Friday, May 30, 2008

Food Storage Thoughts

What's interesting to me is how many people seem to agree on the 1 gallon of water per person per day thing, but how much variance I've seen in how much food to store. I've got a few books at home about food storage, and I've seen various flyers and so on from friends and family members, all talking about what to store. The problem is, I don't agree with any of them. Yes, I realize I can be a little picky (snobbish?), but even with the "your needs may vary" disclaimer, it seems to me that people have thought up these lists and maybe even stored these items without even considering what to do with them when they end up needing them.

Example: most of these lists include shortening. I haven't stocked shortening for a long time. I might use it once every one, maybe two years. But using one online calculator, it was estimated that I would need 10 pounds of it for me and my family, for a year-long food supply. Let's face it, I'm not going to use it unless I absolutely have to. Maybe what I should be focusing on are foods that I actually enjoy eating, and will actually be happy to use when the time comes.

At first, I despaired a little. All these lists, and none of them seemed even remotely reasonable to me. Where was I going to find one that would match me? Then I realized that such a list could only come from one place: me. What I really needed to be doing was looking at these lists and deciding how they could be updated to fit my needs. What they were really good for was a starting point. So here goes.

This is the calculator that I mentioned before. It asks for the number of family members ages 7 and above, and the number ages 6 and below, and then generates a list for you. I decided to go through the items in the list one by one, and decide what was important to me and what wasn't. This list was generated for 2 adults and one infant/toddler.


Wheat 375 lbs
Flour 62 lbs
Corn Meal 62 lbs
Oats 62 lbs
Rice 125 lbs
Pasta 62 lbs
Total Grains 748 lbs

Right off the bat, it looks like I'm expected to cook a lot of things from scratch. 375 lbs of wheat? What am I going to use that for? Well, I know one guy that cooks whole wheat berries like Scotch oats, and eats them for breakfast. I could also buy a grain mill and grind my own wheat. I'm sure the grain mill was actually the originally-intended idea. Then why flour? As a baker, I can tell you that baking bread from 100% whole wheat tends to result in a dense, heavy loaf. It needs a little white flour to help things out.

I'm a big fan of corn, especially things baked with corn meal. The problem is, corn doesn't have any gluten, so it needs some flour too. Oats can be made into oatmeal, or they can also be baked, but they need flour too. Really, flour is just the binder that pulls it all together. Still, do I need 375 lbs of wheat berries? Why not just buy more flour, including whole wheat flour? Well, the first time open a bag of whole wheat flour that you bought 6 months ago and find out that it's rancid, you'll know why. Whole wheat stores for a long, long time. As soon as it gets ground, the shelf life drops significantly.

Rice and pasta are the things that I'm least worried about knowing how to use. Everyone knows how to cook pasta, and those who have been reading my blog since the early days know that if there's one thing I can cook, it's rice. In fact, I may just drop the wheat amount a little and up the rice to compensate. There's a reason why rice is one of the biggest staples (if not the biggest staple in the world.

As for picking up around 750 lbs of grain... well, that's going to take me a while to stock up. Baby steps.

Fats and Oils

Shortening 10 lbs
Vegetable Oil 5 gal
Mayonaise 5 qts
Salad Dressing 3 qts
Peanut Butter 10 lbs
Total Fats 63 lbs

All you health freaks out there, I want you to shut your traps about fats and oils. Without fats, we would starve. The key is not keeping fats out of our diets, the key is to manage fats sensibly. That said, I have a lot of reservations about this list.

10 lbs of shortening? I'll be surprised if I use half a pound of it over the course of a year. Mayonnaise is pretty much in the same point. I just don't use it. I find most salad dressings disgusting. But the veggie oil I can use. In fact, I would increase the veggie oil to 10 to 15 gallons, especially considering how useful it is for baking. Some people bake with shortening, and I'm happy to let them. Most of my baking formulas that call for fat call for it in liquid form. The peanut butter might be kind of a conservative estimate too. There is not a member of my family that doesn't love a good PB&J sammich. And there are oh-so-many other recipes that peanut butter can fit into.


Beans, dry 75 lbs
Lima Beans 11 lbs
Soy Beans 25 lbs
Split Peas 11 lbs
Lentils 11 lbs
Dry Soup Mix 11 lbs
Total Legumes 144 lbs

I guess I get my pick of dry beans. I don't know if lima beans, soy beans, split peas and lentils are supposed to be dry or canned, but since dry was already listed, I'm going to assume they meant canned. And I will replace those cans with black beans, pinto beans, red kidney beans and refried beans, because those are the beans that I will actually use. Heavy on the black beans. As for dry beans, well, I don't know. Definitely plenty of dried black beans. Maybe some great northerns. I might even add split peas and lentils into the dry list. But I'm thinking before I add anything to the dry list, I'd better come up with some recipes for it that I know I actually like.

Dry soup mix. I don't know about this one. Do they mean boullion? Do they mean those dried packets that have a few seasonings mixed in with mostly beans and lentils? I suppose a few dried packets of soup mix (flavoring only, no beans) wouldn't hurt. But I think I will mostly embrace this arena with dried herbs and spices.


Honey 7 lbs
Sugar 100 lbs
Brown Sugar 7 lbs
Molasses 3 lbs
Corn Syrup 7 lbs
Jams 7 lbs
Fruit Drink, powdered 15 lbs
Flavored Gelatin 3 lbs
Total Sugars 149 lbs

149 pounds of sugars? Good gravy! If I baked muffins every day for a year, I don't think I could go through 100 pounds of sugar! And seriously, 7 pounds of brown sugar seems a little unbalanced compared to that. Drop the sugar by at least 10 pounds and replace with an equal amount of brown sugar. 3 lbs of molasses seems a bit high too. And unless I start making candy on a regular basis, there is no reason for me to have more than a gallon of corn syrup. I will at least double, perhaps triple the amount of jam. Honey will stay about the same, but I may replace a couple of pounds of it with maple syrup.

Fruit drink. Like, what, Kool-Aid? Well, with a cup of sugar per Kool-Aid packet, I think I can see where that massive amount of sugar comes into play. Problem is, I don't drink Kool-Aid. I can't think of any powered drink mix that I do drink, other than TrueLemon, which I will stock up on. My wife is a big fan of Crystal Lite type drink mixes, so maybe some of that for her.

Gelatin. Did you know that Utah is the Jello capital of the world? If you live in Utah or work for the Jello company, you did. Salt Lake City consumes far more Jello per capita than anywhere else, by a long shot. I don't know why this is. I don't make a whole lot of it myself, so I really only eat it when I'm at some gathering where somebody else has brought it. Still, it's cheap, it's easy to make, it's filling, and I've been told that there's always room for it. I'm not opposed to it, and in an emergency situation it could be very handy. I'll increase the gelatin storage to 5 lbs, maybe more. Of course, some of that will be in the form of plain gelatin. Jello isn't the only thing you can make with it.


Dry Milk 150 lbs
Evaporated Milk 30 cans
Other 32 lbs
Total Dairy 187 lbs

"Other"? What in the world does "other" mean? Maybe sweetened condensed milk? I certainly would have added that to the list anyway. If somebody can tell me what else "other" can mean in the milk category, please tell me. As for the rest of this list, this can be kind of tricky. I don't drink milk. I don't like the taste of it by itself, and reconstituted dry milk is disgusting. But it that's what there is to drink, 150 lbs isn't an unreasonable estimate for a year.

Here's the real problem, though. Food storage expires. It's not economical to store a year's supply of food, and then when you don't use it by the expiration date, throw it out and buy another year's supply that you will only ever use in an emergency. You need to rotate through your food storage. That means finding recipes that you can use dry milk in to be able to rotate at least some of it. I don't know if I can rotate through 150 lbs of dry milk in a non-emergency situation. But I'd better try to get through some of it. Still, I'm mostly at a loss here.

Cooking Essentials

Baking Powder 3 lbs
Baking Soda 3 lbs
Yeast 1.5 lbs
Salt 13 lbs
Vinegar 1.5 gal

I'm good with these amounts. I might even add a pound each to the baking powder and soda. Yeast seems reasonable to me, at least if you're planning to bake enough bread to use up all those grains. Salt seems pretty high to me. A lot of people are going to store a lot of other items not on this list, like canned soups and the list. Canned soup always has a lot of sodium. And you can bet the powdered soup mix is chock-full of salt. I might drop the salt to 10 pounds or so, and make sure that at least a few pounds of it is iodized. But I also see no problem with storing a couple of boxes of Kosher or sea salt.

The amount of vinegar seems really small to me. Vinegar isn't just used for cooking, it's also used for cleaning and a variety of other tasks. I would say at least a gallon of white distilled vinegar, and another gallon or two of vinegars that you actually intend to consume. My list includes balsamic, red wine vinegar and white wine vinegar.


Water 42 gal
Bleach 3 gal

Obviously, this is a 2-week supply, not a whole year. And it looks like I was pretty close on my estimates. As for the bleach, I'm sure it's on there for water purification. People, before you go out and buy bleach or any other water purification device, learn how to use it. It's not difficult to add too much bleach, and too much bleach can kill you.

That was it for that site's calculator. Obviously, if we stick to this list and nothing else, then when that year comes and you have nothing to eat but your food supply, it won't be long before you get sick of it. Be on the lookout for other things, like canned fruits and veggies, to add to the list. I'm the type of person who will also have plenty of dried chiles and so on. Canned broth or stock will make life much easier and happier for you, but only if you know what to do with it.

I've made a few comments on this starter list. Now it's time for me to refine it further. Of course, we can't just go out and buy all these things on one paycheck. It's going to take a while to get our food storage up to where it needs to be. We've already got a food storage of course, but nowhere near a year. We just need to think about things as we buy them, and decide whether it's something that seems like a good idea, or actually is a good idea.


  1. I wonder if "other" dairy might mean powdered cheeses, like the kind that comes with boxed mac and cheese. You can get it in bulk and I've got some recipes that use it for soups. I prefer to make a bechemel cheese sauce, but I suppose in a pinch it would do.

    If you've got the right conditions, you could keep a big wheel of parmesan. That would certainly last a few years, and get more delicious as it aged.

  2. for "other" dairy, i'm thinking they're likely thinking of things like freeze-dried cheeses and such (they have that on the emergency essentials website, at least).

    as for the fruit drink mixes, from what i've learned from scott, the army includes fruit drink mixes a lot in MREs due to the fact that, if you have to purify your water, often it comes out tasting not-so-great, and the fruit-drink mixes make it much more palatable (even if you're not *that* fond of the fruit-drink mix)

  3. Some of that shortening might be attributable to it being a serviceable if disgusting substitute for butter in a lot of recipes. Or it just might be because shortening was very heavily used (and probably still is by some people) by Jane homemaker when the list was compiled

  4. This post was kind of fascinating to me, as one who almost never cooks - and certainly not with scratch - I would have no idea what to do with most of that stuff. Most of what we buy, all you need to do is add water and heat. (Still working on the heat part). I wouldn't mind having someone like you around in an emergency though. :)

  5. The "other" may refer to shelf-safe milk - those little drink boxes of milk. The shelf life on those isn't huge, though, so you need to check the expiration date when you buy them and rotate them often. The best places I know if to buy shelf-safe milk in bolk is Costco for Hershey's milk and Gossner's in Logan for a bunch of different flavors.

    Right now our food storage includes lots and lots of pasta and pasta sauce, rice and canned fruits and vegetables. Oh, and some freeze-dried fruit as well. The next thing I want to stock up on is canned beef and chicken. If we have to live off of our food storage in an emergency, I definitely want some meat in there.

    It is definitely a good idea to use the items from your food storage on a regular basis both to rotate them and so you have practice with them. I have known people who have a day every so often (or some even a week) where they cook only with their food storage. Doing it for a meal or a day if fun. I'm not up to doing a whole week yet.

  6. I forgot to mention that I have a cook book with loots of good recipes which use food storage items like dry milk and whole wheat so that you can rotate them often. If you ever want to borrow it, you can.

  7. You can make cheese with powdered milk. 1 gallone of milk will make 1 pound of cheese.

    Whole Wheat Pizza anyone?

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