Sometimes it’s not easy being an ant. Especially when you’re living among a bunch of grasshoppers.
There’s a well-known Aesop fable about an oblivious grasshopper who spent his summer days living the high life and mocking an industrious ant, who was busy building a shelter and storing food for the coming winter.
Of course, we all know how that worked out for the grasshopper. After winter arrived, the well-prepared ant found himself well-fed and toasty. As for the improvident grasshopper — he was simply toast.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was in my front yard preparing and cleaning dozens of specialized stackable water containers known as WaterBricks — enough to hold more than 150 gallons — when a neighbor good-naturedly mentioned that I must be storing up all that water for the zombie apocalypse.
Ha ha ha ha!
Oh yeah, we both had a good laugh over that one.
Then again, I wonder what my neighbor would have said if he had seen my emergency food store, because I’ve been steadily building that for awhile now. How big is it? Well, I currently have enough calories stored up to keep my family of four fed for about 93 days, although my ultimate goal is to increase that total to 180 days.
I know. When it comes to being prepared food-wise, that makes me a rank amateur — at least compared to most of the folks you’ll see on Doomsday Preppers.
Lord knows I’ve got a long way to go before I earn my Boy Scout merit badge for being prepared — but I’m determined to get there. More than ever.
Bounding the Problem
When I began my quest to begin building my emergency food stores, the first two questions I had to answer were:
- How long did I want the food supply to last?
- How much food would it take to meet that goal for a family of four?
So, naturally, I fired up my trusty spreadsheet and began entering data — and the results were stunning.
It turns out that a family of four eating 2000 calories daily requires 1.46 million calories over a 180-day period. That’s equivalent to 650 pounds of rice and 650 pounds of beans.
True, that’s also equal to 9733 Twinkees — or 1431 cans of Spam — but I strongly suspect a monotonous diet of either of those, um, delicacies would quickly lead to much bigger problems.
When it comes to long-term food storage, there are more than a few options. In addition to white rice and dry beans, other popular choices include canned and freeze-dried (or dehydrated) food, and MREs (“meals, ready to eat’), which are enriched military rations. Each option has its own pros and cons.
It’s hard to beat freeze-dried and dehydrated foods because they can last for as long as 30 years if stored in a cool, dry place. And although they’re typically not enriched, they will maintain most of their nutritional value over that time. Freeze dried foods are also lightweight and take up relatively little storage space because they’ve had almost all of the water removed from them. However, that can be a significant drawback if you’re ever in a situation where water is unavailable. Because the food has to be re-hydrated, freeze-dried food also requires more preparation than canned foods and MREs.
Bonus Tip: Freeze dried food is typically expensive, but places like Costco, Sam’s Club and Overstock.com do sell plastic buckets and cartons with 30 days of freeze-dried food (based upon a diet of roughly 2000 calories per day) for under $100. That’s quite a value.
Although most all canned foods have an official shelf life of two to three years, the food inside them will often remain edible long after the expiration date. Of course, canned foods tend to be bulky and take up a lot of storage space, but most of them can be eaten straight out of the can with little or no preparation. Some canned foods are better bargains than others. For example, for just $18.69, Costco offers an 8-pack of Low-Sodium Spam that’s loaded with 8,640 calories. That’s a lot of, um, nutrition for the money. On the other hand, Costco also offers a case of canned pineapple for $9.79. Unfortunately, it’s also 15 times more expensive than Spam on a price per calorie basis.
Bonus Tip: When it comes to canned fruit, peaches and pears are much better bargains on a cost/calorie basis for long-term food storage.
The big advantage of MREs is that they are enriched, high calorie foods that require virtually no preparation. Unfortunately, MREs are relatively expensive. They’re also bulky. Then again, MREs were never intended for long-term storage; their practical life span is only about five years. As such, MREs are more appropriate for riding out temporary disruptions caused by occasional natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes.
Bonus Tip: Be careful; MREs are high in sodium and low in fiber, which is why they’re NOT intended to be eaten over very long stretches of time. For most people, it doesn’t take long before MREs begin wreaking havoc on their gastrointestinal system.
White Rice and Beans
Perhaps the biggest advantage of white rice is its low price. You can get 25 pounds of rice — 41,400 calories in all — from Costco for under $10. That makes white rice by far the most economical long-term storage option on a cost-per-calorie basis. Best of all, when properly stored in an oxygen-free environment, white rice will remain edible for at least a decade, if not much longer. Dry beans also are one of the cheapest foods you can buy for your long-term storage needs. The biggest drawback of white rice and beans is that they’re bulky. I found I can fit about 35 pounds of white rice or 35 pounds of pinto beans in a single five-gallon bucket. Dry beans and rice also require water to prepare. For example, a 25 pound bag of rice requires between 10 and 15 gallons of H2O.
Bonus Tip: Unlike white rice, brown rice is not recommended for long-term storage because of its fat content.
To provide you with a little more insight, here is a more-detailed cost breakdown based upon a price survey I conducted over the past month:
Yes, that’s a lot of money, but I look at my emergency food store as a prudent investment.
Will I ever need to use it? I sure hope not.
But as the tale of the grasshopper and the ant taught us, it’s never unwise to worry about tomorrow today.
Photo Credit: James Niland