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PostPosted: Thu Oct 19, 2017 2:11 am 

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So I have spent much of the past month or so helping my grandmother-in-law empty out her house for sale, as she has moved into an assisted-living sort of place. One of the last rooms to be addressed was the utility room, a block addition off of the family room which I had always avoided because, well, it smelled like farts. Bad farts... the sort of farts you try to hold in until you're near two or more coworkers(or is that just me?). This past weekend, I found out why the place smelled like feeding time at Sea World: my late grandfather-in-law's preps.

A bit of background here; my wife comes from a LDS(Mormon) family, which religion you probably know strongly encourages its members to live practically and to practice - for various reasons - a form of general preparedness. My grandfather-in-law was also involved with Strategic Air Command during the 'fifties, so that tells you a bit about his general frame of mind. A man who helped build early-warning RADAR bases in Alaska and Greenland(IIRC) would probably be more than a little bit concerned with and educated on the possibility of conventional and/or nuclear war. After he left the military, he went to university for engineering and ultimately became an insurance agent. It's safe to say he was a thinking man who would try to cover his bases and ensure his family's safety and security. He died in 2004.

Back to 2017: one of the first things we did after GMIL decided to move was to give away 56 - that's right, fifty-six - 5gal buckets of wheat to a local chicken farmer in exchange for lots of eggs(nice for us, we gave our hens to a friend this summer). I considered asking to keep a few, but we already have a few hundred pounds of the stuff and don't use it enough(more on that later) and I wasn't entirely convinced with its storage conditions(more on that later too). These were good quality buckets with gasket lids, but the wheat itself had been tinned in the 'seventies, stored under conditions unknown to me, and then repacked in the buckets sometime in the 'nineties. The buckets had spent the past twenty years in an aluminum shed under the Arizona sun. Maybe it'd be okay, but maybe not. I don't need questionable food preps cluttering up my already-cluttered place; I let it go.

I didn't know that I'd wind up finding more... imagine my surprise when my mother-in-law asked me to go move a particularly heavy box she couldn't budge, and I found that it wasn't actually terribly heavy, but rather was stuck fast to the shelf by honey which had somehow leaked from the four enclosed gallon jars and dried over the thirty-plus years since. There were four unmarked jars in a box marked "salad dressing". These probably had actually contained salad dressing before they were filled with honey and covered(with plastic food wrap as a gasket). I'm told that honey doesn't go bad, but... ick, man. No thanks.

We cleared off that shelf, and underneath it were another eight or so unmarked 5gal buckets(some heavy, some not, some noisy, some not...), an old-school ammo box(a "GUIDED MISSILE CONTAINER MK 34 MOD 0" to be precise) which I learned contained a first-aid kit, and four big tins. My curiosity was piqued, so I took them all outside and went to town(with permission).

There was also a box of a dozen or so iodized salt canisters. I chose to toss them. Some of the cardboard cylinders showed water damage, and salt is another one of those things that's cheap enough to just replace. I don't actually know how old these were, but Smitty's hasn't existed since the 'nineties, and I believe that logo puts them somewhere in the 'eighties at best.

Next, the honey. That's right, the gallon jars were just the beginning. I cracked open one of the five-gallon buckets(with a wood saw, because the bucket-opening tool wasn't terrifically good for opening buckets) and was shocked to find about four inches of HONEY at the bottom(and a smear of the stuff on the underside of the lid). I have no idea why there was so little in the bucket... I guess they had sealed it that way, or maybe had opened it up at one point and resealed with a new lid(the "BREAK HERE" tabs were unharmed). I later found another bucket, completely full of honey. Still smelled alright and had the viscosity you'd expect of honey. Chucked it.

I was getting good at opening those buckets without a tool(or, without the proper tool anyway)... the next one contained some seriously sketchy-looking proto-food packets from a company - "Royal American" - which no longer exists(a moderately thorough web search turned up a single reference to said company, in a work entitled "History of Meat Alternatives", sounds like a positively engrossing read). While I dug around, my wife went and asked her grandma about the stuff: apparently they had spent five grand to buy into some MLM arrangement for these things. I didn't ask how good an investment it turned out to be. I wish the buckets had been better packed, I'd have thrown a "meal" down just for the experience... maybe the "Pizza" one. Some had moisture damage; that was the ultimate source of the fart smell which had taken over the room. I opened up one of the Stroganoff "style" meal packets before my MIL realised what I was doing, she gagged when it hit her :D damned if the stuff didn't look like really dry potting soil(did not photograph that one). There were three buckets full of this shit, and precious little variety:
"Pizza Dinner", "Stroganoff Style Dinner", "Sweet 'nSour Dinner", "Italian Style Dinner", "Mexican Style Dinner", "American Gold" instant tofu "high-protein mix", and "Raspberry Tofu Mousse" for dessert.

I peeled one of the "Sweet 'nSour" pouches and found it less repellent than the Stroganoff("style"), so who knows... but I had more important things to be doing.

Date code shows these things are just under a year younger than me.

After the treat of a peek into the world of early-'eighties fad food preps, the rest was a total letdown. I thought the tins of wheat("Colorado Wheat 1974") were pretty neat to look at, but who knows what sort of gnarly coating they might have had, and anyway the lids were just coarsely-threaded caps with some thin foam as a gasket. I was not interested, and indeed wasn't sure about sending them off to the chicken farmer - we ultimately did drop them off at his place, with the understanding that he'd make up his own mind once he saw the packaging himself. I wonder what he decided to do with it... I know my chickens knew better than to eat bad food, maybe they turned up their beaks at it.


The last two buckets were each ~80% full of pinto beans, plus a little bonus protein in the form of insect husks, yum. I dumped them. Didn't bother to photograph them particularly.

Here's where it all went.

My little daughter loved the "rain" when I kicked the side of the barrel and the beans cascaded downwards.

Just for added perspective, I pulled all of the buckets from the recycle bin and set them out. So much waste here.

I was surprised to find no rice; GMIL explained that nobody in their family liked to eat rice, so they didn't set aside any.
I was slightly surprised and saddened to find no ammunition or gun paraphernalia: Grandfather-in-law had owned a Walther PPK during the time these were packed, and I'd have been gratified to find an old box of .32ACP or anything else he might've packed away. GMIL likes my P-64 because it reminds her of "Wally"(they named their cars and evidently the pistol as well).

What's the lesson? None of this had to be wasted. Serious money was spent on all of this food, and NONE of it went to the family who bought it for their own preservation. Why did it shake out this way? Lots of reasons:

Much of the food appeared unappetizing.
None of the buckets were marked.
None of the food(aside from the beans) was a part of their regular diet.
It was all(aside from the salt) in containers of size impractical for use in normal times.
It wasn't stored with any evident attention to longevity.
It was a major pain in the ass to get to.
It was very likely forgotten by anyone who might have had the ability to use it.

No wonder it all had to go into the trash.

What could've been done differently?

Well, the salt could've been rotated easily enough with regular use. It was in the same containers we all buy for a buck to fill up our table salt shakers, they could've just pulled one out of the box and bought a replacement - if the box was easy enough to get to.
The honey was almost guaranteed to be useless. Who's going to crack open a fifty-pound bucket of the stuff? The gallon jars, maybe, but even that's an awful lot of honey to go through.
The beans were just a big waste. I'm told there were many years during which the family ate beans at least three times every week because beans were cheap, but these were in big sealed buckets, stuffed way in a corner of a dark room. They probably could've rotated the beans in a year without trying too hard, but they never bothered.
The wheat wasn't part of the family's regular diet. They didn't grind their own flour or crack their own grain, although I did find(this evening, nearly a week later) a decent-looking handcrank grain mill. We have one of those - a Wondermill Jr. - and it is a stone bitch to turn. I picture spending more calories cracking the grain than would be recovered by eating the grain... in any case, they never used the stuff so it was purely a last-ditch thing or barter item.
The FAK contents were seriously outdated, such that I saw anyway. Some of the bandages might have been worth using, but again the thing was buried so deep that I'm sure nobody even saw the thing, let alone had the thought of renewing it.
The expensive almost-food packets could have been eaten now and then just for the sake of getting familiar with them(should the need ever arise), but that's not really their purpose. They should have been packaged much more carefully with some attempt at moisture mitigation.

To sum it all up, this is just a big lesson - free to you, at someone else's expense - in rotation and sensible preparation. Store what you eat, eat what you store, and above all be practical.

Take care, everybody. Thanks for coming along with me. This has been a fun experience to write up and share.

- Ben

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 19, 2017 6:14 am 
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Interesting. Thanks.

It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 19, 2017 10:17 am 
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Wow! Great Post!

Thanks for sharing.

That is a great perspective on rotation.

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 19, 2017 3:32 pm 
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Sadly, this is not uncommon for the LDS types.

My (then future) wife lived in rural Utah. When we made dump runs (no collection in the little town) we would often find 100s of pounds (if not more) dumped - owing to the very much past due date.

Many of the cans were LDS labeled products. Just because someone is LDS does not make them smarter on food storage - and there are many companies in Utah that prey on new members by selling inferior food products (see Affiliate fraud in Utah).

Estate sales rarely have food items - mills, canning supplies and such are still common - but the food always seems to wind up at the dump.

Thanks for the detailed story, many photos and a description of what happen to 'purchase and forget' food packages.

Royal American Food Company - big on soy. Out of business....
( ... MO&f=false)

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Adventures in rice storage//Mod your Esbit for better stability

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