Food Storage Mistakes
By Kellene Bishop
1: The Food Storage Mentality:
If you care anything at all about being prepared for whatever life throws at you then the best thing you can do is completely eliminate the term “food storage” from your vocabulary. We’re humans; not squirrels. Mentally we recognize that there’s something inherently wrong with the notion of spending money on something that we’re only go to store away in a dark corner of the attic only to forget it, while our investment decays. It’s not an interest-bearing savings account after all. Food is perishable even under the best of circumstances thanks to dishonest manufacturers and hungry vermin. As such, the money you spend on food for tomorrow should never be built around a “buy and forget it” mentality. Yes, we absolutely should be concerned about the shelf-life of our food investments—but not so that we can ignore them for the period of time, rather we can know how they will fit in our rotation plans.
2. Food Rotation:
What? You don’t have a rotation plan? Well, it’s simple. You put the new perishable items that you bring home at the back of your shelves and rotate the older items to the front so that you use them first. Front, back, side to side. It doesn’t matter so long as you end up using that which is older first. That way you maximize your spending ability and never waste the effort, time, or money that you put into acquiring it in the first place. Yes, you’ve heard it a hundred times, no doubt, but it’s true. Buy what you eat and eat what you buy.
Having food on your shelves doesn’t provide you with a future full of security. It only serves the purpose of giving you sufficient time after a crisis—time that you need in order to wait for the weather, water, and work you’ll need to put forth so that you can properly produce your own food. Yeah, such an assignment is an overwhelming thought to city slickers like myself who aren’t pros at gardening. So I might need a little more “time” to get things right. But a person who never reconciles their Food Preparedness with the reality of them having to produce their own food to survive is betting it all on a poker hand with nothing but a pair of 2’s.
The ability to produce more food means that you’ve got to learn about animal husbandry, ranching/homesteading, and animal care, as well as purchasing and using heirloom seeds that will continue to provide you with seeds forever and ever so long as you garden. I’ve done a LOT of comparisons of seed companies and I’ve got to tell you that time after time I find Baker’s Creek Heirlooms to be the BEST quality and BEST retail pricing consistently.
4: Inventory Evaluation:
Numbers and lists from other people that you trust may be a good place to start when it comes to having “enough”, but ultimately you need to use your experiences from feeding yourself and your family and friends under the worst of circumstances. What I mean by that is it’s a big mistake to naively PLAN on only having 2 meals a day, because the fact of the matter is, you’re more likely to want AND NEED more than you’re presently accustomed to eating now as a result of the additional energy you may have to expend in order to cook, clean, play, and just plain function.
Additionally, pay no attention to the “serving sizes” on those cans and boxes. You’ve fed your family before. You know darn well that the 11 year old will consume an entire can of mandarin oranges after school now, so don’t kid yourself into thinking that that one can will feed him for three servings of mandarin oranges later. Ignore that the recipe says “feeds 6-8”. 6-8 what? Anorexic models, fussy 4 year olds, or growing teenage boys? As you inventory what you’ve got, be sure that you’re keeping it real. Inventory systems based on servings is a great idea but the servings need to be real for YOUR family.
In order to know how many servings my fabulous Chicken Poppyseed Casserole will feed in your family, you must do more than just have the items on hand for it. Investing in any kind of “Someday” foods (meaning “we can eat these someday if we had to”) will only cause you stress and unpleasant surprises at the very worst times. Make sure that you are familiar not only with the dishes that you plan to enjoy for your targeted period of time (a year is HIGHLY recommended) but your also confident in their preparation and success with your family members.
Seriously, you do NOT want to use your kids as guinea pigs when they are already freaked out with whatever events have led up to you making 2 meals a day, everyday suddenly, right? If you’ve ever tried to help someone out in their own kitchen you know how frustrating it can be, and in fact, downright stressful. Even having help in my kitchen can be stressful to me. In the midst of a crisis, I do NOT plan to make things worse by making the food I feed my loved ones stressful. But the most sure way to do it is to “plan” on preparing and serving new foods made with the same tools that you would have to use in the event of a long-term power outage.
If you’ve ever had a horrible time trying to get the fussy 2 year old to eat their veggies, imagine multiplying that by every other member of your family that you anticipate feeding. Food is a very emotional connection for even the most disciplined of us all. You have the ability to plan on it being a positive emotional reinforcement now as you prepare. Oh, and speaking of experience, make sure that you’re not the only one who has experience preparing them. If I’ve got to learn how to shoot and defend myself, then HE sure as heck needs to learn how to make a handful of meals. After all, what would happen if I was sick and PF Changs is buried under 20 feet of rubble after an earthquake? Then what would he do, eh?
Confidence goes a LONG way in creating peace in stressful circumstances. So stock up on it now with plenty of practice in using your alternative cooking tools so you have ample experience in making delicious meals now that you KNOW your family will love later.
6. Food Storage Conditions and Containers:
Whether it’s preserving seeds and gardening supplies or preserving food, there’s a right way and a whole lot of wrong ways to do it. I suppose that since it’s been so long since we’ve had to LIVE based upon our understanding of long-term storage of food, it explains why there seems to be so few who understand the proper way to store these items. As such there are all sorts of rumors out there for storing food. So let me give you the absolute facts in this regard, right here; right now.
There are standard enemies to a long-shelf life no matter where you live. These destructive villains are A) Temperature B) Moisture C) Oxygen D) Light E) Invaders and lastly F) Chemical exposures.
When it comes to temperatures, ALL FOODS, and future foods, benefit from cool temperatures. The benchmark I give people is 70 degrees maximum on the high side to as low as 45 degrees on the low side. (I use 68 degree or cooler in my home for all areas that contain food and food production products.) The cool temperatures allow your ingredients to sleep peacefully until you’re ready to use them.
Moisture in the air intensifies your heat. So even if you’re in a hot climate, having a de-humidifier can make a world of difference in the temperature of a space. Humidity gets lower the closer to the ground you get. The hotter it is, the more humidity will affect your goods because hot air can hold more moisture than cool air. If the air temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) and the (relative) humidity is zero percent, the air temperature will feel like it’s 69 degrees Fahrenheit (21 C) to our bodies. If the air temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 C) and the (relative) humidity is 100 percent, then we will feel like it’s 80 degrees (27 C) out. So you see that even if you don’t want to pay for the air-conditioning for the whole house, you can still invest in a dehumidifier and make a big difference in protecting your food investments.
Some foods, such as sugar, get hardened when they are exposed to the slightest bit of moisture over time. White rice however absorbs moisture. So if you’re putting a large amount of sugar in a bucket, put a cup of rice in a brown paper bag (lunch size) on the top of your sugar and that will cut down on the hardening. (As a reminder, sugar has an indefinite shelf-life). You can also use this trick when storing items in Mason Jars. Just put a tablespoon of rice in a cupcake paper. Place it down in the opening of the jar, but only far enough for the top portion of the cupcake paper to fold down over the top edge of the jar. Place your flat Mason jar lid on to hold the cupcake paper in place. Then when you screw on the lid, you’re also holding the cupcake paper in place. This is done so that you don’t end up with rice mixed in with the food items you’re trying to preserve.
If you want to sprout or grow a food in the future, then it’s best to store the items in a sealed plastic container because it protects it AND allows it to breathe since plastic is NOT oxygen proof. However, when it comes to storing ingredients containing fats and/or oils, it’s imperative that you keep the oxygen exposure down to a minimum. Wheat isn’t a volatile food to store, however, if you purchase poor quality wheat with cracked kernels, then the vitamin E in the kernels which protects it for so long will turn rancid upon contact with the air. The same holds true with just about any nutrients our food contains. Oxygen exposure depletes nutrients. Nuts are full of great oils as is brown rice, which is why they have a reputation for going bad so quickly. So, if an item has fat or vital nutrients inside that you need to protect, you will want to store the food in oxygen-proof containers/packaging such as #10 cans, glass jars, or strong and thick “Mylar” bags.
While you want the grains or sprouts to breathe, you don’t want the weevils inside to thrive. And no matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to purchase grains without weevils. You may not see them, but you will if you give them plenty of opportunity to grow. This is when I use food grade diatomaceous earth. Just a tablespoon or two on the top of my ingredients in a bucket will kill the bugs. But guess what? DE is actually GOOD for you, so you don’t have to worry about you eating it.
Use oxygen absorbers (or HandWarmers) for powdered food items that you also want to prevent from losing nutrients or causing oils to go rancid. (Be sure that you’re purchasing your oxygen absorbers from a reliable source as there are so many companies that sell them but they are no longer viable. )
The better you package items, the less likely you are to get mice and other rodents bothering them. If they can’t smell it, they won’t go after it. So this is also why it’s really important to keep your food area immaculate. A couple of grains on the floor is enough to tell all of the little pests that there’s a party going on at your house. Additionally, regardless of what you can visibly see, be sure to have plenty of mousetraps on hand and set them around your food. Even if you don’t have any problems now, a flood, earthquake, and many other crisis scenarios will bring them out of the woodwork, so be prepared. We also have larger traps for rodents such as raccoons and such to use under such circumstances.
Above all, remember that food is the ONE investment that will not lose its value unless it loses its purpose, thus making it one of your very best investments. So treat it that way. I’ve never been able to understand people who have insurance out the wazoo for their house, cars, boats, and even pets but tell me it’s too much trouble to turn their A/C down two degrees so that they can better protect their food.
7: Food Nutrition:
It’s no secret that the nutrients in our food have slowly been stripped away bit by bit to the point that we have to work really, really hard to avoid the poisons AND to find a way to provide our bodies with the proper tools to function. If that’s the modus operandi of the now, then what can we expect if something really serious happens to bring our food supplies to a screeching halt? We’ll perish for a lack of nutrients just as easily as we can perish by giving our body whole nutrients that they aren’t used to. My heart aches as I read of the thousands of immigrants who set sail to our nation so many years ago who died as a result of the lack of Vitamin C in their diets, aka scurvy, knowing that they had what they needed to reverse those effects, they just didn’t know how. (Sprouting wheat requires no light and is a great source of Vitamin C.)
My heart doesn’t ache any less when I see people blowing their entire budget on dead foods that not only don’t provide any nutrients but actually deprive the body of key nutrients just so that they can be digested. (Soda pop, by the way, is one of the worst offenders when it comes to robbing the body of key nutrients. And yet I see people with loads and loads of it on their shelves, but NO water. *sigh*) Being committed to enjoying nutrients in our food NOW is the only way we can be assured that we’ll do the same in the future. It goes back to what I mentioned in the first 5 Food Storage Mistakes—buy what you eat, and eat what you buy. The fact of the matter is we don’t need to wait for a huge disaster to hit us before we have a food crisis. A famine wouldn’t have any different affect the majority of households today when it comes to a scarcity of nutrients because when it comes to the quality of nutrients in our food, we’re already living amidst the worst food crisis of our entire nation’s history. So, while you’re planning the meals for today and 52 weeks of tomorrow, be sure that you give way for quality nutrients to guide your Food Preparedness efforts.
8: Not Enough Water:
About 10 years ago I came up out of the basement after being there most of the day organizing and doing inventory. I proudly announced to my husband that we now had 500 gallons of milk. I was so excited telling him about all of the things we can do with milk including making cheese, yogurts, frostings, hearty soups, etc. Instead of being excited with me he just gave me this dumbfounded look. In frustration over his lack of enthusiasm I finally asked him why he wasn’t just as pleased as I was. His answer, “honey, I’m sorry to tell you this, but no, we don’t have 500 gallons of milk.” My first reaction was to argue with him and assure him that my inventory was perfect. I knew exactly how much we had. He then clarified his statement. “Honey, we can’t possibly have 500 gallons of milk because you’re referring to powdered milk and in order to make milk from powdered milk you need to have water, and last I checked we don’t have 500 gallons of water stored.”
You can bet that that problem changed very quickly after I realized the truth of his statement. Unfortunately though, I find this to be a lesson that not everyone’s learned very well. We get so excited sometimes in our inventory that we fail to realize the water that’s necessary in order for our food inventory to mean anything is non-existent. I have an entire closet of freeze-dried and dehydrated foods, but the bottom line is I can’t afford to eat any of it if I don’t have enough water on hand to reconstitute it—let alone cook with it. Recently I wrote an article which demonstrated what kind of lackluster meals we could create with the recommended minimal amounts of food that you have on hand for each person for a year. The results produced a 3 inch loaf of bread and ¾ cups of beans to eat. Just to make that recipe for 3 meals a day, per person, per year, with sufficient water to wash it down with as well, I figured out that I would need 45 gallons of water per person, per year! This doesn’t take into account the drinking water that’s absolutely necessary, nor the other water needed for cooking, sanitation, and hygiene. As such, my suggestion when you’re taking an inventory of your foods, realize that if you’ve got something that requires water to make it, then be sure that that’s included in your inventory as well.
9: Appetite Fatigue:
Have you ever had one of those days when you look inside the refrigerator to find something to make for dinner and nothing sounds good? Perhaps you can better relate to trying to find something to wear amidst a full closet and still not finding anything that makes you happy. Well, this is called appetite fatigue and it’s not some fictional buzz word, nor is it the result of a selfish state of mind. Three years ago several humanitarian organizations sent thousands of pounds of beans to the struggling nation of Ethiopia. Now, three years later nearly half of the beans are still sitting there in the shipping container. Why? It’s not because the Ethiopians are no longer starving. It’s because they simply cannot bear to eat another bean. They are literally still starving due to appetite fatigue. Even if you did get past the appetite fatigue from a physical standpoint, a person would still be affected by it emotionally.
It’s amazing as I read of the accounts of those who were imprisoned in Russia and Germany during World War II, explaining how excited they were for the single day of the week in which their food rations went from the same old, same old to something different. This something different wasn’t Angel Food Cake or Four Cheese Baked Ziti. Nope, it was a seriously watered down pork broth. Yes, I said PORK. You do realize that the majority of these prisoners were orthodox Jews, right? And yet a barely there pork broth was the highlight of their week because it was different from the mush that they usually had to eat. So please, please plan on having a very diverse array of meals to eat in your year-long menu planning. The minimum amount of meals I would suggest is 14 for each mealtime ie: 14 breakfasts, 14 lunches, 14 snacks, and 14 dinners. And remember that now is a great time for you to try out various cookbook ideas–not during a crisis. When you stumble upon something that the family really, really loves, then be sure you include that into your plan.
10: Comfort Food:
Closely associated with appetite fatigue, but certainly not the same, is being aware of the value of comfort foods. I’m sure we’ve all had a day in which we were convinced that a piece of chocolate or a Dr. Pepper/Cherry Coke, or a delicious peach cobbler was going to chase the blues away. And to think that this kind of thing happens everyday for some, and regularly for others, even when life is somewhat peaceful and calm all around us. (Relatively speaking, that is.)
Last year I had several persons take advantage of a challenge I issued in which people were to go 14 days without purchasing any other foods. In other words they were to consume only that which was already in their home for their meals, snacks, etc. No going to the car dealership for their Labor Day sale and getting free hotdogs; no latte from the local coffee shop. All food had to come from what a person already had on hand for 14 days. A lot of folks were good about taking the challenge with the rest of their family. Some were very surprised that they weren’t as “ready” as they thought they were. But there was a common theme in all of the reports I got back from those who joined in—they were surprised how valuable comfort foods became to them and were definitely awakened to the fact that they needed MORE! You’d be surprised how far cookies, brownies, homemade ice cream, scones, fruit pies, or your favorite smoothie will take you from the depths of STRESS! Even the more savory of comfort foods such as mashed potatoes, cornbread, and bacon made their way into people’s minds as something that they clearly didn’t have enough of. You’d be surprised what kind of oddball things you’ll crave after a while too. I hadn’t eaten a Twinkie since the 8th grade when I went to the Philippines for a year and a half. And yet I kept having dreams that I was back in the States and I was looking high and low for a Twinkie. Sure enough, when I finally returned home, the first thing I went to purchase was a Twinkie. (And I haven’t had one since then.) Is it a coincidence that “STRESSED” spelled backwards is “DESSERTS”? I don’t think so. *grin*
11: Paying Too Much for Food
The number one reason why people pay too much for their food is because they impulse buy. That impulse may be triggered by some slick mail campaign from one of those companies that prides itself on instilling fear, or it may be caused by a lack of planning and discipline. However, paying too much for food also happens because of a lack of education.
I look at my food supplies as my own personal Wall Street—except I have a success record for coming out ahead a thousand times more often than Wall Street ever will. Why? Because of the nature of the commodity and my discipline in sticking to my price points.
The nature of the commodity, food, has NEVER decreased in value since food commerce began. That can’t be said about gold, silver, or any other investment that Wall Street pushes on our retirement fund managers. And guess what, because it’s a necessary requirement to for us to LIVE, it never will decrease in value. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t leverage our useless dollars and beat the system. I successfully do so two different ways 1) Coupons and 2) Sales.
Picture my pantry like it’s the floor of the New York Stock Exchange—except that I’m the only one yelling and carrying on, screaming “buy, buy, buy” at no one else other than the cat and three dogs. I essentially have a “Buy” order for everything consumable in my home. As soon as a product hits that Buy level, I buy and buy and buy. More importantly, I refuse to buy UNLESS that price point is met. I never, ever pay full price for anything consumable for the same reason that so many Americans buy used vehicles—they don’t want to lose a significant portion of their investment simply by driving the car off the lot. When the rare occasion arises in which I pay full price for something, I consider that a Panic Price. But if I stay focused on my goals of being self-reliant, I make the abundant advertising and marketing campaigns subsidize my food costs. They do so in the form of sales and coupons. When I snag ground beef at a killer price of only 88 cents a pound, I bring it home, can it, and put it on my shelf. Then, when I take it off of my shelf 2 years later, it’s STILL only 88 cents a pound—a phenomenon that is not likely to happen with your food costs any other way. By applying these strategies and controlling them (instead of them controlling me, like you see on TLC’s Extreme Couponing) I’ve been able to purchase soups, pastas, fruits, meats, baking supplies, hygiene products, and medical supplies at or below 1960 prices! Boy, don’t you wish you could do that with other things in your life?
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12: Making Food from Scratch
Continuing along with the previous mistake, let’s take the whole “paying too much for food” to the next level. I can make two mouth-watering loaves of bread, a hearty, satisfying pizza with meat, veggies, and cheese toppings, a batch of oh, so fabulous Key Lime Cheesecake Rolls, and a small braided dessert bread that I usually give away to a neighbor for a whopping total of…ready for it…$4.32 cents. OR I can spend $4.32 on a single loaf of bread at the grocery store that won’t even begin to compare to my bread in taste, texture, and nutrition. The trick isn’t using coupons in this case, it’s going back to the kickin’, old school skillz and making it all from scratch.
Do I really need to tell you how much better food tastes when you make it yourself? Believe it or not, you can make your own mayonnaise in a matter of minutes and once you’ve done so, I doubt you’d EVER go back to the stuff in the jar that contains sugar, corn syrup, or chemical preservatives you can’t pronounce. I once had a young receptionist work for me who wasn’t sure what plant pickles came from. Why? Because creating something fabulous from a bunch of base ingredients is just unfathomable to us, but the truth of it is, it’s MUCH less expensive, it tastes better, it’s significantly more nutritious, AND more impressive (as in the multi-layered German Chocolate Cake I made from scratch the other night) AND you can actually reclaim control over what you put into your body this way. If you think about it, none of the cooking shows would be interesting if everything was made from a box or a microwave. Can you just picture it on The Iron Chef?
“Chef Rob rushes to the freezer to pick up the Hungry Man frozen entrée of chicken and dumplings. Brilliant, Chef Rob.”
But wait; it looks like Chef Suzanne is going to trump him as she opens a can of Veg-All Mixed Vegetables AND grabs a frozen Marie Calendar’s Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting! This is going to be a nail biter, Folks! Will she be able to thaw the cake sufficiently to please the judges?!”
Seriously though, from a nutritional standpoint nowadays it’s becoming more and more important to control what’s going on our plates. Even when ingredients are listed on our foods, the government initials are allowing numerous omissions on the labeling or at the very least misleading labeling. Individuals with serious allergies to wheat, peanuts, and other ingredients that can trigger anaphylactic shock are to the point now that they simply can’t trust anyone else to cook for them.
Learn to make it from scratch and you’ll find peace coming your way in more ways than I can possibly share within the confines of this article.
13: Prepare to Share Your Food
It’s kind of counter-intuitive to think that a person who rarely has guests over for dinner now can actually bank on the possibility that they will in more trying times, but it’s true nevertheless. If there ever comes a time in which food is a precious commodity, you can PLAN on needing more than what you’re presently planning. As such, I suggest that you ignore any so-called expert advice that would suggest you need X number of pounds of grains for men and active women and only a smaller percentage of that X for infants and children, etc. The reason being is because the one thing that I’m certain you can rely on is that you will be thrown a curve ball, that when it comes to food, you could always use a little more. So when you’re calculating how much you need, do so based on the most ferocious appetite that you already cater to because someone, someday, is going to show up on your doorstep and you’ll want to feed them.
Case in point; my folks appeared out of nowhere one weekend. (Really, Dad? No notice when you’re flying from Ohio?). All of the sudden I had to come up with something fantastic for dinner (as Dad wouldn’t expect anything less from me.) Thank goodness I don’t know how to make a meal that would only feed two. Instead, when I make a great dish the leftovers either get claimed by my husband as his for the rest of the week, or they get canned for later use, or they are frozen for later use. Sometimes this later use may be when I do not feel like cooking anything or when I get a call from the gal in my church who’s coordinating meals to be brought over to the infirm. Either way, I’m ready for the everyday events, and as such I’m prepared for the more serious events as well. You’d really be surprised how quickly these little extras add up. After our first year of marriage with me cooking sporadically due to the travel necessary with my work at the time, I had a year’s supply of ready-made meals just by following this strategy.
Think of it this way. On average American households throw away $500 worth of groceries per year. If I preserve our leftover food right away for the long-term, instead of waiting for the leftovers to go bad as a result of my husband’s case of Appetite Fatigue, then that can translate into at least $500 worth of meals that I can accumulate throughout the year without any extra money coming out of my pocket. Based on the strategies I’ve shared earlier, that $500 can go a long, long way towards feeding delicious, comforting food.
14: Throwing Food Out Too Soon
I wish people would understand that expiration dates, warnings, and a whole lot of well-intentioned guidance with regards to viable shelf-life of our foods is very, very wrong, misleading, and in some cases, suspect. For example, there have been numerous DECADES of homemakers canning foods and “putting them up” for years at a time and yet if you read the panicked guidance of a certain chef which shall remain nameless, she’s have you believe that canned foods aren’t safe to consume further out than a year from the date of canning. Additionally, the instructions on the outside of the box of canning jars actually state that foods are to be canned for only 1 year’s time. This in spite of the fact that this nation’s “greatest generation” was raised on homemade canned foods. Forget the fact that a homemaker is more likely to be more attentive and mindful of safely canning foods at home than a minimum wage worker who oversees hundreds of thousands of canned products in a manufacturing plant. I can assure you that the mothers and grandmothers who can their foods care more about the health and well-being of those who would eat it than does the blue collar worker who’s distracted with burgeoning debt, increasing social unrest, and a host of other problems working for just enough pay to make it until the next payday, right?
In addition, we also have the “best buy” dates, “expiration dates” and all kinds of dates and lot numbers on our food nowadays that practically threaten an international pandemic if we have the temerity to use a food product past any of these dates. In our rationale we assume that such dates are crafted for the safety and well-being of the consumer when in fact such dates are only relevant to the consumer in terms of how soon can we be convinced to purchase the product again. These dates have NOTHING to do with food safety. The USDA has no such guidelines for the labeling of foods with expiration dates. After all, think of all of the foods you purchase that don’t have any date on them such as those bananas and strawberries you bought that went bad faster than you could consume them. You didn’t see any “expiration dates” on those, did you? Expiration dates only serve the purposes of protecting a company from litigation, ensuring you get their best foot forward with regard to taste, and ensuring that you’ll throw it out and repurchase soon. After all, in order to put a proper expiration date on a food product, the manufacturer would have to know exactly HOW you’re going to protect that product, right? We all know that heat, light and humidity dramatically affect the shelf-life of a food, and yet we don’t see different expiration dates for Atlanta Georgia than we see on the same food product in Kenai, Alaska, right?
I’ve been doing this long enough that I know that I can go a long, long ways out beyond the “best buy” date even on the foods which have a reputation for going bad quickly such as brown rice, nuts, and herbs. It’s all just a matter of controlling the environment in which I protect them.
So, keep this in mind as you’re utilizing your hard-earned purchases. Control the environment for your foods so that you can control their shelf-life. Don’t let some guy behind a desk make that decision for you. Your pocketbook will thank you.
15: Rely on Your Own Research
This goes along with the previous point. There are SO many SAFE and HEALTHY ways nowadays to protect and preserve and grown your own food, etc. thanks to even better technology and the application of old-fashioned tried and true techniques. Unfortunately though, the application of many of these techniques rub others the wrong way either because they have a financial interest in you doing things their way or it threatens their ego that’s buoyed up with their formal education. And, I’m sorry to even be able to say this, but the fact is there is opposition to the applications of wisdom in our food simply because of political issues. This is a very, very serious component that will affect how you become more self-reliant in this area of your life. Nowadays the food you eat serves only one of two purposes—it will harm your body, or it will help your body. That being the case, don’t you think it’s important that YOU rely on YOUR own research and conclusions rather than investing in the tripe of others?
I frequently am berated for my villainous acts of canning butter, waxing hard cheeses, preserving eggs with mineral oil, and yes, heaven forbid, canning meat. And don’t even get me started with the criminal act of drinking raw milk and using it to make other dairy products. But understand that when I do so, it brings me a great deal of peace, knowing that what I’m providing for others and my own health. I do so after a great deal of research (Mental Preparedness) and as listening to my gut (aka Spiritual Preparedness). The fact of the matter is, those who have taken it upon themselves to ostensibly protect us are imperfect. Unfortunately they tend to be imperfect more often than accurate if you look at history. (Remember when cigarettes were actually recommended by doctors? Remember when palm oils were vilified by the canola oil industry? Remember when all fat was bad for you? How about the fact that a chemical maker is NOT being required to go through FDA approval to impact your food but Cheerios is having to sue just so that they can continue to say that their cereal is good for your cholesterol? Oh, how about the whole “a pound of fat weighs more than a pound of muscle…hello! They both weigh a pound!) Unfortunately time will reveal many more dogmas that we’ve taken hook line and sinker which were perpetuated with ulterior, and even sinister motives. Supplements will soon be vilified as will nearly any other alternative health care that’s not administered by a doctor. (One man is actually being prosecuted for sharing his story about how he cured his own cancer. He’s not telling anyone else how to do it, he’s simply sharing how HE did it for himself. The FDA and the annual 50 billion dollar cancer research industry doesn’t take kindly to that, though.)
I frequently hear the question “do I need to wax the cheese that is already waxed in the grocery store?” My answer is always YES because that’s not even cheese wax on that brand. It’s nothing more than a marketing aesthetic to make them stand out and be associated with a more “pure and wholesome” kind of cheese. But more importantly, my answer is based on this principle: “Do you really want to trust someone else with preserving the food that your family will rely on long-term.”
When it comes right down to it, no one will be more motivated to care for your family’s nutrition and comfort needs better than you. So put the time in, establish baselines that you’re comfortable allowing others do for you by doing a little research, and then do what you need to do to be absolutely certain that you’re doing what’s best for those you love. That’s how peace comes and that’s what we’re all preparing for, right?
#16: Failure to Remember the Tools: My fabulous brother, Victor, taught me a long time ago to never skimp on the tools for the job. At the time, he was referring to the typical household tools one needs such as a hammer, screwdrivers, etc. However, given that’s he’s a persnickety culinary artist today, he would certainly agree that the same rule goes for tools which relate to our food preparation and serving. One of the most vital tools of any chef is their knife set. Take away a chef’s knife and you practically take away his soul. The same holds true when it comes to the tools that you’re planning on using to prepare and serve your food everyday and in the future—you know, when your life may rely on it. Don’t skimp on the tools and make sure you have back ups to your back ups. When you purchase something that you might need to LIVE off of, make sure you put in the time to research and make sure you’re getting the good one. For example, there’s no way in the world that I would ever purchase a Presto Pressure Cooker nowadays. Their standards have gone way down over the last decade and I simply would not trust it to be there for me and my family when I really needed it. Instead, I’m willing to spend 3 times more money for the BRK brand or pressure cookers or the Kuhn-Rikon.
Recently I volunteered to make dinner for 70 people for a Cub Scout Blue and Gold Banquet. Why would I do such a crazy thing? To test my tools; to make sure that I had enough of them to feed an army if need be and to make sure that they would work suitably when preparing so much food. I found myself woefully inadequate in utensils that were long enough to stir inside my big pots. Lesson learned. I’ve now got several sturdy 38” wooden spoons—even better, I got them at the thrift store. *big smile*
#17: Fall Into the Pigeon Hole: The term pigeon holing refers to isolating yourself for a single use and only a single use. For example, if I were to spend money on freeze-dried fried rise entrees from XYZ company, I consider that pigeon holing my food supplies. Instead, I’d much rather have rice, Spam, freeze-dried peas, eggs, soy sauce, and freeze-dried carrots than spend my money on something that could really only serve one purpose. I approach my entire pantry and most of my other self-reliance supplies the same way. As a further example, when I can my meats, I don’t season them in any particular way other than with a pinch of salt and that’s much more about the preservation of the meats than it is about the flavoring. I do this so that I can use my chicken for whatever the mood calls for without being pigeon-holed into one specific dish. Besides, canning products like that ensures that I don’t end up with a mushy and unappetizing component such as noodles in homemade, canned chicken noodle soup. As long as I have all of the fixings for it, I know that I have a whole lot of other possibilities.
I would strongly caution anyone from purchasing food products that have only one possibility. That’s why I’ve yet to find a freeze-dried entrée that I would ever endorse. It would have to be a “holy cow this is too good to resist” kind of entrée in order for me to feel good about spending my money on it.
In the long run, pigeon holing your food products costs you significantly more money just as it does when you go to a nice restaurant and pay for a meal as opposed to spending much less to actually purchase the items that you would need to cook that meal from home. I have some recipes that I love which call for some untraditional items such as anchovies. By way of being frugal, if I don’t have at least 3 other shelf-stable dishes in my repertoire which also call for anchovies, then it’s not likely you’ll find them on my shelves.
#18: Failure to PLAN to Conserve Physical Energy: I love the sign that hangs in my mother-in-law’s kitchen. “Tonight I’m making my favorite thing…reservations.” We’ve all had those times where we’re worn out in one way or another and simply do not feel like cooking. In some cases, this nocookingitis is as extreme as to prohibit us from even putting something in the stove for a half hour or the microwave for a few minutes. And when nocookingitis comes in combination with appetite fatigue, it’s nearly a red alert status. So off to dinner we go, knowing full well that the service won’t be as good as we could do for ourselves, that the germs are more rampant in what we eat outside of our own homes, and we’ll pay as much as 10 times more for what we pay to eat out as what it would have cost us to eat at home…without the yummy leftovers. Why do we insist on torturing ourselves this way? Because, sometimes we just don’t have the mental or physical energy to cook. That being the case, I have a hard time agreeing with the efforts of some who prepare to make their lives miserable in the face of a crisis; who take no consideration for what kind of physical and mental effort it will require them to exercise to feed their family (and a few close friends…ahem…) several times a day. I actually heard a woman tell me the other day that she’s not going to spend money on a hand grinder when she can just get a rock. As I looked at the beautiful gold earrings hang from her ears and her perfectly coiffed hair and beautifully manicured hands, I couldn’t help but wonder if she has any idea what kind of energy she’d need to expel in order to grind the 9 cups of flour necessary to make a good batch of bread!?
Every time I begin my self-defense class, I begin by informing my students that the average time of an assault is 5 to 7 minutes and that they need to mentally and physically be able to fight back for that entire time. So we start off by punching at the pillows that they’ve brought with them; nice and light; nothing too extraneous; while I time them. When I let them know finally that 30 seconds has just passed, you should hear the groans and moans I am subjected to! “That was only 30 seconds?! “I’m already worn out!” The fact of the matter is, there are very few of us who make everything from scratch nowadays, let alone do it for every meal for every day for an entire year. So as you’re preparing to take care of the nutritional needs of others, be sure you remember to take care of YOU and the mental and physical needs that you’ll have too. Embrace anything that you can find that will make your sudden thrust into 24 hour chief bottle washer easier and less taxing. That may mean planning on using the little Humless Roadrunner Solar Generator to run a food processor, select a hand grinder based on how many cranks it requires to grind an entire cup or flour, or it may be something as simple as ensuring that the recipes cards are readily taped to the bottom of the lid of every bucket in which you store your ingredients for a meal. Either way, if you’re not preparing with an awareness of conserving your physical energy, there will come a point in which nothing much else matters.
#19: Special Diet Considerations: One thing you can count on, where there are people there will always be sick people, elderly, children and infants. As such, I don’t believe that any respectable pantry is complete without being mindful of these exceptions. While I may snub ginger ale as a necessity for my long-term pantry otherwise, I know darn well that when I’m sick to my stomach, Vernor’s Ginger Ale is the only solution for me. As such, I keep plenty on stock.
I know that babies need baby food, elderly need easily digested food, and that there are many who have developed gluten allergies as well. As such, as a part of my Food Preparedness tactics, I make sure that I have possibilities to meet these needs. I have learned to make baby food, comfort food, “I can’t keep anything down” food, and even “I’ve lost my dentures” food. It may not seem important right now, but I assure you, the first time you hear the cry of a hungry baby, or see the stumbled pace of a dear elderly friend amidst a crisis, you’ll wish that you had the foresight in planning for these out of the norm scenarios.
#20: Protect the Investment: I doubt that any of us would go to the store and say “Excuse me. Would you mind if I paid double for this package of ground beef?” And yet if we fail to view our food stores as an investment that merits protection, then that’s exactly what we’re doing.
I’ve never understood why people will pay loads of money to protect their boats through the winter but not even invest in a simple dehumidifier to ensure that their food stores remain viable as long as possible. Even if you’re fortunate to walk out of a grocery store having paid only $5 for $300 worth of groceries as a result of couponing, those great deal items only continue to be great deals so long as you protect them and ensure that they remain viable for you and your family until you’re ready to use them.
I’m often asked the question of how a person can preserve their shelf-stable foods when they live in the hot and humid southern desert areas of the U.S., in spite of the fact that the homeowner enjoys the luxury of air conditioning. All too often I am dismayed to hear of the “impossibility” of the task of having a sufficient supply of food on hand simply because the person fails to see the importance of preservation of their food investments. I literally had a gal who said that she couldn’t afford to put her air-conditioning down another 3 degrees to get on the high end of acceptable temperatures for long-term food storage. Good grief. If she just unplugged all of the plugs that were in the sockets that she rarely used she’d more than make up for the electricity it would require to cool the home 3 more degrees. There’s been more than one time in which I’ve consulted a client about the age-old problem of creating a more self-reliant lifestyle only to be confronted with the improperly perceived problem of space. In actuality, it frequently boils down to a problem of priorities.
Learning to can, dehydrate, use PET containers, oxygen absorbers, mineral oil, cheesewax, using a FoodSaver or making quality foods from scratch isn’t about denying our decades of technological revolutions and modern-day progress, nor is it about “reverting back to the good old days” (they weren’t as good as we remember them sometimes). It’s about having a say in what our future holds for us—protecting a LIFE-SAVING investment—one that is literally worth more than any gold or silver or stocks and bonds that we could ever purchase, because as long as we protect its nutrition and comfort value, it will always hold it’s value no matter what happens on Wall Street, at our place of employment , the IMF, or in Washington D.C. That kind of value is certainly worth protecting and, I might add, worth continually investing in. (sorry for the dangling participle. *grin*) If you protect the food, you protect the family. It’s that simple.