In the spirit of helping my readers increase their preparedness, I thought I’d remind you that you have 0 more days before Zombie Day to shop and get ready for Zombie attacks. So just in case there are zombies coming down your pike, and you aren’t ready, I offer a reprint of a piece I wrote about what to do if you haven’t been preparing or storing food, water or medicines (as everyone from FEMA to the American Red Cross advises every citizen to do). Crisis shopping is really not the way to do this – you are better off making preparations in advance, but just in case you have been ignoring my advice, or are just dropping in for zombie day… These preparations also work well in the event of a blizzard, hurricane, earthquake, extended economic crisis or supply disruption, but we all know that those things won’t happen, right? Better focus on zombies.
Several readers have asked me to do a piece on what to do if you have been procrastinating about food storage, but plan to stock up before the end of the world (I’ve heard that BP has it scheduled for this weekend, but it could potentially be moved due to a conflict with some other disaster .) So for all you procrastinators out there, here are my suggestions.
Now my first suggestion is not to procrastinate. Because unless you are fairly well off, procrastinating and buying a lot of food probably means putting it on your credit card and paying it off. Not only is this extremely risky (I would not bet on any version of the apocalypse that doesn’t actually involve real zombies to get you off the hook with your credit card – and I’m pretty sure that they have zombie collection agents already, so maybe not even then.), it means that you will pay interest on the food, thus mitigating much of the benefit of even having it. I would suggest instead that you gradually begin working up a plan to store food – start with these baby steps and then move on to the information here (follow links first). The other real disadvantage is that for most of us, these options involve giving money to the industrial food system, rather than supporting the kind of food we want to put in our pantries and the kind of farmers we want to see growing it. I’d recommend farmstands and gradual acquisition. But I do also know that sometimes one gets a big check, bonus, windfall, sells something or maybe the food is worth the price. So let’s assume that you all know better, and are doing it anyway.
Let us also assume that you are doing this shortly before everyone else starts their panic buying or shortly after (which makes it harder and makes the selection of stores more crucial), and that one or two stop shopping is the name of the game – you need to get as much that is useful as possible, as quickly as possible, perhaps not using much gas. So let’s start with where to shop.
My top few choices, in no particular order:
1. BJs/Sams Club/Costco: This is probably the most accessible (ie, lots of people have these reasonably nearby) and has most of the things you’ll really want. The downside is that often the bulk prices aren’t really very much or at all cheaper than smaller sizes, that the warehouses are huge and shopping there annoying and that they probably won’t have anything ethnic, or a large selection of nutritious things. Also will probably be mobbed if there’s a real or perceived immanent crisis. My tip for shopping here: if there isn’t an immediate apocalypse, you can probably get a free 1 shot membership to do a stockup even if you can’t/don’t want to pay the fee – they usually offer trials, and if you say you’d like to check it out, this can often be arranged.
2. An Asian grocery store of some sort. Best grain source for rice and often some kinds of noodles in quantity and quality, often have large quanties of spices and useful flavorings quite cheaply. The downside is that unless you cook asian food you will be confronted by many unfamiliar items, and you may find yourself with all the ingredients for Nasi Goreng, or Palak Paneer and no recipes, or idea whether you like it . So maybe try these things out first (since they are yummy!) Also, not common in areas without large Asian or Indian subcontinental populations, so it might not be available to rural readres. Tip for shopping here: go when it is quiet (weekends are tough) and ask for help – there’s usually someone who can help you figure out what you are buying.
3. A feed store. If a panic has already begun, this might actually be your best bet for getting large quantities of edible grains and pet food (plus livestock feed if you’ve got this). If you buy organic, whole feed grains, they should be adequate for human eating – and they come in 50lb quantities. Pick up your emergency supply of dog or cat food, some seeds for spring, and cracked corn and whole oats for you (and your horses). The downside: feed grains may not be especially tasty, organic feed is pricey, feed mixes may have things you don’t want, unless you live in a reasonably rural area, there probably won’t be one. Only buy grains you *know* have not been fumigated. Tip for shopping here: human consumption grains would be a better choice – save this option for food for yourself for a true crisis.
4. A coop or bulk food store. Coops are great because they tend to be run by good people and have reasonable prices. Privately owned bulk food stores also have good stuff – the thing is, most of these won’t have large quantities of staples in large bags – you’ll have to empty out the bins or place an order in advance. Still, not a bad place to get unusual ingredients, seasonings, yeasts, salt, nutritional supplements and meet special dietary needs. Tip for shopping here – you might ask if they have any bulk grains they can sell in larger quantities lying around – instead of asking for “50lbs of wheat” you might come at it the other way, asking what they’ve got a lot of.
5. Odd lots store/dollar stores: These are unlikely to have large quantities of things, but if you’ve got a big enough vehicle, you might be able to buy a pallet load of weird cereal by a a manufacturer you’ve never heard of for $1 box. These are good places to get canned goods and to pick up bug out bag foods that are light, nutritionally dense and portable. Soap and shampoo are often cheap here as well, and you may be able to get a few needed household goods, a couple of extra flashlights and whatever. Tips for shopping here: if you see something you want, snag it then – inventory changes fast.
6. Supermarkets – this is the classic crisis food shopping space, and the one that tends to get ripped into pieces until all that is left is Preparation H, which as far as I know, has no zombie-protective powers and cannot be eaten. Supermarkets are to be avoided if you can avoid them during an actual crisis. If not, get there as early as you can, avoid the bottled water aisle (store some water in empty bottles instead and save your money for food). If you must hit one of these, choose one with a health food section and bulk bins, and ideally, a supercenter sort of thing, where you can also pick up anything else you need. Tip: Even if the crisis is likely to be long term, most people see supermarkets as a place to get short term needs met – so you are likely to find that staple foods and things like vitamins sell worse than boxed chocolate chip cookies. This is good, since you want more staples than cookies.
7. Drugstores, hardware stores, etc…: I’ve included these because you may have to stop at one – you may need a refill of your medication, to fix up the family first aid kit, or to buy flashlights. If you do need to stop, and are doing them in a rush, take a couple of minutes and think about other needs you might meet in such a place – drugstores may have some food and cheap spices, hardware stores may have other useful things at reasonable prices, like batteries and flashlights. I’m not saying you should buy everything in sight, just working under the assumption that you may be able to make a limited number of stops. Generally speaking, though, if you can, you might want to consolidate trips the other way, and get your meds at a place that also primarily sells food.
8. A farmstand or local farm – for those in warmer climates, you may be able to get a whole lot of produce that can be rapidly preserved (make sure you know how to use that pressure canner before you bring home two bushels of zucchini!), or better yet, food that can be stored in a cool place by root cellaring. You want stuff like potatoes, onions, hard shelled squash, beets, turnips, etc… You will still need some legumes to balance the protein in this case. This is actually my first choice, but because there are few of them available during much of the winter, and many people live far from farmstands and farms, I put it last.
Ok, now what to get. This assumes you mostly eat a regular American style diet (which ideally you don’t), that we shouldn’t push you too hard, and that you will be shopping at the above sorts of stores. That is, if you normally eat a lot of dal or mung bean noodles, please do add them to your plan. This is meant to cover mainstream ground – it is not meant to imply optimalization.
Here’s what I’d concentrate on. I am not including quantities here, because I don’t know how much you can afford, how big your household is, etc… What you should do is get as much as you can afford/haul and *manage* without spoilage. That means, get only what you can find a safe, bug and rodent proof spot for.
I’m also assuming that you don’t have a lot of fancy equipment – ie, I think life would be better for you if you had a grain grinder, but I’m going to assume no.
1. Vitamins. Get enough for everyone in the household. Regular, generic mulivites are fine, and any special supplement you take (although if these are optional luxuries and money is tight, forego the vitamin E capsules for more food instead). Yes, it is better to get your nutrients from food, but this is important if you are eating a limited diet. Also make sure you pick up children’s or prenatal vitamins if anyone in your household has a special need for these. You might also want to pick up a couple of bottles of vitamin C tablets.
2. Rice – no more brown rice thank you can eat (and remember, you may be eating a lot more of it than you have been) in 3 months, plus as much white rice as you think you need. Why rice? It is widely available – even supermarkets sell it in 10 or 20lb bags in many cases. It is comparatively cheap, it is hypo-allergenic (ie, nearly everyone can eat it including infants and the ill), and it is familiar to people in just about every culture in the world. Brown rice is dramatically more nutritious, but it is also prone to spoilage – maximum storage is about 1 year, and it often goes rancid before that. A not-insignificant percentage of the population can’t taste rancidity in grains at all, so won’t know if the rice is still good to eat. So it is safest to get a short time supply of brown rice, and then mostly use white rice (supplemented with more nutritious grains).
2. Flour – get no more whole wheat flour thank you can use in 6 months, and then get unbleached white flour if you must. Again, you’ll be using the less nutritious form of the grain, but at least you’ll have food.
3. Rolled or steel cut oats. Get as many packages as you can. These are fairly nutritious and will help balance out some of the white stuff in your diet. This is breakfast.
4. Legumes: These include beans, split peas, lentils, cowpeas, pigeon peas, etc… Buy 1/3 of the weight of your combined grains (flour, oats and rice) in dry form. Check out the ethnic foods section for large quantities. These will provide protein, fiber and a host of other goodies. Don’t be afraid to try unfamiliar things here – they have a fairly wide taste range, but if you can eat one, you can eat another.
5. Something that sprouts. If you get stuck eating off your stored food in the winter or a summer dry season, when not much is growing, sprouts can save you – they are a fresh and living food. Ideally, you’d have a variety, from broccoli to onion to mung bean… In reality, you may not have much of a choice. But a lot of things in the bulk bins at whole foods or your health store, or available other places will sprout. They include whole wheat, alfalfa sprouts (just make sure you aren’t getting seed that is treated, and only use organic), untreated sunflower seeds, and a host of designated sprouting seeds. Nutrionally, if I had a choice I’d get broccoli, alfalfa and sunflower, as well as wheat, but you’ll be fine with just one.
5. Some other protein food – unless you are quite odd, you probably will not enjoy rice and beans for dinner, bread and beans for lunch and oatmeal for breakfast every day. You will be fine eating this as long as you have some vegetables – maybe even healthier, but you would be happier if you had something with a bit more fat, flavor and protein density, particularly if you are shifting from an average American diet. You do not need a lot of this – you might prefer a lot, but that’s expensive.
1. Whole nuts, flaxseeds or sunflower seeds in the shell
2. Peanut butter. Not the fresh natural stuff – you want it shelf stable and in large quantities.
3. Canned fish – don’t overdo this if you have kids, are pregnant or nursing. But canned fish does have important nutrients, is tasty and makes people happy. Canned wild salmon is lowest in mercury, but can have high levels of PCBs. Don’t forget sardines, mackerel and other unusual fishes. Don’t go crazy also because it isn’t good for what’s left of the oceans, but occasional fish is good.
4. Shelf stable tofu, dried tofu sticks (asian groceries) or other stable soy protein.
5. Canned meat – I’m not a big fan of this, generally speaking, because unless you have a ton of money, canned meat is always from horrible sources, often troublesome in environmental ways, and doesn’t taste good. But others love their spam, and I won’t try and turn you away from it. Again, though, you don’t need that much – think occasional treat, and enjoy the flavoring and fat.
6. Fat: Olive oil in metal tins keeps several years if kept cool – that’s what I’d get of the choices available, with a bit of coconut oil to provide a tasty, shelf stable fat for piecrusts and “butter.” If you have to go cheap, get what you can afford that’s not too awful. Avoid crisco at all costs.
7. Dried fruit – if you are at a Sam’s Club type-place, you can buy big sealed bags of dried raisins or cranberries or something. Otherwise, you can take what’s available at the dollar stores or go hunting in the bulk bins. You want this for nutritional reasons, and so that you don’t get so constipated you can’t breathe due to sudden dietary change. Also good for kids, to help them transition, or picky adults who are kind of like kids.
8. Powdered milk, soy, or rice milk. This is for calcium, protein to enable you to bake, to add creaminess to things, etc…. It will never taste like real milk, but you can live with it in stuff. It lasts a long time, and you can use it baking if nothing happens.
9. Salt – get a bunch, iodized for eating (you only need a little of this – and if you don’t want to store iodized salt or want something better, you can also buy dulse or kelp supplements to meet this need, but the easiest, most stable source is iodized salt) and non-iodized for preserving, livestock if you’ve got it, brushing teeth if you run out of toothpaste, etc… This is cheap, and necessary to life.
10. Sweeteners – unless you have weaned yourself off of this entirely, you will want these. Sugar is probably cheapest, a lot of commercial bulk honey is watered down or sugar syruped up. But you can use maple syrup, sugar, sorghum or whatever is most easily available. Honey keeps forever if you can find a local source, and will also extend the keeping time of your baked goods (no honey for babies under 1, though) You may also need to stretch it – so work on reducing sugar now. We don’t need anywhere near as much as we eat.
11. Canned vitamin rich vegetables. Get a couple of flats each of pumpkin/squash/sweet potatoes, and some kind of canned green (mustard or turnip greens hold together better than spinach). If you are used to eating fresh, these will not taste as good as fresh – but can be mixed into things in the background to add nutrition. Make sure that you use the liquid from the greens as well. Some canned fruit is nice too, if you have room/can afford it. Canned pineapple is, to my mind, the best tasting commercially canned fruit.
Alternately (and better), you might be able to hit a farmstand and get sweet potatoes, cabbage and turnips, which would be much better for you, tastier and local, but the assumption of this discussion is that you aren’t doing that. Still, if there’s anyway to buy fresh food that can be root cellared, you’ll be a lot happier than relying on canned veggies.
12. Something(s) to flavor water/powdered milk. This depends on your preference, but if you are using non-traditional water sources, boiling water due to contamination or drinking powdered milk for the first time, making it taste better will be worth a lot. Plus, if you are a tea or coffee person, you will be sad without them. So get vacuum packed cans of coffee, or lots of tea and/or cocoa. And if you have kids, or vitamin C worries, or the water tastes horrible, you might want to get some Tang or HiC powdered drink mix. The stuff is icky, but will add some sweetness, and also some nutrition, while covering the taste of bad water.
13. This is controversial, but you might want some alcohol. There are a couple of reasons. First, if things are bad enough and you have no major responsibilities to anyone, you might want to get drunk while the zombie invasion is happening. Second, and more realistically, a small amount of alcohol in your water will kill many bacteria, and is safer than inadequately filtered water. Oh, and you can probably use it like money to get other things.
14. Lots of seasonings. Varying your meals is key. Buy lots of spices, and you may also want ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, chili-garlic paste, fermented black beans, chutney, worcestershire…whatever. Depending on what you can afford and where you are, don’t forget this.
15. Get some treats. You will need them. So put some smoked oysters, a few bags of chocolate chips, some beef jerky, peanut brittle – whatever you or your family crave. I’d also suggest some kind of small candy that stores fairly well (we use those tiny dum-dum lollipops which come in bags of a zillion) to be doled out as rewards for children who are eating their new diet reasonably graciously and responding to their new reality – they are small and sweet and ease transitions. Adults might need other bribes. Also, don’t forget the ingredients for your special Easter bread, matza balls, or whatever other special occasions your family will still want to remember.
16. Some things that are dense and require minimal cooking in case you have to evacuate or if you are under stress – some ramen, some dried fruit, energy bars, instant bean soups, canned soup, etc…
17: Infant formula: Buy this if you have a pregnant woman, a woman who might easily become pregnant (not everyone stocks up on condoms or vasectomies before the zombies come and stress pushes people into comfort activities), a baby, or close family or friends who may come your way with a baby or the immanent prospect of one. I assume all of us hope and plan to breastfeed, but unless you have multiple lactating (or recently lactating women – within a couple of years, most women can restart nursing) women or a lactating goat in your household, store some formula, just in case Mom can’t nurse or G-d forbid, something happens to Mom.
18. Yeast, baking soda, baking powder, vinegar. You’ll miss ‘em if you don’t have them.
19. Pet food. Canned keeps longer, dry is cheaper and easier to store. Dogs food can be stretched with table scraps, cats not as much.
20. Basic OTC medicines and first aid stuff – at a minimum triple antibiotic ointment, baby asprin (not for kids, for people’s hearts), tylenol or advil (for adults and kids if needed), bandaids, gauze pads, sanitary pads (not so much for menstruation – I’m assuming you have a reusable solution for that already, but because they make great emergency sterile bandages), benadryl, bandage tape, rehydration fluid (like pedialyte) and an anti-diarrheal. I’d also recommend a basic list of herbal medicines including garlic (natural antibiotic), ginger (for nausea), powdered slippery elm bark (most very nauseated people will be able to keep this down when very sick), aloe lotion for burns, etc…. but again, the best time to figure this out is when you have time to think it through. If the store’s medicine aisle has a first aid book or booklet, buy it – it would be better to plan ahead, but this is at least something.
Non-food items to buy:
Then add some extra batteries (if you aren’t already stocked), gas for the car and the can, a way to cook without power (sterno, camp stove, woodstove, more propane for the grill), and a way of purifying water – if you don’t have a good filter system that works without power now, the best strategy will be to buy dry calcium hypoclorite – that is, swimming pool bleach. It is very cheap, and can be added to water to make bleach (dilute according to instructions) that will kill most bacteria. Carbon filters like Brita don’t do much, but will remove some chemicals. So the combination should make your water liveable. You should be able to get both at a Walmart, hardware store or Sam’s club. Also, if you don’t have a good manual can opener, pick up a couple. Matches are also important, and you should make sure you have good flashlights, and some candles or oil lamps – and a fire extinguisher (use carefully!).
Ok, you are now zombie ready!