Prepper Must-Haves: Vices

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Are vices really and truly a must-have item? No. History is full of periods and survival situations, particularly during the exploration of the colder climates, when even people accustomed to “modern” conveniences went months and years without goodies.

Our vices aren’t necessary to our survival in many cases, but when you cut us off from them, hard times and adjustments just get harder.

The ramifications on families and partnerships in stressful but not life-threatening situations are out there to be viewed in rates of dissolution’s, divorce, separation, domestic violence, addiction-abuse, and suits and counter-suits. If you think a crisis will smooth those away, I have a bridge to sell ya.

We can add one more stress to those difficult times, or we can find alternatives (some of them long-term sustainable) and plan supplies and caches to make things as easy as possible.

Top Vices

Some of the top vices are going to be sugar and caffeine, with tobacco and alcohol right there with them. I can’t do anything to prepare a family to lose internet and TV besides make sure we have puzzles and games, but I can slow our transition away from some of our other vices.

Bad times are already stressful, and we’re already looking at making some hard adjustments. Things that we consume daily before we even feel human are worth stocking – in bulk and out of proportion to the rest of my supplies, really.

If I like coffee, I might also consider stockpiling tea. I can get gallons to the cup per dollar for tea, without taking up much if any more space than pre-ground or instant coffee.

If I’m in a warm enough climate, I might even go so far as to plan greenhouse or protected space for a yaupon holly for caffeine and tea camellia species. Herbal teas will lack the zing, but many tea herbs have the benefit of being perennials and hardy.

There are a wide range of trees that can be tapped for syrup, all of which (and honey) will boil down into candy or can be dried to crystals. Sugar beets and stevia are just two options for producing sweet syrups and flavor at home even outside sugarcane territory.

Everyday Cravings = Higher Priorities

While we tend to look at sugar, caffeine, alcohol and tobacco as the common vices and see them high on bartering lists, they’re not the only things we’re doing without. Pure sugar is a fantastic preparedness item with both vice and food-preservation value, but we don’t all have a sweet tooth.

Our vices are our feel-goods.

They’re our comfort foods – be they salty or sweet or savory – activities, and even exercise or hobbies. All of those may be crimped in an emergency, whether it’s widespread or personal.

Know your actions, and those of family.

Just because my priority leads me to crunchy-salty goodies and chicken broth, and I am willing to scoff off sweets, without sweets my lover is pretty miserable. He is also annoying, gets antsy, and breaks down and goes to the store.

When determining priorities (and budgets), snag and stash the store receipts for a couple of weeks or months. Snag them ahead of holidays and in-family events as well. Do it in all four seasons.

They will rock-solid determine what you’re getting, and even when.

Just going by the shopping list and menu plan isn’t enough. I recently realized that a full third of our Walmart-supermarket spending is not on the lists. They’re not even impulse. They’re actually the things my lover ends up going to the store for because they aren’t on my radar as much.

Those are the kinds of everyday priority to watch for.

My vices, my parents, the kids’ – they’re taken into account with small, compact puzzles to bring out, stashed books, a portable hard drive of movies, little games, baking mixes, inexpensive instant pudding, Hershey’s syrup, and the ability to add crunch to our lives on a regular basis through familiar cold cereals, chips, crackers and dry cookies.

It didn’t actually add all that much to the preparedness budgets to do it, and it allows “treats” and normalcy in unrest, even if I never harvest anything else.

Anticipated Cravings

We can look at history and the way modern North Americans and Western Europeans eat to anticipate some of the food cravings we’re likely to see and can account for with our storage.

Meat – For most of us, meat is going to become a treat, just as it has been for most of human history. It will go back to being more of a flavoring, especially if a crisis drags on.

Anticipating that, I stock it.

I have no lost love for t-rats and MREs. I dislike canned meats pretty much across the board. But they’re in my pantries and caches, because the men in my life will dive after them, and I might wind up desperate enough to eat my share.

Things like pouches of bacon bits, canned hash, the less-expensive freeze-dried meats like crumbled sausage, and the TVP-soy products we can buy for long storage can at least give me and my guys some flavor and the hint of our usual meats.

Things like Slim Jim’s and small beef sticks can be used as a snack, presented as a whole to bite into, or sliced into cold pasta and wheat salads.

Non-Spoon Foods – Maybe somebody eats oatmeal and farina, soup for lunch, and Hamburger Helper or shepherd’s pie pretty much daily. Most of us are probably accustomed to picking up, cutting or stabbing something somewhere through there.

For parts of the growing season, we can adapt how we prepare fresh foods to create a fork-and-knife meal. Some fruit trees will also allow us to present a crunchy for weeks or sometimes a couple of months after harvest.

One advantage to MRE entrees like the feta chicken is that it’s not as gag-worthy, but also, it’s a nice, whole breast portion. You can flake it with a spoon, but you can also stick it on a bun or a bed of couscous.

Planning for pancakes and omelets, to turn Bisquick into pseudo-tortillas, stashing dry cookies in canning jars with oxygen absorbers, and stashing bigger pastas and spaghetti for fork meals will help alleviate the boredom with spoon meals.

Dairy/Cheese – Without dairy animals and specific skills, a long-term crisis will affect us hard and fast in the cheese category. We love fresh cheese. I’m lucky enough that we also really like Bega, and I buy it on sale cycles.

Local stores sell tins of mild cheddar chip sauce at a fairly reasonable price, and it can readily top potatoes or be used as a cracker spread or pretzel dip, even if chips are painful to store due to the bulk they require. Velveeta and Cheez Whiz live on shelves as-is, too. Cheese soup can season rice, potatoes and macaroni.

Powdered parm from the pasta aisle can at least impart some flavors and toast up on top of zucchini, or be used in pasta salad.

There are shelf-stable cheese sticks and slices from companies like Northwoods and those awful combo packets put out by Jack Links and others, but they’re almost as expensive as freeze-dried cheese (and soooo much worse tasting).

I also keep most of the cheese packets that come in our processed foods. I dislike them, but as mentioned in the article about canning jars, being able to whip them up to top or season something makes them well worth a few oxygen absorbers.

Portion Control

The canning jar article also talked about portion control, and how I accomplish it on a regular basis. That goes for both the annual “events” and the weekly-monthly allowances we put back.

If we’re accustomed to free-grazing coffee and tea (I am), we may very well start our path to ratcheting back by only pulling out enough for a day at a time instead of buying things in a giant tub. Maybe we only buy instant packets for a week or a month, and keep it somewhere *else* in the house or kitchen to keep us and our families from snagging out of habit. As we adjust to our new levels, we might bring it out more often.

Cool drinks are another place where we might portion things out.

Instead of mixing up a pitcher and trusting all the kids (and adults) to pour the same amounts, which is bound to lead to arguments (adults, too), maybe we stash a rotating couple of short juice bottles with the wider mouths. We mix up the pitcher, everybody gets their (labeled) bottles. Once that’s gone, that’s it. No discussion of “I only poured half a glass earlier” or “everybody’s pouring extra and I only got half a cup” or “I’ve only had one cup of coffee, but the whole tub is empty, and now I want my second cup with my cookie”.

And I’m serious – anticipate that stress and aggravation or just personalities will pull that crap out of adults as well.

Once things settle into a new normal, no big deal. But I can drink an entire pot of coffee without realizing it until it’s empty, and I’ve seen people mow through a bag of chips or pack of cookies one or two at a time without realizing just how many they’re having.

Portioning things out can also help us truly plan for daily, weekly and monthly uses.

Not everything needs to be strictly regimented, but some things are really easy, and would be easy to lean on early, until they’re all gone. That big stack of canned meats looks like a lot, but can drop fast.

A case of canning jars (or three) and a couple of boxes or kitty litter buckets labelled 1-12, cold or warm, lets us really and truly portion things out.

Pudding fits 3, 5 or 6-8 in a jar, and might be a monthly or quarterly allowance. We might stick our Lorna Doone’s and Cheez-Its in baggies before we put them in a Mylar bag, and take out only this week’s or month’s to jazz up a plate or have as a snack. Instead of just calling it “good” with a few dollar-store boxes of Slim Jims and pepperoni, a test run and then busting in and separating will help them last, in an appropriate amount.

Vices in a Crisis

Not all disasters are equal. Some are very personal, and some are widespread – localized, regional, national, international. Some are short term, while some leave a question mark and some we can anticipate being truly devastating and taking years to recover from.

Or stored supplies and our resupply-production plans should reflect those varying possibilities.

Regardless of the crisis, it’s likely to be stressful. Change itself is stressful. Combining the two is already a recipe for hard times.

Adding the dynamic of spouses and family, any partners, and the potential of neighbors and coworkers to still be contending with creates additional stresses and variables.

Regularly our vices are not all that good for us. It’s still not a great idea to go cold turkey on all of them immediately or shortly after a life-altering job loss, spouse/partner death that affects funds, natural disaster, long-term outage or rolling brown-outs, or big-time disaster.

At no other time in our lives are we likely to be so grateful for whatever our vice is – a couple little cookies and a cup of tea, strawberry syrup for topping pancakes, campfire tin-can cakes topped with applesauce, something nice and salty and crunchy, popcorn with Molly McButter, a cracker-cheese-meat snack or meal after a week of beans and various grains, a new puzzle or game, the ability to put our feet up and watch a show, or delighting Grandpa and the kids with some little Lego vehicle kits to then race across the dining room table.

With a little forethought and planning, we can readily and affordably still have and give our loved ones those feel-goods, to enjoy with a candlelit game of Tsuro or clustered around a screen watching old cartoons. They’ll offer breaks from reality, just as they do now, and help destress our lives a little.

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