*Preps: A Newbieís Perspective*
Some of you who are new to the Rubicon may be wondering how you can EVER get "up to speed" on preps. (If you arenít one of those Ö if you have a steady hand on your financial rudder Ö if the thought of investing several thousand dollars in preparation materials doesnít turn you pale Ö this article probably isnít for you. Go to the more advanced stuff.) I still wonder about prepping occasionally, but Iím not wondering quite as hard as I used to. Itís starting to look possible, given discipline and time. But in the beginning it can be a real old-fashioned chore like grandma used to make. How do those of us who are effectively broke stock the essentials?
Okay, so with limited (and I mean LIMITED) funds, we embarked on starting our preps. Now, you must understand that this was not the first time weíd heard of prepping. I used to get that a lot from some Mormon friends, who had two years worth of just about everything tucked away somewhere. Itís just that, when we joined the Rubicon, we had always thought that level of prep to be major overkill.
No more. If anything, itís just a starting point.
So I get a copy of The List. You know the one. The Top 100 Things That Will Disappear First When the Fecal Matter Impacts the Impeller. Itís a great list, but ever so daunting to someone who has hardly anything on the list, and maybe forty or fifty extra bucks in a good month. I struggled with what to buy for a while (No weapons at all? No NBC countermeasures? No caches? No FIAC? Not even a generator, much less a solar setup. Where the heck do I start?) and then I talked with the guy who told me about this place. [Let me just take this opportunity to plug that tactic: the Rubicon is a wealth of information, an embarrassment of riches where know-how is concerned. Any of the more established members will be tickled absolutely PINK to help you deal with the logistics of your prep problems. Ask them. Use them. Thatís the sort of thing they live for.] I ask him how I should go about the "divide and conquer" routine when dividing my money once will leave me $12.76 in each hand? His sage advice was that, given a societal-breakdown scenario (read: major pandemic) I and my family would need to hole up at home for an extended period, say nine weeks or so at a minimum. What is the one thing we could stock that we absolutely would NOT be able to do without?
Okay, says I, but what about weapons? What about roving gangs and so on and so forth? Donít I need to buy some guns and ammo?
Well, says he, thatís why you want to be part of a Team. With Team-based supplies (if things really get that bad) those of us without weapons can get armed if need be.
And that, think I, is an excellent point. I can buy an awful lot of canned goods for the price of a Glock.
Okay, so what do we stock? Powdered eggs? Freeze-dried ice cream? Half a ton of Parmesan cheese?
No. You stock what you use. The hard part, I am told, is that in the beginning I probably do not KNOW what I use. And, by golly, heís right. I didnít have a clue. Other than being painfully aware that we couldnít keep dairy products in the house, I didnít really know what sorts of things we used on a regular basis. Certainly not with any accuracy.
Well and good. Step One: inventory. What do we have, and what do we eat? What is hiding in the dark recesses of the pantry that is just taking up valuable space? What do we buy two or three times a week? And just where the heck are we supposed to store all these preps once we get them?
So we figured out what we eat, when we eat it, how much of it we eat, et cetera. The list is bigger than I thought it would be, which in retrospect shouldnít have surprised me. So we start with a few items. We know everyone likes pasta. Itís inexpensive, easy to store, keeps a long time, and is very versatile. So, cool, weíll stock up on pasta. I get a little more creative at coming up with toppings and side dishes, and discover that I can use cream of celery or cream of chicken soup as a sauce base for practically anything. These items are inexpensive and indefinitely shelf-stable. I learn how to adapt a white sauce to several new uses via the addition of spices. We have LOTS of spices. Thatís one area we had covered from the start. So I try these things out on the family, keeping in mind their applicability to cooking in less-than-desirable conditions, and Iím liking what Iím learning.
I stock up on the bulk products: flour, sugar, corn meal, grits, rice, dry beans. We eat all this stuff, and my wife and I are both skilled at working with basic ingredients (I make a MEAN pone of cornbread). We tried stocking soups, the sort of soup that claims to be a meal, but quickly found that it wasnít nearly as cost-effective as one might be led to believe, and a single can of Progresso Fill-In-The-Blank contains between 75% and 90% of your recommended daily sodium intake. No wonder we were so thirsty all the time! Forget that.
We expand to canned fruits and veggies, canned beans, canned fish and meat. Hey, look at that! Canned chicken. I can do all sorts of things with chicken. So I develop several new dishes using the stuff I have stocked up, and many of them are now family favorites. "Wow, Dad, howíd you think of this?" Easy. Just go look at your preps and pick out a few things.
Well, we rocked along like that until I had better than a two-month supply of food that I felt comfortable with. I mean, we had enough quantity and variety that we could continue eating pretty much what weíd been eating on a daily basis, without having to go out to the store, for seventy or eighty days.
But getting there was a mess.
Not, you understand, that I didnít want the stuff around. It was just such a disorganized nightmare. Our shelves were jammed, the pantry area spilling over into the rest of the kitchen, and we had the odd box or case stashed in various spots in the house. So I picked a wall in the kitchen and put up a high-density storage system. I used 1x6 pine boards and spaced them 9.5 inches apart vertically, which allowed me to stack the standard soup-can-size cans two high and two deep on the whole wall, all the way to the ceiling. It was amazing how much that thing held. I cleaned out the pantry shelves, put everything into the storage block, and had room to spare. Hallelujah!
I had already decided that the carport would have to be closed in. It was the only other space we had available, so I got some old shelving here and there, scrounged up the materials and put a door across the front and a wall down the side. Not pretty, but functional and strong. The neighbors hate it. Maybe I should lean a pink flamingo against the door?
But life doesnít stand still and wait for you to catch up. Things happen, poor decisions get made, and consequences come home to roost. First off, I had foolishly begun construction on a 12x16 foot storage building in the back yard, but had been unable to finish it. (See previous comment concerning limited funds.) So that was several hundred dollars wasted, at least temporarily. Also, in the mean time, we racked up a huge pile of medical bills to complement the huge pile of credit card bills already in progress. It wasnít much fun to have creditors calling constantly. And then, just to drive the point home, all three of our vehicles (two old clunkers and one somewhat newer clunker) died and had to be worked on. Letís just say things got tight. We didnít have two nickels to rub together for about two months.
But, lo and behold, we didnít have to worry about whether weíd be eating supper. We had the food on hand. It was right there in the house! When that realization hit me, I canít describe how much better it made me feel. It was wonderful! Marvelous! It was one of the few things that happened during that time that gave me warm fuzzies. If we hadnít had the food available Ö well, the situation would have been EXTREMELY tense. We ate out of our stock for a few weeks, and never felt deprived. I couldnít have done that a year earlier.
Weíve now replenished our stock, and added a bit to it, and Iíve decided that I will never again be without a solid, reliable food supply. It was a strong lesson: there doesnít have to be a pandemic, or a terrorist attack, or a financial meltdown that throws the whole society into a cocked hat for there to be really good, sound reasons for prepping. It might be something as mundane as a layoff, or an unexpected operation on a family member, or having a car or a major appliance go on the fritz. If you are prepped, you donít have to worry. You are ready. You are equal to the task.
One other useful item I picked up from this is that once you get up a little steam, once you get a few shelves loaded, you will find that you run over to the store a lot less often. You can afford to wait, to take advantage of stock-outs or seasonal clearance sales. If you find canned tuna on sale for $0.33 a can, you donít buy six. You buy eighty or a hundred. Then you donít have to buy it again for a LONG time. And every time you DONíT go to the store is one more time you DONíT leave yourself vulnerable to impulse purchases. Iíve probably saved fifty bucks in the last six months simply from NOT buying bags of chips or beef jerky at the checkout counter. Beside, home-made beef jerky tastes LOTS better. Trust me: this method of purchasing will save you money. Our monthly food expenditures have dropped at least 5%-10%, and we have made NO essential changes in what we eat. Preparation methods have adapted slightly, but the changes were gradual, deliberate, and done in easy stages.
The bottom line? Food prepping is worth it, from any angle you take. In terms of security, cost, ease of use, variety Ö it doesnít matter. This way just works better.
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