The first step to starting up a pantry is to find a space that is out of the way. My pantry is in the laundry room just off the kitchen, but if you have room you could place yours right in your kitchen, or in a spare bedroom or out in the garage.
I bought some sturdy stainless steel shelving from a restaurant supply place online, but any really sturdy shelving will do. Then I started the slow process of filling the shelves up.
First of all start with things that you know you are going to need, like spices, dried pasta, muffin mix, sugar, flour, hot sauces, apple sauce and some of those whatchamajigits that you like to snack on. You don’t have to buy all of them at once, so don’t panic about the huge grocery bill. Just remember the next time you go to the grocery store to get one of these kinds of items, pick up two.
When I go to the store I may know that I don’t need vinegar right now, but I’ll pick up a new flavor anyway and throw it in the pantry. If I notice the market is having a special on Valerian root powder, great! I pick up an extra.
Eventually after a couple of years of doing this, you’ll stop one day and look at your pantry and realize that you could feed your family for a long time with just what you have in stock. I love it when I start to think about cooking dinner and I look in the pantry and realize, “I have everything we need to make lentil soup!” PANTRY RAID!
My daughter came to me one day and said she would like it if we had emergency supplies. Smart idea, so I told her that we could start collecting some in the pantry. On my shopping list once a month is “Disaster food,” and it reminds me to pick up one or two items of shelf-stable food. That includes canned ravioli, chili, tuna, ready-to-serve soups (none that have to have water or milk added since in an emergency those two items will be too valuable elsewhere or not available), heat-and-serve, vacuum-packed meals, and don’t forget big jugs of drinking water.
Once a month we buy one or two of these ready-to-eat type meals and every once in a while someone in the family will eat one on a fend-for-yourself night, but I just replace it at the next shopping run.
I’ve organized my pantry into categories. On one shelf is dried beans, rice and pastas, one shelf has baking equipment and ingredients plus things for dessert, one area for home brewing supplies, one shelf for the microwave and toaster ovens (it frees up kitchen counter space), one section for appliances like the food processor, blender, etc. (it frees up cupboard space and makes them much more accessible), one shelf for disaster food, and one for everyday cooking supplies.
On the floor underneath the shelves are half a dozen jugs of spring water. I also have a section that you may call “kid food” so when my daughter has friends over there is enough food for them on a moment's notice. Sodas, chips, dip, smoked oysters (don’t ask me, it’s what they requested) and maraschino cherries for sundaes, just to name a few. Other places in the house have the stocks of paper towels, toilet paper, etc.
I’m a big fan of buying in bulk, I’m the guy you see in the grocery buying 20 pounds of sugar and 18 rolls of paper towels. Following this practice has saved me hundreds of dollars every year just by getting a better price on something that doesn’t spoil or that I’m going to be using soon anyway. It all just gets tucked into the pantry and out of the way.
Something I will warn you about: when storing food in bulk, some food storage containers may look airtight but they really aren’t. For example, I’ve lost a lot of flour and rice to little worms and moths. To solve this, I tend to put everything in a gallon-sized zip-top bag before I put it into storage containers.
Now there are times that I look at my pantry and say, “Why in the world do I have a jar of pickled grape leaves?” And there may come a day when you look into your pantry and ask, “Why do I have a jar of hearts of palm?” When you’ve reached that place, you can feel comfortable that you are ready for any emergency.
We here in Lake County have mild earthquakes practically on a daily basis which keep us relatively safe from the build up of seismic energy, so we don’t have to worry about a massive earthquake. The fact that we live on top of a mountain keeps us pretty safe from disastrous flooding, too, so other than fire danger, and largemouth bass bent on revenge, we’re relatively safe from major catastrophes.
But researchers have predicted with a great deal of certainty that someday (likely very soon) San Francisco is going to shake itself right into the sea. Reports from the 1906 Great Quake tell that during that quake effects were felt even here in Lake County. Things on shelves were rattled off and there were some buildings damaged around the county, so it’s logical to assume that with the mega quake they’re predicting that we will feel its effects here as well, so it’s good to be prepared.
And even if I don’t suffer any damage from the mega quake or aren’t seriously damaged by it, much of my pantry can be sent to people in the Bay Area who will need it (I wonder if this makes my pantry a tax deduction?).
So even if no great disaster strikes you or your family, having a pantry with emergency supplies can be a benefit to someone.
Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.