Doom and the Working Poor – The Pantry

September 18, 2010

Things fall apart.  Lives, marriages, even countries fall apart – as we saw with the Soviet Union, twenty years ago and, to a much lesser extent, the British Empire, 50 years ago – but they rarely fall apart all at once, everywhere. We, or they, generally struggle along on a bumpy, up and down slope until we reach a point where we’ve run out of temporary patches and the collapse occurs.  Although as individuals, we can’t prevent the collapse of a country, we can cushion our loved ones and ourselves for life’s collapses –long and short – if we plan ahead.

Last week, I wrote about being ready for a sudden event such as a natural disaster with a bug-out bag or its equivalent that could carry you and your family through a three-day emergency.  This week, we’ll talk about building a 3-6 month food supply that will cushion you and your family through a job loss or a costly illness and lay a foundation for that “long emergency” of an ongoing depression or potential collapse.

As this bad economy drags on, more middle-class families lose jobs and homes, use up their financial cushion and find themselves relying on the social safety net for help, that net is beginning to fray.  When pressured to reduce deficits and balance budgets, both the federal and state governments will do so first by chopping away at that safety net and the poor and working poor will be the first to fall through the holes in the net.  For the working poor who lose a job, the only financial cushion they have may be their last paycheck and – if they’re lucky – a hundred dollars in their checking account.  In that case, the only real cushion we may have to fall back on is a well-stocked pantry we’ve prepared ahead of time.  If you need something to scare you enough to kick-start your urge to prepare, read through this two page article from the New York Times:

So, now that I’ve gotten your attention, once again, where do we start?  Once again, start by organizing your thinking if you want to do it as inexpensively as possible.

Protein, Fats and Carbohydrates. All of the foods we eat are made up of varying amounts of protein, fats and carbohydrates and the different vitamins and minerals they contain.  They are the fuel (measured in calories) that provide the energy our bodies run on, as well as the materials from which the cells in our bodies are made and repaired.  How many calories you get from your food depends on the balance between these three.  One gram of fat contains nine calories; one gram of protein or of carbohydrates contains four calories each.  The number of calories you need each day depends somewhat on your size, age and the amount of hard physical work you do.  An adult male needs roughly 2300-2500 calories per day; an adult female, 2000-2300 calories.  For children, roughly:

2 – 3 years: 1000 – 1400

4 – 8 years: 1400-1600

9 – 13 years: girls: 1600-2000, boys: 1800-2200

14 – 18 yr. girls: 2000,. boys: 2200- 2400

Using these figures, get out your notebook. In the ideas section, write down the total number of calories your family needs per day and a rough estimate of how much should come from each of the three food components. [If your family has an adult male (2400 calories), adult female (2000) and two children, ages four (1400) and eight (1600), your family needs a total of roughly 7500 calories per day.  Around one fifth of those calories need to come from protein, one third from fat and the other half from carbohydrates.  Multiplying 7500 by 20% means your family needs roughly 1500 calories from protein per day; multiplying by 50%, around 3700 calories from carbohydrates and the other 2300 calories should come from fat each day.  These are rough estimates for a family of two children and two adults.  Since protein and carbohydrates both contain 4 calories per gram, you would need to provide your family with 375 grams of protein and 925 grams of carbohydrates per day.  Fat has 9 calories per gram, so your family would need 256 grams of fat per day.  Spreading this over three meals per day, your family would need approximately 2500 calories per meal – each meal containing 125 grams of protein, 308 grams of carbohydrates and 85 grams of fat.]

It’s important to have that rough estimate per meal in grams, because that is the way fats, carbohydrates and protein are listed in the nutrition facts on the food label for each serving in the can.  The nutrition facts will also tell you how many servings are in the can or package and the size of each serving.  (If you’re not sure how to read nutrition labels:

Think in terms of how your family eats (lots of soups, casseroles, one-dish meals or separate meat, vegetables and fruit dishes) and what foods they like.  Jot down meal ideas.   Once you have some ideas on specific meals, look at how many of the ingredients can be purchased in cans, or dry or pre-packaged for relatively long-term storage.

For example, suppose your family likes tuna-noodle casserole.  Below are the ingredients for one that will serve four people, with the addition of one vegetable and one fruit serving per person – all in cans.  (I worked out the total calories and protein, fat and carbohydrate values for a family of four.  As you can see, it doesn’t meet the per-meal requirements listed above, as it is.  But, you could increase the amount of fat by 28 grams by adding a tablespoon of margarine or butter to the green beans.  You could add a can of peas to the casserole to add another couple of grams of protein and another 8 grams of carbohydrates.  A cornbread mix that requires milk and an egg (more about storing eggs in a minute) would add another 10 grams of protein, plus fat and carbs – check the box label for the amounts.)

Tuna 2  6 oz. cans                  80 gm protein,  7 gm fat,    0 gm carbs     383 calories

Noodles -1  16 oz. package    15                     5               80                    425

Creamed soup  2 cans              2                    12              18                    188

Green beans  15 oz. can           2                      0                8                      40

Canned peaches 2 15 oz.          0                      0              12                      48

Totals                          98                    18            109                   1084

After you have some meal ideas jotted down, look around for “pantry” space to set aside your emergency food supply from the foods you use daily if your house doesn’t have a pantry.  You need to keep stored food in a clean, cool, dry space – preferably one that is not exposed to sunlight – such as an extra cabinet or closet.   Food that comes in boxes or packaging that mice can chew through (and that includes almost anything that isn’t in heavy plastic, glass or metal) should be stored in their packaging in plastic storage boxes or in glass jars or metal canisters.  For example, my five gallon, decorated metal popcorn tin is now filled with packages of beans, rice, split peas and lentils.  A plastic “shoe box” with lid could hold packets of sauces and gravies.  You can save empty jars, find inexpensive metal canister sets and plastic storage boxes at dollar stores, flea markets and yard sales.  If you can’t see what’s inside, it’s a good idea to label the container as you begin storing items.

Once you’ve decided what foods to store and where to store them, note this in the food section of your notebook.  Start buying what you can, as often as you can. If you can’t afford to buy a lot at one time, try buying an extra meal’s worth of canned goods and/or dry packaged food for your emergency pantry each time you do your grocery shopping.   Don’t forget to include salt, pepper, spices and condiments that you use frequently, as well as packets of favorite sauces and gravies.

As you shop for groceries:

Always shop from a prepared grocery list; it will keep unintended purchases to a minimum and save you money.

Getting in the habit of buying in terms of specific meals – whether for weekly shopping or to add to your emergency pantry – will save money and time.

Don’t forget to include items like spices, condiments, gravies or sauce packets for your emergency pantry on your grocery list.

Don’t forget to add hygiene and health items like dish soap, body soap, shampoo, toothpaste, mild pain killer like acetaminophen, antibiotic ointment, band aids.

If you have the money, occasionally add a bag of favorite snacks that can be stored, but remember that feeding your family is your first priority in emergency planning.

Buy generic.

Check the “use by” date on a product and buy those with the date that will give you the longest possible storage time.

Use sales when you can, but make sure sale-priced name brands are really cheaper than their generic equivalents.

Don’t try to save by buying dented cans to use in long-term storage.

Plan to use canned meat in your emergency meals when you can, for longer storage times.

Peanut butter, eggs, beans + rice, potatoes + milk are all excellent sources of complete proteins if you can’t afford meals built around meat as a protein source.

Use food stored in your refrigerator/freezer for daily meals, saving the food stored in the emergency pantry for your food of last resort.

If you must use an item from your emergency food supply, write it down and replace it next time you shop.  Use the oldest stored items first.

If you have freezer space, storing flour, cornmeal, powdered milk in air-tight plastic containers in the freezer will extend their storage time as they near their use-by date.

Once you’ve built up a 3-6 month supply, check to see if any stored foods are nearing their use-by date.  Move the oldest out into your daily food supply and replace them.  Rotating your emergency food that way is important for extending its useful shelf life.

If you can, keep working on a 6 month stored food supply.

Keep good notes on what you have/need in your emergency notebook.  Staying organized and focused ahead of time will save you money and worry if an ongoing emergency situation arises.

The USDA fact sheet

says that “in general, [unopened] high-acid canned foods such as tomatoes, grapefruit and pineapple can be stored on the shelf 12 to 18 months; low-acid canned foods such as meat, poultry, fish and most vegetables will keep 2 to 5 years — if the can remains in good condition and has been stored in a cool, clean, dry place.”

For other types of food, lets you look up the shelf life for unopened and opened foods of various kinds.  Another helpful site for various types of foodstuff shelf life is

You can freeze butter, margarine and cheese in their packaging and, yes, you can freeze eggs. But DON”T FREEZE EGGS IN THE SHELL unless you want to clean up exploded eggs from your freezer. Instead, crack the eggs and beat them until just blended, pour the egg mixture into clean, plastic ice trays.  When they’re frozen, pop them out and store the cubes in a plastic freezer bag.  To use them, take out as many little cubes as you need and thaw them in the refrigerator. One cube (2Tbsp) equals approximately one large egg.

A three-month emergency pantry will help get you and your family through a (hopefully) short-term emergency like a job loss or serious illness.  We are talking here about adding an extra layer of resiliency to your life.  You will never be “perfectly” prepared, but every preparation you’ve made ahead of time will be one less worry to face and save you that much time and money in the crisis.

Being able to grow some of your own food in a short-term crisis adds another layer of resilience.  If you haven’t already read my little article, My Doomer Gardens, check it out to see how I’m trying to build that layer in my own life – for both the short and the long term.

I’m assuming that, in a short emergency, you would have water.  If you are in danger of having your water shut off, you can buy a five gallon, collapsible plastic water container at most stores that have camping equipment or you can use clean 2 liter soda bottles to store water.

Adults should get about 8 glasses of liquids (the amount of water in a 2 liter soda bottle) per day.  Ask the Dietician ( says, “At birth, 75% of the body weight of a child is water. This decreases to approximately 60% by age 10. To put this on a practical level, infants ages birth to two years (6 to 26 pounds) should have three to six cups of water per day. Children age’s two to 12 years (26 to 100 pounds) should have four to eight cups of water per day.”

Here is how FEMA recommends storing water in plastic pop bottles: “If storing water in plastic soda bottles, follow these steps Thoroughly clean the bottles with dishwashing soap and water, and rinse completely so there is no residual soap. Sanitize the bottles by adding a solution of 1 teaspoon of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to a quart of water. Swish the sanitizing solution in the bottle so that it touches all surfaces. After sanitizing the bottle, thoroughly rinse out the sanitizing solution with clean water.                                              Filling water containers
Fill the bottle to the top with regular tap water. If the tap water has been commercially treated from a water utility with chlorine, you do not need to add anything else to the water to keep it clean. If the water you are using comes from a well or water source that is not treated with chlorine, add two drops of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to the water. Tightly close the container using the original cap. Be careful not to contaminate the cap by touching the inside of it with your finger. Place a date on the outside of the container so that you know when you filled it. Store in a cool, dark place. Replace the water every six months if not using commercially bottled water.”

Both the large scale, mono-crop, big agriculture food production system and the three day, just-in-time food delivery system in this country are totally oil dependent.  As oil production drops, prices will rise.  Supply disruptions and scarcities will be increasingly frequent.  As we move down the peak oil slope, if the Government is not prepared to deal with the consequences (and there’s every indication that – except for the military – they are not, ) we have to prepare for our families and ourselves.  The consequences are too dire, if we don’t.

In a long emergency such as a peak oil-based depression or economic collapse, having at least a 6 month supply of stored food (more, if possible) and the ability to add fresh food  grown in inside containers during the winter will help get you through winter and spring while you plant and wait for your yearly garden to produce.  Learning to pressure can and dry your own food for storage will add another layer of resilience in the long term.  A small flock of chickens (and, if you have room in your yard, a small milk goat) can add resilience at both the personal and community levels.  You will also need long-term water supplies if utilities are spotty or go out completely.

In next week’s post, we’ll talk about water, gardening and food storage for the long-term, at both the family and community level.  In the meantime, get started.  Just because things fall apart, it doesn’t mean you and yours have to fall apart with them.

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