MREs Are Not For The Weak


Friends recently visited from Pittsburgh – a city I know well and am quite fond of. We spent time wandering around San Francisco doing the usual tourist things together including some museum stops that featured work by Pittsburgh native son Andy Warhol and a special exhibition of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch which was actually more disturbing and pervy than I expected.

Over dinner in my kitchen a neighbor stopped by and the conversation turned from art to a gentle teasing over my prepper activities. “Has Johnny given you the tour of the grain he keeps stockpiled under his bed?”  The Pittsburgh wife asked if I had supplies of MREs – Meals Ready to Eat. The question was halfway between earnest curiosity and bemusement over a peculiar hobby. My reply was quick and emphatic. “Prepackaged military rations are for pussies. I make my own” The table broke out in laughter.

The idea that anyone can prep by buying highly processed store bought goods manufactured at a great distance – and probably paid for with a credit card – is missing the point entirely. Real preparedness doesn’t come in a box. Preparedness is about organizing your ordinary everyday life in a way that makes you less dependent on larger attenuated systems and the cash economy. The two approaches aren’t mutually exclusive, but MREs will only get you so far. Once you eat the last mylar pouch of turkey tetrazzini you have to figure out where to get more money to buy more manufactured rations.

What I engage in is closer to homesteading – or the modern incarnation given what’s possible within my particular circumstances. I think of it as household scale import replacement that counteracts the vulnerabilities of our highly leveraged modern just-in-time supply chain. If your goal is to have food on hand in a crisis – be it personal or societal – then store bought food in the pantry is an excellent first step. But the next step is to start producing and processing your own food. This isn’t about “self sufficiency” or going “off grid.” It’s about a steady transition toward a household economy that can more easily function outside the larger systems if they should wobble. Having the physical equipment and skills to fend for yourself ahead of the curve will serve you better over the long haul. And the stuff I make myself is a lot better than MREs.

This piece first appeared on Granola Shotgun.

John Sanphillippo lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for, and is a regular contributor to He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued properties in places that have good long term prospects. He is a graduate of Rutgers University.