Who doesn’t love that bit from Mel Brooks’ History of the World ,Part 1 where Moses descends from Mt Sinai clutching three stone tablets proclaiming: “The Lord has given you these 15 ( one tablet falls, smashing into a thousand pieces on the desert floor)…Oy, um…ten! Yeah, Ten Commandments!”
Ever wonder what those other five might have been?
Try as I might I just couldn’t keep limit myself to only ten commandments when it comes to food storage. So if 15 commandments are good enough for Mel Brooks, it’s good enough for me!
The 15 Commandments of Food Storage
1. Start now
If you buy even one extra can of tuna tomorrow or box of crackers tomorrow, it will give you a sliver of peace of mind until next week. Worst case scenario, it’ll keep you alive for another few days. Over time, every bit adds up.
2. Store water, too
All the food on an Army base will do you little good without adequate water.
Remember the survival Rule Of Threes: you can survive three weeks without food but only three days without water (three hours without shelter, three minutes without air).
Don’t count on canned food for more than a tiny amount of water. There’s not much in there and most of it is swimming with salt or sugar.
In addition to storing water, it’s essential to have at least two ways to collect and purify more for replenishment. The internet and your local library abound with advice on both replenishment and conservation.
3. Store what you use and use what you store
We’ve all heard this, but what does it really mean? A couple years ago, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons or LDS), the original food storage experts, reiterated the call to start with three months of ordinary foods your family eats every day while building up basic staples like wheat and dry milk.
Some people had a rude awakening when they realized just how many Spaghettio’s and chicken nuggets they were eating. Convenience foods are also more expensive and typically occupy much more space than staples. Which leads to…
4. Eat and cook real food
Not food-like substances. It’s cheaper to eat the real thing, it keeps longer, is healthier and far more versatile! A can of chili is a can of chili. But a can or bag of kidney beans opens up a whole world of possibilities and doesn’t contain a nutritionally criminal amount of salt.
You can pay the grocer or the doctor when a poor diet gets the best of you, and the grocer is cheaper. The cry of the last 20 years that healthy food is more expensive than chemical and additive laden convenience food is total codswollop, and there are whole books and websites devoted to it. If you haven’t read Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, it takes less than an hour but the benefits last a lifetime.
5. Don’t buy a years’ worth of one thing at a time
Buying basics in bulk is economical and absolutely should be part of your plan, but what happens when all of one item expires or goes stale at the same time? If you spread out your buying, then you spread out your expiration dates, particularly with basic staples. In an actual disaster, how would your family fare if you’ve got 100lbs of wheat, 100lbs of rice, 50lbs of powdered milk – and nothing else – to actually live on?
6. Condiments will save you
Extracts, herbs, and sauces spice up a bland diet, and a years’ worth of cinnamon only costs about $6!
Since the goal is to cook real food, picture this: you’re making pasta sauce from jarred tomatoes, olive oil, and onions from your root cellar but…no oregano, rosemary, or bay leaf. That’s not going to make much of an impression with your loved ones.
I talked to someone a few years ago who was living on their food storage due to prolonged job loss. One day she realized that she had a vast array of baking ingredients but no vanilla. Or any other extracts.
Every family is different, but for most families the most versatile ones to start with will be ketchup, soy sauce, and something spicy like chili powder. They’re good for something else,too…
7. Have a few convenience/luxury foods for barter and illness
As has been asked here on The Survival Mom, what if you were sick, injured(or worse) and your 9 year old was suddenly in charge of feeding the family? They need the temporary option of popping open a can and sticking a spoon in it.
Now imagine a prolonged disaster. Power has been out for over a week, propane and gasoline are gone, or nearly so. People are cooking basic staples and wild game in fireplaces and back yard pits either in their homes or in evac shelters.
Under those conditions, what do you think would be the new value of a $2 box of water-only pancake mix? How about “luxury” items like chopped clams or chocolate chips? I just bought 14 cans of chopped clams because I had a rain check that got me extra gas points.
8. Replenishment is the 8th commandment of food storage
What if the emergency went on for years? It doesn’t have to be Zombie Apocalypse. It happens in war all the time.
What if your preps were stolen? How do you get more food? Sharing and barter are helpful, but it’s folly to count on them.
That leaves three choices: foraging, hunting/fishing, and gardening. Do you know how to find and identify wild edibles? Do you have even rudimentary fishing/hunting equipment and knowledge? It’s harder than it looks.
Store heirloom, non-hybrid, non-gmo seeds and learn how to grow them! Remember to include grains, beans, herbs, and even fruits, if you can. Protect them from moisture, heat, light and oxygen in that order. A brown paper lined canning jar in the fridge or freezer does nicely. If you buy a ready made “vault”, make sure it is from a seed company and not a food supplier.
9. Store the rainbow
My parents used to say that God color-coded the plant world for a reason: eat all the colors and you’ll be healthy. We laughed and thought they were hayseeds. Who’s laughing now? There are different protective chemicals attached to each color and you don’t want to miss any. In both food and seeds, make sure to have multiple sources of all colors plus some vitamin tablets, just to be safe.
10. Multiple layers of storage
Simply put, have some dry, some canned, some freeze dried, some frozen, etc. When the fridge is gone, there’s dry. If you can’t cook at all, there’s canned, etc. Just make sure you have a good can opener for the canned goods.
11. Store multi-use items
Your food storage can include medicine, hygiene items, and household cleaners. Vinegar, baking soda, coconut oil, lemon juice, peppermint, and ginger, among others, serve myriad purposes besides cooking and baking. That’ll save space, money, and toxic chemicals.
12. FIFO and Par
Those aren’t Norse gods. They’re restaurant concepts. FIFO means “first in, first out.” Write the date you buy it or the use-by date ( whichever works for you) on items and rotate them so the oldest is used first. This also helps you track how much you really use of an item.
Par is the amount you’ve decided to keep in stock. When do you buy/make more? At half-par. Let’s say you’ve decided to keep 40 lbs sugar around. You buy more at 20 lbs. Going lower is a good way to invite disaster. Kind of like the way washing your car causes it to rain.
What are you going to eat all this food on? Traditional dishes and dish washing eats up a lot of precious water and space. Buy some multifunctional dishes like shallow bowl/plates, pie tins, sporks, and metal cups that can go on a fire. Dishes can be wiped with a damp cloth and sanitized with alcohol or witch hazel. Cast iron pans and can go right onto coals and should never be subjected to soap. Sturdy paper plates can be used several times and then composted or used for tinder.
14. Location, location, location
This means store your supplies in more than one location. There’s potentially some loss at any one location due to water, natural disasters, mice, or whatever. The rest is safe.
One of the biggest threats is theft. Unless we’re talking about a total Road Warrior scenario, marauders tend to hit and run quickly. If there’s stuff in every room, under the beds, behind the books, in the suspended ceilings and so forth, they’ll never find it all. Which brings us last, but certainly not least to…
Operational Security. If you ever watch “Doomsday Preppers” and similar shows, the people sometimes get their score and cryptically comment that they didn’t show the cameras everything. And they often use the phrase “undisclosed location.”
Then there are other people whose house is easily located by their identities. They then show you where the guns are, where 90% of their food is, and even the “secret” escape hatch in the garage floor.
Which of those approaches sounds least likely to get your carefully collected preps stolen? Also, when others don’t know exactly what you’ve got then they also don’t know what you AIN’T got, which is equally important. I don’t just mean guns and dogs. Say it comes down to barter time and someone knows you’re out of something vital like medicine or fuel. They’ve got you over a rather large barrel, haven’t they?
Everyone has to eat, so food is the most obvious place to start getting prepared. Just remember the goal. This is not panic fodder. It’s panic prevention.
I was a child when the Blizzard of ’78 hit New England in the days before Doppler radar and we had no idea how bad it was going to be. People were housebound or stranded all over. Stores ran out of supplies in hours. People were unprepared and all my friends’ parents were pretty scared.
My parents hardly raised an eyebrow because they were Upstate New York farm kids. We always had several months’ food in the house and I had no idea that other people shopped week to week. I had trouble wrapping my mind around causing so much anxiety and danger when it’s so easily avoided. I still do.
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