Archive for March 4th, 2008

Food Storage 101 Part I

Sharon March 4th, 2008

Welcome to the very first day of my month-long food storage class.  I’ll be posting material every Tuesday and Wednesday about how and why to preserve and store food.   Today, we’re starting with the very basics - the reasons why I believe everyone should store food, and the very basic hows and whys.  I’ll finish this pairing tomorrow.

First of all, I’ve had a couple of emails asking whether I’m talking about Food Preservation - that is, canning, dehydrating, lactofermenting, etc… or Food Storage (bulk buying, putting food away for some future hard time).  The answer is both - that is I believe it is prudent and wise simply to have a reserve of food for the future, and I also believe that some of that food should come either from your own garden or local food production.  But some of it probably won’t - thus, we need both techniques.  They are inter-related anyway - if you put up the food, you have to know how to store it well, so that you don’t lose it.  Even if you don’t can your own, it is helpful to know something about the process, so you can understand expiration dates.  And whether you are root cellaring your own onions or buying bulk oatmeal, there are real practical questions to be answered.  Where do you put them?  How do you keep them in optimal conditions?  And how, oh how, do you integrate them into your diet regularly?

Food Storage: Not ”Emergency Supplies” but the Stuff of Daily Life 

The one thing this class is NOT about is storing food you don’ t eat - that is, I think that everyone ideally would have a minimum six month food supply, but I also think that ideally, everyone would be eating that food regularly, as part of their regular diet.  That is, it isn’t a matter of rotating, so much as eating all the time the way we should/might need to.  And that means a lot of the discussion will focus on two things - first, how do we eat this way now, and second, how do we store what we (and our families) will actually eat.  For some of us, this is easy.  For others, much, much harder. 

There are, however, compelling reasons to integrate food storage into your diet.  The first is the economic ones.  I’ve posted enough links here recently about rising food costs that I won’t bother repeating them.  But the truth is that bulk buying represents a substantial savings - I recently priced out groceries through amazon groceries (excluding shipping) and bulk prices, and found that bulk purchasing generally saves between 25-70% on food costs.  Given that food prices are inflating rapidly (wheat jumped 25% in one day last month), food you buy now in bulk is likely to be cheaper than food you would buy later.

 The other reason to do so is appetite fatigue.  Several studies from World War II Britain suggest that when people are suddenly forced to shift to an unfamiliar diet, most people will adapt quite well.  But some percentage, usually children, the ill or disabled and the elderly will simply stop eating.  Most of them will start again eventually, but the toll taken by even short term malnutrition on children or already frail people is significant.  And there were some deaths.  That is, if you believe you may ever rely on your food storage, you want to make sure your family is already familiar with the foods you will be eating in a crisis.

Another good reason for this is that some people do discover food allergies or intolerances when they are suddenly exposed to large quantities of a food they have thus far only eaten in small ones.  Wheat is a famous example - many people, especially children, cannot tolerate huge quantities of wheat in their diet.  Some people may have wheat allergies or celiac disease.  These are not things to find out in the middle of a crisis.

 Finally, think back to the last really stressful, miserable, rotten time in your life.  Think about what you wanted to eat.  I’m going to bet that at no point did you want to think “well, this is interesting…”  In difficult times, all of us want our food to provide us with comfort and consolation, and if it doesn’t, that’s just one more straw on the camel’s back.  Why not store food that makes things easier and better, that reminds you of better times and helps your family feel reassured and safe?

  Whether we’re talking about the short term (six months to a year) storage of fresh fruits and vegetables or the long term storage of dried grains and beans, unless your food storage consists primarily of ramen and twinkies (gah!), the odds are good that eating out of food storage will be eating the way we’re supposed to.  That is, lots of whole grains, beans and roots, fewer preservatives, fewer chemicals.  The more we actually eat what we store and store what we eat, the better off we actually are.

What Are We Storing For?

 Ok, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty practicalities of food storage.  How much?   In figuring this out, it helps to sort through what the reasons are for storing food.  Why on earth are we doing this? 

  • - To Save Money - you can get the same amount of food for 25-75% less money
  • -  Self Reliance and independence! Cycles are normal, preparedness makes sense - Don’t Have to Worry about “what If?”
  • - For personal security - in the event of a job loss, a medical crisis or other problem, you don’t have to worry about food, you don’t have to take charity.
  • - For community security - so we won’t be dependent on emergency support that might or might not arrive - Fema/American Red Cross expect us to have 2 weeks of food and water.  For a longer energy/environmental crisis.
  • - To be able to help and share - with family, charitably, in an emergency.
  • - To reduce your impact on the world: to minimize packaging, buy fair trade or direct from farmers, support local and/or organic producers.
  • - Less dependent on fossil fuels: transported in bulk, fewer trips to the store.

It helps to distinguish between these reasons when we look at the question of how much food to store.  If you look at this from the perspective of someone concerned about an emergency, perhaps a short term crisis like an ice storm, hurricane or earthquake, your answer is going to be different than if you look at this through the lens of your long term food budget. 

I think there’s a tendency, when we talk about food storage, to leap immediately to the end of the world, or if you don’t buy those scenarios, to dismiss the value of food storage with the apocalypse.  But that’s not the primary merit of food storage, in my opinion.  The primary merits of food storage are that it saves your family money, gets you better quality food than you could for the same expenditure, and is environmentally sound.  I also think the fact that it can insulate you from a crisis - whether purely personal or national - has merits.  And that’s where many of us start - and where I’m starting today.  But I do want to remind everyone that food storage is as much or more about your day to day diet than about your opinion about the likelihood of any particular crisis.

2 Weeks Minimum Emergency Food Storage

But beginning from the idea of storing for a crisis, it is worth noting that FEMA and the American Red Cross both expect all Americans to have 2 weeks stored of food, water and medications, because some people may not be “gotten to” in a crisis for that long.  Now if Hurricane Katrina didn’t make that point for us, it is worth noting that disasters in which no aid is available for 2 weeks or more are not that uncommon.

For example, after a major earthquake in Kobe, Japan, it was more than 2 weeks before some city-center residents were reached by rescue workers.  This was despite the fact that Kobe famously has one of the best earthquake preparedness programs in the world.  In my own region in 1998, a massive ice storm put out power for 10 days to 3 weeks for thousands of people in the Northeast.  The reality is that every one of my readers should be prepared to care for themselves for a minimum of 2 weeks in an emergency.

A two week supply of food for 4 people would look roughly like this:  

4 people would use

  • - 85 Gallons of Water
  • - 2 weeks of medications
  • - About 25lbs of grains/or equivalent calorie dense root vegetables
  • - 10lbs of beans or other legumes
  • - 3 lbs of sweetener
  • - 12 cans of fish or meat
  • - 5 lbs dry milk
  • - 12 cans of vegetables
  • - 2 lbs dried fruit
  • - 1 quart of oil
  • - Some Treats
  • - Just under 50 multivitamins
  • - Salt, baking soda, vinegar, baking powder, yeast, spices

Estimated Cost,  At the Supermarket (excluding Medications): $158.96

Estimated Cost, Ordered in Bulk (Plus You’d Get Extras): $ 103.50

I should note that this is my own recommendations.  It includes twice as much water as FEMA suggests, but remember, the FEMA minimum (1 gallon per person per day) meets only drinking needs, and includes no extras for very hot weather, cooking, washing, etc… But the truth is that no one, ever wants to go 2 weeks without washing - nor should you for health reasons.  So I strongly recommend the larger quantities.  It isn’t necessary to store this water if you have access to water somewhere else - a spring, a hand or solar pump nearby, etc…  I will write more about the mechanics of storing water in tomorrow’s post.

 I’ve also included foods that aren’t on some other lists - treats and dried fruit.  But if you have to switch diets in an emergency, constipation is a potential concern, and dried fruit makes that transition easier.  And IMHO, treats - whether some nuts to nibble, popcorn or the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies are of important psychological value.  I’ve also included more high-protein foods than are strictly necessary, because protein is valuable when people are ill or under stress, and most rich world denizens probably eat a lot of protein - so this helps soften the transition. 

Now this is emergency food, and the assumption is that these are minimums.  But they do give you the basis of an emergency supply.  If you don’t have a 2 week supply of stored food in your house, a means to cook it without electricity, water, medications, basic first aid materials and other necessities - get them.  Do it as quickly as you can afford to.  Because the simple truth is that none of us is safe from a disaster - and weather related disasters are on the rise.

But as I said, that’s not my primary interest here - yes, I think you need a 2 week emergency supply at a minimum.  But it is only a minimum, and storing two weeks worth of food won’t get you the real benefits of food storage - the money savings, the positive diet, the long term sense of security, the environmental benefits. 

So we’ll talk about that in my next post!

Meanwhile a few links to look at:

Check Out Sue Robishaw’s Solar Dehydrator that works even in humid climates like mine and her solar oven plans:

If you don’t know the incomparable Jackie Clay, take a romp through her advice columns and essays in Backwoods Home on food storage and related topics:

Alan T. Hagan’s exhaustively researched Prudent Food Storage FAQ contains up to date information about how to store almost everything:

Pat Meadows wrote a great series a while back about meals in which you can combine grains and legumes - here are some ideas: and

Shasha Cedar wrote two recent posts about specifically storing rice and black beans here: 

While there are definitely some things in the Mormon Food Storage Calculator that I don’t want to include, it does provide you with some nice basics on how much food actually is required for a family for a year:

Here’s a source of some terrific food storage recipes: 

If you are canning or preserving your own, this site has the most current safety information and a lot of other good stuff:

Finally, here are some of my own writings about food preservation and food security:

 Much more to come today and tomorrow - recipes, links, cookbooks - fun stuff!