Food is increasing
in cost faster than just about any investment right now and certainly
faster than the rate of inflation. It seems the media has become
fascinated with people practicing the modern
survival philosophy. Indeed I would say that disaster prep has
become one of the topics de jour at the moment. As always though
mainstream media is myopic and focused on one and only one segment
of modern survivalism and for now it seems to be those who store
As the host
of the survival podcast
I have been approached by a lot of media lately and recently was
approached by a producer from “The Today Show” about helping them
with a segment. When the producer stated to me, “well we have already
filmed one family and they had a huge pantry, I
got what I needed from them," I was done and politely
choose not to be involved. A few weeks later the actual piece aired
and after viewing it I am very glad that my name and brand will
never be associated with it, you can view the segment on the NBC
Website here. Make sure to watch the end when they sample a
bit of the poppy seed cake.
One thing you
never hear mentioned in any of these media segments about preppers
storing food is the investment value the food represents in today’s
marketplace. In a recent LA
Times Article a simple list of foods used in most American
homes posted an 11% return on 16 common grocery items between 2007
and 2008. This trend of rising food prices has continued at the
consumer level right on into 2009 despite drops in other commodities
like oil. Compare that to the performance of stocks, mutual funds
and other common investments from 2007–2009.
The key with
storing food is you don’t run out and just buy 50 cases of military
style rations and put them away for a decade in a basement. Instead
modern survival philosophy revolves around the mantra of “eat what
you store and store what you eat." When you follow that concept
you soon realize that storing food for the most part doesn’t cost
a dime more then you will spend anyway.
Storage Rule One – Store What You Eat
simple logic that if you primarily store food items that you use
everyday in your home that every dollar you spend was going to be
spent anyway. Those six jars of spaghetti sauce you buy today would
have still been purchased just over a few months rather then in
one day. Keep in mind that when you go to the grocery store just
about anything in the center of the store is storable. Most common
food items we purchase today have shelf lives of at least 6 months
and by making sure you check dates you can almost always find stuff
that will easily go a year. Check in the back of the row for the
items that were most recently stocked; sometimes this little trick
adds 3–6 months of shelf life if new product was just brought
When you store
what you eat you are not only spending money you will spend sooner
of later, you actually spend less of it in total. How? You mitigate
inflation. Buy a year’s worth of an item today and six months later
go see what the price of the item is, you are now eating that item
and you have cheated the inflation. When I explain this to people
the common objection is that “sure but sooner or later I have to
buy more of it and at that point I pay the higher price." This
is true and note I said you “mitigate inflation” not eliminate it.
What you didn’t pay was all the higher prices during the inflation
curve. That may sound complex but it is a simple and proven business
principle; it is exactly what Southwest Airlines does with fuel
purchases and it is a huge reason why they stayed profitable even
when much of the airline industry tanked.
Storage Rule Two – Take Advantage of Opportunity Buys
is why you can win big beyond beating a portion of the inflation
curve. It is also a two-pronged strategy. Prong one of it is during
the build-up phase and simply involves watching for sales and quantity
discounts. This concept has been discussed at length in just about
every article ever written about the concepts of “thrift” and trimming
family budgets so I won’t belabor it now. Just understand that by
watching for sales you can speed up the cost-effective aspect of
getting at least a few months of reserves into your storage program.
Prong two of
this concept comes into effect pretty much around the time you get
to a 90-day sustainability point in your storage program. While
long-term I think you should strive for six months and a year is
certainly not overkill, 90 days is a huge accomplishment and it
will get most people through 90 percent of the disasters we are
most likely to face. Something almost magical will happen at this
point though if you are truly “storing what you eat and eating what
you store," you will find an ability to take the “opportunity
buy” to a new level.
The way it
works is choosing what you don’t buy. Sound confusing? It isn’t,
in reality it is extremely simple. During any given 12-week interval
you will find that for at least one week almost every common item
in your pantry will go on sale. In most instances they will go on
sale 2 or 3 times. Over a few months you will identify a few items
that just never seem to go on sale and you will simply have to buy
those as needed. For everything else though all you do is don’t
buy them when they are not on sale or if you are into coupons you
don’t buy them unless you have a coupon.
Now look, I
am not talking about being “cheap” here or scraping by like a pauper.
I am simply stating what should be obvious if we didn’t look at
stored food as being something sensational. When you have 90 days
worth of an item in you home, you don’t need to buy any more of
it for 90 days. Now you don’t want to run out, so you will have
to buy more at some point. What you can do differently then the
typical consumer though at this point is wait until the item is
on sale, you find a quantity discount or you have a coupon for it
before you buy it again. Just by doing this you will end up with
a natural rotation of your stored food. In doing so you won’t end
up with a closet full of items that are all about to expire next
month and need to be donated to a homeless shelter.
Storage Rule Three – Integrate Long-Term Items as Extenders/Adjuncts
When I speak
about “storing what you eat and eating what you store” I am often
asked if that means that you don’t also store very long-term storage
items, the answer is a definitive no. It is simply the case that
a solid 60–90 days worth of stored everyday goods will be easier
to acquire (or sell a spouse on acquiring) and provide more day
to day utility then a case of military style rations and six buckets
of wheat, beans and rice. Once you have 60–90 days of sustainability
it is time to begin thinking a bit more long-term. As you acquire
commercially produced storables you should seek ways to use these
items from time to time as either main courses or at least adjuncts
in your day-to-day meals.
of a hybrid approach to food storage is instead of say buying up
a bunch of things you will only eat if you are forced to and then
stocking six months worth of it somewhere in your home you can slowly
over time get to a ratio of about 60% everyday goods and 40% long-term
storage. With this ratio by the time you reach six months of sustainability
you would have 4 months worth of everyday goods and 2 months worth
of extreme long-term storage goods. A home pantry made up of such
a ratio has a massive amount of utility, portability and adaptability
to a variety of emergency situations. Additionally those who wish
to stock up to a full year's worth of food will often find it almost
impossible to do so without some of these items making up a portion
of their supplies.
in my lectures I divide long-term storables up into two primary
categories. While there are many more ways to divide and think about
long-term storage this approach is a practical way for people to
do the most important thing, get the food stored for the future.
The first classification is what I refer to en mass as “commercially
prepared storables," these include the infamous MREs (meals
ready to eat) that our soldiers rely on for field rations and the
far more useful products built specifically for the preparedness
industry. MREs are another subject the semi-informed media at once
associates with modern survivalists. They always seem to picture
us sitting on a thousand cases of the dreadful things in some dark
bunker, chewing on some beef jerky and waiting for the black helicopters
to show up.
is while a few MREs never hurt to have around or specifically to
have in a BOB (bug
out bag), for long-term storage you will be a lot better served
by the great products from companies like Mountain House, Provident
Pantry and Yoder’s Meats. These items are available from companies
Made Resources and Safecastle
Royal and provide you two primary benefits. First they have
extreme storage life well into and over 10 years in the right environments.
Second and just as important is they are actually very good food
from a taste and usability stand point. I can’t overstate how important
it is for you to ensure that any of the commercial long-term goods
you choose to rely on are something you will actually enjoy eating.
For this reason I recommend purchasing a few cans of a few varieties
and using them in preparing meals right away. Then over time acquire
a supply of the ones that you and your family enjoy. That may sound
really obvious but if I had a silver dollar for every person that
told me they had “X number of cases stored of items they have never
tasted," I would be a very wealthy man.
main category of long-term storables are items with huge storage
life that you can acquire and store simply in containers like sealed
5-gallon buckets. The primary ones are rice, beans and wheat. This
is another area where I have seen my fellow preppers “go off the
deep end” and stock some ridiculous quantity at the expense of more
practical goods. We have to understand that as preppers we have
two primary finite resources, one is money and the other is space.
While grains can help us manage our financial limitations they can
also when relied on to excess consume our spatial resources beyond
what is practical.
Storage Rule Four – Become a Producer
a producer you kick your food storage program into overdrive. There
are really two main aspects when it comes to producing vs. simply
consuming in regard to stored food. The first and the one most people
think of when I say “become a producer” is various methods of growing
your own food, foraging wild edibles, maintaining small livestock
and perhaps hunting and fishing. Each of these takes upon a level
of production vs. consumer-level activity. When properly leveraged
they take your efforts beyond what a finite concept like storage
can ever do alone.
Of them all
hunting and fishing are the most limited. I enjoy both of these
sports and see them as a great way to add protein to my home without
a trip to the grocery store. However, when we honestly assess them
for use in a true disaster scenario we have to accept that we are
not going to be the only ones that see wild game as a source of
food. In a true long-term disaster game and fish will quickly become
scarce, in a personal level disaster we still have seasons, limits
and access to contend with. Hence when it comes to wild game your
best use of them is in preserving them via canning, drying, etc.
(which is part of the second aspect of production).
Moving on to
foraging, this is a slightly improved upon method of production.
The chief advantage is that you don’t really put any work into cultivation,
planting and weeding – you simply harvest wild edibles like
blueberries, blackberries, miner’s lettuce and countless other sources
of wild food. There are some commonalties though when it comes to
forage with harvesting game. You also have seasons, in this case
seasons when the items are available. You won’t find beechnuts in
March or blueberries in October. You also need access to wild areas
where the items are available and once again in a long-term disaster
these items will quickly come under pressure as more and more people
have to rely on them. Hence again they are best as adjuncts and
will do the most good if you utilize methods of preserving them
when they are most abundant.
The final methods
of direct production revolve around planting gardens, permanent
crops (like nut trees, grape vines, fruit trees, etc.) and keeping
various forms of livestock. Going deeply into any of these is beyond
the scope of this article but suffice to say by practicing seed
saving, breeding, etc. these options can represent wholly renewable
sources of food. This can include things like your annual apple
harvest, eggs from chickens, meat from rabbits, salad greens (often
in all seasons) and other options like cheese from fresh milk or
even making wine or mead from grapes or honey if you keep bees.
When you add even a small amount of gardening, permanent crops or
livestock to a well-stocked pantry it greatly extends sustainability
and independence. It also compensates for the simple fact that total
storage capacity is finite.
aspect of being a producer rests upon being a producer of storable
items no matter how your possession of them originates. In other
words if you grow peppers and dehydrate them or if you buy a bulk
deal on beef and can it with a pressure canner doesn’t matter, either
way you are taking on some aspect of production. When you take on
the production role of preservation you give yourself options and
resource unavailable to the standard consumer. Say you visit a Farmer’s
Market during heavy harvest and find a great deal on beans. The
consumer eats a few meals for a low cost while the harvest is in
peak. The producer that cans or dehydrates can buy a large quantity
and preserve them for well over a year for a fraction of the cost
of a prepared storable item and at a much better quality as well.
Additionally he supports local agriculture and trust me, that farmer
you buy from today, is an ally you want if we ever have a food shortage.
There are many
methods of preservation we have lost touch with that have been used
a great deal over the years. These methods were quite common right
up until we had a freezer and a refrigerator in every home. To truly
increase your independence and preparations there are a few you
should consider. These include root cellaring, canning, dehydration,
salting, fermentation, smoking and pickling. If you take the time
to slowly develop the resources and skills to use a few of or even
all of these methods you will reach a level of self-sufficiency
that most modern Americans can no longer even conceive of.
– Seek a Holistic Solution Not Magic Bullets
If you think
about these four rules as a single process you begin to quickly
see how each supports and improves the results of the other. By
combining opportunity buying with a method of preservation, you
do more for your stability then either could do alone. By purchasing
commercial long-term storables that provide quality protein and
growing high-quality vegetables in a garden each provides more adaptability
to the other. In time with patience and dedication each rule changes
the way you think and you soon find yourself empowered. Food storage
is not a fear-based activity as it is often painted by the media.
Done with rational logic and a well-crafted plan it doesn’t appease
fear, it abolishes fear and frees you from the gerbil wheel that
most Americans call the economy.
A food storage
plan based on the four rules is extremely robust and flexible. If
any one component fails or falls short during a disaster the others
can compensate for it. If a disaster becomes extreme in duration
your production capacity allows you to sustain what a finite storage
supply can never accommodate. On the other hand your stored reserves
give you the critical time to ramp up production without an immediate
need that is impossible to meet with pure agriculture, foraging
and livestock from a standing start. In short when you have food
getting more is relatively easy, when you are out of food finding
enough to survive on is very difficult.
Today a person
that practices these rules is often referred by names such as “survivalist”
or “extremist” or even perhaps they are called an “alarmist."
Yet it was only a century ago that such people were simply called
Americans. These people were your grandparents and your great grandparents
and we can learn a lot from how they lived when putting food on
the table involved more then a trip to the drive-through. By practicing
the common sense wisdom they left for us, we can live a better life
today, if times get tough or even if they don’t.
Spirko [send him mail]
is a former U.S. Army Airborne soldier and the host of u201CThe
Survival Podcast,u201D a daily online broadcast that helps listeners
learn ways to live the life they want if times get tough or even
if they don't.