How Food Secure Are You?

Sharon October 13th, 2009

As the transition to winter begins, and I spend more time talking about _Independence Days_, I thought it would be a good time to encourage my readers to do a self-evaluation of their food security and basic preparedness for an emergency.

The truth is that even if you think you are perfectly secure, you probably aren’t.  All you have to do is think about recent occasions when regions had power outages or crises for weeks on end, and when a buffer of food and medical supplies, and evacuation plan and lots of warm blankets would have been welcome.  Think Kentucky ice storms, Northeast ice storms, Houston and New Orleans Hurricanes…honestly, we all know it could happen.

So I would advise everyone to take a little while and see what your situation is, and maybe set some new goals for the fall and winter to improve – we all have things we can improve on.  So here’s a little quiz.  All questions are true/false. 

True or false:


1. I have two weeks of stored water, including my water heater and rainbarrels (if rainbarrels, you need a filter as well).  Stored water should be a minimum 1 gallon per person per day (2 is much better), plus 1 quart for each pet.

2. I have a plan for getting water (if you have a well) if the power is out for an extended period.  This could be a well bucket, a manual pump, or another water reliable water source. I have tested and used this source, and know that it works and is reliable.

3. I have a way of filtering or treating contaminated water, should my city or well water become unsafe to drink.

4. I have some familiarity with my local water infrastructure – I know where it comes from, and my community has a plan to handle water emergencies, including extended power outages. 

5. If I don’t have a reliable water source and am relying on stored water, I have a supply of alcohol-based hand-sanitizer for cleaning and hygeine. 

6. I know how to set up a composting toilet and handle hygeine issues.  If I live in a densely populated area, I’m prepared to talk to my neighbors about this stuff to prevent the spread of disease

Food Storage:

1. I have several familiar recipes that my family likes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks that I can make several times each from my food storage without any other ingredients. 

2. I have food storage to last *at least* 3 weeks?  3 months?  Six months or more?  My family could eat wholly from our pantry for this period, and, even if they didn’t love it, would enjoy the foods generally.

3. I have special foods for those who have special dietary needs in my family and among the people most likely to come to us in an emergency.  If these foods are different than our normal ones, I have used them, and know that everyone will and can eat them.

4. I have fresh foods in cool/cold storage or in the garden year ’round that allow for a diet including fresh vegetables and fruits to supplement dry, canned or other preserved foods.

5. My food storage includes a variety of staple grains and legumes, not just wheat.  I know how to cook and use these grains, and my family likes them and eats them regularly. 

6. If I rely on a freezer, I either use it only for supplementation, or have a backup plan for how to prevent food waste (throwing a big party, canning or preserving it) if the power is out. 

7. I have the tools to preserve and store foods that I grow, forage or purchase in bulk.

8. I have stored food for my pets and livestock.

9. If my family regularly consumes meat, dairy or eggs, I have the animals to reproduce this, stored equivalents or a family that is comfortable with doing without and a store of recipes to make sure they don’t miss it.

10. I have a store of vitamins and understand the basics of nutrition so that we can eat well from our pantry.

11. I take advantage of bulk purchasing, seasonal abundance and sales to expand my storage as much as I can.  I also take advantage (or direct those more in need to it) of free food, through foraging, gleaning, dumpster diving, etc…

12. I have a budget for food storage and preparedness, and I add a little to my storage every week (or whatever period you use) by preserving, purchasing or foraging.

Evacuation Plans:

1. My family has “grab and go” bags that include basic necessities to allow us to manage up to a few days in transit or a shelter if we must leave our home rapidly.  These include copies of important documents and photos, portable, easy to cook foods, medication, matches, water, hygeine items, a change of clothes, children’s needs. 

2. My family has an evacuation plan including a meet up spot, a plan for picking up children or elders from various sites, a family member who can take messages and coordinate communications if people are out of touch, and transportation security – ie, bicycles, or stabilized gas for the car, directions to likely locales, etc….

3. Everyone in the family knows what to do if we get separated.  Friends/family that we might evacuate to know we might arrive and are willing to help.

4. We have plans for pets and livestock should we need to evacuate.


1. We have multiple first-aid kits (Independence Days includes a comprehensive discussion of this) and know how to use them.  All adults and older children are competent to provide first aid, evaluate whether something needs more medical attention, and handle an emergency if medical attention isn’t immediately available.  Not only do I own the books, but I’ve actually read them ;-) .

2. I have a three week supply of any needed medication or a viable substitute that I have tried and that works.  I also have copies of all my prescriptions, including glasses. 

3. If we are quarantined, I have basic nursing skills and know how to care for a sick person, and to reduce risk of infection. 

4. I have the capacity to boil water and heat food, to prevent fires while using new tools, to keep warm or cool and handle basic hygeine issues even during an extended power outage.

Tribal issues:

1. I know which of my family/friends might come to us in a crisis.  I have made basic preparations to meet their needs in an emergency, at least for a short time.  I have enough food and clothing, and at least a sleeping bag or two to offer.

2. If I am anticipating children, parents or extended family to rely on me in the long term, I have made preparations for this in my food storage, medical storage and supply of other basic needs.  This includes covering special needs like diapers for infants, medications for elderly parents, etc…

3. I have sent people I love a letter saying “if you ever need to come here I would welcome you.”  The letter includes back-road directions and is designed to get them thinking about such an eventuality.


1. I am familiar with my local foodshed and watershed, and am working with others to expand it.

2. I am encouraging others to build up a reserve of food and medicine, and to find ways to meet other needs, at either the individual or communal level.

3. I can teach others the skills I’ve gained, and am willing to do so.

Ok, scoring: If you see a “false” that’s an indication that that’s a place to begin working.  How did you score?  Remember, if you have work to do (me too, trust me!), don’t panic – just do a little at a time.  It doesn’t take a lot of time to fill a bottle with water or pick up an extra package of bandaids and one of dried beans.  It all adds up over time.


23 Responses to “How Food Secure Are You?”

  1. heathenmom says:

    Um. Wow. I’ve got work to do. :(

  2. Sharon says:

    We all do – trust me, I don’t get all “true” on this quiz either.


  3. Tara says:

    Ugh. I think I’m about at 50%.

  4. Stephen B says:

    Well, I see a few things…lol.

    Seriously, we need more dry staple foods in storage. Wheat, beans, rice…. I grow some of the first two, but it’s not enough.

    First aid kits need beefing up too.

    Evacuation plans? I’ve been putting this one off because I simply don’t know where to evacuate to.

    As for grab and go items, I already live out of a small day pack and my larger camping back pack, dry food, stove, matches, first aid kit and so on are all there.

    Do I have enough extra food for people that might head over here? No way I’m afraid. Though I’ve tried convincing others in my family of this need, it’s just too over-the-top for them to think about prepping for.

    **BUT*** What’s really bothering me is thinking about the 20+ kids that live at the residential school I work at up the street. Yeah, we have a big garden there, but involvement has been very low, especially this past year, not that it was ever going to be remotely enough to matter in an emergency anyhow. Their root cellar (yes, the original farm house is still there and has one) doesn’t have much in it, the main house there grows cold fast without the boiler on. The kids panic when the power goes out. Yes, they have an auto-start generator that runs off of a large propane tank that might last a week, but then?

    I’ve tried working on these issues with coworkers, but lately they’re all just going the other way on this and think of me as a kook. (Ya’all know that feeling I’m sure. :-) The trouble is, in an extreme emergency, several of the kids and staff would most likely come to my place nearby and I just can’t handle them here. I suspect the staff themselves, most who hail from inner city Boston, might just abandon the school and kids completely, either not reporting for their shifts or running away if they still are at work. It’s all very maddening because the campus, as some readers here may recall me saying, is a huge one with several acres of fields and orchards as well as a huge 140+ acre wood lot. As much as I’d like to help them out, I’d be terribly split between the campus and my own home 2 miles up the road. I just don’t know about this one.

  5. Erika says:

    ugh… yeah… I should post this list inside my pantry… then I’ll ALWAYS have something to work on… for eternity… :-/


  6. rdheather says:

    Oh dear. I’ve got work to do……

  7. Kate-B says:

    Great set of questions!

    Thank you again for your education on how to stock our pantry/root cellar near to the brim. I have three main items left that I intend to do and have been actively working on most.

    What this really means is that I just wanna finish up soon so I can get on with the holiday travel plans. So ummmm, let’s don’t think up anymore essential mustdo stuff until after X-mas please!

  8. Shamba says:

    Okay, I’ll be brave here and say I had–out of 32 questions ( I hope I counted right) I got 11 Falses and 21 Trues. There are options in most of the list to have some things related to each item but not others that are listed. I tried not to give myself too much leeway on questions where I had some solutions but not all of the solution.

    I don’t have a long term water solution (residence: Phoenix metro area) but I have 20 gallons of stored water and have been thinking about adding 10 more. I have 5 gallon food grade water jugs which fit into a surpsingly small space. It’s interesting how psychologically better the water makes me feel! And I didn’t have this water before last spring so it’s new after AIP class.

    The food storage is the strong part and I have a household of 1 human and 8 felines. So, I really have no other human palates to cater to but my own. However, I could end up with one, possibly 2 humans if thing really went to hell. And you don’t know who else who knows you might show up anyway, with or without animals!

    I did something about first aid supplies this past year.

    Let’s just hope I don’t have to evacuate anywhere! I have more trouble thinking of being prepared for that than anything else that might happen.

    peace. shamba

  9. Shamba says:

    and two more rather large points:
    1) I don’t know what I’d do without the fridge or freezer and

    2) what to do to keep cool without AC or the swamp cooling …
    there;s always the old wet sheet hung in the doorways or windows!

    Please, Teacher, don’t make me take a pop quiz! ;)


  10. Teresa Noelle Roberts says:

    Intimidated now! We have plenty of food on hand, and space and extra warm stuff for anyone who needs to camp out with us, but that’s about it.

    Generally long power outages in our area are due to blizzards or ice storms, which makes the water and freezer issues much easier. Gods know what we’d do if we had a long power outage in hot weather. Feeding the neighborhood and hauling out the canner, I suppose!

  11. Judy says:

    Ok, now I’m nervous. We moved into a new house (with land!) in July. The house was a ‘fixer-upper’ but ended up needing more work than we had imagined, so many of our modifications that we had hoped to get to have been put on hold. We have a well but no back-up pump although we do have a spring fed creek on our property. But I’m not so worried about water as I am about back up heat this winter if we lose power. We plan to put in a wood stove but that hasn’t happened yet.
    Food isn’t much of a problem, we’ve got a pretty good store and one of the first things I did was replace the electric stove with a gas one that can be match lit if necessary.
    But now you’ve given me lots of food for thought….

  12. squrrl says:

    I actually got near 100% in most categories, with of course a weak showing in community. But basically a zero in evacuation preparedness, because my husband and I have talked about it fairly extensively and 1. we can’t actually imagine any remotely plausible reason that we would have to evacuate (not near any major cities, not in ANY natural disaster zones, not near any military targets…) 2. we can’t imagine any place it would be better to be, and 3. we’re the sort who would probably stay put if the top half of our house blew off. So really, at least until we have everything else in place, it seemed like rather a misdirection of effort to spend time and money on stuff we’re extremely disinclined to use. This is where we want to be. Period.

    That, and around here it’s only just time to start stocking the root cellar. Still eagerly awaiting first frost so I can see how my celeriac did. But for preserving, we’ve done everything but the kraut! Yay!

  13. Alan says:

    My only gripe here is that the title should be something like, “How Ready Are You”, because the post covers so much more than food security.

  14. Sharon says:

    Sqrrl – Fire?


  15. Mark N says:

    Killjoy. Half the fun of a crisis is running around in circles and screaming what are we gonna DO!?!?

  16. Ann says:

    Good Gawd! I almost pass. Except I can’t evacuate because I have animals. I will stay with them. And all my stored food, etc, is in this house. What is death, anyway, but the inevitable.

    Excellent list.

    As we move from words to action, Sharon, you [Rob Hopkins, also, perhaps others] bridge the gap. You are both words and action. Re: Eric Hoffer, _The true Believer – [something about mass movements]_: “first come the word people, then the action people.”. That’s a condensation/paraphrase from near the end of the book. Read it yourself, if not for the flawless logic, for the gorgeous language. Assuming, of course, you, a PhD in English, don’t mind reading the poetic prose of a school dropout longshoreman. His book is a classic. Here we are. You are front and center for the moment. Find out why.

  17. Sharon,

    Thanks, again.

    You are a true survivalist! Good Luck

  18. MEA says:

    Here comes the scoring. This is really a find your perfect PO mate quiz. (Just helping the renta-yenta)

    0-10 You are PO aware, but need to work on your skills if you want to attract anything other than a nerd with excellent planning and orgainizing skills and a secret believe the TEOTWAWKI will turn him into an instant babe/dude magnet or her into a chick/dude magnet.

    11-19 You’ve made a good start. You get the mate with the full set of garden tools and the back and knees to be a perfect shovel surf.

    20-29 With your skill set and stash of rice, bean and knitting wool, you’ll be read when Mr. or Ms. drive up with a team of draft horses and a wagonful of seed stock.

    30-35 You superior skill, knowhow and stores along with your teaching skills make you welcome on any doomstead where you are immediately chosen as the mate of the alpha male or female.

    36 You win the jackpot. For those attracted to males — he’s tall, he’s he’s good looking, he has excellent teeth, which will pass down both the male and female lines! He wears a kilt. He can plough a furrow while shoeing a horse, delivering goats, butchering a hog, shearing a sheep and putting up a full seaon of produce.

    For those attracted to women, she’s all of the above, but wears a string bikni which looks stunning with her work boots.


  19. MEA says:

    Stephen B

    Becuase it is always so much easier to solve other people’s problems –

    have you considered that when TSHTF, making the school your residence — going to them rather than having them come to you. No idea if this is possible, no idea if you want to leave your home and trek 30 mins each way to your land, but as I said, other people’s problems always look so easy.

    MEA, the bossy big sister.

  20. curiousalexa says:

    MEA, that’s awesome! Now how does one collect their prize? I’d happily accept one from the shovel serf category (not wanting to feed/care for draft horses).

  21. MEA says:

    Oh, just apply to Sharon, aka “the goat sex woman.”

  22. Red Emma says:

    “Grab and go” bags should include a cat carrier, if you live with cats.

  23. NM says:

    Cat carrier. Extra dog leashes, tags and vet records. Litter box?! Dog and cat food. More than a can of soup. The matches that are somewhere else in the house, but I can’t think where right at the moment. … And then you should be able to pick this conglomeration up and carry it. While carrying the cat carrier and not tripping over the dogs winding said leashes around your legs.
    Ack. MEA, is there a prize somewhere of someone to carry the baggage?

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