How long can your food pantry last?

Welcome to the Armageddon Pantry Challenge. It’s going to be more fun than it sounds, I promise.

Starting March 1, our house will only be eating from our existing pantry and freezer, and the purpose is threefold: To see how long we can last on our existing food storage, to determine how creative I can be with that hodgepodge of wares, and to see if my husband will leave me for a pizzeria.

The idea for the challenge came to me after Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast last year. My friends the Groveses live in Levittown, Pa., and not only endured the storm, but dealt with the aftermath.

Their power was out for nearly a week and they treated it like fancy camping, by cooking over a fire in the backyard and eating all their perishables first.

The five members of their family ate pretty well during that time, because my friend Megan Groves is such a creative cook and they had some extra food stashed away.

Many of the grocery stores in the area were either picked clean or closed. While their neighbors waited for hours in line for coffee at the gas station, they made dinner in the backyard.

I asked Megan last week how long she thought they could have lasted on their food storage if the storm lasted longer.

“I think we could have made it several weeks but it wouldn’t have been pretty,” she said, taking into account the fact that they had their freezer hooked up to a generator and plenty of pasta, beans and canned goods.

She has a fairly well-stocked pantry and preserves her own food by canning in the summer. They also had a small coop of chickens, so she could count on five or six eggs per day for some additional protein.

“I figured, if worse came to worst, we could eat the chickens and jam and we’d write our last will and testament with quill pens we made from the chicken feathers,” she said.

Luckily, it never came to that.

After hearing how the Groves family fared during the storm, I wondered how long we could last, if something happened tomorrow and we only had our food storage to live on.

How hard could this be? We would still have running water and electricity. I know how to cook. It could get interesting, but not impossible. The big joke at our house has always been that I preserve enough food to survive a nuclear winter. How long would our stockpile hold out?

I asked Megan how long she thought we’d last. She guessed five weeks, maximum.

I told her there’s no specified end date to this experiment. I guess we’ll just do it until we can’t anymore.

My husband and I went over the ground rules. “This is going on for how long?” he asked.

“Until we run out of food,” I said.

“Oh God. You have to stop writing this column so I’m not subjected to any more of this,” he said. “When does this start? March 1? Good, I have time to go stock up on mayonnaise.”

It’s disappointing to see that some people are already cheating.

Since it’s the wrong time of year for a garden, and we really do need to eat vegetables, I’m making an exception for us to purchase produce, but only if it’s not something I have already canned or frozen.

This means we could buy something such as lettuce for a salad. But, I can’t buy bottled dressing for the salad so it might have to be a dry salad if we don’t have oil and vinegar.

My husband’s request is to exclude dairy from the challenge too, so we can buy milk. I realize that this is kind of cheating, but I assure you, we won’t survive for days on cheese and lettuce and skew the results.

In the interest of being completely transparent, I’m also going to keep track of the number of times we eat outside the home during the challenge.

I don’t think we’ll go out to eat much, but I’m not going to forgo a lunch out with friends if I’m invited to a birthday or something. (Hear that, friends? I might need rescuing.)

If you have any suggestions or ideas, please share them with me, and I’ll be checking in with you soon to let you know how this grand experiment is going. Wish us luck.

Erin McIntyre is a writer, master gardener and owner of the gourmet pickle company, Yum Pickles. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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