(This post is part of the Ask an Apocalypse Author series. Credentials are at the end of the post. If you have suggested topics, please leave them in the comments.)
Let me say this right off the bat: I’m not going to teach you how to feed yourself long-term in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. If that’s what you’re looking for, you should know that it starts with moving to a forested northern state and buying a minimum of ten chickens and a mating pair of goats. Also, if you’re going to grow romaine as a food staple, know that it’s a water hog, so you’d better have clean, frequent rain.
Right. I wasn’t going to talk about long-term food.
What I will talk about is preparing your home for short-term emergency, like a natural disaster, extended power outage, or general disruption in your ability to acquire groceries.
A few things you need to consider when choosing food
- Does it take clean water to prepare?
- Does it need to be cooked?
- Does it require refrigeration?
- How long will it last on the shelf?
- Can everybody eat it? (My likely apocalypse crew includes a Celiac, two peanut allergies, and one dairy allergy. I try to think of that when stocking up.)
Refrigeration is a non-starter. You can’t count on having it. Anything that has to be refrigerated is out. If you have life-saving medications that require refrigeration, you should always keep several ice packs in your freezer so that you can throw them in a cooler with your meds if the power goes out.
Food that needs fresh, clean water to be edible (rice, potato flakes, pasta, etc.) isn’t necessarily a bad choice, but it shouldn’t make up all of your stash, and it’s a good idea to keep a few gallons of bottled water in a closet for cooking as well as drinking. You will need more water than you think.
Heat is a manageable problem as well. Throw a few cans of Sterno in with the bottled water, and you’re set for a while. In an emergency, though, anyone with a lighter and some common sense can rig up a stove. Two cinder blocks, a newspaper, a busted-up end table and a frying pan will do in a pinch. If at all possible, cook outdoors. If not, do what you can for ventilation.
So, what do you keep in the pantry?
Canned goods are your friend here. Canned soups, meats, fruits, veggies, and so on will last for a long time, they don’t need outside water or ever heat to be edible, and you have a variety of options.
For dry goods, some are better than others. Cereals are great, but may not have the shelf life of a can of tuna. Rice, pasta, and plain potato flakes all last for a long time, but they need water. Jerky is good, but can be a lot of salt. Same goes for peanuts, almonds, etc.. Dried fruit isn’t a terrible idea, either, but again, the shelf life isn’t ideal.
Jellies, jams, preserves, and similar are all great. Just make sure you don’t make grape jelly your only emergency food. One can not live on sugar and gelatin alone.
If you want to do a little cheap preparation for the possible long term, it wouldn’t kill you to keep multivitamins and even more large bottles of water around. The water is most important. You won’t realize how much you use until it suddenly isn’t coming out of the faucet.
Putting it into practice
The best practice is to stock up on food you would eat anyway and cycle through it, so that nothing has a chance to expire but you always have quite a bit extra. Order canned stuff in bulk, and when it’s half gone, order replacements. Keep an extra few boxes of your favorite cereal. Being prepared for a short-term emergency isn’t hard, it just means developing good habits.
Prepper websites (and Amazon, if it gets a whiff of you shopping for the apocalypse) will try and sell you five gallon buckets of dehydrated eggs and meal kits that last for twenty years. Unless you have a fallout shelter on your property, this probably isn’t practical. Try to imagine what even a year of meals looks like. But what you can do is have supplies in place so that you don’t have to worry for a while if your grocery store gets washed out by a flood or the power goes out for a few days.
Don’t forget your non-food staples
If you want to take the next step and make preparations for your comfort, here are my top tips: wet wipes, dry shampoo, and an empty five-gallon bucket with a lid and a bag of cat litter. You’ll figure out what those last two are for if the water goes out and the toilet stops working.
The author of these posts in a writer of apocalyptic fiction as well as an experienced woodswoman and avid researcher. She learned to gut fish at age 8, received her orange card (hunter safety cert.) at age 11, and her first compound bow at age 12.
She has worked in state parks and on trailblazing jobs for the conservation corps, as well as in hardware stores and on a landscape maintenance crew (in sub-zero temperatures). She can back a Kubota with a five-foot plow and a six-foot trailer of rock salt into a seven-foot garage bay. On ice.