One of the most popular posts I ever wrote at The Simple Green Frugal Co-op, or at least one that generated the most discussion, was this one about the reasons I keep a well stocked pantry. My definition of well stocked changes with circumstance - I had about six months worth of stores when I went on maternity leave in late 2008 and it saved us a fortune as food prices rose. It also made me feel nicely nested and meant that I didn't have to trawl around shops with a small baby.
The Guardian recently ran a series about 'Breadline Britain'. Food banks are on the rise in the UK after 4 years of rising unemployment and benefit cuts. As well as 'the working poor', the professional classes - teachers, nurses, middle management - are finding themselves with no cash flow and bare cupboards.
Now, I doubt that both of us would lose our jobs at the same time and at the moment we have modest savings to fall back on - but never say never. Nobody can say for sure where things are headed in the next few years; and so it is better to prepare as well as you can with the resources you have. So, it is time to stock up for autumn and winter and anything that might come our way. And as we buy food for our own cupboards, we will begin to buy a little extra for our food bank too. The Trussel Trust is one of the biggest food bank charities in the UK and there website will list your local bank, as well as ways to get involved.
But I think the best way we can support those support systems is to do everything we can not to have to fall back on them. Put as much distance between us and the need for a food bank voucher as possible. I know that there are people for whom this is too late, or who were never in a position to live anything other than hand to mouth. There are also lots of people in a position now to cushion themselves who think that that kind of thing doesn't happen to people like them. I have a suspicion that during this long recession, a lot of folk are going to surprised at just what can happen to folk like them.
I think the best cushion is actual food in the cupboard, because it is then also a cushion against food chain disruption and other causes of barren pantries. Our stocking up strategy follows a several pronged approach:
- Every few months, using a £10-£15 money off voucher that the supermarkets send out to lure us in, we do an online shop costing around £60 - £90 after deducting the voucher. This buys us cat food, coffee and tea, flour, pasta, pulses, grains,oils and fats and sometimes frozen fruit and veg. A well stocked cupboard to me is now about three months worth. That money creeps up, or stretches a shorter distance with every month that passes. Higher food prices might well be here to stay.
- In addition to this we frequent our local Chinese and Asian supermarkets for more unusual grains and pulses, tofu, spices and condiments. Most small cities and large towns now have such shops and they provide better value than the big four.
- If I see something on offer that I know we use frequently - say tinned tomatoes - we will buy a few months worth. I will take money from the savings account to do this, although technically £20 of our monthly food budget goes to restocking the pantry anyway.
- Finally, of course, we make sure we actually eat the food we buy and cook from the pantry and try to minimise our kitchen waste as much as possible. There is always a good meal to be made even if there is no fresh produce in the house, which really is better than money in the bank.
This week I will finally be getting to grips with meal planning. It is something I have never done, but cooking for a fussy preschooler on top of shift work is taking it out of us. Our kitchen waste has crept up. Planning isn't something I really like to do, being happy go lucky most of the time about most things, but this is something I am actually looking forward to, given the pay off in peace come supper time.