Rice and beans – unquestionably the top two items most often cited as “must-haves” in any preppers pantry. Even for non-preppers, when discussion of having a few extra food supplies on hand comes up (and this comes up a lot more these days in a great many venues) almost immediately someone says something like “I have a couple of 20 pound bags of rice in my closet” or “My brother suggested I keep a couple of 50 pound bags or rice and beans in the basement just in case” and so on.
Putting aside the gross, though predictable, lack of understanding food storage issues – not their fault; After all, most people have never needed to store food more than a couple of days before eating it – a few bags of rice and beans is not long term food storage solution. It would be a grave mistake to thing otherwise.
Not properly stored in sealed cans or food grade containers, bags of rice and beans are a magnet for insects and vermin. Also, any little bit of moisture can spoil the food easily and maybe undetectably (no outwards signs) thus leading to eat rotten food and the illnesses that can cause. Not a good thing in any situation much less an emergency one.
But moving beyond simply food safety and storage issues, there are other factors to contend with.
Have you ever really cooked raw rice?! Not many people have. Most modern American people, especially city dwellers, use instant/minute rice or prepared/seasoned rice that’s ready very quickly. Not so with raw rice. Cooking raw rice requires at least 30–45 minutes at a rolling boil to cook. That’s a lot of time and a lot of energy both of which (especially the energy to generate the heat) may be in short supply during an emergency. And you have to get the mix of water/rice right. If not, you end up with rice soup or concrete.
Beans aren’t any easier. Most people are only familiar with opening a can for pre-cooked, soft beans. Raw beans in a bag are dried. They need to either be added to a soup or stew and cooked for a long time, or, soaked for several hours to soften up and then cooked. Either way it takes a lot of time and effort.
Beyond the preparation aspect, these foods by themselves are not a balanced diet. They will keep you from starving — for a brief while. But you will not be getting the proper spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and proteins the human body needs for good health. You may feel full but you will slowly be losing energy and health. In turn that will reduce your ability to act as needed in the emergency. It will also open your body up to a greater chance of infections and diseases that you might otherwise be able to fight off but due to poor diet you can’t.
I am not trying to talk you out of having rice and beans as part of your survival pantry. They clearly do have a role to play. But I fear that too many people stick a couple of sacks of rice and beans in the basement and end up with false sense of security.
If you’re going to prepare, take the time and do it right.
“to thing otherwise” => to think
id recommend having a pressure cooker for cooking beans .. it cooks things much more quickly and uses significantly less fuel input if you are low on a source of heat. not only do i use mine more than any other cooking equipment, but a pressure cooker would be invalueable in a survival situation. it can even function as an autoclave to sterilize emergency surgical equipment.
Hi ST -
One thing that may help the rest of us amateurs is to give suggestions how to avoid the issues you raise. For me, the adage of “Store what you eat and eat what you store” does not quite work. I wrote a blog post on the subject:
It would be nice to make suggestions, but my diet of fresh, lean meat and fresh vegetables does not store well. Certainly, I can buy canned meat, but it is not what I want to eat pre-SHTF. Also, rice and beans are calorie dense and store well. I do have a good variety of canned friut, canned vegetables, instant breakfasts, some spices, etc but I also have stocked up on rice, beans and lentils. I cannot see how I can reach my 6 month target without having a lot of calorie dense items as the backbone of my plan.
What would you suggest I do differently?
Jim — I think the point is that *just* storing a couple bags/cans of rice and beans isn’t enough but too many people think it is.
You make good points. It does of course depend on the bean itself to some extent. For example, In one cup of Great Northing beans, you get 14% of your calcium, 23% of your daily iron, and a whopping 53% of your daily folate (a vitamin critical in early pregnancy). My wife, Laura, actually wrote a post about this today over on our site.
Beans, when combined with corn, can provide a source of protein as well.
In a survival situation it is difficult to get calories and protein. Rice and beans provide calories and protein. When supplemented with gathered greens you can provide a reasonably balanced diet. Rice and beans have three extremely important characteristics for preppers and anyone trying to survive hard times: 1. They are easy to prepare. I can cook rice and or beans in a tin can over coals. 2. they are cheap. I just bought 50 lbs of rice for $16. 3. They are easy to store. Properly stored the rice will last a couple of lifetimes. Beans not as long but the good news is you can plant dried beans and grow them for even more food.
also some bean varities will soak and cook in a lot less time then other varities do so pick your storage items carefully for best results.
I agree, rice and beans do not make a well stocked or healthy storage plan. However, I do take umbrage at a couple of points you make as to why.
Rice and beans are extremely easy to prepare. Yes, they take a long time, but it’s a long time that has you doing absolutely nothing. Beans go in a bowl, beans get covered with water, a few hours later you cook the beans. Time consuming for the beans, not for you. What most people also don’t realize is that you can prepare rice the exact same way. Rinse your rice, put it in a bowl, cover it with water. After a couple of hours, boil the rice for about 5 minutes and strain excess water like pasta.
Different rices (not talking minute rice) must have different cooking times and/or methods. When I cook rice (again, not minute rice), I bring my water to a boil, add the rice, stir once, put lid on pot and reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes, then remove from heat and let stand another 5 minutes.. fluff with a fork and eat.
I understand your point.. that just beans and/or rice isn’t enough to be prepared — but I am thinking most people are preparing for a few days to a couple weeks… where “preppers” are preparing for long-term.
Just wanted to chime because rice and beans aren’t really that difficult, time or energy consuming (depending on energy sources of course).
Great post with good reminders — you need more than rice and beans.. and some “sweets” for mood lifters wouldn’t hurt either!
I cook my rice in the solar cooker. One part rice to two parts water and let her rip. I put it in a glass jar and put Seran wrap over the top. It usually takes 2–3 hrs but it comes out perfect every time. My solar oven is home-made and has a floor of two layers of bricks. I preheat the oven (aka turn it toward the sun) the night before and by the time I’m ready to put the food in it’s 250F or higher. It doesn’t take long for the water to come up to 212F The water never gets to a rolling boil buy does bubble in the pan. When the water is absorbed. it’s done. Just another NO stored fuel way to prepare rice. I’ll keep you posted on the beans. I think if I pre-soak them overnight I could get the same results as the rice but need to “cook” those longer. Experiment — it’s the only way!
50 pounds of rice and beans will work for quite a while, plenty good for short term 1–2 weeks staying alive and fed.
add spam, multivitamins, bullion for flavor and plenty of water and you are good short term
Beans? Pah! Lentils are superior in every way. They last just as long as beans but are more digestible, don’t cause gas, and cook in 20 minutes flat. No soaking required.
I eat and cook beans, lentils and rice (not instant) all the time.
Dry Beans require 12 to 48 hours of soaking. Then 2 to 4 hours of cooking.
Lentils cook in 20 minutes and require no soaking at all. They are more easily digested and last just as long as beans.
I suggest checking your local Indian grocers. They usually have at LEAST 5 types of DAL (Lentils) in stock. Typically a $1 a pound.
There are also some delicious western lentils. Spanish, French Green, Beluga lentils… large variety. You can flavor them with chicken stock, rosemary and oregano etc for more continental cuisine.
Then buy a box of blended indian spices for a dollar or two. You only need a tsp for a large pot of lentils and rice. Add some Ghee (which also lasts a decade without spoiling) and you have a delicious meal with carbs, protein, and fat that you wont get sick of.
The superior choice is Lentils by far, flavored with indian spices and topped with some ghee.
On top of that all you need are dehydrated fruits and vegetables and a multivitamin. You’re good to go.
Cheaper, tastier and heathier than any food ration bar.