Gas is rising faster than a helium balloon on a summer afternoon lately. I’ve adopted the theory of gassing up before I go home, since I know it will be higher when we head out the next time already. Food prices in the grocery store are doing a close approximation of the same thing, and the so-called non-existent inflation is impossible to deny any more. Rumors of food shortages and high prices causing rioting in the USA are already making their way through the doom-and-gloom crowd, and this summer is apt to see us actually nearing that flash point if something doesn’t start to improve.
So what does that mean for us here on the Gulf Coast?
We’re not immune to rising prices and skyrocketing fuel costs. Our precious seafood still uses fuel to get the fisherman and shrimpers out to the fishing grounds and bring them back, and the fuel expenses will undoubtedly have to be passed on to the consumers. Our farmers also use fuel to work their fields, and those costs too will affect our prices at the farmers markets and grocery stores. Even we’ll feel the bite if we visit “you-pick” farms to acquire quantities of vegetables for canning and freezing, both in the gas tank, at the store as we buy supplies, and even as we pay our own fuel expense for processing our bounty.
So is it really worth it to stock up?
Definitely! Even as we speak, prices are rising at the grocery store. Some items have seen markups that doubled or tripled their prices at the store. Food in the pantry has suddenly been able to return your investment, so to speak, by allowing you to purchase your supplies at a percentage of what they are costing when you use them a week, month, or even six months after your purchase.
Be sane though. I can remember family members with hoarding issues that affected their “stocking up” to the point of ridiculous, as they bought cases of things that could not possibly be used before it literally went bad in the can or jar. That isn’t saving money, that’s a case of excessive purchasing, which is in fact a waste if it is allowed to spoil.
Remember to not buy more than your family will use in the amount of time left in its effective shelf life. Don’t panic-purchase and buy things your family will not eat either! Twenty five pounds of rice for me would be a foolish purchase, as I don’t serve a lot of rice and there are only two of us, but for a family of five that serves rice 3-5 days a week…that amount of rice is going to quickly be used. On the other hand, I do bake a variety of goods, and I do use flour, both all purpose and self rising. I also use “special” flours like whole wheat, rye, unbleached, bread, etc. I would use 25 lbs. of flour reasonably quickly, but a family that rarely bakes their own bread or other goods would find that much flour to be nearly a lifetime supply!
Most grocery store foods, whether canned or dry, will have a shelf life after purchase of 3-12 months, depending on how long it sat in a warehouse and on the grocery store shelf. Don’t purchase more than you can use before it spoils, and in the case of dry goods such as flour, sugar, beans, rice, etc., make sure it is tightly sealed against the raids of insects. There is nothing that ruins dry goods faster than an infestation of grain beetles, which can hitch hike into your home from the grocery store, warehouse, etc. without anyone aware of their presence until untold amounts of food have been ruined. They can chew through plastic liners, boxes, etc. as well, drilling tiny pin sized holes that are easily missed in a package, until you open it and discover their presence.
If you elect to try your hand at home canning, which is initially expensive but is economical in the long run, follow directions! These directions are to ensure that your canned food is both safe and wholesome, and not processing properly will result in potentially dangerous results. It isn’t hard, but the directions are important. A number of books will help you learn the process safely, including the industry standard: Ball Blue Book. Stocking Up is another favorite of mine, and even your state extension service will often have information that is useful. Libraries will often have books as well, and in many cases, several families can share expensive items such as pressure canners, reducing the initial cost for each family.
Freezing foods for later use is often a much less intimidating process, and once again, there are a number of books that explain how to process each type of food properly to maintain maximum freshness, flavor and nutrition. This spreads out the cost of food storage over a longer term with a smaller investment now and higher storage costs over the long term. This is many family’s preferred method, as meats, fish, seafood, vegetables and fruits can all be stored easily.
Dehydration is another choice, a bit trickier here in the humid South, as moisture can ruin the dried foods at a later point. Once foods are dried, they must be stored in a dry area in tightly sealed containers, and adding those small anti-moisture packets might also be wise. Dried foods are compact and take little space.
Whatever method you choose, this is a good time to learn about how to stock up, as we look back to our grandparents and great grandparents that endured the Great Depression and the rationing years of WWII to learn how to make the most when we don’t have much extra. Their methods, recipes, and ideas can help us as we navigate our own difficult times while trying to keep our families healthy and happy.
In addition to our shopping strategies, we also have the options of exploring gardening and edible landscaping. Sneaking in vegetables among our flowers is a painless way to stretch our food budget without creating an actual garden, and the dollars saved can be a real help.
Many plants are very attractive, such as eggplant with its large leaves, upright growing habit, and beautiful purple flowers. It’s also available in a variety of colors in terms of fruit, even within the edible forms. Squash, melons, and cucumbers all make attractive vines, as do climbing beans. Tomatoes and many other vegetables will also agreeably reside in containers, making them portable as well as decorative too. Get creative with gardening ideas, and ensure an inexpensive source of vegetables for your family.