We need food. There is a maxim in certain nutritional circles that you are what you eat, or at least the health of your body is determined by what you eat. One of the big problems with disasters, especially ones that extend into several months is having or getting decent food, especially if you are used to eating mostly fresh food, with limited frozen and very limited canned items. In addition, and this is very important, you have to be very careful of a sudden switch in diet, which would occur with people who buy “survival food” that is either premade in cans and boxes or stocking up with rice and flour and other long term storage items because someone says so. What good is food that you don’t like enough to live on it or so upsets your system that you develop gastronomical distress such as spastic bowel syndrome, diarrhea, or constipation.
Fresh food. Anything fresh will not last more than a few days (a little longer if your electric stays on and your refrigerator stays on). Depending on the time of year and your location the option to grow more is extremely limited without extensive preparation. This is not an option for most people, at least initially, so the primary issue is maintaining your health on a diet that will quickly be forced to rely on dry food, canned goods, pasta, beans, and rice. One option, if you can afford it, is to purchase a freezer that can run on 12 volts. These battery operated freezers can run up to a month on one charged car battery (even longer if you have a solar or other recharging setup) and sell from $400-700 (depending on the size). This allows you to extend your use of better quality food before having to fully rely solely on the processed goods.
If you are a gardener, you already know how to grow food during the warmer months and this can be an important addition to your food stores. However, if you are not an experienced gardener, research has shown it can take up to three years to both learn the ins and outs and to prepare your soil to grow enough food to actually feed you.If you expect to learn to grow food, you should start RIGHT NOW. Fruit trees can take 3-5 years before they begin producing. In the end, nothing replaces the experience of doing, because you will fail, but you will learn from those failures just like everyone before you.
You should know that in a widespread emergency, fresh foods are the first to go. They spoil quickly and most comes from far away. While writing this I am eating beautiful red cherries from Washington state (I live west of Baltimore). They had to come all the way across country with a limited lifespan. The bananas in my kitchen come from Central America on ships and then trucks.
Eggs. Eggs are a special case.Some eggs, like those from organically fed, free range hens, are over 2X more nutritious in all measurable categories than plain white eggs. But, how to you keep them for any length of time (especially if you don’t have a chicken coop). There are several ways.
- Plain eggs, keep in a cool dry location should be good up to 2 months. Do not wash eggs, especially if you have a direct from the chicken source. Fresh eggs come from the chicken coated in a natural protective coating called “bloom.” Don’t remove it.
- Plain eggs kept in a refrigerator keep up to six months, but if the electricity goes, you are back to a cool dry location. One option is to keep them in a very good ice chest and use the items you are going to defrost for your next meal from your 12 volt freezer to keep them below 55 degrees so it is like they are in a refrigerator.
- Coating eggs with mineral oil, turning them regularly, and storing them in cool, dry, dark environment can preserve them over 6 months. See this article by Preparedness Pro.
General Concerns. You can find a lot of information online about food choices and options and a lot will depend on your location and budget, but there are several important things to remember:
- Stay as close to your regular diet as possible as you build your food store. Remember, a sudden dietary change will stress your system, which is something you want to try to avoid if possible.
- It is highly likely you will have a bout of constipation. Make sure you have something to assist you in this area. Constipation can turn serious in these circumstances.This is a safe, natural herbal laxative.
- A good multivitamin (gummies make it easy) will help tie you over and make up for some of the eventual lack of fresh food.
- Don’t forget to get a manual can opener. Those electric ones will not work if/when the power goes out. A good manual can opener is a necessity. This is one area where you don’t want to rely on a cheap product that breaks or doesn’t work well.
- Don’t worry too much about expiration dates. Almost everything that is canned or boxed is good for several years after the expiration date. Even then the issue is not safety, it is more related to appearance and taste. Do worry about cans that are under pressure (give off a gush of air when you open them or are bulged out). Safely discard these immediately (making sure no one else might try to use them) as they may be contaminated with botulism, which is EXTREMELY deadly.
Sweets and Reward Food. It is important to have some comfort foods, sweets, or things you think of as rewards. These will break up the monotony and give everyone an emotional lift. The problem is avoid binging on them because you are having a down day. Some foods of this type are also good for you.
- Healthy Items. Dark chocolate, nuts, and honey.
- Various jams. You can add this to oatmeal or spread on crackers (bread won’t last long).
- Snack foods .Things such as small bags of chips, packaged crackers, and other things of this type.
- Nutella. A lot of people love this hazelnut spread.
- Nut butters. You don’t just have to get peanut butter.
- Food bars. We are a big fan of Kashi bars. They can be gotten at SAMS, COSTCO, and most supermarkets.
Things to Add to Food. Some things make good additions to other foods.
- Chia seeds. These are very healthy and can be added to almost anything to increase its food value. A teaspoon of chia is a nice healthy addition to any meal.
- Protein powders. Another good thing to add to food to make sure you are getting enough protein.
- TVP (textured vegetable protein). This is a good way to extend some foods to increase its coverage to more people, especially things like canned chili and stews.
- Spices. Don’t forget to fill up your spice rack to add a little zest to your food, especially later when the food may get a bit repetitive. Consider ordering in bulk.
Beverages. As we said before, water is most important, but most people want at least some of their water in the form of coffee or tea. And even if you realize that water alone is more than adequate, changing up the monotony every so often is a good thing.
- Ice tea. This can be easily made in a glass jar using the sun. This is called solar/sun tea and it is the primary method my sister uses all the time. You can even make it indoors through a window with direct sunlight. It takes less than an hour. Here is a great glass 2 gallon jug for solar/sun tea.
- Coffee. A quality coffee is good for you anytime, provided you drink it within 15-20 minutes of brewing, since it is very high in antioxidents. Why shouldn’t you let coffee sit? It is primarily an enzyme that constantly changes after brewing, moving from highly nutritious to not good for you at all over time. It is why we have a Kerig brewer in our kitchen, since that allows us to always have freshly-brewed coffee. That said, I am not going to tell you how to make your coffee, but in a long term disaster situation, you may want to consider what many people think is the world’s best instant coffee. Just saying…
- Bug Juice. The name given to any water drink with powdered flavoring added to it. It will be mostly sugar, but used sparingly, this breaks the monotony of water and if you get the unsweetened mix and add low glycemic xylotol as the sweater it may even be almost good for you.
The most difficult food issues for those of us to don’t live in a rural or land rich situation to address are for people with allergies, who are on a paleo diet, or are just trying to eat healty and natural. Survival, at least initially, limits those choices, especially after the first week or two.