This 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
- 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.
During National Survival Month, we encouraged readers to identify a task they hoped to accomplish. We were slammed with work that month and getting ready for vacation, so I picked an easy task that had been on my list – create a menu to be used during the first month of a serious emergency and gather the needed recipes.
As I began the menu project, Phil reminded me that we had purchased a one-month food supply kit from Augason Farms. This kit contained 48 small cans of dehydrated and freeze dried ingredients and came with a recipe booklet with more than 50 recipes. Wow! Menu task accomplished! Well, not quite. But close.
From that easily accomplished goal we decided that after returning from vacation we’d set aside a week during which we would make some of the recipes and get a more realistic idea of what it would be like to live off of our long-term storage food supply.
Our original plan was to eat nothing but food from our long-term food storage, with a focus on the Augason Farms kit. After putting off our one week of survival food experiment several times, we realized that our original plan needed some tweaking. We realized that maintaining our normal schedule of work and ministry activities meant that it wasn’t practical for us to only eat survival food for that week. In an emergency, these commitments would be radically altered. We weren’t willing to make those adjustments for our experiment. Still, we were able to accomplish our goals by eating most meals from our long-term food storage while allowing the restaurant or fast food option when our schedule demanded.
Yes, we know that we’re not practicing true survival. We’re not forcing ourselves into simulated hardship. Instead, we’re practicing with and sampling our survival food. I’m OK with that for this experiment. So what were our goals?
Our goals for the week are to:
- Taste the food. Do you remember the line from the movie Crocodile Dundee – “It tastes like crap, but you can live on it.” Were we going to be miserable eating what we’d bought? The Augason Farms kit has a wide variety of their staple products and recipes that could be made from them, so we’d be able to sample much of it. (And we’d have an idea of which foods we might want to purchase in larger quantities…and which we wouldn’t.)
- Practice preparing the food. It’s never a good idea to wait until five minutes before you really need something to start learning how to use it. We want to practice preparing the food before we absolutely need to use it. Our one-month food kit is not a case of prepared entrees. It’s an ingredient-based kit that allows you to mix and match items to make a lot of recipes. There’s a big difference between reading the contents on the box and figuring out what you could make with it.
- Evaluate what’s missing from our food storage plan. When we start living on survival food, what will we be craving that we don’t have? It might be fresh fruits and vegetables, or meat, or desserts, or salty snacks. But until we start using what we have stored, we won’t know what is lacking. We need to fill in the gaps now.
- Evaluate how much water we’d be using when cooking primarily dehydrated and freeze-dried food. (As it turns out, the kit clearly specifies that it takes 23 gallons of water to prepare all of the included food. That’s 23 gallons of water for one person for one month for just food preparation. What does that do to your estimate of how much water you want for every person to include drinking and washing?)
- Evaluate portion sizes. Would their claimed “makes 2 servings” really make 2 real world servings?
- Share our findings with you.
With all that as a backdrop, we finally picked a week to start – last week as a matter of fact. Here are our first lessons and impressions from our week of survival food testing:
- We have more food in our fridge at any given point than we realize. We were scheduled to begin sampling the survival food last week and immediately realized that we had enough food in our fridge that we needed to use before it spoiled to last us nearly a week. So the first five days were spent eating from our fridge with a little supplement from our pantry shelves. I was actually surprised at this because I don’t think of us having that much ready food on hand. I know we have a healthy-sized pantry, but didn’t realize that we had so much that needed to be eaten. I was really encouraged by this. I know that if an emergency takes out our fridge and freezer (which it likely would), that week would turn into “eat as much as you can in the next few days”. I’ll have more to share with others than I thought I would. (And no, we didn’t go out and do big shopping shortly before our survival food experiment was to begin. Quite the opposite. We had abstained from grocery shopping for about a week before that.)
- With our on-hand “need to eat” food, our one week of survival food experiment has turned into two weeks of survival food. We’re five days into it and we tasted our first survival food today. (Yes, we’ve tasted many other products in the past, but today was the first in this experiment.)
- There is a lot of variety in the Augason Farms one-month pack. You can do a lot with it. In addition to their recipe booklet, there are also recipes printed on each can’s label. Being who I am, I put them all into a spreadsheet and created a weeks’ worth of menus.
- Along with the variety, there’s also a lot of repetition in the Augason Farms recipes. Chicken noodle soup, chicken noodle casserole, and chicken noodle vegetable casserole sound a lot alike to me! Still, having just tasted my first variation of potato soup (creamy potato soup with corn and chicken), I’m embracing the variations. (More on that in our next blog.)
- I’m really looking forward to this!
Without trying to sound like a commercial, it seems like I should give more info about the Augason Farms one-month pack. This pack is advertised as providing almost 2,100 calories per day for one person for one month. Nutritional information is provided on each can. The only absolutely necessary ingredient that isn’t provided is water. Some of the recipes in the included recipe book include ingredients that you may not have available (sour cream or hard cheese, for example), but most do not.
The kit includes 21 different items in a total of 48 cans:
- Beef, Chicken, and Bacon TVP (textured vegetable protein)
- Cheesy broccoli soup mix
- Creamy potato soup mix
- Chicken noodle soup mix
- Southwest chili mix
- Broccoli (freeze dried)
- Corn (freeze dried)
- Potato dices (dehydrated)
- Potato gems (for mashed potatoes)
- Onions (chopped dehydrated)
- White rice
- Whole eggs (powdered)
- Creamy wheat cereal
- Buttermilk pancake mix
- Strawberries (freeze dried slices)
- Banana slices
- Milk (powdered)
- Chocolate milk (powdered)
- Orange delight drink mix
Have you ever seen the cooking competition show called Chopped on the Food Network? Chefs are given a basket with four ingredients. Some of them are normal ingredients, some are very abnormal. The challenge is to make a tasty meal using all four ingredients, plus whatever else they have available. This kit is like playing Chopped. What kind of culinary wonders can you create with these ingredients and what’s in your pantry?
These aren’t the jumbo #10 cans that you normally see for long-term storage food. Those big boys hold almost a gallon each. The food in this kit all comes in the smaller #2.5 cans which only hold about a quart. The smaller size makes it practical and affordable to sample a lot of products. Besides, the big #10 cans aren’t always your best choice for every type of food storage, as blogger The Survival Mom points out in this excellent article.
The regular price of the kit is $256.99 (with free shipping as of this writing), but it is occasionally on sale. We paid at least $60 less for each of the packs we’ve purchased. (We purchased three kits at different times, so the price of each pack varied.) If you’re just getting started with prepping, or you’ve looked at the huge one-year food kits that many food storage vendors offer and found them to be way out of your budget or your prep plans, this one-month kit might be just the ticket for you. It’s way more affordable, takes up way less space, lets you sample a lot of products, and could be good as a starter pack for you or as a gift for someone else whom you wish was better prepared.
At the regular price, assuming 3 meals/day for 30 days, the price per meal is less than $2.63. That seems pretty darn reasonable. At the prices we paid for our one-month packs, our cost went down to $2.18. And when the meals are stretched with rice or pasta, the price goes even lower. Of course one of our purposes in this experiment is to find the things we like most and purchase those items in larger cans at a better price. But considering the convenience of the smaller cans with menus provided, I’m a happy camper.
Assuming the food is good. Assuming it truly is 30 days’ worth of food. That story comes next…
In case you haven’t seen the emails or heard the news, allow me to let you in on a secret — September is National Preparedness Month. That brings several questions to my mind:
- Am I more prepared today than I was at this time last year? In the light of the very long list of things I could (and want to) be doing to be better prepared, it’s often easy for me to be discouraged by this question. That’s when I say “STOP! Take a deep breath and let’s get specific.” When I made a specific list of things I have done this year to become more prepared, it turned my discouragement around. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed. Stop. Take a deep breath and encourage yourself before you move on. (Having trouble identifying what you’ve done to improve your preps this year? Maybe reading our list will help. It’s at the end of this article. We’re providing it just to help you jumpstart your list of things you’ve done.)
- How can I take advantage of National Preparedness Month? One obvious answer is to take advantage of the sales that most preparedness vendors are having this month. It’s a great time to make some very strategic purchases. The definition of “strategic purchases” will be different for everyone, so before you make those purchases, now is a great time to evaluate your preparedness – otherwise, how can the purchases you make be strategic? While we generally have the perspective that buying more food is always a good thing, our cash available for purchases isn’t unlimited (not even close to it). That means that we have to balance our spending and fill in some of the gaps in our preparedness plan. So, as good as the food sales might be, perhaps the most strategic purchase would be a sun oven or a rocket stove to help you cook some of that food if your normal energy sources aren’t available. Maybe it will be a solar energy kit. We can’t know that until we take a step back and evaluate where we are. Don’t let your “wants” leave you with a long list of “needs.”
- How can we help our readers take advantage of National Preparedness Month? We are all at different places in our preparedness. Those of you who have been prepping for a while undoubtedly have a list of “next steps” or “wish list” items, many of which will require making some purchases. Later in this article we’re including a list of some of our favorite vendors. You’ll also find ads from some of them in the sidebars of the various pages of our site. Let me offer a bit of help to those who are new to prepping. The question we get asked most often is “How do I get started?” If you’re in that category, stick around! In a month or two, we’ll be starting a “Prepper 101 Club” (or something like that). It will help you get started in prepping with a logical and easy to follow approach. In the meantime, what can you do this month? A great place to start is by reading our article, Getting Started with Prepping. After that, start with the most basic stuff – water and food. Below you’ll find some links to other articles that will help you get started.
Water comes first. How adequate is your water supply? (Hint: You need more than you think.) How do you go about collecting and storing water? Check out these blogs:
Storing Water – How Much is Enough?
Our Three-Layered Approach to Prepping – This blog is a good intro about to our approach to prepping in general (short term, medium term, and longer term), and we use water storage as our example, so it gives you an idea about how to plan for your water storage needs.
Food is next. We recommend starting with our two-part Food Storage 101 series:
Food Storage 101: What Types of Food Can I Store for an Emergency?
Food Storage 101: What Types of Food Should I Store for an Emergency?
Once you’re past that pre-school stage, browse our site for other articles on food storage, preservation, gardening, and more.
Now food and water are just the beginning, but everyone has to start somewhere and we don’t want to overwhelm anyone. Wandering around our site will help you understand prepping more and will help you identify where you should spend your money and time this month.
Here’s a list of some of our favorite vendors:
Both of these vendors are preparedness superstores. They’re best known for their food products, but they both offer a wide range of preparedness products. Both of them have frequent sales.
Augason Farms is almost exclusively a food vendor. They also run great sales, especially on their large pails of staples. When they put stuff on sale, their prices generally can’t be beat.
We buy a lot of stuff from Amazon. So much so that we have a membership to Amazon Prime, which gives us free 2nd-day shipping on most items.
One of the most overlooked area of food storage is spices. All of those buckets of beans, rice, and wheat are going to taste pretty bland without a good supply of spices. Spices For Less sells a wide range of spices and seasonings in any quantity you want, with good discounts applied to larger quantities.
It’s no secret that The Approaching Day Prepper is a site that has Christian beliefs and values at its core. We believe that God sometimes gives warnings of approaching calamities and that when He does, He expects people to prepare themselves for those events. We also believe that if a prolong period of hardship were to come upon our nation, people who have never given much thought to spiritual matters will seek God. Part of our preps is a stockpile of inexpensive Bibles and New Testaments that we’ve purchased from Biblica.com. We want to be ready to lead a network of home Bible studies and we recognize that in today’s culture, not every home has a Bible. Ours now has dozens of very affordable Bibles that can be given out freely to anyone who will use one.
Here’s what we’ve done to improve our preparedness this year. We still have LOTS more to do. But perhaps reading our list will help you identify your own progress since last September.
- We’ve started making and storing meals in jars. (Watch for a future blog on this topic!).
- We expanded our garden by 50% this year and we learned tons more about gardening that we didn’t have time to implement this year. That’s OK. Learning comes before doing, then doing enhances the learning. We’re making plans for next year’s garden right now, applying some of our “lessons learned” during this growing season, so that we’ll be able to increase the size of our garden next year.
- We rotated our water and increased our water reserves. This included buying a food-grade water barrel, a rain barrel for the garden, and a Katadyn water filter that can process thousands of gallons of water.
- We’ve bought an ammo reloading press, dies, components, and supplies.
- Bought a new rifle that could be used for both hunting and home defense.
- We’ve picked out a pellet stove that we’ll be buying next week. Watch for an article on that purchase decision to come soon. We know buying a pellet stove doesn’t make sense to many people from a true preparedness point of view, but we decided that it was our best option.
- We’ve added storage racks and begun to reorganize our long-term food storage.
- We increased our inventory of long shelf-life food.
- We’ve purchased many non-food survival items – paper products (at last count we have about 300 rolls of toilet paper, enough facial tissue to last a year, and plenty of paper towels) and miscellaneous supplies like tarps and tape.
- I learned a lot about essential oils and use them regularly.
We’re making progress. It’s a continual process – one that sometimes gets interrupted by the necessities of work and family, but is never abandoned. We hope that you will take advantage of the sales offered by some of the vendors represented on this site during National Preparedness Month, and that you will become more prepared tomorrow than you are today. Also, watch our Facebook page as we’ll put notices there about sales we find interesting.