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 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 180 days.
Bounding the Problem
When I started my quest to build an emergency food store, the first two questions I asked myself 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 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 food, and MREs, 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. However, they can be a significant drawback if you’re ever in a situation where water is unavailable.
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 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 can be eaten straight from the can with little or no preparation. Some canned foods are better bargains than others. For example, for just $19.49, Costco offers an 8-pack of Low-Sodium Spam that’s loaded with 8640 calories; that’s a lot of nutrition for the money. On the other hand, Costco also offers a case of canned pineapple for $7.50 — that’s about 12 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-per-calorie basis for long-term food storage.
The big advantage of MREs is that they’re 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 from Costco — 41,400 calories in all — for about $16. 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. Dry beans are another economical choice. 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; 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 detailed cost breakdown based upon a price survey I conducted this past weekend:
I’m diversifying my family’s emergency food supply with a combination of dry, freeze-dried and canned foods. So far I’ve spent about $2000 building it.
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
Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank says
What are you expecting to happen for you to need all that food? You sound like a great candidate for that show preppers. Some of those people have food stocks for 15 years or more.
Len Penzo says
In short: Catastrophic, but temporary (I pray), market disruptions that will adversely affect commerce due to a collapse of the US dollar.
(That being said, it’ll also be good insurance in case a 9.0 earthquake ever strikes the southern end of the San Andreas fault.)
With the cost of food going up all the time due to various factors I think it is wise to store food not only for short term emergencies such as earthquakes, but for times of job loss. I canned a bunch of beans in 1998 at the LDS storehouse (100’s of cans). I can attest that the price per bag I paid has doubled for most of the beans in the last 15 years. Beans will last 30 yrs in #10 sealed cans with the water absorber in them and placed in a suitable place, such as a basement.
I plan to stock up years before retirement. Perhaps I can delay eating Alpo as the government fastly eats up my retirement savings and social security goes bankrupt.
Len Penzo says
Good points, Spedie. There are too many good reasons not to have an emergency food store. Even if it is for a couple of weeks. Yes, it’s gonna raise your grocery bill a bit. But the key is to not let yourself get overwhelmed by thinking you have to get it all in one fell swoop.
I said it in the article, but I can’t stress this enough, folks: don’t fret too much on the cost! Spending money on emergency essentials should always be looked at as a long-term investment. Just make sure you comparison shop — as you can see from my second graphic, there are wide variations in prices from one vendor to the next. If you aren’t careful — you’ll get burned.
Len, you get more and more interesting every day. I hope you never need the food but at least you can eat it even if there isn’t a disaster.
That said, I do need to get at least a couple weeks of food for a hurricane kit. Living on the gulf coast is a threat by itself!
Len Penzo says
I hope I never need it too, Lance. But I’m not optimistic.
I’m fascinated by the whole idea of prepping. It seems to be a big thing in the US, not so much where I live. Is it economic collapse that Americans fear most? ‘Cause I know a lot of natural disasters would likely wipe out your house as well as your food stores.
Len Penzo says
Well, Mindimoo, in Southern California the two biggest disaster threats to most homes are earthquakes and wildfire. Some folks might find it ironic that I fear the latter the much more than the former. However, as an engineer, I am well aware that wood frame homes on slab foundations hold up extremely well in even the largest earthquakes. That’s not to say my home won’t sustain light to moderate damage in a major temblor, but the odds are excellent that it will still be habitable.
Hmm. Sorry to be a party pooper but presumably you also have your stock of guns and ammunition! Most of your neighbours, charming when fed, will last a week and then start prowling the area! I think we could last about a month with our store cupboard but 6 months?
I am not sure it is worth while spending such a lot of money against the rainy year that may nor occur. And you need to ciculate your store anyway so that food in it is continually refreshed!
Len Penzo says
I have all my stores logged by item on a spreadsheet, John. The canned items will be rotated into our everyday menus as they reach their use-by dates (even though they should remain completely fine for at least several years beyond that, if not more.) So the food is not going to be wasted. In fact, with inflation, I guarantee you those cans of food are actually going to earn at least the same — if not much better — return on my investment than the stock market will.
OMG Len. That is really OCD! But I guess essential if you are storing so much food or you will get a visit from the health inspector as you will have more food than your local shop.
We have a store cupboard (actually a set of shelves) and try to keep the older stuff to the front but would never have your patience. It must be worthy of a fly-on-the-wall documentary (although I am sure there are no flies in your store!).
We’ve decided that calories needed is related to the disaster we’re expecting. If we think we’re going to be stuck at home for a week or two, we’ll use fewer calories than if we expect to be doing lots of labor or bugging out. Since we’re of the opinion that, given our location, we’ll be doing a lot of waiting (or getting out without being able to carry a lot), we really don’t need a TON of calories each.
Len Penzo says
Good point, Carla. As I see it, it depends on the disaster. I can see scenarios where my teenage son and I will be required to actually burn more calories than we normally do because we will have to perform more physically demanding activities than I usually do sitting behind a computer screen all day. (Okay, at least I may have to burn more calories than I normally do. My son burns ’em up pretty fast right now as it is.)
I sell emergency supplies here in Alberta, Canada. One thing to consider, (from what I have seen,) is the fact that in most emergencies you need to flee. Whatever is left behind is destroyed, or left for others to scavenge.
I have for example, placed my focus on food bars. They are easy to carry, non-temperture dependent and most importantly, they don’t require extra water to digest. It is a multi-faceted problem. Not every situation or person is the same.
Cheers! Remember one never got hurt from being prepared, financially or otherwise.
It never hurts to be prepared. I would have no where near that amount of food if there were some sort of disaster. I really should prep a bit more.
Len, I also have my eye on preparedness, but I focus less on prepackaged food and more on basics for self-sufficiency. Ideally, I want enough food to last until I can harvest my own. Along with your rice and beans, consider laying in a store of wheat berries and/or other grain berries. Wheat berries will last indefinitely if stored in a container (spelt berries found in Egyptian tombs are as viable today as they were when the tomb was sealed). Add a manual flour mill to your emergency stores; a decent one can be had for about $80. You’ll have the ability to grind the wheat berries into flour as needed. You can also grind rice and beans into flour which can then be made into food items with much less water than is needed to cook the rice or beans themselves. For example, a simple soda bread that will provide eight servings can be made with just a cup of water. I’m also big on dehydrated food. Just about everything can be dehydrated. A decent dehydrator costs less than $100.
What’s the shelf life on stores of oil? I know olive oil goes rancid at around the 24 month mark, but if you want to store the most calories in the least space… fat is 9 calories per gram. I know medium chain triglycerides have a “very long” (if not indefinite) shelf life. If you don’t want to buy MCTs, coconut oild is 60-70% MCT, so it should have a similarly long shelf life.
Doable Finance says
Can food is edible even after the expiration date. The expiration date is not a magic number that you absolutely positively have to abide by it.
L Bee says
I like the food bar ideas. Also-I’d like to see a post on what emergency supplies you are packing besides food. Do you have a back-up generator? My parents do, which was helpful when they were without power for four weeks after the tornados last year.
I don’t have an emergency store, as a young single female I expect to rely solely on the kindness of strangers. Ha. I kid, I kid.
Len Penzo says
Hi Lauren. I don’t have a back-up generator. I figure since the typical portable generator will use up on the order of 10 – 15 gallons of fuel per day, it makes little sense (for me). I promise I’ll be posting at least a few more articles in the coming weeks and months on other emergency preparations I’ve been making.
Eugene Roebuck says
Thanks for sharing this food list. This is perfect!
Bill in NC says
My grandfather had his own food storage list (1 year supply) based on ‘normal’ grocery-store items. He used to keep it on the web, but not any more.
I built my own food storage a few years ago and ever since then I have begun to store dried foods and foods in cans. They do not perish and they work really well.
Good basic prepping article Len. You left out one of the biggest reasons preppers store rice and beans. Humans need complete proteins to live. The main source of them is meat. In any SHTF scenario meat will probably not be readily available. There are few sources of complete protein in the plant world. Neither rice or beans is a complete protein. But when you mix rice and beans you have the components of a complete protein. Rice and beans really is the perfect prepper/long term storage food.
Another thing to point out is that people who have experimented on diets of only dehydrated foods like Mountain House found them inedible after just a few weeks. If someone plans on living solely off their “1 year supply” package that they bought, they will be in trouble.
Len Penzo says
Good point, Josh. I did know about the protein issue.
I’m interested to learn more about the 1-year limit on dehydrated foods. Can you provide a link to some of the stories?
Sorry. I think my comment was not clear. Freeze dried food stores for decades as advertised.
Preppers have experimented with living off of a diet of freeze dried foods. While the food did not go bad. The people found them disgusting after eating them for just a few weeks.
Many people order a package deal of a “1 year supply” of freeze dried food and think they are all set. If the grocery store shelves go empty for months they will find themselves not able to eat their own storage. Food fatigue sets in and the salty freeze dried food is inedible to them. (not to mention the calorie count is way short of a “1 year supply”)Food fatigue is something people should be aware of if they plan on storing food.
By using freeze dried foods as an addition to other food storage is where their value lies.
Len Penzo says
Gotcha! I understand that food fatigue is a very real problem, which is why it’s so important to diversify your food stores.
Thanks for the additional insight, Josh.
Joe Wazzzz says
To your point Josh, you are right that you shouldn’t plan on just using FD food for your diet. That is why you need to start a garden, even a small one, to experiment with what grows well in your area. I live in north central Florida and in my yard, cabbage, lettuce, sweet potatoes and irish potatoes, brochlii, tomatoes grow very well and without much attention. Peppers and squash are more problematic. I don’t know why but it is good to know. You need a garden to suppliment your FD food. A one year supply of food will probably only last about three months after you barter away much of it. So a garden will be of increaing importance over time. Start learning permaculture.
Deb in SD says
I think something that would factor in is the availability of other types of food. The people experimenting with the all freeze dried diet knew other options were available. If it was a situation where that was not the case those freeze dried green beans, banana slices, and potatoes are going to seem much more palatable. The freeze dried prepared items do have a lot of salt, but there are lots of fruits and vegetables available as well.
I think everyone should have a minimum of two weeks of food, water, personal care items and Rx meds on hand. Minimum.
Len I look forward to those upcoming articles!
Joe Wazzzz says
Len, I just found your blog. Good job! I am looking forward to reading the rest and have subscribed. My two cents. People who store food need to remember that they will be having family, parents, grandchildren, etc (yes, those same people that called you a crack pot and good luck turning them away) banging at the door. In actuality you need to have enough food to feed all the people your home can accomidate before you can reasonably start turning family away. You will need them to help you guard your stash and your garden. Figure on being able to feed them for three months suplimented by your garden for fresh greens. Buy bulk for this and expect to cook the food.
Buy canned food for use as money. People know the value of food relative to other items and it stands to be the obvious candidate for short term money. MRE’s are a waste unless you expect to have to leave your residence but then all bets are off on your chances of survival.
Finally, start warning your neighbors as tactifully and diplomatically as you can about possible food shortages. The collapse of the dollar and the ecomony is hands down the major looming crisis and the results are not calculable but could easily be catastrophic. Never underestimate people’s ability to delude themselves. The road to peace is a full stomach. Best Wishes!
Len Penzo says
Great points, Joe. Thanks. Yes, most of my relatives think I am a crack pot after they see my store of supplies; at least you and I understand that being prepared is an important tenet of personal responsibility.
I too, came to the same conclusions for MREs. Not only were they expensive on a per-meal basis, they are not designed to sustain someone over long periods — I read a lot of reports of people getting terribly constipated after eating MREs over an extended length of time.
Love the information, as a fellow engineer I too have spreadsheets, I have a sign at my desk that reads, “in god we trust, all others bring data” I currently have around 150 lbs of rice and 100lbs of beans vacuum sealed in mylar bags. I also dehydrate and vacuum store in jars and bags. on the subject of MRE’s and constipation, I spent 8 years as a navy corpsman attached to Uncle Sams Misguided Children (USMC). the term MRE for civilians means Meal Ready to Eat, for those of us who have lived on them in the field it means Meal Refused to Evacuate. there is a reason they only give you a tiny serving of toilet paper. Keep up the good work, and don’t forget about protection. society and civility are a veneer that is as thin as the crust on a creme brule and just as easily broken.
Len Penzo says
Thank you, Jake. And thank you for your service.
As for the protection angle … yep, you are absolutely correct. I talk about the importance of being able to protect yourself here:
Seth Bosanquet says
Great blog you have got here, Len! It’s hard to find excellent information like you provide here nowadays. I seriously appreciate people like you! Take care!!
Len Penzo says
I’ve said this before, we grow a lot of our own food, but we also store a lot of “imported” stuff. Done some calorie figures on some of our food, but not all. My guess is we have 3 years of food in stock, not counting any ongoing production, or critters on the hoof at any one time.
Our food storage is in 2 levels….”Deep storage” (like that FED gold no one ever sees or counts….ahahahaa): These consist of lot of whole grain wheat, whole corn, pinto beans, peas, etc. These are in mylar bags in 6gal buckets with O2 absorbers. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 million calories there according to the pounds. Also in “the deep” are couple pallet loads of Mt House freeze dried foods in cases of six #10 cans, 30 year shelf life. Another million calories there. All stored in a cool, dry location.
“Regular” storage….the stuff we rotate on a regular basis is a fair amount of commercial canned goods, home canned goods, root cellar stuff (in season….right now all that is left is some potatoes). Never put a pencil to the calories in that stuff, but I’m sure it’s a bunch. We don’t buy potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, and such as they are home raised and canned.
8 freezers hold stuff that doesn’t can well (like strawberries for example, or broccoli ) or meats. We will put a whole beef in the freezer about every 18mo (the time it takes to raise a calf to 1200-1400lb killing size), 2 pigs/yr (about 300lb slaughter wt), 25 or so 7-8lb Cornish Cross meat chickens, some fish out of our ponds, that type of thing. Freezers will hold another million or so calories….probably more never figured it as inventory changes all the time….but beef/pork run 1,000cal/pound, so it’s not hard to rack up a bunch in a hurry. Also, we’ll render our pork lard for cooking, and have 20-25 quarts of it in the freezers. I also cure my own bacon and hams and make pork and beef sausage. We actually can our bacon, pre-cooking it before canning, as it will keep nearly indefinitely without going rancid……or so I hear….it rarely makes it from one pig to the next….ahahahaa
The freezers are mostly smaller chest type (7-9cf) that we shut off as we empty them (2 empty now). Theory is smaller size, use up, cut off, and spread the food out in case one dies (plus we have a spare waiting IF one does die) Most of them are energy stingy Star rated models. Wife does a superb job of keeping inventory list on each freezer, and pulling food out to use. Sunday dinner yesterday for example….relatives down for a birthday: Ham (freezer), sweet potato (canned) casserole, green beans (canned), sweet corn (freezer), whole wheat rolls (home ground imported wheat).
Somebody commented on ‘freezer row’ once, asking why. I told them “we ALL have about the same amount of freezer space. Yours is at the store, the store’s distributor, or the food manufacturer…..where you have no control over it. Mine is right here where I DO have control over it. Which one seems more prudent ?”
Then in addition to stored food, we produce our food ongoing. We have egg laying chickens, two 3-4 season greenhouses that produce salad greens all winter, and lots of other stuff the 3 regular seasons, in addition to couple 1/4 garden plots. Apple, peach, pear trees, strawberries, blue berries and black berries.
The only real ‘hole’ in our production is dairy….no milk cow or goats….so no home made dairy products/cheese. Just never have made the commitment to the work it takes for dairy. We do store dry milk, canned cheese and canned butter, in addition to buying butter on sale (try to keep 30-40lbs in freezer)
Len Penzo says
Great comments, as usual, Andy. Thank you.
I too keep dried milk, canned bacon, canned cheese, canned butter and canned ghee, which is actually just 100% butterfat and a healthier alternative to most cooking oils. It also requires no refrigeration.
Like you, I also have my rice and beans stored in 6 gallon buckets with mylar bags and O2 absorbers. The buckets have screw on/off tops with gaskets for additional air tightness.
RD Blakeslee says
Andy, our way of going depends upon our location – there’s no way what you and I do by way of producing and storing our own food could be done in an urban or suburban location.
So, for the (probably very few) young folks who are tied to a city but receptive to the idea of moving out: You can do it. You just have to want to badly enough.
Agreed RD. In town on a 3/4ac lot, we raised a small garden. It merely wet our appetite for ‘greener pastures’…ahahhaaaa
IF things ever get to the point one needs stored food in a big way, I’m thinking a city is the last place I’d want to be.
As you said the other day “location”.
Personally having this type of emergency cushion never crossed my mind. Regardless of where anyone lives its wise to have extra food for unexpected circumstances.
$2000 sounds expensive but well worth the added peace of mind. Im deffintiely going to budget for this when I finally have my own place.
Awesome idea Len!
Len Penzo says
Thanks, Chris. It is a smart investment. Build your food store a little at a time and, before you know it, you’ll have a nice emergency food supply in no time!
John Hendrickson says
We all know the need for speed when preparing for emergencies. Looks like My Patriot Supply is now offering a guaranteed 2 day delivery for all their orders. This would give time for one to prepare the home without having to hit the stores for food and water filtration items. No extra cost either. Two days is fast.