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.
But of the many women I spoke to for this story, none view their lifestyle as non-collaborative. For Andrea Chymiy, a family doctor who lives on an island several miles from mainland Washington and runs a blog called Lefty Prepper Mom, learning about emergency preparedness and writing about prepping is part of a wider commitment to community service: providing others with the emergency first-aid skills and food storage know-how to fend for themselves in the event of an earthquake or other natural calamity.
Before I get into what the MREs from Meal Kit Supply tasted like, I wanted to set expectations here. Just like I have said in other reviews on long-term storable food similar to this. When you tear open a bag like this, you aren’t getting fresh ingredients from the garden prepared by a classically trained French chef. You are getting food that was designed for the military to pack enough calories in there to keep them alive, be waterproof, tolerate being mistreated and last for 5 years sitting in a warehouse most likely. If you are expecting Ruth’s Chris here or maybe even Golden Corral, you might be in for a surprise.
MREs at the time were pretty much like they are now, but the menus have improved and some minor details have made this meal in a bag much more palatable if you can believe that. I served before they had things like M&M’s or skittles for dessert and hot sauce to flavor your food. We also didn’t have a built-in heater like they do now. If you wanted your MRE warm you were limited only by your creativity. MRE food packets are foil so they are both waterproof and allow you to heat them on almost anything. We would use the heater vents in our trucks, lay them on our stoves in the tent or on the block of our engines.
With that goal in mind, let me say this: this is not a list of items intended for deep storage. Nor is it a list of items packaged so that they have a 25 year shelf life. (And in reality, do you really need your stored food to last that long?) I am also not going to list items that might be foreign to your palate, difficult to find, or too costly to absorb into your weekly shopping budget.
Luther’s decision to build up a pantry, she says, did more than help the family get by on a tiny budget. Later on, it would also help her through a divorce, the sudden death of her ex-partner at age 40, and getting laid off from two jobs in the automotive industry in the late 2000s. “I feel that it’s the whole reason my my mortgage didn’t go into default when I was unemployed, because I didn’t have to go to the grocery store and buy stuff,” Luther says of her experiences during the recession. “All the limited amount of money I had could go to paying the mortgage and keeping a roof over our head.”
Last week our electricity went out for several hrs. We discovered that our oil lamps that had been sitting on the shelf for yrs and yrs, didn’t have oil in them – oops – Not much good with out oil in them. It was cold and snowing, so really didn’t want to walk to the garage (not attached and about 100 ft) to get some. We did have candles and flashlights. We decided we liked using the headlight type of flash light the best – so are picking up a few more. I can make my cell phone into a WiFi spot, other wise there is no connectivity if your system is down. Yes there isn’t much to do if you don’t have TV or your computer – yes we are spoiled. We are lucky that we have a propane heat stove as well as a propane cook stove. So we weren’t cold, and we could have a cup of coffee. Was a good reminder to have things ready.
Dehydrating your food is a fabulous way to preserve it. Provided you have a dehydrator, you can dehydrate fruit, vegetables, and meat. Dehydration means to literally take the water out of the food. Without water, the food stays is less susceptible to spoilage. It can be eaten that way (think fruit leathers or beef jerky) or rehydrated and put into soups and stews and other meals.
Freeze-dried food is nothing new. As early as the 13th century, the ancient Quechua and Aymara people of Bolivia and Peru pioneered a form of the process by exposing potatoes to the freezing temperatures of the Andes overnight, then drying them in the sun. In 1937, Nestlé used industrial technology to create the world’s first freeze-dried coffee, and in the 60s and 70s, the US military shipped freeze-dried food rations to the troops in Vietnam.