Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Apartment Survival: Food

Original Article

Assuming that you have your water supply squared away, it is now time to think about food. Again, the absolute minimum recommended by authorities is three days worth of food, but given what we’ve seen in Japan, where it has taken ten days or more to reach some communities, my personal recommendation is to have at least three weeks of food and water on hand. If you can store more than that, then by all means do so.

There are as many schools of thought about what you should set aside as there are types of food. One option beloved by the camo crowd is the military field ration. Known as MREs in the US and IMPs in Canada, these are pre-packed rations intended for troops in the field. They tend to be somewhat bulky until field stripped, may not be considered tasty by all, and their storage life can be considerably compromised by high temperatures. The advantage is that they may be eaten cold or hot (some come with a chemical heater) and each ration is about 1200 calories, with a complete set of breakfast, lunch and dinner giving you roughly 3600 calories. They are pretty much nutritionally complete for the short term, although they can be deficient in some elements (Canadian IMPs do not have enough folic acid or calcium to meet requirements long term, for example).

Another option is commercial freeze dried hiking/camping food. These usually come in packages of two or four portions, and generally require significant amounts of water to make them palatable. Add to the fact that in my opinion that they are fairly bulky versus the calories they contain, plus their high cost per serving, they would not be my preferred option. In their favor is a long shelf life, and that they are widely available everywhere from camping supply stores to Walmart.

If you decide on a commercial product as part of your storage, consider something like Datrex emergency rations. They are small in size, high in calories, and reasonable in storage life (5 year). Remember that you are always trying to get the most calories for the smallest size (and price). You will need to do some research to see what is most appropriate for your situation.

Then there is the bucket brigade, those storing buckets of wheat or beans and other things in food grade buckets, complete with oxygen absorbers, mylar bags and/or CO2 filling. While this option can be cost effective (bulk buying) and great for long term storage (25 years is claimed for wheat stored properly), the sheer weight and bulk of these buckets may make it a difficult option for the apartment prepper with limited storage.

An easy way to start storing for emergencies is to store what you eat now. It’s easy enough to buy three instead of two cans of tomato sauce or an extra package of noodles the next time you go shopping, and if you stick with a weekly buying program you will build up an impressive amount of food very quickly. The downside of this is that you’ll need to create a rotation system to ensure older stock gets used and replaced, but this is relatively easy to do.

I believe that if you are trying to get some serious food in reserve as an apartment occupant, your initial focus should be on the conditions in your living space. If you are in an apartment that swelters in the summer, you will not want to store foods that have their storage life adversely affected. The second thing to look at is your storage space. It might be damp, prone to insects or rodents (I’m thinking storage lockers here), or have other conditions that must be reckoned with.

All of this should help you decide on what type of food you store, whether IMPs or cans of tuna, and what you store it in. Don’t be discouraged if your space is limited as there are likely spaces you haven’t thought of using, For example, simple things like plastic containers that slide under your bed will allow you to store an impressive amount of food and not compromise your living space. Dual purpose wherever you can. A blanket chest holding a single layer of cans of tuna under your spare bedding is now a blanket chest plus!

Storing food is only one aspect of preparing to sit it out in your apartment. If you have good sunlight exposure, there is no reason not to be growing herbs by your windows. If you have a balcony, you are better off than you imagine. Using square foot gardening techniques (look it up) and containers, you can raise an impressive amount of food for the space available to you. I have seen one arrangement that used a bleacher like structure of containers that maximized both sun exposure and storage. Remember that in certain situations, a balcony full of tomato plants might make you attractive to others, so caution must be exercised.

Again, getting access to the roof of your apartment is a must. While caution must be used in loading the roof with the weight of containers, soil, and plants, there is likely a lot of unused space getting a lot of sunshine up there. You might even be able to get access now, and get practiced at container gardening.

Other usable room might be available if there are abandoned apartments in the building. This might give you additional balconies to use, or you might even have your own greenhouse of sorts if there is enough light and warmth.

The grounds around your apartment building bear looking at as well. There may be space where a garden plot might be dug. Gardening may be difficult if the area is not protected from animal or human poachers. Still, it is worth looking at if you are going to be in your apartment through the growing season. If so, you need to be prepared preserve your harvest. There is little point to going through all the trouble if what you grew rots before you can eat it. Remember that canning/preserving, like gardening, are skills you need to learn now, before they are absolutely critical.

Another thing to check on is the possibility of there being edible landscaping on the building grounds or on local streets. In my on neighbourhood, there are Nanking cherries, crabapples, and lingon-berries on public property within a block of me. Others may also be seeking the same supply, so cooperation might be necessary if there are a number of you trying to harvest the same resource.

A better strategy might be to go after wild edibles. Depending on where you live, there will be a variety of ‘weeds’ that are edible and contribute necessary nutrients to the diet. There are things like purslane with its high iron content, or the Vitamin C content of wild rosehips, as well as things like burdock and cattails that can supply some starch to the diet. Proper identification is the key to safe consumption, as nearly seventy-five percent of all plants are toxic to humans to some extent and even some edibles (like acorns) need processing for safe eating. Again, it is a skill you need to acquire now, not after your judgment is clouded by hunger.

Finally, consider doing some guerilla gardening right now. This can take a variety of forms. One is to garden a little plot in an out of the way spot. It might be the space between two buildings, a vacant lot or similar spot but it will allow you to practice technique as well as seeing where you can garden undisturbed. This should be at some remove from your apartment to avoid leading folk right to your home. Another is by planting certain crops in out of the way areas. The plants are then ignored and left to fend for them selves. My favorite for this is Jerusalem artichoke, a very hardy plant that will self propagate and has an edible root that stores very well. I’ve also done this with different varieties of squash, but with less success. The final method is to try to spread wild edibles. My choice for this is burdock, which I’ve managed to establish in several ‘secret’ locations by harvesting seed and planting it.

It might not be five acres and self-sufficiency, but I believe you can bug in to your apartment without sentencing yourself to death by starvation. It takes work, forethought and lots of practice, but you can develop a storage and gardening program that will boost your survivability.

Next, apartments as shelter.


  1. I like the idea of spreading wild edibles. If several preppers in an area did so with plants that propagated well, there would be a lot less pressure on the population as a whole to loot others. I don't know much about Jerusalem artichoke, but blackberries can spread very rapidly. Planting a single stalk of asparagus in a few places will, a few short years later, result in several large patches.

    Here's a thread about it, with many good ideas:

  2. Thank you so much for this great writes. I am looking for something to read where I can get some useful information since I will start to live in an apartment starting tomorrow. But I am working and just go home at night I have no time preparing food for myself, so I decided to store foods but I am afraid they will just be damaged. Good thing I happen to read this.