Who’s storing food now?

Anna Jacoby-Heron and Matt Damon in "Contagion"

Flu-pocalypse: Anna Jacoby-Heron and Matt Damon find a looted grocery story in “Contagion.” Photo: Warner Bros.

After the deadly super-flu epidemic in the film Contagion has emptied city streets and looters have cleared store shelves, Matt Damon’s character finds himself shivering in a food line when a soldier announces through a bullhorn that he’s sorry, but the supply of MREs has just run out. In response, the assembled hungry crowd breaks into a riot, rushing into the back of a military truck to find out for themselves that, indeed, there’s no more food.

This is just one way that the film, whose heroes are elite researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, depicts a hapless lay public, completely unprepared for any disruption of normal life.

But with a freaky round of natural disasters probably caused by climate change hitting an ever shakier economy, more and more people today are trying to avoid this fate by starting to prepare for disasters and catastrophes of various kinds. The obvious place to start: storing food.

And while some preppers are hard-core survivalists girding their families against an outbreak of Ebola virus or a peak oil apocalypse, you don’t have to be a total doomer to start storing cans and dry food down in the basement. You just have to care about making your family more resilient.

So, if you’re considering starting to store some of your own food, why not start by learning from the experts?


First, you need to get past the jokes about their trailers and the rest of their lackluster response to Hurricane Katrina. Then, check out Ready.gov, a website run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that urges families to prepare at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food in case the household needs to hunker down during or after a hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake or other natural disaster.

FEMA suggests foods that don’t require refrigeration but says you should stay away from salty foods that will make you thirsty and cause you to deplete your water supply more quickly. And don’t just load up on Spam, but make sure your cans are packed with food that your family will really want to eat. Even though hunger is the best cook, in a difficult situation you’ll be glad to have some comfort and stress foods.

During September, in remembrance of 9/11, FEMA is observing National Preparedness Month, inviting individuals and groups to sign up to receive information and materials and participate in events, both online and in communities around the country.


Ever since the nineteenth century, when their first prophet Joseph Smith told Mormons that God commanded them to be self-sufficient, the church has required Mormon families to store food at home. As Elder L. Tom Perry put it in a church publication, “If Ye Are Prepared Ye Shall Not Fear”:

As long as I can remember, we have been taught to prepare for the future and to obtain a year’s supply of necessities. I would guess that the years of plenty have almost universally caused us to set aside this counsel. I believe the time to disregard this counsel is over. With events in the world today, it must be considered with all seriousness.

These days, the church advises Mormons to store three months worth of food not only out of piety, but to prepare for emergencies, to get peace of mind and to learn basic food preparation. The church recommends storing “essential foods that sustain life, such as grains, legumes, cooking oil, powdered milk, salt, sugar or honey, and water.”

And while the church reminds Mormons to rotate stored food to make sure the supply remains fresh, spoilage apparently remains a problem. Some who have left the fold say that church officials pressure families to store too much food and pay nosy home visits to enforce storage guidelines.

“Sadly, thousands of pounds of food go to waste when older Mormons do not rotate their storage supplies. Family members of deceased parents often throw out hundreds of pounds of rotten flour and frozen goods,” claims a poster on a forum for the disaffected called The Mormon Curtain. Another says that her parents “had an entire room in the basement full of moldy wheat, botulism-bulging cans and oozing bottled goodies, most dated 1983 and 1984.”


As much as backpackers, survivalists have made a market for vacuum-packed envelopes of freeze dried food. For families who are willing to spend the extra money to have someone else do the work, survivalist-friendly companies promise a pricey but convenient route to instant food security.

For example, Patriot Food of El Dorado, Kansas offers food kits that the company claims have a 25-year shelf life. Their Wise Food 2880 serving package contains a year’s worth of food for a family of four. At $4,350, it’s a serious investment in peace of mind, but, as the company puts it, “We are just $1.55 per meal compared to $6.89 per fast food meal, $12.55 per restaurant meal, and $4.91 per home cooked meal.”

Delivered in 5-gallon plastic buckets, dishes keep safely to the mid-American palate, with Apple Cinnamon Cereal and Crunchy Granola for breakfast and the more adventurous Savory Stroganoff, Chili Macaroni or Teriyaki and Rice for dinner (there’s no lunch when you’re hunkering down in the bunker).


A focus on cooperating with neighbors to plant community gardens and share tools hasn’t stopped people interested in the Transition movement from trying to make their own homes into more secure castles too.

A quick search shows that during this past summer alone Transition Lancaster in Pennsylvania included food storage in its emergency preparedness training while across the country in Washington State, Transition Ferndale taught Whatcom County residents about vacuum packing.

Nearby Transition Lummi Island outside Seattle offers good advice to all Transitioners inspired by peak oiler Chris Martenson’s Crash Course:

Storing food isn’t that complicated. You start by buying extra. Canned food is easy to accumulate and store. Begin with a case of chili or refried beans. Buy some cases of canned fruit and tomatoes. Consider adding some of the dehydrated foods offered by stores like Costco. If you want to get really serious and put up a years supply of staples buy some food grade buckets, some mylar bags, a Food Saver, oxygen aborbers, fifty pound bags of stuff and get to work packaging them up. I detailed how we did it here.

Apparently, the Pacific Northwest is a hotbed of Transitioners who store food. Grande Ronde Transition in Oregon offers this helpful video on three-month food storage with special tips on how to guard your goodies free of creepy crawlies and even how to include milk in your supplies. “Keep it simple. Don’t over-manage your food storage or it can overwhelm you,” says the video’s narrator, Jamie.

Putting the “ding!” back in hoarding

Storing food can be empowering and educational. But there’s oh so much to learn about the ins-and-outs of doing it right, all while stretching your resilience dollar until it sweats.

So, inspired by all the Transitioners across the US and around the world with an interest in building resilience at home, we’ve decided to launch a new series in Transition Voice, “The Happy Hoarder.”

This feature will be an excuse for us to run articles by a variety of writers who approach household prep in a practical yet light-hearted way. Whether it’s cans of pineapple chunks in syrup, safety razor blades, 12-gauge shotgun shells or scratchy wool blankets from the army surplus store, we want to swap ideas about what to start saving and how to do it.

Who says that getting ready for the peak-ocalypse has to be all work and no play?

— Erik Curren, Transition Voice

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  1. says

    The very first thing I started doing once I realized the likelihood of disruptions in the food supply would come with a financial collapse was to start hoarding Food. Bought a Vacuum Sealer, 50 lb bags of Rice, Dried Legumes, Canned food, the works.

    At first it was just a couple month’s worth. Then it was a year’s worth. At 2 years worth, I finally stopped. I realized that first off if my community hasn’t figured out a way to feed ourselves in 2 years, it was a waste of time saving more than that. Second, if everyone else is outta food, I’m going to be giving it away to my friends anyhow, so it can’t last that long.

    There are also Mobility Problems with excessive hoarding of food. What if you have to abandon your Doomstead? Wildfires or a Flood threatening your home? If you can’t load it all up quickly into your Bugout Machine, your going to lose what you cannot carry with you anyhow.

    I’ve retained the 2 year supply overall, but have given away some of my first big bags of rice and beans to local Food Banks. I’m shifting my personal supply to more of the expensive Freeze Dried camping foods for their light weight and easy of transportability.

    Its also important to look at the Calorie Count. Peanut Butter is great on calories per dollar spent, so are vegetable oils. A couple of tablespoons of Oil spooned over your meal ups the calories substantially, making a one package Freeze Dried food more energy packed. You don’t want to overdo the Fat calories, but in a situation of survival, you hardly are going to worrry about your arteries hardening here.

    Don’t forget the Vitamins! All the freeze dried and canned food is vitamin deficient. Have plenty of multivitamins and Vitamin C tablets, so even if you are just eating Goobermint Cheese off a SNAP Card, you won’t lose all your teeth from Scurvy.

    In the end though, remember your Food Hoard is a TEMPORARY measure. Its mainly good for short term supply problems. Saving up YEARS worth of food is nuts.


    • Erik Curren says

      Good advice about planning for possibly having to bug out. Prepping for resilience seems to be about managing risk, as they say in business and you always have to balance how much you invest in planning for one scenario (staying put) vs how much you invest in a counter scenario (bugging out). Safest is to prepare for both in proportion to your judgment of their likelihood.

      • says

        Good analogy there Eric. Like anything else, you have to Hedge your risks and your investments. Dropping a ton of money into a single doomstead with 5 years worth of food supply completely ties you to that investment. If it fails, you are sunk.

        Imagine if you were a Jew in Russia in May of 1917 and approached your survival in the Little Town of Anatevka this way. When the Bolsheviks arrive in your town, they confiscate your goats and chickens aong with your little farm and if you don’t have a Wagon to Push out of Anatevka with enough Preps to get you somewhere ELSE, you just ain’t gonna make it. Fotunately for Tevya, he had his little Bugout Machine, a Hand Cart.

        Imagine today if you lived in Libya. I don’t care how many #10 Cans of Mountain House Chili you have in the basement, staying in Libya to try and eat it is not a real good idea. Will the FSofA devolve into a Civil War like Libya? No way to know for sure, but its a reasonably possible scenario you have to prepare for.

        From my POV, you start by choosing a good location if you have enough flexibility to do that, but MORE important is developing flexibility and the ability to move quickly with enough to keep you going for around 6 months on the road in one way or the other. You want to have alternate locations to head for if conditions in your local area deteriorate either politically or ecologically due to geological or weather related events.

        Bugout Plans are my main focus in making Preps. I have Bugout Plans for Gas+ and Gas- scenarios. They take different types of vehicles and vary in levels of creature comfort, but I put all of them together on a typical middle class wage here in the FSofA by making my big purchases off the Used Market. You can put together very good packages for most scenarios for less than $10K. You need to plan for both overland and over water Bugout scenarios. Then you need to research destinations to bugout to if it becomes necessary, and plan for how you would get there in different situations. Nice thing about this is it costs almost no money to do it, you can do most of it using Google Earth while you track how things are progressing in the spin down in various locations, both within and external to the FSofA.


  2. Darryl says

    I recommend “Crisis Preparedness Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Home Storage and Physical Survival by Jack Spigarelli. He has some of the best recommendations on food storage. While he recomends a years worth of food, we currently store 3 months (or more if we have to push it) worth.

    We spent a week with out power or water when hurricane Ivan hit the Gulf Coast in 2004. Being an avid backpacker and outdoorsman I thought that my wife and I were prepared, we weren’t. Since then I have taken preparedness more seriously especially since we now have childern to look after. I look forward to your new series

  3. says

    When it comes to organization, there is nothing more helpful than plastic storage boxes. These handy units can be stacked like shelving and come in a wide variety of styles, sizes and colors.

  4. Surly 1 says

    Nothing like going without power to focus the attention.

    Several years ago, like Darryl, I found myself without power when a relatively mild Hurricane Isabel, a category 1, made landfall and uprooted shallow-rooted or otherwise weak trees, downing power lines and blocking many roads. After that experience, I decided to take preparation far more seriously.

    Key learnings: 1) propane is a sacrament; and 2) you can never store enough potable water.

  5. says

    From another Pacific Northwestern, we found several additional resources useful when thinking about how to store food for our family and neighbors in a simple and straightforward manner. Especially the quick check lists from Joel Skousen called “10 packs for survival” that help you customize your preparations for your specific bioregion.

  6. says

    I have been a survivalist and prepper for over 30 years, wrote hundreds of articles on the subject and even have an online E booklet, I run a forum for discussing and debating issues involved in prepping and self reliance.

    I wish to point out there is a huge differing between HOARDING and STOCKPILING.

    Hoarding is when greedy people stash away food for themselves when its already in short supply and often still avail themselves of Emergency rations issued by the authorities during a crisis.

    PREPPERS & SURVIVALISTS buy bulk foods when its plentiful and cheap and set it aside for a rainy day thus helping society by not requiring emergency rations or state help during a crisis. Preppers take RESPONSIBILITY for their own survival by making PREPARATIONS to ensure they have sufficient food, fuel and medicines to survive a disaster.

    Whilst ordinary folk go about their normal lives spending their spare funds on liesure and recreation the prudent prepper invests his funds in supplies, equipment and tools.

    Preppers and Survivalists do not HOARD.

    • says

      Steve — It’s always good to hear from people with experience in prepping. To everyone who’s a responsible prepper, all I can say is that we chose the word “hoarding” exactly because of its negative connotations. We want to have some fun with it.

      And it’s fun with a purpose. We want to help new people get into saving food and other necessities. The problem is, outside the survivalist/Transition audience, for the general public, the elephant in the room of such discussions is often hoarding. That can prevent people from taking action. We want to remove this barrier and we use irony to help do that.

      But we don’t just make fun of hoarding. We also laugh at other things that sound scary, from visions of a peak oil apocalypse to climate deniers to the Great Recession. Humor is a powerful tool to release tension and break logjams caused by fear.

      Just read our About Us page or our recent post on our one-year anniversary, “Burning a candle for the peak-ocalypse.” We like to laugh at stuff to bring it down to size.

      • says

        Hi Erik, I learned to try and encourage non preppers and unenlightened people to look at caching, stockpiling, hoarding :) etc as (A) An extension of insurance IE they have house, car and life insurance, well prepping is just disaster insurance (B) Inflation proofing, if you bulk buy now whilst stuff is plentiful and cheap you protect yourself from inflation when buying in smaller quantities. Plus if you bulk buy from SUSTAINABLE eco farm, Coop groups, Transition groups etc you inject valuable funds in one go to help those groups develop. (C) It help your personal security and reduces your reliance on the state or the big supermarkets.

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