One of my other interests (besides food) is disaster preparedness. I'm a member of my local CERT team and have spent a fair amount of time thinking about how to protect myself and my family (and neighbors) in the event of a major emergency.
One of the big concerns in time of emergency is food, so I thought I'd share some info and observations on survival food.
One of the things people most often think of as "emergency food" is canned goods. Things like tuna, SPAM, beans, etc. are all things that will keep well are easy to store. They are also a pretty good food source, having plenty of protein to keep you going. The downside to cans is that they are both bulky and quite heavy. Many kinds of canned food are also less appealing cold, although tuna, SPAM, fruit and veggies can be eaten cold and aren't too bad. Cold chili or baked beans from a can will keep you alive, but not so tasty. On the other hand, cans stand up to some pretty wild methods of heating, potentially including open fire, or the ever handy engine block. I keep some canned food at home for cases where we might have no power/running water but don't have to evacuate. In the case that you have to leave your home for an emergency, you don't want to drag canned food with you.
There are lots of places now where the public can get hold of military MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat). They will keep for several years, and provide plenty of nutritional value. I've never actually eaten one, so I can't comment on their appeal. They are generally intended to be heated, and you can get water activated chemical MRE heaters that will bring them up to a reasonable temperature (in theory). One thing to keep in mind, though, is that they do have their full water content, so they are heavy. Not as heavy as cans, probably, but not light. A good thing to keep in your house for power outages, but again limited use for evacuations, unless you keep some in your car.
Several companies, including Mountain House and AlpineAire make freeze-dried meals for backpackers. They also cater to long term food storage buffs like survivalists and the LDS. Both companies sell products ranging from single service pouches (which will keep for 5 years or so) to #10 cans that will keep for 30+ years under the right storage conditions. I've had several of these meals while camping, and have nothing but good things to say about them. They are light, easy to transport, and really tasty. You can get vegetable or meat dishes, pastas, and even eggs and sausage for breakfast and some pretty good desserts. One thing to keep in mind is that you MUST have a way of boiling water. If you use these with cold water, you'd stay alive, but they would be VILE! If you have are setup for an emergency supply of water and a way to boil it, these meals make a great solution. The big cans make a perfect buy-and-forget solution. with 3-4 cans you can provide food for 4-5 people for 3-4 days, and it will keep for 30 years. Very handy. You can also buy them in pre-arranged packs for a week, month, year, etc. and get a pre-picked set of breakfast/lunch/dinner items that are designed for long term storage. So far, Mountain House's sweet and sour pork, and their eggs and bacon are my favorites. My son also really liked them. The blueberry cheese cake is an interesting experience also.
In just about any grocery store these days you can find a huge selection of energy bars. These are great for things like your "ready bag" or "disaster kit", since they provide a great source of calories, and most are vitamin-fortified. They are light, easy to carry, and many of them taste great (although there are also some pretty bad ones). If you are buying them for emergency food, don't get lo-carb ones. In the event of an emergency, you'll want those carbs to stay warm. Plus a higher percentage of the lo-carb ones taste gross. One thing to keep in mind is that these bars have a limited shelf life. If you keep some in your ready bag, remember to change them out every so often, or they'll go bad. However, there are a few companies, such as Mainstay, that make special energy bars for emergencies. They have a long shelf life (usually 5 years) and are packed to provide all your food for a three day period (for one person). I have a couple of these that I keep in my ready bag and my car just in case. I haven't cracked them open yet, so I can't comment on the taste. They are also Kosher, Halal, and vegetarian, so just about anyone can eat them if you have to share. One of the big benefits of the energy bars is that they are pretty light, and don't require any water or heat.
You'll also need a supply of emergency water in case your home water supply is compromised, but that'll have to wait for another post...