Stocking up wisely -- eating where you are


Some industrious women who kept their progeny healthy.

Planning for disruptions in the food supply chain is something earlier generations were all too familiar with.  Our modern day shipment system has lulled us into a false and dangerous sense of complacency since we're not actually more insulated from shortages than earlier generations -- we're less.  This is due to two major factors.  First and foremost, food stores and stores in general operate on a "Just In Time" delivery system.  This means there's not some secret warehouse out back with supplies when the shelves run out.  When a product is sold out, more must be on its way already.  This system breaks down catastrophically during periods of unexpected turmoil -- when healthy supplies are needed most.  The second reason why we're not better of is due to the fact that most people do not have a real pantry to speak of.  Here at Potlicker HQ, we wrote about this early on.  But that entry was not inclusive, and since that time, I have organized my thoughts on how best to organize your efforts.

A WWII leaflet that helped people make do and thrive on less.

Before starting into what we should stock up on, it's important to know why we should stock up on it in the first place.  A pantry filled with bottles of jam may be tasty, but if you had to live our of your pantry for say, 2 months, you'd literally starve.   So, what DO we need to have to be healthy?   Well, we need to mind two different factors: energy balance and nutrient balance:

  • Proteins - essential to growth and repair of muscle and other body tissues
  • Fats - one source of energy and important in relation to fat soluble vitamins
  • Carbohydrates - our main source of energy
  • Minerals - those inorganic elements occurring in the body and which are critical to its normal functions
  • Vitamins - water and fat soluble vitamins play important roles in many chemical processes in the body
  • Water - essential to normal body function - as a vehicle for carrying other nutrients and because 60% of the human body is water
  • Roughage - the fibrous indigestible portion of our diet essential to health of the digestive system

And then the energy part, which is different for every person depending on things like age, size, activity levels and so on.  We all have a base metabolic rate, which is our baseline for minimum energy.  If we fall below intake of this, our body has to take it from our reserves or slow metabolism down, and that is not a good thing.

To do it right, we need a reliable balance or blend of energy forms in our diet that "burn" the right way -- just like any machine the fuel has to be right for the engine to function optimally.

Ideally that blend looks something like this:
  • 57% Carbohydrates (sugar, sweets, bread, cakes)
  • 30% Fats (dairy products, oil)
  • 13% Protein (eggs, milk, meat, poultry, fish)
So, this handy chart helps you know what to stock up and in what ratios.  But let's not stop there.  Fat is something that has a very bad rap in our society -- and undeservedly so.  Our brains require it to function, and it helps us store energy reserves for leaner times.  When we don't get enough of it, we lose our minds and starve to death.  No kidding.   In nature it can be one of the hardest things to obtain because it is such a complex structure.  And, to make matters more difficult, there are different kinds of fat as well.

All fats contain both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids but are usually described as 'saturated' or 'unsaturated' according to the proportion of fatty acids present. Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature and tend to be animal fats. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are usually vegetable fats - there are exceptions e.g. palm oil, a vegetable oil that contains a high percentage of saturated fatty acids.

And, carbohydrates have different forms as well;  starchy (aka complex) carbohydrates and simple sugars.    Honey is a great example of a simple sugar source, where potatoes are a classic starchy carb.  Both of these provide essential energy to muscles in the form of glycogen.  The starchy carbohydrates are the ones that have all the vitamins and minerals in them as well as protein. They are also low in fat.  The downside of them is their bulkiness may inhibit your ability to get enough energy from them.   Simple sugars on the other hand are fast-burning, high energy fuel.

Your digestive system converts the carbohydrates in food into glucose, a form of sugar carried in the blood and transported to cells for energy. The glucose, in turn, is broken down into carbon dioxide and water. Any glucose not used by the cells is converted into glycogen - another form of carbohydrate that is stored in the muscles and liver. However, the body's glycogen capacity is limited to about 350 grams; once this maximum has been reached, any excess glucose is quickly converted into fat. Ok, so this is all pretty technical, but here's where it translates into your pantry.

First, there are a few different what I call "vectors" to keep track of:
  • cost
  • locality (i.e. distance from your home base)
  • availability & seasonality
  • substitutes (your first choice should be natural/healthy, affordable, storable, and ideally local with a long shelf life)
  • importance and composition of the ratio above
 These variables will make up your own personal equation for stocking up.

First, let's talk about locality (distance).  In a short term crisis, this is not as essential because you're expecting the supply chain to be restored after some expected period.  In a long-term crisis, however, this variable is king.   I'll get into that more in a moment.  This will help you gauge your radius.

Availability and seasonality has to do with time of year and your particular location.  In some places you can't grow certain things.  This seems pretty obvious to some, but you'd be amazed how many people think a tomato in Winter is perfectly natural.  Thankfully, there are lot of different charts available about what is in season and when.

Substitutes are a way of determining first, second and third choice for your stock up goods.  For example, in the fats area it might go:  olive oil, pork fat, sunflower oil  in starchy carbs it might be: sweet potato, sunchoke, russet potato

Selecting your primary choices for stocking up is it's own entry, but use the vectors to help you decide.  So, healthy, natural, low cost, local, easily storable, long shelf life is best.

Victorian larder full of pickled sauces, preserves and spices.

Victorian cold storage with potted meats.
So, we need to create a chart that allows us to examine the various vectors in order of importance:


Then columns for each vector:

In the availability column, we want to have a Y/N answer, meaning:  "could I or someone with land within 100 miles grow this here?"   Distance is simply how far away the thing is, regardless if you can grow it locally or not.  Cost is your own scheme, but I use High, Medium, and Low.  Also, be mindful of what would cost significantly more during a time of disruption.  Water is a great example of this.  It's cheap and plentiful until it's not, and then it is impossible to get and super expensive.

Next we plug in our favored sources of nutrition and energy into the fields like so:


 sweet potato

And so on...

Next, you look at the storage space you have and stock up in order that it appears in your list!  And, don't forget the all important salt, water and spices.  It's virtually impossible to have too much of that.  And, having a few luxury items around like coffee and chocolate might not be a bad thing either.

Lastly, you need to determine what type of disruption you are planning for.  Is it 2 weeks?  2 months?  a year?  forever?  In the last case, your pantry could tide you over until you can get food crops growing and animals raised.  And, when planning for self sufficiency, all of these ratios still apply!  Plan your own operations so you have multiple sources of each staple with the highest number of the most important thing.  It's how people have survived on potatoes and lard for generations.

We will keep you posted on what we choose to stock, why and how.
Things that I have on hand in a fairly large number at any time is :
  • Organic flours
  • Olive Oil
  • Home Canned Tomatoes
  • Sea Salt
  • Vinegar (easy to make after you acquire the mother)
  • Honey
  • Spices
  • Herbs
  • Dry beans (lentils of a variety as well)
  • Rice
  • Dried meat (yes, I'm serious)
  • Preserves (a variety)

Freezers are a luxury that should not be relied upon.  When the power goes out, so does your food.
If you want to really save freezer food I recommend the chest freezers as they keep colder longer by not letting all the cold air escape when you open them.  This is a big plus when the power is out and you need to get something out.


  1. This is a fabulous article...really educational and it makes you think. The photos are wonderful. They really demonstrate the challenges and preparedness of our ancestors. Thanks for taking the time to write it!

  2. Thank you so much. We think a lot about how well we could take care of ourselves, friends and loved ones in a time of need. Times of need so often follow those of plenty and this current age is looking to follow history's lead yet again. I especially want to be able to feed my friends who think it is cute/weird of me to be so concerned about arcane things (like shortages) -- they are the least prepared, but so often the most intellectual. What is that?! I'll be posting some foraging hopefully soon.