.
Other storage options for meat includes drying the meat yourself. Making beef jerky allows you to control the ingredients. This can help you avoid soy products, excessive sugar, and chemicals that often make their way into commercial jerky.
Cured ham is yet another way to supply your family with meat. If you buy an old-fashioned cured ham, you can hang it in a dry place, and it will keep for up to three years. One strategy is to buy one or more large hams each year, and on the third year start using the oldest hams. Here’s a fair warning: this ham is not the sticky, sweet ham that many of us are now familiar with but the old-fashioned salty ham that older cookbooks refer to. You can’t beat a method that requires no electricity to keep. I buy mine from www.newsomescountryham.com.
Other sources of protein include eggs. Initially I looked at the commercially-prepared, dried eggs, but I had heard quite a bit about there being harmful effects, so I kept looking. Mother Earth News conducted an experiment on storing eggs in a solution of sodium silicate (also known as waterglass, which you can get at drug stores). For this, you use one part sodium silicate and nine parts water, and store at room temperature. This was apparently an old-fashioned way to keep eggs. If you keep chickens, you are already aware that egg production drops off during the winter. Mother Earth News reported that the unwashed eggs kept fresh with no refrigeration and lasted in this solution at least seven months. (Although a couple of the eggs went bad over time, so crack them in bowls separately from each other. My grandparents used to do that with all eggs, and now I know why.) Therefore, during the high production summer months you could put away eggs in the solution, thereby providing your family with sufficient eggs during the winter. You can also freeze eggs, although the result is a little watery, so it would be best to use them mixed in something that you are baking rather than trying to eat them alone. Eggs naturally come with a protective coating. If you don’t wash it off, they can be kept at room temperature for a couple of weeks. Store-bought eggs have been washed and must be refrigerated.
Canned fish is a source of protein that is familiar to many of us. Don’t just stop at tuna. You can also find canned mackerel, canned salmon, canned sardines, canned anchovies, and canned shrimp. The dates I have found on these cans of fish are usually pretty good, up to three or four years in the future. So if you make them a part of your regular diet, you can rotate and keep a nice two- to three-year supply on hand at all times. I think this is very important, not just for the health benefits of eating fish but also to provide some variety to your diet when things become more difficult.
You can buy beef chunks canned commercially. They are found in large number 10 cans of beef chunks at Sam’s Club. You can also buy canned bacon, which would not be a staple but which would be a nice source of flavor for other dishes.
Thank you for writing this. We recently switched to a Paleo diet and have to go gluten-free and we have been worried trying to figure out whether or not to change what we store or deal with having to switch back in the case of an emergency. This gives us something to work with!