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 food.
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 20072009.
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.
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Food Storage Rule One Store What You Eat
Follow the 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 36 months of shelf life if new product was just brought in.
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.
Food Storage Rule Two Take Advantage of Opportunity Buys
This concept 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.
Food 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 6090 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 6090 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.
The beauty 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.
For simplicity 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.
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The reality 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 like Ready 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.
The second 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.
Food Storage Rule Four Become a Producer
In becoming 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.
The second 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.
Conclusion 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.
August 5, 2009