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The obvious choice for most people is the grocery store. Large chain stores can give you more options and maybe a savings over a small neighborhood store. You can shop mostly organic at places like Whole Foods. Specialty or ethnic stores offer a variety that may not be represented in chain stores. Bulk stores like Sam's and Costco offer savings if you are feeding a large family or group. Fresh produce stores offer better products than large chain stores as most of their items are local. I am fortunate to live only a few blocks from a farmers market that is run every Saturday morning. These are a great resource because you know it is fresh. You can talk to the growers themselves so you know how the products are grown/raised. You can usually buy in bulk which is great for families or if you plan to preserve the items. Online stores offer an endless variety of products that you can have shipped directly to your door. The best choice is grow your own. I grew up in a large family that managed only a half acre garden. We had food available from that garden year round whether fresh, canned, or frozen. The size depends on your needs and abilities. Grow a variety and try new things but mostly grow what you like to eat. You may live in the city on a very small lot or heavily shaded. I have only a 10 by 16 foot patio and grow everything in pots. I still manage to can 30-50 jars of something during the year. I have at least a dozen herbs growing at any given season. I also have the advantage of growing in all four seasons which is not the case for most. You should grow what you can and don't use pesticides if possible. I pick the bugs off my plants every day. Eating fresh healthy foods is the best way to stay healthy.
From a medical standpoint, you can go without food for eight weeks as long as you have adequate water. If you are strong and in good shape it will help you survive longer. Having some body fat also extends your survival time. The body uses stored energy in the order and form of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Once you are using protein you are cannibalizing your body in the form of muscle tissue. Your metabolism determines how fast your energy is burned. The higher the metabolism, the faster you will burn your food intake. Environment also affects your metabolism. Extreme cold will cause your body to burn more energy to maintain an optimum body temperature. Symptoms you might experience after a few days without food are: weakness, confusion, diarrhea, irritability, bad decision making, decreased sex drive, and immune deficiency. Once starvation has reached advanced levels your organs begin shutting down one by one. Symptoms of extreme starvation are: hallucinations, convulsions, muscle spasms, and irregular heartbeat.
Food is preserved by preventing growth of microorganisms, retarding oxygen, and inhibiting enzymatic processes. Finally they are sealed in containers to keep them that way. Other than making them safe to consume preserving also involves maintaining nutritional value, texture, color, and flavor. Food can be preserved many different ways to last a long time. You can't always have fresh food of all types throughout the year for most things. With world trade being what it is nowadays many things are available year round. They may cost more or come from a place that you may not entirely trust. Most things are seasonal however. So you need to preserve foods to have them available during the off seasons. The most common methods for home preserving are canning, refrigerating, freezing, dehydrating, and vacuum sealing. Freeze dried and flash frozen products are available but these methods are beyond the abilities of most home preservers.
Canning is preferred by most home preserving. It destroys any microorganisms present, removes oxygen, destroys enzymes and keeps microorganisms out under vacuum. Strict control of sterilization must be followed to achieve a safe final product. Just about anything can be canned. Fruits, vegetables, juices, sauces, and meats are typically canned. High acid foods require less stringent processes than do low acids foods which require pressure canning. Use charts and guide to determine the exact process for what you are canning. Food is processed in many ways before canning. This may include pickling, salting, sugaring, jellying, blanching, boiling, and smoking.
Dehydrating or drying is a very effective way to preserve food. This involves removing liquid by exposing items to a heat source under ventilation. This method has been used since the dawn of time when there was no other means to preserve food. It was mostly done by exposing foods to the sun on racks to allow air to pass freely around them. Today we have access to electric dehydrators which speed up the process considerably and provide a more sanitary environment. Getting the moisture content down to at least 10% is considered optimum for most foods. My favorite method after canning is dehydrating. Foods can be dried and sealed in air-tight containers for a long shelf life. For long-term storage you must use mylar bags and O2 absorbers. The clear bags supplied with most vacuum sealers are fine for freezing but they allow transfer of gasses through them. Use them only for short term storage with dry items.This works for herbs as well. Foods must be re-hydrated before using. Fruits are the exception and can be consumed just as they are. I keep dried fruits a large mason jars which I can pull a vacuum on as well. Dry curing and smoking meat is a good way to extend the shelf life, however, poultry and fish must be refrigerated immediately after curing or can them. Jerky is a way to safely preserve meat that doesn't require refrigeration for about two weeks after which it should be refrigerated or frozen. Meats can also be salted or pickled to preserve them.
Refrigerating is practiced by everyone these days. Keeping food at 36-40 F slows down the growth of microorganisms which cause food to rot. Modern refrigerators have specific areas for certain products which extend shelf-life even more. They are, however, the largest consumer of electricity in the home except for air-conditioning. Efficient models, even those that operate on DC electricity are available and used in off-grid power systems. Root Cellar's used to be more common when refrigeration was not available. They are still a viable option if you live in an area where they will work . They work like a refrigerator but use no power.
Freezing is similar to refrigeration. Keeping the temperature at 32F or lower will extend the storage time longer than refrigeration. Proper packaging is crucial to prevent freezer burn. Vacuum sealing or packing in water will reduce the oxygen inside the package and protect it from damage. Many things can be stored for several months in this way. As with refrigeration, freezing requires electricity. Efficient models are available that will work well with an off-grid power system.
The government says at least three days. The Red Cross says at least two weeks. Store foods that you and your family will like. They should be high in nutrition and calories. If you have people with special diets, allergies, babies, elderly, or ill, they will need specific items. Always remember the pets as well. You may not be able to cook or refrigerate if the power is out. If you have natural gas in your home it usually continues to work even though the power is out. You can also cook outdoors on a grill or fire. Store your supplies in a cool, dry, and dark location if possible. Arrange your storage area with the newest items in the back and the oldest in front so you are consuming them in order. It's important to be using these items because you need the experience in preparing meals with your stored items. Think of it as your pantry. My pantry will feed me for ( x ) days or weeks. Keep track of expiration dates and label yourself if a date is not on the packaging or you have packaged it yourself. The types of foods should be dry goods such as grains, beans, unsalted crackers or cereals. Canned foods are ideal because they also supply safe liquid. Throw out any cans that are swollen, dented, or corroded. Don't keep items that are high in salt or sugar which will make you consume your water supply faster. Once opened make sure leftovers are sealed in air-tight containers. Anything perishable should be consumed immediately. How much you actually store is a personal decision based on your needs and ability. Obviously, don't store more than you can consume before it goes bad.
No matter what food choices you make to store, the bottom line is that eventually you will have to start producing or procuring food to sustain yourself. Hunting, gathering, and farming will be part of your sustainable living scenario if there are no other food sources. If you choose to live remotely then this will always be part of your life style. Even if you do have access to anything you need right now it's always prudent to learn and practice ways to provide food for yourself and family should the need arise. That includes storing for emergency situations. Learn how to prepare meals with different coking methods. Grow a few pots of herbs and vegetables if that's all you can handle at first. Expand to include different varieties. Learn what's available and how to forage for edibles in your area. Doing nothing to expand your knowledge and experience in producing food will not end well should an extended crisis occur. Don't rely on government or other people. Make the decision to provide for yourself!
We've all heard of the food pyramid. 2,000 calories a day to stay healthy. Eat your fruits and vegetables. An apple a day keeps the Doctor away. The truth is, what we eat is largely decided where we live, what culture we belong to, and what we can afford. The obvious decision is to eat what makes your body and mind grow and thrive. Eat what will maintain optimum health and well being. Eat what satisfies your taste buds as long as it not detrimental to your well-being. Eating is one of the greatest pleasures in life. Everyone likes to feel full and satiated. We should focus on eating to produce and maintaining a healthy body and mind. Choose good carbohydrates like whole grains. Brown or black rice, quinoa, barley, oats, and wheat berries are the best. Also, limit starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes. I try to limit them to once a week or less and don't eat any other starchy things with them like corn, carrots, turnips, or beets. Fish, poultry, nuts, and beans are the best proteins. Red meat is not as bad as we have been led to believe. I would still limit your intake to once a week or less because of the types of fats present. You need fiber to keep things moving through your digestive system which is provided by whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Avoid highly processed foods as they will contain more salt and bad carbs. Drink mostly water. Coffee and tea aren't bad choices. It depends on what you add like cream and sugar. I consume a lot of chilled unsweetened green tea which I make by the gallon. Pass on the sugary drinks and reduce the milk and juice. Use plant oils when an oil is needed. I rely on extra virgin olive oil unless I don't want the flavor in the food. Then I will choose canola oil. Above all, eat a large variety of foods. A variety of produce will provide different minerals and nutrients. Eat what is fresh and in season. Try to eat organically grown/raised foods. Keep a large selection of herbs and spices to vary the flavor of your dishes. Here is a new chart from the Harvard School of Public Health to go by instead of the old food pyramid.
Food Preservation Connections