Monday, July 21, 2008

I know things are tough, but please don't...

There was recently an article on Stuff ( that really made me cringe. "Simple hints to lower your food bill" by Jackie Gower - Waikato Times - Thursday, 12 June 2008.

It's essentially recommending that you completely empty your cupboards before replenishing your stocks with a trip to the supermarket, using up the food you already have before going shopping for more. It may save money in the short term, but it's not a good survival instinct!

In the event of a large-scale emergency, food is going to be in very short supply. Your average supermarket has gone to the "just-in-time" supply model. Sure, it means that everything is nice and fresh, but it also means that your supermarket will empty in just a couple of days, if it doesn't have an almost-constant stream of trucks resupplying it. And during an emergency, those trucks aren't going to be making deliveries for quite some time. You're going to have to live off of what is in your cupboards, and unfortunately, we can't guarantee that disaster day is going to happen just after shopping day.

Ideally, you should be able to feed yourself and your household for at least 14 days, from just the food in your house. This doesn't mean that you have to have a special stash of food squirrelled away under the house for the Apocalypse - unless you are very organised, that's pretty well a recipe for having a stash of expired food that isn't much good to anyone. Keep it in the pantry, where you're going to see it and eat it, and replace it.

If you don't like lentils, then there's no point having a bag languishing in the cupboard. Store food that you normally eat. Things that you usually serve up for dinner or lunch. That way the food gets used and replaced, and you don't have to worry about having a slightly rusty tin of something unidentifiable lurking in the back of the cupboard, just waiting to give someone botulism, and quite possbly tetanus when they try getting in to it. If you find you have things that you know you aren't going to eat, throw them out if they have gone past their expriy date, or put them in the donation bin at your local supermarket if they are still good.

14 days of food sounds like a lot, and it certainly is if you have to buy it all in one go! But you don't have to buy it in one go. You've already got a surprising amount of stuff in your cupboards - that's one of the points of the original article. It built up over a time. A spare tin of baked beans here, you forgot you already had a packet of pasta in the cupboard, so bought another one. No one can remember who bought the lentils. All you have to do now is deliberately extend that buffer a bit, and turn it into something useful.

The orginal article does have a good idea - only buy what you need. The amount of time I spend in the supermarket, and the amount of money I spend has been drastically reduced by simply having a list. My trick is that I have a spreadsheet which I made up, printed off, and photocopied a few times. It has all the stuff I would expect to be able to find in my cupboards and fridge. Before I go do the shopping for the week, I go through the list and cross off anything that I've already got, leaving the things that I don't have, so need to pick up. Some things get crossed off the list 50 weeks of the year - I don't buy lightbulbs very often, but that's okay, the fact that I cross it off the list means that I have two in the cupboard.

A good list of things to have in the pantry can be found here.

So, DON'T empty your cupboards before going shopping, just buy what you need to keep your cupboards full. You never know when the next emergency is going to happen, and it's not going to postpone itself until you've done the shopping!

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