On Food Storage

I post this at the risk seeming paranoid, I’m not. I care deeply about my family’s welfare. Prudence, and my Boy Scout training, compel me to be prepared. Although I’m a food storage novice, I have asked questions not answered in books. My food storage series of posts is about spreading what I learned that I couldn’t find in books. I rather like practicing preparedness—cooking with the Dutch oven in the back yard is a little like camping. And I’ve made some great bread.

You can’t prepare for everything; preparation costs time and money. A good candidate emergency for preparedness is one which

  • Has substantially bad consequence
  • Is likely to occur
  • Can be prepared for

The first two bullets are the “consequence” and “likelihood” attributes of risk. Some examples of emergencies that seem ripe to me include automobile breakdown, power failure during bad weather, or job loss. Others might include material loss to theft, fire, or severe weather, or illness. We trust our insurance companies to help us in many kinds of disasters. For job loss the only real insurance is money in the bank, though it is wise to retain or enhance job skills, and keep debt modest to preserve mobility.

I am trying to establish a food storage program. Food storage helps provide insurance against scarcity, sharp rises in prices, and at some level against short-term problems like inclement weather or job losses. The exact duration to plan for depends on your storage space, and fear—I’m starting with one month, and will probably increase to three months over time. More than that will be difficult to store in my present housing, and difficult to manage in any case.

The bromide in the food storage community is “store what you eat and eat what you store.” “Eat what you store” means to eat stored food while replacing it with new food, to rotate. Of course, adherence to “store what you eat” makes sense if you plan to rotate things into use. It is not without flaws, however. Foods with long shelf lives are roundly advised against by every health association on the planet. Consider:

  • Shortening, a partially hydrogenated fat, will last much longer than canola oil. Too bad it also (tends to) contain trans fats.
  • White flour will store longer than whole-wheat flour.
  • Brown rice spoils faster than white rice.

This isn’t important unless you “store what you eat and eat what you store”. Making relatively bad-for-you foods a regular part of your diet simply to support your food storage plan seems like a poor choice.

Using a 3-month storage plan avoids these problems. You can store three months of foods that aren’t terrible for you, and you can therefore eat what you store.

The Nature of an Emergency

The most benign reason to tap into the storage is short-term economic hardship, such as a lay-off or temporary unpaid leave due to, for example, a sick grandmother. This is a very benign emergency; the water and power are on, refrigeration and heat work, and fresh items (eggs, milk, vegetables) may still be purchased.

A harder emergency might be long inclement weather, or regular power problems. You might have power or gas to cook with, but refrigeration would be dicey. Presumably grocery stores would not be reliable in these circumstances either. Convenience fuels, like propane, kerosene, charcoal, and Coleman fuel would all be in demand.

Consider using storage in the second, more severe, scenario. No fresh milk for cereal. You can use powdered milk (but do you eat that regularly)? No eggs, or at best dried eggs (do you eat those regularly?). No lunch meat or cheese for sandwiches. You did bake bread, right?

Living off food storage in those circumstances would be an appalling amount of work. Unmitigated toil to cook three full meals a day with no refrigerated leftovers and without lots of “cereal bar”-type products.

Some things would just be difficult to cook. All your casserole recipes will be useless if the oven in your range is controlled by an electric thermostat…and the power is out. Practically, you may be cooking on a camp stove in the garage, or on the patio using the barbecue. No meat though, the freezer is out too.

Those specialty foods, like powdered milk and powdered eggs are not a part of our regular diet. Getting stock rotation on those products would be challenging. My next food storage post will cover the requirements for a successful food storage plan.