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4 Important Food Storage Lessons Learned Overseas

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I’ve seen the idea come up in conversations from time to time that acquiring food for long-term storage is pointless when you know you’re not going to live in any one place for very long. It’s a pain to lug it from house to house, and if you end up giving all that food away, you probably won’t have it long enough to need it, anyway. My perspective is a little different and comes from my experience with food storage overseas.

I see the logic in these arguments, of course, but I feel that food storage is one of those things that everyone should have, no matter the circumstances. The “I don’t think I’ll need it, anyway,” is not the best mindset to adopt, because the truth is that you never know when you will need your food storage.

image: black woman in pink top holding globe

My Experience with Food Storage Overseas

My family arrived in Saudi Arabia in 1984 when I was the only child and still a baby. When we left shortly before Desert Storm in 1990, I had a little brother and a baby sister. Six years is not a terribly long time, especially in food storage years. While we lived in the same town (Dhahran) in Saudi Arabia for the duration of our stay, we changed houses several times.

When local food is minimal

It probably was a pain to move all our stuff – including the food storage – so many times in such a short time. But Saudi Arabia did not have a significant agricultural economy at the time. Most food had to be imported from other countries – specifically, Holland.

Additionally, the war between Iran and Iraq had ended only a few short years before. My parents saw the wisdom in keeping some extra food on hand, and we ended up using it.

A forward-thinking pregnant woman prepares

The only milk available for purchase during our years in Saudi Arabia was boxed milk from Europe. This was specially heat treated so it could be stored for extended periods in liquid form at room temperature. Unfortunately, the treatment process gave the milk a slightly “off” taste, similar to what you get with reconstituted powdered milk. I hated the stuff. In fact, to this day it is the reason why I have difficulty choking down any kind of milk that is not flavored with chocolate or strawberries. This was, however, the only milk money could buy.

In the spring of 1986, my mom was pregnant with my brother and we were preparing for a trip to visit relatives in the United States. This was known as “repatriation,” or “repat,” for short. We were going to be gone for several weeks. My mom knew that the last thing she wanted to do after a 36-hour-long intercontinental journey was haul her pregnant self to the grocery store. She planned ahead and bought lots of extra milk so she wouldn’t have to bother with groceries when we returned to our home.

Thinking, as we all do when it comes to food storage, that “more is more,” she bought three cases, with sixteen liters per case.

And then Chernobyl…

While we were in the United States, Chernobyl happened. It devastated the area immediately surrounding the nuclear power plant. The radiation, though, contaminated a large portion of the food supply through much of Europe. This included the milk that was being shipped to Saudi Arabia. All our neighbors, many of whom had small children like our family, had to endure several weeks without milk. Needless to say, they found the experience challenging. When everyone else would get together to lament the milk-less state of things, my mom quietly didn’t mention her stash of milk. Her three cases lasted the family until Europe resumed shipments of milk to the Middle East.

The shelf-stable milk may not have been the tastiest, but my mom was smart. She thought about her circumstances, planed ahead, and then took steps to make sure we had what we needed.

As a point of interest, some years after this episode Saudi Arabia moved to develop its own dairy industry. This involved high-tech air-conditioned barns in which to house the cows, lest they perish from the intense desert heat.

When cookies help save (a corner of) the world

White sugar is exceedingly shelf-stable and you can keep it stored in your house for decades. White flour is a different story. It has a tendency to go rancid. Therefore, it’s not usually recommended that you store more white flour than you can reasonably consume in an 18-month period. That said, there are a few times when having more flour than you can possibly use is the very best outcome.

In the summer of 1990, mother traveled with the kids to attend a summer class at a university located near some extended family. My dad didn’t have a lot of paid time off, so he stayed in Dhahran to work and then planned to join us later in the summer. This was June/ July of 1990. If you remember recent history from that time frame, I bet you can see where this is going.

Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990 and the subsequent Operation Desert Storm put quite a wrench in our summer plans. And food shipments to the Middle East, once again, were disrupted.

At this same time, American soldiers stayed in the homes of the American expatriates. As is the True American Way, everyone wanted to give homemade cookies to the soldiers, but not everyone had ingredients with which to bake them. With no little kids running around to eat it up, there were plenty of ingredients at my house. Most of those supplies went to neighbors who used them to bake treats for military personnel.

Lessons Learned from Food Storage Overseas

I learned a lot about storing food while living overseas. Here are a few of the most important lessons I learned from food storage overseas.

1. Emergencies, natural disasters, and economic strife can’t be predicted.

My mom stocked up on milk for convenience, not in anticipation of any specific disaster. In the face of shortages, however, her forethought proved invaluable.

2. You can’t always anticipate exactly how your food storage will be used.

My parents didn’t have in mind other people using their flour and sugar. Those supplies benefited many more people than just one family. Although, we didn’t barter for other supplies, there could be circumstances where that might occur.

3. Plan and prepare to share.

It’s a universally acknowledged truth that you should keep your food storage quiet. However, there are also times where it is good to share. Note that this is not all the time. (See above)

4. It is always worth it to have food storage.

It’s always worth it even if you don’t think you have room for it, even if you don’t think you’ll use it. “Food storage” doesn’t necessarily mean a year’s worth, or even 3 or 6 month’s worth of food. Depending on your circumstances, just having several extra pounds of sugar, flour, seasonings, salt, rice, and beans might be enough to see you through unpredictable events.

My time living overseas has taught me invaluable lessons about the importance of food storage.

Have there ever been experiences in your family where you have used food storage in a way you did not expect?

Originally published 7/13/2015; updated and revised by Team Survival Mom.

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Beth Buck lives in Utah with her husband and three children. She has a degree in Middle Eastern Studies/ Arabic, a black belt in Karate, a spinning wheel, and a list of hobbies that is too long to list here.

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