Sunday, September 28, 2014

SHTF Larder: Lessons Learned

For a number of reasons, it was time to spend a month and eat out of the grocery store in the pantry. I wanted to see how well I'd planned.
In no particular order:

1. The canned meats from Costco were the bomb, albeit bland.
For personal preference, the beef improves greatly with a bit of Worcestershire sauce.
The chicken loves teriyaki. YMMV.
I overbought them: one can, it turns out, is enough meat for two meals, or two people, not one, as I planned. Compared to my planning amounts, I was long on both.
2. Some decades after a year's time on the open-air prison that was Okinawa (where logistics and notable lack of creativity from the mess deck led to a 365-day rice-at-every-meal diet) I have gotten over my distaste for that food. Cooked properly, it makes a nice meal adjunct.
3. Beans are your friend too. Black as well as regular baked.
4. DAK hams, and the Hormel catfood cans of smoked ham are great; a Hormel whole smoked ham in a can is a non-stop 7-day feast! (Esp. if you remember to include yams, cranberry sauce, olives, pineapple slices, etc. I did.)
5. I underplanned both veggies and fruit, esp. the later. But once again, even the individual cans are a double serving.
6. Words cannot describe how much Gatorade, lemonade mix, and Tang turn drinking water into a joy rather than a chore. I'd never had Tang, successfully avoiding the Apollo-era craze in the day, but I'm here to tell you, short of having oranges, it's pretty dang close. Mixing the stuff in a 7-glass OJ plastic jug is also hella easy, and helps to fool the brain: it looks like OJ, it smells like OJ, and it tastes like OJ. I'm sure Kool-Aid packets would be just as welcome. Nestlé's cocoa is also never a bad thing. And most of it keeps damned near forever. Seal it airtight, as the unsealed cardboard canisters for bulk drink mixes eventually suck in moisture, and over time turn the dry powder to a rock that must be chiseled to measure and use.
7. Dinty Moore beef stew isn't bad. Neither is Chef Boyardee ravioli or lasagna. The spaghetti is tolerable. Vienna sausages taste like $#!^, with $#!^ sauce.
8. A well-made PBJ is still a lunch, just as it was in grade school. Ditto for tuna.
9. Condiments, condiments, condiments. You need mayo for tuna salad; threw in a blob of some Dijon mustard too, and the result was better than expected. Already mentioned Worcestershire and teriyaki sauce. Salt & pepper. Brown sugar definitely helps canned ham. So does honey, in jars, or even bulk-bought restaurant packets. Dijon and regular mustard help with ham slices, sardines, etc. Tartar sauce made a can of salmon I had included for the helluvit into a pure delight. Butter/margarine does things for mashed potato mix and canned veggies that I'd forgotten was culinarily possible. Sugar makes any breakfast cereal taste better. Chocolate is a vitamin - esp. to your attitude. Cinnamon for oatmeal.
10. Retorts of spiced salad croutons mix into tuna salad and make a suitable substitute for bread at a fraction of the size or weight. I get the impression dried bread crouton packets would last even if sealed in the pyramids for a millennia or two.
11. Snacks: nuts and raisins, along with granola bars which are both, are the bomb. If I'd had chocolate chips, it would have been heaven. I knew this anyway from backpacking, but after 2-3 weeks, they taste even better than nothing, and they're good for you.
12. Exactly like in backpacking, powdered nonfat milk and dry cereal in water is good stuff. And again, a great place to put dried fruit like raisins and apples, which also works in oatmeal.

Coming up on 30 days this week, I neither gained nor lost weight.
Without being too graphic though, expect a change in daily bathroom habits.

And avoid those trendy protein bars like the devil unless you like the complementary taste of Miralax, and reading War and Peace in the thinking room, with occasional bouts of abdominal pains equivalent to birth pangs. (Actually, it was worse than that.) We should drop those damned things on enemies (along with cans of Vienna sausages), and just sit back and watch. I'm taking them out of everything, as the results (and price) are not worth the penalty, in every sense.

FWIW, I had more than enough stored water, and 1 gallon a day for drinking/cooking/minimal hygiene (washing face, hands, & shaving) per person is adequate for planning purposes.
Washing dishes would be another story. I have picnic plates and plasticware for that, and didn't need to waste them for this experiment to prove the point.
As is sanitation, as some plumbing changes during the month drove home, when I had to fill buckets to flush a couple of times, when the waterworks minions cut off the flow mid-experiment. Not a welcome reality check, but illustrative. If you don't have a 5-gallon bucket with a gamma seal lid or a military 5-gal. water jug or three, and a red wagon or trash dolly - or something better - rectify that.
I had kitty litter and hefty bags, but I wasn't going for the full apocalypse experiment, thanks anyways. TPTB tend to frown on gifting the trash cans with poop, as a rule, so short of an actual emergency, that's that.
I also didn't need to wash clothes over a month, but after two, it'd become more necessary.
Once again, a gallon of water in a five gallon food bucket with laundry soap and a gamma-seal lid, and you have a washing machine. Another gallon to rinse. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. (And it's clean!) Figure two gallons week/per person, per set of clothes. One set (shirt, pants, underwear/socks) fills a bucket, unless you're a 4X and wear coveralls and 4 layers.

My power use was limited to a dorm fridge to preserve food after opening for multiple days, to make OJ and drinks cold, and the use of a microwave for 5-10 minutes nightly. The ability to make or store enough juice to maintain that, along with lighting, would be all I would need for an indefinite period, which is pretty simple. It worked in missile crews and for space stations, and it worked for me.
I could have substituted propane fuel heating for food prep, but the mini-fridge would still be high on the list of really valuable luxury needs, and once you can accommodate that, running a microwave is more economical than storing bulk fuel. 300-plus days out of the year here (SoCal), a solar cooker would be a viable alternative too. So would a Solo stove powered by whatever could be found to burn in it, probably. Have to try both in the near future.

I ate about $2 of food per day, $3 at the most.
Counting power use, my daily expenditure averaged about $4/day. I could do that 24/7/365, so EBT cards are frankly profligate extravagance.

Things I would have changed, and will rectify:
A lot more fruit, canned, dehydrated, and fully dried.
More veggies. A garden for same is already a given. But due to the need/desire for fiber, I'm looking real hard at adding the capability to generate them indoors year-round, with hydroponics in the short term, and aquaculture in the long run.
Flour and sugar would have enabled creation of bread, cookies, crackers, etc. (the occasional cravings for which I would be hard-pressed to over-describe.) I'm not a great scratch cook, but the lack of same the last month eating almost entirely from stored cans and pouches has made the necessity of adding that capability a higher priority. It's tough to channel pioneer grandma, when she died forty years ago, but this month highlighted the benefits of being able to turn wheat into flour, and flour into anything from a sandwich or biscuit to a cake or pie. And a bread maker just went on my Christmas list.
Potatoes. Need more canned new potatoes, and yams.
They would also go along with corn as necessities on any future garden plot. Being able to turn a single potato into a meal, by adding butter, heat, a few ham scrapings or bacon bits, and a little dried onion, drives this home.
Eggs. Dried for certain; live chickens in the long run, for eggs, and meat too. While a tin of sardines with OJ were a surprisingly good breakfast a couple of times, I'm not Norwegian, and would not care to have to repeat that experiment if other choices were available.
A lot more drink mixes for the water supply, and more variety of same.

Canned goods store incredibly well, and stay fresh for 2-5 years. IMO, that's probably the amount you should ultimately aim to keep on hand, and rotate through regularly. Eating a month's worth in one go was an extreme case, but it was only a minor inconvenience. Doing it for a week, let alone just one day, would have been a snap. Even for a family of picky eaters, to say nothing of during an emergency or catastrophe. So you could do one weeks' reserve per month, and never have less than 4 years in canned goods. I understand space is a concern; my supply runs to a year, and takes up nothing more than a broom closet, even with other supplies included. Unless your family is the Brady Bunch, a year's supply is nothing special, and multiple years' worth wouldn't crush anyone with the bother. (Hint: the only reason you couldn't put a year's food per person under each person's bed, right now, is that you haven't tried, and there's too much junk under there you don't need that you haven't thrown away yet. Or they sleep in bunk beds.)
That's ignoring completely doing this with dehydrated foods, or augmenting with home production and canning, fruit trees, beekeeping, etc.

I grew up on a suburban 1/4-acre plot in a teeming city.
On even half that, with minimal use of the front yard, I could produce sufficient food for a family of eight, in my spare time, unless the house on the lot was the Taj Mahal.

But don't take my word for that:
There's even a fantastic book to get you started. I give it 5 stars out of 5.
There's also a companion book that covers livestock animals in depth too. Also 5/5.

Quit making excuses. Get busy.

(Anybody want most of a case of Vienna sausages and protein bars? Shipping is on you. I may list them on the local Craigslist "Free" page, just for the humor factor. Although it probably violates local ordinances, and the Hague Conventions of crimes against humanity. Sigh.)


RandyGC said...

I'm a big fan of Bisquick. Many many weekends in my youth a box worth in zip-lock bags provided pancakes, biscuits, pizza dough, cobbler, dumplings. etc. Also great for my early bachelor days.

Dutch Oven + Bisquick, a hard combination to beat, particularly if you have the meat, eggs, veggies etc you listed.

Not sure how it would do for regular bread, never got that far.

Side note, during SERE school, as a reward for keeping the bitching and sniveling to a minimum (including building an oven to bake some bait fish for dinner), our instructor found the rare and wondrous Bisquick bush!

Aesop said...

Noted, and thanks for the tip.

It was an old Mom standby as well, so I'll have to explore it directly.