|You can’t walk into a big box store without seeing cat litter buckets filled with survival food. Likewise, Efoods Direct has spent a fortune for online advertising, selling one week to years’ worth of survival food in these green totes.|
Food is the one thing you don’t have to tell anyone to prep for when it comes to long term survival. Everyone knows you have to eat. But the misconceptions come when you compare the differences between “homesteading” and “prepping.” A traditional healthy American home keeps a good-sized pantry of food historically, though this practice has fallen away in recent times of plenty. A homestead-style pantry contains either home or store-canned food, along with some basic grains and rice and flour. Homesteading isn’t prepping for the breakdown of society. Neither is planning for one month of Mylar packet survival meals, or even one year of meals. As I said in the first installment of this series, you really have to decide to be one of the crazies, then do the best you can.
We are not talking about hurricanes, blizzards or even the worst storms that the HAARP controllers can dream up. We are talking about the end of life as we know it and a complete return to self-sufficiency. Until this past century, a fundamental part of human existance was the act of either making food or working at a trade that provided finances to buy food. Even new clothes were something of a luxury into the 1950s. Fortunately, I’m not trying to sell you prepping supplies or e-books or anything else. Anyone who tells you that they have a solid answer to long-term survival on your own is a fool, and probably a charlatan. At the end of the day, prepping means getting the best possible head start on life to come, which could settle down to a version of life as we know it now, or it could send us back to the stone age. Who knows? The important thing is to understand best practices when it comes to putting away food for at least the start of your new life, in advance, then GET GOING.
Bulk vs. Weight vs. Cost vs. Time
Food costs have skyrocketed in the last decade. Unless you have a lot of disposable income, prepping is mostly going to be a series of adding a little bit to your existing shopping list, augmented here and there by large purchases of actual “survival food.” The problem with survival food is that it carries a heavy premium on price. We’ll get to that, but if you want to start right away, and you don’t have a mouse or insect problem in your house, these simple foods at Walmart will go a lot further than a can of freeze-dried gourmet prepper food in a cat litter bucket.
- 20 lb. Pinto Beans ~ $20 each
- 20 lb. Rice ~ $10 each
- 24oz. Mashed Potatoes ~ $3 each
- 6.4oz. Tuna Vacpacks ~ $2 each
- 64oz Instant Dry Nonfat Milk ~ $13 each
- 10lb. Sugar
- 25lb. Corn flour ~ $10 each
- 5lb. All Purpose Flour ~$3 each
- 3lb. Pasta Elbows ~ $3 each
- 6oz Canned Chicken ~$3 each
|The Wise buckets actually have a ton of food in them and seem to be a decent buy if you want pre-prepared meals, but like all prepared food, beware that the ingredients may not be as simple as you would expect.|
The only one of these that you don’t always see on the shelves is the dried milk. I ordered mine from the online Walmart store, and it lets you buy 12 at at time. I consider dried milk to be one of two major food sources that you can make easily without a lot of outside inputs. Eggs is the other, and we’ll get to that.
As what I have found to be something of a rule, food is always going to be a trade-off between these things:
- Bulk – Depending on where you live, there may not be a ton of space to store your survival food. Also, if you plan to “bug out,” carrying your survival stash will be limited to your vehicle and whatever trailer you can have at the ready You don’t want to store your stash in your bug-out location, because there is no guarantee that you’ll have enough warning to be able to get there. You also should be aware that even the most robust survival food packaging is no substitute for storing your food in a stable temperature. Heat breaks down the cellular structure of most foods. If you expect to get long-term shelf life, plan to keep your survival food in a temperature controlled environment.
|Walmart online will ship you 12 boxes of dry milk, 64 ounces each, with no shipping charge. It is the best buy in dry milk.|
- Weight – This is where survival food diverts from Walmart staples quite a bit. Early in my research for prepping supplies, I found Honeyville Grain. Honeyville packages freeze-dried ingredients in #10 cans and sells them by the case. This is vastly superior to those ridiculous mylar bags called “survival food” that you see everywhere from online sportsman stores to your local big box. A #10 can of freeze-dried green beans is physically the same approximate quantity as a #10 can of canned green beans from Costco. But at 6.5oz in food weight, it is exponentially lighter, which matters if you plan to transport your survival food at some point.
- Cost – Live like a king for a month or like a pauper for a year? That is the question when it comes to what food you buy. Food is expensive these days, and there is no special price on high-priced items like meat and cheese just because you want to freeze-dry it for crazy preppers. My choice is to completely forgo meat and focus instead on dried milk, dried eggs and dried vegetable protein (TVP). Milk, as explained above, you can get cheapest from Walmart online. The eggs and TVP I get from Honeyville (no they are not a sponsor). The food value of a case of 6 #10 cans of dried whole eggs, or TVP, will provide food for a long time, and supplemented with some dried veggies and seasonings, won’t be horrid to eat with beans and rice. The same goes for dried milk. Smoothies made from milk, flavored drink mix or sugar and some freeze-dried fruit ain’t such a terrible way to survive Armageddon. Rice and beans can keep you alive for a long time. At a buck or less a pound, they are a no-brainer.
|Part of your prepper food should be some professionally freeze-dried ingredients, like these eggs from Honeyville Grains. The equivalent of 80 large eggs, this can adds up to under $3 per dozen.|
- Time – The time factor is intertwined with cost, because we can’t all afford to replace our survival food every two years, since the world may or may not end by then. Freeze-dried veggie foods like the ones from Honeyville say that they will store successfully for 10-15 years. Dried eggs claim 3 years. This is under ideal, temperature-controlled conditions but not using refrigeration. A bag of flour, if you buy it today, will have an expiration date two years from when it was made. Likewise most other low cost staples. What is the actual expiration date under those same ideal conditions? My guess is that most will go at least double that, or even more with the storage tips we’ll cover below. Canned foods keep indefinitely. I have read that cans from the Civil War that were hand-soldered closed, when opened more than a century later contained still edible food. Our modern cans, properly stored, should keep food for a decade without a lot of degradation. Just beware that drying your own food in a food dehydrator isn’t the same as commercial freeze-drying. Freeze-drying has become an advanced science perfected by few, and they supply the food manufacturing industry with dried food ingredients worldwide. All the freeze-dried foods in the US consumer market are coming out of Utah. The Mormons have been on top of this game for a long time, and because like us they don’t know what is coming when, the longer the storage life the better, which is how they have gotten it up to over 10 years under ideal conditions.
How long should I plan to be without an infrastructure of purchasable food? Er… that question always seems to come up, even after you answer it, as I already did. Store as much food as you can fit and afford. We will eventually get to long term plans, like seeds and gardening, but to plan specifically for society to repair itself is probably a mistake. All any of us can really do is plan for a certain block of time. You don’t have to use all of your survival food in a linear fashion. Once you get to the gardening and bartering, your ongoing stash will be a backup and supplement to what you can get otherwise.
|Rock stars began most of their careers living on Raman noodles. Post collapse, partying like a rock star will take on a whole new meaning.|
|Vacuum-packed tuna contains the same amount as a can, at half the weight and space. Even freeze-dried can’t compete with that, and for two bucks?|
Freeze-Dried Prepper Food vs. Walmart Staples
If you are prepping on a budget, you can’t afford to go out and buy $1,000 worth of freeze dried food. However, you can grab an extra bag of beans and rice every week at Walmart, and as I said in the previous article, make sure you have plenty of water. But even if you have a healthy prepping budget, there has to be a balance to the food that you decide to store. We have some actual reviews of “prepper food” planned as part of this series, but if you are getting started now, please take some time to review how much food you actually get in those cat litter buckets and green tubs full of mylar packets containing small amounts of freeze dried food.
|Twenty-pound bags of rice are in every supermarket, but how many do you think will be left two hours after a crisis?||Walmart also carries 20-pound bags of pinto beans for twenty bucks.|
If you are going to buy freeze-dried, I would stick to #10 cans at Honeyville. Walmart online is now selling a brand called Auguson Farms in #10 cans as well, and it may very well be the same company making the food cans, but at Honeyville I think you at least have a good deal of accountability. Honeyville also seems to stick to the actual food costs of real life as much as possible. For example, a #10 can of whole eggs, the equivalent of 80 large eggs, is $18.19 at Honeyville. That comes out to $2.75 a dozen.
You aren’t going to escape the inflated food costs we are all finding at the supermarket. That is why I am a strong proponent of beans, rice, pasta, milk, eggs and other foods that you can find at the supermarket at “normal” everyday prices. None of these things get smaller or much lighter than their normal purchased state, so you might as well get them from the store. The nice thing about Honeyville is that you can get some very exclusive dried commercial food ingredients at reasonable prices as well. For instance, did you know that dried cream cheese, sour cream and peanut butter are used every day in all of the junk food we eat? You can’t make everything out of pure corn syrup and artificial flavorings, so it turns out that we do eat some actual real food. Dried sour cream is a lot lighter and ships a lot cheaper from the farm to the food factory than wet sour cream. Honeyville has sourced these real actual foods for long-term storage to pack in #10 cans. The only thing I don’t suggest you get at Honeyville is dried milk. They sell a 1.75lb can for $13, and Walmart online sells a 64-oz. box for the same price. You have to add the cost of a bucket to the Walmart milk though, as well as a couple oxygen absorbers, as I’ll explain below.
|Canned meats are far more practical and affordable than freeze-dried.|
Meats are really more of the same story. In the supermarket, meat has become very expensive, and just as expensive in freeze-dried. As a comparison, Honeyville stocks a #10 can of freeze-dried ham for $47, on sale right now for $40. It has 27 servings of 3/4 cup each, rehydrated. Compare that to about $24 with shipping for three one-pound hams on Amazon, and similar prices in your local supermarket. The freeze-dried ham is lighter to travel, but for on pure cost, the comparison would be similar, at about 3.5.oz of cooked ham per serving. With the canned hams, you don’t have to deal with any reydrated food taste, and most would prefer it. The same goes for canned chicken and tuna and salmon. If weight isn’t a factor, you don’t save any space with dehydrated, and the costs will be similar per serving. Walmart online has 12oz corned beef cans for $4.88, and your local store usually has a huge rack of them at the same price as well.
|Flour is another one of those foods that can’t be shrunk or lightened, so buy a bunch of it for long-term storage.|
Once you spend money on food, the worst thing you want to find should Armageddon finally happen is that insects and rodents ate up all of your stuff. There are big proponents of Mylar bags to store prepper food, whether it be freeze-dried or everyday ingredients, but I have found that the absolutely cheapest way to protect food from pests and water damage is with plastic buckets. The best buy I have found on new clean buckets is on eBay. This seller has six-gallon buckets priced at $20 for five, plus $30 shipping. Ten buckets, with a shipping discount, comes out to $90. I have purchased them in 10-packs, and though the shipper is a little slow, they get to you. You can also buy them in complete skids if you contact the seller directly. You can get buckets on Amazon as well, but beware of used buckets. They almost always have smells.
Note that these eBay buckets are six-gallon, not five-gallon like you find at Home Depot. This is what I have found fits in one six-gallon bucket:
|Simple supermarket staples like these three-pound boxes of pasta at Walmart will keep you alive a lot longer than Mylar bags with tiny ounces of freeze-dried foods. They just have to be stored properly. |
- 35 lbs of flour
- 40 lbs of granulated sugar
- 40 lbs of beans
- 40 lbs of rice
- 10 3lb boxes of pasta
- 10 24oz boxes of instant potatoes
- 4 64oz boxes of Walmart dried milk (20 gallons of milk total)
Don’t dump the contents directly into the plastic buckets if you want to be able to split it up long after the expiration date has passed easily. I use HDPE plastic wastepaper basket liners for each box of pasta or bag of flour. Two thousand four-gallon liners are $20. I also put in each bucket two 2000cc oxygen absorbers. Oxygen is the enemy of food, and taking it out of your buckets will increase your storage life. And make sure you get at least one bung wrench if you don’t want to have to cut your buckets to open them. When you close the bucket lids, they may not be opened for 10 years, so don’t be dainty and gently use a hammer.
|The expiration dates on most supermarket products is two years, though that number was created purely for political reasons.|
As I’ve mentioned above, supermarket food has an automatic two-year expiration date applied to everything. Honeyville’s #10 cans keep 10-15 years under cool, dry conditions. That leads me to believe that in a survival situation, a six-gallon bucket of flour with oxygen absorbers will be just fine 10 years down the road. Curious about this, I recently tested my theory on a two-pound vacuum package of dry yeast that had sat in my pantry for five years. Yeast is an active culture, so if anything is going to be dead after the expiration date, it will be yeast. At three years out of expiration, my yeast performed like new and made great bread. I expanded another six tablespoons of it for the picture here to demonstrate.
As you will hopefully see in my future article on medicines, the government has set expiration dates arbitrarily, based on political lobbyists within the regulatory agencies. They have almost no relation to the actual expiration of things, and when the government does its own long-term storage, it often ignores the very dates it mandated for us. Anything that will store for several years will ultimately store indefinitely, but it may not come out at the same quality. Mayonnaise stored for several years in unopened jars will first turn darker color then begin to separate, but it doesn’t actually spoil. Canned food, as I mentioned above, lasts indefinitely.
|If you have children, rather than make them eat oatmeal for breakfast, get some giant family bags of cereals. They have a bunch of calories for an era when you won’t have to worry about obesity.|
|You would be amazed at the stuff that Honeyville has dug up and canned for long term storage. Food ingredients often ship dried to save on fuel costs, and you can buy a lot of them for your long-term plans.|
The history of canning dates back to Napoleon, who offered a reward for a method to preserve food headed for the battlefields. In 1809, Nicholas Appert claimed the 12,000 franc reward and started a process that has been reinvented time and again into what we see on our current supermarket shelves. Duplicating these inventions at home is not a simple thing, and if you expect to create food that will last for years, this is not a light hobby. Ultimately, canning is science, and you have to go learn the science if you expect good results. Don’t waste your time on any canner other than the All American Pressure Cooker. It has a metal-to-metal fit and has become the standard of the canning world.
Successfully home-canned foods are fabulous, but the problem is that most people can in glass jars. Glass is fine if you never intend to have to leave your home. But if you are going to can at home, a more practical approach is to purchase a can sealer and steel cans. As with supermarket canned food, some foods require a can that has a plastic liner, and cans of all types can be bought from lots of places online if you Google around. If you are canning wet foods that will require refrigeration after they are opened, think small cans, not #10 cans.
|A case of textured vegetable protein is about $70, compared to over $200 for a case of the same amount of freeze dried meat. Home canned meat that you find on sale is a good alternative.|
If you are going to dry your own foods and can them for safe keeping, #10 cans are fine, but again, they aren’t going to keep as long as freeze dried. A #10 can sealer is about $900. As a one-time expense, it will save you a ton of money down the road because you can make hearty meals for your family in cans as you find sale prices on meats and other ingredients. The alternative to steel cans are “retort” pouches, similar to military MREs, that require their own very expensive vacuum sealers. Good luck with that, but Google around if you are interested.
Just how many smoothies, casseroles, breads, rice and beans can you eat in a year? Hopefully about half of your survival store. This is why I don’t consider rotation a big option. At the end of the day, we are buying an insurance policy similar to term life insurance. If ten years passes and we don’t need it, oh well. It was not terribly expensive peace of mind for ten years while the world waffled through historically unprecedented instability. In the last in this series of articles, I plan to suggest a lot of inexpensive things that will make your survival experience a little easier to tolerate, and one of those things is for sure to have a good library of cookbooks. That said, Honeyville and others selling prepper food are big proponents, of course, of eating your food throughout the year and then replacing it. Powdered eggs have a claimed three-year shelf life, so it might be a decent idea for them, but I would then keep twice what you want to store on hand. You may be a meticulous record keeper, and you may be up for actually eating your storage stash every ten years, but for most of us, a term life insurance policy is fine. just make sure to store it properly.
|Recently, I found this commercial brand of powdered potatoes that has been condensed. Five pounds fits into a #10 can. It has great reviews! Even a 27oz. box of Idahoan from Walmart at 3 bucks is a much better buy than “prepper” food.|
This is also the place to talk about storing “organic” food. A lot of people who are awake enough to know that America is in big trouble also know that our food is also in big trouble. Those of us who can afford it eat food which has not been genetically modified, often which is labeled as “organic.” I put quotes around that word because decades ago our Federal Government took complete control over what can be labeled organic in America. This has allowed the supermarkets to charge a premium for food that has not been injected with growth hormones or farmed with herbicides and synthetic fertilizer and that is somewhat free from genetic manipulation. I am not going to get into the details here of what truly is organic and what is not, but like other things government, there is more disinformation than information coming from the top.
Nonetheless, you can live and thrive off of the generic food on the shelves at Walmart just as well as you can from expensive organics. Even if you have, say, $20,000 to spend on your prepper food, wouldn’t you rather have twice as much food for the same price? That isn’t to say that you can get organic dried cheddar cheese. You can’t. But stretching your dollars to the most cans and buckets, if you have the storage space, is probably a best bet for all of us. We will get to seeds and farming in this series down the road, and this advice will not be true for seeds, but for food that will get eaten and forgotten, don’t worry about the perceived quality. Bulk, weight, cost and time should be the only factors that you consider. Do your own research. There is more out there. I recently found and ordered #10 cans of over five pounds each dried weight of potato flakes, which is even better than the Walmart boxes. Most importantly, GET GOING!
|You can shake things up with corn flour, or for the gluten free among us.||Some Walmarts carry a 25-pound bag of corn flour even.|