I’ve been thinking a lot about food security lately and what that truly means in our modern world. Up until very recently, people HAD to think ahead and make a plan for eating year round regardless of their climate.
Now we can just pop into the grocery store and buy anything we want, in or out of season. But is that really food security?
First, let me say that I’m fully aware that there is food insecurity in the world and even in my community. There are places where it’s hard to find fresh fruits and vegetables to buy. There are people who are doing the best they can and just don’t have money to buy food.
While these strategies can help with that type of food insecurity, it’s a complex issue and beyond the scope of this article.
I think part of simple living is helping those who are unable to have food security on their own. And honestly, should be part of our food security plan for our family.
I think this spring, we got a small taste of how previous generations lived. As we head into the fall and winter months, we might see it again so I thought we could chat a little bit about what true food security looks like and what it doesn’t.
What long term food security is NOT
This spring I saw people stocking up and buying things they normally don’t buy, “just in case” they need it. I’ve often wondered where that stuff is now. Did they use is? Is is still being stored?
I also saw a lot of companies playing on people’s fear. They used this fear to sell them on the idea of “food security” and storing food for the future. Their food, or seeds, or special program would give you the food security that you need. I vehemently disagree and think that this is just another form of food insecurity.
Let’s explore why…
Buying a “seed bank” so that if you HAVE to grow your own food, you can.
If you already garden you know that your first few years of gardening aren’t going to produce much. Gardening is a skill that needs to be practiced if it’s going to be productive.
You need to be learning how to grow food now, if you want to be able to grow food in the future.
Seeds deteriorate over time regardless of how well they’re stored. Seed are meant to be planted, not saved long term.
Grow food and save the seeds year after year to create your own seed bank. It’s not hard and you’ll always have fresh seed. Save extra so you can swap with others.
Buying MREs (meals ready to eat) or freeze dried food that has a self life of 25 years.
MREs are fine and some even taste good but if you’re not used to eating them, it will be one more thing that isn’t “normal” during a time when you’re seeking some normalcy.
I don’t know about you, but storage space is limited in my house, I don’t have room to store foods we aren’t going to eat in a reasonable amount of time.
Freeze dried meals are also expensive, as is a freeze drier. I’ve had freeze dried fruits and they are tasty. But I’m not sure that buying a freeze drier is really a cost effective way to preserve food.
Lastly, what will you do when the stored freeze dried food runs out?
Buying jars and boxes of food at the grocery store that you don’t normally eat.
It’s easy to get caught up in the panic and just start grabbing things off the grocery shelves before they’re completely empty. It’s fine to stock up on some store bought food, just be sure it’s food you would eat in your normal life.
Once you get a little stockpile, you need to start rotating it into our meals and replacing it in the pantry. This will ensure you always have fresh food in the pantry.
Buying buckets and buckets of grains and legumes to store.
Even though grains and legumes are great storage foods, they still break down over time. Food is meant to be eaten.
If your family isn’t used to eating beans and rice in their normal life, it’s going to be a hard transition. So if you have buckets of grain and legumes, you need to start cooking with them now.
Here’s a great way to start incorporating more beans in your meals.
Changing what you eat
Years ago, as a new mom, I read all the volumes of The Tightwad Gazette. One of the things that the author said that stuck with me was something like…”If you eat simply when things are good financially, your family won’t notice when things are tight.”
That made so much sense to me! I grew up in a home where it was either “feast or famine.” I didn’t want that for my family.
Our meals don’t really change depending on how much money we have. We’ve use the same budget year after year making minor adjustments as needed. We’ve had several times of unemployment and our meals stayed the same.
Sometimes we’ll have an unexpected expense that comes up and we’ll decide that we want to reduce our grocery budget and other areas instead of dipping into our savings. No one really notices because we just have more of the cheap meals that are already in our meal plan.
How to have more food security
I believe true food security means not relying on the grocery store ( or Amazon) for all of our food. Just like previous generations, our food should come from a variety of sources.
Grow a portion of your food
One of the Instagram accounts I follow is 66SquareFeet, Marie shares what she grows on her NYC patio and forages around town. It’s inspiring!
You can also plant fruit and nut trees for a backyard orchard. These are great because they produce year after year. If you don’t have space, talk to your city government about planting fruit and nut trees in parks and other common areas.
Forage wild, edible foods
Learn to identify wild edible plants to forage and start using them. Wild edible plants are all around us. But just like growing food, you don’t want to wait until you HAVE to use them to start using them.
Here is a short course on 5 easily identifiable edible weeds.
Here’s a more in-depth course that covers many more herbs and edible weeds that are common to North America.
Be sure to forage ethically by being respectful of the property owners and the plants.
Preserve some of what you grow and forage
Preserving food takes practice. So, start learning now. My new book can help a lot in this area.
Also, preserved food tastes different than fresh food does – not bad, just different. If you want your family to eat home preserved food, you have to start serving it now.
Get to know local farmers and support them now
Sometimes it takes a while to find things like meat and milk locally, don’t wait until the grocery stores are empty before you start looking.
Local farmers need your support year round, not just when there’s an emergency. If you support local farmers before there’s a run on the grocery store, they will be better able to support the community when the grocery stores are empty.
Learn to fish and hunt
Fishing is probably the cheapest way to get animal protein. The equipment is inexpensive and so is the license. But, again, it takes some practice, so take the kids or grand kids out and learn to fish.
Hunting has more expense depending on what you’re going to hunt. My guys hunt some but I wouldn’t consider us a hunting family. However, whenever friends who love to hunt offer us their extra meat, we gladly accept it. To save freezer space I usually can it.
Keep a few chickens
Obviously, this is space dependent but chickens can be kept even inside most city limits. There is a cost associated with feeding and housing chickens but you can grow some of their feed and let them free range to cut costs.
Here are some other tips on how to raise chickens for eggs. The same ideas can be used for raising meat birds.
Cook from scratch now
If the only bread your family knows is store bought, sliced sandwich bread, they are not going to just love your whole wheat homemade bread. It takes time to change your taste buds to enjoy real food.
So start now by serving more simple, homemade food and less packaged food. Stock your pantry with shelf stable ingredients so you don’t have to rely on boxed cake mixes or biscuit mix.
Cooking from scratch takes practice, so start practicing now. What meals or packaged foods do you normally by that you can learn to cook from scratch?
What is the goal?
If your goal is to have a bunch of food you never eat stockpiled “just in case”, then just buy a bunch of food in buckets and ever open them.
In our family, that’s not our goal. Our goal is not to be completely self reliance, it’s to be sustainable long term. Our budget cannot afford to buy a bunch of food we don’t eat.
Nor do we have time or energy to grow all our own food. That’s not sustainable for us either.
Instead we choose to live in community, learning from and sharing with others, and helping those in need.
This is true food security.