Dear Home Ec 101,
I’m a big proponent of buying local, is there a way to do this and still create a pantry?
Sunny Days, Sweeping the Clouds Away
Let’s look at it this way. Prioritize food in this manner, according to budget and time. Fresh and local is optimal1, organic, frozen, processed, and finally any food is better than no food. Building a pantry with local ingredients would be quite time consuming.
Why Should You Build a Food Supply?
If I had all the time in the world, a budget that suited my whims, and the assurance that nothing bad would ever happen to my family, then yes, we would eat fresh and local every day. This is not my reality and with very few exceptions, I don’t believe it to be yours, either. I don’t care what the talking heads say, disasters – whether on a personal or larger scale – don’t play politics. Hurricanes, tornadoes, disease, zombie apocalypse, and unemployment happen. Ok, maybe not the zombie apocalypse, but having a pantry with a bare minimum of two weeks food supply can significantly reduce the impact of these events. Even the zombies should eventually starve.
Even those of you with a healthy emergency fund should have a decent emergency food pantry. Why join the hordes of people running out for supplies just before a snowstorm or hurricane hits if you don’t have to? If there is an outbreak of influenza or civil unrest, sometimes it’s just better to stay home. If people are using winning a sports event to riot and cause mayhem, it’s an indication that tension may be running pretty high. I’m not trying to be a fear monger. A lot of people are stressed out, especially young people who are having a hard time finding jobs. The jobs that normally keep teens and young adults out of trouble? They are being taken by people who must feed their families.
Most of us have it relatively easy, if we’re sitting at computer and discussing how to build a pantry, there’s a fair chance we’re the lucky ones. Yes, even those of us worried about the mortgage and utility bills.
Remember this when saying the economy is great just by looking at the number of people on Twitter talking about iPhones and iPads, it’s not a true representation of everyone, it only represents those who have easy access to technology. We can become pretty insulated if we don’t pull back and look at the broader picture. A lot of people are tired of acting poor and are starting to rebel against the frugal mindset and go back to a lifestyle of debt.
If you don’t have ready cash, don’t freak out. A pantry can be built slowly over time, it doesn’t have to be done in one giant run to Sam’s or Costco. Set aside a portion of each week’s food budget to purchase shelf stable foods. When planning the purchases make sure the foods are ones that will be eaten and have a decent nutritional punch. In a serious emergency it’s better to have plenty of peanut butter, beans, or tuna than a case of ramen noodles. Why? Empty calories cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, which leave most people cranky, headachy2, and lethargic.
How to rotate your emergency food.
After a minimum supply has been built up, it’s time to start rotating the food into your normal diet just often enough to prevent food from expiring. This doesn’t mean waiting until every tuna can is about to expire and having tuna noodle casserole, stuffed tuna tomatoes, and tuna surprise every night for a week. This just means every couple of months having a tuna dish and replacing what is eaten.
Creative Food Storage Solutions
If you don’t have a lot of pantry or kitchen storage, you may need to get creative. Linen closets make great storage for canned and boxed food, consider adding shelves to a coat closet, or putting beds on risers and storing the food in drawers or boxes. If you have to get creative with your emergency pantry storage, it’s best to keep an inventory of everything, this way food doesn’t accidentally expire. Just remember to keep flour and grains in appropriate air tight containers to prevent inviting moochers (mice, bugs etc). For grains like rice and oats, I like to use 5 gallon frosting buckets from the bakery at the grocery store. Usually they are happy to get rid of them and all it takes is asking nicely and washing them out when I get home.
Lastly, don’t forget to keep your prescriptions as part of your emergency pantry. Ask your doctor and insurance company – if you have one – about the best way to ensure that if there is an emergency, you won’t have to do without.
Stocking an emergency pantry isn’t about living your life in fear; it’s an edible insurance plan, without all the red tape.
Do you keep an emergency pantry?
1Local produce keeps money in the local economy. Just because a food isn’t certified organic doesn’t mean it’s not grown in congruence with organic standards. The organic certification process is difficult for small farmers to achieve regardless of their actual farming practices.
2Remember 28 days later?