Just now, there are some various lists floating around my home territories of the Interwebs that share “How to Build Food Storage for $5 A Week” and other similar titles and schemes. That $5 a week one has shown up five times for me, in the last five days!
Looking at it, specifically, I notice a few things that become problematic when you have to actually EAT your stored items. Nowhere does it mention these are storage items for essentially one person, not for a family. And the foods themselves are problematic. During the course of a year, with this particular list, you amass various quantities of 14 food items, and 2 non-food items, and no toilet paper at all:
12 pounds of salt. If you’re doing your own baking and such, this is pretty reasonable, and you’ll have some left to scrub the cast-iron skillet.
30 cans of condensed cream soup (salt, sugars, and chemicals)
40 cans of condensed tomato soup (salt, sugars, and chemicals) (So, that’s 70 cans of condensed soups. You get one can per week for the whole year, and get to choose 18 additional glorious days with More Soup.
A whopping 180 POUNDS of sugar… for one person. That’s in addition to the sugars added to the canned soups, box mac, and peanut butter. That’s a LOT of sugar. So much sugar. Americans eat a lot of sugar to start with, but this storage plan tops average 2005 sugar consumption levels (100 pound per person) by another 80%! And at the list’s $5/20 pound assumption, you’re spending nearly $1000 on sugar–and that’s at antique prices. Current prices for sugar in my area run about $5.50 for ten pounds (store brand), so spending only $5 a week cuts that sugar purchasing down to 90 pounds, which is much, much better, and still waaaay too much sugar for one person to consume. Our family of 6, with all our baking habits, uses about this in a year.
10 pounds of honey. More sugar, but at least it’s a digestible kind. If you have a diabetic in the family, please make sure to store a whole lot of insulin.
100 pounds of flour… which sounds like a lot, until you’re doing your own baking, and realize each loaf requires between 1 and 1.5 pounds of flour, and that means getting anywhere from 75 to 100 loaves in a year, without making any other use of flour. That’s less than 2 loaves of bread a week. And bread is practically your only protein source in this storage plan… you’ll get about 55 grams of protein per loaf of bread. A good target amount for daily protein is about .8 grams per 2 pounds of body weight. That means a 150 pound person needs to shoot for 420 grams of protein per week. This plan’s flour allotment gets you 110 grams in a week. For one person.)
One bread-stuff option: homemade English muffins, which can be done from the pantry, if you store the right stuff!
12 pounds of macaroni noodles presumably to mix with the cream soups for some sort of protein-free chemical goulash?
21 boxes of chemical mac-n-cheese (salt, sugars, and chemicals again). Good luck making it edible without butter, because that’s not part of the storage plan.
24 cans of tuna (finally, a non-flour protein source! Only a little bit, though. You get 10 grams of protein in one meal, once a week… for one half the year. So now the plan has one person consuming a total of 120 grams of protein a week for at least half of the year, against a basic need of 420 grams a week. This is not a ratio for survival.)
6 pounds of peanut butter (hey, another tiny bit of protein! 6 pounds of PB will give you 85 two-tablespoon portions, with 8 grams of protein per portion. So you can add 1.5 sandwiches for one person per week, and get a whole 13 total additional grams of protein… now we’re up to 133 grams, against that basic need of 420 grams per thin adult per week.) (And mostly salt, sugars, and chemicals.)
6 pounds of yeast. This is not a bad amount, particularly if you know how to use it for a sour-dough start, and can make a lot of bread without adding new yeast.
40 pounds of powdered milk (the list is not specific as to whether this is non-instant milk, which requires mixing with hot water and chilling before it’s drinkable, or instant milk, which doe not. 40 pounds of non-instant dry milk will yield about 160 quarts of milk, which sounds like a lot, but actually works out to ONE person having 14 ounces of fluid milk per day. And if you store 40 pounds of instant milk, one person gets 7 ounces of fluid milk per day.)
6 pounds of shortening (one of the most chemically processed fats you could choose, with zero nutritional value on its own. Lard has actual nutritional content. And a variety of oils is better than just one hydrogenated chemical oil.)
1000 ct multivitamins (and you’re going to need ‘em! The food list is really low on vitamins and minerals. Notice, there’s not a single fruit or vegetable item listed. Not one. British sailors were given more actual nutrition than this list provides.)
500 count aspirin (so, the list is made pre-Advil? That explains buying 5 pounds of honey for $5. Or 20 pounds of sugar for $5. Actually, if you only buy $5 of sugar at each buying interval, you’ll end up with a lot less sugar, so that’s a good thing. )
It sounds harsh, but a person amassing this quantity and distribution of foods is worse off than someone without any storage at all, because this plan lulls one into the idea that they are prepared. And it’s not a preparation plan. It’s not edible, nourishing food.
The very low protein levels (133 grams per WEEK if we’re generous… now take your body weight, divide it in half, and multiply by .8 to see what your baseline protein intake actually needs to be to maintain key body functions) lead to some ugly consequences: muscle wasting, increasing weakness, compromised immune function, hair loss, skin changes/rashes, mood changes including depression, and eventually shock and even death. Without consuming any protein, the human body can only live about 70 days, and those will be rife with the physical deprivation and malfunction I just mentioned. This plan gives only about 1/3 of baseline protein levels for a 150 pound person. Sooooo… live miserably and die about 8am on day 93 instead.
Yes, I know this meme/plan is only a suggestion, or a start, or something. But it’s about the worst way to go about accomplishing provident, functional storage.
WHAT WORKS BETTER
This site has a much more functional planning strategy. This site gives some solid basics and reasons why. Yes, it’s possible to build food storage $5 at a time. But, it needs to be more thought through than the $5/week plan floating around the net!
I’m not a perfect paragon of storage. Not at all. But here are the questions I look at when building at $5 a week:
- What does my family actually eat? We eat a lot more variety of grains than the above “plan” allows for. Wheat, oat groats, corn grits/polenta, barley, and more regularly grace our table. Going to only wheat flour would be a vast down-grade to our eating plans. We eat leafy and root vegetables, and fruits, and a wide variety of protein sources, including different rices and beans. For storage to be provident and functional, it needs to contain what we actually eat.
- What are the realistic quantities? For instance, our family of six will consume an average of two loaves of homemade bread, or their equivalent (homemade biscuits, rolls, tortillas, muffins, scones), per day. Seven days a week. We’ll use the equivalent of three 15oz cans of vegetables in a dinner meal. I need to store realistic quantities for our consumption, or we’ll run a high risk of feeling grossly deprived. (And that includes some items that are strictly for comfort and treats! That’s why we store fruits for making pie, and chocolate chips for cookies, and cocoa powder for cakes and pudding and hot cocoa.)
- Do those menu items come in shelf-stable versions? This might include dehydrated, freeze-dried, home-canned, or commercially-canned items, as well as stable-as-is items (like grains).
- What are the most nutritionally-dense foods I can store? (hint: sugar is not one of them. Nor is box chemical mac.)
- What are the most beneficial and shelf-stable protein sources I can store? (hint: dry beans and rices, lentils, and other such vegetable-based complete proteins are awesome to store, bulk up gorgeously when cooked, and can be used in a variety of cooking styles. And backyard chickens provide fresh eggs daily, no shelf-storage needed–although you can store fresh eggs, right there on the counter, for weeks!)
- What shelf-stable fats can I store? Oils, lard–our bodies need fats to function well! One stable source of fats is actually in certain grains–I’ll do better storing wheat berries and grinding them fresh for bread, retaining the tiny amounts of fats in the grain, than by trying to store huge quantities of pre-ground whole wheat flour that risks the fats going rancid before I use them.
- What seasoning sets give those basics a good variety of flavors? How can I store those in shelf-stable ways, and how much should I be storing? Salt, pepper, garlic, onion, curry, cumin, bouillons, coriander, cayenne, dry mustard, dried herbs of all kinds, more garlic, sriracha, Mex-style pepper sauces, Worchestershire, soy sauce… all of these are in our normal flavor patterns, and to be in a situation of living off only stored foods, without those flavor patterns, would be a huge spark to depression, appetite fatigue, and voluntary starvation.
Flavor! Who knew?
- How can I adjust my grocery and meal planning to allow for small, consistent purchase of additional quantities to build my surplus store? Stocking up on peaches to home-can only makes sense when peaches are in season; if I’m going to put up jams and jellies, I’ll need to make sure I do purchase additional sugar in the months leading up to the cheapest fruit availability. Do I have secure, air-tight storage for seasonings, herbs, grains, etc? Can I adjust our meal plans to incorporate the least-expensive forms of high-quality protein, carbs, and fats?
I grew up with an active cycle of food storage and use, and I’m trying to do better with my current plan. Living with that active cycle is a heck of a lot of work, so involving the whole household is vital! The quantities to feed a household of ten, realistically, were enormous. It wasn’t feasible to do it all at once, and a spread-out plan that takes advantage of seasonal accessibility and careful purchasing is really the only way to make it work no matter what size household you have.
Some is better than none. Planned “some”, tailored to your household’s needs, is better than generic some.