Sunday, 3 July 2011

How stocked is your store cupboard?

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

We have been in the process of restocking our store cupboard in recent weeks, in anticipation of my reduced income. For the past year we haven't had a particularly robust store, probably a couple of weeks of mismatched ingredients on hand that we topped up as and when we ran out. This is partly because morning sickness once again put me off all the wholefood staples I normally cook with; and partly because of a few large purchases we needed to make, leaving little money for bulk food shops. In the meantime, food price inflation (and just about everything else inflation) has steadily risen.

We did a shop to end all shops (OK, about 6 months worth of staples) the last time I went on maternity leave. It paid off, 2008 was the year of record food inflation. With hindsight, the 200 tins of cat food was overkill (it certainly was for the poor driver who delivered it to our door; though never before or since has a burly stranger been so admired and adored by our usually skittish cats) but the cupboard full of pulses, grains, frozen veg and tinned tomatoes stood us in very good stead.

There are several reasons that I like to keep several months worth of food on hand:
  • I don't have to shop in supermarkets with any regularity. I hate them, even online shopping is a chore for me. But there are no food Co-ops around here and for bulk shopping in the UK, the big retailers are the only real option for many. 
  • We save on fuel and delivery costs if we do fewer shops.
  • We eat much more healthily when we have a full store cupboard - lots more whole food basics, less impulse purchases at the local shop.
  • We eat much more frugally when we have a full store cupboard - lots more wholefood basics, less impulse purchases at the local shop.
  • It is a lot easier to develop good routines when you always have what you need to hand - bread baking only became routine when we started bulk buying flour, for instance.
  • We can make the best of genuinely good deals on staples - tins of tomatoes and strong bread flour have been recent wins.
  • In an inflationary economic climate, it has saved us money.
  • Knowing I always have food on hand to tide us over any lean patches gives me a sense of security that money in the bank doesn't match.
I know these won't apply to everyone -  for financial reasons some people may choose to build up a store cupboard gradually, whereas we are usually able to put money each month and do it all in one (or two, if we see any particularly good offers) shops every few months before our store is completely exhausted. I know that if I had to rely on public transport or my own two feet I would have to take a more gradual approach. The rest of these points I think remain true however. 

I have seen some passionate debates on forums about food storage and stockpiling - it seems more controversial in the UK than in the US or Australia. I don't understand why as we are the small island that gave the world the phrase '9 meals from anarchy' after the fuel protests of 2000. Some people see storing several months worth of food as alarmist, a symptom of mental illness and even downright immoral. To me it just seems like common sense - a hedge against personal laziness, inflation, unemployment, fuel protests, the wrong kind of snow on the roads or full blown zombie apocalypse.

The food parcel contained some oddities that I wouldn't normally bulk buy - I have about a year's worth of tinned sardines at our present rate of consumption, I haven't eaten corned beef since I was a student and finding a home for 10 bricks of coffee is going to be a challenge in our small kitchen (my hunch is they will end up under the bed), but we are very grateful for the help. We eat well from our pantry, supplemented by fresh produce bought in local shops within walking distance - and hopefully a little more homegrown from the allotment this year.

Personally I think a nation of well stocked cupboards is the way forward in these uncertain times - I would be interested to hear what you think?


littlebrownfrog said...

At the moment our store cupboard is verrrry low. We're moving soon, and I've been steadily using up everything so that we can start with a clean slate in a new kitchen. I know exactly what you mean about the UK attitude towards stockpiling. I tend to keep quiet about my shelves full of random tinned foods and bag after bag of pasta and rice - it seems much easier than explaining it to other people!

David said...

Aurora, I am building a basement storage area for food storage. Here in the States it's been said that a city is 3 days away from no food. The big buzz word for companies here is just in time inventory. Right now I could probably live a couple weeks and maybe even a month if the situation was extreme. I still have to get the perishables such as milk and bread. My storage area is more to save money and buy bulk when sales happen. Then there is the garden food preservation as well. I live in the Urban city so I could never be fully self sustaining even if I wanted. There are too many things I like that can't be grown in midwestern U.S. I do like my morning coffee and an occasional tea. Bananas are kind of a favorite as well. I do have some long term beans and rice just in case things go south for whatever reason.

Have a great day shopping in the pantry.

Heather's Blog-o-rama said...

I LOVED this article and wholeheartedly agree with your reasons for building up a pantry of basics. That is so smart and wise, not to mention being a really good steward of finances by doing that :) :) I think it's important for so many reasons. I think of emergency preparedness. If something happened and you didn't have access to food for awhile, would you be prepared etc. Yes, you eat more healthfully, too .

My dad and I live in an apartment. i wouldn't call a flat, because it's g round level and then the second's sorta flat ;) :) In any case, we have two linen closets with small, but nice storage space. We stock up on basics and it really helps. We spend less on gas, we eat better, and we save money.

I'm not sure about the UK, but here in the USA stores will often put certain items on sale. If it is what I call a "stockpile" price, I'll buy extra...enough to last me till the next sale. So that way, I get what I need for my family, and I don't pay full price. I'm also friends with the people who work behin the meat counter. So they always tell me when meat is on special.

Anyways, I really like what you are doing. That's so smart :) :) Have a great weekend. love and hugs from Oregon, Heather :)

Mum said...

I hate supermarkets too and am fortunate enough to live within walking distance of local shops where I can take advantage of things on offer. I do have a stockpile of staples but would love more space to store more. Like you we use plenty of tinned tomatoes and bread flour (I keep my flour in the freezer). Our cats consume a lot of food but I don't think I could fit 200 tins in any of my hiding spaces! At the moment we are eating our garden so I don't have to shop as much.
Love from Mum

tree said...

I admit we get some odd looks at the store even in the US, while every other cart is piled high with chips and soda we're buying massive jugs of olive oil and tons of flour. I still have much of a 50lb bag of rice almost a year after it was given to us keeping the fridge door shut!
We do a weekly shop, but only to fill in the gaps and take advantage of good deals. The other week loaves of frozen garlic bread were buy one get two free and were covered with coupon stickers at a double coupon supermarket! While we usually make our own bread it was too good to pass up and seemed great for quick pasta nights so I bought probably a year's worth.

Frugal Living Uk said...

If only I had local shops! I live in a borough of London and have Sainsbury, co-op and tesco nearby but not a single butchers or fruit and veg shop for miles around. I dislike supermarket shopping and bulk buys and stock piling are definitely the way forward, but I just wish I could then shop locally for fresh produce.

Jessa said...

If we had a basement, or even more storage, I think we would buy more and stock up things we use frequently. My mom probably has a years supply if it's just her in the house; which it will be in two months.

Dani said...

Aurora - s'funny - I did a blog posting on this very topic on Friday (

I, too, believe that having extra stock of dried / tinned / preserved goods on hand is mentally very comforting and reassuring - regarding feeding my family and any unexpected visitors whom I cannot exclude from my dinner table.

But, in place of purchasing from a bulk supplier over the mountain, I try and spread the load (literally, and monetarily) by purchasing from my local stores when they offer specials.

I keep my eyes open for those specials - especially in winter when the stores also find the going a little tougher as their customers aren't quite the impulse buyers that they are in the summer months - I think the inclement weather could have something to do with that...

I purchase 3 or 4 bags of lentils / beans / dried peas, flour, sugar , coffee, tea, tinned tuna /sardines, etc. EVERY TIME they are on special, and keep them in my "extra" pantry in the laundry, rotating my stock as I store them. We have 2 local stores we can purchase from, and they tend to rotate their specials - so every couple of weeks I am out stocking up.

Add to that my veggie patch, and I think that we could manage for at least 6 - 9 months quite happily if we had too.

I believe in being prepared - it can't harm, but it certainly can help :-)

A tip for storing dried goods - have a bay leaf tree in your garden - a sprig of bay leaves in your container helps prevent weevils, etc. from invading your pantry. Replace the sprig every 2 - 3 months.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it is less controversial in the US because much of the country routinely has awful weather?

I'm in New England, where a three-foot blizzard that knocks out electricity for a day (or a week, or three weeks!) happens at least every winter--sometimes several times per winter. In the Midwest US, tornadoes that knock out power are not unusual, and on the West Coast there are mudslides, earthquakes and wildfires on a fairly regular basis. The UK enjoys comparatively mild weather. If you grow up surrounded by this kind of weather, where people dying in summer heat waves, hurricanes and winter storms is sort of the norm, you don't think much of it, you just prepare and hope for the best.

As soon as the local weather forecasters announce on the evening news that there is a winter storm watch, every grocery store is promptly sold out of sidewalk de-icer, milk, bread and beer, and everyone expects that school and work will be canceled tomorrow for everyone but the snowplow drivers. Lots of us have living relatives who tell us how they survived the Great Depression on tinned sardines and canned tomatoes. Are there not many WWII survivors who lecture the young people on the days of austerity, or is it felt that those days are so far behind the UK...?

Robert said...

I was never into storing food, but my wife is a compulsive hoarder. She's from Freetown in Sierra Leone, and food supplies were never secure during the various dictatorships and the civil war. She always worries about whether food's going to get more expensive. For once, she's got some justification!

Tanya Highet said...

I live on the Isle of Man and stock up regularly at a local wholesaler - Agrimark. I'll bet you have similar places over on the 'mainland' too. And I can guarantee that there are tons of people stocking up all around you...but who's going to tell the world they have a garage full of food when TEOTWAWKI could be right around the corner ;)

Hazel said...

I'm another UK resident who keeps quiet about having what others would consider a huge stock of food.

I live in a small village in a small valley where we get stuck every time it snows unless you have a 4x4, and yet people still run out of milk and bread and have no food in the house because it was the day they were going to go to the supermarket...Even when the snow has been forecast for days. I don't understand it...

Diane said...

We have several 5 gallon food grade buckets with tight lids which were salvaged from a chain doughnut shop. They hold rice, beans, flour, sugar, pasta and dry cat food. Whole grain flour and brown rice go in the refrigerator. Home canned tomatoes, pickles and jams go in the basement along with bulk buys of paper goods. We could probably add to our canned goods supply but we don't use much except tuna and sardines. I have resisted getting a freezer because we do have power failures but I would like to learn how to dry foods. Having a useful stock of foods is responsible and actively encouraged by the US government (FEMA). You can tell any critics that "hoarding" is buying up cheap commodities to sell at exorbitant prices during a shortage.

Jenna said...

At the moment, I'm beginning to restock it from a low ebb (just that time of year - things finally used up from last summer, the canning/freezing/drying cycle starting again) although I do try to never let it dip lower than having at minimum 3 months or so of food. Meals would become decidedly odd by month 2 - but we (and any family/friends I was feeding) would be healthy and full.

It surprises me to hear how stocking a pantry could be viewed distrustfully in the UK - I suppose because, well. It's an island. Having stores set by just seems like what would be the standard thing for a country that imports so much. For myself, I live in an area in the US where it is simply accepted that we will have days in the winter where we will wake up to an overnight and unplanned 4 feet or more of snow, that ice/sleet/and other unsafe road elements will plague the spring and fall, and summer will find days too humid to even think about heading to the shops. So - you fill the pantry. It doesn't have to be for some huge catastrophic disaster - the pantry is just a matter of course element. How different we all live!

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Great post. Fantastic idea. We are moving towards this ourselves as I too HATE shopping. Waste of time and money. You have totally motivated me. Thanks to you

dixiebelle said...

Nice blog post Aurora!

mollymakesdo said...

Here in the midwest of the US (Iowa to be exact) storing food is still a must do for many of us since most of the population still lives in small town and rurally. We're not too many generations away from those who absolutely HAD to do so (storing, canning, root cellar, the works) to survive (my great-grandparents didn't have electricity in their home until they "retired" off their farm and into town in the 1950's), so an interesting in having stored items and canning isn't looked at too strangely - as long as you're not too adamant about doing so because of the zombie apocalypse.
I'm working on building up my stores this year - actually cleaning up a closet tomorrow just for this reason - because I like to feel prepared for the little emergencies in life that are a reality here, black/brown outs in the summer, feet upon feet of snow in the winter, etc.

A few years ago I found out on of the best, immediate, benefits of having stored items (and I was living in a small apartment at the time with little storage space) when a neighbors home caught on fire and she had to relocate into a neighboring building - with no furniture, clothes, food, etc. By the time the woman from the Red Cross was done talking to her another neighbor and I had already set up her temporary home with an air mattress, bed linens, towels, toiletries, food & litter for her cat, basic non-perishables, dishes & utensils just out of the extra stuff we had in our store cupboards. It didn't cost me a dime at the moment and helped someone who needed a little comfort ASAP.

Freya Kitten said...

I'm an Australian, and it boggles me, sometimes, the reaction some of my friends have to my cupboard.

I have a mental list of things to get if they're below a certain price - tinned tomatoes, rice, dried mushrooms, pasta, toilet paper, tissues, long life milk, anything that doesn't go off or doesn't go off quickly without refrigeration and which we use regularly. Extra fresh produce is picked up based on whether there's room in the freezer (meat on special means the freezer fills up), so if people drop round unexpectedly, I can provide dinner without going out for anything.

Every so often, my partner insists that we eat down the freezer. I have a habit of filling it up with leftovers for work lunches and frozen ingredients (the peach tree made merry this year; I stewed and froze so very very much...)

Boo's Mom said...

Very interesting topic. While we could live for several months off the food I have stockpiled, I've always attributed my desire to stockpile to a squirrel-ish instinct. Nothing alarmist about it -- or maybe EVERYTHING alarmist! My stores are not always well balanced -- 30 tins of tuna in olive oil? (only one store in my area carries it.) And my favorite things to stockpile are: TP, fire wood, yarn, and un-read books.

Jem said...

Hubby and I were just discussing expanding our dwindling stock. We hesitate to freeze too much though due to possible power problems. We have a huge garden that should yield 800 lbs of tomatoes this year so my extended family will come to can them all! Here in Canada we can have similar weather issues as the U.S. Where we live it's not too bad but there are times when you are thankful for your in home store.

We also make sure that we always have two large propane tanks filled and a third to switch out for the BBQ. It makes such a difference to be able to BBQ and use the side burner when the power is an issue. Hot soup on a cold winter's night is so welcome. We don't broadcast it around that we stock up, but my friends are now beginning to do the same.

We purchase all kinds of different insurance policies on our homes, cars, and personally. Do we ever use said insurance? Hopefully rarely. What is so different about having a stock of food/supplies which is our living insurance? Even if you never used it at all, it is the same to me as house insurance. In the long run, it is quite cheap insurance.

Baleboosteh said...

I was so excited by this post. Our family lives on the outskirts of London and know nobody else in ‘real life’ who stockpiles food. Friends think we are a little on the odd side but it works for our carless, lowish income family to not have to be making trips to the shops too often. Our reasons: a combination of wanting/needing to save money and also wanting to have a measure of self reliance. We certainly remember very well the protests of 2000 and I often scratch my head and wonder ‘Does nobody else???’
We aggressively work the supermarket system to try and take advantage of their offers and some great Asian shops nearby provide bargains for things like beans and rice. We also have a (not always very successful)allotment and preserve what we can. We have to be creative with storage and sometimes it is a hassle trying to find places to put things but I can’t imagine living now with a stockpile of food and household things. I’d have to be a lot more organised to be sure we didn’t run out of stuff, that’s for sure!

Earthbutterfly said...

I love thinking about food and like to be well prepared for all eventualities. Since we have regular earthquakes here in Christchurch now, we have had to have supplies ready in case we lose power or water. It is mindblowing how far we have come in ten months. I now have no worries about a loss of either of those, and Im encouraged by my supply cupboard that we could cope at length if we need to. It has not always been the case. We shop week to week mostly, but try to take advantage of sales and stock up on staples that can be stored. Its been by trial and error that we have things that can be cooked by alternative methods, but we are getting there. It has also encouraged me to learn about naturally drying foods, solar power and other things that last year, I might never have thought of. Love your work, thank you!

Chris said...

Hi Earthbutterfly, I was going to comment about something similar here in Australia - the Queensland Floods. We lost power for 6 days and everyone who could get into town, bought a generator. By the time we got there, they were sold out.

So we lost everything in our chest freezer and our fridge. It was an enormous wake up call for us! What on earth were we doing, relying so heavily on electricity powered solutions for bulk food storage?

During the power outage I cooked with our camping hob and butane gas. We had some in supply, but that would have run out after two weeks. It's now made us think about solar ovens and solar power to run small appliances in case of an emergency.

We're also thinking much larger and considering converting our house to stand alone solar and wind power. It will take many years of research and saving to pay for any changes though.

It's good to have bulk food in storage but how are people meant to cook with it (especially things like lentils and pulses needing clean water and long cooking times) if electricity and gas becomes as scarce as food?

I'm sure people in Australia and New Zealand, probably thought situations like that would never happen to us. We've lived with flood and earthquakes before, just not on a scale that contaminates such large expanses of land which makes delivering routine services and food, virtually impossible.

Like you Earthbutterly (born out of necessity) we're reconsidering how we do the whole process of food and services too.

We actually found food producing trees and shrubs (and pereninel types of vegetables) were the best kind of food store during our natural disaster. The food stayed fresh on the tree, it didn't need processing (only washing) and actually helped the land recover quicker after the flood.

It did wonders for the soul too, seeing things not just survive, but bringing life back to the fold. :)

Aurora said...

Thank you for all of your replies. I am glad that UK readers generally confirmed my suspicions about the popular UK attitudes to this, I wondered if I was wide of the mark in my observation.

Why the UK takes the attitude it does I don't know - it could be part climate related - but then when the extreme snow hit last year there was a lot of complaining that local authorities were not prepared, 'Sweden and Norway still run with more snow than this', etc. Our most common environmental issue is flooding - and I think people envision that food storage won't help you in that situation as your store will be underwater! But of course communities have been cut off by surrounding floods, not necessarily flooded themselves - so it pays to be prepared.

As for economic hardship, we have seen plenty of that in the last century and there are plenty of older folk around who remember the original austerity Britain of the post war years - perhaps the boom of the last ten years has made us complacent?

Another good point on the advantages of food storage that someone raised - I like the fact that I have been in a position to help someone else out in the past, even when things were a little lean for us.

Eva Elisabeth said...

I suspect that in the UK there are still very active memories of post-war rationing. If you were stockpiling you were taking food off your neighbours plate.

We have pretty good stocks, I think we could make it for 2-3 months on what we have, eventually I'm hoping to make that 6 months.

louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife said...

I'm in the UK and while I've not noticed any particular prejudice towards store cupboards, I've noticed that a ridiculous number of people rely on being able to go for their weekly shop - and if they can't go that day, they're really stuck.

We hate supermarkets so try to minimise our visits - we do our main (store-cupboard) shopping about once every six to eight weeks, just picking up fresh veg and milk at nearby shops in the meantime. Like other people, I stock up on certain things when they're on offer and we bulk buy too - catering packs of flour, sacks of rice & spices from Asian stores.

I'd estimate with eggs from our chickens, we'd have about enough food for us and our animals for at least a month. However, if water was cut off, we'd be stuck after a couple of days.

Scarlet said...

I'm in the UK and I have a well-stocked storecupboard.Even the 'overflow cupboard' has been known to be overflowing! I do it mainly to save money and keep out of the shops so that I'm not tempted to buy 'stuff'. I stock up on things which are on offer, or on things which are a good price in shops I very rarely visit.Like others, I do know people who only buy enough food for the week-things then go awry if they are ill, or if the weather is bad and they can't get to the shops.

Earthbutterfly said...

Im really enjoying this article and its replies, because for some people, things like restocking and keeping a supply in, are real life issues now.
If you get caught out, and the power and water are down in your part of civilization, for the most part, it is just a few days til things flow back because the rest of the World is behind you and Has your back - brings you in food.water.blankets, via Red Cross or similar charity, people like doing good things for people who cant etc. The thing that struck me after the first Earthquake here, was... What if the entire country had been affected? No water for anyone, no power, and no way perhaps of a quick solution/fix...At the moment, they have the fixing of the local power cables, the streets and the pipes down to a fine art!
It makes you think about seriously utilising all your avenues - your supply cupboard, your cellar, your garden, some fruit trees, networking with neighbours, keeping water stocks, rainwater tanks... heck, even solar power maybe... My street has a network now, amongst seven neighbours we help each other and it makes these nasty shakes a lot easier. And we are mid-city Christchurch. My spare room is now a secret stash of dry goods & *Needs* such as a spare toilet seat :-) My friends before, would giggle at that. No giggling now, cos now theyre doing similar. Hehe.

Mrs T-W said...

I naturally keep a supply of food, not really consciously, just from a habit of living from what vegetables we could grow in the garden each year and preserve as I was growing up. It certainly helped us out since this past spring we went through a very tough time finacially. Most of our meals came from the store cupboard for several months.

We live in the UK, and have had strange looks and comments from visitors who see our kitchen cupboard (it once was a half bath- toliet and sink- that was converted into a shelved storage) or in the course of a conversation regarding saving foods. Even people I know who make their own jams and jellies seem to only make them as a posh novelty or specialty gifts, rather than looking to make enough to last until the next season for their family.

Anonymous said...

I lived north of Houston, Texas during the hurricane Katrina/Rita nightmare. Neither storm hit us directly, but the evacuees from both storms overwhelmed our mid-sized city. Rita had a predicted route to directly hit our town (though she went east at the very end) and there was NOTHING AT ALL in the grocery stores. There was NO GAS at the pumps, no batteries - NOTHING.

I also was a volunteer for Red Cross during all of this and knew first hand what assistance was available - and it is limited to be sure. Red Cross is there to provide immediate assistance - not feed you for 3 weeks. I don't think that folks truly understand that.

As a result, my husband and I have a stash of food. We have propane tanks of gas and a gas cook top to cook on. We have dried beans and rice, canned foods... but not nearly enough.

And, as mentioned, water is a hugely limiting factor. PLEASE keep a bottle of old fashioned bleach on hand. You can use it to purify your drinking water - so even if there are flood waters, you can still drink. Yes, you can boil it, but why waste cooking fuel? We do have rubbermaid containers full of water - it might not taste good after a while, but it will be wet and safe enough for the short term.

Having grown up in a rural mid-western town with plenty of blizzards and then later as a Peace Corps volunteer in a very poor country... I have learned to appreciate taking care of oneself. If the sky falls and I need help, I'm glad that there are agencies that might be there - but personally, I'd rather not depend on those agencies getting to me when I need them and instead count on myself.

Anonymous said...

WOW! I had no idea that folks could look at stockpiling the way you described.

Growing up (in the US), Mom always had cupboards that resembled a mini-grocery. She wasn't a meal planner and liked being able to pull together a meal at any time based on what she was in the mood for. And unexpected company at mealtime never fazed her. Also, she was raised in the depression, and how could that not have an impact? I love having well stocked cupboards and wish I had more. It's just one of the things that gives me a sense of security and the feeling of being more in control. You'd think the neighbors that flip out when they can't get to the market, would get a clue, and at least keep some extra non-perishables on hand for a few quick meals. Duh.

Keep on doing what you do. And thanks for sharing.