Survival Preparation at Home

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Although the space you have available is probably somewhat less extensive that what you see here, food storage is a primary consideration in survival preparation. 

In a previous issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, William Earwood mentioned “a year’s supply of emergency rations that would meet human nutritional requirements.” I have spent the last several months studying this subject under highly qualified people–the Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, who have been concerned with long-term food storage for at least 35 years–and would like to pass on some of the information I’ve gathered.

The whole business of survival preparation is far more extensive than Mr. Earwood’s question suggests, because it touches so many phases of life (just as the gasoline shortage–so-called–affected much more than transportation and heating). Several decisions must be made before such a program is begun:

[1] First of all, are you “storing” or “hoarding”? This is the question you’ll have to answer–and the one which may stop you in your tracks–as soon as a few critical friends hear of what you’re doing (and somehow they will).

[2] Are you gathering items for long-term storage, or will you just augment your provisions and use and replenish them as you go? (I might as well inform you that–once started–emergency storage becomes a never-ending project that extends your thinking farther and farther into the future. This is so because of our country’s real or imagined shortages, in which we little people are always caught up.)

[3] What emergencies are you planning to be prepared for? Once you know, you’ll have a better basis for picking your supplies.

Some helpful reading to get your project launched: Robert L. Preston’s How toPrepare for the Coming Crash ($2.95 from Jefferson House) is the best starter book I know. USDA Bulletin G77, Family Food Stockpile for Survival, gives a nutritionally sound program for a two-week period and could be multiplied to cover a year’s time.

Most of us, of course, can’t just go out and buy a year’s supply of food (or even an extra two weeks’ supply, probably, with prices as they are right now). One simple solution is to double-buy; that is, purchase two of an item you use regularly, and put one away for an emergency.

This is a good approach for another reason also: One of the main points to remember when you store food is that a short-term emergency period won’t change your family’s likes and dislikes. American POW’s ate what they did only from absolute necessity. In addition, a nutritionist friend of mine has told me that many prisoners failed to survive the early period of their captivity simply because they couldn’t assimilate and digest the unfamiliar diet they were forced to consume. Some couldn’t adjust, physically, to the strange food and manner of preparation in time to save already weakened or ill bodies. Others failed to adjust mentally, which also seemed to cause rebellion within their systems.

If you store food on a long-term basis, therefore, you should cultivate a taste for the things you put aside a good while before it becomes essential to eat them. It’s a sensible idea to plan that stockpile around your present eating habits.

I suggest that you start now to write down everything your family eats. List the name (and quantity) of each morsel of food you consume day by day by day. Do this for three months and then multiply by four, and you’ll have a fair estimate of an average yearly food supply for your household. Or you can actually keep your records for as short a period as just one month (and then multiply by 12). Or if you want to, a full year.

And be sure to keep track of everything, not just the items you purchase in the supermarket. If you can or keep home-grown vegetables in a root cellar–or put food by in any other way–such stores should also be logged. And don’t forget to tally up the seeds you use if you’re a sprouter. When you put aside a year’s supply of food, you’ll want to make sure it’s a real years supply.

Once you actually start setting items aside, you’ll run into two more problems: Where and how do I store my stock, and how long will it last? The answers will depend on how you answered questions [2] and [3] above. If you’ve chosen to store provisions for one year and replace the stock as you use it, your regular storage area will in all probability be adequate except possibly for size. Consider just one comfort item: toilet paper. Even if you put by only enough toilet paper for 12 months–and the recommended amount is 50 rolls per person per year–it will take space.

Toilet paper is an easy example because it needs only to be kept reasonably dry. Food storage, though, brings up the whole question of temperature and moisture control: an important point, because improper conditions can mean the loss of your investment.

Most items, as we all know, are supposed to be kept “in a cool, dry place.” What does “cool” mean? Common sense tells us that the correct level can’t be as low as the freezing point (jars bust, thawing will occur when the weather warms up, etc.). On the other hand, all I’ve read on the subject says that “at 48° F most insects become active” (which means that any eggs or dormant beasties need at least that much warmth to hatch or do their dirty work on your provisions). “Cool,” then, could probably be considered as the range from 35° to 45° F, though it’s hard to keep an exact temperature in the garage, basement, or backroom. Many foods don’t need to be kept that cold anyhow.

How about damage by heat? It’s well known that high temperatures tend to rob food of vitamins, and fat–an essential in the human diet–melts at 95° F.  So storage in an uninsulated garage probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Darkness is also important: a food-keeping area should have doors, or the items should be packed in boxes or metal containers to keep out vitamin-destroying light.

Speaking of vitamins, it is possible to meet human nutritional requirements, for short periods, without food. One day in my health food store I browsed across Minuteman Survival Tabs, from VIVA, Division of Biolab Corporation. The label says: “A compact, lightweight, lifesaving food ration for any emergency. Ultra-high-calorie food tablets provide all essential vitamins and minerals, protein for strength, fat for endurance, dextrose and lactose for fast energy.” Twelve of the large tablets are supposed to sustain a person for one day. The product is probably meant for survival under other conditions than I have in mind–for use in case one got lost backpacking, for instance–but you can bet they’re now part of my emergency rations.

What I’ve said is meant as a brief introduction for those who are interested in a short-term storage plan. I’ve made no mention of containers, for instance, since special packaging isn’t needed for limited periods. My teachers, the Mormons, are planning for long-term stockpiling and have written the most helpful guides on that subject. The best basic information I know at this time is Bob R. Zabriskie’s Family Storage Plan (Bookcraft Publishers), which contains instructions for the storage of various items and a graph for determining yearly needs.

A final thought: When the emergency arrives it’s too late to prepare. As Robert Preston puts it, “it is far better to be ready years too soon than to be one day too late.”

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