I think we can all agree that a deep larder is good insurance for bad times. There is some variation on how we approach this topic, but we probably all have a lot in common. I would like to present my approach to food storage to give your readers (perhaps) a new perspective. Some of them may have inadequate plans for feeding their families.
First, I have to admit that I am probably not as well prepared as a lot of readers and that my preparations could easily be improved if I were less lazy or worried more. I don’t put very much work into survival preparation. I don’t own very much equipment or a whole warehouse of guns and ammunition. I don’t worry too much about which gun to use with what ammunition or what holster looks best with my outfit. I really don’t worry about which brand of SUV might make a good G.O.O.D. vehicle. I finished my main preparations long ago and I now simply live my life as I wish, tweaking my preps here and there as the whim takes me.
I was able to gain a lot of peace of mind by rationally looking at the threats I face and prioritizing my needs. Preparation is easy if you plan carefully with a clear view of the likely threats. I assessed the risks, set some achievable goals, and executed the plan. Now I spend a lot of time fishing or messing around doing what I want.
Important Caveat: Skills definitely come first! You should never skimp on skills in favor of gadgets. Your best survival kit is your own noggin and what you put inside it. I am not advocating sitting idle. You should frantically be learning new skills all the time and honing your old ones. Use your time and money to learn valuable skills. The rest is just stuff.
I take a fairly flippant attitude about survival gear in general. With the right skills, you need surprisingly little equipment to keep breathing. I have firearms, of course and some ammunition, a few basic necessities, like a good water filter, a good grain grinder, camping gear, backup power, reliable vehicles and spares for everything. But all of this costs less than you would probably believe and I think I have my bases pretty well covered on equipment.
But I do take food security very seriously. Perhaps more seriously than some of you. I have traveled to several third-world countries and famine zones in the course of my military career and have seen hunger up close. I have eaten the same gruel given out by UNICEF and other NGOs in their feeding programs and watched powerless as children died from lack of a few dollars worth of basic foods. I have also seen that abundance of food doesn’t do much to alleviate hunger if the finance and transport systems don’t work. I have seen women with young babies standing along a highway, literally among corn stalks of ripe corn, trying to flag down a truck and prostitute themselves so they could afford to buy some of it. Yes, I take food security very seriously.
Food security is the first and foremost problem the human race has always faced. It’s the specter that never sleeps for long. Thomas Malthus was right. Populations tend to increase as long as there is plenty of food, overpopulate in good years, and then starve when the food supply becomes scarce. You can actually correlate death rates in medieval England directly to grain prices. It’s been that way throughout history and it still is today. We are just enjoying incredible surpluses and record-low food prices right now (for the last hundred years or so) because of technology and new lands coming under development. Predictably, the population has swelled logarithmically to take advantage of that abundant food. Starvation has become almost unthinkable in the western world. Unfortunately, those good times will end if our society ends. We will be back where we were a thousand years ago, anxiously watching the harvest to see if our children will live
through the coming year.
Food is the one thing you can’t improvise. Any interruption in your food supply will kill you and your family, so you need to store a lot. How much is enough? Simply put, I don’t think you are likely to be able to store too much. A five year supply is not excessive because there are always going to be people less fortunate than you who need it desperately. Food is wealth. Have you ever worried about having too much wealth?
I take food security seriously enough to make it my top priority. I have a tiered approach to storage that works well for me and I think it has advantages that other methods don’t. I have long term storage, medium term storage and short term storage. And, I eat what I store.
Short and medium term storage items I keep in my home. Long term storage items, like wheat, beans, rice and white sugar are stored elsewhere in hidden permanent caches. My short and medium term goods are largely to see me through short and medium severity events, like a regional disaster or slow-slide economic decline. I don’t intent to raid my long term storage until I am ready to replace it (in about 25 years, if I live that long) or in the event of an extreme emergency. My long term supplies are insurance, pure and simple, in case there is a major interruption to my family’s food supply. I built my caches well and don’t spend much time worrying about them. I don’t rotate the food in them regularly or need to check on them often. But they will be a life-saver when (and if) I ever need them.
Most of the supplies I keep in my home are more perishable. They have to be rotated regularly. This is easy because we live on these supplies. I don’t store anything we don’t regularly eat. I choose not to grow a garden since I have some old injuries that make it painful for me, (also I am terribly lazy), so I have to buy all my fresh stuff at retail prices. If you can grow a garden and keep some livestock, like chickens, I highly recommend you do this. That would enable you to be much better prepared than I am. As a non-gardener, I shop every week to get fruit, veggies, potatoes, milk, eggs and cheese. I take that weekly opportunity to top off all of my rotating supplies. Anything we use up, I generally replace within a week or two.
In addition, to the perishables, I probably have about 3 month’s supply of most of our semi-perishable staples like canned veggies, meat, pastas and sauces. All of these things, along with most medicines and vitamins, have a shelf life measured in months (or a few years in some cases). Wet-canned foods have to be rotated. You can save a lot of money and (surprisingly) trouble by home canning. The price of home canned foods are lower, even if you have to pay full price, plus it allows you to buy things in bulk when the prices are low.
In November 09, I started canning meat instead of freezing it and now I tend to buy about a “canner load” (20lbs) every couple of weeks and can it for later use instead of freezing it like I used to do. (My stocks of canned meats has been going up ever since). This has already proved to be a wise decision. Our freezer recently got unplugged and we only discovered it because of the smell of a few rotting steaks and the few pounds of fish I keep there. I glanced at my stacks of canned beef, chicken, pork and turkey and smiled. I figure my pressure canner paid for itself that day.
I also maintain about 350 pounds of wheat, 100 pounds of white flour, 150 pounds of dried beans, 100 pounds of white sugar, 150 pounds of white rice, 5 gallons of canola oil, 5-7 gallons of dried milk powder, about 30 pounds of dried eggs, 20 pounds of raisins, 25 pounds of salt, and about 25 pounds of dried corn. (I also maintain a fairly large stock of sprouting seeds, garden seeds and vitamins in our spare refrigerator). All told, I figure my wife and I could eat pretty well for many months in an emergency without dipping into long term storage. All of this stuff is rotated and eaten regularly.
Let me say that again. We live mostly on wheat (in many forms), rice, and beans. (we eat a lot of potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage and turnips too, but I will cover that later). The other things we buy at the store are mostly adjuncts. While they would be sorely missed, losing fresh eggs, milk and cheese wouldn’t cramp our lifestyle much. We cook with dried milk, cheese and eggs already and only use the fresh variants for fried eggs, sandwiches and drinking milk. We prefer the fresh, but use an awful lot of dried food in our day to day lives, just for the convenience.
I marvel at people who store foods they don’t eat and really don’t like. I met a man once who had a “whole year’s supply” of expensive dried foods in his basement for several years. In all this time, he had never once opened a can and tried it. Once I talked him into trying his larder, he was sorely disappointed and lost all enthusiasm for storing food. (I have to admit that I didn’t like it much either.)
This is a serious issue because I have doubts that most folks could easily transition to a “basic food” diet in an emergency. The caloric density of basic foods is about half as much as the diets most Americans currently eat. If you are used to living on fast food and plan to transition to a whole wheat and bean diet once the emergency happens, you are deluding yourself. You have to eat a lot of wheat to equal a double cheeseburger and frankly, If you eat mostly prepared or fast foods, (as most US citizens do) You have a finely tuned digestive tract that can’t handle bulk foods and lots of fiber.
If you introduce these foods gradually into your normal diet, you will grow to enjoy them. I highly recommend that every survivalist attempt to live off of his stored foods. See if you can learn to like them. The benefits of doing so are tremendous. First, my grocery bill is tiny. Most of the foods we all store are the cheapest food you can buy. Second, a largely vegetarian lifestyle is not bad for you. You will feel better if you get most of your calories from grains and beans and eat more veggies and fruit. You will never buy another antacid or laxative and will have more energy. You might even lose some weight.
I am not advocating giving up meat products, lord no! I am a confirmed omnivore and eat more than my share of meat. I am only advising you to cut back on them. Too much meat is terrible for you and probably the most expensive food you buy. It might also be much too expensive after a crisis. Beef in particular is horribly expensive to produce. In most of the world, meat is too expensive to eat more than a few times a month. If you cut down on meats and other fatty foods now, your digestive system will already be adjusted to living on bulkier grains and other carbohydrates. You also won’t get indigestion or gas from eating beans. Cut down now and maybe you will miss these high calorie foods less if they become scarce or expensive. I enjoy meat, and eat some almost daily, but I don’t crave it any more.
FAMEAL: Famine Chow is a good way to introduce storage foods into your diet. This is a slang word for WSB or CSB (Wheat-Soy-Blend or Corn-Soy-Blend) used by NGOs in their feeding programs. Most Americans have never heard of (much less tried) this stuff. This is the same gruel fed to starving people in Africa and elsewhere. The only word that describes it is “foody”. It’s delicious. You can eat it as a thin paste or thicken it up and make dumplings or bread out of it. You can add it to soups and casseroles or even make cookies out of it. Best of all, it’s healthy and cheap and made of storage foods. The NGOs buy it pre-made in big dog-food bags so they can just add water. The pre-made mix is extrusion cooked so it’s easier to work with under primitive conditions. You are not going to find this stuff at your grocery store but here is how you can make your own:
50% (by volume) Corn meal or wheat meal. (I prefer meal to flour, but both work)
30% (by volume) Bean meal. Any kind..even soy. I use lentils because the are easy to grind.
10% (by volume) Oil. Any cooking oil works.
10% (by volume) Sugar or honey or syrup if you prefer.
Add salt to taste. You can also add vitamins by grinding a tablet with the mix.
(With multi-vitamin supplement, this is a fairly well balanced diet).
To cook it (it will be a powder) mix it slowly (it clumps) with boiling water (three cups of water per cup of meal). Turn off the heat and cover it and allow it to cook for 10 minutes. If you add the powder to the water and then try to heat it, it burns to the bottom of the pot, but a microwave oven works great for cooking the wet mixture. Or, use the powder just like flour for baking. It makes an awesome bean bread. It also makes a wonderful cake mix if you add more sugar and other flavorings. You can vary the amounts of everything, including water to suit your own tastes. Try it. You may find that you really like it. It’s fairly tasty, filling and satisfying. My kids ate an awful lot of fameal muffins while they were growing up. They freeze well and make a good quick breakfast food if you are in a hurry.
Potatoes, carrots, squash, corn, green beans, Broccoli, cabbages, greens, tomatoes, onions and turnips. We eat a lot of these crops, but I don’t currently grow a garden. They are all difficult for me to store because they require a cellar or refrigeration, so I buy them as needed. Fortunately, they are cheap and abundant now and will remain so unless there is a major economic crash or other terrible disaster. When this happens, I intend to grow my own. I maintain a rotating stock of heirloom garden seeds for this. Potatoes require a little more work since you must start from root-stock and not seeds, so I will have to try to grow them from store-bought roots when I need to. If I am unable to grow any of these crops when I need to, I will have to do without. Until I can get a garden going, I will be forced to substitute a lot of sprouts for other fresh veggies, but I don’t expect any insurmountable problems.
A word of caution: Growing a garden is not easy. It requires a lot of physical labor and practical knowledge. I have a solid set of gardening skills and years of experience, so I feel ok about just storing seeds. I have grown several gardens using the same techniques I will have available without modern society. If you have never done any gardening in your area, especially using only hand tools, you really should. Your learning curve will be steeper than you probably think. Learning is cheap now, but won’t be later. Make your mistakes now, not when you need the food. You will have to grow a large garden to feed your family. Gardening is a critical skill! and so is food preservation.
Just as important, you need to learn which varieties of non-hybrid plants grow well in your area and the only real way to learn this is to grow a garden. Even a small one can teach you volumes. Your soil also needs building, so every season, your productivity will increase. You might find you enjoy it. Once you get good at it, you might be safe just to stock up on seeds, fertilizers and tools like I do, but build the skills first.
Long term storage foods:
Your long term storage is your capital for the future. We are going to need time to get our permanent food production capacity going again. We may need several years. I expect farmers in the USA to have to re-learn a lot of their skills once the machines don’t work anymore. Plowing with a horse team (even if you have horses available) requires tack and harness and tools that don’t really exist anymore. My father’s generation in rural Tennessee were among the last folks who grew most of their own food using a horse team (Amish communities and anomalies like them excepted). Since then, the specialized tools needed have been lost to age, antique shops (and cracker barrel furnishings). Before we can go back to a simpler pattern of farming without modern machinery and chemicals, we are going to need to re-invent the tools and breed and train the livestock. This is going to take time. Your storage food is all you have to give you that time.
At the risk of sounding like a nut, I believe you can’t have too much food. As long as it doesn’t go to waste, the more you have the better off you will be if society collapses. If I were able, I would store a warehouse of grain and keep my whole community alive, but this is impossible for me. If everyone in the USA stored two years of food, we might be able to save many of them after society collapses. Unfortunately, even preppers rarely store two years of food. Most of us have a year or even less in storage. I am not confident that we will have adequate food production to feed everyone left alive two years after a collapse. I think three years is more realistic. Not only will that give us time to increase production, but it will give more people time to die. Starvation will be ever-present until we can grow enough food for everyone left alive and that could take a long time.
Storing food long term is not easy, but right now, it can be very inexpensive. You can store over a ton of wheat for the price of a new Glock Model 17, four spare magazines and holster. Cut down on your gun collection a little and you can store a lot more food. I store almost exclusively wheat, beans, white sugar, salt and rice. I have stopped using plastic buckets for my long term storage. They are just not sturdy enough to last several decades and they are not rodent proof. I use two-quart mason jars with a spoonful of diatomaceous earth, sealed with an oxygen absorber and the lids dipped in paraffin. This is a little more expensive, and the jars are breakable, but they are water and rodent proof and I figure the dry food will last basically forever. Jars are about a dollar each, but worth it for me because I store the bulk of my long term foods underground, where there may be moisture or rodents. Enameled cans are cheaper, shock-proof and probably a better choice for most purposes. If you have a secure environment, plastic pails with mylar liners are a good choice.
I have stored quite a lot of basic foods for a single family and done my best to get others to build up their reserves. But the sad truth is, all of my supplies would still last less than a year for my whole extended family. My meager supply wouldn’t feed a whole town more than a few days. You can’t feed the world and can’t stop the coming die-off with your storage food. But you might be able to save your family and perhaps help a handful of people. If you are reading SurvivalBlog, then you are at least thinking about the problem and that puts you way ahead of the general population. I encourage you to go overboard. Store many times more than you need. Because you may want it. – J.I.R.