A question that is commonly asked among preppers is “How much food should I store?” There is no single answer which can fit the needs of all, for each prepper has different income levels and storage space. Some may be responsible for feeding more than one person while others live in the midst of an abundant natural food supply. How well one intends to eat during a crisis is another indiscernible factor which will vary from person to person.
Since no two food storage plans will be identical among preppers perhaps the better question to ask is, “How long will the coming crisis last?” If we knew how long a future crisis would last then each prepper could calculate how much of their food would be needed to endure that crisis. Obviously, no one can foresee the future to retrieve the answer to this question, but I think studying history can help us make some calculated decisions.
Most periods of food shortage since the year 1900 lasted only 1-2 years while some of them lasted 3-4 years. Not very many of them lasted five years or more, but there were a few times in the last century when a food shortage crisis lasted a full decade.
In Russia, there were several factors which caused a prolonged period of food shortages which killed millions of people. One of those factors was war, both WWI (1914) and the Russian Revolution (1918-1920). During Russia’s civil war, opposing groups lived off the land while also stealing food from the farmers who grew it.
That food was distributed among allied friends and denied to enemy neighbors. A drought in 1921 only made food more scarce for everyone, including farmers who would often consume seed grain rather than plant it.
Despite relief efforts, the famine was still widespread in 1923. Overall, the people were desperate (to various degrees) for food for almost an entire decade. This famine is considered to be one of the worst in Russian history.
The worst period of famine in Cambodia occurred between 1970-1979, also a full decade. Civil war, brutal policies of the Khmer Rouge regime, and invasion by Vietnam all contributed to prolonging this time of food shortage which killed upwards of two million people.
Also in the last century, the world saw a period of food scarcity during the Great Depression which began in 1929. High unemployment with a poor national economy kept many citizens in a rut of financial depression, especially those who lived in the southern U.S. “Dust Bowl” states.
Food of various quantities and qualities was still available, but many couldn’t afford it and millions starved to death. Some regions recovered more quickly than others, but overall this economic depression lasted a full decade. So far as American history is concerned, the Great Depression is considered to be one of the darkest moments of the last 100 years.
If three of the worst food shortages of the past century are known to have lasted a full decade then I think we can be fairly confident in using that duration as a high-end estimate guideline for future preparations. One could go back further in time to find longer periods of famine such as the Thirty Years’ War in Europe (1618-1648), but the modern world no longer resembles much of anything from the Renaissance period. Storing enough food to survive independently for additional years beyond one decade would have been considered overkill in retrospect of every food shortage crisis in history since the year 1900.
Based on history we can also know the cause of our next food shortage crisis will likely be associated with drought, internal and external political conflict, or extremely poor economic conditions. Drought happens unpredictably virtually everywhere while the world had enjoyed very few years of peacetime since WWII. Of course, the economic conditions worldwide leave a lot to be desired at the moment so all three causes are a concern even now.
Further, some believe this nation will experience another civil war in the not-so-distant future as well as a more severe national economic collapse. If such predictions prove true in a worst-case scenario it would be wise to expect a repeat of what happened in Russia when nearly everyone was living off the land and consuming every available natural resource while the stolen crops of farmers never reached the marketplace. Having a good food storage plan in place can help ensure basic survival until the day more prosperous times return, as modern history suggests time and time again that they will, even within a decade.
Regardless of how much food of different varieties and quantities a person has set aside, during a crisis, they will experience three phases as it concerns the usage of their food supply:
Phase One (measured in days and weeks which will vary from person to person): Fresh food items from the refrigerator and freezer foods will be consumed first, especially if electrical power is unreliable, as well as canned and boxed food from kitchen cabinets and pantry shelves.
People will continue to acquire food from available suppliers (stores, farmers) and natural sources (fishing lakes, hunting grounds) for as long as possible. In many cases, the crisis will be over before emergency foods stocks have to be tapped, but otherwise, the person will move on to Phase Two.
Phase Two (measured in weeks and months up to 2 years): The diet of a person relying on emergency food stocks includes much heavier reliance on canned goods which have a shorter shelf life. Some dry goods will also be consumed for more balanced nutrition. Using food grown at home (e.g. fruits, vegetables, rabbits, chickens) can help conserve some of those canned goods, but know your trees, gardens, and animal cages will likely be a target of hungry thieves.
If your property is relatively safe from such intruders then make the best use of your harvest to prevent waste. If no fruit-bearing trees and bushes were planted in advance of the crisis then this would be the time to begin transplanting them from the wild onto your private land. The daily diet should not be what it once was simply because food rationing efforts should be in place, but also to avoid appearing to be fat by comparison to those around you who are suffering from malnutrition.
Starving people will take notice and they will come looking for your food. Assuming a decent stockpile existed from the start, there is a very good chance the crisis will be over by the time the last can of food is opened. Otherwise, the person moves on to Phase Three.
Phase Three (measured in months and years up to one decade): Most of the common canned goods will have expired, although some will still be edible despite some deterioration in quality of contents. There is probably very little variety left in the pantry beyond dry goods such as beans, rice, and grain. It’s not much, but a good number of people would have already died from starvation simply because they did not have even this much.
Long-term storage foods such as MRE’s (Meals-Ready-to-Eat) and freeze-dried foods would be extremely useful during this phase. Many of the fruit-bearing bushes and trees which were transplanted onto your property during Phase Two will start to produce during Phase Three and any food produced at home can supplement or even replenish the dwindling stockpile. This will include gathering dandelions from the lawn to make soup as well as other unusual recipes we may have heard our grandparents talk about.
Some people will begin to relocate during this time period in the hope of finding a better life elsewhere. They may or may not succeed in their quest, but if they do leave for good then acquire any valuables they leave behind such as clothing, furniture, combustible materials, and items which would be useful for trade. (If this feels too much like “stealing” for your liking then make arrangements with them in advance to “clean out” their abandoned home for free.)
Based on history, the odds are extremely good that life will be getting better long before your supply of dry goods are completely exhausted. Otherwise, you’ll likely have outlasted most everyone around you and learned how to adapt in ways which will ensure your ongoing survival.
Obviously, most people would not be eating quite as healthily during Phase Three as they were during the first two phases, but they would still have far more than anyone had during the Great Depression. Even so, the odds of remaining in Phase Three for more than a few years is very small based on a study of history. There is no guarantee a future crisis won’t last longer than a decade, but it’s highly unlikely based on 100 years worth of history which saw many incidents of food shortages around the world.
Returning to our original questions of “How much food should I store?” and “How long will the coming crisis last?”, I believe we can draw some reasonable conclusions from history which can be applied to the future. History tells us a two-year supply of canned goods (plus some dry goods for better nutrition) would have been enough to endure roughly 80% of all past food shortages. Unfortunately, due to limited shelf life, most canned food can be expected to begin deteriorating after two full years.
If we want to plan for a longer duration then long-term storage foods need to be part of the mix as well. Having another two years’ worth of long-term storage foods (dry goods, MRE’s, and freeze-dried foods) would have enabled a person to fully endure about 90% of all food shortages in the last century.
To have such a stock on hand today in preparation for a future crisis would be a tremendous accomplishment! Most would be content at this level of preparation, but some will want to go the full distance of ten years.
Having only an additional six years’ worth of long-term storage foods would have enabled one to fully endure all of the worst food shortages we’ve experienced in the last century. Again, there is no guarantee the next crisis will be limited to a duration of ten years or less, but that it will be is a good bet I’d be willing to make based on a study of history going back more than a century.
Ponder the past and prepare for the future by building a food supply which fits your own personal needs knowing you have learned from history which often does repeat itself.