Introduction to Food Storage: Why?

What would you do if you could not go to the grocery store? If you were not able to go to the farm and pick up your eggs, meat and milk? And your weekly produce CSA delivery was no longer running? What if all of the restaurants in town were closed?

I’ve read that the average American family keeps only enough food in the house to feed their family for 3 days. I have to admit that number seems incredibly low to me– even during the years that I didn’t cook I’m fairly certain that we had more than 3 days worth of heat and eat food in the pantry and freezer. Probably close to 2 weeks. But let’s just assume that 3 day number is correct.  If there was a major event that prevented people from going to the grocery store (and other places they secure food from) after 3 days then people are going start getting quite concerned.

 

Our Experience

In December of 2007, we lived in the Pacific Northwest when the Great Coastal Gale hit.  On Sunday the electricity went out. Monday morning my husband left for work and returned about 10 minutes later. Every road between our house and the highway was blocked due to fallen trees.  The wind was blowing something awful (we didn’t know if was blowing as bad as it was due to the location of our house). We lived on the edge of a forest and the amount of trees knocked down was incredible. And with the wind still blowing and trees still falling it was too dangerous to try to move the trees so Joe could go to work. To top it off the phones did not work. Land lines and cell were both gone. We had a wind up power radio but the local radio station was not transmitting.  No power, no phone, no news and no way out is an interesting place to be.

The following day the wind had subsided and after working with the chainsaw carrying neighbors we were able to get to the highway. Town was 17 miles west.  None of the neighbors had been into town and no one really knew what was going on. Both Joe and I wanted to check in with our employers since the phones were still out. My work was on the way to town and Joe’s was in town. The highway to town was covered in debris but passable.  Town was a disaster. Many, many shop windows had been blown out. There was no power. No gas stations open. I think there was a grocery store open accepting only cash and escorting people to a specially stocked area with a flashlight. No restaurants open.  The banks were closed (I think the next day our bank reopened-sort of- and people could take out $100 only until the power came back).  Plus it was the beginning of the month, many people (including us) were expecting paychecks.  Most pay checks are made in a computer and without power paychecks couldn’t be (easily) figured and printed.  And without the banks open money couldn’t be retrieved from those paychecks. It really was quite a mess.

The power started coming back on, the phones once again worked and things started to reopen.  At home our power came back on Friday. Things were starting to get back to normal when we had a set back.  Due to the storm a hillside gaveway on one of the main roads into our town. That mudslide closed the road for several weeks.  There was a noticable drop in the restocking of depleted supplies while that road was closed.

Our event could have been worse as far as disasters go. There was loss of life and our county was declared a disaster area so it was bad enough.  Major earthquakes, tsunami, tornadoes and hurricanes happen often.

Besides for natural disasters another reason a person may not be able to go to the store may be because of a lack of money.  Job loss is a fairly common occurrence. I personally know several people that had or are still having long term job loss.  And several of those people that have been able to return to work went to jobs that bring home considerably less income than their previous work. Unemployed and under-employed seems to be a theme.  Having only 3 days worth of food on hand on the day that pink slip was received would be rather scary.

Our real life experience and the prospect of job loss have led us to keeping a well stocked pantry. This makes sense to us. Now we are taking our pantry to the next level and focusing on food storage and more preparedness measures. This is something we’ve been toying with for awhile now but we not quite ready to dive in all the way.

 

Why the hesitation?

I had heard some rumblings about food storage and preparedness prior to that storm of 07 but it was all very vague and didn’t sound like it would work for us. After the storm I started searching out information on these things.  We already had a fairly well stocked pantry at this point (this was after my previous non-cooking time) and food was not something we worried about during the power outage.  However, another few weeks of no power and we would have worried. Plus our choices would become quite limited.  Storms of that magnitude were not common in our area but the fact that it did happen was a huge wake-up call.

I started learning about food storage and sharing what I learned with my husband, Joe.  To be quite honest, Joe was not 100% on board but he said if I thought it was a good idea than go ahead.  That was before our real food journey had started so my pantry stocking consisted of the standard items recommended by ‘survival’ websites.  Shortening, lots of canned goods and other similar items. I did get a small amount of whole wheat after Joe gifted me with a crank grain grinder but that was the closest to a whole food item we had in our pantry.  We built our our pantry fairly well to a point where we’d be good for a couple of months.  Then things changed for us and we moved.  We stopped buying food and started eating what we had.  By the time we settled in Wyoming  our stocked up food was gone and we were beginning our real food journey.

It took us awhile to begin to rebuild our pantry. Our money was tight but we tried to put a few dollars toward extra things each month.  But my big hang up was ‘what should we put in our pantry now that we eat real food?’  By definition real food is fresh food. It spoils.  It took me a good year to get a handle on exactly what we wanted to store in our real food pantry.  Like before Joe was okay with the idea but not overly excited. He agreed that buying things in bulk at a low price made good financial sense. He agreed that having a well stocked pantry with food on hand would cut down on trips to town. He agreed that our Wyoming weather could make driving to town difficult some days (We’ve had snow drifts in our yard so high that I’ve been unable to get the car out for days). But he cautioned me not to ‘go nuts’.  He didn’t want me buying so much food that it would go bad before we could use it. We decided on building up to 3 months worth of foods plus a little more during the winter.  That seemed a reasonable amount that we could easily store and use. The extra during the winter was because of our Azure Standard orders which we suspend during the winter.

Then one day, not too long ago, things changed. Joe came home from work and let me know that we needed to store more food.  We had already started stocking up for winter but he felt we needed more.  There had been some talk of layoffs or changes where my husband works and with the economy still looking bleak food storage seemed smart.

 

Now What?

The next steps were figuring out how much to store, where to store it and how to ensure things didn’t go bad before they could be used.  I’ll share some of these thoughts and ideas with you in future posts. Keep in mind, while we’ve kept a well stocked pantry for a few years actual food storage is new to us.  What’s the difference between a well stocked pantry and food storage? For us a well stocked pantry was 3 months worth of food, food storage is a year (or longer) of food.  You might decide to use different criteria for your food storage.

When you start thinking about food storage I believe that the very, very first thing you should do before you begin stocking your pantry is to think about water. You might think that you don’t need to worry about water since you turn on the tap and there it is.  You know that big storm I told you about? While we had water an area down the road from us did not have water. The wind had knocked over a tree and took out something important that made the water arrive at people’s homes.  It took something like 5 days before they had water again.  Water storage was something that I started as soon as we settle here in Wyoming.  We have a well and if the power goes out we do not have water.

FEMA recommends storing one gallon of water per person per day for three days. That’s a good start but for us we have decided on one gallon per peraon per day for 14 days plus additional for the animals (poultry, cats, and dogs).  That is alot of water!  Here is a person that recommends 365 days worth of water per person.   Water is an incredibly important item for your food storage. You can not live without water for longer than three days.

Keep in mind that besides for drinking you will need water for cooking, hygiene and cleaning.  Water is important.  There are lots of containers on the market for storing water in all sorts of price ranges. I like the water bricks (see photo) since they are stackable but most of our water storage is in 2 liter soda bottles that kept appearing around here when my older children lived with us.  I do have a few bottles of store bought water (the gallon size and also individual water bottles) but those we rotate regularly. I worry that the plastic in the gallon containers will break down since it is so thin.

Something else to think about, what if the event that knocked out your water lasts longer than your water storage? Is there a river, lake or creek nearby that you can get water from?  You will need a way to purify that water.  We have a Berkey Water Filter System that we use for all our drinking water.  You could also plan on boiling all of your water or purifying in another manner.  An internet search should give you many ideas on how to accomplish these things.

 

Final Thoughts

There is some thought that food storage should be this big purchase that is made and that food is stashed in a store room and not accessed until some catestrophic event happens.  That is not how we have chosen to approach food storage.  We plan to stock the foods we eat and eat the foods we stock.  Our food storage goals are not yet complete and again, I’m no expert.  Be sure sure to check back for future posts as part of this series; Introduction to Food Storage.  In the meantime, check out the links below to learn more about food storage and preparedness.

Real Food Living– Vickilynn has some great information on her blog regarding preparedness. She also does a weekly radio show Get Real–Get Prepared.

Cooking TF– KerryAnn and Jeff Foster know about food storage. They know because they ‘lived off’ their food storage for 11 months during an unemployment situation. They do a weekly podcast that has some great ‘getting started’ information.

GNOWFGLINS is also doing many posts on food storage and has a weekly podcast.

 

Do you think food storage is a good idea? Why or why not?

Photos: Fresh eggs from our chickens, Storm photo found on Flickr– not from the storm we were in but the results look similar, Butterscotch Rice made many pantry ingredients and topped with fresh (real) milk,  Water Brick on Amazon

This post contains affiliate links. Read more–Disclosures

Shared at Common Sense Preparedness

10 comments to Introduction to Food Storage: Why?

  • Karen

    I absolutely think food storage is a good idea – except I consider a well stocked pantry should contain more or less a year’s supply of most things we consume regularly. Mine tends to run low on specific items right around when those items become widely available at the lowest prices of the year, but it has taken several years to get to that point. Less than 20% is commercially processed. I also have a container in the freezer, labelled as something we never consume, that has some “cold, hard cash”.

    I have not ever stored water on a long term basis, but have read that it can be canned in glass jars, which makes sense to me. I have a few 1.5 quart jars that I might fill and the thrift shop almost always has some, so that might be a good idea. We fill our camping water containers if a storm threatens and are near a natural source of water that we could use if the community source were cut off, but would need to purify it. I am saving up for a Berkey now.

    • Millie

      Karen,
      I’d love to hear how you store things. Do you have a cellar? A basement? A dedicated room? I think the ‘where to put everything’ is something that makes alot of people hesitant to store too much.
      I love the freezer stash!

  • Karen

    Oh, I wish I had a dedicated room! Our house has a finished basement and we have an upright freezer for fruit, veg, dairy, baked things like extra bread plus a few frozen jars of stock, tallow. We got a small chest freezer last year that we use for meats. Everything else goes into a closet about three feet wide and three feet deep. My husband built shelves to hold the canning and there is space at the bottom for a metal flour bin from a thrift shop (yay) that holds about 50#, and things like a big can of olive oil, jars of coconut oil, buckets of oats, rice – things that should stay cool on the concrete floor. I have thrifted bins with small things like baking ingredients, on top of jars of (home)canned things. I can still see the jars and moving the bin is easier than individual little things. Extra dehydrated items are on the top shelf. Chocolate chips are in a lunch size cooler inside the cooler I use for making yogurt, stored in the adjacent closet – because I have a 17 year old son. There is a rubbermaid tub in that closet as well to hold sugars, still dry beans and some pasta. In the kitchen I have two large and one small repurposed buckets from restaurant supplies for flours and sugar in the bottom of the pantry and most everything else is in glass jars. I store empty canning jars in boxes under the guest bed to save closet space.

    I think for me, the main thing is to keep the number of different items down and focus on larger quantities of basics that can be used in a wide variety of ways. Rice and beans are versatile, uncle whoever’s rice side dish – not so much.

  • Karen

    Oh, just for fun, my parents have a concrete lined pit the size of a large chest freezer in the backyard. My dad built a very heavy insulated lid and installed simple venting so they can store garden produce below the frost line all winter. The lid has a very heavy duty spring, probably originally from logging equipment, which somehow helps them, seniors, get in and keeps wildlife, bears, out.

  • I have been storing food for years. I recommend first putting together a 72 hour kit for each member of the family and simple first aid kit. Then make sure you have ample amounts of water stored for one week. Storing water is as easy as filling up 2 liter bottles with water. Most areas have enough chlorine in the water that nothing needs to be added to the tap water. After that, work on a 3 month supply of food. Remember to store what you eat. Make a plan for one year and work on one thing each month. This will make what seems like and overwhelming project easily accomplished.

  • […] grid can be when we were still living in our little country house.  A wind storm took out the power for five days.  After that I started to think about preparedness quite a bit. While my husband and I would […]

  • We are in kind of the same boat as you of being new to real food and food storage, and learning about them around the same time. It is sometimes tricky trying to reconcile the two, since so much “prepping” advice is all about the processed, canned gick. Wardeh’s podcast has been a great inspiration for us too! It’s good to hear your story and see all our similarities!
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