Friday, August 21, 2009



A few months ago, a friend of ours moved out of the house where we were staying in South Texas and headed for the Northwest coast. We had known him for seven years, and for short periods, we even shared the same house in two cities in different states. We were truly sad to see him go so far away in his camper-topped truck, accompanied only by his dog. We knew we would miss him a lot.

He planned to camp on the 2,500-mile trip and set out with his truck, filled to the brim with what he considered camping and survival essentials. We figured he would make the trip all right given his gypsy-like past, but we lit a candle and prayed for him, just the same. He did make it, of course, and is doing well out West, according to his occasional phone calls.

I mention our friend because he is a well-intentioned person like the most of us (at least, we try to be), but he made some miscalculations. His mistakes weren’t criminal or sinful in any way. He just thought that whatever he had been doing in the recent past wasn’t going to deliver the future he looked forward to. It was time to move on.

When our friend was almost ready to leave for his trip, he told everyone in the house (and there were a lot of us there) that he was going to leave us some food. And, he did so -- we all received a sort of inheritance. Each of us was given rations, consisting of one or two 25-pound bags of rice and about fifteen pounds of beans. It was clear that he had been using his large bedroom closet as a pantry and had filled it to the top with what he thought would be survival essentials in case some terrible disaster befell the U.S. or, possibly, the entire world. He even admitted to this motivation when he was questioned directly about why he had stored so much food.

Now, our friend didn’t have any well-paying jobs during the years that we knew him, so he certainly had to have been setting aside a good part of his pay each month to be able to buy so many victuals.

He also took lots of bags of beans and rice with him on his trip. The night before he left, he asked me for some recipes for some tasty dishes that he could make using those foods. I was happy to give him some of my favorite recipes – I eat a lot of rice and beans in many different forms. A few days later, when I went to put the rice he left in storage containers, I found that some little bugs were in the rice. Also, having tried to boil some of the beans, after 8 hours of cooking without softening up, I concluded that he had been buying and storing food for many months. (I resolved to see that the food was eaten somehow, and was able to save it by washing the rice several times before cooking – to rid it of any little bugs – and blending and refrying the beans after cooking them.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not making fun of our friend. I, too, worry about survival, related to any number of possible national or international disaster scenarios and think that preparations are indicated. The point I want to make is that we need to be practical about what would, in fact, constitute our survival food and about how we can manage large quantities of emergency essentials, including importantly, the space where we plan to store so much food.

Thus, the topic of this page: “What’s in your pantry?” By this question, I mean to ask you about your readiness for an emergency.

If some catastrophe caused the rest of your family and you to stay in your home, to avoid a clear danger, would you have the right amount and kinds of food in your “survival pantry? And, would these items last your household for a week? --or a month? -- three months? -- or even longer?

You are probably intrigued by these questions, and I hope you’ll think about answering them for yourself.

My own situation probably isn’t much different than yours. Sometimes I don’t buy enough food to get through an entire week, and then have to return to the store just three or four days after my “weekly” grocery shopping. According to some surveys, that’s the same story for the large majority of Americans. Almost nobody has more than a week’s worth of food in their homes.

We need to do better than that if we are to protect our families from unexpected interruptions in public services for periods of time. As you are probably aware, our supermarkets don’t keep more than a few days of food on their shelves. So, even if a pending disaster were discovered beforehand (and having enough money at the time), we might find the supermarket shelves empty. In that case, heroic runs to buy large quantities of essentials would be useless.

I hope you have come to the same conclusion I have. Storage of the right kinds and amounts of food can be a lifesaver, but you need to be prepared some time before anything happens and have the means to maintain your stockpile for quite a while without having important losses. The only way to do that is to use and rotate foods in your pantry or on kitchen shelves on a regular basis.

And, oh, did I mention the fact that the electric power will also probably be out in a major emergency? That means, that whatever is in the refrigerator and freezer will have to be eaten in the first 24 or so hours or thrown out. So, after that goes, what’s stored in your pantry is all there is going to be available for your household. Safe public water supplies may also be interrupted and that, too, needs to be taken into consideration.

I decided to make my list of survival essentials and think about how I could acquire and store them. For me, survival foods are those with good nutritional value that my husband and I find acceptable and, of course, they must also be in a form that can be stored on shelves for months at a time. That's the only way there would be a food supply ready for us in an emergency. Of course, I do my shopping with a really limited food budget and, so, purchases would have to be done a little at a time. It would also be necessary to continue eating from my stock and then replacing it with new supplies as they are used up.

But there are some other considerations. First of all, our house is small, and we don’t have very much space to store a lot of food or anything else for that matter. Thinking about our needs for the future, I’ve asked my husband to build a storage room that would include a large pantry, as an addition to our house. I've also asked for a cistern, a water purifying system, and a wood stove. He agrees with my ideas, but he told me that, unfortunately, all these things will have to wait until next year – we don’t have the money right now. This further limits what I can buy and store as survival essentials. But I’m determined to begin planning, anyway.

Here, I’ll give you my list of essential foods for my survival pantry (but, of course, my idea of essentials may differ somewhat from yours):

- Grains: rice, popcorn, corn meal, wheat flour, and quick-cook oatmeal.

- Legumes: beans and lentils

- Peanut butter and jelly

- Dried pastas

- Soda crackers

- Dehydrated milk

- Instant/dehydrated potatoes

- Egg substitute (available in health food stores)

- Vinegar, mustard and ketchup

- Sugar, baking soda, salt, pepper, ground cinnamon, and garlic powder

- Vegetable cooking oil and olive oil

- Canned fruit and vegetables, including lots of tomato sauce

- Cans of tuna fish and sardines

- Black tea bags

- Big bags of dog food

- Other things: boxes of large kitchen matches, hand soap, all-purpose detergent, and toilet paper.

Based on this list, I’m going to start accumulating what I think would be a one-month’s supply of essentials for my husband, the dog, and me. That would definitely be an improvement over the way I’m doing things now. At any rate, I know that I can’t store more than that at this time.

What else do I want? A lot – but I’ll have to wait for most things. Here are some intermediate steps that I hope to do while I wait for next spring – and dream about having the storage room, and the cistern, and the kitchen garden.

- Buy and store some garden seeds.

- Get a wood rain barrel, right away (although there isn’t much rain except in the summer, here).

- Obtain a solar cooker and learn how to use it.

- Purchase an olive oil lamp, which can also use any cooking oil.

When I’ve got together all or, at least, most of these things, I’ll be closer to my goal of living a simpler life and being self-reliant in the face of unforeseen circumstances. Whether or not a major disaster ever occurs, the effort I'll make bringing together all these provisions will be a real challenge in self-sufficiency and a great personal satisfaction.

I hope that you, too, will start making plans to obtain and store food and water for a possible wide scale emergency. By knowing the properties, preparation and storage of basic foods and buying what you need for your survival pantry, your household and you will have a measure of security if a catastrophe occurs.

All this leads to my final point. Survival readiness actions, like acquiring and managing a stockpile of food, can lead to greater independence. However, these activities are clearly complicated to organize. Beyond that, emergency preparation, of any sort, goes against what we’ve been conditioned to believe and do in the past several decades. To be self-reliant, you have to be willing to work harder than we’ve become accustomed to. But, remember Aesop’s fable about the ant and the grasshopper. Let’s stop being grasshoppers all the time and, like the ant, spend some of our energy preparing ourselves for harder times.

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