Food

Technically you can survive for weeks without food, but that would make you miserable and weak. That's not the state you want to be in after a disaster, when you need to be able to think clearly and work efficiently. Here are a few options for storing food that will make things at least tolerable if the grocery stores are empty for a little while. "Taste fatigue" can be a real problem when you're under stress, so I recommend that you mix-and-match by storing food items from more than one of these categories.

This page is an overview of the different types of food. For far more extensive information about specific brands and packages, please refer to the following pages:

Regular grocery-store food

The simplest way to have extra food in the event of an earthquake is to buy a few extra non-perishable items each time you do your usual shopping at the grocery-store, supermarket, or warehouse club.

Advantages:

Disadvantages:

Pantry shelves stocked with non-perishables.
Note the date labels, lower right.
Remember that "energy bars" also fall into this category and can be very convenient, but watch the expiration dates carefully. There is no need to buy them from a specialty or camping store, because your supermarket probably has them cheaper.

A note on rotation: You don't need some fancy system for this. If you just make a habit of putting new boxes and cans at the back of the shelf, and using the ones at the front, that should be fine. For anything that you don't expect to use up within 6 months, I suggest slapping a piece of masking tape on the package as you first put it away and using a marker to label it with the year and month of purchase. This is a great job for kids to help with.

If you include canned goods, remember to store a manual can opener with the cans.

Be honest with yourself about whether you are really going to be diligent about keeping the extra stock and rotating. If you can do that, this is a great method. If not, there's no shame in that; we all lead busy lives and need to find a method that actually works for us. Although this is the method that the Red Cross and the government agencies most often recommend, let's be frank: I don't personally know a single person who actually does this; while simple in principle it's too complicated in practice for even my own family to pull off successfully.

Camping food

There is a wide variety of freeze-dried and dehydrated food available that is intended for camping. Personally I prefer the Mountain House brand, but you should do your own taste-test before buying very much of this.

Image of packets of Mountain House freeze-dried camping food.
Each packet feeds 2 — if you're not very hungry.
Advantages: Disadvantages:

If you can afford the cost, camping food can be a good addition to your preparations. One thing I like is that when it comes time to rotate in about year 6, you can bring the packets to work and use them for lunches. It's probably almost as cheap as buying food in the company cafeteria, and depending on where you work it might actually taste better.

It's easy to find this sort of food at any camping store or on the Internet. I've had good luck purchasing Mountain House packets at:

Canned storage food

Image of number 10 cans next to normal cans and packages.
Number ten cans.
The same freeze-dried and dehydrated food that comes in single-serving packets for camping can also be purchased specifically packed for long-term emergency use. Advantages: Disadvantages:

If you choose to go this route, it is absolutely essential to taste-test first because the brands really do differ a lot, and I've tried some that we ended up feeding to the dog. For most people, the cans are just too big to be practical as the main component of short-term earthquake supplies.

Pouched storage food

A number of companies now manufacture prepared meals which are dehydrated or freeze-dried, then packed for long-term storage in special pouches. These look a lot like the camping pouches but are intended for long-term storage. Advantages:

Disadvantages: On balance, I think these are one of the best options available if you can afford them. I wouldn't want to live on them for 6 months, but for a couple weeks they're better than most of the available alternatives.

MREs

Image of an MRE meal.
Teriyaki and cheese are MRE.
Crackers from Costco.
An MRE is the standard U.S. Military field ration, and the acronym stands for "Meal Ready-to-Eat". Although some pundits claim this is 3-lies-in-one, I have to say that I'd feel really guilty turning up my nose at what we feed our men and women in uniform when they are in harm's way. Advantages: Disadvantages:

If you like these they can be really convenient, but not everybody likes them. A couple of established Internet suppliers are:

Be careful when comparing prices; Long Life Food Depot prices include shipping but Emergency Essentials prices do not. Also be careful to distinguish "entree only" (about $3-$4) from a "full meal" (about $7-$8) which includes entree, side dish, dessert, cracker, accessory packet, and sometimes even a single-use chemical heater.

Lifeboat rations

You can get special food-bars packed for use in lifeboats. You wouldn't want to base your whole program on these, but they do have a place. Advantages:

Disadvantages:

I heartily recommend getting a couple of these for use in car-packs, but not for your home storage. Our arteries are clogged with enough fat already. Do be sure to pack a couple of empty ziplock bags with them, because they're a bit crumbly and you may not want to eat the whole thing at once.

The most popular brands, all of which are USCG-approved and have a stated 5-year shelf life, are:

The best prices I can find on the Internet are $3-$4 per 2400-calorie bar at: The same website also offers a 400-calorie "New Millennium Energy Bar" for about $1 each. This is twice as expensive per calorie, but they come in many more flavors and (unlike supermarket energy bars) have a 5-year shelf life.

Bulk grains and legumes

Image of five-gallon plastic buckets.
Buckets of rice and beans.
Image of kids holding glow sticks.
Soak stored beans overnight.

The Mormons have been practicing food storage for a long time, and they've got it down to a fine art. The basic idea is to store 5-gallon buckets of various grains, rice, legumes, and so on, plus some powdered milk, salt, and honey. Advantages:

Disadvantages:

I'd say storage of bulk grains is a great idea if you want to do it anyway for health or environmental reasons, but it's not a great approach if you're only planning for short-term emergencies like earthquakes.

Comfort food

It may seem frivolous to talk about treats in an emergency food supply, but it's not. When you're under stress, anything that can give you a psychological boost and make things seem a little more normal is worth planning ahead for. My own personal weakness is for Triscuits, but include whatever you and your family like here: candy bars, hard candy, chocolates, MRE cookies and cakes, potato chips, cheese curls, etc. Just remember to rotate by eating and replacing — which in this case should be no great sacrifice. To get good prices on sweets, stock up on the morning after Halloween.