“Survival” Foods

Time for plain talk.

Nutritious foods are important for good health, calories are necessary for survival.   With all the “right wing” radio shows pitching “gourmet” survival foods, let’s talk about the reality of their doomsday scenario.

The fundamental rule of all living organisms is those that collect more energy than they consume live, those that don’t die.   Those that store energy can survive periods where energy supply is less than energy use.

Human survival at a functional level depends on around 1000 calories per day, a bit more or less depending on sex, body size, general health.

Those of us who grew up in a poor family already instinctively know most of what I’m going to explain, but probably not those under 50.

As a general rule*, the price of foods that do not have a premium price because of their social status or those that require expensive shipping are very strongly connected to the calorie content within the food.    It isn’t a straight line, but the range is probably more narrow than you think.

If you have too much time on your hands, next time you are at the supermarket, calculate the $cost per 1,000 calories of the items you see on the shelf.    You’ll quickly notice that those foods which are eaten by poorer people or people in less developed economies are mostly those that have a low cost per 1k calories.

Survival Food Costs

This is the cost per 1,000 calories of food during November 2011 in New Haven County Connecticut. Your prices will surely vary due to competition from local food producers and costs of doing business. Connecticut is probably 20% higher than most of the country outside of major cities.

Prices and nutrition information is per Stop & Shop in Ansonia Connecticut (non-sale items available from peapod delivery).
FoodCost
(11/27/2011)
Calories per package$ per 1k calories
Starch - Pillsbury All Purpose (5 pound)$3.008030$0.37
Fat - Corn Oil - Mazola (40 oz)$4.219600$0.43
Sugar - Domino Granulated (5 lb bag)$3.798505$0.44
Starch - Carolina Long Grain rice (20 lb bag)$13.6930,300$0.45
Starch - Ramen Chicken "flavor" noodles (36 oz - 12 ct)$2.504560$0.54
Fat - LandO'Lakes Margaine sticks (1lb box)$2.193200$0.68
Grain - Spaghetti - Barilla Pasta (1 lb box)$1.251600$0.78
Legumes - JIF extra Crunchy Peanut butter (18 oz)$3.794160$0.91
Fat - Mayonnaise - Hellman's Real (30 oz jar)$4.995400$0.92
Sugar - Cookies - Oreo (15.5 oz)$3.002240$1.33
Grain - Nabisco Premium Saltine Crackers (1 pound)2.501800$1.38
Sugar - Candy - Kraft Marshmallows (10 oz bag)$1.25900$1.38
Starch - Potato - Russet (5 lb bag)
[guess on #/bag]
$2.992000$1.49
Sugar - Syrup - Aunt Jemima (24 oz bottle)$3.792520$1.50
Fat - Land O Lakes Butter (1 lb)$5.093200$1.59
Starch - Macaroni - Kraft Original (7.25 oz box)$1.25780$1.60
Starch - Kelloggs Corn Flakes (24 oz box)$4.392400$1.82
Fat - Milk - 4% Hood (Gal)$4.692400$1.95
Fruit - Banana$0.25120$2.08
Starch - Bread - Wonder Bread Classic (20 oz)$2.991400$2.13
Sugar - Coca Cola - 2 liter$1.79800$2.23
Fat - Milk - 2% Hood (Gal) $4.692080$2.25
Starch - Snacks - Pretzels - Hanover Sourdough (13.5 oz box)$3.291400$2.35
Starch -Cereal - Kellogg's Frosted Flakes (14 oz)$3.991680$2.37
Starch - Snacks - Lay's Wavy Potatoe Chips (10 oz)$4.291760$2.43
Fruit/Veg Apple Sauce - Motts (48 oz jar)$2.991210$2.47
Sugar - Candy - Hershey's Chocolate Bar (4.4 oz)$1.50600$2.50
Fat - Milk - 1% Hood (Gal)$4.691760$2.66
Protein - Gelatin - Jello (3 oz box)$0.89320$2.78
Fat - Cheese - Kraft "Process" American (16 oz - 24 ct)$4.191440$2.90
Protein - Ground Beef - 80% lean (1 lb)$3.491152$3.02
Protein - Eggs - Grade A Large (S&S) dozen$2.69840$3.20
Fat - Breyers Vanilla Ice Cream (1.5 Qt)$5.291560$3.39
Fat - Cheese - Cabot (VT) Extra Sharp White (8 oz)$3.00880$3.40
Legumes - Blue Diamond Almonds (6 oz)$3.00840$3.57
Fat - Milk - fat free Hood (Gal)$4.691280$3.66
Starch - Macaroni - Stouffer's Frozen (12 oz$2.50680$3.67
Sugar - Apple Juice - Apple & Eve 100%$3.29880$3.73
Sugar - Juice - Welch's 100% grape juice (64 oz bottle)$4.191120$3.74
Sugar - Orange Juice - Minute Maid Frozen 12 oz$2.49660$3.77
Sugar - Florida's Natural fresh Orange Juice - no pulp (59 oz)$3.00770$3.89
Protein - Bacon - S&S Hickory smoked (1 lb)$3.33810$4.11
Fruit/Veg - Soup - Campbell's Tomato Condensed$1.00225$4.44
Fruit/Veg - Apple Sauce - Motts Original (24 oz - 6 ct)$2.69600$4.48
Protein - Fish Sticks - Gorton (11.4 oz)$3.99780$5.11
Protein - Fresh Boneless Pork loin (1 lb)$5.69956$5.96
Fat - Mayonnaise - Kraft Miracle Whip [not Mayonnaise] (15 oz)$3.69600$6.15
Legumes - Peas - Del Monte Sweet (15 oz can)$1.35210$6.42
Fruit/Veg - Spaghetti Sauce - Prego$2.59400$6.47
Protein - Ground Beef Patties - 90% lean (1 lb)$5.89800$7.36
Protein - Purdue Boneless Chicken Breasts (1 lb)$3.99480$8.31
Fruit/Veg - Soup - Campbell's Chunky Beer w veg (18.8 oz can)$2.29260$8.80
Fruit/Veg - Apple Sauce - Motts No Sugar (23.4 oz - 6 ct)$2.69300$8.96
Fruit/Veg - Carrots - Del Monte (14.5 oz can)$1.35122.5$11.02
Protein - Bacon - Oscar Mayer Fully Cooked (2.1 oz)$3.79280$13.53
Protein - S&S Sliced Turkey Breast (1 lb)$7.99560$14.26
Fruit/Veg - Apple Sauce - WoodStock Farms Organic$4.49300$14.96
Fruit/Veg - Del Monte Green Beens (14.5 oz can)$1.3570$19.28
Fruit/Veg - Vlasic whole Dill Pickles - 1 lb jar $2.7555$50.00

I’m not sure where (if anywhere) I’m going with this.   I sense we are in for massive inflation in food prices in the near future, and I’m at least putting a stake in the ground to not rely solely on our memories – food companies constantly change package sizes to make it hard to remember what things cost in the past.

Please give me a few items you would like to see added so it is an apple to apple comparison.   These are regular prices, not items on sale.  “Fresh” foods are hard to deal with since they tend to not be standardized sizes and vary widely based on the season.   While store brands and local brands usually are cheaper, they aren’t a good basis for comparing nationally.    Yes, the prices are high.  I’m in Connecticut.

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10 Responses to “Survival” Foods

  1. HPaws says:

    I’m not embarrassed to admit that I have ‘put-up’ some supplies. I have come around to the same conclusion that you state here. Even some sort of personal mountain top Shangri-La, well stocked and so on, is kind of pointless if the USA finds itself back in the 1840s. 1840s without a social code of ethics, without the Christian backbone in the populace and quite frankly (if the younger job applicants at my business are any indication) a thoroughly unmotivated and corrupt youth. The post collapse USA would be resurrected by the LDS, Glenn Beck listeners, and political feces that had bunkers provided by us.

  2. TheChairman says:

    Are we talking about a long-term ‘food cache’, or ’emergency rations’ for a week?

    One of the problems with a lot of sellers hawking survival food is the bad advice… many will sell you a 3, 6, or 12 month supply of MRE’s or other ‘military surplus’.

    MRE’s are okay for short-term, mobile situations, but the cost is quite prohibitive for a long-term food supply if you’ll be staying put (truckers strike, fuel rationing, etc.)

    It’s better to buy moderate sized bulk cans and boxes (5-10 pounds) of basic staples… wholesalers and some restaurant suppliers are good bets for decent quality/price.

    Large bulk sizes, such as a single 40 lb bag of rice, have potential for spoilage (i.e. all eggs in one basket) and are more difficult to conceal or transport if the need arises.

    WATER will be the most important item for survival, but don’t forget salt, sugar, pepper, and some basic dry spices (granulated garlic, onion flakes, oregano, etc.)

    Somewhere in my survival stack I have a list of typical brands/foods found at local grocery chains and the ‘official’ shelf life… most of it is only good for 12-24 months.

    • Art Stone says:

      A pretty fundamental question is how bad would things have to get before you would not want to survive? Would you be physically able to survive without electricity, safe water, gasoline, heat & Air conditioning, access to money.

      My personal threshold is pretty low. I have no children, no strong family ties, not in great health (although I outlasted an NFL player;)) I’m a computer nerd, not an alpha male hunter gatherer. I would be dead weight if society returned to 1st or second wave social structure.

      The need to rotate food supplies is a problem for long term food storage. You’re gonna have to open those #10 cans today so you don’t have putrid stuff if you actually need it. You might even discover the cans are filled with rocks. Freeze dried might work for a short time (if you have water), but a supply that would last months is prohibitively expensive.

      If we got to the point that people are starving – like the siege of Leningrad, peopl will eat sawdust to survive, even if it doesn’t have onion powder to season it.

  3. Art Stone says:

    I was hoping someone would challenge me about natural gas…. it’s becoming clearer each day that if we want a fast way to get away from imported oil without totally revamping the entire country’s infrastructure, the United States needs to have a crash program to start using natural gas. Natural gas is used to make nitrogen based fertilizers.

    Last night, I started exploring whether there is a method to convert natural gas to gasoline or a gasoline substitute. There is – a new (GTL) plant was just built in Qatar by Shell Oil to do this, and plans are announced recently to to build a plant a GTL facitily down in the Gulf Area.

    Since Natural Gas is found in many locations (and many more if we really started looking), it has the advantage that you could build regional natural gas to gasoline conversion plants not dependent on the existing oil pipelines and having to transport the liquid products 1000s of miles by new long distance pipelines subject to NIMBY interference.

  4. Art Stone says:

    PETA’s point has a point – to a point. As you can see from the above list, the pattern is clear that it is more “energy efficient” for us humans to get our energy directly from non-meat sources – it takes up to 10x the energy inputs to create a grain fed steak from cattle than to create a soybean patty that resembles a hamburger – those energy inputs directly show up in the cost per 1k calories. There is no way around the math of energy. It’s God’s ultimate law.

  5. Art Stone says:

    Preempting the “but what about…” – the above is an oversimplification. Carbohydrates are needed for your body to be able to digest proteins and fats. Carbohydrates are not stored in your body, so you need a constant incoming supply. You can have all the fatty oils, cheese and steak you want in the fridge, but if you have no carbs available (sugar, starches), the fats and protein will not be absorbed and just go through without being absorbed. That’s the principle of the so-called “Low Carb” diets like Atkins, a very stupid unhealthy way to lose weight by throwing your metabolism into crisis. (See: Ketosis). Fortunately(?), it’s highly unlikely that carbs will be the things to disappear first in a famine. They tend to be things that can be stored for long periods of time without deteriorating.

    Fat contains 9 calories per gram – it doesn’t matter what the origin. 1 pound = 453 grams. One pound of “excess” body fat contains about 4000 calories of energy. If you’re carrying around 30 pound of “excess” body fat, you’ll survive six months longer than a “healthy” person like Karen Carpenter with no body fat who will die within days – in the event of extended food disruptions. You could store lots of food in your basement, but when the “Patriots” with guns show up and steal your food in the name of God and the Ten Commandments, you’ve lost your survival buffer.

    Let’s hope we don’t have to find that out and things never get to that point.

  6. Art Stone says:

    Energy & food – just like people hoping it is possible to create a 200 mpg car, food production is largely the result of energy from oil and natural gas used to make fertilizer, and only partly the sunlightl they absorb.

    a “calorie” in the sense of food (above) is really a “Kilocalorie” (1000 calories) in the sense used to measure energy. A gallon of gasoline (not ethanol!) contains about 31 million calories, or 31,000 calories in the food sense.

    So the cost of the energy to create food (ignoring motor fuel taxes) is about $0.10 per 1k food calories. That’s the absolute lowest boundary if you found a method that converted 100% of oil’s energy directly to food (which will never happen)

    • Art Stone says:

      Looking at Natural Gas, it takes 24 cubic feet to get 31 million calories of energy (the amount in a gallon of gasoline). Natural Gas is currently priced at about $4 per 1000 cubic feet, or roughly about $.50 a gallon for the raw material to go into the GTL process.

      • TheChairman says:

        Hmm… it’s cheap, clean, and abundant right here in the USA.

        Somehow I don’t think NG fits into the Obama scheme of political favoritism and renewable energy subsidies (Solyndra).

        GTL was developed in WWII Germany, so it’s not very PC either.

        • Art Stone says:

          Yes, I started to write about that angle as well. BASF developed the process. Since Israel now has large NG deposits, it seems likely they will pursue that technology and “untaint” it.

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