More and more individuals today are diagnosed with food allergies and sensitivities, and the market for foods which contain alternate ingredients is ever-expanding, reacting to the increasing demand for tolerable foods.
There is a definite difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity. Healthline.com describes the most common symptoms of a food allergy as hives, swelling, itching, dizziness, and anaphylaxis. Symptoms of a food sensitivity include bloating, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, and nausea. Regardless of the reaction, a person with an allergy or sensitivity to even common pantry staples must remain vigilant when shopping, cooking, and dining out.
As one who suffers from food allergies and sensitivities, I can tell you that even everyday cooking is nothing short of exasperating. Today’s heavily processed foods require that I read every label on every item I purchase every time I purchase it, especially if it’s been repackaged with something like “New and Improved!” on the label.
Building a pantry for a SHTF or TEOTWAWKI situation can be doubly exasperating. Many popular foods marketed to preppers and survivalists typically have one or more of the eight most common allergens, which are: milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, fish, and crustacean shellfish.
Consider this label from a can of Mountain House Scrambled Eggs and Bacon in Figure 1. I have never eaten this before, but it’s no doubt one of their more popular items, as it provides the high-protein breakfast we all need at the start of the day. However, check the ingredient list.
I am allergic or sensitive to corn, wheat, rye, barley, soy, oats, tapioca, sunflower, and mushrooms. Naturally, upon reading the ingredient list contains Modified Corn Starch, Corn Oil, and Sunflower Oil, I immediately know that this food is not for me. One only needs to remember the debilitating (if not deadly) effects of a reaction to avoid the breathing and digestive issues that my ingestion of this item would surely cause. If it doesn’t kill me, it would certainly make life uncomfortable for the next several days and would make me a liability in a survival situation, slowing or stopping any movement, requiring additional ingestion of valuable stored resources, such as water, electrolytes, and medications, or possibly putting my companions in danger, depending on the situation.
Now look at the last item on the list of ingredients: Xanthan Gum. It’s an ingredient in all sorts of foods, even minimally processed ones. What is Xanthan Gum? Let’s take a quick look at Wikipedia to find out:
“Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide secreted by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris, used as a food additive and rheology modifier, commonly used as a food thickening agent (in salad dressings, for example) and a stabilizer (in cosmetic products, for example, to prevent ingredients from separating). It is composed of pentasaccharide repeat units, comprising glucose, mannose, and glucuronic acid in the molar ration 2:2:1. It is produced by the fermentation of glucose, sucrose, or lactose. After a fermentation period, the polysaccharide is precipitated from a growth medium with isopropyl alcohol, dried, and ground into a fine powder. Later, it is added to a liquid medium to form the gum.”
It really doesn’t say much despite all the 40-dollar words, does it? However, if you scroll down to the end of the article, you’ll find:
“Allergies: Xanthan gum may be derived from a variety of source products that are themselves common allergens, such as corn, wheat, dairy, or soy (emphasis mine). As such, persons with known sensitivities or allergies to food products are advised to avoid foods including generic xanthan gum or first determine the source of the xanthan gum before consuming the food.
“To be specific, an allergic response may be triggered in people exceedingly sensitive to the growth medium, usually corn, soy, or wheat. For example, residual wheat gluten has been detected on xanthan gum made using wheat. This may trigger a response in people exceedingly sensitive to gluten. Although, the vast majority of industrially manufactured xanthan gum contains far less than 20 ppm gluten, which is the EU limit for “gluten free” labelling.”
Granted, because of the more clearly named corn starch, corn oil, and sunflower oil, this is a food I would have already avoided, but what if xanthan gum was the only allergen present and I didn’t know it was made from corn, such as in this box of Hodgson Mill Gluten Free Baking Mix, seen in Figure 2?
If I were to eat something I cooked with this baking mix, it would definitely cause a reaction. Depending on the allergen or sensitivity, the severity of the reaction elicited may vary. For example, people with an allergy or sensitivity to corn may react less violently to something with Dextrose than something with corn oil, which is said to contain more of the allergen. I know a few people who say they’re allergic to a certain substance, like corn for example, but will still freely consume foods with ingredients like these and state that they experience no problems. They say this because either they simply have a “sensitivity” rather than an allergy or they are not aware of the many symptoms a reaction can elicit. Symptoms of a reaction can vary from “just not feeling right” to migraines or anaphylaxis, so in a survival situation it’s important that these ingredients are avoided as much as possible.
So what’s a person to do? How can one build a pantry for themselves or a family member who suffers from food allergies or sensitivities?
- Research, research, and do more research. Simple Google searches that have provided a plethora of resources include “hidden names for _____” and “_____ ingredient names.” There are also many websites dedicated to identifying ingredient names and brands that are safe from food allergens.
- Read the label, every time you shop. There are instances where a company wants to “improve” the taste or produce it less expensively. More often than not, it means that some common allergen has been added. Just because a brand didn’t elicit a reaction the last time you ate it doesn’t mean it won’t the next time. Also watch for “hidden” sources of allergens that aren’t so clear to detect.
- Stick to simple foods. This is even good advice for those who don’t suffer from food allergies. Companies like those in the photo in Figure 1 have long used common allergens in their freeze-dried or dehydrated long-term prepackaged meals, which for most provide adequate nutrition and excellent taste, but for those with allergies and sensitivities they are useless or even deadly (but can serve as good material for barter). The fewer the ingredients, the better. This is all the more reason to shift to more natural or homegrown, home-cooked, and home-processed foods and away from prepackaged, heavily-processed items. In the end, your diet will be more versatile and nutritious as well. If you haven’t already, take up a valuable skill like canning or dehydrating your own foods and eliminate the guesswork.
- Make nutritional adjustments and food substitutions. There are many lists and products out there for families who want to build a pantry or long-term food storage. Typically, these include “fifty pounds of wheat berries” or “sixteen #10 cans of corn” or “ten pounds of texturized vegetable protein (TVP).” Other companies insist their “Year in a Bucket” packages are the way to go. In these cases, simple substitution is all that is required. As people with allergies and sensitivities already do when preparing everyday meals, adjust the ingredients of your favorite pantry/survival meals to accommodate those allergies. For example, instead of a boxed or freeze-dried pasta meal, which will likely include wheat pasta, dextrose, soy protein, et cetera, assemble your own allergen-free meal kit of rice pasta, a can of tomato sauce, a can of already-cooked ground beef, and starch-free spices stored in a two-gallon zipper storage bag. A little prior planning can ensure that all ingredients are present and that the whole family can safely consume what’s inside.
- Consider your own pantry labeling system. A few years ago, my husband asked me to not only buy mostly foods that all of us could eat, according to my nutritional needs in particular, but to also label them in some way that would set them apart from the other “allergen-filled” foods that already existed in our pantry. Our system includes a simple dot sticker, purchased from the office supply section of a department store or drugstore and placed near the “use-by” date of the item,, which I’ve already clearly written in permanent marker (Figure 3). By searching for the dots, my husband and son know immediately which foods I can tolerate, eliminating the guesswork. It may be necessary to use different colors or symbols or even segregate these foods and store them at one end of the pantry, if several family members have differing sensitivities or nutritional needs. For example, my husband is diabetic, and keeping items which provide a quick sugar boost or long-lasting protein and fiber ingredients is essential. Keep in mind that typically allergen-free foods are more expensive than their heavily-processed counterparts, and it could be more economical for your family to consider storing both and cooking separate meals.
These are just a few ideas for building a pantry for someone with food sensitivities or allergies. If you have any of these allergies or sensitivities, you can only trust yourself to build a pantry with foods that won’t harm you. It’s important that you are educated on your particular allergy and know what to avoid as well as what to stock.
Below are just a few websites that can help those with allergies, or their families, select appropriate pantry staples. Printing these out and maintaining a hardcopy in a binder is an essential part of any pantry.
- Food Allergy Research and Education
- Kids with Food Allergies: A Division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
- Food Insight: Your Nutrition and Food Safety Resource Food Allergy Resource Page
- Healthline: The Best Food Allergy Blogs of 2015