Storing two to four weeks of “commercial” food isn’t too difficult. But when you get beyond that, you are ready for step two and will need to consider specialized foods prepared specifically for long-term storage. These generally fall into several categories:
- Vacuum-packed and/or nitro-packed dried, dehydrated and freeze-dried foods
- Nitrogen packed grains and legumes
- Specially prepared and sealed foods such as MREs (Meals, Ready-to-Eat) with a five-to-ten year shelf life
All three options offer the same advantage over traditional commercial foods: long storage life. Some, such as MREs and packages sold to backpackers, are complete meals. This is handy and convenient, but they tend to be expensive on a per-meal basis. Others, such as #10 cans (about a gallon) of dried items, are usually ingredients which can be used to prepare a full meal. These ingredients include everything from macaroni elbows or carrot slices to powdered milk or butter crystals. Dave believes that your best bet is bulk items (which are cost effective) with MREs or at least MRE entrées to provide variety and meat to your menu.
MREs and other specialized food should be saved for treats or for use when traveling or walking long distances. Carrying a couple MREs in your day pack will be better than a haunch of roasted venison that may spoil. As the name implies, MREs are ideal for a quick, nutritious, easy-to-prepare meal. They are convenient to carry in the car, on a trip or on a hike. They have very long shelf lives (which can be extended by placing a case or two in your spare refrigerator). On the downside, they are very expensive on a per-meal basis and most people who have lived on them for some time say they do not provide as much roughage as you need. (This can lead to digestive problems if you plan to live on them for more than a week or two.)
Long Term Survival Food Needs
In a long-term emergency, the bulk of your meals should come from your bulk-stored foods and foods you have grown or harvested. Initially, you would be relying heavily on stored foods, but as time passed, you would want to transition to more and more food grown, gathered, raised and hunted. Just as our forefathers spent much of their time growing and gathering food, in a TEOTWAWKI situation, survivors would have to do the same. This would include gardening, gathering, hunting, fishing, and raising livestock. Before you think a farm is needed, remember that pigeons are frequently raised in an urban environment, rabbits can be raised almost anywhere you can fit a cage and potatoes can be grown in a 55 gallon drum on your back porch. Your garden will be the most reliable source of food, and the entire family will have to pitch in to prepare the soil, watch over and protect the garden, and harvest and store the crops. A good crop of vegetables could mean the difference between a winter of plenty and a winter of starvation. Staples would include not only popular items such as corn, cukes and tomatoes, but produce that winters well, can be easily preserved, or stored in a root cellar, such as cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions, Jerusalem artichoke, collard greens, turnips and other vegetables.
Any survivalist with a few hundred square feet or more of yard available should store vegetable seeds, books on gardening, and appropriate hand tools.
It should be evident that long term survival in a TEOTWAWKI situation will be easier if you already own at least a couple acres, have some chickens and goats, own a tiller and have a nice garden, a pressure cooked, and a huge supply of Bell jars and lids. If you have all this, congratulations, make sure you have room for guests when TSHTF. If you don’t have a place in the country or friends who will welcome you to theirs, your year or two of food stores will help you transition from your current lifestyle to one that is more suitable for self sufficiency.
Let’s consider a potential scenario:
A deadly virus of unknown origin strikes in China and the Far East. In quickly kills millions and spreads to urban centers in Africa and on the west coast of the United States and then into Europe and the rest of the world. From its foothold in California, it quickly spreads throughout the rest of the country, spreading in the droplets of moisture in a cough or a sneeze, lingering on doorknobs, banister railings, elevator buttons and even dollar bills. After a month, sixty percent of the population is affected and 40 percent of them die.
Luckily, you acted quickly and imposed a self quarantine on yourself and your family. You kept everyone locked up at home and refused to leave the house or let anyone enter. The mail piled up and you lost your job, but you and your immediate family survived, which is more than most people can say. Winter came, and the cold temperatures appeared to kill off the virus. You breathe a sigh of relief; the worst appears to be over. Or is it?
A country with a population of close to 300 million lost 25 percent, or 75 million. Another 100 million are weakened and slow to recover. Urban centers were the worst hit, with rates of infection close to 100 percent, with death rates of 40 to 50 percent. Suburban areas did not fare much better. In cities, there are now 40 percent fewer police men, which meant riots, and 40 percent fewer fire men, which meant fires that burned unchecked, leveling entire city blocks. There are fewer farmers to plant crops, itinerant workers to harvest crops, truck drivers to deliver them, factory workers to convert them into products and stores that remain open to sell them . There are 50 percent fewer doctors, nurses and health care professionals and 25 to 40 percent fewer people to run the factories that make the drugs people need, as well as the factories that produce everything from CDs to breakfast cereal. International commerce has stopped, bankers are not lending money and the courts are so tied up with probate that no one is really sure who owns what anymore.
There are fewer people to drive the long haul trucks that deliver food and good from warehouses to stores, fewer people to move trains from one part of the country to the other. Fewer skilled people to run power plants, water and sewer facilities, chemical plants and oil refineries; fewer people to make sure your oil is delivered on time and the gas tanks down at the Exxon station are filled. Fewer people to repair computers and back up servers. On the positive side, some remark, there is less government, fewer lawyers to sue people for not preventing the outbreak, less homelessness, and no traffic jams. But its not a trade off anyone is happy about.
Millions of bodies are burned or buried in mass graves, the chilling scenes on cable TV that look like they should be from some third world country, but every day brings more. Every day brings news of a friend, a relative, a neighbor, or a neighbor’s child, who did not make it. Some families lost everyone, while others only lost a father, a mother or a child. You don’t know who to feel sorrier for, the survivors or the dead. Then you realize it is the millions of orphans you feel sorriest for. Maybe you can take in one of Clark boys, if they have no family to go to. It would be the Christian thing to do. (You end up taking them both in, but it turns out to be a blessing as you can use the extra hands.)
Not only did you lose your job, the company that employed you has collapsed, its stock worth nothing, its production lines idle, many of its employees from the executive level down to the security guard at the front gate are dead. Your employer is not unique in this regard. Trading on the stock market has been shut down and a moratorium was declared on bankruptcies and the collection of debt. As a result, credit card issues suspended the use of credit for purchases, although ATM cards still work, when the automated networks and the phone lines do. Like electricity, phone and internet service is spotty and intermittent. Cable TV is often out, but satellite appears to work whenever you have electricity. You wish you had purchased another 800 pounds of wheat instead of that 50-inch TV. The dollar is still legal tender, but the price of some things, like food and gasoline, is soaring while the price of other items, like hotel rooms and consumer electronics have collapsed. People have inherited estates from parents and from relatives they hardly knew, gaining sudden wealth, but are unable to collect it or spend it. It will probably take years to sort the entire mess out.
Winter may have killed the virus, but it also brought a host of new problems. By spring, cold and starvation has killed tens of millions more, especially in the Northern cities and suburbs. The riots have ceased because there is nothing left to loot, but the cities are burned-out shells ruled by well-armed gangs and rats. Even TV reporters that have gone into LA don’t come back, and there is every reason to believe it is the same story in Chicago, New York, Atlanta (CNN went off the air some months ago), and other large cities. Your neighborhood has pulled together and formed a militia that patrols the area and has sealed off the roads leading into and out of it. Every able bodied man 14 and older spends one day and one night a week on active duty guarding and patrolling the area, and everyone sleeps with a weapon at the ready to repel raiders. Many refugees have been turned away with stern warnings that it will be death to return.
The woods are quiet now, as every dear and squirrel has been shot for the pot. There are no strays and the little annoying yipping dogs have disappeared, although working, hunting and guard dogs are valued members of the community. You look forward to spring, and hope there are enough animals out there to start to repopulate the woods. At the very least, you can eat frog legs and make turtle soup. There are plenty of wild greenery to gather, as well as mushrooms, berries and apples. Maybe you can even find a wild bee’s nest. Your whole family is thinner than before the sickness, and you are in far better shape than you have been since you graduated college. Yet there are other families without the food stores that are in worse shape, bones poking out of rib cages and elbows, clothes hanging where they used to cling. You have made gifts of beans, rice and wheat from your stores, when you thought it would help make a difference. You have added generously to the community stew pot when a deer has been killed. This has kept resentment down, but you make sure someone responsible is in your home, not far from the basement stores, armed with an assault rifle or shotgun and a pistol at all times. The temptation might be too great for someone.
With so many dead, there should be food a plenty, but store shelves were stripped early in the emergency and have never been replenished. Food and livestock belonging to the dead went with the remaining family members when they moved in with someone else. Food from the houses where no one remained alive went to the neighborhood’s new community food bank. Every night the responsibility rotates to a different family for cooking dinner from the food bank and whatever has been hunted or gathered. This feeds the militia and anyone else who is unable to feed themselves. The nights your family cooks have been especially well attended, and your chili gets a consistently positive response. Thank goodness you had 200 pounds of kidney beans. You will miss the powdered potato soup and the last of your tuna that turned it into chowder, but that was an especially cold night, and it warmed people’s bones and spirits. There was even enough left for children to have seconds.
In a few weeks, you will be able to set out the first plants that are sprouting in your sun room. There will be lettuce and mixed greens to eat in a few weeks, including dandelions and watercress gathered in the fields and streams. You are rural enough that half the families in the area had a kitchen garden, and many of these saved seeds. This year, everyone will have a garden. Between you and old man miller, everyone should be able to plant all they need. 10 percent of the harvest will be let go to seed, 20 percent will go to the community kitchen and everyone will eat or store the rest. Like the animals, everyone will have to eat up in the spring and summer to put on enough fat to last the winter. You’ve read up on root cellaring and will organize a work team to dig one for the community food bank. The boys can dig a small one for your home. Between cutting wood, weeding the garden and gathering food, they will be too busy to go back to school until the grocery stores re-open. They work hard, but they seem to be enjoying themselves. The last time the electricity came on, no one even suggested playing video games, they just filled all the water vessels and everyone took hot showers.
They are starting to refer to you as the mayor, and honor you defer, but there seems to be a groundswell. They probably would have survived without you, but four of your SKS’s arm the militia and several families who never “liked” guns in their house are now able to protect themselves thanks to your planning. Boxes of your .22s, 9mm, .223, 30-30, .308 and 30-06 are in hunting guns, self defense guns and militia guns. Your food has fed the hungry, your ideas have given hope, and your leadership has pulled the community together. Your seeds will geminate in their soil and your guide books will help them identify edible mushrooms and beneficial herbs. You never wanted this job, and you never hoped for a disaster, but you had the foresight to plan for it. Being fair and honest, you would never have run for office, but the job needs doing and you seem to be the best qualified. You recall that in Texas, they call the county executive Judge. Maybe you can accept the job of mayor if they agree to change the title to judge. That sounds less corrupt and political than mayor.
Every night when you bank the fire and crawl into the cocoon of blankets with your wife, you thank God that you had the foresight to plan ahead and to store away so much food. You just wish you had done more. Because while it looks like things are getting easier, you can tell it will be years before things get back to any semblance of normal. And food fof four does not last long with shared with 40.
Bulk Food Storage
The two primary methods of bulk food storage are #10 cans and 5- or 6-gallon pails. Both are sturdy, prevent spillage, resist breakage, prevent rodents from reaching the contents, are easily stackable, and can be safely transported. #10 cans (which hold about a gallon) have the advantage of providing a complete seal while plastic pails and buckets allow some gas (oxygen) transference over time. This means that cans can be packed in a vacuum or in a nitrogen atmosphere (no oxygen, which prevents the growth of most pests) while buckets will allow oxygen to leach into them over time. For food stored in plastic (High density polyethylene, or HDPE) buckets to approach the protection offered by #10 cans, the pails should first be lined with Mylar bags. The sealed Mylar bag adds the ability to vacuum pack the contents or to use oxygen absorbers or nitrogen atmosphere. Captain Dave likes both #10 cans and 5-gallon buckets when lined with sealed Mylar bags and has both in his home storage. The cans have the advantage of opening only 5 pounds of food at once, but cannot be produced by the do-it-yourselfers. Buckets are the opposite – you can store food in them yourself, but when you open one you have 35 to 50 pounds of product exposed to the elements, bugs and potential spoilage.
For more information on preparing your own 5-gallon pails, read the Food Storage FAQ, available elsewhere on CaptainDaves.com.
A typical 5-gallon pail filled with grain, pasta, sugar, dried beans or other food product will weigh between 25 and 50 pounds. A #10 can will usually weigh three to six pounds, depending on the contents, and a case of six cans will weight 18 to 36. Cans are often cheaper to ship via UPS because they come six to a carton or 18 to a super carton, while pails are both heavy and carry a surcharge from UPS due to their shape. Large quantities of both ship via truckload on pallets.
If you’re stocking up your survival retreat (see chapter 2) or planning to batten down the hatches and stay at home, both the large canned goods and plastic buckets are easy to store and can keep you well-fed for months. While individual cans may be purchased, most popular items are sets or units of multiple items. These are designed to provide a specific number of calories per day (they’ll recommend 1,800 per day, but you’ll probably want more) for a set period of time, often three months, six months or a year. Remember, however, if you have four people in your family or survival group, purchasing a one-year supply of food will only equate to three months worth for the family.
Captain Dave recommends purchasing the largest set of these canned, dried survival foods that your budget can handle and then supplement the set with items tailored to you and your family or survival group, and then supplement it further with pails of grains and beans. Also, MREs and MRE entrées are excellent supplements, because prepared sets of #10 cans are primarily vegetables, pasta and grains, while MRE entrees are usually meat-based. Cases of 12 or 72 MREs entrees can be obtained relatively cheaply.
You may also want to add a few special items, such as hard candy or deserts, to reward yourself, or for quick energy. That’s one area where MREs and MRE deserts can be a great supplemental item. It’s pretty tough to store pound cake or brownies for several years, but the MRE makers have managed it. They also offer crackers and peanut butter, bread and some good side dishes.
While we’re on the topic of supplements, don’t forget to add vitamins and mineral supplements. Fruits, green vegetables and other items rich in vitamin C and other nutrients may be scarce, so a good multi-vitamin is well worth the space it takes up in your stash.
Regardless of what package or unit of long term storage food you have decided to purchase, always supplement it with more because survival is a calorie-intensive practice. Do not rely on one sole product line or style of food. In other words, be redundant in your food storage and store different types and brands of food if possible. You may find that someone in the group is allergic to one type of food, or that one is of better quality, or tastier, than another.