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Emergency Food vs Survival Food — Surprise! You Need Both

Avatar for Jodie Weston Jodie Weston  |  Updated: July 3, 2019
Emergency Food vs Survival Food — Surprise! You Need Both

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We talk a lot about emergency food but do we ever really define what it is we mean? When it comes to surviving an emergency, our body requires different types of food to meet different types survival needs.

Life-Threatening Emergencies

When your life is on the line, your body responds. It is programmed to help you find the energy to fight off an attack or to flee – fight or flight. It is a tool that goes back to a time when our ancestors lived in caves and had to hunt and forage for their food. We were not the only predator, and sometimes we were the prey.

How our bodies cope with life and death is not just about the food we eat. It is often about our genetics. In biology, we talk about “survival of the fittest,” which has nothing to do with being stronger. It is about how well we fit into our environment. In prepping, we skirt along the edge of the survival of the fittest as we attempt to plan for emergencies.

How Food Choice Helps Fight or Flight

The autonomic chemicals that our body releases to cope with life and death situations are like jet fuel. They burn quickly, and they produce amazing effects. Mothers can lift a vehicle off their child, or a man can kill a bear with his bare hands. Those kinds of acts are rare, and we find the fuel for those feats in our body’s chemical response to life-threatening situations.

Chemicals Have Limits

Like gas in a car’s tank, the chemicals that initiate and sustain fight or flight have limits. When they we deplete them, we often have no energy left to keep going and sometimes we have so little energy left that we cannot power our own heart to beat.

As preppers, we can think beyond the autonomic miracle that is fight or flight and plan for situations where we can quickly power our bodies to do more. That is one of the differences between emergency food and survival food.

Food – It is Lipids (fats), Carbs (sugars) or Protein

Warm-blooded organisms, such as humans gain energy by breaking apart the chemical bonds found in foods as we digest them, and in the compounds that our bodies make using the nutrients once they are absorbed. Fats and sugars are both absorbed quickly.

Ingredient Labels Tell a Story

When you read an ingredient label, it is broken down into major groups such as total carbs, total fats, total protein. Processed foods, such as potato chips, candy, and even some cold cereals tend to have a higher bioavailability than do proteins, natural sugars, and complex carbs.

Bioavailability is the rate at which food is usable by the body.

Case Study:

Not all sugars are bad. Consider honey versus sugar. Both have fructose and glucose as sugars, but they are chemically different. When we create granulated sugar the two sugar molecules – fructose and glucose are bonded or connected. In honey, those two sugars are independent – not bonded. That is important because those bonds change how our body uses these two energy sources.

Processed foods often have more fructose in them because fructose is a sweeter form of sugar. It burns faster too. That is why when we eat a bunch of processed carbs for lunch, we need a nap an hour later. The reason for that is that our body has burned all the energy in those processed foods so quickly that we now have low blood sugar.

It is processed sugars’ surge of energy that is a weak mimic of the flight or fight response. However, it is not enough to sustain a long response or energy need. That is why we crash.

Because the sugars in honey are independent, only part of them (the fructose) burns quickly. The glucose in honey acts as a slow-burning energy. When you eat natural sugars, the sugar crash is not as intense as it is with processed sugars or foods that are high in processed sugars.

If you want to help your body do more and go farther, then consider the benefits of natural sugars.

Natural sugars are better for you in a survival situation. They offer that kick-start rapid boost that you’d get with processed sugar, but without the crash. If you had to sustain elevated energy levels for hours or days, then you’d have to consume a lot more sugar than you would honey. That consideration is critical.

Emergency Food vs. Survival Food

In this blog, we define survival food as food that offers a quick and somewhat sustainable supply of energy. Will you be able to lift a vehicle after eating our version of survival food? No. Those sorts of superhuman feats are not common, and they require something humans have not yet invented or duplicated.

As such, we define emergency food as the nutritional source that powers our body daily. Emergency food is what you eat when your normal supply of food is unattainable. Thus, emergency food is the type of food you store as a backup food source.

Survival Food and Emergency Food – They Are Not the Same

True survival food boosts our body’s ability to endure. Food, itself, does not have the power that those chemicals involved in our autonomic response to danger have. It does, however, have the ability to elevate our energy levels so that we can go farther and do more than we would normally do. To understand this process, one must understand how our body uses food.

Fight or flight is a chemical response, but it is one of many that our body performs. Our entire body is a chemical reaction, even during non-emergency situations. We eat food, convert it to energy and then function. Therefore, it is important to make a distinction between emergency food and survival food.

Modern marketing causes a situation where these two phrases mean the same thing. However, not all emergency situations are the same. It is one thing to be cut off from the grocery store and quite another to have to undergo a forced march to find medical help. The requirements for both situations are different.


You and your family are camping in a remote location. On the last day of your stay a bear invades your camp, and during the process, someone is severely injured, and your vehicle becomes disabled. What do you do? To get help, you must either find a place where your cellular phone works or you must walk to a spot where you can find someone to help. What type of emergency food do you need?

In this hypothetical situation, you need both types of food. Whoever is left to care for the wounded must eat. However, the person who must go for help must do so quickly, and that process takes time. That means they need an elevated energy level that lasts. We get that energy from survival food.

This type of situation illustrates the difference between emergency food and survival food. As preppers, it is important that as we plan for emergencies that we make the distinction between emergency food and survival food.

How We Define Emergency and Survival

Again, the difference between survival food and emergency food stores is what they do for you during an emergency. How we define emergencies illustrates why food usage goals are important. They help us to define our resources and since prepping is about planning they help us identify opportunities to better plan for the big “What if?”

Fitness is Every Bit as Important to Survival as is Food

Another part of survival food is our physical condition. The weakest link in a survival situation is just that. If you cannot run a mile to safety, then you force your party to either stay with you or leave you behind. Our diet is very much part of our fitness and ability to handle emergencies. Emergencies are not just physical. They are emotional. Stress, anxiety, fear, and other base emotions consume energy.

We can take a note from firemen. These are the people who constantly deal with emergencies. Their bodies must adapt from being at rest to being in prime physical and emotional condition at a moment’s notice. While chances are that we will not have to deal with the number of emergencies that a fireman does, it goes without saying that we too should be as prepared as possible to face whatever life throws at us.

As we consider the challenges that we might face we can agree that we have choices. We can prepare for a variety of emergencies; we can try to eat healthily and exercise enough to make a difference.

Final Word

As you plan for emergency situations, take into consideration the differences between emergency food and survival food. While you are at it, consider your family’s physical fitness. Adapt good eating habits and find ways that you can stay fit.

David is an active prepper and freelance writer. He lives in rural Northern California in the shadow of an active volcano. He hunts and fishes as a means of providing. He brings a science background to his writing and discusses botany, biology, geology, and weather as they apply to living, growing your own food, and surviving. He is a master gardener and understands food production, storage, and preserving. He lives five miles down a single-lane road and he deals with power outages, wildfires, earthquakes, flooding, and crazy pot growers, raiders, medical emergencies, law enforcement and the potential of that volcano.


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