In recent months I've noticed a surge of radio and Internet advertising from long-term food storage companies, such as Food Insurance and Daily Bread. Some of these companies even offer emergency food stored in backpacks. This does make sense if you happen to live in an area prone to natural disasters, such as wildfires, hurricanes or flooding, since it’s entirely possible you could be ordered to evacuate your home on short notice. Just grab the backpacks, toss in the car and go. But for the most part I think this marketing campaign is a result of the uncertain times we live in, and while I'm not discouraging anyone from buying these products, keep in mind they can be quite expensive. I honestly think that in the event of a bona fide food emergency the government would probably go back to food rationing, as was done during WWII. At that time normal food production and distribution was disrupted by the war, causing shortages in the United States and in Europe.
Then there are the recent headlines about the Russian government’s decision to not export wheat this year, due to heat waves, fires, and severe draught. This to me is more cause for concern than advertisements for emergency food storage. Wheat is, after all, a staple food, and much of Europe gets its grain from Russia. This could have the potential to create spot shortages in Europe, and it most certainly will cause a world wide increase in the price of wheat products, such as bread and pasta. With this in mind it probably wouldn’t hurt to pick up an extra bag of flour, cake mix, or package of pasta on your next shopping trip, and here's a tip to keep that flour fresh over the long term -- toss it in the freezer.
I learned most of what I know about food storage from my mother, who grew up during our last Great Depression. She’s been shopping and storing food this way her entire life -- during good economic times and bad. Her tips are simple and are probably much more affordable than those expensive emergency food storage packages.
• Watch for store sales, and whenever canned foods, pasta or staples, such as flour and sugar, go on sale, stock up. Even if you don’t need those particular items that day at least buy one or two. This helps you keep your pantry full for the least amount of dollars.
• Don't let your pantry get too empty. Keep a list of items you're running low on and replace them on your next shopping trip.
There are other steps you can take as well to help make your food dollars go farther, and while they may seem novel to us today, such practices were common for our grandmothers. Maybe Grandma was on to something.
• Seeds are cheap, and a back yard vegetable garden can be a fun project for the entire family. Check with your local nursery to find out grows best in your area, and if you have the space, plant a fruit tree or two. Not only will it help feed your family, it can also provide shade while making your yard prettier and more inviting. If you live in a condo and don’t have a yard you can put a small planter box on your deck and plant a mini garden.
• Try home canning fresh fruits and vegetables, either from your own trees or gardens, or whenever they go on sale, as they do every season. During WWII home canning helped families weather the food shortages of the time. Don't know how to can? Don't worry. There are plenty of books on home canning out there, as well as videos on YouTube. Your local community college may also offer courses on home canning for a reasonably low price.
And finally, don't panic. Remember those food storage companies are trying to sell a product, and scaring people into buying something is an old marketing ploy. My life experience has taught me that the worst-case scenarios rarely, if ever, happen. Nonetheless, during these uncertain times, it never hurts to be prepared, just in case.