How to Prepare for a Food Shortage: Building Food Resilience

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Food shortages may have seemed like something out of a dystopian movie. But, if COVID taught us anything, food shortages are real and can happen when we least expect them. Most of us have experienced grocery shopping and finding the shelves bare.

Food shortages don’t just occur due to pandemics, though. International conflict and other supply chain disruptions can all limit or eliminate certain foods from our grocery stores. According to the IMF, even regional disruptions can affect food availability worldwide. For instance, the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2022 increased food prices by almost 56%.

Our dependence on complex food supply chains can leave us vulnerable in a crisis – just like we saw during COVID-19. However, by embracing basic food preservation techniques and cultivating a “grow-your-own” mentality, we can weather the storm of a food shortage with greater self-reliance and confidence.

Now is the best time to prepare yourself and your family for future shortages.

How to Prepare for a Food Shortage
Bare shelves at a grocery store
Bare Shelves – a scary sight that can and has happened

Our team understands the importance of preparing for food shortages a bit too well. Jason’s community was devastated by a tornado in March 2020—the same week, food shortages began to hit the shelves due to COVID-19. I’ve seen firsthand the problems that not being prepared can cause.

I believe that first-hand knowledge is key, and that’s why this guide will provide honest tips on how to prepare for a food shortage.


The Looming Storm: Understanding Food Shortages

While our current supermarkets boast overflowing shelves, the reality is our food supply chains are a complex dance. Disruptions at any point in this intricate choreography – from extreme weather events impacting harvests to geopolitical instability hindering transportation – could lead to food shortages.

COVID led to seemingly random shortages over two years. (Does anyone remember the Great Toilet Paper Shortage?) The Suez Canal blockage held up global trade for a week, costing billions of dollars.

Short-Term Disruptions vs. Long-Term Shortages

Food shortages can be temporary, like what’s experienced during a natural disaster. Or, they can be prolonged, like what occurred during COVID-19.

Short-term disruptions are often localized events that disrupt the food supply for a short period, like a week. Natural disasters, like tornados and hurricanes, cause short-term disruptions. When preparing for these situations, it is best to build a readily consumable stockpile of non-perishable foods.

For this reason, FEMA recommends that everyone have at least three days of emergency food.

Long-term shortages are different. They occur over a wider area for months or even years. Widespread economic collapse, pandemics, and large-scale disasters all cause long-term shortages. A readily consumable stockpile isn’t enough in these scenarios. Instead, it’s best to acquire large quantities of shelf-stable food and explore ways to grow and harvest your own food.

Understand what situations are most likely to affect your region. Do you live in the breadbasket, where tornados are common? Or along the Gulf Coast, where hurricanes can be expected?

Large-scale events affect all of us and are more severe. However, they are also rarer.

Luckily, you don’t have to prepare for one or the other. Typically, you’ll need the same short-term foods for the beginning of a long-term shortage. Therefore, preparing for a short-term disruption first makes the most sense. Then, you can expand your plan to include long-term shortages.


Building a Self-Reliant Food Strategy

How to Prepare for a Food Shortage

The supermarket aisles may seem endlessly stocked, but true self-reliance lies beyond their reach. It’s vital to prepare for both long-term and short-term food shortages. Here’s the best way to do it:

First: Short-Term Essentials

We highly recommend that everyone prioritize a well-stocked pantry filled with non-perishable foods. Your pantry is the first line of defense against food insecurity. While FEMA recommends at least three days, I recommend hitting the two-week mark if possible. Three days just isn’t much.

You don’t necessarily need to order specialty survival foods. You can purchase non-perishable emergency foods at the store. The best foods include things like:

  • Canned goods (vegetables, fruits, meats, soups)
  • Dried beans and lentils
  • Pasta and rice
  • Shelf-stable milk powder and nut butter
  • Granola bars and energy bars
  • Canned or dried fruits for snacks
Shopping for emergency food at the grocery store
Focus on non-perishable food

Make sure you can actually cook with all the food you purchase. Don’t just go buy a bunch of canned beets. We have a list of survival recipes that require only non-perishable items. Try some of these out before you experience a disaster, and keep food on hand to cook them.

Don’t forget to print out the recipes. Otherwise, you may not remember how to cook them once the grid goes down.

Don’t let your stockpile become a forgotten graveyard of expired food! Different food items have varying shelf lives. To maintain freshness, implement a rotation system. Use the “first-in, first-out” method, where you consume older items before opening new ones. Regularly rotate your stockpile to ensure everything stays edible.

For example, if you purchase everything to cook our chicken & dumplings recipe, ensure you cook it and purchase replacement ingredients every few months.

Alternatively, you can purchase freeze-dried foods, which can also be used for short-term emergencies. This leads us to…

Next: Long-Term Options

Once you have two weeks of non-perishables in your pantry, it’s time to prepare for longer periods. Some extended shortages can last for months or even years. Freeze-dried foods are the best option, as they often have a 25+ year shelf life.

Kristin's stockpile of long term emergency food
Some of my long term emergency food kits

I’ve tried dozens of survival food companies. Currently, my favorites include Heaven’s Harvest and Augason Farms. Both are inexpensive and have tons of meal options. Heaven’s Harvest is great if you want to buy meals and then be done, while Augason Farms provides more single-ingredient options for making your own food.

See our guide on the Best Emergency Food Kits for our favorite options.

You can also consider MREs, though these have a shorter shelf life and are often more expensive. They don’t require any water or preparation, making them easier to prepare. I’ve dove deeply into MREs in our Best MRE’s to Buy article, so be sure to read it if you’re considering this option.

You don’t have to buy everything at once. Just purchasing a month of emergency food here and a month there can lead to a substantial pantry in no time. See our three month food supply list for strategies to help.


Beyond Food: Essential Supplies for Food Shortages

During an emergency, food is often not the only thing missing. It’s only part of the preparedness puzzle. You also have to tackle water, sanitation, and the ability to prepare meals.

Water

You probably know that you need water to survive. According to the survival rule of three, water is more important than food.

First, you need to determine your daily water needs. This can vary according to many factors, like your age and weight. However, I recommend planning for at least 1 gallon per person, per day.

In hot climates, I recommend storing even more.

Ensure you use suitable water containers that are designed for long-term storage. We’ve tested the Scepter Water Container, so I feel confident recommending it.

Stored water will only get you so far, though. Consider different ways to purify your water, which can give you access to a seemingly endless supply of clean water. If you live somewhere wet, finding water probably isn’t an issue, but you still need to clean it.

(I live in Tennessee, categorized as a “temperate rainforest,” so finding water is never an issue.)

There are many ways you can purify water. I recommend the Grayl GeoPress Water Purifier. It’s lightweight and works in seconds. It took me about ten seconds to purify almost a liter of water during testing.

However, the Alexapure Pro Water Filtration System is a larger filter for at-home use. It’s more expensive, though, and you won’t be lugging it around.

Read our guide to the best survival water filters for more on each of these.

If you live somewhere that doesn’t have much water available, consider storing more. Those in Nevada probably won’t be able to walk outside and find a puddle.

Cooking and Heating

Many foods require heating. However, you won’t be able to rely on your electric stove or microwave during many disasters. Having alternative ways to prepare meals is vital.

We’ve done a whole article on how to boil water without electricity. Many people recommend camping stoves and grills, but there are actually 15 easy ways to cook without electricity. I recommend having at least two or three ready in case you don’t have access to electricity. One of the stoves from our Best Emergency Stove list is a great start as well.

Many ways require starting a fire, so make sure you can. A simple survival fire kit can go a long way in an emergency.


True Self-Reliance: Making Your Own Food

While stockpiling food and water should be at the top of your list, I don’t recommend stopping there. These preparedness measures will only get you so far. To be truly self-reliant in an emergency, you must know how to grow and preserve your own food.

Get Your Hands Dirty: Growing Your Own Food

If you only do one “extra,” I recommend figuring out how to grow your own food. Otherwise, once you’re out of food, you’re out!

The absolute first thing you’ll need is seeds. Personally, I have Heaven’s Harvest seed bucket, which contains enough seeds to plant five acres. That’s enough for several families if you include hunting, fishing, and foraging.

Kristin showing her Heavens Harvest Survival Seed Bucket
My Survival Seed Stockpile

However, you also have to know how to plant these seeds. I use and recommend Clyde’s Garden Planner as a basic guide. It shows you when to plant each type of vegetable, companion plants, expected harvest dates, sunlight requirements, and basically anything else you need to know.

That said, nothing quite prepares you for growing your own food than growing your own food. I had never gardened until a few years ago. However, for the sake of preparedness, I decided to give it a go, digging up a portion of my yard for the project. I learned a lot that is hard to learn from books.

Kristin showing a Vegetable Garden
Start a garden, even if it is just a small area

So, if at all possible, I recommend starting a garden. Better yet, purchase the survival seed bucket and grow some of what’s inside it. If you have extra food, can it and add it to your emergency pantry.

Nothing will prepare you better for a long-term emergency than that.

Better Together: Bartering and Community Building

No one survives alone. In an emergency, it won’t just be you; it’ll be your family, neighbors, and community.

Many people (and many other prepping sites, if I’m honest) play into the “lone wolf mentality.” However, when your grandmother shows up at your door asking for food, I can bet what your decision will be.

Therefore, it’s important to prepare for this kind of survival. You’ll be surviving in a community, not in the woods somewhere. The Heaven’s Harvest survival seed bucket is great for that reason. It includes plenty of extras. No single family needs 1800 cabbage seeds!

You can barter the seeds directly or establish a community garden to improve efficiency.

Don’t forget to stock up on extra essentials, too. Let’s not forget that toilet paper was sold on eBay during COVID for $100 a pack.

Having a community also helps with mental health. We consider mindset a huge factor in survival. Isolation gravely affects mental health, so much so that it should be considered a deadly disease. We’re made to be together.

It’s also important to consider home security measures, too. There will be other people around, after all. Luckily, if you focus on community building, you’ll be safer than someone who goes “lone wolf.” It’s always safer in a crowd.

If you don’t have any weapons and know how to use them, now is the time to learn. People do crazy things when food gets scarce. We can help you in that department, too. The entire Defend section of our site includes recommendations from ex-military and competitive shooters.

Preservation: Learning to Make Food Last Longer

Preservation techniques are the time-tested tools that empower us to extend the shelf life of our food. If you want to be self-reliant, you’ll need to preserve your food beyond basic canned goods from the store.

There is a wealth of simple, effective food preservation methods that aren’t hard to learn. I recommend learning canning, drying, and pickling. Even something as simple as drying onions on a rack can make them last months (instead of the week they’d last, otherwise).

The best way to learn these techniques is actually do them. If you grow a garden, grow a bit extra to preserve. Learn what fruits and vegetables work well for canning, drying, or pickling. Practice now while you can.

Home canned vegetables on a shelf
Learn how to can the food from your garden

Self-preservation isn’t just about extending shelf life; it offers tons of other advantages, too. For instance, it grants you direct control over the ingredients and quality of your food. It also allows you to save money now, since you can make food last months into the future.

Field to Fork: Exploring Hunting and Fishing

While gardening and food preservation can get you far during a food shortage, hunting and fishing provide a deeper self-reliance.

Hunting and fishing require understanding your local regulations and how your local prey populations work. Proper game management ensures healthy wildlife populations. You cannot just go out and hunt, and for good reason. At one point, white-tailed deer were almost extinct due to overhunting.

Today, there are not enough game animals and fish to feed everyone – that’s just a fact. In a long-term food shortage, your local wildlife populations will likely be diminished significantly.

However, it’s also true that not nearly as many people hunt and fish today as in the past. Two hundred years ago, practically everyone could field-dress the animals in their area. Today, only 6% of Americans hunt. Therefore, if you learn to hunt now and get all the necessary gear, you’ll be ahead of 94% of the population.

Jason Deer Hunting with a Rifle
Practice now before it becomes a necessary part of your food supply

Stock up on ammunition for your hunting rifle now, and ensure you have extra fishing line and lures. These tend to be bought up quickly during a food crisis, as more people turn to finding their own food.

Most importantly, go outside and do it! After all, it isn’t as easy as sitting in the woods and waiting for a deer to show up.


Start Slow – But Get Prepared

All of this preparation may seem daunting. However, you only have to take small steps. Purchase a few non-perishables on your next shopping trip, and maybe pick up some extra Tylenol. Print out our recipes so you can use them when the power goes out.

Calculate how many calories your family needs per day and purchase three days’ worth of freeze-dried foods.

Read about all the different ways to boil water without electricity and consider which ones you can do (or purchase items to boil water). Take notes so you have them when the power goes out.

It’s these little steps that make all the difference during food shortage. You don’t have to purchase five years’ worth of food and build a bunker.

Also read our full How to Start Prepping guide for help. Subscribe to our newsletter as we are constantly sharing new ideas and ways you can prepare!

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Photo of author
Kristin is a fulltime writer with an obsession for being prepared. She spends much of her time working towards making her family self-sufficient, including homeschooling her children. When she isn’t writing, she’s shooting with her husband or homesteading.