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Monday, July 8, 2013

Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide

Emergencies Are Real

With all the modern conveniences we enjoy, it’s easy to forget how dependent we are on these technological advancements. Most of us have free-flowing water at our fingertips, electrical power that feeds directly into our homes and 24-hour grocery stores filled with endless supplies of fresh food. This is a luxury; without warning one disaster could delay or destroy our entire food supply.

World news tells us how fragile this dependence is. The world has natural disasters that are occurring with increasing frequency and severity; continuous political unrest rages in countries across the globe; economies are failing all around us. We are constantly reminded that our fragile system is not guaranteed from failure. This system is similar to an elaborate structure made out of dominoes: the shifting of one piece can cause the whole thing to come crashing down.

As the world becomes increasingly less stable, more and more people are choosing to become educated on emergency preparedness. Like those of us at Legacy, people are learning that in an emergency situation or other devastating life event (job loss, severe illness or unanticipated disability), we cannot always rely on government or other people to step in and provide for the needs of our families. Should incident occur the only way to assure ourselves that our loved ones will be taken care of is to get prepared on our own.

If we want to take care of our families’ needs in a crisis, having a sufficient store of emergency food is the crucial first step. Food storage options seem endless. Anyone who wants to start a food storage plan may feel overwhelmed by the large amount of conflicting and confusing information on the web regarding what to store, how much you need and how to store it.

In this guide Legacy Foods outlines some basic information to help you make the best choices as you build your family's emergency food storage supply. We will specifically discuss the benefits and disadvantages of different types of food storage, common questions about how much food to store, the importance of storing healthy and tasty food and how best to store what you have. When planning your food storage you have many considerations to make; this guide will help you get started.

Chapter 1
Food Storage Types Compared

With many food storage options, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. When planning your food storage there are many questions to answer: Are cans better? Should I have bulk foods? Are MREs really a feasible food storage option? What’s all the hype about freeze-dried foods? How do I know which is right for my family?

As you navigate your options many factors will weigh in your decision. This includes: nutritional content; ease of storage and transport; cost; shelf life; taste; ease of preparation. All types of storage food have benefits and you should have some of each in your supply. Below is a summary of the different types of food storage options and their relative benefits and drawbacks.

Pantry/Canned Foods

Pantry foods are probably the most familiar type of food storage. Cans are a simple and easy way to start storing food because you can find a wide variety in any grocery store. This group also includes boxed items and other packaged foods. Filling your pantry with foods that you eat every day makes great short-term food storage because these foods are convenient to use and easy to prepare. Weekly sales are a great way to quickly build up your food supply fairly inexpensively. One added benefit of cans is that they do not require cooking and can be eaten cold if needed. These foods are ready to eat with minimal-to-no preparation. Wet-packed cans contain water or juice with the contents of the can making them beneficial if water supplies are low during an emergency situation.

Pantry goods typically have expiration dates from one to five years so they need to be rotated more frequently than other types of food storage. Many pantry foods are not packaged for long-term storage and are more susceptible to bugs and rodents. These are foods that you should eat and rotate on a regular basis; simply put the newer food behind what is already on your pantry shelf. Make sure to check for dents in cans and only buy non-damaged items so the food is not compromised. Make sure to have at least one manual can opener in case of a power outage; it would be a challenge to open canned food without one.

Cans are not a great portable option because they are heavy and bulky, making them difficult to store and pack. Boxed items are lighter but typically require other ingredients to prepare. When buying canned foods make sure to get the appropriate size. Large #10 cans are a common food storage option and seem to be a great value for your money; however, they can be a bad idea because once opened you have to consume the contents within a short amount of time or it will spoil. Choose your #10 cans wisely our you could be eating the same food item for several meals in a row, finding a way to store leftovers or dealing with spoilage. In summary, pantry foods are the first you will use in an emergency because of the easy preparation and limited shelf life.

Bulk Foods

Bulk foods are another conventional way to store food. When properly stored these dried items have a long shelf life; some will virtually last forever. Typical bulk foods are wheat, powdered milk, corn meal, dried potatoes, dry beans, corn, pasta, and white rice. Many people like bulk foods because it can be a do-it-yourself method of storage. Other items available in bulk include vegetable oils, baking powder, coffee, tea, cocoa, salt, sugar, honey, bouillon and vinegar.

Storing bulk foods is not an ideal food storage option because it takes more preparation and creative cooking to produce a variety of meals. On the other hand, bulk foods are a fantastic way to stretch out any meal and will allow you to make things from scratch. Adding rice, pasta or beans to a meal can bulk up the meal and stretch your food dollar. With wheat, yeast and salt you can make a loaf of bread. The downside to bulk food is that you will need to have an alternative cooking should you lose power or gas. You won’t be able to make much from these food items without the ability to cook, bake, boil or simmer.

Bulk foods can be difficult to store because they come in large, heavy packages or containers, some of which might need to be repackaged for long shelf life. This is not the type of food you want to carry with you if you need to evacuate your home. The biggest disadvantage of bulk food storage is that you will need to cook mostly from scratch. Keep in mind that though bulk foods may provide more food per pound, they also require longer planning and preparation in order to have a wide variety of meals.

A significant drawback to having only bulk foods in your food storage is that you are unable to make a quick meal. During the immediate aftermath of a disaster you won't have time to stop and cook for 3 hours; you will be focusing on other things and will need something you can quickly eat with little preparation.


Meals, Ready-To-Eat (MREs) are military rations. The name says it all; these full-course meals have everything in one package: entree, side dish, dessert, drink and condiments; these often include a small heating device. MREs do not require water and are the most convenient food storage option. Some people like the taste but others do not. This is what our military uses because of their high calorie content and because they are shelf stable. MREs also include a spoon, toilet paper, wet nap and salt with every meal. Because of the high calories they are an excellent choice for a bug out or evacuation situation.

Though they can be on the heavy side, MREs are a good option because they are very portable. They are the perfect food to put in your evacuation bag. MREs a great short-term, zero-preparation food to live on until you are able to get to a more secure location. The shelf life of MREs can be 5 to 10 years if stored well; after that, palatability can be affected. The greatest disadvantage of MREs is that they are very expensive and have a limited variety. They are best reserved for short timeframes.

Dehydrated or Freeze-dried /Long-Term Storage 10-25+ Shelf Life

Another emergency food option is freeze-dried and/or dehydrated foods. This type of food storage is convenient because it is delivered already packaged for long-term storage. Some foods are better preserved using the freeze-drying process; others are better dehydrated. Some companies may stick to one method while others use a combination of both in their prepackaged food storage options.

Dehydration is a long-standing method of preserving food. During this process foods are put through a low temperature chamber where up to 98% of the moisture is taken out and then the food is packaged. This dehydration process reduces both the size and weight of the food while maintaining flavor. Tests have shown that texture and color can be affected with this process. Some experts believe that nutrients are reduced during the dehydration process but others do not agree.

Dehydrated foods are lightweight and can be ideal for quick mobility in the event of an evacuation. These foods are typically not full meals but are the foods you use to make meals such as: fruits, vegetables, jerky, eggs, pancake mix, butter, tomato and cheese powder.

Dehydrating can be done at home but can be very time-consuming; storage life will be shorter without the right packaging. Dehydrating food at home can be a cost-effective way of adding to your food storage if you incorporate these foods into your everyday cooking. Professionally dehydrated foods are properly packaged and can store for a much longer time.

Freeze drying is a process of preserving food that requires high-end equipment that flash freezes fresh or cooked food. The food is then put in a vacuum chamber that remains as cold as -50° F. Minimal heat is applied and the ice evaporates without ever going back into the liquid phase. This removes almost all of the moisture from the food. Freeze dried foods make for better tasting meals because the process preserves the color, flavor, shape and texture of the original food. Because water has been removed it weighs less, making it a great portable option. One downside is the slightly higher cost than dehydrated food. Another is that since it retains the shape of the food it is also slightly bulkier to store.

Both dehydrated and freeze-dried meals have many advantages over other food storage options. Overall they are easier to store, are light-weight, take up little space and do not require refrigeration. They do require water for reconstitution so you will need to increase your water storage accordingly. These foods are properly packaged for long-term storage and easier mobility. These foods save you time because they are quick and easy to prepare. They are also nutritious and great tasting.

The main disadvantage of these types of foods is the cost. Due to the intense processes these foods undergo as well as being pre-packaged for long-term storage, the cost is higher.

SUMMARY: Study these options and decide which types can fit into your plan. Each level of food storage has advantages and disadvantages. Because of this many people choose to have a combination of the food storage types for the most comprehensive plan. Consider all the factors and store what is right for your family.

Chapter 2
How Much Food to Store

When starting their food storage people commonly ask: How much food do I need? There are a few considerations to make when deciding on quantity. Each food storage type has its own characteristics so included below are some things to keep in mind when determining how much to store.

Pantry/Canned Foods:

If you decide to include pantry/canned foods such as the grocery items that you consume regularly, calculating this can be fairly simple. First figure out how much you and your family go through in a typical week. Take that number and multiply it by the amount of time you would like to have food on hand and strive to obtain that amount. Thirty days is a good initial goal.

Taking advantage of grocery store sales is a great way to quickly build up this portion of your food storage. Remember: eat what you store and store what you eat. This means don’t buy foods that you don’t normally eat just because you see them on sale. By purchasing and preparing the foods you normally eat, rotating out the oldest items in your pantry first and then replacing these items regularly you ensure that this portion of your food storage is always fully stocked and up-to-date.

Bulk Items:

When it comes to bulk foods, remember that these storage items are excellent for extending meals that you make with your other storage foods or making meals from scratch. Adding rice, pasta or beans to any meal will stretch your food dollar regardless if the meal is canned, freeze-dried or a long-term storage food, Bulk foods are also great for having everyday essentials on hand such as salt, sugar and flour. For example, you will want to store sugar if you are used adding it to your daily coffee.

When determining how much to purchase consider your family’s typical serving sizes and then buy the items based on how many times a week you plan on needing them. Having a surplus will never an issue because bulk foods can last a very long time if properly stored. Note that when purchasing bulk food items you may need to repackage them in order to extend their shelf life sufficiently for your needs.


If you plan to include MREs as part of your food storage, keep in mind their limited variety and high cost; they are best suited for short-term emergencies. MREs don’t require any cooking so put them in your go bags or evacuation packs. A case of MREs contains 12 meals. Each MRE contains 800-1200 calories so you only need about two per day. A smart goal would be to have one case of MREs per person; this will provide approximately 1 week of meals for each family member.

Dehydrated and Freeze Dried Foods

Dehydrated and freeze-dried meals are much lighter and can come in small packages for portability. These, too, could double as a bug out supply with the understanding that extra water would be needed for reconstitution.

While you can get individual food items that are either dehydrated or freeze dried, one advantage of these foods is that you can buy prepackaged meals and then all that you would need to make a tasty meal is hot water. These complete meals may not be as convenient to eat as MREs but they provide a much greater variety of meals from which to choose.

Unlike pantry food and MREs, calculating how much freeze-dried and/or dehydrated food you will need is not easy so we will guide you through it.

How much Long-Term Food is Enough?

When deciding how much freeze-dried and dehydrated foods to add to your emergency supply, the most important rule to remember is to go by calories not by serving size. Emergency food companies have different definitions for what constitutes a serving and emergency food kits are not one-size-fits-all even though they may be advertised that way. The first step is to figure out how many calories you and your family consume on a daily basis. Next multiply that by the number of days for which you want to be prepared. This becomes the minimum number of calories that you need to have in your food storage program.

Once you know how many calories your family requires you can figure out how much dehydrated and freeze-dried meals you need. Keep in mind that your daily caloric requirement changes based on what activities you are doing. For example, a hard work day cutting down trees and moving storm debris will require more calories than sitting around playing cards while waiting for a storm to pass. Its best to assume you will need more calories than less. In general teenage and adult males need 2800 calories per day, teenage and adult females require 2200 and children 13 and under use 1400. Infants require special food so plan and purchase food accordingly.

Once you have the total daily calories needed decide how many months’ worth of food you want. This is influenced by your personal comfort level. The longer period of time you can supply for the better but most people can’t afford to go out and buy a year’s worth of food without some prior planning and budgeting. The best recommendation is to start where you can. First build up a 2-week supply and then move to 30 days’ worth. Once you have that, work up to three months, then six and then a year. Build up your food storage supply as big as you need in order to feel safe and to be able to provide for your family in any disaster situation.

Watch out For Serving Size

Remember when choosing an emergency food supplier to look at the total calories in what they call a serving. Similar with our everyday food, a single serving is not enough calories to be considered a complete meal. Instead consider the total number of calories in the package. Going by our figures above an adult male needs about 2800 calories a day or 933 calories per meal.

Many people make the incorrect assumption that a serving size should contain enough calories for a complete meal. In truth, there are no standards for serving sizes; they are only suggested portions by the manufacturer.

Serving sizes are recommendations that also assume that you will also be eating other foods. Focus on the amount of calories in the whole package instead of the number of servings per package. Don’t expect an entrée meal to complete your calorie intake. Look into having snacks, drinks, fruits, vegetables, rice and other food items to help increase your daily calories. Having a variety of foods to eat creates normalcy in an emergency situation.

SUMMARY: Deciding which food storage option you need and how much to secure can be overwhelming. We have included a worksheet at the end of this document to help you develop the best food storage plan for you and your family. We will help you ask the right questions, provide you with answers and help you make the best choice.

Chapter 3
What To Store...Ingredients Matter

One common misconception about emergency preparedness is that food storage quality doesn’t matter as long as you have some food stored that will last for a long time without spoiling. Having something stored is better than nothing but it is also crucial to fill your body with nourishing ingredients during an emergency. This will keep you satisfied and in top form. Eating lesser-quality foods can leave you susceptible to sickness and diminish your mental and physical health. You are storing food to protect your family against starvation but you also want to protect them from sickness and diseases caused by harmful ingredients. Do this by knowing what goes into the food that you buy.

Long-term emergency food storage is made to last a long time. Some companies in the industry cut corners and add a variety of artificial preservatives, dyes and flavors in order to lengthen the shelf life of their foods. If you are committing to protect your family be sure to make the best, healthiest choices possible. When selecting your food storage beware of artificial ingredients. Here are other red flags to consider as you look around.

Avoid Hydrolyzed Yeast Extract and Similar Flavorings

Hydrolyzed yeast extract is a controversial ingredient found in many packaged foods and is common in food storage items. It is primarily used as a flavor-enhancer and is created by breaking down yeast cells. The FDA classifies yeast extract as a natural ingredient but according to many health experts, yeast extract is a cheaper alternative to monosodium glutamate (MSG) and actually does contain some MSG.(1) Some health and consumer advocates say that labeling something as containing yeast extract is the way food companies avoid saying that a product contains MSG.(2)

MSG has many negative side effects. Consumption of MSG has been linked to a variety of scary conditions including headaches, numbness in the face and neck, heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea, weakness, appetite control problems and other negative symptoms.(1) Whether or not you have had a sensitivity to MSG in the past, it is best to avoid this ingredient in your storage food altogether.

For a good list of other additives that are linked to MSG check out the following articles:

Consider GMO-Free Foods

When looking for emergency food it is equally important that the ingredients are free from genetically modified organisms or labeled GMO-free. The use of genetically modified foods is another controversial topic in the world of food and nutrition. It is best to avoid GMOs while the debate is still going on, particularly if this is a long-term purchase.

Genetically modified organisms are created by taking the genetic material of one organism and inserting it into the genetic code of another. This bold practice is becoming more and more widespread despite being widely acknowledged as a risky and understudied process. Many experts opposed to genetically modified foods argue that there has not been adequate testing on human subjects. Despite the increasing insertion of GMO ingredients into mainstream foods there are still too many unknowns about the health effects these human-engineered foods could have. Some health groups like the Center for Food Safety have gone so far as to claim that genetically modified foods can increase the likelihood of antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and even cancer.(3) Why put your family at risk with untested ingredients when you will have other worries to contend with in a survival situation?

Because the use of GMOs in manufactured foods is becoming such a widespread practice, very few emergency foods are free of GMO ingredients. However, there are a few companies that produce foods that are GMO-free. If this is an issue that is important to you, be certain that the emergency food is certified GMO-free. Some companies may claim to be free of genetically modified ingredients but without the certification have no proof.

Other Health Considerations

Other health considerations include checking amounts of cholesterol, trans fat and sodium in the food storage. Packaged foods often have high amounts of these three things and emergency foods are no exception. High-quality emergency food brands limit cholesterol, trans fat, and sodium amounts but you need to read the labels to be sure.

Make Sure Your Food Storage Ingredients Will Stand The Test Of Time

Emergency food should be able to last and still be healthful. As you look for the right emergency food be aware that some food storage companies haven’t done their research on ingredients that spoil versus those that keep. As a result they incorporate ingredients into their emergency food that go bad after a relatively short period of time. Canola oil, for example, will only last a year before it goes rancid, thus spoiling whatever food storage in which it is used. Novice food companies use canola oil in their granola to make the clusters stick together and uneducated food buyers end up with a worthless product after just a year.

Bottom line: it’s important to know what goes into your storage food. Take the time to do some research on the food you are buying; be sure it will contribute to the health and well-being of you and your family in a disaster.

Chapter 4
Taste Matters

You have made your checklist, done the research and narrowed down your options; now it comes down to taste and appeal.

Emergency-preparedness gurus often publish lists of specific items you need to store for an emergency. One popular guideline suggests something like this: for a year’s worth of food storage each person needs 350 pounds of grain, 75 lbs of milk, 65 lbs of sugar, etc. These types of specific food guidelines can be a helpful starting point but one size does not fit all. That guideline is useless for people who have food sensitivities such as gluten or dairy intolerance. Review the first chapter of this guide and consider what is best for your family.

Regardless if you choose canned, bulk or long-term storage foods, the most important principal we stress is to store the food that your family eats the most. Having food routines that carry over from your life before will make the hard adjustments easier in a disaster situation. Buying things you don’t regularly eat just for added variety on the shelf may sound like a good idea. Unfortunately these will likely be the last foods you reach for and if not regularly rotated could be expired, possibly ending up not usable at all.

Do you remember going to dinner at a friend’s house as a kid? Even if it was a close friend everything about the dinner seemed foreign to you from the way they folded their napkins to the saltiness of their gravy. Even the smell of their cooking was different from the dinnertime smells in your kitchen at home. Little differences like this mattered and affected your comfort level. Eating food from different cultures can sometimes put us in this situation, too. Routines, especially involving food, can be powerful in an emergency situation. Food affects the way we feel. If unfamiliar, food can make a scary situation that much worse.

Many food storage suppliers offer entrée options that are familiar favorites like macaroni and cheese, enchiladas and various soups. Look around at all available options and make selections based on what your family eats on a regular basis.

Store Food that Tastes Good

At first glance taste might not seem like a very important factor when purchasing emergency food. It’s easy to justify buying food that you don’t normally eat and telling yourself, “It will be an emergency. Whether I like the food I’m eating or not will be the least of my worries.” However, making sure your food storage is appealing and tastes good to you and your family is more important than it initially seems. Having food that’s delicious and comforting, especially in an emergency situation, will bring peace of mind. Another good thing about having food storage you like is knowing that your family will eat it and it won't go to waste.

If you have kids, buying good-tasting food is even more important. Kids are picky eaters. If it is hard to get your child to eat during a regular night at the dinner table, think of the desperation you will feel trying to get your child to eat in an emergency situation. This is not just about preferences, either. In emergency situations kids have a particularly hard time forcing themselves to eat, especially if the food is unfamiliar. On the other hand, if the food is something your child loves, it will really help.

Food that is familiar and tastes good has the power to make us feel relaxed, comfortable and cared for, even in stressful situations. Ideally, you would occasionally replace your regular meal with something from your storage food so that your family gets used to eating it.

Sample your Options

Since long-term food storage is made by others it is important to sample before buying. Never make a food storage purchase without first sampling one product from each of the companies you have narrowed down. Most food storage companies have small sample packs of their larger food kits available that are fairly inexpensive. Test a few and choose the ones that most suit your family’s tastes. This not only gives you an idea as to how the food will taste, but you will see what is involved in the preparation.

When ordering a sample ask the company if the food they are sending to you is the same as what is in the larger packages. Sometimes companies send out higher quality food in their sample packages to trick buyers into thinking that their food is better than it really is.

Variety is Optimal

When building your food supply, make sure to include a variety of all types of food storage. No one wants to be stuck eating canned beans for six months. Eating the same foods for a long period of time can also leave you deficient in the vitamins and minerals you normally get from a wider variety of foods..

Start collecting different entrée options and then add in “good” calorie side dishes for variety. You can also expand your food storage assortment by purchasing more canned goods, bulk items and other supplementing items. A wide food variety is enjoyable and will also provide options should you develop an intolerance to a particular food.

Dietary Needs

If you or a family member has special dietary needs, some food storage companies offer gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian options. You want to store food similar to what you regularly eat that has already been adapted to your needs.

Plan on Extra Water

When purchasing items for your storage plan consider your additional water needs. Unlike canned food, bulk foods need water for recipes and preparation; freeze-dried and dehydrated food also need water for reconstitution. We take for granted that every day we have water immediately on hand. Figuring out how much water you use every day and calculating how much you need to store for food preparation can become overwhelming. Water storage takes up a lot of space and is hard to accomplish. Your best option is to first store what you can. We recommend that you also invest in a quality water filter and locate an alternate water source.

Don’t Forget the Treats

The idea of storing a few luxury items that you are used to having and would not like to do without is commonly overlooked. These items might be coffee, chocolate or other specialty foods that are part of your routine. Having luxury items may seem trivial but a simple treat or comfort snack will be invaluable in a survival situation. Not only will it be good for morale, you could use it as a bartering tool should the situation come to that. Having treats stored for an emergency benefits everyone.

Pet Considerations

For people with pets it is a common practice to store several months’ worth of food at a time in case of emergency. Because dry pet food can go rancid relatively quickly it’s a good idea to continually rotate through your stock. Canned pet food can last as long as regular canned foods but is typically pricier than dry pet food.

Dry pet food is a good option and can be purchased in larger quantities. This pet food contains fats and oils and will spoil if not stored correctly. Dry food stored in large plastic, glass or metal bins can help protect the food against insects but exposure to light, air, humidity and heat speeds up the rate at which the food degrades. The fats and oils can stick to the bottom and sides of the container leaving a film that can become rancid over time. This further contaminates other bags of food added to it and could lead to a health risk for your animal.  

It is best to wash and dry the container thoroughly prior to adding new food. You could also keep the dry food in its original packaging when placing it in one of these containers. Make sure to get the air out of the bag after each use and seal with a good lid. If these dry foods are unopened or stored well the shelf life can be up to one year. Always check the “best buy date” for your particular brand. The recommended “use by” date for an open package is six weeks. If you repackage this food into food grade buckets and add oxygen absorbers you may increase this to up to 2 years, depending on the food. Further measures must be taken to avoid spoilage for longer storage.

Legacy Premium is proud to introduce the first healthy, well-balanced dog or cat food storage with a 10-year shelf life. Our pet food storage is stored in heavy-duty Mylar pouches complete with oxygen absorbers; pouches are stored in stackable, waterproof and rodent-proof plastic buckets that are re-sealable and BPA-free.

Food storage can be a big purchase so take the time to figure out what foods you and your whole family will want to eat. An emergency is not the time to try new foods, nor is it the time to force your family to eat food they do not like. Food should be a comfort rather than a negative factor adding to the stress of a bad situation. Hopefully this is food insurance that you never have to use but if you do, you want it to be good, healthy food that is enjoyable to eat.

Chapter 5
Make it Last

Now that you know what you want to store and how much, you need to plan how you will store it. At the beginning of this guide we outlined how long you can expect each type of food storage to last if properly stored. Now learn what you can do to achieve the maximum shelf life of your storage food.

Battling the Elements

It is important to know the four enemies that can impact the shelf life of your storage food: oxygen, temperature, moisture and light. These four threats affect all types of food storage: cans, bulk, MRE’s and long-term dehydrated and freeze dried foods.

Oxygen: In order to achieve optimal and long shelf life, storage foods must have extremely low oxygen levels. Oxygen destroys shelf life because even small amounts will allow bacteria to grow and spoil food. Oxygen can also alter the fats, colors, vitamins and flavors in food storage.

Once a food has been packaged the residual oxygen level should be well below 2%. If a food storage company will not disclose the levels of oxygen in their food or if they simply admit that they do not test for oxygen levels, steer clear of that food. Food that is not tested for extremely low oxygen cannot last for the amount of time most companies advertise. This is another important reason to purchase properly packed foods or repack it for maximum shelf life.

Temperature: To extend the shelf life food must be stored at room temperature or below. Higher temperatures can be damaging to food storage because proteins can breakdown and vitamins and nutritional elements can be destroyed. Color, flavor, smell and taste can also be affected. Temperature is the one element that can have the greatest effect on the overall quality of your food. Store your food in the coolest environment available.

Some possible places might be root cellars, basements and under-the-stairs storage. Other areas include pantries and closets that are away from heating vents or refrigerators/freezers. Optimal storage is in a consistently cool and dry place. Storing your food in a garage, attic or outdoor shed is not recommended since these places can get very hot.

Moisture: One of the reasons freeze-dried and dehydrated food is so well-suited for long-term storage is because most of the water has been removed. Foods that are stored in a humid environment are likely to spoil from growth of microorganisms. Low moisture is also important for storing bulk items such as grains, beans, rice and flour.

Light: Light can deteriorate vitamins, proteins and fats in food. It can also discolor foods and affect flavors. Keep your food storage in a low lit area if possible. For this reason long-term food storage containers are always opaque.


Packaging is an important consideration when choosing your long-term storage food. Here are the most common packaging options and materials that companies use:

Cans: Canning has been an efficient way of packaging and storing food for many years. This airtight, solid container can withstand the slight vacuum that the oxygen absorber packs may create. Once the container is opened the preserved food begins to break down due to moisture, oxygen, temperature, and light. The food may still seem dry but the moisture content of the air is enough for bacteria to begin to grow. Be careful when deciding which foods to buy and store in cans. As long as the can has a good seal this is a good method of packaging food storage. One downside is that because the can retains its shape, it is nearly impossible to know if the seal is still good; the only way to tell is to open the can.

Mylar bags: Mylar bags are a polyester film laminated to aluminum foil. This produces a strong material that creates a barrier from oxygen and moisture and is highly resistant to puncturing. Essentially it is a flexible can and an excellent choice for long-term food storage. Having more manageable portions is a great advantage of storing food in Mylar bags; this provides less opportunity for spoilage, insect infestation and waste.

Unfortunately Mylar can still be punctured. Unlike #10 cans it is easier to tell when the seal has been broken or compromised; if the seal has been broken you will see the puncture or the bag will become bloated. If the bag has a vacuum you'll know if the seal was compromised because the bag won’t be tight around the food anymore. These signs allow for easier inspection of your storage food and eliminate the chance of discovering your food has gone bad because of a poor seal, right when you need it most.

Mylar packages combined with both oxygen absorbers and nitrogen flushing can virtually eliminate all oxygen and currently provides the best packaging available today.

Oxygen absorbers: An oxygen absorber is a small packet of material used to remove the available oxygen in a container and increases shelf life. The active ingredient is an iron oxide powder that chemically reacts and removes oxygen from the surrounding atmosphere. The absorber can prevent food color change, stop oils in foods from going rancid and prevent the growth of aerobic microorganisms that need oxygen to thrive.

Nitrogen Flushing: Nitrogen flushing is one of the newest, most efficient ways to package long-term storage food. Nitrogen doesn't react with food like oxygen does so foods will stay fresher longer. It doesn't affect the flavor or texture of the food, either. The nitrogen fills up the bag, flushing out the air and oxygen. Nitrogen flushing is a safe, FDA-approved method of packaging food storage.

Carefully choose the type of packaging you will use to protect your food storage investment. Consider all the available packaging options for the food you want to store. Being knowledgeable in these practices and how they are used can help you make good decisions for your food storage plan.

Additional Storage Tip

Make sure that your food supply is safe from rodents, insects and other intruders. Keeping it three to six inches off the ground and away from walls is generally a good way to avoid these pests. As an additional measure don’t store food containers directly on concrete floors because the moisture in the concrete can seep into plastic, corrode metal and dampen paper sacks. Store your food supply on wooden pallets to avoid this.

Things to Keep in Mind

Being prepared is simply having an alternate way of doing everyday things should your daily routine be disrupted. When preparing food storage meals consider three important things: heat, water and sanitation. 

Heat: How are you going to cook if there is no electricity or gas? Have several alternate methods for preparing your food.

Water: Take into account the foods you have chosen to store. If you are storing bulk, freeze-dried or dehydrated food, make sure you store extra water, too.

Sanitation: Consider storing paper plates and plastic cutlery to conserve water. By throwing away or burning dishes you keep germs from spreading and prevent illness.

Get Prepared Then Rest Easy

You are now be equipped with the knowledge and tools you need to make the right decision for your food storage needs. You know the various types of food storage and the benefits and drawbacks of each. You know what to avoid with food storage and how to properly store it. You have learned to do your research and know what you are buying; you can now make informed choices that will cater to your family’s needs.

Too often the message of emergency preparedness is doom and gloom. While food storage will certainly help in large disasters, it can also help in everyday emergencies such as a decrease of income through job loss, injury or illness.

No matter how you use your food storage, knowing that you have it will alleviate stress. You will have peace of mind will because you will be able to feed your family with the ample supply of emergency food stored in your home. Most importantly you won’t need to rely on others to step in and provide for you because you prepared ahead of time. You can know that you’ve done all you could and that you will be able to meet your family’s needs no matter the situation.

This Guide has Been Brought to You by Legacy Foods:

If you choose to include long-term dehydrated and freeze-dried foods in your plan we hope you will look closely at Legacy Foods. We are here to help you prepare your family for emergencies by providing the best prices on freeze-dried food storage anywhere. We believe that Legacy food is the smartest choice because we offer the best overall value. We have the lowest cost per day and a greater variety of gourmet tasting freeze-dried meals than others in the business.

We partnered with some fantastic companies to come up with products that meet all the requirements for great food storage: nutritional but full of delicious flavor; GMO-free with no artificial flavorings; vegetarian and gluten free options; top of the line packaging that ensures a 25-year shelf life.

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(1) “Hidden Sources of MSG.” Truth in Labeling. Truth in Labeling Campaign. 11 Sept. 2012. Web. 8 Nov. 2012.

(2) “Many ‘Healthy’ and Vegetarian Foods Contain MSG in the Form of Yeast Extract.” Natural News. N.p. 11 Nov. 2012. Web. 11 Nov. 2012. <

(3) “Genetically Engineered Crops.” Center for Food Safety. The Center for Food Safety. N.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2012. <

Monday, June 3, 2013

Beans and Rice? A Note From Nuvona Premium Foods

I watched a video the other day of a group of "preppers" who had purchased a great deal of beans and rice to put up as "long-term food storage" in case of ... well, whatever they are worried about.

I thought to myself that this was not a bad idea but I wonder how long it will take to get tired of beans and rice?

If you have kids my guess is it wont take long. I know it wouldn't take long for me.

Personally I had doubts about the methods they were using to store the stuff and quite frankly it occurred to me that these folks were literally betting their lives that their somewhat ill-conceived plan was actually going to work.

I like the idea of an emergency foods supply, but the beans and rice thing would not be my first choice.

My first choice would be the freeze-dried / dehydrated foods that are professionally packed and tested tot have a very long shelf like.

Not only will it be a much greater variety and way more tasty... but the "comfort" factor of having actual food in a time of emergency is  priceless!

I found a relatively new company making long-term food storage and  they are up on all the recent health info and state-of-the-art  packaging techniques that modern food storage can provide.

The foods are certified GMO free, they have no trans fats, MSG or high fructose corn syrup. They are low in sodium and actually use Ghirardelli chocolate in their chocolate milk!

Each pouch is flushed with Nitrogen and every one contains an oxygen absorber to. This is about the best, modern food storage out there and quite frankly, given the high quality the prices are amazingly low.

These prices compare with some food storage companies whose quality does not even come close. Check out the new sample kits they just launched and let me know what you think .

Nuvona Premium Foods

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Solo Stove Review And Gratuitous Dog Pics

I have been meaning to play with scientifically test the Solo Stove for awhile now. Sorry to folks with slow connections as this post is 56k death.

For whatever reason today was the day. So I got to fiddling with it.
 They come in a nice little black pouch.

The Solo Stove as packaged.

As you can see this is a really nice well made piece of gear. Yes you can make a hobo style rocket stove with a couple of tin cans and some wire but I seriously doubt it will be as efficient or durable as the Solo Stove. By all means have fun making some home made stoves to experiment with but if you want a piece of gear that is going to last the Solo Stove is probably the way to go.
The top piece/ pot holder in place.

My Pathfinder cup and Trade Knife which are being evaluated and are used to support the Solo Stove effort.

The goal today is to boil water in my cup. While hot chocolate does not require boiling water I wanted it to boil because that is a pretty ambiguous cooking need for emergency food or a variety of other things.  I gathered a variety of small twigs, a decent sized stick as well as some newspaper and cardboard to get it all going. Pretty representative of the way I start most fires.

I cannot claim to understand the physics of why this stove is so awesome as I am not a physicist, a fire fighter or a pyromaniac. However between the grill that the burning material rests on and the holes in the bottom that let air in this thing burns like crazy. It is almost a continuous effort to keep enough fuel in there for it to continue burning. I pulled out an old trick as you can see in the top pic. Instead of cutting a log just stick the end into the fire and when it burns up push a bit more in.
You can see the stove burning away with the cup of water on top of it. Also there is some of the small wood used in the fire, the container of hot chocolate, the Jim Beam that is going to turn it into a non caffeinated redneck Irish Coffee and the beer I am enjoying this evening.
The beer in question is a New Belgium Trippel. A fair interpretation of a stiff (7.8%) Belgium brew though it is filtered a bit more, probably to suit American tastes. Anyway back to the topic at hand.

The water in the cup was simmering after about 4 minutes. It took awhile longer till it really boiled after about 12 minutes. Part of that was the learning curve that to keep the stove really going I have to almost continually be putting little pieces of wood in it.
I added the hot chocolate and as you can see it is solidly boiling.

Letting the hot chocolate cool down while the stove continues burning.
Decided to toss the rest of the wood I had into the stove. It was sort of nice to enjoy some woodsman TV and think about life for awhile.
The stove burned all the wood pretty quickly and then I was hanging out letting the coals burn down.

My Pathfinder cup a but burned up on the outside. The Pathfinder symbol cooks kind of cool here. I think Dave Canterbury would approve except that I did this on concrete (due to fire concerns).

Now is a good time for some discussion on my concept of use for the solo stove. I think it would be great for simple cooking if you have primitive inclinations or are in a long term scenario. Cooking simple, quick meals for 1 or 2 people is where this stove would shine. Also in relatively barren environments (I am in the desert and feed this stove with stuff readily found around here) this stoves very high efficiency will let you maximize the small twigs and such that are available and easy to gather. You can definitely feed this stove with a knife which is really handy for traveling light.The solo stove is going into my bug out bag for sure. 

At reader request we have some gratuitous dog pics.

Dog coming out to investigate what I am up to. He things it is stupid to be outside when it is cold (well for Arizona anyway) and raining. He promptly went back inside.
Dog enjoying the old couch that is his exclusive domain. He is tired after a long day of napping, mooching people food, messing with the Christmas tree (he hides from Walker in the corner behind the tree and randomly snacks on it) and dealing with Walker.

Anyway if you are looking for a good cooking method that does not require gas/ propane/ kerosene I would give the Solo Stove a hard look.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Panic Buying Vs Stocking Up

As discussed before I do not believe in panic buying. I prefer to stock up. There are several key differences. The first is that panic buying goes on election cycles of 2 or 4 years while stocking up is constant. Also panic buying typically implies a lack of thought out consideration and instead relies on emotions which usually aren't the best way to make big decisions.

After the election I thought about picking up a bunch of different stuff. Before making a purchase that night I decided to sleep on it. The simple decision to stick with the plan I already had was evident as the right answer. Want to know what I purchased instead? .22 mags as they had been identified as a shortage.
My confidence that the Ruger 10/22 and Buckmark can stay functioning in their semi automatic glory has improved greatly.

The point isn't so much about what stuff to get or not get. It is about how and why to purchase it. Stock up on .223 because you like it's commonality or the way that your rifle handles not because somebody said it is good to have. Stash plenty of .380 if you rely on one of them because that ammo supply seems particularly thin. Buy an AR upper in 6.8 because you like it's ballistics not because somebody talked about it in a magazine. The point is to purchase a case of 9mm hollow points because you want to have them not because maybe somebody might try to ban them down the road.

Figure out what you want to have and work towards it. Be reasonable and focus on the long term. The simple math inherently favors a long term consistent viewpoint. Most folks cannot just go out and buy a semi automatic handgun and a semi automatic rifle or two, a bunch of mags and a couple cases of ammo to feed them one Friday after work. These folks either go home empty handed or with less than what they want in this scenario. On the other hand if you picked up a handgun a couple years back and a rifle last year there is plenty of time to save up for these weapons as well as all the ammo to feed them. Of course it is still important to be reasonable; an FN Scar and a Nighthawk .45 are not in the cards if you are a single income family pulling in 40k a year, but with some planning a Glock and an AR could work.

I can't tell you how many guns will fill your families needs and wants. A pistol, centerfire rifle, shotgun and .22 is a good start. A pistol and rifle per adult family member as well as the aforementioned .22 and shotgun is a solid place to be. However exactly what will work for you is something you've got to figure out. I also cannot say exactly how much ammo you should get to feed these guns. You have to figure that out for yourself but the time to do it is not while freaking out over an election.

Spend your limited resources smartly.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Give Away: Prepare Wise 16 Serving Entre Sampler

Thanks to Prepare Wise today we are giving away a 16 Serving Family Entree Sampler Pack. This is a cool sized package to try out a bunch of different meals and supplement a get home bag, or 72 hour type kit. The rules for this contest are simple. Just say you want it in the comments section. The winner will be announced later this week, probably Friday.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Elections, Life and Family

The presidential election is over. I am almost entirely ambivalent about it. In many ways except party catch phrases the 'solutions' being offered were very comparable.

I considered doing some panic buying but things are pretty solid on most fronts. A few more magazines for the .22's will be ordered shortly. After that things will be pretty good here. Also we have other areas where that money would be better spent.

The last couple days have been pretty crazy here. We've got some medical stuff going on. I will probably say more down the road when things are clearer. Something can be nothing or it can be something so I'll be intentionally vague for a bit.

I have been talking with some of our advertisers and there is good stuff coming up. Expect lots of product reviews as well as give away's and contests. This stuff should be fun and interesting for everybody.

Right now I am cooking up some brownies for Wifey and Walker in the Sun Oven. Will post the results and an in progress review later today or tomorrow.

So that is what's going on here.

Please Welcome Our Newest Advertiser: Camping Survival

Camping Survival has all sorts of cool stuff like para cord, bathtub emergency water storage containers, life straws, big containers of fuel stabalizer and too many more products to list.

Please go check out Camping Survival today.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Please Welcome Our Newest Advertiser: Crisis Survival Tips

Survive A Food is a new survival product that arms you with the knowledge required to survive any food Crisis.
The creator, Rod Davidson, is an ex-military guy and an expert in survival techniques.
It’s FREE to download.
Inside you’ll discover:
·        3 Essential foods you and your family MUST have in order to survive
·        Exactly how to store your food so that it doesn’t go bad
·        The #1 mistake most preppers make when storing food...
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To grab your FREE report simply click on this link.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Product Review: Galco Miami Classic

Today we will be talking about a pretty classic holster. So classic in fact that it has the word classic in it's name.

Before talking specifically about this holster we should spend a moment on shoulder holsters in general. Shoulder holsters are a rather niche system. They are great for people who spend a lot of time driving or seated, always wear a jacket or for whatever reason can't/ won't wear pants with a pretty solid belt. Driving and not wearing gun friendly (pants w/ a legit belt) are the two times I like shoulder holsters.

They are as discussed a sort of niche system but in said place they are the right piece of leather for the job. Sort of like an earthquake survival guide is just the right way to get ready for an earthquake a shoulder holster is the right way to get ready to carry on the body for long drives. Anyway onto specifically talking about the Galco Miami Classic.

I have owned a couple shoulder holsters in the past. One was a knock off of this system (seriously I think it was called a Falco) and the other was a cheap Uncle Mikes nylon setup. Neither were particularly impressive. That being said as discussed previously shoulder holsters have a place.

I was in the market for a shoulder holster for two reasons. The first was a long drive across the western US.  Secondly I wanted an option to carry, mainly at home, in comfortable clothing. Having tried cheap holsters I wanted to get a good one. The option was pretty simple for me and seeing one at a decent price ($139) simplified matters.

The Good: This thing is comfortable. After a few minutes of fiddling with the adjustments it fit wonderfully. On multiple occasions I forgot that I was actually wearing it. The material and quality of construction are top notch. The fit of the pistol and magazines is tight but right. I can't see retention being an issue with this setup.

The Bad: These things are expensive. MSRP is $189.95. They seem to be all over the net for about $150. Mine was purchased at a big box sports store for $139. A steep price tag for sure.

That being said it is worth considering this is not just a holster but a system. If you look at the price of a quality leather holster, gun belt and mag pouch from a top end American (I think) manufacturer this holster might seem a bit more sanely priced.

The Ugly: Did I mention that the Galco Miami Classic is spendy?

Overall Assessment: If you are looking for a shoulder holster this is a great option assuming you have the money to spend. They are not cheap but are really nice.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ammo Prices

In conjunction with shooting yesterday I wanted to pick up some ammo. The price of the stuff definitely surprised me. The cheapest I could find .38 special was over $20/50, 9mm at $12.99/50 and 30-30 at 16.99/20. Didn't go to every store in town but the place is usually pretty competitive. Anyway this got me thinking about ammo prices and availability and doing some looking around.

Prices like cases of 9mm for $209 and .40 for $265 probably cannot be found at the local gun shop.

The price of spam cans of 7.62x54R seem to just keep going up or maybe it is just that the prices in my head are out of date. Anyway if you want some of these for practice or to put away for a rainy day I would look at getting them sooner instead of later.

Folks could say that you should buy lots and lots of common caliber ammo like .22lr, 9mm, .38, .223, 7.62x39, .308 and 12 gauge now because it is not going to get cheaper. Those folks would not be wrong in the strictest sense. It is unlikely that ammo will get cheaper. However this fails to look at the big picture. If you are barely making normal bills and doing the best you can to prepare that advice really isn't all that constructive.

Look at your overall situation. Where does your ammo situation stand in relation to food, water, medicine, sanitation and other such stuff? If you are a bit short on ammo without any more urgent needs then focus there. Don't do anything crazy just work on it as your finances allow. Consider making group buys with friends or family if you can't afford whole cases. Making 2-3 orders over a few months will do a lot of good but shouldn't kill the family budget.

Anyway those are my thoughts about that.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Please Welcome Ozark Mountain Survival

I am pleased to welcome our newest advertiser Ozark Mountain Survival. This is a true family business with everybody involved. I have talked to Dad, Mom and a kid. You do not see that a lot any more and I like it.

Earlier today I was thinking about how it would be really cool to have some sort of a flint/ fero rod attached to one of these type bracelets. When putting up this ad I went ADD clicked into their site to the bracelet they call the MOAB (mother of all bracelets). This is leaps and bounds beyond the usual woven up hunk of 550 cord that fits around your wrist. The MOAB (shown above) has a fero rod, a compass and a saw blade. It is a pretty solid little survival kit that fits on your wrist. With the MOAB and a good hat (everyone knows 75% of your body heat leaves out the head;) you could survive anything.

Check out Ozark Mountain Survival and see if there is something that will fit your needs.

Edited to include: The other kid wanted us to know they are also involved in the business making it truly a family affair. Also note that the MOAB contains a mini fishing kit under the ranger band it also seems to include.  This thing is like the Swiss Army knife of bracelets!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012

EDC Depot Closeout and Sale

Our longtime sponsor the EDC Depot are closing their proverbial doors over the next couple weeks. Please note that the code "closeout" will get you a 10% discount. Maybe you can get a deal on something you have been wanting.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Stacey's Quest- Sample Chapter

Today I am pleased to bring you a chapter from Stacey's Quest to sample for free.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
-Chapter Eight-

    Stacey awoke the next morning before the sun, sticking her arm out of the covers to explore the day. It was cold and damp, but not as bad as she had endured previously. The window was definitely dark, and she questioned if it was middle of the night or early morning. Her bladder told her that it must be morning, and outside she heard the continuing, soft patter of the rain. To be sure, she went to the window to check.

    A little light came through the clouds, making her figure that morning was imminent, and she could see that the snow was nearly gone, with only a few small drifts remaining where they had been impassable even the day before.

    The question was going back to bed or leaving her room. After the contentious interactions with her family the past days, she really didn't want to be around her mother or grandmother. But she did want to be around Erica, stuck on the couch, or even Robert. Finally, compromise was the order of the day, so she silently slipped out of her room across to his. Peering down the hall, there was no light or sound, so the others must still be asleep.
    “Robert, are you awake?”
    “Did you sleep last night?”
    “Not very good. What's wrong with mom and grandma?”
    “I don't know, maybe they're just upset by this more than us.”
    “How can they get that old and be so unprepared for a little inconvenience?”
    “It's more than a little inconvenience, it could be that our whole world has changed.”
    “Do you really think so?”
    “Do you really think things are just going back to normal?”
    “I don't know, either, Robert. I don't know what is happening, but I've stopped believing that everything is just going to be like it was before. We have to be ready to face the unknown, just in case it doesn't.”
    “What do you mean by that?”
    “I don't know, that's what bothers me the most. I don't know what I might have to do.”
    A little more light came in his window, so it was definitely morning now, and somebody had just gone out the back door.
    “We better get up, Robert.”
    “Yeah, I have to go.”
    At least now she had protection from being double teamed by her mother and grandmother, and the siblings walked down the hall together. Only Erica was there, on the couch, wrapped in a blanket. Stacey reached out for her hand, finding it cold.
    “Good morning, Erica. How did you sleep?”
    “Not very good, it was cold after the fire went down.”
    “Why didn't you come in my room?”
    Erica looked around. “I didn't want to upset your grandmother, she doesn't want me here.”
    “Did she say that?”
    “She and your mother talked down there. They know that there is not enough of anything for you guys, let alone with me here, and they are worried about taking care of you first. I thought about sneaking out during the night and going to the church.”
    Stacey squeezed her hand. “Don't, because then I would have to go out alone to find you and something might happen to me. You wouldn't want that on your conscience, now would you?”
    “Go in my room, the bed is probably still warm and you can get some more sleep.”
    They heard the sound of the back door.
    “Hurry, before they get back.”
    Erica took her blanket with her.
    “Good morning, mom, grandma.”
    “Good morning. Stacey, why don't you put some water on the fire to make coffee. We might as well have drinks even if we don't have food. The pitcher is full, on the table. Robert, you can build the fire.”
    “Okay, mom.”
    By the time she returned with the pan of water, Robert had a small fire burning,  waiting until a sizable area of hot flame before setting the pan on it.
    “Where is your friend?” Grandmother asked.
    “She was cold, so I told her to go lay in my bed.”
    Mother and grandmother looked at each other, saying nothing, so they all sat in silence until the water steamed, then each took a cup of hot water. The two older women added coffee.
    Grandmother spoke after her first sip. “It is barely raining out now, and the sky looks like it will clear today. I want us to go to the church and for you to place those letters before people return.”
    “Yes, grandma.”
    “And your friend will go with us.”
    “She is coming back here, though. I won't abandon her at a shelter.”
    Her mother and grandmother looked at each other.
    “Erica doesn't know what happened to her family, or if they are ever coming back. I won't abandon her.”
    “We'll see, Stacey. We don't have enough food or anything, they will supply the shelters first before they start to bring things to people's houses, so she would actually be a lot better off there.” Her mother quietly said.
    “Then maybe we should all go there together.”
    “We talked about that last night, and it is a distinct possibility that we might do that. For now, you and Erica go with your grandmother and do the things that you said you would do. We will discuss the rest later.”
    “All right, I'll do it.”
    “What about me?” Robert asked.
    “You'll stay here with me and Tootie to keep house.”   
    Stacey couldn't decide whether his tone of voice was relief or disappointment.
    “Maybe there will be supply trucks there already so you can bring us food, I don't think there is anything left in the house except for a cake mix.” Her mother really did sound optimistic.
    “Let's hope so, mom.”
    “Yes, it is about time they got to work. I'm surprised that the police weren't by yesterday to check on houses. I'm sure that they are out rounding up the ruffians that come from the woodwork every time there is a little crisis.”
    “Yes, grandma.”
    “Well, the rain is almost stopped, shouldn't you be getting ready to go? Mom, I'll get you a raincoat so you don't get a chill. Stacey, you should get Erica up so that she is ready.”
    “Thank you, Heather.”
    “Yes, mom.”
    Erica was already asleep, so Stacey gently lifted off the top blanket to try to find clothes and her raincoat in the dim light without waking her.
    “What's going on, Stac?”
    “We're going to the church so that I can repent for my sins.”
    “You're going, too. All my clothes are on top of you, so get yourself up and you might as well change.”
    With Erica up, they pulled the blanket off to look at her clothes.
    “You've got lots of cool stuff, Stacey.”
    “Yeah, lots of stuff, but not much practical for a walk on a cold, wet day like today.”
    Erica held up a clear plastic, hooded poncho with printed, bright flowers on it. “This is nice, can I use it?”
    Stacey hadn't seen that for years, it was from when she was about twelve. “Sure, Erica, if you want.”
    “Oh, thanks.”
    Layers ended up being the order of the day. After a complete change of clothes, the two girls emerged from the bedroom ready to go.
    Her grandmother had on an ill fitting, long raincoat of her father's, but it would do the job nicely.
    It wasn't such a dark day after all when they stepped out of the house. There was still mist in the air, no real rain, with the temperature probably close to fifty, and the clouds looked like they were breaking up. Under other circumstances, it could be a fun break from winter weather, almost what her father might call 'Indian Summer', though she wasn't quite sure what that meant.
    Grandmother had to use her cane, walking slower than each girl liked, so they quietly walked on either side of her, matching pace, also ready to catch her should she slip or try to fall.
    Stacey held the letters of apology and dutifully carried one up to each of the two neighboring houses she had entered, placing the envelopes, which also held the checks for damages, inside the screen doors. A glance at McCaffery's house caused her to momentarily reflect if a prayer might be more appropriate there.
    Then they turned left at the street toward the church and her grandmother's house.
    It really was nice to be out, even on this gloomy day, and under other circumstances, Stacey and Erica might have been running, laughing, and kicking in puddles. Now, the dreary day, combined with the grave mood of her grandmother, made for a somber procession. That plus the snail's pace that they went, every step slowly calculated to match to old woman's.
    To the next corner, bypassing the closest path so that she could leave the last letter. All along the way, seeing not a sign of other people in the houses or on the street. After coming back from her deposit, Stacey looked hard further down for anyone. Far down, she thought there was movement in front of a house more than a block away, but wasn't sure.
    They backtracked a little to Henderson Avenue, where they could see the steeple in the distance. Under normal circumstances, this was a five minute walk. It took them at least a half hour.
    Earlier in the year, on Easter, her family had accompanied her grandmother to church. That was a beautiful spring day, with the grass green, flowers in bloom, birds singing and bees flying from flower to flower to catch the nectar. She had not paid attention to the goings on, wearing her bright, new, spring dress and catching the beauty of the new season.
    Now, on this wet, autumn day, when free conversation with her friend was not possible, she studied grandma. The old woman walked steadily on, step after step, but her face told of the pain that every step brought. She carefully and deliberately placed the cane with her right hand to alleviate her hip pain somewhat, and Stacey tried to watch from her expression which side it was.
    Grandmother's lips seemed to be moving, too, and even though she tried not to stare, Stacey couldn't help focusing on them. Her eyes stayed straight forward anyway, so it probably didn't matter.
    After a while, as they stepped up the curb after crossing a street, little whispers came out from slightly labored breathing. Her grandmother was saying the rosary.
    A wave of feelings swept through Stacey. In the past, she had never really thought about who her grandmother was, always this old lady who seemed harsh most of the time, and who would reward her with money and things if she made the request with the proper, humble attitude. And always very conscious about how things might appear, because the political implications of a bad story or bad press could be ruinous. Most important was to think about how the future opportunity could be affected by every decision.
    So here she was, obviously in pain, doing something well beyond what she should be doing, for Stacey's sake, assuaging her pain by saying the rosary.    
    They came to another street, the church nearby.
    Stacey did what she realized she should have done when they left the house, taking her grandmother's elbow to help her with the step. “Let me help you, grandma. Your cane might slip, why don't you hold onto my elbow instead?”
    Grandmother took the elbow, hanging the cane on her wrist for safekeeping. “Thank you.”
    Despite her earlier feelings about both of her elders and the situation, her grandmother's grip brought a good feeling to her now and she smiled. They walked the rest of the short distance arm in arm, then up the steps of the church.   
    “The shelter is in the basement.” Erica said. “The entrance is around to the side.”
    “I know that, I just want to go in to make an offering since I missed on Sunday.”
    They continued up the steps, through the heavy door, and once inside, her grandmother let go of the elbow to use her cane as she strolled up the aisle.
    Stacey never liked church, and now found it most intimidating. The great, stone columns and ornate altar reminded her of something Gothic, Middle Ages. Even more now, with the only light that which entered through the stained glass windows, and the chilling cold inside, it was more intimidating than usual. She stood just inside the doorway watching her grandmother, the only person in the great church, slowly go to the front, genuflect, then turn to the left to walk along in front of the benches.
    “We should go up with her.” Erica whispered.
    “Why?” Stacey feared something.
    “It's the right thing to do.”
    “Why?” She really didn't want to enter the cavernous chamber.
    Erica pulled at her sleeve. “Just because, come on.”
    Hesitantly, Stacey followed her lead, walking slightly behind her friend. At the front of the church, before the altar, Erica genuflected and crossed herself. Stacey followed suit, then they walked to the side, where her grandmother stood in front of a stand that was supposed to hold many candles, but was empty. They passed right under the imposing statue of Saint Gabriel, whose intimidating gaze and large staff now frightened Stacey, who gripped Erica's arm.
    Grandmother knelt in front of the candle stand, and as they approached, they could hear her pray quietly, too soft to understand the words. They knelt to her right.
    The thought of McCafferys again crossed Stacey's mind, and she silently asked for Saint Gabriel to look after them, especially the children. Just for an instant, the idea flashed that perhaps they had seen the future, and whether their demise might have been intentional. She shook her head to cast the thought away.
    Finally grandmother stood, reaching to grasp Erica's shoulder to help herself up. “I left an offering, but there were no candles to light.”
    Erica gripped her hand. “I'm sure it's all right.”
    Grandmother smiled at her, Stacey was dumbfounded.
    “Are you coming, child?”
    Silently, Stacey stood to walk beside her grandmother, now holding Erica's arm in lieu of using the cane. At the back of the church, before opening the door, she turned and genuflected while crossing herself, waiting for the girls to do the same before rising.
    Down the steps and around to the side to the door that led to the basement, both girls held her elbows on these steeper stairs.
    Candles lit the massive room, as large as the church above it, with pillars set regularly for strength. Even though it was dreary outside, and more so in the church above, the lighting here was so dim that they could barely recognize individuals from the moving mass.
    There were other things about it that gave Stacey instant revulsion. The air had heaviness to it, musty, even more damp than the mist through which they walked. And, as Erica had described, a foul odor permeated it, a mix of body odor, human waste, maybe something bad cooking, and something that she couldn't identify.
    Plus the sound, not voices, but a low, heavy, mournful rumble, a mixture of wet coughing, heavy breathing, and quiet, depressing utterances not like a conversation, more like a low, chanted, mournful prayer.
    It was a little bit warmer than the outside, though with the heavy atmosphere, outside seemed much more comfortable.
    Stacey wanted to run away immediately, and maybe cry. Her grandmother led them on.
    Inside now, as her eyes adjusted to the dim candle light, was even more depressing. People mostly sat arm to arm without room to lie down in many places, and in others, a person would be supine, often with someone sitting, holding their head off the floor. Most did not have blankets. Some tables stood, mostly with people laying on them as well.
    “Where is Father Frank?” Her grandmother asked an older lady sitting with her back to a pillar.
    “Oh, Naomi, are you all right? He is in the kitchen.”
    “I'm fine, Elizabeth. Thank you.”
    “Are you coming here to stay?”   
    “No, just to see Father Frank.” She turned away before any other questions could be asked.
    They carefully stepped between the bodies, many slumped over, who Stacey hoped were sleeping. Occasionally in the darkness, they would step on a finger or kick an outstretched leg, which only seemed to bring the response of withdrawing the offending extremity.
    At the far end of the basement was a serving counter and her grandmother led them through a swinging door at the end. More candles lit the inside of this room, which revealed itself as a kitchen. In the middle, a large blue flame heated a pot stirred by a woman using a long, wooden spoon. They didn't hesitate to study the situation, walking past to where a small group stood in the back corner.
    “Naomi, are you well?” The young priest stepped toward them to shake her grandmother's hand.
    “Thank you, Father, yes, I am well. We came here to the church to see if we could provide any assistance.”
    Stacey frowned, turning to her grandmother.
    “Thank you, we are having a difficult time, as you can see. Yesterday, people started with this cough, which you can tell now has spread completely through the flock. We isolated the worse cases in the classrooms, but I fear for them.”
    “I see that you have food.”
    “The men are going out to enter private homes for food, we are not finding sufficient. The local store is completely pilfered. What you see cooking is dry dog food with some vegetables and meat, which will provide one small, midday meal for the people.”
    “Have you heard of what is happening and why no one comes to assist us?”
    “Not a word, Naomi, not a word. When I saw you, I first had hopes that you might know something.”
    “No, Father, nor have I heard about why we don't get help. I assumed that it was just because of the storm, but after the weather cleared the lack of response is inexcusable.”
    “I don't know how much longer we will be able to go on. Four people have died here, two early on from exposure that we could not save, and two from illness since then. Many are ill, and diarrhea is spreading faster than the cough. We desperately need help.”
    She reached out to take his hand. “I have nothing to provide, Father, but tell the men to go to my house and freely take anything that they can use.”
    “Thank you, Naomi. Now, you should depart before you catch something as well.”
    “Is there anything else I can do?”
    “No, just pray for all of us.”
    Grandmother turned out of the kitchen.
    Stacey looked at the boiling cauldron, seeing pieces of dark meat coming to the top and wondering just what it was.
    They slowly made their way through the crowd, grandmother seemingly oblivious and Stacey very conscious of the foul air and ominous coughing that surrounded them. She reached up to lift her shirt collar over her nose and mouth to breathe through.
    The outside couldn't come fast enough, and she wanted to run up the stairs, pulling her grandmother as fast as she could go.
    “Stacey, I think you are forgiven. This doesn't give you the right to go breaking willey nilley into people's personal property, but under the circumstances, I think that your actions were permissible.”
    “Thank you, grandma.”   
    She stopped. “Don't thank me for sanctioning your actions, I still disapprove. After seeing the suffering downstairs and hearing the words of Father Frank, I just think that your infractions are forgiven. That does not mean that they are acceptable, only forgiven.”
    Stacey really could not understand the difference. “Yes, grandma.”
    She turned to Erica. “And you, child, shall stay with us. There is already sufficient suffering down there, it would be wrong of us to add more burden to their already overtaxed load.”
    “Yes, ma'am.”
    “Where are the authorities? Why don't they do something to help us?”
    “I don't know, grandma.”
    She just shook her head.
    Even more slowly than before, they walked their return trip. The mist had completely stopped, and now the clouds began to break up, letting rays of sunshine through here and there to bathe the ground.
    But if the atmosphere lightened, her grandmother's spirit seemed to deflate. The woman took each step as though it was a burden to go on, and her praying was louder, audible, with each Hail Mary understandable, especially the words ending in s and th,  making it sound like she made hisses at them as they walked.
    She also made no effort to use her cane, locking arms with a girl on either side of herself.
    As they passed the first block, her praying stopped and she seemed to be carrying on a conversation with herself.
    “Yes, grandma.”
    “When we get up here, I want you to go into my house and see if there is any food which we can use. I had a few things in the freezer and I offered everything to Father Frank, but I don't think it would be wrong for us to keep some for ourselves.”
    “Yes, grandma.”
    “Please get my jewelry case, too. It has all the things that your grandfather gave me and many of them are quite valuable.”
    “Yes, grandma.”
    “Erica, you can help her. Everything else we will leave for the church.”   
    “Yes, ma'am.”
    It really was turning into a magnificent day, and moving clouds allowed a warm sunbeam to bathe them as it passed by. The sidewalk was dry except for a few standing puddles, and Stacey wished it was a sign of spring, knowing that it was a temporary respite from a winter that had not even yet arrived. Even her grandmother's step seemed to lighten with the sunbeam.
    They crossed the next street to turn to the house, when her grandmother pulled them to a sudden halt.   
    “Oh, no.”
    Stacey changed her focus from her grandmother to ahead, up the street. Two men could be seen coming out of her grandmother's house, carrying things to put in a shopping cart on the sidewalk.
    “My things, they're taking my things.” She released the girls and started to step ahead.
    Stacey grabbed her arm. “Grandma, no.”
    “They're taking my things, after I gave them to the church, they're taking my things.”
    The men paid them no heed as one carried out the jewelry case, dumping it onto the growing pile in the cart.
    “My jewelry.”
    “No, grandma, stop.”
    The older woman could not pull herself away from the two girls, so they  just stood there watching.    
    Stacey's mind raced, trying to decide what they should do. She reached to her pocket, for the first time today realizing that she wore the raincoat and not the now-dirty white jacket containing the pistol. Against the two big men, the girls and her grandmother were helpless, and could only be hurt if they tried to defend her property.
    She also thought back to what Mathias had said. Use the gun to defend herself, for personal protection. There were only three shots, no more. When those were gone, it was just a rock. Only use it at close range where a hit was assured, and don't use it without a determination to kill. This situation met none of those criteria and now it was up to her to keep it that way.
    “Grandma, we need to go.”
    “But they took my jewelry, they're taking all my things. Where are the police? How can they let this happen? Where is my security company? Why don't they call the police to protect my house?”
    “Grandma, nothing works now, there is no phone and I don't have any idea where the police are.”
    “Hey, get away from my things.” She yelled, trying to take another step toward her house.
    Stacey and Erica held her back. “Grandma, no. We have to leave.”
    One of the men took notice and stepped toward them. Fear momentarily went through Stacey's mind of the last attack, and she didn't think that a Mathias would come to protect them now.
    He stopped after the first step to throw something toward them, which landed far short and proved to be one of her grandmother's broaches. “Get out of here.”
    Stacey stepped up a few feet to collect the broach, which opened to show a much younger picture of her grandmother and grandfather.
    Grandmother just stood there, watching, as Stacey again took her arm.
    The other man came by and grabbed the first one's arm as he prepared to throw something else, which he then dropped onto the load, their words inaudible. The two went back into the house.
    Her grandmother quietly sobbed, taking the broach and clutching it in her fist. “I shouldn't have wanted to keep any of it after I gave it away. Now no one gets it.”
    “Come on, grandma, let's go.”
    Slowly they turned back down the street and then onto Henderson again. Much more slowly than before, with her grandmother leaning heavily on both of them now, clutching the broach and sobbing.
    More clouds cleared as the sky became mostly sunny, with the chasing sunbeams becoming chasing cloud shadows, and warmer, comfortable. Under different circumstances, a glorious break.
    Not for them, they plodded on.
    On the horizon, a black smoke plume rose in the far distance. Stacey thought about the fire on the first day and stopped to look around. Off toward the mall rose another smoke plume, this one with a wide base of black, gray and white smoke. There were others, too, in different directions.
    “What's wrong, Stacey?” Erica asked.
    “Look around.”     “What is it?”
    “Fires, the city is burning.”
    “Why are there so many?”
    “I don't know. That big one might be the same one we saw the when we walked from the mall. The others I don't know.”
    “Why are there so many?”
    “I don't know.”
    “They're burning the dead.” Grandmother said.
    “What?”     “They might be burning the dead. If they don't dispose of the bodies soon after they die, it can spread disease. They might be burning the dead.”
    They studied again, seeing others far in the distance, discovering more every time they looked. The nearest to them appeared to be only blocks away.
    “Where's the fire department?” Erica asked.
    “They're not working, just like everyone else.” Grandmother said quietly. “Nothing is functioning, the savages are taking over.”
    “What, grandma?”     “The savage beast in all of us. As soon as you lose the structure and restraining force of a civilized society, the savages come out. That's why you broke into those houses, you wouldn't normally do that, would you?”
    “No, normally you would be restrained by the laws of society, and if not that, by the threat of incarceration, and if not that, by the police themselves, who would catch you, and the judicial system, which would punish you for your crime. That is how a civilized society works.
    “All my life, I have worked to build and support a civilized society where all people are treated well and equally, and our system of rules maintains order. We worked to protect the weakest from the stronger, and share the wealth from the greediest to the less fortunate. All my life.”
    She shook her head, her voice becoming distant, shaky. “I fear that it is all coming apart now. Without the bounds of strong government enforcement, the natural inclination of mankind is for the strong to prey upon the weak. All my life I worked to forestall this day, and I don't even know why it is happening.”
    “Grandma, don't you think they will get control again?”
    She held out her hand in a sweeping circle, her voice even softer. “Look out there, the city is burning. People are looting and probably killing. The weak are preyed upon by the strong. Those men knew that we were no threat to them, they laughed at us.     “In another time, in my life time, they would have been severely punished for just showing me disrespect. Now, they take my things and laugh at me while they do it.”
    She held out the broach. “They mock me by throwing Manny's picture at me.”
    Stacey thought she would just fall down there, wondering to herself how they could get her home if she gave up. Fortunately, her grandmother started walking toward their home, the girls taking her arms to assist her. Stacey felt her pocket for the gun.
    The weak were preyed upon by the strong, and all of them certainly qualified as the weak. Those boys hadn't even threatened them with the gun, they didn't have to. The girls outnumbered them, and that didn't matter, they just folded at the threat of force.
    The strong preyed upon the weak. She was small, Erica even smaller. Robert was no force to contend with, she could still beat him up.
    The weak were preyed upon by the strong. She swore to herself that never again would she be a victim. Those men laughed at her weakness. Her grandmother slunk away in defeat to let those men pillage her house at will, her whole life, helpless. Her grandmother, once almost a matriarch of city politics, a powerful force to be contended with.
    The strong preyed upon the weak. Mathias was old, those boys could have easily killed him with their bare hands, but he showed strength by his actions. He showed confidence to take on three of them alone, with a shovel.
    She didn't go to church much, but she remember a story from one of the times that she did go that absolutely fascinated her, the story of Sampson. In the story, Sampson defeated an army with the jawbone of an ass. At the time, she had no idea that was a donkey, her picture was much different and she asked grandmother about it after the service. Grandmother had laughed at her terminology, explaining to her that he used the jawbone of a horse to kill (smite was the word she used) his enemies. Stacey remembered this.
    With his weapon, he defeated an enemy much stronger than himself. The weapon made him strong, the weapon equalized him to them. Sampson didn't defeat them, the jawbone did.
    Grandmother was defeated. Everything she had lived for and done lay in the past. She depended on the services of others to take care of and protect her, and now they failed her. She believed in the party and the system, and they also failed her. Stacey looked upon her grandmother with pity, gripping tighter onto her arm.
    At that moment, she swore an oath to herself, never again would she be weak, never again would she lay her fate to the mercy of others. Henceforth, she would be strong and take care of herself, so that others weaker than herself would turn to her for protection. Never again would she not carry that gun.

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