Archive for January 6th, 2009

Food Storage Baby Steps

Sharon January 6th, 2009

So you want to get started, and you don’t know where to begin.  Here are my suggestions.

 1. Allot some space to food in your life.  This could be as simple as taking the heart shaped cake pans and bundt pans you use only three times a year and moving them up to a back shelf, or it could involve getting rid of a bunch of stuff in a closet or building shelves into a basement area.  You want it to be somewhere away from light, reasonably cool, ideally, and not too moist and without critters in it.  Stable temperature is more important than cooler temps - that is, it is better that the place not swing betwen 20 and 90 degrees and that it be more like 65 all year round.  This applies to dry foods like beans, grains, spices, canned goods and not to root cellared veggies, which is another discussion.

 2. Inventory what you’ve got.  Figure out what you have in your pantry.  I know, it is boring, but sit down and figure out how much food you have.  You can then compare quantities roughly with this guide - it isn’t perfect, but it gives you a sense of what a year’s supply of food for your family might look like (I ignore the stuff on jello and shortening ;-) ).

3. Start eating from your pantry - pick some recipes that rely primarily on storable ingredients adn make them.  Do you like them?  Do they need jazzing up? Do the jazzing.  Then consider buying larger quantities of the components of this recipe.  So, for example, my family always has the ingredients for a thai-style noodle dish we like - tofu (we make our own but you could buy shelf-stable), rice noodles, vegetarian oyster sauce, chili garlic paste, etc… The only thing we need to add are greens, and we usually have those either in the garden, in the root cellar (cabbage mostly), lactofermented, or as sprouts.  Now try some more recipes - what do you like for breakfast?  To drink?  As a side dish.  As you add pantry compatible recipes, add some more of that to your stores.

4. Start check out bulk resources, both locally (don’t forget local farmers) and online.  There are a host of them here in the comments -  If you have a local coop, buying club or bulk store, you can go through them.  Even if you are part of a small household, consider dividing bulk-purchases with others, since they minimize packaging and have a smaller environmental impact.

5. I’ve been emphasizing food storage over preservation, because it is January, and there’s not much to preserve, but now is a good time to begin experimenting with preservation techniques - so consider making a little apple butter out of those apples that are going mealy, or lactofermenting some of your greens.  And begin thinking about what foods, both home grown and wild or gleaned, you can add to your stores.  Remember, it isn’t that big a project if you do just a little at at time.  Now is also a good time to keep an eye out on freecycle and online for equipment like canning jars or dehydrators, or to start building projects.

And, of course, if you live in a better climate than mine, nothing should stop you from diving right into making orange marmalade or dried bananas.  If you click on “food storage” in the sidebar you’ll find a wealth of articles.

 That’s really it - the baby steps!  Not so bad, right?


Getting Other People Involved In Food Storage

Sharon January 6th, 2009

One of the issues I think all of us face is that our own personal food storage can only take us so far.  Ultimately, our own security in both a pragmatic and a moral sense depends on not having our neighbors go hungry either.  So we’re left with the oxygen mask issue - you know, the analogy of those oxygen masks that come down if something bad happens on a plane.  First, you start by taking care of yourself, but then, you turn around and see if anyone else needs help.

 Now this can be tricky. There are a host of larger community ways we might introduce the subject with all the trappings of “authority” (ie, classes, using existing infrastructure like CERT programs and local planning, etc…), but I want to start talking about the most basic ways we talk about food storage - by just talking about it to our family, friends, neighbors and acquaintances. How do we get started?  How do we approach what is obviously a fraught subject?

I think one of the most important things we can do when we get started with these conversations is to seperate out acceptance of our personal vision of the future, from acceptance of the *actions* we’d like other people to take.  That is, we need to distinguish between how much we want people to agree with our point of view, and the actions we want them to take.  I want people to store a reserve of food - I’m not picky about whether they store it because of peak oil, climate change, zombies, economic crisis, volcano eruption, not liking to shop, to save money or the arrival of the rapture.  I think a lot of the time it is easy to mix the two up - to think that people only act from the motives that move us, but of course, that’s not true.  So generally speaking, I think it is more productive to talk to people, and figure out what does motivate them, and also to offer a range of reasons, rather than one or two.

So for me, a conversation about food storage might begin with a discussion of high food prices, and the savings that we might get if we bought in bulk together. Or perhaps if I know they are facing a possible job loss, about how food storage has helped us through periods when we were financiallyl insecure. 

Or it might not begin with food storage at all - instead, it might begin with common ground, for example, could we work together to save money, or to make the neighborhood more food secure.  The issue might be less about visions of the future and more about finding a way to be useful to one another. 

With some people, it might take a while.  If you get a negative response to something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person you are talking to hasn’t heard you or will never consider an idea - a lot of us reject things the first time we encounter them, simply because they seem alien or strange.  One of the tools I use is to make it routine - mentioning that something is on sale and it might be a good time to stock up, for example. 

Some of us have religious or cultural invocations we can use - for example, if your community or family has known hunger in the past, or has religious obligations to self-sufficiency, sometimes it is productive to speak in those terms.  It can be useful to talk about our history - I often ask people to think about their grandparents and great-grandparents, and ask whether most of them made it through 80 years or so without hunger, war, disruption of supplies.  Putting it in family terms helps people connect to an idea that seems foreign, but may not be.

Patriotism and pride are, I think, also important ways to come at this, although they should be used carefully. Many of us are not so very far removed from people who took a great deal of pride in their self-sufficiency.  While we don’t want to make those who need aid feel bad, there are good reasons to invoke the sense of pride someone gets when they manage to get through tough times independently.  This is important in a national sense as well - that is, it can and should be a matter of pride to be able to go forward and leave extra for those who are truly in need when the government steps in.  This pride needs to be balanced with real need - but people should feel proud of themselves for finding ways around difficult situations, and being able to help others or leave extra for those who weren’t as fortunate.

Most of all, I think that developing a family or community or neighborhood level of food security involves keeping at it, making it part of what normal people do.  You may be surprised at how people gradually evolve from “That’s weird, I don’t need to do that” to “Could you show me how to get started?”


How Much Food To Store?

Sharon January 6th, 2009

On this subject I’ve got some prior writings, so we’ll start with those:

 1. Getting a two week basic supply up:

2. Why two weeks really is not sufficient:

3. Very super cheap beginner food storage with help from a mouse friend:

But rather than tell you how much food to store (although I’m still going to suggest a 3 month minimum if you can manage it), I thought I’d talk rather about different strategies as embodied in different quantities and approaches, what they can do, and what the downsides are - because everything has costs and benefits.

So here are some possible approaches and quantities:

1. The “I want some Extra Food, But I Don’t Want To Pick a Time Frame or Feel Like I Have to Buy One Particular Thing” approach.  This way of going at it says “I’m just going to buy an extra of all the storage-ready things, or can as much of my garden as I can, but I’m not going to set formal goals for myself or try and calculate how much I have.

Pluses of this strategy: No pressure, minimal planning, you are sure to get food you’ll eat since you are buying what you eat anyway.

Downsides of this strategy: If you normally eat things that aren’t storable, you are probably getting a somewhat unbalanced menu, you don’t get the economic benefits of narrowing down what you want and buying in bulk, and you don’t really know how long it would last you.

Who this might work best for: People without time and energy to approach this another way, people intimidated by thinking in terms of big sacks of grain, small families of adults, people who aren’t very worried about the future.

2. The “I want the Two Weeks that FEMA/The Red Cross say I need” folks.  This way says “At least at first, my priority is to get two weeks of food so that we can endure a short term crisis caused by a hurricane, ice storm, etc…”

Pluses of this strategy: You know you have a supply, it isn’t very costly to build up this much, most disasters so far really do involve rescue in two weeks, it doesn’t take a lot of space to store this much food, you are probably mobile with it - you don’t have an investment in anything you can’t stick mostly in the trunk of your car.

Downsides of this strategy: More costly, since bulk purchasing probably won’t be an option unless you have a large household, Quite a few disasters, including a couple in just the last few years have involved longer periods than two weeks, so it might not be adequate, Doesn’t provide much of a cushion for an economic crisis (ie, job loss), for such a short time you might not feel motivated to rotate/eat what you store, store what you eat, and thus a shift to “emergency food” may be more disruptive than you expect. 

3.  The “Three Month Supply Strategy.”  This is my personal minimum recommendation, particularly if you are really integrating it into your daily diet (ie, rotating, eating and maintaining) because it allows you simply stop shopping for a while, if, say, you have an economic crisis and can’t afford to, or a major illness and don’t have the time.  It also fits with existing government guidelines for quarantine measures in the case of an epidemic - that is, the US and Australian governments, among others, are assuming that you might have to be housebound for 3 months at a time, but they don’t have any good plan for how you might actually eat during that period.  So perhaps you should ;-) .

Pluses of this strategy: Three months is much less overwhelming and intimidating than a year’s supply, storage is probably manageable for people in all but the very tiniest homes and apartments, cost is fairly manageable for many people - even on food stamps it should be possible over time.  This quantity really is the first at which economies of scale can be used, getting lower prices for cases and bulk quantities.  If you integrate this into your daily eating, this also means no major dietary shift if you have to rely on this.  For those in moderate climates, three may be sufficient to cover one mild winter season or summer dry season.  Shopping frequency declines because you don’t run out as often.

Downside of this strategy: If you have to leave or evacuate your home, you risk a major economic loss, accumulating three months of food, even very gradually can be too expensive for low income households, requires you to make space to store and manage food, requires you to rethink menus and adapt your eating to eat what you store, etc…, takes time to manage, particularly if you plan to home preserve some or all of it.  Shopping frequency only can decline if you have some kind of powered vehicle or help getting everything home - this can be tough on people living in dense cities who don’t like carrying 50lb sacks of lentils on their bikes or on the bus.

 4. Six months supply: This is a nice, solid amount of food.  It does require some real space to maintain and store it, but it gives you a lot of options, including eating your stores down during mildly inconvenient times, just to save money.  If you keep this much, you’ll almost certainly be living the “food storage lifestyle” :-) , that is, your diet will involve a lot of these ingredients.

Pluses of this strategy: You have a lot of food, and can weather  a lot of long term crises, particularly economic ones very well.  You should have to shop only rarely - once a month or less for non-perishables.  By the time you have this much, you should probably be able to produce a fairly varied diet from food storage.  This is the traditional quantity for those in cold or very dry climates with a long season in which nothing grows - you’ll be able to get from one growing season to the next.  Since food prices have been even more volatile than energy prices in some ways, the odds are good that you’ll be saving money in the longer term, prepares you for major societal upheaval if you worry about that sort of thing.

Downside of the strategy: Costs a fair bit to accumulate, may well be out of the range of many people. You then have a large investment in food and could lose it in a flood or fire.  Requires a considerable amount of space and maintenence.  If TEOTWAWKI never actually happens and you don’t eat your food down, you may feel rather silly.  When people ask you how much food you have stored, you’ll probably be embarassed ;-) .

5. “Everything but the kitchen sink… 1 year or more.”  This is the strategy of prudent nut-jobs all over ;-) .

Pluses of this strategy: You have a giant, wonkin’ quantity of food.  The zombies can come - you are all set.

Downside of the strategy: You have a giant, wonkin’ quantity of food.  You may get bored waiting for zombies ;-) .

 More seriously this level of food storage means that you almost never have to shop (the grocery store is your pantry) - you can reduce trips out for anything other than perishables (and may not that depending on what you’ve got growing or preserving) to once a quarter.  Assuming you can come up with the money to keep your home, you could stay tight even through a bad growing season and an extended job loss.  In a shorter term situation, it allows you to feed more than yourself, allowing for extra guests, and generosity without fear of deprivation.

The downside is that it takes time, money and energy to manage and accumulate.  It is a fairly tough thing to transport, so if you have a fire or a flood, you’ll lose your investment.  It is probably best suited to people who are unlikely to evacuate.  It takes space to store, which is fine if you’ve got it, but since you pay for floor space, might push up your housing costs.  And if you don’t pay attention to it, you will lose some of your investment.  Is cheapest if you do some of the putting up yourself, which takes time and some equipment.

So what’s your plan, if any?