2020 Update: This post on stocking the emergency pantry was written in July of 2010. Ten years have passed and it’s more relevant than ever. I want to emphasize that I am not saying hoard all of the toilet paper. As you make your trips to the grocery store just set a little aside each time. If this gets worse, you will be glad you did.
I hope you are well.
I hope you are staying home as much as possible. We will get through this.
If you have questions, please send them to email@example.com.
Dear Home Ec 101,
I’m a big proponent of buying local. Is there a way to do this and still create a pantry?
Sunny Days, Sweeping the Clouds Away
Let’s look at it this way. Prioritize food in this manner, according to budget and time.
Fresh and local is optimal1, organic, frozen, processed, and finally, any food is better than no food.
Building an emergency pantry with local ingredients would be quite time-consuming, especially as most food preservation would fall to your responsibility. If you have the skillset and time to preserve food, it is absolutely possible to build an emergency pantry of locally sourced food. You can use a local butcher to source your meat and local co=ops and farmers’ markets for your fruits, grains, and vegetables. You may need to coordinate with like-minded people to be able to buy cost-effectively, but perhaps those people will also want to coordinate the time to preserve food. Projects like canning do seem to be more effective as a team effort vs. a solo endeavor.
Why should you build an emergency pantry?
If I had all the time in the world, a budget that suited my whims, and the assurance that nothing bad would ever happen to my family, then yes, we would eat fresh and local every day. This is not my reality, and with very few exceptions, I don’t believe it to be yours, either. I don’t care what the talking heads say; disasters—whether on a personal or larger scale—don’t play politics.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, disease, zombie apocalypse, and unemployment happen. Ok, maybe not the zombie apocalypse, but having a pantry with a bare minimum of two weeks’ food supply can significantly reduce the impact of these events. Even the zombies should eventually starve.
Even those of you with a healthy emergency fund should have a decent emergency food pantry. Why join the hordes of people running out for supplies just before a snowstorm or hurricane hits if you don’t have to? If there is an outbreak of influenza or civil unrest, it’s just better to stay home.
If people use winning a sports event to riot and cause mayhem, it’s an indication that tension may be running pretty high. When people are stressed out, tempers are short, incidences of road rage increase, and what would normally be a minor disagreement can quickly escalate. Staying out of the stores is a simple way to stay out of trouble.
Most of us have it relatively easy, and if we’re sitting at a computer and discussing how to build a pantry, there’s a fair chance we’re some of the lucky ones. Yes, even those of us worried about the mortgage and utility bills.
Remember this when saying the economy is great just by looking at the number of people on social media talking about their consumption; it’s not a true representation of everyone. It only represents some people with easy access to technology. We can become pretty insulated if we don’t pull back and look at the broader picture. A lot of people are tired of acting poor and have stopped worrying about the long-term consequences.
How to build an emergency pantry if you don’t have room in your budget.
If you don’t have ready cash, don’t freak out. A pantry can be built slowly over time. It doesn’t have to be done in one giant run to Sam’s or Costco. Set aside a portion of each week’s food budget to purchase shelf-stable and freezer foods.
There is no finish line for this project. Be deliberate with your purchase, and don’t buy food just to have “things for an emergency.” Increase the amount of the items you already eat that are shelf or freezer-stable. If you normally buy one jar of peanut butter for the month, see if you can buy an extra. Do you normally purchase one lasagna? Try to get one more. By spreading these purchases out over many weeks and only buying extra of what is on sale, you can minimize the effect building an emergency pantry will have on your budget.
How to rotate the food in your emergency pantry.
After a minimum supply has been built up, it’s time to start rotating the food into your normal diet just often enough to prevent food from expiring. This doesn’t mean waiting until every tuna can is about to expire and having tuna noodle casserole, stuffed tuna tomatoes, and tuna surprise every night for a week.
This just means stocking your emergency pantry with the food you normally eat and not setting it aside as special for later. When you bring home items that are meant to last for a long time, always place those behind those that need to be used next. Try not to push items to the back corners, where they will only be found during a round of The Deep Clean Challenge.
Get creative with your food storage solutions if you don’t have a physical place for your emergency pantry.
You may need to get creative if you don’t have a lot of pantry or kitchen storage space. Linen closets make great storage for canned and boxed food. Consider adding shelves to a coat closet or putting beds on risers and storing the food in drawers or boxes. If you have to get creative with your emergency pantry storage, it’s best to keep an inventory of everything, this way, food doesn’t accidentally expire. Just remember to keep flour and grains in appropriate air-tight containers to prevent inviting moochers (mice, bugs, etc). For grains like rice and oats, I like to use 5-gallon frosting buckets from the bakery at the grocery store. Usually, they are happy to get rid of them; all it takes is asking nicely and washing them out.
What non-food items belong in your emergency pantry?
Don’t forget to keep your prescriptions as part of your emergency pantry. Ask your doctor and insurance company – if you have one – about the best way to ensure that if there is an emergency, you won’t have to do without.
- Flashlights and batteries
- a weather radio
- toilet paper (thank you, 2020)
- chlorine bleach (replace every six months)
- a first aid kit
- a manual can opener
Stocking an emergency pantry isn’t about living your life in fear; it’s an edible insurance plan without all the red tape.
Do you keep an emergency pantry?
1Local produce keeps money in the local economy. Just because a food isn’t certified organic doesn’t mean it’s not grown in congruence with organic standards. The organic certification process is difficult for small farmers to achieve regardless of their actual farming practices.