Wasted food

bry84March 20, 2007

A recent study in the UK found that on average we throw away around 1/3rd of the food we buy. I know that people do throw away a lot of food, I've seen it myself, but I was shocked by the figures. Many of the people in the study were too, they just didn't realise how much it added up to.

Thankfully, I have never thrown away large amounts of food. On a budget of 25 a week it just isn't an option. I do a lot of things to avoid throwing away food, but I'm wondering what everyone else does?

I've found that buying certain items frozen, dried or pickled helps a lot. It can also work out cheaper per kg as well. I also make meal plans for the week so I buy exactly what I need and nothing more.

They also said to watch out for the buy one get one free offers as they seem to encourage excessive buying and eventual waste. I tend to do well with these offers however, but often I'll eat extra of that item for the week or freeze one. It's not a bad idea to go shopping with a friend either, makes it more fun and you can split larger (cheaper per kg) quantities between you as well.

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I also absolutely hate throwing out food. Rarely do. I'm fortunate that I have lots of grocers nearby (two in walking distance), so I can shop frequently. I buy fresh for just a few days at a time and stay aware of what I have on hand. I scratch cook daily, and what I have to use up will drive what I choose to make for supper. I very rarely freeze things, except for bulk soups, casseroles, etc. (And those are the most likely things to get tossed when I find them a year later!)

I guess for me factors are that I don't want to throw out good food, so I prioritize using what I have. But to live out that that basic committment, it seems necessary to 1)cook daily (rather than go out), 2)not accumulate more than I can use, 3)have a broad range of 'recipes' - or ways to use up pretty much any foods, and 4) have trained my consumers to believe it all tastes great!

I'm guessing those that toss out food regularly may not have those 4 elements in place.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2007 at 12:30PM
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I cleaned out my freezer recently and sadly parted with frozen hunks of "I wonder what that was a year ago". To minimize this, I put a magnetic pad on the front of the freezer for inventory and have done a better job of marking food. Now, I hope that when I see "4 pork chops" on the list on the front that I'll remember to use them in a timely fashion.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2007 at 12:44PM
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Fruit seems to go bad quickly. I often try to make fruit salads so that the fruit is washed and "ready to eat".

I generally don't have problem with the buy one get one free stuff either. If it's an item that I do use, buying two of them is usually not a problem for me.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2007 at 2:07PM
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Two things helped me: First, I stopped stocking my freezer. Too much got lost an freezerburned, especially because I hate having to thaw frozen meat before cooking.

Replacing my tupperware-type stuff with sealable pyrex containers also helped a lot because you can see into them. No more moldy surprises! The pyrex is not expensive, and may be better for your health than the plastic anyway.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2007 at 5:09PM
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Wasted food is what I have often called "good intentions". Meal planning, as already mentioned, is a great way to help limit "good intentions".

Freeze & Dehydrate -
Too many mushrooms in the container to easily use? I just dehydrate them. I like to get sweet peppers from Aldi's (3-pak with green/yellow/red peppers in each pak) and will use them fresh, then either freeze or dehydrate the remainder. Nearly all fresh fruits and vegetables can be frozen or dehydrated.

I'd say a lot of waste comes from unused fresh foods. You purchase a green pepper for a recipe, and only need 1/2 c. of it and forget you have the remainder (I'd freeze it or dehydrate it). When you only need a small amount for a recipe, take advantage of the salad bars at the grocery store. Only need a few mushrooms, peppers, chopped green onions, etc.? Then purchased the needed amount at the salad bar. Especially in the winter when many of these items are rather expensive, they are less expensive purchased from the salad bar. If you make pizza at home, getting your toppings at the salad bar will give you a huge selection, without a large surplus of veggies.

Portion and Organize -
I divide foods in my refrigerator freezer into small baskets, which helps me keep track of them easier. Each basket contains a different type of food - fruit, veggies, meat, soup, casseroles, breads, etc. Using a FoodSaver vacuum sealer helps keeps foods for longer periods of time without risk of freezer burn.

Stored Foods -
In the original post, bry84 mentions, "...watch out for the buy one get one free offers as they seem to encourage excessive buying and eventual waste". I'd have to challenge that statement, at least for myself.

I have 6-months of food in storage, and a years worth of basics (grains, sweetener, fat, salt, and dried milk). So buy one and get one free CAN be a good deal, but not always. I keep a purchasing notebook where I log the price of my commonly purchased items (store, unit price, size, etc.). I'll check to see if the unit price is a good investment - even buy one, get one free - to see if it IS a bargain. Sometimes the better bargain is the small size of things, if you check the unit price.

When you have this much food in storage, you learn how to rotate food, and plan meals accordingly. In my purchasing notebook, I also keep my inventory information. If peanut butter is on sale this week, I'll check my book, see if the price is a "bargain", and check how many jars of peanut butter I already have in storage. I do this on a $50(US) a week food budget. The bottom line for food savings is to limit your purchasing amount to begin with.

What I tend to stay away from are JUMBO-size products (unless I can divide them into smaller, user-friendly packets). If you have a large family of hungry kids who goes through a huge jar of jam in no time, then you probably benefit from buying such things. But when there are only two of us at home, we don't use 2-3 small jars of jam a year, so I only purchase small amounts, even though they may be more expensive. Nothing like looking at that jumbo-size jar that is starting to look rather "worn out" towards the bottom of the jar, and we're entirely sick of grape jam...

I know people who throw out leftovers, rather than learn to make other meals from them. That's really a sad waste of food and money.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2007 at 5:23PM
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cathleen ni houlihan,

When I buy three items of an item, e.g. frozen peas to freeze, and have two in the freezer already, before I put the new items into the freezer, I write date on pkg. with MagicMaker.

I have a sheet listing all of the contents on the front/top of the freezer by magnetic pads, or nearby clipped to a board of piece of cardboard, plus pencil/pen on a string.

I look up "peas", then beside the listing of "peas", often including size, find six small boxes to the right of it, with date of purchase written above the various boxes. Four of the boxes at the left of the string have dates written in them, indicating the dates that those packages were used. There are two empty boxes, with a fairly recent date written above them, indicatingthe packages that I have on hand. I add two small boxes to the right of the half dozen there, writing the date of purchase above them.

The sheet shows me what stuff is in there. A while ago I made a map of the freezer, with location of which/each type of product listed on the map.


ole joyful

    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 5:25AM
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I still try and use up all the "bits and pieces" in the fridge...the one uneaten porkchop, the bit of onion...I do stir fries, casseroles, quiche, salads, anything to use up those bits we seem to accumulate. As I've said before some has been successful and others not so successful but all was edible and made another meal or part of one. Sometimes my leftovers taste better than the first time it was served. My niece tells everyone her cheap aunt can make a meal out of "nothing" (her nothing I might add). So there is no "wasted food" around here if I can help it.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 4:33PM
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I just cleaned out my veggie crisper and found alot of them were close to going bad, so I made it all into vegetable stock.

Whenever I chop veggies for salad or a side dish, I keep all the bits and ends in a ziploc bag in the freezer. Everything from onion skins, asparagus ends, celery tops, carrot peelings to beet greens. Everything goes in the ziploc bag in the freezer.

Then, I clean out my crisper, chop everything up and toss into a big stock pot filled with water, including all the stuff I saved in the freezer. The onion skins give a great colour to the stock. There's also no fat or bones to skim out.

Once it has simmered for a few hours, I leave it cool overnight and strain. Then I divide into double ziploc bags and put into freezer. No more buying expensive beef or chicken stock from the store.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 3:37AM
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Chemocurl zn5b/6a Indiana

I'm sorry to say that there is some waste of 'people' food here at my house.

Considering what it is, it might go to the dogs, (meat, dairy, cooked food), compost (veggies), or the birds (bread, crackers).

Very little is ever totally wasted....if it is, you can't even tell what it might have been in its former life...lol

Sue...who should also 'map' her freezer and who is gonna try and do better

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 11:56AM
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If it were just me living here, there would probably be very little waste. With kids and a picky dh, it's hard. We don't eat leftover food that is over three days old. My schedule doesn't always allow me to eat the last nights leftovers. For instance, my kids who wouldn't eat the leftovers suddenly decide they are the best food available if I take them to the park. Then I'm left to eat plain lunch meat sandwiches or something else I had tailored to their preferences. I do better if I tailor my sandwich to what I want so I'm not eating theirs.

DH grew up in a Southern household. I did not. Just like I don't care for Southern food, he doesn't always care for my favorite styles of food. He may eat a single serving of what I prepare at supper and I end up with more food than I can eat. I try to cook foods that both of us like, but that usually ends up being very fattening because DH's favorite dishes usually aren't very healthy. We never order the same meals in resturants either because we have different tastes. I've started steering towards more simple meals where I can use the leftovers in a second dish.

I think leftovers or unplanned meals is our biggest source of waste. Other stuff doesn't usually get wasted.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 12:58PM
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I'm lucky that DH loves to bring leftovers to work. When I met him, he was pretty picky and not very adventurous food-wise...glad that changed, even if it did take a while:) As he's gotten older, all I have to do is tell him it's healthy to get him to try something....I do my best to plan menus according to what needs to get used first, too. I also like to cook "produce bin soup" I take a sausage or two from the freezer, add in the odds and ends from the produce bin that need to get used, plus beans/legumes/pasta/rice, maybe a can of tomatoes, add in some of the aromatics I always keep on hand and some herbs. It forces me to be creative with what's on hand and uses up cheaper pantry staples. It (usually:) turns into a tasty, healthful and inexpensive meal.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2007 at 11:34AM
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Trouble is ...

... I seem to have stuff in dishes in the fridge, with a bread bag over the dish to keep it from dehydrating ...

... that seem to develop this furry covering, after a while.

Think that I could put it on a wound, then bandage, assuming that it may contain some penicillin?

It does seem to be a shame to not get at least some mileage out of it, apart from just compost.

Nice warm day here - the limo canine loved being out for an hour. I think that her nose must have got tired out, after such a workout!

As it rained yesterday and last night, and our dug-up yard (installing an electrical line) is a muddy mess, I've taken to cleaning her feet on her return to the back door.

Being as her body's so low-slung, she pretty near needs a wash on the keel, as well.

Daughter's coming to town tomorrow - we're going out for supper - and the female canine is homeward bound.

Hope you're having a lovely day.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   March 27, 2007 at 3:54AM
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... I seem to have stuff in dishes in the fridge, with a bread bag over the dish to keep it from dehydrating ...

... that seem to develop this furry covering, after a while.

My experience with such "science projects" is that they take lots longer if you store in airtight containers -- leftover margarine or deli-takeout containers, dollar-store plastic jobbies, etc. :-) A dish with a loose covering is a figurative "honeypot".

    Bookmark   March 28, 2007 at 9:11AM
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More people around is a double edged thing - more tastes to accommodate but more opportunity for cheaper bulk purchases. I agree with some of the other observations that buying too much on special is a recipe for wasted food. After you eat a meal you shouldn't feel overly full. Having more bulk purchases on hand means greater willpower is required to make them truly economical and not have them turn into an overeating problem.

It is important to consider the lifespan of the more perishable foods you purchase. Nobody is going to get this perfect - the flipside of never having anything spoil is running into shortages from time to time, when it isn't convenient to go out and buy something you need right away. Saving money is important but the goal I strive for is living well. Having food spoil and buying items you don't use, or paying more for an item you could have gotten more cheaply elsewhere isn't living well. Neither is buying poorer quality food because it happens to be more cheaply priced.

It takes a while to fine tune your formula. If you look on it as a tedious chore I don't think you will succeed as well as if you make something enjoyable out of it. If you keep an exact count of each monthly bill and compare periods it can be fun to see how much you can pare things down. Then you can reward yourself occasionally for your success.

I think the design of the typical refrigerator contributes a lot to waste. When you have things stacked on each shelf from front to back the stuff that gets pushed towards the back is just going to be forgot about and spoil more. If every shelf was shallower but wider I'll bet that big spoilage statistic would go down a lot. Also the non-defrosting fridges use a lot less energy and really aren't that difficult to keep defrosted. A more moderatley sized fridge also means less food on hand (to spoil and test shaky willpower).

    Bookmark   March 31, 2007 at 4:02PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

We have our share of waste but I have found that it's less if I store all leftovers and small things on a plate covered with plastic wrap. That way I can immediately see what's in the refigerator. I remove the plastic wrap before reheating and cover with another plate.

I try not to beat myself up about it...I used to cook all chicken carcasses and make stock for the freezer but I rarely use stock, and never frozen stock so that was a waste of time and electricity.

I have come to realize that I like mostly fresh food so I don't stock the freezer with things that I know I'll never use; frozen vegetables and casseroles.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2007 at 6:56PM
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My biggest vice was buying vegetables and then forgetting to cook them, so I have been learning how to make pasta sauces entirely from fresh vegetables (gosh, they're easy and SO good!) and also how to make veggie grill packets. The packets are fantastic. I can cook a ton of veggies all at once, eat some as a side with the other grilled foods, and then use the leftovers in soups or over pasta.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2007 at 10:07PM
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Grainlady - I am curious. Is there a reason you keep six months worth of food in the freezer and one year's worth of food in the pantry?

    Bookmark   April 3, 2007 at 11:10PM
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mirren - Stocked food can be a lifesaver - everyone can experience an emergency at any time and for any number of reasons.

If you've ever been in a family that had a loss of income, say from a job layoff or a medical emergency, then you would reap the benefits from having food on hand when the money got tight. Both of these things have happened to me.

Here in Kansas you never know when you'll get hit with a winter storm (or other weather-related disaster) and be without electricity for a prolonged period of time. That happened this year when a snow storm left western Kansas (and other states) covered in snow for months. People had to live off what they had in their homes for several weeks, especially those in isolated areas.

Much of the food I have in storage I purchase once or twice a year in bulk amounts, which is usually cheaper. I can purchase 25-pounds of oatmeal from the food coop for the same price as a large box of Quaker Oats (which is not quite 3-pounds). So I actually save money by purchasing in bulk.

I'm not into doomsday theories, but should a man-made disaster happen (think Iran), those of us with stored food, grains, milk, fat, sweeteners, etc., and seeds (for growing food), would certainly fare much better than my former neighbor who went to the grocery store everyday and had very little food in her cabinets. She didn't like the clutter.

I'm not a Mormon, but they have always practiced self-sufficient living, and I've read their personal stories of how their stored foods came in very handy during an emergency situation.

If you've ever read any stories about England during WWII, you find food shortages lasted until the 1950's. In a time of shortages, what food/s would you miss most?


    Bookmark   April 4, 2007 at 7:01AM
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I hate to admit it, but last week I cleaned out my refrigerator. I threw out so much old food, moldy salsa, a moldy cheesecake, foggy jar of pickles,super limp lettuce, about 30 pounds of stuff I paid good money for. I hated dumping it out, but I know it was all spoiled. We had ham on Easter, instead of shoving it to the back of the fridge,I froze it, so at least I didn't have to throw it out. Yet.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2007 at 10:38AM
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I don't feel so bad if I dig old food into the garden or put scraps into my worm box.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2007 at 5:11PM
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What can help you remember is to keep a tally of the actual money that you are throwing in the garbage. You try to save here and there by using coupons and then blow it all by buying too much at one time and tossing it.

That is how the stores such as Costco and Sam's Club succeed here in the US. First you pay for the privilage
of shopping at their stores by purchasing a yearly membership card. Then they tempt you into buying more than you need by buying in bulk. Most people end up tossing out restaurant size containers of items they normally wouldn't purchase, but they were caught up in the "savings" frenzy.

Just open your wallet and peel out a couple hundred dollars and toss it into your fireplace. Same thing.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2007 at 11:27PM
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I've always been so horrible about this in the past. I've found since we bought a large fridge like so many other folks do these days, I also waste much more. Recently I've started shopping more often since I have to head the few miles into town two or three times a week anyway, and I've wasted so much less. My fridge looks pretty empty, but now I can see everything. I think lack of visibility from all the food also caused me to buy more. If I have more than one veg (or fruit) on hand I just don't buy those until next time. I have to totally disagree on the previous posters Costco comment. We do buy plenty of meat at Costco every few weeks. I just can't get the same quality locally and we use that up very quickly. I do worry a little about emergencies, but I've been researching trying to grow veg in pots by my windows. I haven't started that project yet so I can't report on that.

    Bookmark   December 25, 2007 at 4:33PM
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One of the biggest things I did to cut down on waste was to unplug my freezer. I'd buy things and never use them. And for a single person to need more than just the freezer on the frig is rare. I do need to clean out the frig and freezer both but I'm making dramatic improvements. I wasn't cooking at home much for a stretch of time. Wasn't eating right to start with (even for me!) and just not feeling well enough to stand and cook. So I started buying a few convenience foods to work my way back into cooking and it's gotten better. Been enjoying a lot of eggs lately! Even with the price that I complained about.

Making a list helps a lot too. When I get home from the store and put the stuff away, I make a list of the perishibles I have purchase adding to a running list that I modify as I use up and it gives me ideas and reminders that, hey I have some chili in the freezer to use, or I have a lot of bacon right now, or I have whatever meat. Sometimes the biggest frustration can be deciding what to make! This way it gives me ideas.

I also started to log my meals to see what I've been having. Check my eating patterns a bit. Had a number of times I just plain didn't eat all day. Put it off, was tired, whatever the reason, just didn't, and I know that I can skip a meal or two and not suffer that much but I know that I should be having some nutrition going through the body.

I despise going to the grocery store. I'm seeing that coupons often contribute to a lot of waste, with buying things "because I had a coupon" and not using it, or liking it or whatever. Now, buy being more organized, using my checklist for commonly purchased stuff as a reminder, checking ads for TRUE sales, not just that markup/markdown scam and buy less at a time and a little more often. Less frustration, less money spent, less money wasted from less waste and less money spent overall I think. I do buy some better quality things now, and of course there's the price increases, but my grocery budget is still within reason I think.

I got caught up in keeping too large a pantry supply. I'm whittling that down. Still keep some soup, canned vegs, pasta, rice, etc around so if there's a snowstorm, well I can usually get out anyway but I don't have to either. Plus when I get the right prices I do save this way. I do try to having something around that's simple, just in case I do get sick or if I'm extremely tired or whatever. Whether it's some summer sausage and cheese to snack on, can of soup or whatever.

The other way I'm improving is to buy more appropriate sizes and then prepare for few if any leftovers. No waste that way, or at least minimal. Problem is that it's tough to make a small batch of good chili! If I had a garden, and prepared everything from scratch with no canned items, it would be different.

Now for some frustration.... I wish more people would buy the small sizes of canned veggies so they could sell them at a reasonable price! The way it is, the little "single serving" size costs 50¢/can and the conventional size is on sale for 30¢! So even if I throw away half of it, I still save money buying the bigger size. I realize the packaging and shipping cost roughly the same for each so I understand why they're priced that way... but it's still frustrating.

I have some baskets I'm going to try in the refrigerator to see if it helps for organization. Still have no ideas on how to organize the freezer on my top-freezer frig. I'm thinking some dishpans or heavy clear totes that will stack would help keep things from falling out as I open the door and let me see better what's in there or what I need. And it'd give me a chance to clean it out, wash it out and start fresh. I had to throw a bunch of stuff when we had a power outage a while back but I think there's still a lot that should be tossed.

But at least it's not as bad as when I had the freezer going... Ah, the stuff freezing into the frost buildup. Don't miss it though!

    Bookmark   December 26, 2007 at 1:58AM
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Frozen vegetables can be less wasteful than canned or fresh as they keep a long time and you can use as little or as much as you want. I also find them cheaper per Kg and the packaging to be much less. Some people don't like them as much as fresh or canned, but I have found that they have to be cooked differently. I boil the water before adding them to the pan, which makes a big difference to their texture. They also cook a lot faster, which is a good thing, but can result in over cooking. Fresh cauliflower can take 20 minutes to cook, while frozen just 6 or 7 minutes.

As I often eat alone, I regularly make several servings and freeze the extra as it saves time and effort. Some days I just don't have time to make something, so it's good to have ready-made food to put in the oven.

We have many packets of dried, canned and frozen things, so I decided last week to not buy anything and eat what we have in the cupboards. I did buy some milk and rolls, but that was all. We consumed lots of things we needed to use up, so I'm planning another buy nothing week to clear out the kitchen some more.

Our fridge is old and small, but really it's more than big enough. Food is abundant here, there are multiple local stores full of it, so we only need to store as much as we eat in a week. The modern fridges are huge, excessively big actually, and yet the average family size has reduced in recent years. I now check the use by dates on everything in the fridge every morning and try to use the items nearest to expiring the soonest. It's easier to keep track of everything when you have a smaller fridge.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2007 at 11:37AM
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I usually don't bother sticking small amounts of leftover veggies in the fridge- instead I put them in a qt. sized plastic container (with a tight fitting seal) in the freezer, adding each days leftovers to it when doing dinner cleanup. I also check the crisper drawer to see if celery ribs, onion, cabbage may be too limp in a day or so, I add those too. Once full, I make soup by adding potatoes & tomatoes.

Bonus: Uncluttered fridge.


    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 10:19AM
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Hi grainlady - my Mum lived through the WW2 in Norfolk, England. She remembers that if you saw a queue (line) you just joined it, even if you didn't know what was being sold at the other end (could be bread or corsets!!). She got scurvy from lack of fruit so everyone rallied round & and donated apples. Think it was fruit & veg she missed most. Some houses near her were bombed but people got fed up with hiding under the table & just hoped not to be hit.

Her best friend now is a German lady who was working as a young woman in Berlin - when the British took over an English soldier fell in love with her an bought her back to England!! In Berlin they did not seem to have had food shortages at all after the War which does peeve my Mum a bit!!

    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 11:40AM
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grainlady, I too keep alot of stored food on hand. I live on a mountain in the Ozark Nat. Forest. 32 miles from nearest store and we do get snow or iced in every winter. plus i like to be ready for emergencies also. Also have plenty of candles and lamp oil.batteries. whenever theres a sale i stock up. recently bought a bunch of various kinds of instant potatoes very cheap. Of course i'm eating on them too.

I have to admit i'm nervous about the sudden rise in grocery prices and wonder where that is going.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2008 at 9:19PM
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