How to Prepare for a Food Shortage


If you made it to this page, there is some concern in the back of your mind about food shortages - here's the scoop:

You want to be ready. You want to be more ready for a food shortage than the person next to you. That's it.

Everyone posting Youtube pictures and making forecasts on podcasts about food shortages is only helpful to the point that people start thinking about their own long-term food storage.

Let' put this into perspective. When a hurricane is predicted to hit, the news inevitably focuses on people cramming in grocery stores and emptying shelves. But... folks... you knew the hurricane was coming?! Why are you shopping at the last possible minute? Regardless of the reason for food shortages, planning seems to be a lost art, something that was instinctive to our pioneer and immigrant ancestors. We need to resurrect that can-do spirit, become self-sufficient again, and ready for anything!

Reasons for food shortages

Understanding the reason behind food shortages is a powerful trigger to prepare for them: 

Natural events affecting food shortages:

  • poor weather conditions like orange crops freezing in Florida or crops not planted in time due to heavy spring rains
  • crop devastation due to insect infestations, disease or blight
  • animal sickness-related deaths, like bird flu

External man-made events affecting food shortages:

  • high costs of transportation
  • disruptions in supply chain
  • unavailability or issues with equipment
  • labor shortages or worker strikes
  • poor decisions or planning by leadership in food fields
  • political events, import sanctions, war, etc.
  • false demand due to a popular trend or fad
  • misleading and inaccurate information that triggers panic and hoarding

All of these events are frustrating, and the inability to have any control over them is equally frustrating. The important thing to remember is that planning is the best course of action.

What can you do to prepare for food shortages?

As stated, none of the reasons for food shortages given above are controllable. There are, however, key things that you can do to assure that you always have access to food:

  • stock food long-term to get you through uncertain times
  • forge connections with farmers and growers for direct access to food
  • be in charge of your own food source by growing your own garden and orchards, as well as livestock (chickens or goats)
  • expand skills for survival and become more capable in things like food preservation, or have resource books that are ready when you need them 
  • buddy up with trusted friends, family, or neighbors to share food skills and wisdom
  • develop a prepared mindset, and be ready to lower standards and do with less

If all of this makes you anxious, take the time to read "Stockpiling Doesn't Have to be Scary."

Community members participating in urban gardening project.

Community members participating in an urban gardening project.

Planning for a food shortage:

It is important to have access to a variety of foods during a food shortage for a balanced and healthy diet. It is also vital that you don't rely on only one method of preservation and storage. For example, if you only have freezer food and your freezer quits, that is a serious dent into your food plan!  

It is human instinct to hoard food and supplies at the slightest hint of shortages - it is not a position you want to be in, so plan ahead:

  • if you have special dietary needs, plan for alternatives
  • learn to eat just the calories you need and learn to stretch your food supply (stone soup anyone?)
  • don't throw food away food, eat fresh food before it goes bad, freeze leftovers or extras if possible, or dehydrate them to extend shelf life
  • push the limits on expiration dates, buy food with the longest expiration dates, and realize the fact that you can still eat most expired canned food
  • buy a little extra food on every grocery shopping trip
  • buy food that doesn't need refrigeration (canned, dehydrated, freeze-dried)
  • stock up on emergency food, emergency food kits, long-term shelf life food, or MREs
  • buy highly nutritious food
  • buy food with a long shelf life
  • buy food that doesn't need water or cooking
  • learn to become independent from your freezer and refrigerator
  • find alternative sources of vitamin C, like sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, or buy a fermentation kit
  • learn how to garden and grow your own food, or become familiar with wild edibles
  • be brave and try eating bugs - crickets and grasshoppers are a rising food protein source!
  • become a flavor explorer and learn how to add spice to foods to make them more interesting
  • home gardens should include perennials, such as berries and rhubarb that don't depend on seeds
  • purchase heritage seeds - this means that seeds can be saved from them to be replanted for next year
  • build experience with home food preservation methods and equipment - make sure you have the supplies well in advance before harvest when everyone else is buying them
  • invest in long-term containers such as food safe buckets, oxygen absorbers, Mason jars and canning lids, and Ziplock® bags
  • learn how to cook from scratch, cook using different methods and equipment, learn how to make food substitutions, and build an arsenal of favorite recipes and cookbooks
  • always keep a sharp eye on your water supply, which should include water safety/filtration equipment
  • plan where your emergency food "stash" will be kept, but even better, plan on multiple locations and do not broadcast to the entire world where your emergency supplies are stored
  • develop plan "Bs" for heating, cooking, and chilling food such as solar ovens and root cellars - you never know when there will be energy shortages

Foods to buy for a food shortage:

Foods that will make the list to stock up during food shortages will be food with long shelf life. Include other versions of preservation as much as you can, including canned, freeze-dried, and dehydrated foods.

  • meat (tuna, chicken, SPAM)
  • vegetables and fruit (don't throw away juice its packed in, it is of nutritional value)
  • tomato products
  • soup, broth
  • rice, beans, dried pasta, legumes like lentils, oats
  • powdered beverage mixes (to add variety to water)
  • meal kits
  • jelly, jam, peanut butter/nut butters
  • flour, sugar, yeast, salt baking items
  • dehydrated potatoes
  • cream soups for casseroles, gravy to add flavor to dried food
  • oils for frying, cooking
  • milk (can be frozen) or shelf-stabilized, almond milk lasts longer than cow's milk, powdered milk
  • natural sweetener like honey or maple syrup
  • food for special diets such as diabetes, and foods for baby, toddler, and pregnant or lactating women
  • food important to your cultural tastes and background
  • additional pet food

Food as moral support

Food enriches our lives and is often the center of celebrations. Sadly, food is also used as a crutch when we are depressed and stressed. If your budget allows, toss in a few food extras that bring happiness, such as chocolate, sweets, favorite beverages, etc. This is a way to protect your mental stamina and make sure you and your family will outlast any food crisis.

In conclusion

Shop now while you're level headed. Trying to buy food while competing with other panicked shoppers is not ideal. Use your time to build new skills, take classes, ask questions, and become informed. Share that information with your inner circle and focus on building a better future for the next generation.

Note: this list will remain updated as needed -  Everything Pantry wants to be a useful resource for our web visitors!

About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is a former kitchen designer, home remodeling enthusiast (having lived through several DIY projects), and an Iowa farmwife. Renee is passionate about preparedness, garden skills, and knowing where her food comes from. She uses her technical background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life.

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