Ask any experienced prepper if they like industrial canned foods (as compared to foods we can ourselves) and you’ll get three different answers. Some swear by them. Others hate them. Most are somewhere in between. I’m a big fan of them for a very particular type of prepper, the “Late Prepper” who isn’t too picky.
My wife cannot stand canned foods. The only thing she’ll occasionally eat is chicken noodle soup, and then usually only to draw on a memory from her childhood. But if the crap hits the fan and we’re forced into a bug-in situation for an extended period of time, she’ll be diving into the Vienna sausages like the rest of us.
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Let’s look at the positives and negatives of industrial canned foods for prepping, followed by my reason for recommending them.
Let’s start with the downsides so those who are considering canned foods as a primary method of filling their prepper pantry can know before they get too packed. These are general attributes, but obviously canned asparagus is going to be very different from canned spaghetti.
- Too heavy for bugging out: If you need to fill a bugout bag or your trunk, canned foods tend to weigh more than just about any other option. Most are packed with liquids, making them dense. Freeze dried food of the same volume will weigh far less, which is fantastic unless you’re low on water.
- Either flavorless or too salty: Most of the soups, pastas, meats, and even some of the vegetables that are canned are loaded with salt. Most canned fruits are loaded with added sugar. Those that are not too salty or sweet taste like pale clones of their original form. I’ve had two canned foods in my life that were not too salty but still had flavor, and both were expensive Wolfgang Puck brand soups.
- Usually ultra-processed and therefore horrible for you: If you’re not already familiar with the dangers of eating ultra-processed foods, now’s the time to do so. They’re awful for you.
- Mediocre at best for nutrition: Read the labels of every canned food you’re considering buying. In fact, you should read the label of every food you’re considering, period. It’s a best practice to have a prepper nutrition plan for if you’re stuck bugging in for a long time, which may include supplements or other options. But if all you’re eating is canned foods, at some point you may face malnutrition challenges.
- Unpredictable shelf-life: Most canned foods have a two year “best by” date. Experts say you can eat most canned foods three to five years after they’re sealed. Planning for a very long bugging in scenario can be hard with canned foods. As a best practice, always examine a can that is old, then examine the food itself before consuming it.
If you are still reading and didn’t get turned off by all the negatives of industrial canned foods, then you’re still considering it. That’s good. Here are the reasons to do so…
- Relatively inexpensive: On a per-meal basis, canned foods are relatively inexpensive. They’re not as cheap as beans and rice, but since they can be bought in small or large batches it makes stocking up over time less stressful on the pocketbook. A can of Campbell’s soup at Walmart is around a buck-fifty right now. That’s not the best bang for the buck but it’s far from the worst. You can get 5-20 cans of soup for the same price as a single Meal-Ready-To-Eat (MRE).
- Wide variety: The biggest complaint that people don’t realize they’ll have until it’s too late is variety during the apocalypse. I heard last year how Joe Rogan had stocked up on tons of beans and rice. For some, eating the same thing every day for months or years seems acceptable… until they’re actually stuck doing it. I am a huge fan of beans and rice as they form a complete protein when eaten together and they’re still (currently) very inexpensive, but I would strongly recommend adding variety to the mix. This is where canned foods come in.
- Lots of calories: What many consider a negative in modern society will actually be a benefit should society collapse. Calories are extremely important in any long-term emergency situation and canned foods generally have lots of them.
- Easy to use and rotate today: As much as I hate eating anything unhealthy, I hate waste as well. As I mentioned, my wife won’t eat canned foods which means most of them are taken down to the local soup kitchen when they’re approaching their “best by” date, then replenished in the pantry.
The Biggest Reason I Recommend Canned Foods
The reason I’m so stocked up that my family could eat nothing but canned foods for a year if necessary is because I love the fact that they require nothing but a can opener. The food is already cooked. You don’t generally need to add water or anything else. In a pinch, you can go from starving to eating in a matter of seconds, which isn’t true for rice, beans, freeze dried, or frozen foods.
And if things get REALLY bad to the point that there are no utilities and no easy access to water, many cans have water in them to store the food. As unappetizing as it may sound to survive on nasty canned green bean water for a little while, it’s better than dehydration.
Some will rightly argue that most canned foods have so much salt that it counteracts the benefits of the liquid. They’ll be mostly right in this regard. This is why we check labels. Don’t just fill up you can area with Vienna sausages and soups. Make sure you have some fruits and vegetables in there as well.
To be extremely clear, I’m not recommending canned foods as the ideal. The ideal would be to grow your own food, then can or freeze dry the surplus. Those who are already in a proper preparedness system may not have any industrial canned foods at all in their pantry, and that’s fantastic! But for most of us, it’s just more practical to keep a bunch of cans ready to go since we don’t have a big garden and chicken coop in our back yards.
I’m sure there will be comments saying I’m crazy for embracing industrial canned foods. If I had been properly preparing for years or if I had tons of money to build a better system, I would. But since I’m a “Late Prepper” like so many others, my extensive research tells me it’s practical to have canned foods as part of my preparedness plan.
And no, neither Campbell’s nor Chef Boyardee are sponsors.