Most to-do lists seem to start with “Go to WalMart and buy a truckload of rice.” It’s not very obvious why. What are you going to do with it when you get it home? The first thing you need to do is prepare to be prepared. Identify a food storage area – somewhere that’s secure, sheltered, dry and cool. Some people like to keep food in a basement or dugout, which is good for hiding it but makes storage more challenging. Make sure your store is protected against rodents. Set up a storage system in there – strong shelves are ideal. Keeping your food store organized is vital: You’ll need to rotate supplies, using up older items and replacing them. The more organized you keep things the less waste you’ll have and the more prepared you’ll be.
Still, these extraterrestrial-looking foodstuffs seem to be having something of a moment: For the past four years, Costco has been selling pallets of shriveled vegetables, fruits, grains, and meats that promise to feed a single family for up to a year—and if you’re not a member, you can purchase similar survival kits, many of which boast a 20- to 30-year shelf life, at Walmart and Target. One top seller, Wise Company, saw its sales nearly double over the past four years, reaching around $75 million, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story last November. The company’s CEO, Jack Shields, told me he estimates the industry as a whole generates between $400 and $450 million annually in retail.
Though its light weight and long shelf life are ideal for navigating harsh conditions, freeze-dried food is probably most famous as a cultural curiosity: Like many Americans, I discovered it in a museum gift shop, gawking at the styrofoam-like ice cream that astronauts used to have for dessert. More recently, I encountered it at a disaster preparedness convention in Raleigh, North Carolina, where smiling, gray-haired preppers manned tables piled with plastic bags full of vegetables, meats, and stews.