It’s inevitable when I post a picture on Facebook of my food canning/hoarding ways: someone always makes a wisecrack about how “they know where to go when the apocalypse is happening”. Not only do I preserve tons of food in the summer, I bulk buy grains and legumes to keep in 5-gallon bins in the basement, and since I got a pressure canner last summer, I’ve been putting by large quantities of chicken and beef stock. I take this joking as a compliment, I really do, because underneath it is the suggestion that I’m organized and resourceful, and that I know how to take care of people when things are stressful or perilous. I hope those things turn out to be true if the shit really does hit the fan — but at the very least, I won’t starve in the first week 🙂
While canning is something I have done for the better part of my adult life (starting with a jam experiment way back in my first marriage circa 1997), my partner and I now churn out several hundred cans of food a summer (probably in the neighbourhood of 300, I really don’t keep track), and about once a year I purchase all our oats, rice, beans, barley and flour in 20 kg bags (there are only two of us plus my step-daughter part time, so this food often lasts us more than a year). And while I used to be motivated by the fear of societal collapse, I have way chilled out on that topic lately.
(Side note: we’re all going to die, and a couple of years ago I came to the realization that “prepping” behaviour is just another immortality project as Earnest Becker would term it, something designed to keep up the fiction that we can create immortality through our actions. Becker would further argue that attempts to immortalize oneself is the root of all social evil – wealth accumulation, war, and so on).
So why keep it up if I don’t feel a fear driven need to keep my basement and larder well stocked?
There are three central reasons for my food hoarding ways (and it’s not really hoarding if you are using it – right?):
- Control over ingredients: This morning (like every morning) I added a quarter cup of nectarine/anise preserves to my oatmeal. Because I canned these last summer, I know that the only thing in that jar are nectarines, anise seeds, water and a small amount of honey (a tablespoon per jar). There are no additional preservatives, no additional salt, and no excessive sugars to contend with – and I like it that way. Even when I do can pickles or condiments that have a significant amount of sugar in them (home canning is definitely not sugar-free, but there are lots of way to lower sugar content which maybe I’ll do a post on in the future) – I am highly aware of what is in those foods and moderate my eating of them accordingly (really, how much ketchup and sweet pickles does one need to eat). Point being, I pretty much always know what’s in my processed foods because I choose the quality of food I want to eat and I do the processing myself.
- Food aesthetics: This may seem frivolous, but I do love the look of food in jars on my shelves, and I relish the life-aesthetic of making/canning/serving foods that I have prepared. Additionally, I get to shop in my basement a great deal of the time which leads me to interesting food pairings and discoveries (who knew that pork stir-fried with canned (unsweeted) plums and cherries would be such a hit!) And I love that we never run out of the staples like rice and oats, sugar and flour.
- COST! By far, however, the point that I probably take the most pride in is how much cheaper it is to eat this way – the savings from the staples and the canning, allow me to spend more of my weekly budget on high-quality meats and dairy rather than having to skimp on that stuff. For example – the chicken stock you see pictured above – 8 litres worth, cost me $10, the price of a 3 pound chicken (they didn’t have any stewing chickens in when I went to Donald’s – those sell for $10 but are 5 pounds). If you actually get down to counting out the kilos in a bulk bag of oats ($18 for 20 kg) you are looking at 90 cents per kilo versus the $2-3 is costs to purchase a single kilo. While it’s true that food storage does require having some extra space (which I am privileged to have) – it’s also true that it shaves a significant amount of my monthly grocery budget to shop and store food in this way.
It’s a bit of a thing, I know, to change one’s habits and build food prep and storage into your life in this way – and my transition has taken the better part of two decades as I figure out what works and finesse that for my living circumstances and current family/living situation. While I know this isn’t for everyone, I’m just here to say that what looks like hard work from the outside, is the pleasure of industry and the knowledge of food security on the inside – the good feelings that come with self-reliance and a household (or group of friends) working together to put food by for everyday use and in case of challenging times.