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Many people are becoming aware of the need to have a preparedness plan for their families in the event of an emergency, whether it is a natural disaster or an economic one. The most obvious places to look for advice on how to prepare are the survivalist blogs and companies that have been in the business of preparedness for many years, and their advice is by far the most common we've seen.
Despite their experience and many excellent suggestions, we have two objections to the usual advice on survival food storage offered by these sources. The first is that these storage programs are typically devised under the assumption that your stash — all of your stash — should last you for one year or maybe even 15 years without active management. We see three problems with this assumption.
- Most emergencies don't last for a year. Disruptions due to fire, flood and storm typically are rectified in a matter of days or sometimes weeks rather than months or years. Even when we researched emergencies that we here in the US have not suffered in recent memory, such as a currency crisis, we still don't see them lasting for a full year, at least not the final blow-off stage. The exception that immediately comes to mind is war. However, we surmise that preparing for a war by planning to hunker down with a year's worth of food is more or less futile. Chances are you will be outed. Overall, these programs seem like a waste of resources.
- If all your food has to have a shelf life of a year, you'll make different choices than if your storage program is designed for, say, four to six months. Beans, rice, wheat, canned and highly processed, dehydrated or freeze dried foods just about have to be the staples for a yearlong storage plan. However, a program for six months opens up the possibility of including many fresh and frozen foods. Not only are these healthier options, but this is how we eat already, making it much more likely we will properly rotate our supplies in order to make good use of our resources and keep our stash fresh and ready if we need it.
- You will spend more money and storage space on the quantity of your food while the quality of your storage food will suffer. There are two reasons for this. First, you will simply be storing too much. Second, what you will be storing will have reduced nutritional value compared to the fresh, nutrient-dense products that you would normally be eating. Without nutrient-dense foods, you will need more food to get the same level of nutrition, if you can get it at all. In other words, when you eat low quality food, you eat more of it trying to satisfy your nutritional needs.
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This brings up our second objections to the standard advice — the lack of nutrient density. Food storage programs look a lot like a dried out version of SAD — the Standard American Diet. They are a modified version of the unhealthy and disastrous food pyramid, with its heavy dependence on grains and processed foods. To be fair, we recognize that many preparedness advisors include vitamins and seeds in their programs in their effort to address the lack of nutrient density of the foods they recommend and we applaud them for that, but in the context of the total program, this is only a band aid measure.
Further, in a attempt to construct a dehydrated SAD-like diet, preparedness vendors have created a whole array of very unnatural and frankly scary products — insipid, too — that we would never eat, such as textured vegetable protein, dried dairy products, sugary energy drink powders, and dried fruits processed with sulfur and sugar, to name just a few. We even read an article from a blogger who suggested buying candy for a disaster preparedness program. Eating candy is the last thing any health-minded grown-up should be doing in the best of times. During a time of crisis, when our lives may be at stake and both emotional and physical stress is extreme, eating candy which will further depress the immune system could be nothing less than a fatal choice. This recommendation is irresponsible.
Once we change the parameter for the storage program from one year's amount of food to four-six months, we no longer need to depend so heavily on grains and processed foods for their long shelf life. We can spend our money on quality, natural, organic foods, many of which can be fresh. We can also devote some resources to providing cold storage such as a good, old fashioned root cellar or perhaps a spare refrigerator or freezer.
You may disagree that a four-six months food supply is sufficient. Fair enough, we can be convinced of that. However, many of the high quality, nutrient-dense foods on our list have long shelf lives and can easily be part of a yearlong program. Of course the more perishable items fit into the first four-six months of that plan. You may choose to more heavily rely on grains for the second six months.
In keeping with the recommendation that we should store the foods that most resemble our current eating habits, I have set out to plan a food storage program for a paleo diet.
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Eat fish, grass fed meat and raw, grass fed dairy for our proteins. If you intend to store these, obviously a freezer is necessary. The best freezers for long-term storage are NOT frost free. Frost free freezers work by cycling a heating coil on and off, raising the temperature (while using more electricity) which reduces the shelf life of your frozen foods.
Finding a local source for your proteins is generally the best way to go, especially finding a local source for eggs. Buy cage free eggs that have not been detergent washed if you can. To find these, you will have to buy directly from a farm. With the natural coating left to protect the eggs, they will last several weeks to months in a cool place such as a root cellar or spare refrigerator. (Be sure to wash your eggs with hot water and detergent to disinfect before using.) If you can't find a local source for the meats and dairy, try U.S. Wellness. They have an excellent selection of grass fed meat, poultry and dairy products that they deliver frozen to your door. If you can't find a local source for fish, try Vital Choice or U.S. Wellness
Although it is tempting to store soy products for shelf life, you may change your mind after reading about the "soy is a health food" scam. Both the Weston A. Price Foundation and Joseph Mercola supply ample information on this topic, see here and here. According to both, the only soy products that can be safely consumed are fermented: miso, soy sauce and tempeh. Tempeh can be frozen. All have a long shelf life if properly stored. Here are some suggestions:
- Canned and frozen fish, low mercury only. Excellent shelf life.
- Frozen grass fed meats. If the power goes out, be prepared to make jerky
- Raw, grass fed cheese, delivered and stored frozen or in the wheel and stored in a cool place.
- Grass fed milk can be stored frozen
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One more thing you may want to store is whey. Make it from raw grass-fed milk that has soured or high quality organic yogurt by straining out the curds using cheese cloth. Whey will store for six months in the refrigerator. According to Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions, whey is healthful for digestion and can be used in preparing grains, mayonnaise and fermented vegetables. (See below.)
Hone your skills: Learn how to raise backyard chickens. Chickens are immensely useful. They not only provide eggs and meat, but rid your yard of insects, clean your garden after harvest and provide a source of fertilizer. Four to six chickens in your backyard with a chicken tractor are easy to care for and great fun to watch too, way better than TV. For smaller areas, such as in your garage, try coturnix quail. I've have raised these in my garage. They supply meat and eggs. Obviously, storing feed is a good idea.
The only canned veggies we would store would be tomatoes for flavor. If you want to store canned vegetables, we recommend Eden's healthy cans without BPA. Otherwise, store fresh veggies when possible and seeds.
We urge you to create an indoor or patio garden that can't be seen by passersby. Choose crops for small places that can be harvest-ready in a short period of time. Examples: peas, radishes, lettuce and other salad greens, bok choy, spinach, green onions, herbs, etc. Fruit crops such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplant, take too long to ripen. (We've had no luck with Zucchini and corn in containers, by the way.) But if you have the space and inclination, try cherry tomatoes and small hot peppers since they ripen sooner than the large varieties.
Use edible plants throughout your landscape, particularly plants that most people don't know are edible. Some examples are nasturtium, New Zealand lettuce, pursilane, and sunflowers. Consider planting edible perennials in your yard that fit this description, as well, such as day lilies and Jerusalem artichokes.
Microgreens and sprouts are an excellent source of fresh nutrition. Full of vitamins and precious enzymes, they need little space and are ready to eat in only days. Look for seed mixes specifically for microgreen container gardening at Pinetree Garden Seeds and Bountiful Gardens.
A wide variety of sea weeds are available commercially. They come dried and have a long shelf life. Whenever you make a soup or stew, add sea weed. You will not taste it yet you will gain all the advantages of organic minerals necessary for health. Granulated kelp can also be bought and can be sprinkled on salads and soups.
- Microgreens and Sprouts
- Seeds for your hidden garden.
- Seeds for a large garden and barter
- Veggies for your root cellar: onions (avoid purple onions since they don't store as well), garlic, winter squash, spuds
- Tomato sauce in jars
- Sundried tomatoes in olive oil
- Fermented foods: kim chi, sauerkraut, miso.
- Sea weeds for the minerals
Hone your skills: Learn about the wild edibles and edible perennials that grow in your area. Also, learn about hydroponics and aquaponics. Try this website for ideas on implementing an affordable system for the home garden or even for your condominium or apartment: Friendly Aquaponics.
Books: Microgreens, Edible Landscaping, Perennial Vegetables, Grow More Foods than You Ever Thought Possible, and any of the publications from Bountiful Gardens, The Contrary Farmer, The Integral Urban House, Toolbox for Sustainable City Living.
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Storing seeds for an extended emergency is critically important. We recommend that you take the time to choose seeds wisely. We have seen storage seed packages and looking at the contents found that they didn't suit our location or eating habits and preferences. They were also very expensive to the point of being a rip off. Choose your seeds yourself, buying at least some open pollinators along with the hybrids. To store them properly, buy silica gel at any craft store, dry the silica in the oven according to the directions, pour about a half inch into canning jars with new lids, put the seed packets in the jars and tightly seal. After about a week to 10 days, the seeds can be stored in the freezer. You can but don't have to remove the silica before storage. When you need the seeds, take them out being careful not to expose the others to the air for longer than necessary. Your seeds should be viable for many years.
Hybrid varieties are not all bad. Best boy and early girl are going to out yield black krim 4 to 1, easy. It is simply not true as you may read on the blogs that hybrid seeds are sterile. The next generation of plants will not be identical, but anyone who is a gardener knows that there will be plenty of volunteers in your garden next year from the tomatoes that hit the ground this year.
Hone your skills: learn how to select and store seeds from your own harvest. An excellent book on the subject is Seed to Seed by Ashworth and Whealy.
In our effort to find foods with long shelf life, let's not stumble into storing what many consider the bane of our modern food system — unhealthy fats. That includes commercial peanut butter with its added transfats. With the proper storage conditions, we can store healthy fats for much longer than four-six months and they have better flavor, too.
Coconut oil is the oil of choice for cooking since it is more stable than all the others. Mercola.com recently published this tip: to preserve olive oil, buy in small dark-colored bottles and add the contents of a gel cap of astaxanthan or lutien to the bottle as an antioxidant.
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Being paleo-dieters, we can't forget butter for our storage program. Butter can be frozen, but need not be, especially if wrapped airtight. Ghee, of course, has a longer shelf life than butter.
- Coconut oil, minimally processed
- Mac Nut and Olive Oil
- Nuts in the shell. Store frozen if possible. Don't forget the nut cracker.
- Homemade mayonnaise using whey, shelf life of about six months in fridge.
Hone your skills: experiment with making your own butters from your organic stored-in-the-shell nuts and seeds.
Despite our disapproval of the food pyramid, we believe there is a place for grains and legumes in your storage program. The Westin A. Price Foundation has published quite a bit on how to use grains in a healthy manner by sprouting or fermenting them before cooking. (See their newsletter, Wise Traditions, Summer 2006 for more.) For example, Nourishing Traditions, says to let rice sit overnight at room temperature with whey in the salted cooking water before boiling it the next day. This type of fermentation reduces the anti-nutrients in the grains making them more digestible. Fermenting the grain flours with sourdough starter or yogurt is also suggested.
Another use of grains that you may overlook is sprouting. Wheat can be sprouted for a couple of days to yield a healthy drink called rejuvelac, and the wheat berries added to salads. Buckwheat can be sprouted as a microgreen. Beans also can be sprouted for eating with salads, as well as cooked for soups, daals and stews. You should note that lentils need not be soaked therefore require less water for preparation.
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- Sea salt, not commercial salt which contains aluminum
- Teas, especially medicinal teas such as Saint John's Wort
- Dried fruit for the phytonutrients and, of course, taste
- Raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- Raw, unfiltered honey, stevia, maple syrup
- Herbs and spices. Many spices are not only prized for their flavor but also their medicinal qualities, particularly the curry spices. Fresh ginger can be stored frozen.
- Water. In many cases, you should NOT store municipal tap water for drinking. We suggest looking for a used, food grade 55 gal drum and filling it with reverse osmosis water or quality well water with hydrogen peroxide (preservative) for drinking. A great trick is to install a used, busted hot water tank in line with your working hot water tank. (Call your plumber. He may have a tank to sell to you.) If your water service is interrupted, this tank can be used for washing. Because it is in line, it is constantly being refreshed so that there is no need to add a preservative.
- Supplements. At a minimum, store the three things our bodies need and can't produce, according to Dr. Don Miller — vitamins C and D3 and iodine. Also store nutritional yeast for B complex and if you are into it, green superfoods.
- Alcohol for medicinal purposes. Buy vodka in glass bottles for you and airline-size plastic bottles by the case for barter.
- Organic fertilizers for your hidden garden.
- Solar cooker
Hone your skills: Learn how to solar cook. Go to the Solar Cookers International website for cookers and books. We have been solar cooking for years and have even roasted beef with the sun. A solar cooker could be a life saver in an emergency since water can be pasteurized with it.
Also a selection of medicinal herb is wise. Learn how to grow or gather them in your area and how to make tinctures.
Books: Cooking with the Sun.
Please view this article as a work in progress. I welcome suggestions to improve this program and will update it with your help.
December 2, 2010