Saturday, November 17, 2012

Being a Prepper - Food Storage Philosophy

As far back as I can remember, this wheat grinder has been in my family. In the early 80's, my parents, who were dirt poor at the time, invested considerable money to purchase this appliance because they knew then, what so many people are learning now, that you cannot rely on the government to feed you when times get tough.  Back in the early 80's when I was still learning how to tie my shoes and spell my own name, my parents - through example - taught me the fundamental importance of having a sustainable food storage.  Back in those days, I remember a room full of 5 gallon food grade buckets, full of things like flour, wheat, oats, instant potatoes, corn, etc, and a garden.  I also remember the nearly weekly ritual my mom had.  She'd break this wheat grinder out to process hard red winter wheat into wheat flour so she could make homemade wheat bread and honey wheat rolls. I can still remember the sound this grinder made back then, as I do now. It has a big turbine to operate the grinding wheel and sounds like a jet getting ready for take-off.  Indeed, whenever I use it these days, I have to wear ear plugs, and I make my kids do the same.  The dog, for obvious reasons, is put outside before I fire this bad boy up.

Food storage, to me, isn't about being a paranoid survivalist with a bunker full of food and guns.  For me, food storage is way to sustain yourself through hard times, be it economic, natural disasters, political, or for those really expensive emergencies that come up on you, like a transmission going out on the car.  You need the car, but you also need to eat.  Well, eat out of your food storage for a couple of months and take the bulk of the money you'd spend on groceries and get your car fixed!

For short term, and long term use, food storage has saved my family on a few notable occasions.  When my wife and I got married, we started storing away a little here and a little there.  Eventually, we had enough food storage to last a few months.  When my son was born mid 2008, the economy seemed to collapse.  I went from getting 50+ hours of work a week to about 24 hours.  The cash flow was cut in half over night.  The work just wasn't there, and at the time, it was not feasible for me to find something to augment my job because there really wasn't anything out there to speak of.  Nobody was hiring, it seemed, and the ones that were hiring wouldn't hire me because I was "overqualified."  We lived off our food storage for months on end.  It wasn't bad either.  We had good food to eat and we didn't go without.  Despite the fact that the money wasn't coming in, we had a little savings to fall back on, and enough food so that our grocery budget each month could be less than $100 and we were fine - bellies full each night.

When the money started coming in again, we restocked our supplies and bulked up.  We put as much as we could back into savings.  The thing is that the economy wasn't doing any better than it was before, so once a big slow down at work hit again, we found ourselves getting into our food storage more and more.  It wasn't as bad as 2008 when the work seemed to have stopped completely, but it was enough that we needed to use more and more food storage to keep us above water.  For a few years, off and on, we found ourselves needing it more and more.  When times were good, we'd replenish.  Once they got bad, we would rely more on what was in our basement than what was on the store shelves.

Face it, the economy hasn't been doing well at all these last four years.  My wife and I got so used to food storage eating that we learned new ways to store, better recipes and techniques, to make food storage life better than just going to the store whenever we needed something for a meal.  A little digression: we went to a food storage potluck for church one time, and we saw mainly the same dishes from other people.  There was a lot of pasta, beans, bread, etc.  I even saw a bowl of popcorn; c'mon!  I think my wife and I were the only ones who brought scratch made pizza to the potluck.  People could not believe it.  How on earth could we make pizza from food storage?


We have learned, through experience to diversify our food storage to make living on it more palatable.  In fact, I'm about to divulge a tip that most people never consider when stocking up on food supplies.  If you take nothing else from this entry, take this: Store what you eat.  Eat what you store.

It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to store up foods that you are not accustomed to eating.  If you are not accustomed to beans, wheat, legumes, etc, then why store them?  It will be a huge shock to your system if you suddenly find yourself in need of that food storage and your body hasn't been prepared for the wheat and beans diet.  And why store that crap anyway?  I don't store a lot of beans.  I don't like them.  My body, as well as my kids and wife, are accustomed to wheat because I make wheat bread occasionally.  But I don't consume it daily - nor would I plan on it.

What we have at our house is a combination of short term foods and long term foods that we rotate as we eat.  I remember my old restaurant days where F.I.F.O. was gospel.  First In First Out were words to live by as you rotate the new food to the back of the shelf and the older foods to the front, to be consumed first.  There's nothing worse than going to get a can of peaches from the shelf, only to find that it is over 5 years old and rancid.

Another thing we learned, and this is simply trial and error, is what foods we don't eat.  When we moved from Washington, we threw away a lot of stuff that had expired simply because we never ate a particular food product.

This move across the West also taught us not to rely so much on electricity for our food storage.  We gave an entire chest freezer full of beef, chicken, pork, sausage, bacon, bratwurst, etc to some friends because there was no way we could keep it frozen during a move across three state lines in the middle of the summer!  So, we bought a smaller chest freezer to store a limited supply of meat.  We go through it quickly too.  This way, if the electricity is shut off for a period longer than a day, we don't lose hundreds of dollars worth of food storage.  Indeed, if a generator is available (wait for that entry), we could use that as long as the gas holds out, but then we're back to square one.  Now that we are renting our house, being able to have a "light and fast" food storage is important as well.  If the landlord decides we have 30 days to move, I don't want to get bogged down trying to figure it out.

For the mundane needs, not being able to cook the food isn't a huge consideration.  All the times we've needed our food storage to get us out of a bind, we always prepared it, cooked it, and ate like kings even though money might have been tight that month, or we needed to pay for something big.  However, for other needs, like disasters, where electricity and gas shortages are considerations, you need to be able to sustain yourself with nothing more than a camp stove, barbecue, or even a fire in the backyard.  Even more important is the need to be able to eat with no preparation at all, in dire situations.  This is the need to diversify.  You need to have a combination of foods that you can cook, and foods you don't have to cook.  Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for failure either way.  On top of that, it needs to be foods you already eat.  The reason is because you will already know how to make meals based on your food storage and will know exactly what you need to get it prepared.  The last thing you want is a pantry full of flour, wheat, yeast, and salt, and not know what to do with them!

I alluded to a new food storage system that my wife and I are experimenting with, and so far it has been a huge success.  It is a system of freeze dried foods marketed by Shelf Reliance.  This is technology meets food storage for the 21st century.  Gone are the days of storing "staples" in huge buckets for years on end without ever opening them (although you really should store up long term like that - see below).  The Shelf Reliance food storage makes it possible to store up meat, fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs, sour cream, and even desserts without the need for electricity.  The shelf life of most the food is 25 years.  For instance, ground beef is 25 years.  The shelf life of different foods will vary, as in the case of tomatoes, which has a shelf life of 8 years.  If you have a 1 year supply, this should be a moot point.  However, the longevity of this food comes in handy in the event you don't touch a can for 3 or 4 years.  It doesn't just go bad on you.

Skeptical about the meats, I purchased ground beef, beef chunks (cubes), chicken, TVP (which is high protein soy product like what taco bell uses), to put it to the test.  We normally use ground beef for tacos, enchiladas, etc, so that's what you see the to the left.  This is the ground beef, fully prepared with taco seasoning, and it is delicious!  Once reconstituted  it's nearly impossible to tell it was ever freeze dried.  In fact, if I didn't know it was, I probably never would have known.  I made a beef stew with the beef chunks, and it was so good.  My advice is to reconstitute the beef with a water and bullion mix to make it absorb a ton of flavor.  As for the consistency, it was like eating freshly bought beef from the store.  The TVP is used as a high protein filler to make certain things go further.  For instance, in a lasagna, you would use some meat and TVP together to not only make your meat go further, but to enhance flavor, and introduce more protein to the meal.  It has been used for years and is more or less a staple these days.  Vegetarians delight because there is no meat in TVP.  It's a soy based product so you can enjoy the guilty pleasure of eating something that was killed without actually having to eat something that was killed.  We tried chicken in a soup my wife made using some of our on hand Franks Red Hot Sauce (from our food storage).  It was a good soup, and the chicken was pretty good.  I'm a huge fan of this system.  It's more expensive to buy meat in this fashion, but the long term storage benefits outweigh the cost.

If you go the website, linked above, Shelf Reliance can walk you through the entire process of getting started, calculating needs for your family, and getting a plan going.  The best part is I don't have to leave my house.  My wife and I are set up on a plan where we simply have the food delivered to our house.  We can let Shelf Reliance figure out what we need and send us based on their calculator, or we can adjust the order to fit our needs and taste.  Since we are still learning, we ordered different foods to see how we like them.  So far, the results have been fantastic.  Our goal is to incorporate as much of this product as we can.  Right now, this food is 30% of our budget.  Our goal is to make it 75% of our food budget.  Eat what you store. Store what you eat.

You still need regular staple foods as well.  Whenever my wife heads downstairs to get some chicken, she'll bring up any number of things to make a meal. From corn, green beans, peas, tomato sauce/paste/chunks, to barbecue sauce  marinade, etc, we have enough on hand to make a simple meal or an extravagant one.  It all depends on what we are in the mood for that night.  As you can see from the picture on the right, we have dedicated shelves to store our foods on, and we have a few of them in the house.  If you are lucky enough to have a dedicated room for your food storage, do it.  It's much easier to use your food storage if it is organized and easy to get to.  We have a small room in the house that has our freezer and shelves, as well as appliances to prepare the foods.  My FoodSaver sits on one as well as my parent's old wheat grinder.  Along with that is a myriad of other appliances that we do not use everyday, but keep down in the basement because it takes up valuable space in the kitchen.  In fact, we store no food in the kitchen at all.  All of our food is downstairs in our own little grocery store.

I will expound on food storage in my next entry because I want to cover the process of storing dry food in a bucket long term.  I also want to address water storage.  I can't put them all in one entry though because it would be a very long entry indeed.  My goal is to disseminate information.  Food storage isn't hard folks.  Just Google food storage, and you will see.  Just remember to budget and make good choices.  Many a dollar is wasted every year on food people will never eat and just toss.



  1. Just returned from visiting my folks in NJ and heard their stories from Sandy. 10 days without electricity and limping along on a gas generator. They did fine because they had prepared and all the trees fell away from the house. You are right on target James.

  2. Great post James, we are new to this stuff and you explain it very well. I get paid bi-monthly and sometimes we run into a tough month. It's great to walk into the pantry and create a meal from what you have on the shelf.

  3. Great Posts. One thing tho' -- eating out of aluminium cans and plastic can be dangerous. Sounds like you move them in and out quickly, but I have another suggestion for you if you have the time and inclination and that is go to U-pick-em farms and can your fruits and vegetables yourself in Mason jars. They'll taste better and be more healthy. You can also buy quantity at farmer's markets (you just have to get up early in the morning before they sell out but not so early you interfere with their delivery to their big cash customers. Their produce is restaurant quality and much higher grade than anything you can find in the supermarket). If that's too much food for you, you can share with your neighbors. Amazing how cheap it is when you can purchase in bulk.