Will there be massive, widespread food shortages in America and the rest of the world? Will there be an economic collapse? Is war on the horizon? Will that asteroid they recently started warning us about actually hit the Earth?
It’s easy to get worked up over all the existential threats we face today. Modern society has never faced so many potential collapses and disasters at the same time, and whether that’s by design or just bad luck is for some of us to debate on a different Substack. In this article we’re talking about prepping so let’s stick with that.
First and foremost, don’t panic. Sure, things look awful for many of us but that doesn’t mean we have to curl up in a ball and wait for the apocalypse to whisk us away. As Daisy Luther noted, we’re probably going to be okay. Then, there’s the perspective of my fellow Bible-believing Christians that even if things go very much south in this life, we have something far better waiting for us. Whatever you need to do to stay calm while remaining motivated to act, now’s the time for it.
One of the biggest mistakes I see new preppers making is they go straight for the long-term storage food. I visited a relative who proudly showed me her family’s many food buckets. Some of them they had bought. Others she had made herself. I noticed one of them opened in the kitchen a little while later. Sensing my confusion, she said, “Oh, we ran out of rice so I went ahead and busted open one of my buckets.”
The fallacy here, of course, is that she had two closets full of buckets, #10 cans, and mylar bags while keeping a pantry that was half-empty. I’ll discuss more about that in the list below, but this is why our new Whole Cows beef company offers both frozen steaks and other beef products for consumption in the near future as well as freeze-dried beef cubes in mylar bags for long-term storage. Eat well today. Eat well tomorrow. (And if any of my readers want to take advantage of our launch specials, they can use the “late prepper” promo code at checkout for 15% off).
For experienced preppers, the list below is probably unnecessary. But for those of us who are relatively new to the preparedness world, this hierarchy of food priorities should help you form your plan.
#1: Today and Tomorrow Foods
There are some foods among our basics that are generally only good for the near future unless you process them specifically for preservation. Milk, eggs, bread, fresh produce, and the like can all be made to last in the long-term but generally they’re perishable at first.
Then, there are the long-term storage foods that include freeze-dried meals, powdered products, certain canned goods, and others that are best to keep stored away until you need them.
The first thing people starting to get prepared should stock up on are the everyday “flex” foods. These are food items that you’ll use today but that can also be stored away for the long term. You keep a stock for now and you build a stock for later. These are foods that, when properly stored, can last a decade or two. Or three.
As I noted with my niece in the story above, she had one source of rice. It was all in buckets. What she should be doing is keeping enough rice to use now and in the near future while also storing away rice for the long-term. There is no reason to make a 25-lb bucket of rice that you’re going to break open anytime soon.
We keep a rotation of two 10-lb containers. When one empties, we open the other and note that we need to refill the empty one during the next available purchase.
While that daily-use rotation happens, we’re also building new buckets. I’m not a fan of buying buckets of rice because you generally pay two- to three-times as much as you would if you just bought in bulk and put them in food buckets with oxygen absorbers yourself.
The reason I tell people to start with this is because it begins the habit of buying for now and later. Technically, the top priority is to fill the refrigerator and pantry with food to get you through for weeks or months that you properly rotate, but I moved that recommendation down to second on the list because we want to start thinking about preparedness. Telling people to buy more of what they’re already buying doesn’t establish a new habit.
Other examples of “flex” foods are beans, pastas, honey, and certain canning items. I’ll discuss cans and canning in more detail in a future article.
#1A: Stock Up Regular Food
As I mentioned before, it’s silly to start buying food buckets or a freeze drier before you have weeks or months worth of food that you eat normally. Filling your refrigerator, pantry, cupboards, and freezer so you could survive a months-long catastrophe is so close to being the top priority that I’d recommend for those with the means to do this and the previous step simultaneously.
Before you just go out and buy a bunch of stuff, it’s important to make a plan. Know what you need to purchase. Prepare to rotate properly. It’s a serious shame when we buy food and it goes bad before we can use it. My mother, who grew up poor in the Philippines, considered it a true sin when food was ever wasted.
The average American household had less than two weeks worth of food on hand. That was a statistic from several years ago and considering the state of the economy it may be less than that. It makes sense to raise your short-term storage supplies as high as possible without risking waste. It doesn’t take a full-blown societal collapse for us to need to be able to “bug in” for weeks at a time. Another pandemic lockdown, for example, could be around the corner. If whatever disease gets rolled out is far worse than Covid, it seems very likely that even “essential” movement will be limited or even forbidden.
One pro-tip is to consider the possibility of grid challenges. If the power goes out, will you be able to keep your refrigerator going? Your freezer? We have solar generators but I cannot recommend either because I couldn’t afford the “good” ones at the time. I desperately need to replace them but at least I have something for now. Be sure to have power available in case of sustained grid outages. And remember, the more full a refrigerator or freezer is, the less power it needs to stay cool.
#3: Move Up Based on Budget
The first two recommendations are fairly universal. The third recommendation, which is to establish mid-term food supplies, all depends on your current and future situation. For those of us who are not loaded with extra cash, a decent mid-term food strategy is to build up a large supply of canned foods.
It’s not ideal. Canned foods are lower quality, generally have lower nutritional value, and are usually loaded with preservatives. But as long as cans of raviolis and creamed corn are still relatively affordable, it makes sense for many of us to lean on them as the semi-cheap way to get months of emergency food stored up.
There are challenges to this strategy. They can last for years, but sometimes they do not. Sometimes you can tell by inspecting a can that the food has gone bad but other times you might think you’re in good shape only to open the cans and find out they’re spoiled. They come with “Best By” dates, but these are not expiration dates. I’ve opened cans of food around the “Best By” dates and found they had been compromised. I’ve also opened up cans of food that are multiple years beyond their “Best By” date and the food was fine. It’s hit or miss.
Then, there’s the need to eat them. If things don’t go south, you may find in a couple of years you have canned food that you’ll need to either eat or discard. This is why it’s important to get food that you like. Yes, getting as much nutritional value as possible from canned foods is a consideration but if you don’t like it then it can become more of a burden than a blessing.
For those who have the means, canning your own food is better. It can last longer. It generally tastes better as long as you like your family’s cooking. It takes time and effort but many who can their own food find it to be a relaxing and rewarding hobby.
There are also Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) that some love. Others hate them. They can last 5-7 years from production date, so it’s important to know when they were made. Buying them at a discount on Amazon can often result in MRE boxes that are already several years old when you get the,
They’re much more expensive than canned foods and if you get the full packs they take up much more space, but they’re complete meals. You won’t get the variety that you can get from store-bought cans or self-canned foods, but the quality is generally decent. There’s also the added benefit of not needing to build a fire to heat them in a grid-down situation. Most MREs have flameless heating packs.
Most flours properly stored can last a couple of years. If you store them better, they can arguably last a decade (I say arguably because I’ve never tested 10-year-old flour myself and the various experienced preppers are torn on the topic). We have wheat berries and a grinder that we’ll be using if the crap hits the fan.
There are literally dozens of other forms of mid-term storable foods. Be creative. Do your research. Build the mid-term food storage plan that fits your needs and situation.
Once you have your short- and mid-term food supply rocking and rolling, THEN it’s time to get into long-term preparedness. Don’t skip these steps and go straight to hoarding food buckets.
BONUS Move: Produce Your Own Food
On a previous version of this list I released last year, I put producing our own food as the top item. Those who have the means, the space, and the skills should have as big of a garden as they can grow. They should keep chickens and other livestock if possible.
The reason I moved this off this new list and included it as a “bonus” is because I was flooded with feedback about how most people simply can’t grow big gardens or raise chickens based on their circumstance. I get it as I’m not in a position to grow more than a few tomato plants. So I moved this down to a bonus rather than a general piece of advice.
With that said, this should be the top priority of those who DO have the means, the space, and the skills. No matter how big your food supply is, it won’t be perpetual. Producing your own food can be as close to perpetual as we can get in America. There are always risks and challenges, especially in a societal collapse scenario, but being able to sustain ourselves without society’s help is a worthy endeavor.
Hopefully, this can get more people heading in the right direction. We don’t know what’s coming, but we do know our trajectories as a nation and a planet are not good. Like the Boy Scouts used to say, “Be prepared.”