…and eat what you store!
A very traditional part of prepping and survivalism is to keep a stockpile of supplies so you can ride out a disruption of supply. It’s up to each individual how much of a disruption they choose to anticipate, of course – some people will go with the 3-days that used to be recommended by agencies such as FEMA, on the basis that within 72 hours of any emergency, the authorities will have organised their rescue efforts appropriately. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, however, it’s very clear that even a wealthy first-world country like the USA can’t achieve that goal. Others are aiming to ride out decades-worth of mini-ice-age or supervolcanic eruption. A fairly useful goal I like to aim at is to have 2 years’ supplies in hand – that’s enough to ride out an interruption in supplies and get us through at least a complete year while we’re growing food to harvest and store to replenish the stocks.
Realistically, between shelf life limitations, space limitations and financial limitations, very few people can put away a seriously long-term supply of food and equipment – some staples, like whole grains, salt, honey and dried pulses, can be stored for decades without deteriorating but others can’t. There’s also the question of how to store foodstuffs – salting, pickling, fermenting, drying, smoking, canning/bottling, freezing, or a combination of techniques!
Some things really don’t lend themselves to long-term storage at all – water, for example, is heavy, bulky, and needs treatment if it’s not to come out of storage green and undrinkable with algae, and even then it’s really only good for a few years at most. If it gets cold it freezes, expands and wrecks its container. I don’t store drinking water – rather, I have rainwater collection in place and cycle through the water there for garden irrigation and animal drinking water at the moment, but store water filtration and purification supplies in case we lose the mains supply or it’s contaminated. That way, we can switch from mains supply to off-grid, literally at a moment’s notice since the Berky filter sits on the counter next to the sink in the kitchen, and at the moment I have in excess of 100,000 gallons of filtering/purification ability stored. Given that a human needs something like a gallon a day for drinking, washing, cooking and laundry, that’s about 91 years of clean water for the 3 humans of the household! We can spare a few gallons for the livestock out of that.
I started this page with an old prepping proverb – store what you eat, and eat what you store. This means, don’t store things you don’t like eating – if times are bad, having to eat something you loathe just makes it harder. Store things you like eating, stuff that’s tasty as well as nutritious, and don’t forget the occasional treat to lift morale and keep the spirits up. Alcohol, by the way, stores pretty well – distilled spirits keep indefinitely, wine for up to decades, beer for months or longer if kept in pressurised cans. Chocolate also stores well!
The second half of the proverb says, eat what you store. That refers to the need to rotate stores so you don’t open the cupboard door after the brown goo has hit the air extractor to find all your carefully-preserved stores are out of date or, worse, mouldy and rotten. It’s quite easy to ensure you rotate your stocks regularly if you’re also storing stuff you usually eat anyway – you just keep eating the oldest stores and replace with new ones at the back of the cupboard each time. This also means you won’t find yourself attempting to cook anything unfamiliar when the hard times arrive!
Another question that often comes up when people start prepping is, how much should I be storing? There are various calculators on the web – the Latter Day Saints do a good basic version – that will tell you how much you can expect a normal person to get through in a year, or in three months, or whatever figure you want. I usually find that they include items I don’t normally eat, or come up with far greater figures for something (or much smaller!) than I know our household gets through.
The simplest thing to do is just to keep tabs on what you normally get through in your household in, say, a month, then multiply up (or divide down) for whatever timescale you plan on prepping for. Keep your grocery receipts and make a list. How long you want to plan for when building a stockpile is up to you – it depends what you feel the threats are and how fast you believe normality will re-establish itself, or how long you feel it’ll take to establish a new normality.
The other useful pointer for newbies starting out is to keep it to baby steps. Don’t set out to lay down 25 years of supplies from the get-go; start by doubling what you normally buy in a week’s shopping and stash half of it. That’s a week’s food tucked away, which should see you through a power cut, bad weather, fuel hitch affecting supply to shops or other small-scale problems. Do it again next week and hey, you’ve got 2 weeks’ now! Before you know it, you can discover yourself with a month’s worth, or 3 months, or a year of food stowed away, just in case.
Another great thing about storing food like this is that it locks in prices. Food prices tend, like all other prices, to trend upwards over time (try asking your grandparents what they paid for a loaf of bread, for example!) so the food you store this year at this year’s prices is worth more next year, when you don’t have to buy it, and you’re saving money in the long term.
If you have access to wholesalers, it’s well worth putting away supplies in bulk from time to time. Asian grocery stores are also good places to pick up, say, 25kg of rice at a time. This also means you’re buying cheaper because you’re getting a bulk price! Even if you’re only buying the supermarket’s biggest packet rather than going wholesale, you can put away 5kg of rice or pasta in one go and it’s one heck of a lot cheaper than buying individual boil-in-the-bag packets!
So, what stores well for long periods of time?
Honey, distilled alcohol, salt, treacle, sugar – these store indefinitely, at least in the centuries range if they’re kept sealed, dry, cool and in the dark.
Wholegrain cereals, stored dry, cool and dark, will store for decades.
Tinned goods, stored at even cool temperatures in the dry, will last for at least a decade. Check the tins aren’t rusty or bulging before opening and discard if they are; once open, sniff before eating. Humans aren’t bloodhounds but the human nose is very well able to pick up a taint of rotten food! If storing canned fish, choose the ones in oil, not in brine – they have a longer storage life, the oil is a valuable nutrient in its own right and if you’re not in need of the extra calories, you can use it as lamp-oil in a grid-down situation!
Home-bottled or home-canned goods, stored dark and cool and provided the vacuum seal is unbroken, should be good for 5 years or so at least – again, use common sense and your nose, check the seals and sniff before eating.
Commercial pickles and relishes don’t last very long – home-preserved and home-pickled veg and eggs are good for at least a year, stored cool and dark until opened and then kept cool and eaten fairly smartly. We have jars of last year’s tomatoes and rhubarb chutney in the cupboard and they’ll see us through to this year’s harvest without any spoilage. Jams and jellies, too, last better when home-prepared – at least a year.
Dried eggs, jerky and biltong – certainly these last me for up to 3 months but I have a bad habit of eating them fairly rapidly so I don’t know how long they could last if I didn’t scoff ’em. To dry eggs, first scramble them lightly (don’t get heavy-handed with the butter!) and then spread thinly in a dehydrator until crumbly.
Pemmican – I make my own pemmican by drying and grinding lean meat and mixing with an equal weight of rendered clean fat and this lasts without any trouble for a year or so at room temperature. It’s something of an acquired taste, though.
Smoked meat and fish, salted meat and fish (and vegetables!) or salted butter all last for months in cool storage. Traditionally, the pig killed in the winter was largely preserved by salting and/or smoking (bacon and ham) and lasted the family nearly all year. Modern commercial bacon and ham aren’t nearly so heavily salted, though – they don’t keep for long at all. If you can salt your own, it’ll keep better – but you’ll need to soak the salt out before cooking it! Salting butter, likewise, preserved the summer’s glut of cream for the winter’s use.
Cheese is another traditional preserving method – waxed cheeses last for years in cool conditions.
Freeze-dried foods last for years – many preppers keep a stash of commercially freeze-dried foods (Mountain House is the best – and most expensive!) that are good for at least 25 years. It’s not really something that can be done at home, though.
I’m not including freezing foods in this list of how/how long to store – for a start, the best that’s recommended for a freezer is 3 months and for another thing, many excrement/fan encounter situations will involve loss of electricity, meaning the freezer stops working for the duration (unless you’re off-grid or have a genny for emergency power).
A final word about storage of dry goods – many of us in the UK have trouble sourcing the mylar bags so popular in the US prepping community. A good, cheap alternative is to recycle plastic bottles. 5kg of rice goes quite nicely into a couple of 2-litre bottles (dry and clean, obviously!) and with a couple of oxygen absorbers, it’s good for 5 years or more in the cupboard like that. Just remember to keep them in the dark, since ultraviolet light will eventually degrade the bottles (which is why bottled water has a best-before date, if you’ve ever wondered!)