Be Prepared to Survive

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If you want to be prepared to survive, the three main things you'll need to stockpile are food, water, and medicine. But a number of other items might come in handy too.

Have you heard the news today? Energy crunch, money
crisis, shortages, and predictions of worldwide famine
within two years because the population of the earth is
exceeding the productive capacity of the land.

What can you do to protect yourself and your family? How can you be prepared to survive? One of
the best insurance policies to own in these times is a
year’s supply of food. (Ideally, the planning should
include other necessities too, since warmth, cleanliness,
medication and so on may also be essential to your own
survival and that of your loved ones.) Once you prepare
yourself to live for a twelve-month period without any
income, you’ll find that you’re ready for strikes, floods,
earthquakes, power failures, unemployment, tornadoes, war,
epidemics, riots, etc. The feeling of security is

The main theme of any survival program is “Rely on
yourself.” In a true emergency or panic, grocery stores
would be out of staples in a few hours and completely
emptied of food in about two days. Their wholesalers’
supplies would be exhausted within a week.

And don’t expect public or private social agencies to step
in and fill the gap. The Red Cross has limited resources
that are already overtaxed. Even the government and the
many service organizations it sponsors may not be willing
or able to subsidize everyone during a large-scale disaster, and certainly not during a depression. Here, then, is
a step-by-step plan to offer you the best chance of getting
through the worst the future can hold.

Water Caching

Water is the first and most basic need for survival. You
can live for weeks without food but only two or three days
at the most without this precious fluid. In the event of
nuclear disaster, terrorist sabotage, tornado, chemical and
bacterial warfare or accident, the public water supply may
become contaminated. Therefore, your own cache is of prime

You should have on hand one gallon of good drinking water
per person per day for a period of two to three weeks. This
is a survival ration which precludes bathing, dishwashing,
shampooing and other uses which are not absolutely
essential. If you live in an arid climate, you may feel
more secure with a larger reserve. If your home is in a
remote area and has a deep well, you might get by with
less. Whatever your situation, though, the establishment of
a water cache is very important and very inexpensive.
Do it now!

Storage of a water supply is extremely flexible. Some
people use tanks, or purchase five-gallon jerrycans. The
most inexpensive scrounge method I’ve ever seen anyone put
together consists of making daily rounds to
laundromats to collect empty Clorox jugs (plastic
containers which have held various other products may allow
harmful or distasteful residues to leach into your
reserve.) The bottles are filled from an indoor tap,
identified as “DRINKING WATER” with a Marks-A-Lot or other
felt-tipped marking pen (remove the paper label first) and
squirreled away in odd nooks and crannies around the house
wherever space permits. If four drops of any 5 1 /2 or 6%
hypochlorite bleach such as Clorox or Purex are added at
bottling time, the liquid will remain sweet for years … except for a flat taste which is easily cured by aeration
before use.

If you can your garden produce, the jars–as they are
emptied–may be filled with water for storage and thus
made useful the year round. Should you choose to hot pack
such containers and close them with caps that seal, don’t
add chlorine. The canning procedure will eliminate any

Medicine Storage

The second pressing need in any survival program is for an
advance supply of drugs for those who must take medication
on a regular basis. This group includes heart patients,
epileptics, diabetics, women who must–for health
reasons–avoid pregnancy and all others whose lives
might depend on a store of medicine. Visit your doctor and
explain to him that–in case a strike of
pharmaceutical company employees or truckers, or a civil
disturbance, should temporarily deprive you of your supply
of drugs or access to their source–you would like a
standby reserve.

Whatever you do, do not store away the extra
medication your doctor arranges for you. Use your regular
supply, then the reserve . . . which, in turn, has just
been replaced with your next prescription. Thus, you’ll
always rotate your stock to keep the drugs fresh. If
possible, use this method over a period of time to build up
a year’s supply of medication and make sure you have at
least two weeks’ reserve to start.

Short-Term Food Supply

The third priority in your survival program is a food
supply of at least two weeks’ balanced diet. The very best
advice on this subject available at present is the U.S.
Department of Agriculture Home and Garden Bulletin No. G77,
Family Food Stockpile for Survival, available free
from the Office of Information, U.S. Department of
Agriculture. Although the
publication is very much slanted to the home fallout
shelter enthusiasm of the late 1950’s, the information it
contains is solid and applicable to present situations. The
booklet covers storage and replacement of foods, sample
meals and menus, cooking and serving equipment, storage and
purification of water, and recordkeeping.

Defense and First Aid

If you live in a large city, you will have to
expect–at some time or another in a survival
situation–to defend your life and goods. There may
come a period when the law of the jungle is the only law in
effect, and you will be forced to live by it or be killed.
I feel a considerable amount of revulsion at the idea of
deliberately harming another human being, and would rather
protect myself by avoidance. I find, however, that I must
face the prospect of being unable to escape a confrontation
and having to defend myself and my own.

In the role of defender, one should choose a weapon that is
inexpensive, easily used by male or female and adequate to
stop an aggressor (not necessarily to kill one). Make sure
all who are to use it are thoroughly trained. Remember,
firearms are always dangerous and should never be stored
loaded. Keep all arms and ammunition out of the reach
of children.

On a less grim note, the right knowledge at the right time
can be as valuable a safeguard as any weapon. Take first
aid training, or at least buy a manual and study it. Enroll
in civil defense courses on survival and emergency
preparedness. If you have the time and inclination, you
might even try an outdoor survival course or a field trip
series on foraging.

If you have trusted friends who feel as you do about the
need to prepare for difficult times, you might give thought
to working out a mutual assistance program. A word of
caution, though: It would be nice if everyone were honest, but–as has been proven in hard times all through
history–some folks who suddenly find themselves in a
tight situation get desperate, throw character to the winds
and become downright savage. A hard-working Mormon family I
know had their food supply ripped off and I discovered
someone close to me planning the same thing. So be
sensitive and careful, and choose your companions well.

Long-Term Food Supply

A year’s food supply is the next priority. Before
you begin gathering your stock, you’ll need someplace to
store it. This may be a retreat, root cellar, garage, house,
or barn. Wherever the cache, it must be accessible and
secure against spoilage and oxidation, rodents, insects,
water damage and extremes of heat and cold. The best
temperature range is 55° to 65° F.

Storage containers must be tailored to the space available
and the type and amount of food. A secondary consideration
is convenient handling of the stored provisions for
consumption and stock rotation.

Most discount paint supply stores carry five-gallon round
and square metal cans (such as thinner is sold in), and
five-gallon lidded pails of the type used for paint and
asphalt. Locally these cost $1.75 to $2.00 each. Some
companies make a specialty of the same items in white
plastic–new and used–for about the same price.
Paint manufacturers will often sell brand-new one-gallon
metal cans with friction lids, or will refer you to their

Sears and Montgomery Ward both catalog a heat-sealing
device for use on heavy-duty poly bags. Institutions with
large cafeterias–schools, colleges, factories,
etc.–throw away gallon jars in both glass and
plastic. Used plastic jugs practically litter the

Do not attempt to store food in any container that has held
petroleum products. The residue will ruin the smell and
taste of your stash … and may ruin you, too, if you eat
food stored in such a can or jar. Wheat and flour will
absorb petroleum odors even when the food is sealed in

As you choose your food storage containers, remember that
rats and mice can and will chew rapidly through a plastic
bag or can to get at its contents, and that metal will
eventually rust. You can shellac a metal can to prevent the
rust, of course, but shellac often costs more than a new

Weevils love soap residue, so–even if you don’t use
detergent for dishes–it’s a good idea to keep a small
amount of the soap substitute around for cleaning food
storage containers . . . after which you can get down to
filling them.

WHEAT should be the first staple put into storage, since
it’s the most versatile and nutritious low-cost source of
protein and can be made into a meat substitute called
gluten. (See Passposrt to Survival by Esther
Dickey from Bookcraft Publishers for instructions on the preparation and use of
gluten … and many other excellent survival food
Three hundred pounds is an
average year’s ration for an adult female. A grown man will
need about 100 pounds more per year and a child about 100
pounds less.  So if your males and children balance,
figure 300 pounds per person. Don’t count on young children
remaining small, however. As their appetites grow, so
should their reserve food supply.

Hard winter wheat (Turkey Red) or hard spring wheat
(Marquis) is the best to store. It should be Grade 1, with
a protein content of 11.5% and less than 10% moisture.
Separate all foreign matter from the kernels and put the
grain into clean, dry containers.

I know a lady who lives in a dry area of California. Her
wheat storage system consists of a eucalyptus tree and a
row of 88¢ plastic garbage cans. She buys uncleaned
wheat at the feed store for 10¢ per pound, cleans it
herself by winnowing on a windy day and then spreads the
grain on an old window screen so she can pick out stones
and such. Next, she pours an empty can three-quarters full
of wheat, mixes in a double handful of eucalyptus leaves,
places the fresh container at the end of a line of six and
puts the lid on, weighting it with a gaily painted brick.
Then she takes the makings for bread, cereal, etc., from
Can No. 1 at the head of the line, thus rotating her
supply. Once a year this lady aerates any unused grain,
inspects it by pouring the kernels from one can to another
and adds fresh leaves. She swears they keep out the
weevils, and it certainly seems to work for her. I’ve heard
the same said for newly picked bay laurel leaves.

Another way to eliminate both insect eggs and
moisture–and a method that also works for beans,
peas, nuts, etc.–is to fill a shallow pan
three-quarters of an inch deep with whatever it is you’re
storing and heat the food to 150° F for 20 minutes,
cool it and store it in an airtight container.

If you have to worry about rodents invading your food
stash, you can protect it as follows: Gad about to the
discard piles of any restaurants which serve deep-fat-fried
food and look for five-gallon metal cans with two-inch
openings (standard institutional packing for liquid
shortening). Note that such a container holds about
one-third hundredweight of wheat. That is, nine five-gallon
cans are needed for 300 pounds of the grain, an average
person’s yearly supply.

Clean the containers well with hot soapy water so that no
trace of fat remains to go rancid in storage. A very good
way to do this is with five or six doses of hot sudsies
from the drain hose of a washing machine, if you have
access to one. (If you don’t want to go through all this,
of course, you can just buy new cans.)

OK. Set out your cleaned cans and your cleaned wheat. Then
go and buy some dry ice. Drop a piece of the frozen carbon
dioxide the size of a walnut (or two crushed ounces) into
the bottom of each container and pour in about 33 pounds of
grain. Leave the lids sitting loosely on top of the cans
about 12 hours–or overnight–while the dry ice
evaporates into carbon dioxide (an inert gas which
displaces oxygen). Then screw the tops down tight . . .
but be careful not to do this until evaporation is
complete, or the buildup of pressure will cause the cans to
If you notice any bulging containers, loosen
the lids at once to allow the gas to escape.

When you’re finished with this process, your grain will be
well protected. No insect eggs will hatch without oxygen. And, of course, no oxidation will take place either.

There’s still another method for the long-term storage of
grains and legumes that might appeal to you. A bag of
diatomaceous earth–the fossil remains of one-cell
marine diatoms–may be purchased from a pool supply
firm and a handful tossed in with the food that is to be
stored, whatever the container (even plastic and paper
bags). Diatomaceous earth is a desiccant to insects and can
also be dusted carefully on animals to kill fleas and
mites, applied to plants in the garden for pest control, and
used to reduce the fly and odor problem when disposing of
human or animal feces. It’s non-toxic when ingested,
harmless to the environment, and very inexpensive.

After you’ve learned how to store wheat, you may also have
to learn how to serve it. The grain can be sprouted, or
eaten as a grass, or steamed or cooked in a
double boiler or pressure cooker–or even a thermos
jug–to make a good nutritious cereal. The addition of
a grain mill, however, raises your standard of survival
living by 500%. With grinding equipment handy you can have
flour for bread and gluten, cracked wheat, mush for babies,
the elderly or infirm, and so on. By all means, then,
keep a mill along with your hoard of grain and learn to use
it efficiently.

Of the several good makes available, I personally prefer
the Corona manual; the exercise is good for
me, and I’m immune to loss of milling ability due to power
failure. Some electric grain mills are advertised as being
hand operable in case the electricity cuts out. I’m not
sure I’d want to be on the cranking end of such a
machine–grinding grain and turning a powerful motor
too–but I’ve never tried and may be wrong in assuming
that it’s more difficult than operating my own model.
(Incidentally, see MOTHER NO. 7, pages 56-58, for a very
good article entitled “Using a Grain Mill: When You Own a Corona.”)

(EDITORS NOTE: We here at MOTHER EARTH NEWS preferred the Corona
too, until we discovered the Quaker City mill. It
looks almost identical to the Corona but has better
“innards” which crank much easier
and which
produce a finer quality flour.)

MILK is the second food to store. If your supply is canned,
the containers should be kept at a temperature of 40° F
and turned over every month or so to avoid or minimize fat
separation. The product will keep a year this way, but may
darken in color as the storage period lengthens. If the fat
does separate in a can, shake the container vigorously for
a few minutes before opening–or place the contents in
a jar and shake–to restore the milk to a
smooth-pouring, creamy consistency.

Powdered milk is somewhat easier to deal with for long-term
storage. It seems, though, that just the mention of the
stuff brings shouts and groans of protest from any group of
people. Of course the dried beverage doesn’t compare with
fresh cows’ or goats’ milk, and I myself used to avoid it
like castor oil. But remember, we’re talking about
survival … and we don’t all have cows or
goats, especially any that are fresh year round. And milk,
even if you don’t drink it, is essential to cooking and

There are two kinds of powdered milk. The first is fat-free
and–unless fortified–lacks the fat-soluble
vitamins A and D. When the product is kept dry and cool,
you can estimate its storage life at three to five years.

The other type is powdered whole milk with all the fat and
vitamins left in (important if you have a baby). The only
brand I’ve found in this category is Milkman. I was given a
sip by a fellow backpacker somewhere in the wilds of the
San Gabriel Mountains and thought the good taste was
perhaps due to fresh-air appetite, but when I sampled
the same thing at home, the flavor and low price convinced
me to use this brand exclusively. If you want to try my
favorite, it’s available by mail order from several outdoor

Whole dried milk must be kept cool and used within one
year. If you drink milk anyway, however, it’s no problem to
rotate your supply while keeping 12 months ahead. One good
plan is to use the dried product half and half with whole
milk. This ensures turnover and also stretches your budget.
Or the powder alone can be used in cooking, with very good
results. The trap to avoid is using your stock when you’re
a little short of money and then failing to replace

Stored dried milk picks up odors very easily (no eucalyptus
leaves for this item!) and must at all costs be protected
from infiltration by moisture, which will alter or destroy
its flavor over a period of time. A practical amount of
milk to set aside is 100 pounds per person per year.

SALT–not a true food, but a mineral essential to
well being–is third on the list of items to be stored.
About five pounds per person per year in temperate
climates, and as much as ten pounds in hot climates, will
do for table use in a survival situation.

Iodized or sea salt–depending on your budget–is
the preferred choice for personal use. An uniodized
version, however, is available in five-pound bags at
one-quarter the cost of regular salt. This product is very
coarse and suitable for pickling, salting, and canning, but
may also be used as seasoning if you have another access to
iodine in your diet.

Packed in an airtight container and stored in a cool, dry
place, salt will keep for many years. (A slight yellowish
discoloration due to free iodine may take place in the
iodized product, but this is harmless.) A good technique is
to pour your stock into plastic gallon jugs, which will
usually hold about 12 pounds. Don’t forget, though, that
little beasties will gnaw plastic to get the goodies inside, and salt is certainly a goody.

HONEY is the last absolutely essential survival food. It’s
the most desirable of the sweetening agents: the most
versatile and the best for you. Besides natural sugars and
beneficial enzymes, honey contains trace quantities of
vitamin C, protein, and iron. It keeps indefinitely,
contains about 400 less calories per pound than sugar,
tastes twice as sweet, goes one-third farther … and,
unfortunately, is more expensive.

Bacteria cannot survive in pure crystalline honey, which is
the only kind worth storing. Don’t throw away your money on
a processed, pasteurized or altered product, or one to
which water has been added. If your source is a
supermarket, read the labels carefully and remember that
grades refer to degrees of filtering. “Grade A Fancy”
indicates that the jar’s contents have been filtered
through the finest screen. “Choice” is the least tampered

If the temperature of your stored honey reaches or exceeds
75° F, the sweetening will lose some of its flavor and
color. Also, all pure, unprocessed honey will crystallize
no matter how it’s kept. Some folks enjoy using it in that
form (it spreads like butter), but if you want to
return crystallized honey to a liquid consistency you can
set the container of the sweetening in a pan of water and
heat it to 150°-180° F. It takes a long time to
liquefy a five-pound batch. Just write a letter or weed the
garden and stir the mess a bit now and then.

Honey is most conveniently kept in half-gallon or in
five-pound cans. (It’s a good idea to minimize the use of
glass in your food program lest breakage rob you of your
provisions and make an incredible mess.) If you choose to
store this sweetening in five-gallon containers–which
hold 60 pounds each–keep in mind that you’ll probably
have to liquefy the whole canful every time you want to use
some of the contents. The average amount needed by an adult
is 60 to 100 pounds a year.

A Place to Go

In closing, I’d like to mention a possibility for city
dwellers: to establish a hideaway in a remote area at least
250 miles from a large center such as Los Angeles, New
York, Dallas, Atlanta, New Orleans, etc, or to arrange
a means of getting that far away should need arise. The
retreat may be anything from a car, van, or microbus with
cardboard boxes of food, camping stove, water, clothes and
radio … to a well-stocked camper and a set of road maps
… to a rustic desert or woodland cabin … to a
full-time working homestead.

Whatever you want or can afford, make sure that it’s as
comfortable as possible, that it’s a solution you can live
with, and that you can get there when times are rough. (Try
not to select a place you couldn’t reach with your own,
average, on-hand supply of gas, for instance.) Take your
vacations at your hide-out, live with it, work the bugs out
of the system, make friends with the people, drive a well,
plant fruit trees. Perhaps you’d rather just move to a
small town. Do whatever makes you feel most secure.

Meanwhile, the survival program I’ve outlined will ensure
food and water for any likely crisis or disaster in a
form that’s compact to store and nutritionally adequate and
at a minimum cost of $50 to $150 per person. If you follow
the suggestions given here in the proper sequence, you’ll
find yourself better prepared and more confident about the
future than you ever thought possible.