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Poverty Prepping: My Food Pantry

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Under my bed I store 39 of the #10 cans of freeze dried foods.

Under my bed I store 39 of the #10 cans of freeze dried foods. It cost about $530 and will feed me for 4 months. I have another 2 months worth of freeze dried foods in the van and it cast

(I’m posting this on March 26, 2014 and at this time every year my mind and heart turn to the single strongest memory I have from my childhood: The Good Friday Earthquake in Alaska on March 27,1964 (9.2 on the Richter scale) which was the second largest earthquake in the last 1000 years. The End of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI) isn’t a theory for me, I’ve experienced it.)
In today’s post we are going to continue looking at living prepared for the unknown. I’ve laid out what I think are intrinsic problems in our world that I believe have a realistic possibility of causing some really terrible problems: Peak Oil, Global Climate Change and Peak Debt. I believe they are very real and serious problems. Any one of them makes the future extremely uncertain but when combined they feed each other and create the “Perfect Storm” of conditions that I believe will bring about the “Perfect Global Crisis.” Fortunately, I believe it will build slowly over a period of time but eventually it will make the Great Depression look like an afternoon in the park.
We vandwellers are in a unique situation to be prepared for the coming storm by taking some easy steps right now. Today we’re going to look at my example of what I’m doing to build up an Emergency Preparedness Pantry. The first thing I did was decide I needed both a Short Term and a Long Term emergency pantry. Short Term foods are those with a short lifespan, usually 1-3 years. Long Term foods are those that are packaged in such a way that will last 10-30 year. For example, rice, flour, beans and pancake mix are all considered staples of an emergency pantry but if you go to the store and buy them in small packages and throw them in a corner of the van they won’t last much more than 3 years before they go stale or get infested with bugs. So they are short term foods until you either buy them  packaged in a way that lets them last 10-30 years or you repackage them. Then they become long-term food.
I bought this survival food (with a 10-20 year shelf life) 3 years ago but because of inflation it has since gone up in price by half again. In 5 years I believe it will have doubled or tripled in price. It's a great hedge against inflation!!

I bought this survival food (with a 10-20 year shelf life) from Walmart and other stores about 2 years ago but because of inflation it has since gone up in price by half again. In 5 years I believe it will have doubled or tripled in price. It’s a great hedge against inflation!! I can’t remember for sure but I think it cost about $150 total.

One other way that Long Term foods differ is they are often either freeze dried or dehydrated. That has several advantage for us vandwellers:

  • They’re lighter and take up less space. If you want to carry 3-6 months’ worth of food in a van then weight and bulk are extremely important and you want as many freeze dried or dehydrated foods as you can afford.
  • To rehydrate them all you have to do is put them in a thermos and pour in boiling water and wait for them to rehydrate. That’s important because cooking fuel is going to become scarcer and more expensive in the future. The less you need to cook your food the better.
  • They often come packaged in #10 cans or 5 gallon buckets that are nitrogen flushed or have oxygen absorber packets added—greatly extending its life. How long food retains its full nutrition and is edible is determined by the conditions it’s stored under (the cooler it’s kept without freezing, the longer it will last). Storing things in a van is far from ideal so you want as long a storage life as possible. Many freeze dried foods will last 30 years if stored perfectly, but even stored poorly (like they are in a van) they will still last 15 years.

But freeze dried or dehydrated foods also have several disadvantages:

  • It’s expensive! All that extra preparation and packaging costs a lot of money so the price doubles or triples from regular packaging.
  • It may or may not taste good. Some freeze dried foods are great but most are mediocre or even poor, and they are so expensive you can’t just try them all out. My thinking is that when things get bad I’ll be so hungry that I’ll be grateful for any food that I have and I’ll eat almost anything! I also try to buy bland food that even if it isn’t great I’ll still be able to eat it

Nutritional Compromises

No two of us will have the same emergency pantry because our tastes and commitment to (and opinions of) healthy eating is totally different. A raw food eater or vegans pantry will look very different from a low-carb devotee. The key is I think we’re all going to have to make some compromises in our eating habits in order to have an emergency pantry. Fresh and raw food simply will no longer be available and unless you have a lot of money to pay for the best freeze-dried foods it will be very difficult to keep eating the same way. The goal of an emergency pantry is get you through an emergency until you can get back to some kind of normal eating. So I think it doesn’t need to be the healthiest of eating because it’s just for a short time. Hopefully the emergency is short term and things will get back to normal, but if they don’t you need to have a backup plan. I can see two options:

  • Learn to hunt and gather your own natural wild food. The majority of us are not going to find that very practical. However, if you start learning now to forage, hunt and fish, it can greatly enhance and extend your emergency food pantry. There are many places in the National Forests where there is an abundance of foraging along with ample supplies of fish, squirrels, deer and bear.
  • Learn to homestead and raise your own food. Again, most of us don’t have the skill and knowledge to grow our own food, but if you start studying now there may be time to learn. It’s a good idea to carry some cans of heirloom seeds sealed to last for decades. Even if you never plant them they will make great barter items.
These should be your first line of defense against emergencies. They're cheap to buy, go on sale often, store reasonably well, require little or no cooking and are tasty.

These short term foods should be your first line of defense against emergencies. They’re cheap to buy, go on sale often, store reasonably well, require little or no cooking and are tasty.

Short Term Food Pantry

I have to admit I don’t eat very healthily; I’m addicted to the convenience and taste of the typical American prepared food diet. In the long run I’ll pay for that with more health problems but I guess I’ll just have to accept that. On the other hand, it makes it very easy to build up an emergency pantry because prepared foods store very well.
MRE: A Hybrid Food–Some people love Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) because they are just like regular food, but they are packaged to last up to 10 years. They are standard issue rations for the military so they are a proven product but they are expensive, heavy and bulky, so I’ve not stored any. I prefer to have either cheap short term or expensive but light long term foods, not something in-between. But having a few on hand is a good idea.
MRE Meals Standard 12 Case with Heaters (Meal Ready to Eat – Military Type)
My guess is that most of you eat something like I do and building up a short term emergency pantry is no more difficult than buying some extras of what you eat now. The typical American diet is full of canned, packaged and prepared foods that will last on the shelves of our van for 1-3 years. To have a short term emergency supply all you need to do is watch for sale prices on the foods you’re eating now and buy extra. That has several advantages:

  • It’s cheap. By buying on sale you will actually save money and spend less on your food budget.
  • It’s food you like and are comfortable with so you will enjoy eating it in an emergency.
  • Canned goods can be eaten cold and require no cooking.

Here is a table of foods you might consider:

Here is a list of foods to fill your food pantry with. Most of them have fairly long shelf lives but they all must e rotated by FIFO. None of them require refrigeration so make a good meal planner if you are foregoing a cooler.

Here is a list of foods to fill your food pantry with. Most of them have fairly long shelf lives but they all must be rotated by FIFO. None of them require refrigeration so it will make make a good meal planner if you are foregoing a cooler.

The problem is that it’s heavy and bulky and most of us can’t keep 3-6 months supply of it in the small space of a van. Beyond that, because of its limited shelf life I find it very difficult to eat it before it goes bad. What I need is food that 1) is packaged to last 10-30 years so I can store it and forget it and 2) it also needs to be light and compact so I can fit it in a small space and won’t eat up a bunch of gas because of the extra weight. Fortunately, that describes most freeze dried or dehydrated foods perfectly. Therefore the majority of my emergency food pantry is composed of them
Chef’s Banquet 30 Day Food Supply in a Bucket
This is $350 worth of freeze dried foods and will feed you for about 3 months.

This is about $350 worth of freeze dried foods and will feed you for around 3 months. I also stocked up on waterproof matches to cook with and to barter for more food with.

Long Term Food Pantry.

When I was a young man in the 70s and 80s backpacking was just becoming the huge fad it was to become and there was an explosion of innovative and high quality gear for backpackers. Living in Alaska I fell in love with backpacking and did it every chance I got during the summer. One of the new innovations was Mountain House freeze dried food that only needed boiling water to prepare. But more importantly to me as a backpacker was it weighed almost nothing and took up a tiny amount of space. Over the course of the many years I backpacked I tried virtually all of the flavors and liked almost all of them. So when it came time to build an emergency pantry it was an easy decision what I would buy—Mountain House.
Click Here for Mountain House products from

A few Walmarts are selling the Augason Farms brand of freeze dried and dehydrated foods. They are the cheapest I've found anywhere. Not all stores have it but you should be able to order it from their website and have it delivered to your local store for free.

A few Walmarts are selling the Augason Farms brand of freeze dried and dehydrated foods. They are the cheapest I’ve found anywhere. Not all stores have it but you should be able to order it from their website and have it delivered to your local store for free.

The individual meals are too expensive to store up so I’ve been buying the #10 cans. They are also expensive but I found them on sale here and stocked up on all I could afford. They also had the Provident Pantry brand on sale so I stocked up on some of them as well. Walmart is selling a different brand in some (but not all) of their stores at really good prices so I’ve been buying them as well. I know the Mountain House brand tastes great but the others are just shots in the dark. But I’m assuming that in bad times I’ll be so grateful for anything to eat that I’ll gladly eat them. Here is a list of the foods I’ve stored:
This is 6 months supply (182 days) at 1350 calories a day.  It isn't a well balanced diet but it will keep me alive and my energy level up. It also requires the minimum amount of cooking and fuel.

This is 6 months supply (182 days) of food at 1350 calories a day. It isn’t a well balanced diet but it will keep me alive and my energy level up. It also requires the minimum amount of cooking and fuel.

Augason Farms 30-Day Food Storage Emergency All-in-One Pail
As you can see the total calories are 244,843 which is about 1350 calories a day for 182 days or enough to live on for 6 months. It cost around $900. Your first thought might be, “I can’t afford to spend that much!” But bear in mind that is only $150 a month which is actually very cheap! And you don’t have to go out and buy it all tomorrow, you just have to buy a little bit every month (you’re spending the first 10% of each check on yourself, right!).  I started building up my supply two years ago which means I averaged spending $38 a month to build up a 6 month supply of freeze dried foods.
Augason Farms Emergency Food Storage Kit – 30 day – 1 person
Notice that I bought many things that require no cooking like Pilot Crackers, Granola, Orange Drink (for the vitamin C– I forgot to list it in the table) and powdered milk.   I can put a few scoops in water and drink it and munch on the crackers or granola and eat on the move or while I’m hunting or working.  Things like the eggs and pancakes give me variety and require a minimum of fuel to cook. I can make pancakes in the morning and carry them and munch on them through the day or make sandwiches with them like bread. All the meals only require adding boiling water and stirring and then waiting till they re-hydrate.
Click Here for Augason Farms from
You may not have the as much extra room or disposable income for 6 months supply, but I’m sure you have  enough to get started on a month of two supply. I highly recommend you do that!


  1. Linda Sand

    The freeze dried pancakes I have experience with are a mix that still requires you cook the pancakes themselves. I like the idea of using them as sandwich bread, though. As another 1970s backpacker I know fresh bread is hard to come by when backpacking so I’m sure that will also be true in an emergency situation.
    I also agree Mountain House makes tasty food. I can eat it at home which is not something I can say for all emergency foods.

    • Bob

      Right, I agree Linda it’s just pancake mixed packaged to last a long time so it has to be cooked. I just meant it cooks so fast it will use very little fuel to make it.

  2. Ming

    does anyone know where I can find Mountain House in Canada?

    • Les Doll

      Costco sells the Mountainhouse and other brands as well.

      • Ming

        thank you Les, I’ll have to hit up friends who have memberships and give it a taste test.

    • Bob

      Ming, I’m sorry I know nothing about Canada so I’d say do a google search. I can’t imagine any reason it couldn’t be sold there.

  3. Myddy

    I’m still trying around a few different brands. I think Mountain house tastes best- but I’m still looking for cheap that’s not a complete compromise on taste. I’m a bit picky.

    • Bob

      I agree totally Myddy. I bought some Mountain House but mostly other things because they are so much cheaper.

  4. Joe S

    Bob – I agree with you about Mountain House. After eating PB&J sandwiches, trail mix and food like that for several days mountain house tastes like 5 star dining.
    I tried out the breakfast skillet (eggs, bacon, potatoes) as well as Chicken Teriyaki with rice when I was camping near Moab. It was easy to make and tasty.

    • Bob

      Joe, it’s hard to beat Mountain House! They taste great and cook up super easy. But, they are expensive!!

  5. margo miller

    good very useable post Bob. for people that would like to try diffrent kinds of dehidrated and freeze dried foods, companies often have small try-out packages or i get smaller sizes. one co. goes by 1 qt size another by oz’s often 8oz. i get pwdred tomato’s etc to make my own sauce. these smaller sizes usually cost 7 to 12 dollars and in a long run cost a bit more but when you are really space challenged, they are a lot more manageable than #10 cans. there are also dehidrated meats, such as hamburger and sausage, they are pretty costly and i haven’t tried them yet. i do use soy sausage and hamburger when i don’t have access or the money for fresh meat. i think i got most of this info originally from someone on this blog quite awhile ago so thanks to that person and thanks again for a very usuable blog margo

    • Bob

      Margo, that’s a very good tip! There are many other brands but I pretty much stick to what I can get from Amazon though because the prices will be good and ordering is so easy with free shipping. I’d be interested in hearing about other brands you’ve tried if you want to write something up for me.

  6. Ken in Anaheim

    Other than food another good “survival” item is a pressure cooker. Saves time and fuel.

    • mcbe

      Pressure cookers rule!
      Another thing I’m a bit worried about in the prepper pantry is the high sodium content of some of those foods. Almost everything that’s processed is high in sodium and it’s hard on blood pressure. Rice (like jasmine or basmati) and split lentils are just an example of things that can cook up pretty fast without being too processed.

      • Bob

        mcbe, I agree, my pantry is not a very healthy way to live, But, it isn’t intended to be long term. It’s supposed to get me through until I figure out something else. If I were going to eat that way for next 2 years I’d be concerned about the high slat and other problems, but I’m jut trying to stay alive for 6 months. Hopefully after that we can return to eating more healthily.

    • Bob

      ken, very good idea, pressure cookers are great things! But everything I have only takes boiling water so I don’t carry one. I do like cozies to use as a “haycooker.”

  7. CAE

    Prepping is a good idea for a lot of reasons besides just the end of the world. You never know what may happen. I have a two week supply as it makes more sense to me based on what I’ve seen and experienced. But it’s rich in nuts and dried fruit as they taste good and last a long time. So I’d eat them regardless of the situation. Water is also critical as it is second after air on the list of Cant Do Without.

    • Bob

      Right CAE! Common sense says to have a little extra even if you don’t have as much as I do. We’ve talked a lot about water and will still come back to it again.

  8. Kenneth L Wilson

    Thank you for sharing this information, I also think this is a great idea, there is so much coming at us these days that we need to be prepared for!

    • Bob

      Thanks Kenneth!

  9. Corky Deeds

    Are you going to cover water as a separate subject?
    I’ve done a fair bit with biosand filters and carry the basic parts for one as they take little room and cost next to nothing.

  10. Corky Deeds

    I even posted in it, sorry, getting old and forgetful is hell!

  11. LeeRevell

    I’ve been on the edge of the ‘prepper’ life style for some years, and keep a good supply of necessities at home, and soon in the camper van.
    I buy the individual MRE entrees (not the full packages) and use them over rice to stretch it. Same with many MH meals – stretch it with rice, beans, lentils, etc. Lentils are great – don’t need the long soak times like many dried beans.
    Rather than storing a lot of flour, I also use corn meal – I grew up on cornbread being a good scion of the Deep South. Grits too! 😉
    Backing up my stored food with fish and small game also stretches it.

    • Bob

      All great ideas Lee! Seems like you know what you are doing.

  12. Koby Laffer

    Nice post Bob. Your post give valuable information especially in times of emergency. I like your idea and everything from pancakes to canned goods. Keep posting.

    • Bob

      Thanks Koby.

  13. Anna J

    I had been tossing the idea of just getting in a van and going. Glad to have information on how to get prepared. Thank you.

    • Bob

      Anna, it’s a great idea for some of us, but not for everyone. Just the fact that it calls you should tell you something!

  14. Survival Prep Life

    This is an awesome read Bob. By the way, how long the food in those cans stay good and fresh and doesn’t lose their taste.

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