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long-term storage food

dog service trayThis week, Americans have been indulging in the annual food extravaganza known as the national day of Thanksgiving. People have been baking pies, roasting turkeys, and stuffing themselves with stuffing. We took part in the festivities, too, but in the couple of weeks leading up to Thanksgiving Day we’ve been eating our own dog food.

Not literally, I’m happy to say.

“Eating your own dog food” is a slang expression that means personally using the same products and practices that you recommend to others. If we don’t do what we encourage others to do, why should anyone?

In our case, we’ve been preparing meals using long-term storage survival food from a one-month kit that we bought from Augason Farms. We don’t want to give you the impression that we’ve been living on survival food exclusively. Far from it. (You can read our introduction to this experiment here.) But we thought it wise to sample a variety of long shelf life food and learn how to cook it and make meals with it before we found ourselves in a situation where we absolutely had to use it to survive.

Going into this experiment, we had a lot of the same questions that anyone would have about food they aren’t familiar with:

  • How is it different from what we normally eat?
  • How does it taste?
  • How easy is it to prepare?
  • Could we really live on a steady diet of this stuff?
  • What would we miss from our regular diet?

The one-month food kit that we were working from is largely a collection of ingredients that you combine to make recipes, rather than pouches or cans of just-add-water freeze dried entrées. We own and have tried some of the ready-made entrées. They’re quick and easy to prepare, and are quite tasty. They’re also relatively expensive, so we gravitated toward the much more affordable ingredients approach. Most of the ingredients are dehydrated, but some were the more expensive freeze dried varieties. Besides, if you buy a freeze dried beef stew entrée, what can you make with it? (This isn’t a trick question.) The answer is “beef stew.” But if you have all the ingredients you need for beef stew, you can use them to make beef stew or many other dishes. Consider Taco Bell. They’ve built a fast-food empire by coming up with different combinations and preparations for about six basic ingredients.

What have we eaten?

The kit from Augason Farms came with a booklet with 54 recipes. There are also recipes on each of the cans. Using the booklet as our guide, we’ve made:

  • Creamy Corn and Potato Chowder
  • Pancakes
  • Chicken Noodle Vegetable Casserole
  • Creamy Wheat Cereal
  • Scrambled Eggs with Bacon Bits
  • Buttermilk Biscuits
  • Broccoli Cheese Soup
  • Mashed Potatoes

We should note here that one category of food that is glaringly missing from our list is desserts. We haven’t sampled any of the desserts or drinks yet. The pictures of milkshakes on the box look delicious. How do they taste? We don’t know yet.

How is it different from what we normally eat?

That’s a very personal question and your answer will undoubtedly be different from mine, but my answer is that it’s not drastically different from what I normally eat. Providing familiar foods that people already eat and enjoy is one of the major goals of a long-term storage food vendor. In this regard, Augason Farms was on the money. Dehydrated foods are a part of the dining landscape more than we realize. Grocery stores sell a lot of products that include dehydrated or freeze dried ingredients. The quality of these kinds of products has increased a lot over the years, and these are the same kinds of foods that come in the cans of long shelf life survival foods.

One major difference from my normal diet is that survival food won’t provide large portions of meat, fish, or poultry. No thick, juicy cheeseburger. No platter of fried chicken. No big honking slice of ham. I grew up in an age when kids heard a lot (at least from our parents at the dinner table) about the people starving in China. Real oriental food (not the Americanized stuff we get at carry-out restaurants) traditionally used proteins sparingly to flavor a dish, almost as a condiment. Rice or noodles and veggies were always the bulk of a dish. You’ll need to adopt that kind of mindset when you use your survival food.

How does it taste?

Having said that the foods are familiar and tasty, I’d like to add here that many of them are much higher in sodium than I am accustomed to, especially the soups, which are a staple in the survival menu. That’s bad news for anyone on a reduced-sodium diet. The good news is that the soups are flavorful enough that you can use them as a topping for potatoes, rice, or noodles. This practice will stretch your food budget while cutting back on your salt intake.

Another note on taste is that since you are preparing the recipes, you can modify them to your liking. The first meal that we made was the Creamy Corn and Potato Chowder. It was OK as is, but we had some leftover chicken that we added to it. Adding the little bit of chicken made it less like a soup and more like a meal. The pancakes were fine as is, but we tossed some frozen blueberries into the batter and kicked it up a notch. On another occasion, I made a sauce for baked potatoes by mixing some of the Broccoli Cheese Soup with just enough water to make it a sauce consistency and added some of the TVP Bacon Bits (a vegetarian soy-based bacon replacement) to give it a smoky kick. (Prepper Fun Fact: A little bit of TVP bacon bits goes a very long way. Use them sparingly.)

Of course you can also modify a recipe by leaving out things that you don’t like. Augason Farms’ recipe for Scrambled Egg with Bacon Bits included adding dehydrated chopped onions. We obediently followed the recipe, even though we don’t normally put onions in our eggs. We were open to trying something new, but the result was that the eggs were pretty strongly oniony. I was OK with the novelty of it, but Sandy didn’t like it at all. It wasn’t just the oniony-ness of the eggs, that Sandy didn’t like, though. She found the powdered eggs less than desirable in general. She’ll eat them in an emergency, but she won’t be pulling them out to make a meal when we’re out of eggs.

One of the questions we asked as we ate each meal was “would we serve this to guests?” In many cases the answer was “yes.” The creamy corn and potato chowder or broccoli cheese soup would be totally fine to serve to guests on a “come on over for soup and sandwich” night. Having friends over for breakfast? The pancakes would be fine, as would the creamy wheat cereal. The cereal is especially good with some raisins or other fruit thrown in. Of course, be sure to stock cinnamon because your cereal will come alive with some cinnamon. The biscuits were good, but the texture was a little off. We want to experiment with them a bit more before we serve them to friends.

Having said that, we’re thinking a “Prepper Food Tasting Party” might be a great way to introduce some of our friends to the prepper lifestyle.

How easy is it to prepare?

Most of it is just add water, simmer, and stir. Sandy, who does very little of the cooking in our house because she truly hates it did most of the cooking during our experiment. So I’m seeing a real benefit to adding some prepper food to  our diet on a regular basis!

The Chicken Noodle Vegetable Casserole was more involved. You simmer some ingredients for 20 minutes, then combine others and bake it for 15 minutes. The result was a real casserole-style dish, but for a survival situation it was too energy intensive. I don’t want something that I have to both sauté and bake. Too much heating. One or the other, please. Still, having the capability provides nice variety. Maybe we’ll splurge on energy usage for a special occasion!

Could we really live on a steady diet of this stuff?

It has suitable nutrition and caloric content to sustain life. It tastes OK — sometimes better than just OK. We’ve become spoiled by abundance and variety. Of course we could live on it.

The Apostle Paul wrote a letter full of joy to his friends in the church in Philippi. In it he said, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13, NIV)

Sandy and I have been broke many times in the course of our 36-year marriage. Going broke is a good thing, if you know the secret of being content in any and every situation. It develops an appreciation and a gratefulness for the simplest of pleasures, the most basic of necessities. None of these are guaranteed in life. Entitlements are a man-made fiction. Can we live on a steady diet of long-term storage survival food? It might not be our first choice, but when it becomes our only choice I suspect that we will be quite happy to have it.

What would we miss from our regular diet?

My mother (who would have celebrated her 100th birthday this month if she were still on this earth) grew up dirt poor in the hills of central Tennessee. She told me that her favorite Christmas gift every year was an orange that she would get in her stocking. Not a pony. Not an iPad. Not a trip to Paris. An orange.

In a prolonged period of austerity, there are things that each of us will miss. We each need to give this matter some serious thought and plan accordingly. We might only be able to get fresh fruits and vegetables when they’re in season locally, which is a major change from what we’re accustomed to now. Learning to can and store those items would be helpful. We’ve also mentioned that large portions of meat might become a thing of the past. Those can also be canned. A lot of people store bulk quantities of wheat, but are they also storing baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt, and all of those other “minor” ingredients that we take for granted?

Sandy and I consider our experiment of “eating our own dog food” to be a success, but only a preliminary success. We’re going to make this an on-going part of our preparations. We will continue to learn to cook with food storage items and practice cooking on camp stoves and rocket stoves and maybe a solar oven. Food preparedness is about more than just hoarding. It’s also about knowing how to use what you’ve stored.

Tasting Long Term Storage FoodIt’s always a good idea to try before you buy. That’s especially true when it comes to long-term storage (LTS) food. Whether you buy the less expensive dehydrated food or the premium freeze-dried, LTS food isn’t cheap, and those who buy it tend to buy it in bulk.

You buy it to eat when you don’t have anything else to eat, but that doesn’t mean that it’s OK for it to taste bad.

Some people have the mindset that if they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat anything. Remember the line from the movie Crocodile Dundee: “Tastes like crap, but you can live on it.” That isn’t necessarily true. There is such a thing as “food fatigue.” Some people get so tired of eating something over and over again that they stop eating altogether. In a survival situation, that’s not a good thing. Your body is already stressed. You don’t need to add starvation to your list of problems.

Sample Packs are Your Friend
Fortunately, with many brands of LTS food you can buy sample packs or pouches to try a small quantity before you invest a big chunk of change. We recently took advantage of two such offers. One was from Wise Foods, one of the giants in the LTS food industry. Wise Foods is the most heavily advertised of any LTS brand that I’m aware of. Their commercials run over and over again on Doomsday Preppers. Their website has an offer for a free 4-serving sample of one of their entrées. They pick which one you get. Over the past couple of years, I’ve requested and received two samples from them.

The other sample we tested was from eFoods Direct, a much smaller company that you probably have never heard of before. Neither had we until we started shopping for LTS food. eFoods Direct’s website offers a “free” six-meal sampler. I put free in quotes because they charge you $9.95 for shipping, but in their defense you get quite a lot for your ten bucks. They send you three 4-serving samples of entrées or dried soups, a food planning guide to help you determine how much food you need for the number of people and amount of time that you’re planning for, and a 30-minute audio CD (which is essentially a sales pitch).

We decided to compare these two brands head-to-head one evening. We didn’t have the same entrée from both companies, but we hoped that by trying both brands at the same time we would get a feel for the quality of each.

Let the Sampling Begin
The product we sampled from Wise Foods was their Creamy Pasta and Vegetable Rotini. Sounds good to me. I like pasta and I especially enjoy having some veggies with my pasta. We matched it up against eFoods Direct’s Tortilla Soup mix. So how did they compare?

Wise Foods, for all their advertising budget and celebrity endorsements, did not fare very well. Not at all. On the plus side, it was easy to prepare. Boil four cups of water, add the mix, stir it up, remove it from the heat, let it stand covered for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Easy peasy. The resulting dish had eye appeal, but that was all. Our first impression was that it really didn’t smell good at all. It just didn’t have a food product aroma to it. As for taste, it was salty (800 milligrams of sodium per one-cup serving), but otherwise bland and starchy. We gave their Creamy Pasta two stars out of a possible five. And that might have been generous.

On to eFoods Direct’s Tortilla Soup. As I said, this was one of three 4-serving samples they provided. The other two are Creamy Potato Soup and Cheesy Chicken Rice. The rice dish would have been a more direct comparison against Wise’s Creamy Pasta, but we wanted a little variety. I’m a tortilla soup fan, so it’s not like we were comparing something we liked against something we didn’t.

The Tortilla Soup instructions required bringing 4-1/2 cups of water to a boil, whisking in the mix, reducing the heat, and simmering it for 15-20 minutes. This preparation would take significantly more fuel in an emergency situation over the Wise Foods product, where you boiled the water but reconstituted the food with no heat at all. The energy advantage goes to Wise.

But this was a taste test, so how did eFoods come out in that category. Let’s just start by saying that this is not a pretty soup. It was a reddish-gray color, about like a bowl of mashed kidney beans would look. So Wise beats eFoods in eye appeal, at least between these two very dissimilar dishes. As for aroma, the Tortilla Soup smelled just like you would expect tortilla soup to smell. You could tell what it was with your eyes closed. It was ringing my olfactory dinner bell. But the pleasant aroma didn’t fully prepare us for the flavor of the food. As good as it smelled, it tasted even better. This was restaurant-quality tortilla soup. It was very well seasoned, but not overly salty (451mg of sodium per one-cup serving) or what you would call spicy.

One of the things that I liked best about this Tortilla Soup is that the flavor was well saturated. What I mean by that is that the next day I served some of the leftover soup over a bowl of rice and a relatively small amount of soup flavored the rice exquisitely. This is hugely important in an emergency food situation. Having something that flavors and stretches an inexpensive base like rice, pasta, or potatoes is an enormous plus. This takes the number of servings per pouch of the more expensive soup mix up and the cost per serving way down.

Both Sandy and I loved eFoods Direct’s Tortilla Soup mix. We both gave it five stars. A week or two later we took a stab at their Creamy Potato Soup. It was also very good, about on par with a good store-bought dried potato soup mix from a company like Bear Creek. It didn’t ring our bell quite the way the Tortilla Soup did, though, but it still scored a solid four stars out of five. Not too shabby. We would never turn our noses up the Potato Soup.

Wise Food Sample

eFoods Direct Sample

Entre

Creamy Pasta &
Vegetable Rotini

Tortilla Soup Mix

Overall Rating 2 Stars 5 Stars
Ease of Preparation 4 Stars – Easy-peasy 4 Stars – Easy-peasy
Fuel Required for Preparation 4 Stars – Boil 4 Cups water 3 Stars – Boil 4.5 cups water, simmer 15-20 minutes
Eye Appeal 4 Stars – Yum! Let’s eat! 3 Stars – Reddish-gray
Aroma 0 Stars – Hold your nose! 5 Stars – Makes your mouth water!
Taste 0 Stars – Too salty, bland & starchy 5 Stars – May I have some more, please?
Bonus 5 Stars –Great over rice or to add flavor to other dishes

In a Bit of a Quandary…
Like I mentioned near the start of this review, we received another sample from Wise Foods a couple of years ago. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I would guess a Pasta Alfredo. It was just plain awful. Those who know me know that I’m not a picky eater – actually, I tend to be an adventurous eater. I’ve eaten from sidewalk food carts in Tiajuana, Mexico and lived to tell the story. That first sample we got from Wise was so bad that neither of us could eat it. Worse still, I gave it to our dog and even she wouldn’t eat it. There was nothing about it that told your body that it was a food product.

I have an acquaintance who writes an excellent prepper blog. I won’t name the person or identify their website in this context because of what I’m about to say here. This blogger recently did a head-to-head comparison of LTS food from eight companies, all at the same time, using as close to identical entrées as possible. I would have loved to know who all eight companies were and how they ranked, but I didn’t want to press my luck with this person whom I know only slightly, so I just inquired about the winner and the loser. The winner was another small company that I haven’t tried yet — Food Insurance. The clear loser was (…wait for it…) Wise Foods.

These results have placed your humble correspondents in a bit of a quandary. We run ads on this website with two goals in mind. First, we want to make it easy for our readers to find products that will help them get themselves and their families well equipped to face whatever emergency situation might come their way. I do a lot of reading and shopping so you don’t have to. We haven’t purchased from every vendor whose ads we run on this site, but we screen them all as carefully as we can for quality and value. We never want to give any of our readers a bum steer. That’s a great way to make someone a former reader.

Our second goal with the ads is to make money. Both the missus and I spend many hours every week working on this website to make it a worthwhile resource for beginning preppers. We don’t get paid for it. The purpose for this website is to sound an alarm about the delicate condition of the world we live in. We are in danger from the threats of warfare, terrorism, the economy, and ecology. We are under a relentless cyber attack by our enemies and we could get sucker punched by a solar flare or a stray asteroid. How many times have you heard the phrase “the storm of the century” in the past few years? We really want you to be as well prepared as possible if any of these potential calamities becomes a reality in your neighborhood. But we can’t afford to do it for free, so we run ads on our website that pay us a small commission on each purchase that you make when you click through to the vendor’s site from ours.

The Verdict Is In
We’ve been running ads for Wise Foods on our site. They are a leading company in their field. They are one of the two best known players (along with Mountain House Foods) in their industry. A lot of people are buying Wise Foods for their LTS needs. So should we continue to run their ads because some people seem to like their product, even when we and the other blogger I mentioned can’t recommend them?

I can’t do it. Even if I don’t personally endorse Wise’s products, running their ads still promotes them. I have nothing against the folks at Wise. They have been nothing but nice and helpful to me. But when it comes to a sizeable investment in LTS food, you can (and should!) do better than that.  You can buy Wise through almost any other prepper site, but as of today you won’t be able to buy it through ours. I endorse eFoods Direct based upon my limited (but crazy tasty!) experience with them. FYI, I’ve also been very happy with the foods I’ve bought from Emergency Essentials and The Ready Store. Both of those are good, one-stop superstores for all things preparedness. But as of today, Wise Foods is gone from this site.

In the words of one of my favorite foodies, I bid you good eating.