Emergency Food Storage for Beginners

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More and more people are finally realizing that they ought to be more prepared for natural, manmade, or economic disasters, and one natural thing to think about is whether you will have enough food for yourself and your family. In many situations, the government or other relief agencies will spring into action and provide victims of disasters with basic nutrition. But that approach is problematic. First of all, if there's a disaster such that the supermarket isn't able to open, then even the government will have a certain amount of difficulty in delivering food. (In fact, it's quite likely that the government will have more difficulty in performing this task than the supermarket.)

There's a practical reason to be more self-sufficient in a disaster. The purpose of emergency relief is to save lives, not necessarily to ensure a comfortable existence. So if you want any choice in the matter of what food you are going to eat, then it's really your responsibility, and not the responsibility of the government or a relief agency.

Finally, there's a moral component to being prepared for disasters. After a disaster, there are limited resources available to help people, and generally a large number of people who need help. If you wait until after a disaster to worry about what you're going to eat, and take that assistance when offered, you are probably taking it away from another person, who might be more in need. In addition, if you are prepared yourself, then you might be able to help your neighbors, rather than having them wait until the government shows up to help them.

In short, being at least somewhat prepared to feed yourself during a disaster is a good thing. It's easy to do, with only minimal preparation. And since you eat anyway, there's really no additional cost, above what you normally spend for food. In fact, since preparing your food supply requires you to pay attention to costs and sources of food, it's quite likely that you will actually save money on your normal grocery bill.

If you search the web about the topic of emergency food storage, you will find some good information, but you will also find some sites that are frankly a little bit scary. For a few people, emergency preparedness is synonymous with preparation for anarchy. You might find some useful information on even those sites. But fortunately, there are also many sites which give common-sense information on how to prepare for more mundane disasters.

One of the best is A.T. Hagen's Food Storage FAQ. Some of the information on that site appears not to have been updated for a while, but the basic information is excellent, although you might find that a few suppliers mentioned there are no longer around.

Another good source of information is the LDS (Mormon) church, whose members are encouraged to engage in home food storage. They have an excellent web page providing practical information on food storage, with very little if any religious content. The extension office of Utah State University has an excellent resource, A Guide to Food Storage for Emergencies. Another excellent resource is Maintaining nutritional adequacy during a prolonged food crisis from Oak Ridge National Labs.

As good as these and other sites are, they can seem a bit overwhelming to the beginner. As you learn more, the information on these pages will become more and more useful. But for someone who wants to start from scratch the process of storing food for natural or manmade emergencies, there is suprisingly little information, and I hope this site will help fill that void.

The author of the FAQ linked above frequently invokes the mantra, "eat what you store--store what you eat." Not only is this good advice in general, but it makes the task of the beginner much easier. At some point after you have followed the advice on this page, you might want to seek out a few specialized items to fill in a few gaps in your food preparations. But in general, it is absolutely not necessary to go out and purchase any kind of special "survival" food. Everything you need to feed yourself well in an emergency is available at your normal supermarket.

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In general, your goal in constructing a food storage program is to make sure that you have enough food in your home to be able to feed yourself and your family, even if normal services such as supermarkets are unavailable. If you can take care of yourself by feeding yourself in an emergency, then you can be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

Some of the food you eat in your normal diet is not a good choice for emergency food storage. For example, items that require refrigeration would be of only limited use if there was no power to run the refrigerator. However, most people's diets also include many items that are ideal for emergency food storage. The key is to stock up on these items. During normal times, you can eat them as part of your normal diet, just as you currently do. But if you stock up on sufficient quantities of these items, then you will also have nutritious meals available even if other food items become unavailable. And more importantly, they will be foods which you normally eat. A disaster is stressful enough, and there is no reason to add to the stress by having to adapt to eating special "survival" food. Ideal candidates for food storage should meet the following criteria:

You will find a number of websites that will give you lists of foods that you should buy to make sure that you have enough food a certain period of time. Many of these lists are good, but very few of them will include the items that you and your family normally eat. This is bad for two reasons. First of all, most food has a limited shelf life, and if you don't use it in your normal diet and replace it, it could very well be expired by the time you need to use it. Second, it will force you to eat unfamiliar foods in a disaster, which will only add to the overall stress level.

Therefore, the best strategy is to prepare your own list, which is customized to your family's tastes. Nobody can write that list for you, but this site will help guide you through the process. The biggest problem for beginners is knowing how much you have, whether it is a balanced diet, and how long it will last. Without some planning, you could run out of protein, but have more carbohydrates than you could possibly want.

The process outlined below gives you some assurance that you have about the right amount of foods for your needs, and in about the right proportion. Following this procedure, you will be able to construct a shopping list, and when you buy those items, you can be assured that you have about the right amount of food to fit your needs. At some point, you might discover a few small gaps, and as you become more prepared, you'll want to fill in these gaps. But by following this procedure, you will have the assurance that your family will be able to eat reasonably well for whatever time period you decide is appropriate.

Step One: Make a List of Appropriate Foods

The first step is to make a list of the kinds of food your family already eats that are suitable for emergency storage. As you think about this, you will realize that you already buy many suitable foods, generally dry foods and canned goods. To make it on the list, the food should have a reasonably long shelf life, and it should be something that can be eaten with no cooking, or with only minimal cooking. Ideally, at least some of the items on the list (but not necessarily everything) should be things that can be eaten with no cooking at all.

Again, neither I nor anyone else can make this list for you, because I don't know what kinds of food your family normally eats. But if you look through your cupboards, you will probably get many ideas, because those foods are already there.

Here are some suggestions of the kinds of foods that might be appropriate. But if there is something on this list that you never eat, then you should not include it on your list. And there will probably be items on your list that I hadn't thought of.