Getting Your Family On Board With Food Storage

I imagine after the last few weeks, the idea of storing food isn't seeming quite so crazy to a lot of folks in the country, but still, I hear all the time "I want to start building up a reserve but my husband/sister/mother in law thinks this is nuts." So I thought I would repost this piece, on how to get your family on board (and what not to say).

Ok, I've convinced you - you need a reserve of food, you want to learn to can and dehydrate, you want to start eating more local foods. But you haven't done anything yet, because, well, the rest of your household isn't on board. Before you go there, you need to convince them. So I offer up this handy guide of answers to common protests about food storage and preservation. I also offer up some suggestions on what not to say, just in case you need them, mostly because that part was fun for me to write .

Protest #1: It will be too expensive! We can't afford extra food.

Bad answer: "But honey, the world is going to come to an end soon, and male life expectancy is going to drop into the 50s, so you won't need your retirement savings anyway. Let's spend it on food so I have something to eat in my old age."

Good answer: "I'm glad you are so concerned about our finances, and I share your concern. I think in the longer term this will save us money, allowing us to buy food at lower bulk prices and when it is at its cheapest and on sale, and thus will insulate us from rising prices. But let's sit down and make a budget for what we think it is appropriate to spend on food storage."

Protest #2: No one has time to can and preserve food anymore! Isn't that a leftover form the bad old days?

Bad answer: "Of course you'll have time to do it, sweetie - can't you get up before the kids do to make pickles? You already get 5 hours of sleep a night, so what's the problem? Here, read this woman's blog and you'll start feeling guilty that you don't love the kids enough to make your own salsa."

Good answer: "What I think will end up happening is that we'll save time later from effort spent now - and we'll know that our food supply is nutritious and safe - I don't feel good giving the kids processed foods with all the recalls and contaminations. But let's definitely start slowly - I'll make some sauerkraut, and then if you think we should, we'll look into plans for a dehydrator. But we'll do it together.

Protest #3: Where are we going to put all that stuff? There's no way it will fit!

Bad answer: "On those shelves where you keep all your old vinyl records, silly. As soon as I get that stuff out to the trash, we'll be ready to build our pantry."

Good answer: "I think there's some unused space in that guest room, and if I clean out this closet, I know we could put shelves up and store some food. I guess I should think about cleaning out some of my junk, right?"

Protest #4: Storing food is for wacko-survivalist types - that's not us.

Bad answer: "Oh, didn't you read that stuff by Nostradamus that I gave you? Oh, and do you know how to use an uzi?"

Good answer: "No, storing food is what my grandmother did to get through the great depression. Nothing really awful has to happen for us to need it - we could just have a bad storm or one of us could lose our job. It is pretty normal, actually - so normal that FEMA and the American Red Cross recommend that every American store two weeks worth of food."

Protest #5: Nobody in our house is going to eat Garbanzo beans. I'm certainly not going to - they make we want to puke!

Bad answer:"Oh, you'll eat those beans, young lady, or you'll spend the rest of your life in your room!"

Good answer: "Ok, you don't like chickpeas. That's ok - what would you suggest we get instead? Would you like to come with me to the bulk store and help me pick out some storage food? It needs to be about 1/3 protein sources to grains - what would you suggest?"

Protest #6: I don't want to think about bad stuff that might happen, or be reminded of it!

Bad answer: "Ok, you don't have to. But we're all gonna die!

Good Answer: "But remember, we're not just storing food for bad times, we're storing food so that we can save money, go shopping less, have more time for each other, and so we have to worry less about money."

Protest #7: Things will never get bad enough that we need our stored food, so what's the point?

Bad Answer: "I expect things to get so bad that we seriously consider whether or not to eat the hamsters - probably by next Friday. After Pookie and Herman, the neighbors will be next."

Good Answer: "Well, this is really about a whole way of eating - not just storing food for an emergency. So no matter what happens, we come out ahead - we have the food, and it will get eaten.

Protest #8: Ok, I'm willing to think about some food storage, but storing water? That's for whack jobs.

Bad Answer: "Ok, well, I'm storing water for me, and if anything bad happens, I'm just going to sit there watching you shrivel up."

Good Answer: "Remember the floods in the midwest two years ago? A lot of areas had contaminated water, and I don't really want to go for days with no water to wash hands in or to cook with. All we've got to do is take these recycled soda bottles and fill them with water and a couple of drops of bleach, to know that we won't be in that position."

Protest #9: Home preserved food isn't safe - I heard about someone who died from eating home canned food.

Bad Answer: "Oh, you are right. Let's only eat industrially packaged food with lots of ecoli and melamine in it."

Good Answer: "It is true that unsafe canning practices occasionally result in home canned food hurting or killing someone. But think of all the trouble we've had with the industrial food system - the melamine in dog food, botulism in canned chili, salmonella and ecoli on tons of things. I agree we have to be very careful, especially when pressure canning, and I plan to be. But we can preserve our own in lots of ways that are completely safe, not just canning, and when we do can, we'll do it right.

Protest #10: There are so many things about this that are hard - it takes time, energy, new tools, money. It may be a good idea, but why would you want to take it on?

Bad Answer: "Because Sharon (yes, that woman on the blog you call "the nutjob") says I should - she fed me the zombie paste, and now I have no will of my own."

Good Answer: "Because I think we deserve better food than we're getting. I want it to taste better, I want the money we spend to help do things we're proud of. I want to depend on ourselves more and on corporations less. I want us to be healthier, and I want us to work together on this as a family. I want us to feel like when we are eating, we're doing something good - for us and the world."

Best of luck on this!

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Or, you could just do what I did as the chief buyer of groceries/gardener/farmer. Just start doing it. If you buy a bag or two of beans extra every time you go to the store, it's not very noticeable until it gets to that critical mass - or when you do as I do and store them in glass jars because they're pretty to look at on the shelf.

He's on board now, because he sees the value in it. And he even helps can, and makes his own canned stuff as well. It's good family time stuff now.

Your will is my command....... ;-)

My family didn't even know I had started storing anything until they needed something.... when, instead of me instantaneously leaping up and popping out to the shops, (slight exaggeration, more like .... "Mum, I put xxxx on the shopping list 2 days ago, why didn't you get it yet...I neeeed it today) I was able to produce the item. Now, 9 times out of 10 I have at least another one hidden carefully away. Now I only need to work on remembering exactly where I hid what!

By Toni (zombieas… (not verified) on 15 Feb 2010 #permalink

I think a better alternative to composting is worms. They are essentially cold-blooded ruminants. They have bacteria in their gut that digests cellulose and they convert the sugars to biomass which you could feed to your chickens. That is better than letting the cellulose go up as CO2 from bacterial respiration.

You could even save hay, straw, or leaf biomass to feed the worms in winter. Even wood chips and bark.

Beans and grains generally come in bags, which rodents and insects can infest.

Beans, cereal grains, and pseudo-cereals keep well in sealable gallon jugs. I recommend those with substantial distinct flavors so that it doesn't taste generic.

Beans: chickpeas

Cereals: barley, corn, oats.

Pseudo-cereals: amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa.

As someone who has already drunk the koolaid, this is hysterical. My brother looked at my basement and told me he would be over if we had a natural disaster. I just told him that it was easier for me to buy healthy, organic foods in bulk. He bought it, but probably won't do the same anytime soon.

We are spending 5% of our tax return this year on storable food. I got hubby on board by getting some of the pouch style freeze dried meals that can be used for camping (which we do a lot of) if they never get used in an emergency. They will probably go into our Bug out Bags as they will be more useful in a disaster than as a buffer against high food prices/trips to the store. I also got some freeze dried fruits in #10 cans, a crank operated radio/flashlight and some first aid items to round out our first aid stores.
Grains and beans I've just gradually added as I caught things on sale, so I never had to allocate a chunk of money to that part of the food stores.

Fun and funny post. Keep them coming, Sharon!

From my point of view, living in the city, it's more important to be part of mutual-support networks than to have plastic barrels of beans.

Likewise it's more important to get in the habit of learning about food and food preservation than it is to have the food physically on hand.

The important things are in are head and in our relationships, rather than the physical things themselves.

Thus, anything we can do to get excited about food and sharing is a plus.

We've been drying and canning fruit that people give us, and giving them some of the results in exchange.

At this time of year in California, there is an abundance of citrus, so we've been making dozens of jars of marmalade. I wrote about it in "The Survival Value of Marmalade"

Energy Bulletin

Wow, you are way nicer than I am. My take on it was that since I do the cooking and meal planning, I got the final say. Which was that I hate spending my precious time with Dear Husband in the mosh pit that is our nearest grocery store. There's always some jerk idly debating between Crunchy or Smooth until you're ready to scream, "It's peanut butter, ferthaluvvagawd! You're not deciding whether to have an abortion or not! Just pick one and get out of everyone's way!"

1. Buying large quantities online is cheaper than paying retail. You get wholesale prices, and even shipping costs don't quite make it as expensive as retail. Also, you get better stuff.

2. Dude, you insult my granny, my aunties, my uncles and my cousins, and their entire way of life. That's sort of not cool. Only I am allowed to insult them. ;^)

3. Ikea has many storage solutions at prices to suit every budget. Weirdly, this is a piece of advertising that is actually true.

4. Never heard this protest, actually. I think the spouse saw it as an opportunity to play Ninja/Rambo in real life.

5. I do the cooking. I grew up in an old-fashioned Mennonite extended family. You eat what's on your plate, or you go hungry, and you can compliment the cook or you can be excused.

6. Zombie Apocalypses can be fun. We've been over this.

7. As long as there are coked-up yuppies banging their BMWs into my car in the store parking lot, it is bad enough that I will eat stored food.

8. If you go camping at all, get a decent camping purifier. Then you have it, just in case, and you can go camping sans giardiasis, which is even better.

9. #2 also applies. Actually, I have heard this from the very same people who eat "fermented" (read: spoiled) eggs and shark and whatnot as part of their culture. Somehow that is magically done right by elderly grannies who bury raw shark steaks in the actual beach sand until the next blue moon before eating it uncooked, whereas pressure-canned homemade strawberry jam is a potential biological weapon.

10. Another one I have never heard. You don't spend money, you save it in the long run--I calculated that it would take 2-3 months before my shelving and canisters paid for themselves, and thereafter I'd be saving about $1500-2000/year in retail markups and gas money. You don't spend time at the grocery store, you gain it baking bread while singing Broadway songs in your kitchen with your family. It's not hard, because if it was hard little old illiterate grannies would not be able to do it. Hard is deciding whether it's time to put Mom in a nursing home. Expensive is having to put a tuition payment on a high-interest credit card because the financial aid office buggered your paperwork. Keeping a well-stocked pantry is pretty easy, all things considered. And like money in the bank, it makes other parts of your life just that much easier, because you no longer have to think and worry over them.

I really hate to suggest this, but if you want to start saving food, and you are the primary shopper and food prep specialist, then there is always the passive-aggressive resistance move. "Yes, dear" and proceed at will. By the time the offended party notices the difference, the lack of store-prepped fodder won't be as noticeable as the extra time the food prep specialist is stirring, and available to talk, in the home.

Aside from the storage, (don't forget to date everything, keep track of expiration dates, and rotate, rotate, rotate - eat the oldest on the shelf, not the newest) there is the garden. Gardens, and any food-destined critters are good for the body, soul, and for building hand-eye coordination, stamina, and awareness of nature in child and adult. There is character and satisfaction to be found in that dirt. Daily.

A bit off-topic - do any states incorporate vegetable gardening seeds and supplies into their food stamp program, especially where children are involved? That seems like a low-cost addition to the program, that could pay off big time. If 1,000 families raised 10 pounds of carrots one year, that would be 10,000 pounds of carrots that might not have been part of a healthier diet in that state, maybe as much as 10,000 pounds of carrots that wouldn't need to be trucked in - and potentially 1,000's of children introduced to gardens, vegetable planning, planting, harvesting, and preparation for the table. Even if the emphasis was on window and patio box gardening for those lacking formal or community garden space, caring for plants could be cost effective for many. Not to mention the personal rewards.

The zombie paste! I almost want to get married/have kids/whatever to use these excuses.

Alas, the various critters don't care what I do as long as the get fed anyhow.

Freeze-dried foods, on the other hand, are typically already a meal that just requires rehydration. Just pour some odd-looking powdery concoction into a pot of hot water and let it sit for 20 minutes or so and return to find that it has magically soacked-up all the water and turned into a steaming pot of yummy Chili Macaroni or Chicken Teriyaki, all pre-cooked and seasoned and ready to eat. Most freeze dried foods are typically advertised as having an almost unbelievable 25 year shelf-life if left unopened.

As always, it is up to you to decide which is your best option for putting up a larder of storage food. Only you can decide what best suits your individual situation. For me and mine, I have concentrated mostly on dehydrated and freeze-dried so far, but I am planning to put away some bulk beans, rice, rolled oats, and pancake mix in 5 gallon buckets with mylar liners and oxygen absorbers in the next few months.

Great post and comments, too. Love those bad answers.
Thank God there's more than one way to acquire and store food. The most important thing is to just do it!

freeze dried food:
assuming you aren't a 'bot, I just have to say this: ANYTHING I make from scratch tastes better than the freeze dried stuff I have eaten. (And what I have eaten was relatively high quality back-packing food.) Even when I'm half asleep and don't have all the correct ingredients, it is still way better. And if you are planning on using primarily freeze dried, pre-prepped meals in the case of Zombie Apocalypse, I hope you have a good supply of pain killers for when your kidneys decide they've processed too much salt and start making kidney stones. My husband passed one a few years ago, and I *never* want to see him or anyone else in that kind of pain again. That was the event that prompted me to go looking for things like canning instructions because so much of what is out there is so stinkin' full of salt.

For emergency usage, especially with fuel in short supply -- sure. For a way of life? Not so much.

I'm with Laurie, Freeze-dried - that stuff is salty and of low quality, not to mention unbelievably more expensive than buying staples and storing them. I'm not opposed to small quantities of that stuff for emergencies, but as a basis? No way.

Bart, I hate to disagree with you, but I think you are out of your mind ;-). Preservation skills are extremely valuable, community is extremely valuable, but you will find that you can't eat community or skills and that nearly everyone gets hungry 3 times a day. Whether you just can't afford food or you want to help other people or stores are shut down, neithers skills nor love is a substitute for dinner. IMHO one of the best reasons to store food is for your community - because most people won't be, and because it is possible to be generous if you've got a reserve.


Hi Sharon -- no, not out of my mind. I just live in an entirely different setting than you do - in one of the largest urban conglomerations in the world,in a small condominium with all-electric appliances. If there are power/fuel outages and civil disorder, stored beans are not going to cut it. Panic and hysteria are the big problem in my mind.

If I may be so bold ... I think that physical preparations are WAY over-emphasized. It feeds our hyper-individualism, our reliance on things rather than people.

Just as with the survivalists, these preparations only make sense for short-term disasters. We've got enough to keep us going for two weeks and that's enough. What we do have is a large extended family, connections with friends and organizations, and a mindset that ensures we will be calm and happy when others are fearful. And we live in a community that is smart and able to work together.

Out in the country, it makes more sense to stock up, but here it is a minor consideration.

Re: the question about Y2K - there are many answers to this, some realistic, some tongue-in-cheek - but my answer is - After suddenly becoming disabled and unemployed I was able to live off or supplement with my Y2K supplies for a very long time. I was not a fanatic, didn't have an underground shelter et al... just a few tupperware storage containers of canned goods and such.
I believe in the idea of "insurance" because when you need it you really need it. I never had to feel like a fool for my "unecessary preps" in a non-event (not my words) I came out the winner and hope to do so again.

By GrandmaMisi (not verified) on 16 Feb 2010 #permalink

Bart, I think you may be right, for really dramatic civil disruptions, but if you plan to stay in your community in a crisis, the most likely scenarios - we get poor, food is hard to come by - only look better with more food. And for those without an extended family to escape to, well, you can always give them your food if you are leaving - there will always be lots of people who have to stay.


Thanks, Sharon! You did it again. Great head on your shoulders.
It's too bad I prefer the "bad" answers....I think they're more fun to explain to people. I'd rather be crazy than dead any day.

By Dan Conine (not verified) on 19 Feb 2010 #permalink

Good ideas all. I just have to quibble with the comment about pressure canning; it's actually more safe than the boiling water bath method.

By Dan's wife (not verified) on 19 Feb 2010 #permalink

Just by natural inclination towards hoarding and frugality, the type of food I tend to eat, and going camping often, I do tend to have on hand a couple of weeks worth of shelf-stable food, and non-electricity dependent cooking facilities. And I agree that this is a good idea to prepare for storms, extended power failures etc,

I also have 2.6kW of photovoltaic generator in my side yard (in suburbia). But, come the apocalypse and/or revolution, I have no illusions that this will do anything other than make my house an attractive target to be seized by a gang of armed thugs. I also have no inclination to take any steps to address that particular risk.

And I remain unconvinced of the idea that food storage is a good way to prepare for disability, job loss, or other family mishaps. For most people I know, food is a very small portion of their overall expenses - I would think that a sound financial strategy (ie savings and contingency planning) would be better (but not as much fun) as preserving and storing food.

Theo, I think we can see from what's happening right now that despite the fact that food is a small part of people's budgets, an increasingly large number of people can't buy it. Add that food you grow yourself and preserve or buy in quantity is cheaper - sometimes free - I think that it can make a difference, and a substantial one.