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Poverty Prepping for Vandwellers: Introduction to Food Storage

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Cooking over an open fire!

Cooking over an open fire!

Today we are continuing our look at Poverty Prepping for vandwellers, and we’re setting priorities based on Survivalist Rules of Three that says we can live…

  • 3 hours without shelter (from the sun, heat, cold, precipitation or wind)
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

We’ve already looked at being prepared with shelter and water so today is an introduction to building up a supply of food. I believe we should each build up as large a supply of stored food as we have money and room. You’re first thought might, be, “That’s crazy, why should I have a bunch of extra food on hand? There’s plenty of food and if I want some I’ll just run down to the store and get some.” I believe that kind of thinking is very short-sighted and misses the obvious danger that is very real today.
1)      Common sense dictates that emergency preparation is wise. Even in the best of times you should have two weeks supply on hand. Take just a moment to think back to the last 5 years and all the horrendous weather events we’ve seen. In their wake they left power outages with people shivering in the dark for weeks. It’s not just possible, it’s likely we will have many more of those in the future. Shouldn’t you have a few extra emergency essentials on hand to get through them? Every time these things happen and they show TV scenes of people lining up to get food and water handed-out to them I think to myself, “How can those people live without even enough extra on hand to last two weeks?”
2)      Worse times ahead seem very likely. Even if I’ve exaggerated the issues I’ve talked about (Peak Oil, Global Warming or Peak Debt) when taken together there are very likely to be some rough times ahead. So being extra prepared seems very reasonable.
3)      It will save you money. If you will take some time now to watch sales at grocery stores and buy an extra one or two of each item when it is on sale you’ll not only build up a survival supply you will be paying less on your food budget and saving money. That’s especially true if you find Buy One Get One Free sales. Stocking up will literally cut your cost of eating those items in half.
Buying extra food on sale will save you a lot of money and make you safer, but not if you let it go bad and throw it away. It’s critical that anytime you buy more food than you will eat right away that you have a rotation system based on FIFO (First in First Out) so that your survival stash doesn’t go bad. We’ll look closer at that in my next post about my specific storage system
4)      You’ll beat inflation. Whether hyper-inflation comes or not, there is a constant, steady inflation on all consumer goods but especially on food. So buying extra today for tomorrow will save you money. If you’re on a fixed income, inflation slowly chews away at your quality of life and stocking up will improve it. The more you stock up, the less inflation will hurt you. Here is the forecast from the Department of Agriculture on food inflation for 2014:

“Looking ahead to 2014, The food, food-at-home, and food-away-from-home CPIs (Consumer Price Index) are expected to increase 2.5 to 3.5 percent over 2013 levels. This forecast is based on an assumption of normal weather conditions; however, severe weather events could potentially drive up food prices beyond the current forecasts. In particular, the ongoing drought in California could potentially have large and lasting effects on fruit, vegetable, dairy, and egg prices.”

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 (which has 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!!

5)      It should give you confidence. Knowing that you are as ready as you can reasonably be for rough times should give you more confidence and peace. Once you’ve built up your emergency supply you should sleep better knowing you’re ready for life’s ups and downs and hard times.
But isn’t there a danger that we will become obsessed with prepping and go over the deep end into compulsive and fearful hoarding? It’s always a risk but if we are careful and self-aware enough to watch for signs of that then we should be able to find a balance between prudence and compulsion. Here is the barometer I use:  preparing for an emergency should bring me more peace and comfort, if it is making me more afraid and anxious instead, I’ve missed the mark and need to stop and get my heart and mind right. Luckily, RVers and vandwellers have built-in limitation that only allow us to do a limited amount no matter how much we want to store up. Those limitations are:

  1. 1)      A very small space. Because we live in vans and RVs we’re limited by the tiny size of our homes. (We’ll talk about storing on your own land or on Public Land in a future post).
  2. 2)      No extra money to spend on the future. I know some of you are living on just enough money to survive month-to-month. There’s no way you can build up for a long period of time, but all of us should be able to build up a week or two supply.

I recommend you prepare all you can, then never think about it again except to sleep better knowing you are prepared.

How will you know what constitutes a two week supply?

I think the easiest way is to break it down by calories. An average, active adult needs about 2000 calories a day, but that number will vary a lot from person to person depending on your s, size, activity level, age, and individual metabolism. For our purposes we’ll just stick with 2000 as an average. However, I’m assuming that in an emergency I can reduce that amount as a form of rationing, so I am preparing for 1000 calories a day. If I want to have a two weeks supply of food then I need to have 14,000 above my normal pantry. Remember, that in an emergency I’m not that concerned with taste, meal planning or eating my healthiest, I’m just after enough calories to get by until things get back to normal.

I took this table of calories per day from:

I took this table of calories per day from:

You may be thinking it must be complicated to keep track of all those calories, but really it’s not hard to figure out. You can do it in just a few easy steps.

  • Calculate the number of calories in each can or package. For example a can of chili may have 310 calories per serving and has two servings per can, so it has 620 calories per can.
  • Use a Magic Marker and write the calories on top of the product.
  • Add up the total calories. If I have 10 cans of chili in my pantry, then that’s 6200 calories or 6 days supply of food.
  • Finally, add all the items in your pantry. I write out a list of all the different things I have in my pantry and add them up and then I know how many days supply of food I have.
Here you can see that I've calculated the calories for each of these items. The total is about 7900 calories or a ration for about a week. The peanut butter is the superstar! at 2660 calories. It's delicious, nutritious, and requires no cooking. A store recently had the 18 ounce jar on sale for $1.66 each so I bought 4 jars and should have bought more! It does have a limited shelf life though.

Here you can see that I’ve calculated the calories for each of these items. The total is about 7900 calories or a ration for about a week. The peanut butter is the superstar! at 2660 calories. It’s delicious, nutritious, and requires no cooking. A store recently had the 18 ounce jar on sale for $1.66 each so I bought 4 jars and should have bought more! It does have a limited shelf life though.

Which type of food should you stock-up on?

When planning an Emergency Food Storage pantry there are several factors that come into play:

  • Cost: You have to be able to afford it.
  • Shelf Life: How long will it last before it goes bad?
  • Taste: Generally if you get hungry enough you will eat any familiar food even if it isn’t as good as you like. But the better it tastes the more likely you are to eat it. And some things are so unfamiliar and awful tasting you might starve to death before you eat them.
  • Amount of fuel required to prepare it: Beans and rice are a good example of a near perfect survival food, but they require lots of fuel. If you can’t cook them, you can’t eat them.
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.

Foods like 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.

There are four types of Emergency Food Storage:

1)      Fresh, perishable foods. Of course these are the healthiest and what we should all be eating the most of but because they have such a short shelf life they aren’t practical for Emergency Food Storage.
2)      Your normal everyday foods. Especially canned fruits, vegetables, soup, and meats or dried foods or box mixes like pasta, rice, oatmeal or Hamburger Helper. These should be your first line of defense against emergencies because they are cheap and have a fairly long shelf life. You probably already are eating some of them now so they will be familiar and comfortable during emergencies. Many can be eaten cold with no cooking and many of the others cook quickly.
3)      Dried foods that require cooking like beans, rice and grains. These are just about the perfect vandweller or survival food except they require a lot of cooking which means you need a lot of fuel.
4)      Freeze dried or dehydrated foods. These are specially packaged to last for decades and not just months or years. Some well-known examples are Mountain House, Provident Pantry and Wise.
Let’s look at one specific example to demonstrate all these factors. A 25 pound bag of rice from Sam’s Club will probably cost you less than a single #10 can of Mountain House Freeze Dried beef stew and have a lot more calories. But the Mountain House is packaged to last 25 years and all you have to do to prepare it is add boiling water. The rice will last as long but you are going to have to buy 5 gallon buckets, mylar sacks, desiccants (oxygen absorbents) and deciduous earth (bug killers) and repackage it to get it to last that long (and hope you didn’t do anything wrong!). Then when you prepare it will require a lot of fuel for cooking and not taste anywhere near as good as the Mountain House pork chops.
So that is an introduction to food storage, in my next post I’ll give you specific examples of what I’m doing that you may want to consider as well.


  1. Openspaceman

    I have no comment except…that the ruggedly handsome man stoking the fire should have his own TV show.

    • Sam

      Please, his head is already getting so big that his hair is starting to look thin in the back. lol

      • Bob

        Sam, you old horse-thief, look who’s talking!!

    • Bob

      Openspaceman, you won’t get any argument form me about that!!

  2. John Dough

    To save fuel for cooking, a pressure cooker in conjunction with a haybox would help.
    A pressure cooker keeps you from losing heat energy through steam, until the pressure builds. Then it boils foods hotter than unpressurized temperatures.
    It can be then put into a haybox, (insulated box that holds in all the heat) to continue cooking.
    If you have access to wood fuel, a rocket stove will small burn wood pieces very efficiently.

    • Ming

      that’s amazing, I was just going to say the exact same thing about pressure cooker and thermal blanket for it, as well as mention a rocket stove so as to never run of fuel! (great minds…)
      I never went through with the pressure cooker/ haybox experiment, I just bought a thermal cooker instead.

      • GadgetMe

        I use a cooler with towels during the BBQ contests

        • Bob

          Gadgetme, simple, cheap and effective, you can’t ask for more. Hey, you made a homemade Rocket stove didn’t you? Do you have a link to it on your blog?

        • Ming

          nice! I was not happy with the steam and cooking smells that would seep out and get into the blankets that I used for insulation, and had no space in the apartment at the time to keep a big cooler.

      • Bob

        Thanks Ming!

    • Bob

      Those are very good ideas John! I’ll include them when we cover cooking.

    • DrBill

      I use that pressure canner to preserve meats and veggies. Use an LP tank to fuel the fire for the canner. I shove the canned stuff in from the back of the van towards the front and that way FIFO works. The jars take a while to cool down and so heat the van 10 jars at a time. Get 100 jars filled and cooked/canned and you have a quite comfortable temp inside.

  3. Mario

    Bob , don’t even think that you are boring us with these series , to the contrary everyone should be paying close attention and start planning on all your recommendations.
    Not only these dangers are very real in the future … they are here with us NOW.
    Hyperinflation is happening as we speak . . . . below is the headline on MSN NEWS indicating the massive increase that is coming April – 1 from Ontario’s Gas companies.
    Updated: Fri, 14 Mar 2014 08:50:00 GMT | By CBC News,
    Enbridge ( Natural Gas) seeks 40% (plus 13% tax)natural gas price increase.
    My auto insurance came this week at 18% up from last year and my motorcycle insurance at 22% up. If these events don’t wake one up and get him planning in a hurry i don’t know what will. In 1981 I built a computer model keeping track of present and future cost of living and I had based my calculations on 7% real inflation average (doubling prices every 10 years). So far i have been pretty close to reality but these massive increases blow the doors off any well thought out plan. I see a very grim future for the “average person” out there and i believe many will be forced into RVs , Vans, as a house and it’s utilities will be way too expensive to keep. Bob, I think the direction you have taken is the correct one and urge every one to pay close attention to these series and act wisely.
    Personally I am not preparing for Natural Disasters here in Ontario , but the REAL DANGER which is the Uncontrollable Corporate Greed, this is what is pushing us into poverty now and more in the future.
    For now I am forced to use my house as hedge against inflation and this is restricting my freedom a bit but when retirement comes and on fixed income (few unpredictable years ahead )I expect things to turn really tough (first priority is a chunk of money for a new truck as it will basically become my house).
    For many years now I have adapted your suggested food purchasing method ( buying items on sale and storing them for future use )and it really works great. I have also made several versions o ROCKET STOVES
    that can be very effective with any biofuel you happen to have at hand,working great for camping boondocking and in emergencies in general. My latest experiment is a device containing a modified refillable candle using a 2″ CPU fan and a thin aluminum pipe for heat exchanger delivering small amounts of heat into your bed for comfortable sleeping in cold conditions.
    I appreciate your efforts and wise thinking , always a pleasure reading your posts .

    • Bob

      Mario, it sounds like you are being very creative in your planning but I think you’re right, some big financial blows are coming like huge jumps in oil and gas prices. Some of them are predictable but who knows what may be coming down the pike.
      Hang in their, your dreams will come true!

    • Openspaceman

      Mario / Bob_
      I naively think that before computers it wasn’t as easy to manipulate markets/oil prices/food prices, etc. but it just took more people to do it…now we can plan all we want and some lone bond trader can destroy a whole industry with a key stroke and jump off a building. So I’m just gonna live more frugal and build skills that will help me be less dependent on big business.

      • Bob

        That sounds like a good plan to me openspaceman!

      • Mario

        You ,just like Bob have the right perspective of where things are headed now and the future.Unfortunately most of us know that this is THE PLAN between Government and Corporations and not only that of a “lone trader”,both of these Groups benefit greatly from higher prices(Exorbitant profits and Taxes) and i see no other way to defend ourselves but as you say maximize frugality and development of better survival skills .I’m also doing my best to reduce to the max my dependency on large businesses( one example, making survival devices as low tech as they can be to achieve the necessary result). I’m just hoping my body will keep in one piece in the next 10 years and with Bob’s Great articles and advice i think we’ll be able to make it through.

        • Bob

          Sounds like you have a great plan Mario!

  4. Myddy

    I’m really digging this survivalist series you’re doing. It’s great information, and I am using the extra bits that I didn’t already know to add to my survivalist plans that I already have!
    I am curious though- with water situation, where you are at now there is no viable water correct? Do you have to go into town to stock on it? I’m curious because I’m going to be moving out there as soon as I get the gas money. Around here, I stay by a natural creek and the water is super clean, I filter it with a pretty simple method and I bathe in it so I’m never needing to run into town for water.

    • Bob

      Myddy, yes, for now I am just getting my water from town. But I am only 3 miles from the Colorado river which will always run year around even after the Stuff Hits the Fan (TEOTWAWKI) so while I am here I have an unlimited supply of water that needs to be filtered. From here I am going to Cottonwood, AZ at 3300 feet which also has a river that runs year around about 1/2 mile away. In the summer I move up into the National Forrest and it’s not a problem to find a place close to water. I was a campground host for 4 years in the Sierras and Rockies and the whole time I had a creek in my campsite Homer drank out of. I can show you lots of places to camp in the Sierras or Rockies with a creek in camp. Some with fish in them. The one in the Rockies had a family of beaver about 1/4 mile upstream so it would have to be filtered.
      I bought land in northern AZ and it does not have water nearby. But I’m pretty sure I could use rain catchement for 70-80 % of my year around needs and I will also bury water tanks for storage.
      Where are you at?

      • Myddy

        I am in eastern Tennessee. Plenty of forest and rivers/creeks around here. I’m just trying to decide how hard it will be for me to adjust to out west.

        • Bob

          Remember MYddy, there are some REAL mountains, forests and trees out here! You see a lot of pictures from my winters int he desert but I spend every summer in the National Forests. So the West offers you the best of both worlds! Also bear in mind that the temperatures in the forests here are nearly perfect!! No more 100 degree days and 100% humidity.

  5. Mike Hargis

    Back in the late 90’s I hit the road for a while with the wife and kids in an old Blue Bird bus. We weren’t prepping for 25 years down the road, but we did stock our kitchen with a number of 5 gallon buckets full of rice, flour, sugar, oats, lentils, and staple items of that nature. Bulk spices were a nice investment as well. We never regretted having these items on board.

    • Bob

      Thanks Mike, did you pack themselves or did you buy them already packed? Did you end up eating all of it?
      A bus would be perfect for that!Plenty of room, built like a tank and able to carry LOTS of weight!

  6. Lenora

    Emergency Essentials has 5 gallon sealed buckets of rice that are reasonably priced. Sun Ovens are an awesome option for no cost cooking. It’s also a good idea to keep a water filter. Katadyn make awesome, reasonably priced and portable filters.
    Thanks for all the great info Bob.

    • Bob

      Lenora, thans for those tips! I’ve been ordering lots of stuff from Emergency Essentials! Last month they had a great sale on freeze dried foods so I stocked up.
      I’m also a big fan of Global Sun Ovens! I have one and it work extremely well. Katadyn is a great filter. In my early days of backpacking I had one. Now I have a MSR and Sawyer but they are all about the same.

  7. breid1903

    you don’t have to cook grains. google “sprout people”. i’m an old freak. we did a lot of not cooking. hell i still do. you don’t have to sprout them either. take a teaspoon of whatever grain (we used brown rice mostly because that was what the latino markets sold). experiment.
    the ethnic food markets are a good source of “odd” grains and other dried vegs. most people over cook their food. drink the juices, that is where most of nutriments went. that and evaporation. eat your potato skin. learn to dehydrate.
    i could go on forever but i won’t.
    peaceup raz

    • Bob

      thanks Raz, those are good tips!

  8. Linda Sand

    When we first went full-time in a van we didn’t have much weight capacity. Being old backpackers we promptly stocked up on Mountain House foods. At meal time we would make one dinner and one desert and the two of us would be fully satisfied. I’m less sure how I would make this work as a single. I do know I like the beef stroganoff with noodles cold just as much as I like them hot so having them leftover is not a problem as long as I can keep from eating the whole packet in one meal. Maybe I should try liking them less? 🙂

    • Bob

      Hi Linda, I also am a big fan of Mt House and I’m carrying quite a few of them now. What would work perfectly for you is the #10 cans. Once opened they will last a year and you can make the exact amount you want. May be worth a try!

  9. GadgetMe

    Thanks Bob..(there was no reply button)
    It was pretty cheap
    About the only things I paid for was the periolite (from Home Depot)and the aluminum top from a scrap metal dealer (sold by the pound)
    The outer container is an empty paint thinner can.
    The steel tubing I had hanging around. It can also be purchased at scrap prices.

    • Bob

      Thanks K!

  10. Dorothy White

    I have a question for you, Bob. In the pictures in your article, what brand of product are the large gallon cans of the eggs, cheese powder, etc. My thought on those is that if you used these regularly then it would save on refrigeration. However, there are times when a “REAL” egg is nice, especially if baking. Also, where do you pick up these brands of survival products. Thanks.

    • Bob

      Dorothy, the brand name is Auguson farms and I bought them at Walmart. But not all Walmarts sell them so you will have to ask. also sells them. I haven’t tried them yet but generally they’re edible and nutritious but not that great tasting. Some people mix them with real eggs to restore the full flavor.

  11. Diane Bentley

    Great survival series here Bob. I didn’t know there were food packaging differences, no idea some was good for 25 years.

    • Bob

      Dianne, yes, many freeze dried foods are packaged to last 25 years. I’ll talk more about that soon.

  12. Ming

    there are a lot of people with good knowledge who comment on this blog. GadgetMe, John, others… has anyone ever built a wood burning stove that does not deposit soot on pots?
    I have made many stoves for backpacking (wood burning, alcohol, solar oven) and love the wood burners for never worrying about running out of fuel, but I got soot from the pots all over myself and my clothes and gear. That got old fast.
    I’m about to start experimenting again on a non-sooty version, but if on the off chance someone has already built such a thing and could describe it, then I would not be starting from scratch. Specifically, I will be looking to build something small and backpackable.

    • Mario

      Ming , you’re right, the soot is a pain and unfortunately you will get it to some degree even on high efficiency wood burning stoves of any kind. My way of dealing with it is first when finished with my cooking session i wash the outside of the pots very well with steel wool and soap , if adequate water is not available then i isolate these pots in dedicated sturdy plastic bags so they don’t transfer the soot to other articles in my back pack and i pay special attention when handling them to minimize any contact with anything in there.
      For me wood burning stoves are the last resort choice when other clean burning fuels are either too expensive in the given area or not available , i have built miniature rocket stoves for solo backpacking and i carry one for emergency use when my other fuels run out. In the numerous tests i ran on rocket stoves i found that the hotter it burns the cleaner the combustion and watch for the secondary combustion( if the stove is built right)air supply and proper insulation of the combustion chamber,also the type and moisture content of wood burnt affects the amount of soot you get , out in the open it is not possible to get the ideal conditions needed to eliminate soot .
      Only one of my tests when i was burning wood pellets mixed with dry wood and i used air pump injection on the bottom of my can i got the same sort of burning similar to propane,extremely hot and clean with no visible soot but you will need to carry this air pump and it’s battery pack along with the stove (2 AA @ 3V), i usually wait a bit to bring the stove to operating temp. before starting my cooking .Let us know if you figure out a way to prevent soot completely without forced air injection.

      • Ming

        Mario, thank you so much for sharing your extensive experience in homemade wood burning stoves. It’s very helpful.
        I too have tried isolating the pots with plastic bags, as well as pre-coating them with liquid soap, and even wrapping them in tin foil. None of these solutions worked satisfactorily for day to day use.
        I have made gasifiers and non-insulated rocket stoves (to save weight) and they all ended up smoking. As you said, real world found wood is not always ideal for a hot, non smoky burn.
        My cleanest use of wood burning so far has been the Kelly Kettle and its backpacking buddy the Backcountry Boiler as it confines the soot to the inside of the “pot”. It’s also a handy way of disposing of burnable garbage while heating your water. The rest of the cooking is done on an alcohol stove.
        My next experiment will be to use a thin metal plate on top of the stove to act as a soot shield, or a metal box with a chimney. They may or may not have a small hole in the top for direct heat (and soot) transfer to the very bottom of the pot, depending on how much the barrier impedes heat transfer. If I do use the hole method, I would make pot cozies where the pot would be deposited right after being taken off the stove and see how well that works in actual practice for containing the mess.

        • Bob

          Ming, that is an idea that had occurred to me as well. I’d love to hear how that works for you.

    • Bob

      Ming, I have a very small and packable wood stove I’ll show you but they ALL leave soot. I’m afraid it’s physics and there is no getting around it. The best you can do is try to minimize the hassle the soot causes.

      • Ming

        Bob, I look forward to that someday. I almost took a winter trip down to the RTR this year, but my old dog was dying (she looks like Homer) so I did not want to put her through the stress of a road trip in cold weather. 🙁
        There is a romantic and primal thing about using wood to cook with, as well as it being plentiful and easy to find. The first trip that inspired me to look into wood stoves was a paddling one where I sat surrounded by little sticks while calculating whether or not I had enough stove alcohol to last the week.
        OTOH if I can figure the mess factor out, there is this nifty pot shaped power generator for recharging your cell phones that could work well with it. I would not use alcohol or propane solely for generating electricity, but would definitely use wood.

        • Bob

          Agreed Ming, there is something about a fire that captures our heart. And in many places there is an unlimited supply of wood for fuel if you have an efficient little stove. Like you said, their is the mess factor of the soot to contend with.
          If you get the power pot, I’d love to hear how you like it!

  13. Bill from NC

    Hello Bob, very impresdive stats with the calories per day and how buying right cant help but put money in your pocket in the long run! I agree you need a TV show. Hurricane Floyd in NC. showed a lot of folks how important having a supply of food at home can be!
    Sadie n Bill

    • Bob

      Thanks Bill, now if only you owned a TV station!!

  14. Cindy

    Bob, I really appreciate all this info & expertise on being prepared.
    I’m wondering which type of food tastes better – freeze dried or dehydrated?

    • Bob

      I’m sorry Cindy, I don’t know that. My only experience has been with Mountain House Freeze dried (and I’ve tried many of then and liked them all!) and Thrive which I’ve only tried a couple and they were very good. I think its more about the quality of the company and not so much the method. Also it seems like MT House and Thrive are the most expensive and best tasting of them all so I think quality costs more.

  15. Chuck

    I did some research on freeze dried foods. It states to get maximum life, it requires controlled temperature at 65 degrees and lower. Since 2011 I been keeping my freeze dried foods on the lower shelf of the refrigerator.
    Now I understand Bob, you keep you food in an controlled temperature, by moving to different locations. I’ll have to keep that in mind when I go on the road.
    I’ve learned a lot from you site since I join, keep up the good work….

    • Bob

      Chuck, temperature control is very important to food storage and cooler is better, but never frozen. I’m afraid that sometimes my food gets hot, today it got up to 90 here so we are leaving int he next 2 days to go north.
      So I don’t expect to get the full 25 years out of mine but to be honest I don’t expect to live 25 more years either. I think it will last as long as I do!!

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