Prepping: Your own bulk food vs online prepper kits

“I’m working on a food chain, looking for a bite to chew.
Out here on the food chain, telling you boys it’s true.
You are what you eat. You also are what eats you.”
Working on a food chain. 1985 folk song by Mark Graham

This food at Juneau’s health food store cost less than a third of what an online vendor would charge for a virtually identical selection.

The bottom line—right here at the top—is that it’s easy and liberating to build up a food storage pantry. You want at least enough food to maintain everyone in your family for a month. That means:
1) 2,000 calories per day for most women. 2,500 calories per day for most men with another 500 calories per day for pregnant/nursing women and active men. (Adjust this upward for those engaged in hard physical work and who are out in cold weather. Children’s caloric needs run about half of adults depending on age, size, and activity level. There are age/calorie charts online.)
2) Foods that you eat in your regular diet.
3) Rotate what you’ve stored by incorporating it into your regular diet and replacing as you go.
4) Label food with the date.
5) Store food in five gallon, food grade buckets.
6) A bail-out kit with at least three days worth of food that will fit in a backpack.
7) Some laxatives just in case.
8) Vitamins for micronutrients that may not be in your food reserves.
9) Some comfort foods
10) Food stored where it’s dark, dry and cool.

Why you should have a food supply
A few decades ago Americans considered preparing (prepping) for food shortages to be the realm of paranoid guys in camouflage who moved to north Idaho so they could dig a bunker and load ammunition pending the collapse of civilization-as-we-know-it. Today war, drought, overpopulation, earthquakes, hurricanes, and rising sea levels have left in their wakes 795 million chronically undernourished humans and 65.6 million refugees, more than at any time since World War II. Emergency food prepping is now mainstream especially in communities off the road systems.

Getting started
Prepper books and websites used to borrow heavily from the Mormon Church’s food storage protocols. Foodwise, Mormons are the religious equivalent of squirrels. Both denominations devoutly stock their pantries. In the past few years home  food storage has evolved to where you can tailor your pantry to fit your own diet: vegan, kosher, gluten free, more or less fats/sugars/variety or whatever. You don’t need to go into debt for it. Slightly over-buying each week is a painless way to start building your food supply. A pound of organic dried beans here, a pound of brown rice there, a pound of butter that you throw in the freezer, extra spices, olive oil…before you know it you’ve got a month’s worth of food. Choose and store wisely (organizing a pantry is a different column) and your food will remain nutritionally excellent for years or even decades.

Things to be aware of if you decide to buy your emergency food online

Full disclosure: I think most online emergency food kits are a rip-off.

There are no government requirements regarding what constitutes a serving size for emergency food so a serving is whatever the manufacturer says it is.  Some have portions so small that you’d thin out and die on them. One advertiser claims, ‘160 servings’ but 40 of the servings are powdered milk. Companies selling ‘Month Supply!’ kits often sell dried fruit or freeze dried meats separately to supplement them. They seem to expect you to figure out at some point that what’s in the month bucket isn’t enough. Unless otherwise stated the foods may be GMO’s contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, and preservatives. Some ‘meat’ dishes include fillers like texturized vegetable protein (TVP) made from soy. A number of websites selling or advertising emergency foods and prep gear have made deals with manufacturers in return for good reviews. Take reviews and testimonials with a grain of salt.

Prepper food companies are excellent for getting ideas on what you might want in your pantry so by all means check them out. They list how many servings and the nutritional information per serving. It’s easy to compare them and see how much salt/sugar/fat there is and how much it weighs. Before you buy check how online stuff compares with what you can buy locally. Online companies typically sell dried or freeze dried foods vacuum sealed in packets inside five gallon buckets. Buckets are good.

Here are two actual online kits:

Company 1 selling dried food
You get an immediate food supply. All organic. Packages are vacuum sealed. Claims there are 408 servings. Claims all the food can be stored up to 10-15 years.

What you get in pounds:
various grains 9.5
various beans 9
brown rice 4
lentils 3
chia/quinoa 3
flax seed 2.5
nuts 1
sugar 1
Himalayan salt 1
freeze dried veg 0.6
miso 0.5
Total 35.1

34.1 pounds of food (minus the pound of salt) = 545.6 ounces. Divide that by 408 servings and you’re looking at 1.34 ounces per serving before adding water.

Cons: Pretty much everything on the list requires large amounts of time, fuel and water to cook. Not enough fats. Not enough fruits/vegetables. Portions are too small. Packets are in fairly big bags that you probably won’t use up in a single go. Once the packets are open they won’t last 10-15 years. Cost is $249.00 plus shipping. Shipping to Juneau is $98.85 USPS. Total cost $348.85. At the health food store right here in downtown Juneau you can match that list from the bulk section, all organic, for $100.

Company 2 selling freeze dried food
Pros: You get an immediate food supply. The food is faster/less fuel to cook than the kit above. Easier to pack around. Claims there is a month’s food supply with 205 servings. Claims shelf life up to 25 years.

What you get in number of servings, calories per serving and total calories
apple oatmeal 10 130 1300
pancakes 20 280 5600
cream of wheat 20 170 3400
oatmeal 20 130 2600
enchilada 20 230 4600
potato soup 20 290 5800
mac and cheese 20 190 3800
chili 20 230 4600
pasta dishes 20 180 3600
Asian rice 20 230 4400
a different chili 15 230 3450
total 205 servings   43,150 calores

43,150 calories /31 days = 1,392 calories per day

Cons: High sodium entrees. Not enough fruits/vegetables. Not enough high quality calories. If you get a pinhole in a bag, or don’t use the whole packet, the shelf life is out the window. Even if it stays sealed, the term ‘may last 25 years’ means also that it ‘may not’ last 25 years. Costs $339 dollars shipping included. If you were going to be buying these kits for the whole family for several months it might be cost effective, and provide greater food variety, to get a home freeze drying machine and do it yourself.

$350 for a month’s food supply would not be a bad price by the way, in black market economies that develop during food shortages. Any calories are a godsend to starving people. The job at hand today is to get the most high quality food you can for the money. When you combine a basic food pantry with salmon, meats, jellies, oils and garden stuff you’ve canned, dehydrated or have in the freezer you’re styling.

Notes on MRE’s: Meals Ready to Eat (AKA Meals Rejected by Ethiopians) Very expensive on the internet. Beware! Abundant complaints online about poor quality, gross taste, food being years old  when they were delivered, (along with speculations that it may have been laying around in a warehouse in the Middle East for years), meals not being as advertised–some not even being MRE’s. One package had 12 meals and a couple of them were pork, which a lot of us dont eat. As an added bonus: MRE’s come with an FRH (flameless ration heater) which is packet containing magnesim, iron, and salt that reacts chemically with water to  produce heat. That’s to heat your food. Call me a skeptic but heating your food with this thing, in a polymer pouch, cannot be good for you. Magnesium, as you know is highly flammable so if fire reaches your MRE  in the pantry these pouches will produce a Class D metal fire. If water is put on the fire it produces explosive hydrogen gas. Unused FRH are considered hazardous waste. It’s illegal to just throw them in the dump. To sum up, with an FRH from an MRE you could be SOL.

More reasons to keep mass processed foods out of your survival pantry
1) We try not to be judgmental here at the Woodshed but where’s the point in pretending to be objective about PhD bottom feeders out to make food physically addictive for millions of people; including children? A short YouTube video with Pulitzer prize winner Michael Moss on his book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,** describes how huge food processors use neuroscientists, biologists, and chemists to find the ‘bliss point,’ the ultimate combination of salt, sugar, fats and chemicals that will trick our tongues, brains and bodies to keep salivating and shoveling their products down the hatch. Addictive food, coupled with people who can’t stop eating it, would be bad in a food crisis.

2) Industry giants are trying to cash in on America’s migration towards healthier food with junk food masquerade marketing. You find granola bars with a calorie load about the same as Snickers bars, ‘healthy soups’ with more sodium per serving than a mixing bowl full of potato chips. etc.

3) Just because a mass prepared food is loaded with preservatives and chemicals that mask stale taste, odors and oils going rancid doesn’t mean it will last as long as what you prepare and store yourself.

October fifth is the fall Harvest Moon. Leaves are falling on the wood pile and squirrels are storing spruce cones out there as fast as they can. Autumn is the season to channel squirrels and bulk up our pantries because, as Mark Graham put it,

‘Out here on that food chain, it’s diet, die or dine.’

**2013 Salt Sugar Fat: NY Times Reporter Michael Moss’:  How the Food Giants Hooked Us