Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Long-Term Food-Storage Pantry, Part 1

Home-canned Milk, Butter & Lard
Non-Refrigerated Eggs
How To Stay a Year Ahead of Inflation with Your Grocery Bill

I want to say up front that we don’t really think of ourselves as survivalists. I’m sorry, but if our country goes nuclear or there is mass chaos on a nationwide scale, I don’t expect many of us would survive that no matter how well-prepared we are. But I’d like to believe we could easily survive for several weeks if there were a short-term emergency, and we’d be able to survive for several months if we ever found the grocery-store shelves bare and had to subsist entirely from our farm while we recovered.

It was March of 2007 that we decided to build a closet under the stairs going into our attic and start an "Emergency" Pantry. At the time, we seemed to just be making ends meet, but both of us working outside of the home was out of the question and wouldn’t have made much economic sense anyway. We were just learning to plan our gardens around ourselves and long-term storage and had pretty much come to terms with the utter uselessness of marketing our produce to others, outside of bartering and occasionally selling surplus or a single cash crop.

We made a list of every food item we thought we might need to supplement our own farm goods for one year and headed to the mart. Two cart-loads later and plenty of comments about how we must have a large family J, we brought everything home and began stocking the closet. From that day since, not a single item has gone into the pantry that didn’t have the date clearly marked and sometimes I jot down the price we paid (which is very enlightening regarding how much food prices rise in a single year).

After that trip, I began ordering harder-to-find items in bulk. There are a number of companies that ship such items at a very reasonable price and I began stocking up on 50# bags of whole grains and industrial-sized cans of things that are expensive in small quantities, like bouillon granules, potato flakes, herbs and spices. (More on how to store these safe things safely later in this series.)

And of course, I was learning to can and dehydrate as much of our own food as I could during this time. Since ’07, we’ve added a pretty good supply of basic medications and emergency first aid supplies (for ourselves and our animals), plenty of disposable goods (zip-locs, plastic wrap, etc.), an ample supply of toiletries, lamp oil, candles and Coleman fuel and anything else we think we might need in a true emergency. We bought these things as we could afford them and didn’t cough up a big chunk of money for anything.

I might also add here that our "emergency pantry" is no longer just for emergency use. We live from it year round. On a weekly basis, we still buy things – dairy, deli meat, steaks, non-essential items like beer, wine and sodas. But I’ve often gone 3 weeks at a time without making a single trip to the grocery and if it came down to it, I could go a LOT longer than that! We could eat entirely from our pantry and our farm for months.

Whatever our original reason for starting the long-term pantry, it’s been one of the smartest things we’ve ever done. There are simpler disasters in life than being without power or gas. Not having to worry about your weekly food bill is one of the biggest insurance policies a family can have.  Knowing that your family will still be able to eat well if you or your spouse lose your job, or suffer a long-term illness or (God forbid), one of you dies falls under that category of “one-less-thing-to-have-to-worry-about.” Furthermore, if there is a financial crisis one week (the car needs work, the dog needs emergency vet care, the electric bill burns your hands when you open it!), it’s hardly a blip on your radar because it affects your ability to feed your family not at all. And it goes without saying that if you keep your pantry well-stocked, you’ll never find yourself making a special trip to the store for just one item.

It was 2008 (about a year after starting our pantry) that gas prices first began getting scary. We needed to restock and so we made our list and headed to the store. Having not purchased many of those items in a full year, I was completely floored at how much food prices had risen. That’s when I realized we were still eating food at last year’s prices and the food we purchased that day would be even MORE expensive a year from now. So essentially, you stay a year ahead of inflation by purchasing your food in advance.

Furthermore, if you stock your pantry a little at a time from the get-go, you can take advantage of sale items and wait until you find the best price on an item before putting it in your pantry in the first place. And the best part about this? We almost NEVER have to shop at Wal-mart anymore. (That alone makes it worth doing!) You can almost always find good prices on items locally and buy them in bulk as long as you’ve shifted your focus to long-term storage and away from making that weekly trip to the grocery.

It also seems like every year, more and more of our pantry is supplied by goods from our own farm. One of our top priorities right now is better fencing so we can acquire our own dairy animals and more meat animals. I’ve been canning milk, butter and cheese for years now and I’m looking forward to being able to supply those items from our farm rather than the supermarket. Still, buying a gallon of milk from the supermarket and canning it in quart jars is a heck of a lot cheaper than buying those tetra-cubes of Parmalat or paying for it by the 12-oz can. Tastes a lot better too!

I should probably mention a word here about expiration dates. I don’t know what year it was made mandatory by whatever nanny agency decided it (probably the USDA and FDA), but every single food item for sale in a supermarket (except for produce) now has to carry an expiration date. (To protect us from our own stupidity, of course!) Food that has been properly canned does NOT expire a year after being manufactured! This is just another example of our American tendency to need something to be paranoid about and an excuse to waste perfectly good food.

If there is something wrong with a can or jar of food, you’ll know it. The can will be bulging, the pop-top lid on a jar will be popped, the food may be cloudy or foamy or smell bad. This can happen regardless of the expiration date. Those cans with pop and peel lids seem to be the worst about getting their seals damaged, so just keep on eye on your pantry. Keep everything rotated and throw out anything that is suspect, but NOT because of the expiration date. The worst that might happen is that food canned in tin cans may taste a little metallic, but this doesn't mean the food is spoiled. That flavor can mostly be prevented by maintaining a cool temperature in the pantry & keeping stock rotated.

I also need to point out that when you’re stocking your long-term pantry, stock it with things you already like and are comfortable preparing and eating. If you don’t already LOVE beans and rice, your family will be quite uncomfortable living on such things in a true emergency. The occasional deep-fried treat or dessert will go a long ways towards making a bad situation tolerable, if not pleasant, so be sure to include some oils, fats and sweeteners in your pantry for when your family needs a morale boost.

Long-term food storage takes time, discipline, knowledge and space and of course, one must actually have some cooking skills, but I believe it’s one of the biggest insurance policies a family can carry in an uncertain world. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun!


Anonymous said...

Great post, Thank you!

Diane said...

(From Diane)For some reason, this post seems to attract more spammers than others, so I'd just like to reply to one, for once.

(From some spammer named "Brock") Could it be only me or does it look like a few of these responses appear like they are coming from brain dead folks?
:-P And, if you are writing on additional social sites, I would
like to follow you. Could you make a list the complete urls of all your public sites like
your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

Sorry "Brock" but you seem to be the only brain dead zombie here. Can't you find a better way to make a living than spamming and hacking your way thru life? Cause your posts ain't never gonna show up here! :-P - Diane