Surviving Survival Foods


It is obvious to most individuals that economic systems throughout the Western World are in a very poor state of health. The possibility of global depression is real and the grim spectre of monetary collapse looms more threatening than nuclear war in the minds of millions of people. Since the supply of agricultural products is vulnerable to economic disaster, it is not surprising that tens of thousands of people are acquiring food reserves as insurance against the possibility of financial breakdown.

Unfortunately, many people do not know how to select foods for storage and are making poor choices as a result. This article is an attempt to present sufficient information to concerned individuals so that they may make satisfactory decisions regarding survival foods. Such decisions must be based upon a full understanding of the assets and liabilities of potentially useful foods, a careful appraisal of one's personal status and needs, and an estimate of the nature and severity of the times ahead.


Traditional storage foods (TSF's) include such staples as whole grains, various types of beans, peas, and other selected dried foods. They may be obtained either in bulk or in three-quart (#10) cans. Traditional storage foods are both nutritious and flavorful and have been popular for ages. They also tend to be the least expensive of all the survival foods. TSF's have a very low moisture content (which promotes long shelf life) and must be rehydrated before use. Consequently, as a group, they should not be chosen by individuals whose water supply might be interrupted in an emergency unless sufficient water is to be stored. Calculate water needs carefully, since you may find rough estimates to be low. For example, a typical storage food recipe is for steamed wheat, in which each 5 cups of grain requires 7 cups of water.[1] Since there are 12 cups of wheat in a #10 can and six cans to a case, for each case you will need at least 6.3 gallons of water. Other TSF's require equally large amounts of water.

TSF's are also quite demanding in terms of fuel, since most require long cooking times. Again using steamed wheat as an example: 4 hours of cooking is needed for each 5 cups of wheat; 9.6 hours per can; and 57.6 hours per case. Even at low simmering temperatures fuel requirements are high when such times are involved. For example, a #425 double-burner Coleman stove burns 18,700 Btu's per hour. Since each gallon of fuel contains 120,000 Btu's and the stove is 90 percent efficient (very good), .026 gallons are used per hour with the stove at 15 percent output—approximately the simmering level. [2] In terms of total fuel requirements per case, steamed wheat takes a minimum of 1.5 gallons if cooked in quantities of 5 cups. If you work up similar fuel totals for recipes intended for the other grains, beans, and peas, you will quickly realize the extent of your fuel needs and may plan accordingly. Since these foods must be cooked to be usable—and you can't rely upon uninterrupted public utility service in an emergency—it behooves users of traditional storage foods to keep all needed fuel on hand.

TSF's have another characteristic which should be noted: they require a great deal of time, labor, and—often—skill to prepare. For individuals with families in a stable situation where someone is available for full-time food preparation, such requirements are not important. However, people without the time and/or skill to devote to cooking should not rely solely upon TSF's for survival. This is especially true since demands on one's time are likely to be great in an emergency when labor-saving devices may not be functioning.


Wet-packed canned foods lend themselves readily to storage use and may be purchased inexpensively in quantity. Although they are heavy and tend to be low in vitamins C and B, canned foods as a group have a number of characteristics of decided importance in a survival situation.

Canned foods are sterilized at the time of packing and do not spoil as long as the cans remain intact. [3] Purely chemical changes do occur with time, but these changes affect mainly taste and texture—not safety. Thus even short-lived canned foods such as fruit juices with a recommended maximum storage life of 6 months are safe for years although they will not taste as fresh as when young. In any event, the way to maintain a supply of any food is to use it and replace it on a continuing basis. To this end the familiarity of canned goods in most homes makes them much more likely than other survival foods to be rotated regularly.

Most canned foods are cooked at the time of packing and require only warming at meal times which consumes very little fuel. And, of course, they may be eaten cold if necessary. Water requirements are also low since canned foods either contain all that is needed or require only supplemental amounts. Lastly, canned foods need almost no time or skill to prepare.


Freeze-dried foods are often confused with dehydrated foods although the two are not the same. Foods undergoing dehydration shrink as water is removed with a resulting collapse and permanent damage to the food's cellular structure. On the other hand, freeze-dried foods are quick frozen to prevent collapse, then the frozen water is induced to escape as a gas via sublimation. Thus, both freeze-dried and dehydrated foods have low moisture contents, but freeze dried foods are in a less distorted condition. [4]

Although freeze-dried foods are expensive, they offer advantages in situations where an abundant water supply is assured. Since they are usually cooked before being processed, they require very little fuel or skill to prepare. And light-weight freeze-dried foods have an indefinite storage life. Lastly, the extreme stability of freeze-dried foods makes the heavy use of preservatives unnecessary with the result that proteins in particular may be stored for many years and still taste fresh. Freeze-dried steaks and chops supplement more mundane survival diets and may be invaluable during times when a psychological boost is needed. Whatever freeze-dried foods may be selected should be obtained in meal-sized containers rather than in bulk as unsealed portions tend to absorb moisture from the air and spoil rapidly.


If you live on a working farm with your family, you are perhaps in a better position than other people to survive a severe economic breakdown. In all likelihood, your situation could be altered if needed to achieve self sufficiency. If you are a cash crop farmer, perhaps devoting a few acres to vegetables and a few to livestock and poultry feed would be wise. It might be safest to use nonhybrid varieties which will produce viable seeds for starting next year's crop rather than depending on a new supply each season. Also you might give some thought towards the possibility that it might be necessary to farm at least part of your land without depending on a tractor, commercial fertilizers, or sprays. And once the harvest is in, will you be able to preserve it with your present equipment or should you do some expanding in that area?

The amount of storage food needed for a working farm may be reliably determined since the time to the first harvest is predictable. If you have skilled help in the kitchen, plenty of water (not dependent on an electric pump) and an uninterruptable fuel supply, traditional storage foods may suit your needs very well. If any of the previous conditions may not be met, then it would be wise to stress ordinary wet packed canned goods instead. As we have seen, canned foods require almost no water, little fuel, and may be eaten as is in an emergency.

Individuals living in the country with their families on a few uncultivated acres of land could also aim for self sufficiency, although it may be more practical to simply acquire the means to start small-scale farming than to actually begin doing so. In all other respects, it is probably appropriate to follow the suggestions for a working farm, except the quantity of survival food may be larger due to the uncertain length of time to the first sizable harvest.

If suburbia is home to you and family, and you have a yard which could be used for growing vegetables, it may be possible to at least partly feed yourselves on an ongoing basis. To do so will require a very sound knowledge of organic farming in order to squeeze the very most food from your small plot of land. Since your margin for error is small, it is advisable to begin a garden for experience rather than to simply buy tools and seeds for an emergency. Likewise, it is suggested that you preserve part of your harvest for the valuable practice it offers. Stored foods may be chosen as if you were on a farm using the same criteria as discussed previously, but it might be wise to plan on having more food than in either of the two foregoing examples to allow for the possibility that your yield could be much less than expected. Of course, supplies of foods you will not grow on your mini-farm should be stored in greater quantities.

If you live alone in the suburbs, an effective garden may be out of the question, even if you have the space. The demands on your time are likely to be sufficient to make gardening impossible. It would doubtless be safer to store everything you may need without depending on supplemental food.

People with or without families who live in apartments in densely populated areas would seem forced to either survive in place or have somewhere else to go during an emergency. If an alternate place to live is available of a type previously described so much the better. If not, virtually everything you might need should be stored, with a premium placed upon foods that require little water, fuel, or preparation time. Also it may be wise to select foods which are easily moved and used on the run in case it becomes possible to go to a safer area. Note that foods which meet the above criteria also spend little time on the stove and thus are less likely to reveal their presence to hungry, potentially violent neighbors.


None of us has a crystal ball with which to see the future. And yet, if survival foods are poorly matched to conditions, the result could be disastrous. In general, however, a practical level of safety should be achieved if you are equipped to survive a complete breakdown since food and equipment suitable to the worst conditions will serve less drastic situations as well.

In a complete breakdown, all food, water, fuel, and equipment needed to prepare meals must come from one's supplies or be done without. Moreover, your supplies should be carefully balanced so the entire system will not fail for the lack of a single item. For example, total water needs for dehydrated and freeze dried foods should be calculated—not just estimated—so that enough water will be stored to completely rehydrate the supply. Fuel needs should also be reliably determined. Lastly, maintain the capacity to resupply yourselves when fresh foods are available.

Since you aren't allowed many errors if you are to survive a complete breakdown, once you have assembled your survival kit, it may be advisable to evaluate its suitability via a weekend test. Turn off the electricity, water, and gas. Put the automobile away and resolve not to leave the home for any reason. Next, simply go on living as normally as possible. Such a trial will quickly reveal any errors or omissions which could be serious in an emergency. It will also uncover lesser but irritating oversights whose correction may make life all the more bearable at a time when everything seems hopeless.


In terms of cost, energy output, and reliability, the familiar two-burner gasoline camp stove is an ideal choice for emergency food preparation. However, automobile gasoline should not be stored for use in the stove for several reasons: it contains sulphur and gum which may cause malfunctions; it contains lead and other poisonous additives; it has a shelf life of no more than one year; and it isn't safe to store in bulk. Instead, plan on using specially-designed stove fuel (such as produced by Coleman) which has a shelf life of two years at the minimum, contains no additives, will not harm the stove, and is available in sealed gallon cans.


When making specific selections, it would be best to give preference to familiar foods since an emergency situation would be a poor time for a drastic dietary change. Try to plan meals which are nutritionally sound to maintain health and disease resistance at maximum levels. It is true that a bit of effort is required in these decisions, but it greatly improves one's overall survival potential. Incredibly, many people spend hours and hours planning financial strategy for hard times and then rush through survival food choices with scarcely a thought. Please do not make such a mistake! In the land of the cold, the sick, and the desperately hungry, a 50 peso gold coin might get you no more than a single meal. Spent today, it will buy a huge quantity of food. Certainly, it makes good sense to properly provide for your physical survival first and then plan the best way to preserve one's remaining assets.


James Powell has a M.S. degree in science from Oregon State University, and now owns and manages Sceptercraft Boats in Corvallis, Oregon. In addition he serves as a consultant to individuals planning survival food programs. The author wishes to express his appreciation to Mike Hughes of Eugene, Oregon for his invaluable help with this article.


[1] Esther Dickey, Passport to Survival, Random House, New York, 1969.
[2] Mr. Frank Schmidt, The Coleman Company, Wichita, Kansas.
[3] J.L. Heid & Maynard A. Joslyn, Fundamentals of Food Processing Operations, AVI Publishing Co., Inc., Westport, Connecticut, 1967.
[4] Anthony Woollen, ed.. Food Industries Manual, Chem Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1970.


Survival Foods
P.0. Box 485
Carson City, NV 89701

Family Securities
72 West Main
Lehi, UT 84043

Golden Survival, Inc.
2842 E. Serendipity Circle
Colorado Springs, CO 80917

Oregon Freeze Dry Foods, Inc.
770 W. 29th Street
Albany, OR 97321

40 E. 2430 S.
Salt Lake City, UT 84115

Rich-Moor Corporation
616 N. Robertson Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90060

Stow A Way Products Co.
Cohasset, MA 02025

Survival USA
9019 Park Plaza Drive, Suite 2L
La Mesa, CA 92041


Ross Packing, Inc.
2300 "E" Ave.
West Ogden, UT 84401


Magic Mill International Headquarters (various flour mills for home use: electric/manual)
235 West Second South
Salt Lake City, UT 84101

Mountain Valley Products (food dehydrators)
307 E. 2nd Ave.
Mesa, AZ 85201

The Coleman Company (stoves, fuel)
Wichita, KS 67201

Luhr Jensen & Sons, Inc. (smokers)
Hood River, OR 97031

Kerr Glass Mfg. Corp. (canning jars & equipment)
Sand Springs, OK 74063


W. Atlee Burpee Company
6350 Rutland Ave.
Riverside, CA 92502

Stark Bro's Nurseries and Orchards Co.
Louisiana, MO 63353