A friend of mine wrote a little piece on What Are You Going To Do With 20 Pounds Of Flour? Well, I commented, and then I realized that I have more to say.
I have been on of those semi-survivalist nuts for a while. I buy food in bulk, and try to maintain a backstock. It isn't always easy, especially when the roomies would rather eat TV dinners and junk food. Still, I have been doing it for over 10 years, and it has actually helped me and others out.
The key to buying in bulk and storing food is rotation. You have to buy what you eat, and eat what you buy. I don't buy those funky "ration bars" unless I like them as snack food, too. You won't catch me storing soybean oil - unless I plan to make soap with it.
Rotation involves access, labeling, and containment. This means you need to have it stored in watertight hard sided containers, labeled with what it is and when you bought it, and you have to have the oldest storage unit available in the kitchen. Yes, the newer ones can be stuck in a closet, but the one you are using has to be where you cook.
Stuff people stash tends to be staples like rice, beans, flour, pasta and powdered milk. I add oatmeal, because we go through a lot. We don't actually stock powdered milk - because my roomies won't drink it. I try to keep a little on hand for baking, but I'm ambiguous on how much to keep. We don't have kids, so it's not like we need it for them. Also, we store canned meats like tuna, chicken and turkey. This makes fat balancing (for IBS and gallstones) in recipes easier, because they are in pre-measured labelled quantities.
Now, I could point to recipes and stuff. But there are a lot of sites for that.
I am, though, going to point to storage resources. Emergency Essentials. They (among others) sell "Gamma Seal" lids for 5 gallon buckets (they also sell buckets, but those are better bought locally). These turn a hard to open bucket into a useable pantry container. This is how we store rice and flour. It is air and vermin tight, yet is easy enough to open and scoup a couple cups out for a meal. We prefer to use plastic liners for stuff like flour, because it makes stuff easier to clean, and is food safe (not all buckets that you find in stores are intended for food use.) Yes, it makes it a little tricky to get the Gamma Seal on, but once it's on you have a great pantry item.
You can also stuff the bags you get stuf in into buckets, but some don't fit well. Still, they do keep the food away from the plastic.
Now, if you are asking why I do this, and have for years, you aren't alone. Many people have. But there have been time when I dipped into my storage to help feed friends whose money didn't reach the end of the month.
Me and my roomies ate our backstock when we were all unemployed, and barely had enough to make the rent and utilities. Remember the dot bomb? 20 months unemployed for me alone. We weren't hurting for food, just fresh food. But we ate, unlike the first time that I was long term unemployed and only had $20 a month to eat with after my rent was paid. I lost a ton of weight that time, and was not healthy.
Then there's that pesky earthquake thing. A continual system of storing and rotating food means that I seldom worry about starving in a post-earthquake situation. Since the house I live in survived the 1906 earthquake, I'm not too worried about it being uninhabitable. We have a nice grill for outdoor cooking, so that's good.
I have a little trouble getting my roomies to keep the water bottles full - we have a filter unit downstairs, and use that water for drinking and cooking. Unfortunately, they tend to let all the bottles get empty before filling them again. Still, a filter is cheaper than buying a lot of bottled water, and gets most of the sediment and hardness out of the city water.
The real reaon I like to shop in bulk, though, is twofold:
1) Bulk food is cheaper, you pay less for packaging and advertising on plain, bulk food.
2) I have to go shopping less often, and can combine trips easier, thus saving on gas.
If you have the space, cash, and cooking ability to make use of bulk food storage, go for it. It's actually healthier than most of the single serving prepared crap, and will save money and time in the long run. Getting started can seem pricey, but once you start reusing your storage units, you'll wonder how you ever lived without them.