There seem to be an unusually high number of programs on TV lately dealing with prepping, stockpiling and extreme couponing; all revolving around food storage. For some, it’s a way to offset economic hardship – buying for free or very cheap and then being able to feed their families. For others, it’s about preparing for the unknown and possibly scary future. For still others, it’s about canning their own food so they know what’s in it. For all, though, it’s about having the food on hand so that they will have it when it’s needed and when they may not have money or the ability to purchase food.
For some of us, it’s a way of life that we grew up with; you canned and froze the harvest so that you had food over the winter. If you didn’t, you went hungry; this is something that much of the world still deals with. It’s only here, in our lives of privilege, led in industrialized countries, that we no longer do this.
I personally still do this for several reasons.
- I have a big family with 4 children.
- We like to know what goes into our food.
- We don’t have an extensive budget for food – if we can get it on sale, in bulk at the farmers market, at the salvage grocery or with a coupon, it’s a LOT cheaper.
- When we can, we can make the PERFECT salsa, catsup, jam, or what ever we’re working on then.
- It gives us a buffer against the economy.
- It gives us a buffer in an emergency.
- I don’t have to go to the store unless we need fresh – I can shop in my basement!
So here’s what and how I do it.
We started by purchasing bulk at the salvage grocery store – we’d been doing this for years, but when we moved and got a root cellar, we were able to really make our larder work.
We started purchasing a little extra every time we purchased – $10 or $20, not a lot. If there was a killer deal, we’d buy all of it and use all of it up before purchasing more.
Example: Sometime that gave us a massive monetary bonus – in 2007, I purchased about 50 deodorants for $1.29 each at the salvage grocery. I’ve just now, in 2012, (3 weeks ago, in fact) finished the last of them. As they are currently approximately $4.00 each, my savings was approximately $140.
Not having to go to the store and buy more every couple of months and having them on hand? HUGE. Not huge gas savings, but huge convienence and some savings. Over time and not having to go to the store as frequently for many items, those savings add up.
Concurrently, we can food. I can on a 2-3 year cycle – I don’t want to have to do the same exact things every year, as I get bored. So, I can massive amounts of the things we eat in any given year and let it carry us thru. For example, this year was a strawberry jam year. I put up 4 dozen quarts. Yes, I can my jam in quarts. We go thru it in large amounts… That should get us thru 2 years. It cost me about $170 in Pick Your Own berries, sugar and sure gel. Even if it comes up to only even with store-bought, we know what went into it and we got to tweak the recipe.
Couponing, well, we don’t really. We buy the sales, but that’s about it.
So what does a nicely stocked pantry look like? For me, it looks like a grocery store. It needs to be neat so that we can see what we’ve got. It needs to rotate, so every new thing goes in back and the oldest is in front. When we purchase, all the new goes WAY in the back – for that we need a bit of room on the shelves so that we can put it in. It does NOT need to be jam-packed. The pantry does not go into deep storage; it should be in in constant movement. This takes a little work, but once you get the hang of it, it works nicely. I use plastic shelving units from the Home Depot for mine – they allow some air movement around the food and will never grow mold.
You also need to remember to use what you’ve got. Cooking a red sauce pasta tonight? Use those tomatoes you put up last summer and the paste you made two years ago. Oh, there’s pasta down there too? Use that as well. While food stores well beyond the sell by or best by date, if you are constantly rotating, you can always be assured of good food.
Some folks like to occasionally do a pantry challenge and eat their pantry down every now and then – this challenges you to cook only out of your pantry for a set period of time, usually a month. It should eliminate all of the strange and unused stuff you’ve got and gives you room for other new and interesting things, or more staples.
Last tip? Store only what you eat. If you don’t eat dried beans and peanut butter, don’t store them. Or, learn how to use them and begin doing it in your normal life. If you can do that, then store those items.