Stocking Up a Pantry

Why should you stock up your pantry?

For almost all of human history, people have stored food. Only in the last 50 or so years have people  come to count on having an abundant supply of fresh cheap food available everywhere and at all times. Because most of us haven't experienced real hunger in our lifetimes, we've simply forgotten the why and how of storing food.

If you do not have a food storage plan, you are essentially placing complete faith on the following assumptions:

  • you'll never experience a natural disaster
  • the food supply chain will always have food for you
  • you'll be earning money to exchange for food

You may not want to test these assumptions. Here's why:

Natural Disasters

The number of natural disasters is increasing worldwide, including in the U.S. This is in part from freak weather caused by climate change and in part from increasing population.

You can survive 72 hours without food reasonably easily, but the same is not true for water. If you can't get drinkable water within that time frame, your body will begin to shut down.

Food Supply Chain

As Dr. Robert Hirsch (lead author of the 2005 Department of Energy report on peak oil) points out in his public presentations, when the public collectively wakes up to peak oil, there will be a rush for supplies. Most areas of the U.S. have about four days of food in the supply chain. Wouldn't you rather have your pantry already stocked rather than be one of the people in that mad rush? To see how quickly a Costco can be cleaned out, read about My Costco Field Trip.

The Economy

The economy is a slow motion train wreck right now. The major airlines are on the verge of bankruptcy; the car companies still aren't strong even after the bailout because credit is tight and each month more people become unemployed. Will you have the ability to purchase or trade for food as oil declines? 

Our entire lives have been spent in the most agriculturally productive era in all of history. The green revolution has been powered by fossil fuels in the form of fertilizer, pesticides, diesel-powered farm equipment, transportation and cold storage/refrigeration. Since 1930, these advances have enabled the world population to grow from 2 billion people to over 6.7 billion people, while reducing the number of people in farming from 25% of the population in the 1930s to 2% in the U.S. today.

However, what will happen as oil becomes very expensive or scarce? We still have all 6.8 billion people to feed.

You may have seen news reports on the high costs of food such as rice, wheat and corn, but you may not have heard that the amount of storage of these items is at record lows world-wide. The price increase is a result of low supplies. For seven of the last eight years world grain production has fallen short of consumption. With supplies so tight and climate change beginning to reduce crop yields, I can see too many things that could go wrong.

The culture of personal food storage has atrophied due to lack of need. Even governments have stopped storing food, and the UK has just asked stores to stockpile emergency food reserves because they no longer do.

Now you know that no one is protecting you from bad growing seasons or from high food costs or even scarcity caused by declining oil supplies. But if you get in action now, you have time to prepare.

How much food should I have?

Whether you're planning for a natural emergency (at least 72 hours worth of supply), bird flu (90 days) or peak oil (perhaps as much as a year), there are some basic guidelines.

There are two main types of food storage: maximizing your pantry and long term food storage. Maximizing your pantry basically means buying the stuff you normally buy, but having enough of each item to rotate through before it expires. For example, I use 1 jar of peanut butter about every 4 months, and peanut butter has a 1 year expiration date, so I have 3 jars of peanut butter in my pantry (plus some Nutella). When I use one up, I buy another one and place it in the back, and open the oldest jar in the front. No food gets wasted and I can buy on sale and save money. I also have quite a store of dried pasta. This is the effortless way I prepared myself for at least a few months of food disruption.

Long term food storage is for contingency planning, and will depend on what you're planning for:


The military uses "Meals Ready-to-Eat" (MREs), which are very convenient and require no cooking or added water. They can be a bit heavy and bulky per meal, they have a lot of salt, are expensive (over $6 per meal) and have a medium shelf life (about 7 years).

Bulk Foods

You can also buy bulk foods such as whole wheat, powdered milk (essential for mothers and families with kids), dried beans, rice and of course dried pasta. This is the least-expensive way to go (about $2 per meal), and requires that you cook and prepare all your meals. Shelf life is about 3 to 5 years (or shorter depending on the item), so this works best if you incorporate bulk foods into your day-to-day food consumption and rotation plan.

Freeze-Dried Foods

These are complete meals or foods that require only adding water. As water makes up most of the weight of food, this is the most compact way of storing large amounts of meals. They cost about $3.50 per meal, and with a 15 to 25 year shelf-life, this option works well for long-term food storage at a minimum of cost.

In addition to bulk foods I've also purchased freeze-dried food. I have enough for my wife and me for six months, and I'm mulling over increasing that to one year.

Although it's more expensive than the bulk foods, it's very reassuring to know that I have food in the house with an expiration date of 2033. I actually have no intention of ever using that food. If I need that food, all my other plans have gone poorly, so I look at it as an insurance policy. 

Demand for freeze-dried food has far outstripped supply, and all of the canneries are either out of stock or are back-ordered.

I bought my supply from, as they are one of the few to have supplies in inventory in their own large warehouse in Utah.

How much food to purchase depends on you, your finances, and your storage capability. Here are some questions that will help you understand how much food to store:

  • how much food will you be able to grow for yourself and your family?
  • do you want to purchase food now for people close to you who didn't prepare?
  • will you want to give away some as charity?
  • do you have money now and are concerned about your money situation in the future?

Regardless of how much you buy and of what type, the key is to purchase now while supplies are still relatively plentiful.

Growing Your Own Food

Although this section is on food storage, I can't stress enough that food storage is part of an integrated plan for how you will continue to eat post-peak. Seriously consider starting to learn now how to grow your own food. If you don't have land, consider starting a community garden. The rest of this chapter has links to books and websites that will help get you started.