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Providing for the basics part 6: Food

Food is one of the first items looted during an emergency
Food is one of the first items looted during an emergency
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

When we think about survival, one of the first things we often think about is food. This is ironic as most people can survive at least several weeks on little or no food while going without water will kill you in a few days and going without shelter can kill you in a few hours. However, it is understandable that food is the first priority that comes to mind when we think about survival. After all, hunger is the one theoretcially life threatening discomfort we get on a daily basis. How many times have you said "I'm starving"? While it's a common exageration, the truth is that you're not starving and you don't want to know what starving is really like.

If you're like most Americans and are carrying more weight than you want to, you can survive for quite a while off these stored calories. While it would not be fun, most adults can survive at least two weeks with no food while engaging in survival related activities. That said, going more than a day or two without food will drastically reduce the efficiency of a person's coordination, stamina and cognitive abilities. So, while food is not at the top of the list of priorities in a survival situation, in a prolonged emergency, food is going to be something you're going to have to obtain or perish.

Please do not tell me that in an emergency situation you will simply loot the local Piggly Wiggly because every other unprepared person in the area has the same idea and you're going to have a lot of competition. One need only look at disasters like Hurricane Katrina to see how a mob of hungry people attacking a Wal Mart can make a horde of locusts look downright friendly. And please do not tell me that you're off to the woods to live off whatever you can kill from your tree stand. Take a second to think about what the first day of deer season is like. Competition for wild game can be fierce these days and that's under regulated conditions. Scavenging (aka looting) food and hunting can both supplement an emergency food supply but don't count on these techniques exclusively.

The best way to stave off starvation in an emergency is to stockpile food beforehand. But before we get into how much and how to store it, you must realize that you will never be able to store enough food to last indefinitely. In the proverbial total collapse of society, no amount of food will last forever and, at some point, all survivors will have to find alternative ways to obtain food or starve. Thinking along these lines demonstrates how any stockpile of food is, at its core, a stop gap measure. The only difference between one stockpile of food and another is how big a gap are they capable of stopping. Most households have less than a month of food put aside.

The individual who wishes to be prepared for an emergency must first decide how much food they are capable of storing and how much they are willing to store. This is a very individual decision but, as a minimum, I would reccommend three months of food stored using a rotational system. While most interruption of service emergencies last less than three months, the aftermath of these emergencies can go on for several months before life returns to some semblance of normalcy. If society collapses completely, three months of food gives the survivor one less thing to worry about while they adapt to their situation. I reccommend using a rotational system because it is a lot easier to get through an emergency when you're eating what you normally consume instead of existing off MREs and freeze dried meals.

While it is possible to buy a large and costly food storage system, storing and rotating food need not be complicated nor expensive. Make a list of the foods you eat on a regular basis that store well for long periods. My list includes rice, oatmeal, pasta, beans, sardines, corned beef, canned chicken, cooking oil, salt, sugar, vinegar as well as canned fruits and veggies. The next time you go grocery shopping, buy more of your essentials than you need. If possible, buy double what you normally do and set the extra aside in an orderly manner. Begin rotating supplies and continue to buy a little more than you need each time you shop and you will stockpile a respectable amount of food in a short time.

A quick and economical way to store large amounts of food is to use sealable plastic buckets. Buy a bucket for each type of food to be stored and line the inside with mylar or food grade plastic bags. Fill the lined bucket with food and toss in an oxygen absorber or two and you're done. If you're using a rotational system, this should be sufficient. If the food is to be stored longer than a few months, use dry ice to seal the bucket for long term storage. Dry ice is available at your local Publix.

While you're building your stockpile of emergency food, learn to hunt, fish and grow vegetables. Most urban and suburban areas have plots of land that could be used for gardens and plentiful small game which could be harvested in an emergency. Make sure that starvation is a very real threat before you start shooting squirrels and pigeons out of trees. The authorities tend to frown upon these types of activities during non-emergencies. That said, take advantage of every opportunity to hunt, fish or garden and practice these skills regularly. Not only are they recreational, theraputic and good for the ecosystem, should you find yourself in a survival situation, they just might save your life.