No Seriously, Stay Away From Survival Food
As someone who used to work in this industry, please indulge me while I state the obvious… the emergency preparedness market is full of hucksters and charlatans trying to scare money right out of consumer’s wallets. While caveat emptor is not unique to this industry, the consequences of bad information and faulty emergency preparedness products have very real detrimental effects on the health and safety of the consumers involved.
Let’s Get Real
No, the zombie apocalypse probably won’t happen, nor will Moldova take over the eastern seaboard and the likelihood of the Yellowstone Caldera exploding in our lifetime is astronomically low. Marketing against these distracts sincere consumers from more realistic possibilities like blizzards, floods or windstorms. Even job loss and serious illness can be categorized as emergencies we should be prepared for. Everyone will experience at least one of those in their life times and it is good to know you can handle it. That being said, there are a number of things you should be aware if you choose to prepare yourself or your family against emergencies. More on that in a minute.
Frank Bates Is Not a Real Person And Obama Doesn’t Actually Care
A brief foray into sites that cater to the psychographics of those who are currently most into emergency preparedness, will result in countless ads with ridiculous hooks. Let me give you a few examples of ad titles I have recently seen: “Obama Hates This Video”, “The Whitehouse Doesn’t Want You To See This”, “Monsanto is Furious at this Video…” and on and on…
Clicking on these links will often take you to a white page with a video player that you can’t control. The video typically starts with a baritone narrator saying something to the effect of “What I’m about to tell you will change the way you see the world forever… I don’t know how long before the [insert your choice of government agencies, mega-corporations, or New World Order here] shuts me down forever…” Blah blah blah. The exact wording is a bit different but they all follow a similar template. Scare tactics pure and simple. The video then proceeds to weave a puerile fiction about the bad organization’s malevolence. Universally the narrator is not only a blue-collar, hardworking ‘merican just like you, but he’s fighting against the tide of odious evil as best he can — By selling you things that you and your loved ones “need” for survival. But not until after you download his free guide and give him your email address. Then he’ll bombard your inbox into submission and get you to buy even more of whatever it is. Your survival is at stake after all…
One of the best articles about this particular topic was written by Zack Beauchamp. In it he exposes a character known as Frank Bates as an imaginary character portrayed as a real person selling emergency food. I don’t want to steal Mr. Beauchamp’s thunder so I strongly encourage you to read it. This is kind of scare tactic is unfortunately common behavior in this industry.
Emergency Preparedness Companies Have a Moral Obligation to Honesty and Ethics, But Many Don’t Care
When a business sells items for survival and emergencies they have a moral obligation to ensure that their items are of high enough quality to ensure that they will perform to consumer expectations. If true emergencies happen, I feel sorry for the poor bloke who bought a gimmicky knife or gadget from a survival site that breaks the first time they try to use it. Especially if it happens during an emergency.
The same goes for people who buy survival food with the claim of “will sustain life” combined with a shelf life of “up to” some time period. Both of those claims are an absurdly low standard and particularly cynical. Soggy potato chips have calories that “will sustain life” in dire emergencies but why in the world would you ever prepare expecting anyone to eat them? Even in emergencies.
I trust shelf life claims of “up-to” about as much as I trust my internet provider to deliver anywhere near the download speed they advertise. Words have meaning and many marketers exploit consumer failure to understand them.
I don’t want to cast a disparaging net on the entire industry. There are legitimate companies that genuinely care about the well-being of their consumers and not just how much money they spend. There are even food companies that have food that not only lasts but maintains their flavor for years or decades without using added preservatives. And believe it or not, many of these foods are as tasty — or more in some cases — as the prepackaged food you get from the center aisles of your local grocery store.
Honest Advice from Someone Who Worked in the Industry
Since I used to work for Mountain House, the ‘gold standard’ survival food company in terms of quality and shelf life, I should give some advice to the uninitiated.
If you’re preparing for an emergency — and you should — be realistic about your time, energy and budget. Emergencies are rare but they do happen. It probably won’t happen to you this year, but it will happen at some point. It’s not about fear, but about having your things in order. Like renter’s or homeowner’s insurance. You probably won’t ever use it, but if you need it you’ll sure be glad you have it.
Being trapped at home with no food because you’re snowed in or a mudslide took out the road is a less than ideal situation. Not having alternative ways to cook during a power outage also is a major bummer. If you don’t have a grill or barbecue, get a camp stove. No alternative sources of heat during a blizzard can quickly turn into an emergency if the power goes out. You’ll never have enough time, money or energy to properly prepare once an emergency is imminent. Do it now and get it over with.
(One note: never, EVER use propane or charcoal stoves inside. They release lots of carbon monoxide.)
Approach your emergency food stores like you would a savings account. Add a little bit at a time so you don’t put your regular cash flow in danger. Never, ever, go into debt just to finance emergency preparedness. Buy from established companies with proven track records. It’s amazing how many survival food companies pop up like mushrooms after a rainstorm when national disasters hit, only to be out of business 6 months later. The emergency food industry is notorious for this. Finally, store food that stores well and you would actually eat. Canned foods and certain dry goods can last for a year or more if stored properly. Know how to prepare the foods that you store. What good is a bag of dry beans if you don’t know how to cook them? You don’t need a lot to start out with but you need something. Have at a minimum two weeks of extra food on hand at all times.
Freeze dried food, believe it or not, is also a good option to supplement with. Properly packaged, it can maintain good quality for decades. It is also easy and quick to prepare which can save valuable time in an emergency. It might have a bad rap, but contrary to popular belief, it is not chemical laden, scientific voodoo. All they do is take the water out via sublimation using air pressure and temperature. Also contrary to popular belief, it can actually taste, not just good, but very good when done properly.
Don’t however, make freeze-dried food your only option.
Get a variety of different types of food. Furthermore, you should request like-recipes from several companies and compare them side-by-side. The main drawback of freeze dried food is that they require water to prepare so you’ll need to take that into consideration. Like I mentioned, I used to work for a freeze-dried food company, but even if I didn’t my recommendation would be the same.
Speaking of water, make sure you store some. Water supply issues do happen. Remember the disaster in Virginia in January of 2014? If you’ve ever experienced a boil-alert, you know how inconvenient not having access to potable water can be.
If you do decide to purchase freeze dried food, do yourself (and your family) a favor and buy from a backpacking/camping food company. Even if you don’t buy from Mountain House I still stand by this statement. Here’s why: Backpacking food companies make food they intend their consumers eat. Emergency food companies hawk food they hope people will never have to eat. This philosophical difference has a massive effect on production approaches, quality and reliability of the food those companies make. The other companies that I trust to be ethical and honest in their claims and processes are AlpineAire, and Backpacker’s Pantry, quality notwithstanding. For the record, I would never, ever buy Wise Food Storage, Patriot Pantry, or MyPatriotFoodSupply. I don’t care how many endorsements they’ve bought. They are not worth the money.
When it comes to what tools and items to store, Ready.gov and the Red Cross have good lists to start from. Basics like batteries, flashlights, first aid kits, emergency blankets and the like. Have extra copies of important legal documents. Store emergency supplies in a backpack. If you ever have to evacuate due to an impending natural disaster, you want your hands free to carry children, pets and important personal items.
Being Prepared for an Emergency is Prudent for Everyone
Just because you’re prepared for an emergency doesn’t make you a crazy. Most people that do prepare for emergencies aren’t fringe, but rather, people who approach life realistically. Life is messy and stuff happens. Might as well be prepared for it. You wouldn’t disparage a person who is building a savings account for a rainy day would you? Same principle.
Approached with a rational and common sense perspective, having a emergency preparedness supplies will bring peace of mind, and while you’ll probably not need them now, you’ll be glad to have them when you do.
If you have any genuine questions about emergency preparedness, feel free to post in the comments below and I’ll answer them the best I can.