My kids moved into their new house this weekend so Karen and I decided to enjoy our rediscovered freedom and combine a doctor’s appointment with some thrift store shopping and a stop at the market to stock up on a few essentials. The thrift store was a productive stop. I came home with a thermos for Phoebe (something I feared I would need to purchase new as she really needed one), a book I had long wanted, a pocket book to replace my summer bag and the sweetest little glass pie plate, just right for a singe serving. I also got the perfect necklace to go with Phoebe’s Halloween costume and a waffle iron to replace the one I just burned out. The trip to the market was far less successful.

I think prices creep up on when you go every week and you don’t notice as much. When you seldom go they hit you like a slap. I found the one brand of chicken I’m willing to plop down money for has gone up to $19.00 for a single small roaster. It would have fed the four of us with maybe enough left for a thin soup. Needless to say, we will be waiting on chicken until my layers get to the butcher next week. Butter and spices were also far more expensive than just a few weeks ago. I looked at the price of poultry seasoning, a staple for thanksgiving stuffing and decided I coud make a pretty good approximation from what’s growing in my herb garden. I did buy the sale butter because the organic brand I prefer was just too much for my budget.

I think this illustrates an important point. People have to make choices and they are hard ones. Do you buy food or fuel? Will you pay the electric bill or get Jenny new shoes? For me, the choice was between getting the ethical brand, the cheaper product or going without? I generally chose option one or three. Today I went with two and I’ve been feeling bad about it ever since I made it home. I do realize that having the choice is a luxury. Americans spend far less on food as a percent of their income than most other people do. Buying the good butter would not have meant my children didn’t get shoes or have access to health care if they got sick. For much of the world and increasingly here in the US, that is not the case. Ethical, clean food is not even on the radar. When prices go up, it naturally hits the ones who can least afford it the hardest. Which leads me to the next part of my shopping trip.

I heard a rumor and I wanted to check it out. I had been told that Wal-Mart was carrying survival food. I knew this was true in other parts of the country but I had never seen it around here. I went in to see and sure enough, there it was. $63.00 and change for a six gallon sealed bucket. The label said that the bucket held 208 servings of food. It listed oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar, chilli and potato soup mix among other things. I believe I saw powdered milk too. I was so annoyed I could have spit.

Now I’m the last person to complain about a family preparing for an emergency with some stored food. I have a couple of number 10 cans myself but a kit like this is about the worst bang for your food buck I can imagine. I highly doubt that the 208 servings is accurate. I expect the serivngs would be mighty small and I’ll also bet the food is full of sodium. Freeze-dried food isn’t some weird thing that you can only find in a survival store. We eat it all the time. Macaroni and cheese is just dried food. You can buy dried soups and chilli right off the shelf. Why the heck would you need to spend money for oatmeal in a pouch? Regular oatmeal is cheap. Add some dried fruit and powdered milk and you have yourself a “just-add-water” meal. I hope you don’t fall for a gimic like this. I know that food preservation equipment is an huge investment. I know your hours are stretched and it’s hard to imagine just where the resources for some stored food will come from. This is where a community comes in. Can you purchase a pressure canner with friends? The shared labor will lighten everyone’s burden. Did you know that you can buy vegetables in a one pound bag and then dry them in a dehydrator? A one pound bag fis one tray of the Excalibur perfectly. I rinse the veges under warm water to thaw them a bit, leave them in the dehydrator over night and in the morning I have 12 pounds of vegetabes ready to seal up in a jar. When I need them I can rehydrate them in hot water for an hour and then add them to the evening meal.

I don’t mean to sound cavelier about this. It has taken me years to amass all the equipment I use for preserving food. I just wish we could make it easier on families. In a perfect world there would be a canning kitchen in every neighborhood. We invest so much in wars and entertainment and in new and better technology. I guess dried apples just can’t compete.