I have no desire to be the soothsayer of doom, but remember that if nothing else, history repeats itself. Very few days go by without the evening news recounting the trials of people facing the wrath of nature. In the aftermath of the storm, we are good about touting our virility as we relate our tales of survival. However, this should be the time for reflection and preparation for what Mother Nature has planned for us tomorrow.
In the last issue of The New Pioneer, N.E. MacDougald’s article “Survival Teamwork” gave us a good overall review of how to prepare for bad times. But I would like to dwell on one aspect here: The topic of maintaining an emergency food supply, and in particular, the growing trend towards stocking prepackaged freeze-dried foods for those times of need.
Ready to Eat
It all started when the military introduced the MREs (Meals-Ready-To-Eat) to replace their traditional C-Rations. As with any product produced for the military, it didn’t take long before commercial brands began hitting the market. At first, these food goods were marketed towards hikers and campers as an easy-to-carry, easy-to-fix and lightweight alternative to traditional camp cooking. The concept behind the meals varies by brand. Meals are either cooked and then freeze-dried, or are blends of dehydrated and possibly freeze-dried ingredients. They are then sealed in foil packages or cans, and some brands add oxygen absorbers to extend storage life. Preparation is simple and straightforward. Open the package, add boiling water, and reseal while you wait for the meal to reconstitute. The fear of Y2K, and then the aftermath of Katrina, promoted this style of food as the end-all of emergency preparedness. Just buy a few cases, sit back, and be smugly content with your ability to beat Mother Nature. It all sounds easy and carefree, but my military experience was with the United States Navy.
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We didn’t believe in roughing it, and I am totally ignorant of the value of MREs. This ignorance, combined with a natural paranoia, has driven me to ask a few questions before I purchased case after case of this modern manna from online sources.
Being such a major part of emergency preparedness, food deserves more thought than just throwing a credit card at the problem. If nothing else, please go and ask yourself, why, what, when, and where?
Why Stock Up
When it comes to stocking an emergency food supply, “why” is the easiest question to answer. We have to eat to survive and the weather outside isn’t going to change this fact. Have you ever heard of a disaster that comes after breakfast and is over by lunchtime? Our modern lifestyle has also helped us develop two bad habits. First, most families only plan ahead for a meal or two. We take for granted that the local grocery will be sitting there just waiting to serve us.
Second, those who have a food pantry, have the bad habit of overestimating their supplies. If you scoff at that last statement, go to your own pantry before you tell me I’m wrong. Look at those canned goods, staples, and baking supplies. How many complete and balanced meals can you prepare from what is sitting on the shelves? After canning the bounty from our gardens, we may have a hundred jars of vegetables put back, but does a meal of beans and squash sound appetizing?
Check out the government website, ready.gov, which advises that we have at least a 72-hour food supply. I would consider that a vast underestimate. The government may think it can react to a disaster after just 72 hours, but that doesn’t mean you will find Uncle Sam at your dining room table playing waiter. A week’s supply is good, a month’s is better, and some would even advise no less than a year’s supply.
What to Stow
“What” is the question that takes a little thought. The concept of having cases of prepared meals sitting in foil pouches sounds like a smart idea. Just purchase a supply, store them away, and wait for the next hurricane. To make it easier, the number of suppliers has more than doubled in the past couple of years, and there are more companies hopping on board all of the time. Wanting to make a wise choice, I ordered samples from three different companies for my own evaluation.
Mountain House meals, produced by Oregon Freeze Dry, Inc., has to be one of the best-known producers and they have a vast menu of meals. The Wise Company, of Salt Lake City, Utah, is a growing company that has really been hitting this market strong in the past couple of years. The third company, SurvivalCaveFood of Chesapeake, Virginia, is a little less known, but offers a different menu choice. On the Internet you can find these companies and review their menu choices. Most of their websites also offer a vast array of information on storage, preparation, and nutritional values.
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My original intent was to try each for taste, and to report on the results. However, I learned a valuable lesson I should have already known. There are some foods I just don’t like, and putting them in a new package isn’t going to make a difference. All three companies had menu choices I really enjoyed, but all three also had meals my dog wouldn’t eat. I would suggest you order small quantities, and give them your own taste test before stocking up.
At the same time, there isn’t anything that says you can’t order a mixture from several different companies. Don’t forget to have each member of the family do the same. We all know that children can be picky about what they eat, and the middle of a natural disaster is not the time to fight with your child about eating a meal. Needless to say, disasters bring about a high level of personal stress. A good warm meal can do wonders to relieve stress, but forcing yourself to eat something you don’t like just increases the agony.
In my research, the shock came when I studied the nutritional values listed for the meals. The recommended diet for the average adult is around 2,000 calories per day. Of course this can vary from person to person, and can also vary due to the activities of the day. The more you work and exert yourself, the more you need to eat. You will find that each brand is inspected by the Department of Agriculture, and must have contents and nutritional values listed.
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Read the labels! As an example, most entrée packages state that they contain two servings. Yet, on the average, there are only 250 to 350 calories per serving. Add that up. You would think that with three servings a day, you would be eating three meals, but in truth, you are slowly starving yourself. Just because these meals come prepackaged does not relieve you of the duty to plan your meals. Make sure you have enough for your needs. Also study the amount of fats, sodium, and protein per package.
This type of meal is easy to prepare. Just open the package and add about 16 ounces of boiling water. After a short wait, the meal is hydrated and ready to eat. (Make sure you remove any oxygen absorber packet that may be inside the foil container before adding the water.)
This is a good time to mention that most storms are accompanied by the total loss of electrical power. (This may mean you also have no water so be sure to store some.) The value of a small camp stove or flameless heating kit cannot be overstated. To prepare the meal all you need is a way to heat water and a spoon. The meal can be eaten straight from the package.
A Note on Storage
One strong point in favor of these meals is their storage life. On average, they are estimated to last from seven to 25 years or even longer, depending on the company, contents of the meal, packaging materials and storage conditions. A cool, dry location is all that is required for proper storage. If you make sure you have enough to supply a good balanced diet, you are ahead of the game.
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Let me also point out the pre-cooked canned meats offered by both SurvivalCaveFood and Mountain House have a 25-year shelf life. This meat could add protein and variety to a freeze-dried diet.
When to Start
Now! Find the meals you enjoy and work out your menus based on nutritional values, then order a sensible supply. Mother Nature is not known for her patience.
Some companies will accept orders over the Internet and some will only sell through distributors. The websites will tell you how to order, along with providing valuable information on preparation and storage. Like a lot of projects, the original intent often gets modified once the project gets started. I thought all I had to do was to taste a few meals, write with the air of an expert, and answer your questions. Unfortunately, the more I learned, the more I needed to know.
Food For Thought
Freeze-dried and dehydrated meals have their values. Ease of preparation and storage life (if properly packaged) are strong points in their favor. They will be there for times of need. As for taste, only you can make that judgment. What I like and what you may like could be totally different.
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I suggest you keep a well-stocked pantry of canned goods. Rotate the use of these throughout the year to keep them fresh. Be sure to add in a supply of freeze-dried foods, and in an emergency mix both as needed. If you have to leave your home during an emergency, the lightweight of freeze-dried foods is a big advantage. The best answer I found in my search for the perfect survival stash is that there is no one answer. Just remember, the crack of a single lightning bolt can instantly interrupt your everyday food supply.