Homesteading and self-reliance

Is Stockpiling Food Illegal in the United States?

Nadia TamaraEmergency Food, Emergency Preparedness, Government 11 Comments

Homesteading and self-reliance

Emergency preparedness emphasizes the need to store food, water, and other vital items that may not be readily accessible during a disaster. But does the law allow this?

Is stockpiling food illegal?

Stockpiling food when there is no current or forecasted emergency is not illegal. When there is plenty of food to go around, you are free to stockpile it. During a time of crisis, scarcity, or government emergency declaration, food may be in short supply. Hoarding during this time can be deemed illegal.

Under a state of emergency, the federal or local government might exercise its right to confiscate supplies from civilians.

What the law says about search and seizure

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits the unreasonable search and seizure of a person, their home, and their belongings without a search warrant. For a search warrant to be issued, a “probable cause” must be established and approved by the judiciary court before a person and/ or their home and belongings are searched.

Under normal circumstances where the government is functioning within its constitutional laws, no government official is allowed to enter your home without a warrant, therefore your emergency food storage and other goods are deemed legal.

The problem arises if and when the government operates under martial law. Several presidents have signed executive orders which will override any constitutional rights, freedoms, and provisions we have as citizens.

Under marital law, anything we own will no longer be ours, including the emergency food, water, and weapons you may have stockpiled for such an event.

It’s kind of ironic that the same government that has set up an emergency organization to assist the country during disasters also has the power to take away everything we own under martial law.

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) was established to help us prepare for natural and manmade disasters. This is the federal organization that should provide assistance for relief and recovery to communities affected by emergencies.

Some sources say that they are also largely involved in building facilities to ensure the continuity of the government in case of a major disaster. On the other hand, martial law removes any rights we have as citizens and instills a military dictatorship at the hands of the president or state governor.

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What is martial law?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, martial law is the law administered by military forces that is invoked by a government in an emergency when the civilian law enforcement agencies are unable to maintain public order and safety.

The U.S. President and Congress have the power to declare a nation-wide martial law. The governor of a state can also issue a martial law decree within the boundaries of their state or a region within their state. The federal government can unquestionably suspend all Constitutional rights under martial law when the public’s safety is at risk due to a terrorist attack, civil unrest, or natural disaster.

Is martial law possible in the United States?

Yes, absolutely. Throughout history the United States has experienced several periods of martial law both nation-wide and state-wide. Even though things might seem to be in order at the moment, the President has the power to freeze everything by declaring a state of emergency without an emergency actually occurring.

Executive orders about hoarding food

Many presidents have signed executive orders regarding the laws that should override our constitutional rights if martial law is declared in the US. In recent years, there have been executive orders signed that have gone unnoticed by the majority of the people due to other political distractions. Our lack of awareness doesn’t make them any less effective or relevant. This is a brief outline of the current statues facing our country if martial law is declared.

In February 1962, John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10998, titled “Assigning Emergency Preparedness Functions to the Secretary of Agriculture.” In this order, the Federal government is given the authority to take over all agricultural production and distribution. It specifies that “the Secretary shall also develop plans and procedures for the proper utilization of agriculture items stockpiled for survival purposes.”

Executive Order 10998 was later revoked by EO 11490which was then revoked by EO 12656 and has since been amended.

In November 1988, Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12656titled “Assignment of Emergency Preparedness Responsibilities.” This order gives responsibilities to the Federal departments and National Security agencies, such as “preparing plans and procedures to share between and among the responsible agencies resources such as…food…supplies…water, and workforce needed to carry out assigned responsibilities and other essential functions,” as well as, “develop plans to set priorities and allocate resources among civilian and military claimants.”

The following two orders are based on the principles laid out in EO 10998.

In June 1994, Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 12919also known as the “National Defense Industrial Resources Preparedness” which allows the Federal government to seize all food and water resources from the public and private sector. The order describes the confiscation of food resources as “all commodities and products that are capable of being ingested by either human beings or animals…at all stages of processing.” In this order, the confiscation of water resources relates to “all usable water, from all sources, within the jurisdiction of the United States, which can be managed, controlled, and allocated to meet emergency requirements.”

In March 2012, Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13603better known as the “National Defense Resources Preparedness” which enables the Federal government to confiscate and re-distribute all potable water, food, and whatever resources are necessary to protect the United States during a state of emergency.

Former President Donald Trump also issued an Executive Order in 2020 following the World Health Organization announcement that COVID would become a pandemic.

The executive order stated that "The Secretary has delegated the authority of the President conferred by section 102 of the Act to prevent hoarding of health and medical resources necessary to respond to the spread of COVID-19 within the United States, including the authority to prescribe conditions with respect to the accumulation of such resources, and to designate any material as a scarce material, or as a material the supply of which would be threatened by persons accumulating the material either in excess of the reasonable demands of business, personal, or home consumption, or for the purpose of resale at prices in excess of prevailing market prices."

In other words, not only were water and food supplies illegal to hoard, but also medical supplies needed to combat the pandemic. 

Reading through these executive orders in their entirety can be a bit of a headache, but think of it this way: if the Commander in Chief of the Military of the United States believes martial law is a possibility in our country, shouldn’t we anticipate and prepare for it too?

Martial law at a state level

Every state has its own statues addressing the procedures that will take place if martial law is declared in their state. The Governor of each state is given the authority to make such a decision. In some cases this power has been misused against the goodwill of the people and the Judiciary court has been able to overturn the martial laws of the state, but it’s not always this simple.

What problems can these orders cause in the future?

Neither the United States nor FEMA are promoting a public emergency preparedness incentive with the urgency that it deserves. The lack of preparedness efforts in this country along with the advancement of technology can lead to a couple major problems in the future.


Some people are psychologically trained to live in the moment. We have everything we want at our fingertips without fear of the future. This on-demand world we’re accustomed to has given us the access to enjoy whatever we desire within minutes, literally. Think of fast food restaurants, quick internet connection, TV shows and movies on Netflix, access to taxis at the click of a button [such as Uber and Lyft]…among many other things. While I’m okay with this rise in technology [to a degree], people have become more dependent on a society that fills our immediate needs quickly. The thought of having to wait more than 10 seconds for a website to load or our coffee to be prepared in under five minutes is almost unthinkable. The demands of society are shaping our culture in this way.

As far as government assistance goes [I’ll barely touch on this topic], the increasing amount of monetary aid that is being poured into the citizens on welfare has left thousands of people fully dependent on government services. When a serious emergency strikes, the people will not only demand assistance, but the government will not have the ability to match nor sustain the immediate needs of the public, including the basics of food and water. This is a recipe for a much greater disaster. The growing fear and desperation of a people group can open a door to violence and looting, just like many people experienced shortly after Hurricane Katrina.


Year after year my social media feed is bombarded with news of worldwide disasters. One pattern I have continually observed is the way people react under the threat of an emergency. At the notice of an evacuation order, hundreds of people rush to the grocery store and gas station to pick up necessary provisions for their families. Supermarkets and supply stores are only equipped with a certain amount of stock, so as our human survival instinct kicks in, we tend to hoard whatever we can get our hands on- anything to get us through the unfortunate event. This not only creates ridiculous wait lines and inflation on product prices, but also sanctions on the limit of your purchases to ensure the majority of the people are given an equal opportunity to buy basic supplies.

In the case of a long-term emergency, like the Great Depression where supplies were lacking nation-wide, what you own now may become the governments’ overnight. There are laws in place that allow the government to take ownership of our personal food and water storage to provide a means for the rest of the population to survive. Their agenda will be to gather and centralize all the survival resources and food / water we have stockpiled, and then “fairly distribute” them to the people as they please. Keep in mind that under martial law the court system will not be functioning, so consider that it’s you against the military at that point, and chances are that the military will have their way.

During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, people were arrested for hoarding gasoline. This is an example of a man purchasing gasoline for himself and his neighbors. What could have been a kind gesture or favor turned into a jail sentence during a time when there were sanctions due to a gasoline shortage.

These problems present us with an interesting scenario for our future. The people that are naiive and not actively prepping may suffer due to a lack of food and other survival supplies. The preppers on the other hand will have to keep a tight watch on their goods and anticipate the possibility of the government taking their belongings. If SHTF and the local police department can’t protect the citizens, martial law is very likely to be put into effect as a safety measure until the situation settles down enough and the police can manage to take over again…but who knows how long that might take.

Whichever side we’re on at the time of a crisis [either prepared with a food stockpile or not], we are taking a risk. Considering the global food crisis we’re facing, I would definitely start stockpiling goods regardless of what’s to come.

What can you do about it?

Unfortunately there is not much we can do for ourselves if the President declares martial law. However, in preparing for your homes and families, there’s a few things you can do to keep your emergency supplies under the radar.

1. Keep quiet. Don’t tell your neighbors what you have stockpiled, what you plan to store, or where you’re keeping it. You never know what can happen in desperate situations. To prevent your neighbors from speaking out against you, it’s better to keep them uninformed on your level of preparedness.

2.  Don't put all your eggs in the same basket. Keep your goods at different locations. Bury some, keep some in storage, and if possible store some in a different property. When the Military comes to check on your home, you can comply and give them the portion that is stored there, but then you’ll have secured more supplies at other locations.

3. Use paper money. Purchase your goods in cash, if possible. Anything can be tracked on your credit card nowadays, and while we are a society accustomed to using plastic rather than paper money, it would be wise to let those purchases be made in a way that can’t be easily traced.

How much food are you legally allowed to store?

On a national level, we can use the Defense Production Act of 1950 as a reference. Some parts of this Act have been repealed and amended, but the up-to-date version can be seen here.

This document specifies the legal limits to which we can hoard any scarce materials. In a state of emergency, there will be a shortage of water, food, and other supplies. Section 2072 of this Act gives the President the authority to define what the legal limit of hoarding supplies is. “Supplies” as a term isn’t defined so it could be interpreted as any object that is in low-supply and high-demand during an emergency. Once the President makes this call, anyone who exceeds the “legal limit” at that time is subject to their goods being confiscated by the Military. No questions asked.

Again, this would occur under a state of emergency but under normal circumstances, what we own remains ours. Each state may have their own law on the limits of supplies that you’re allowed to store. In this information packet, FEMA recommends you store “at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family. If you are unable to store this quantity, store as much as you can.” As far as food goes, they also recommend “maintaining a supply that will last [two weeks].”

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What do preppers stock up on?

Preppers typically stock up on essential items to meet their basic needs. These include long lasting food, water, medicine, tools and weapons. 

They also often store things like clothing, camping gear, personal hygiene items, batteries and flashlights, communication devices, and containers for storing their goods. While the exact items stored may vary from prepper to prepper, they all strive to have enough supplies and resources on hand in the event of an emergency. 

Some preppers even go as far as creating a self-sustaining environment, complete with greenhouses for growing their own food and setting up water filtration systems for clean drinking water. 

Preppers typically devote time to honing their survival skills such as hunting, fishing, and foraging. These activities help them become more self-sufficient and give them the knowledge necessary to survive in extreme conditions. 

Prepping is not just about having enough food, unlimited amounts of toilet paper, and stocking up on a few supplies. Being a prepper simply means that you are prioritizing your safety and security through practical steps and preparations.

Having a well-rounded plan will help to ensure that you are prepared for whatever may come your way. Apart from the items before-mentioned, it should also include planning for financial security, gathering important documents and creating an emergency plan. 

By taking the time to research and prepare now, you can be confident that you will have the resources necessary to weather any storm or  be ready to react quickly and effectively in case of a disaster.

Should food be stockpiled?

Stockpiling food beforehand can be beneficial in the face of a national emergency, such as natural disasters, periods of economic instability, and pandemics when people rush to get supplies and find empty grocery store shelves and/or soaring food prices. 

Having a stockpile of non-perishable foods, such as canned goods, grains, and dried fruits and vegetables, can help you stay nourished should you experience an interruption in your regular food supply. It can also save you money in the long run, as you can buy items in bulk and take advantage of sales, discounts, and coupons. You can also check out food banks for donated food items from local stores.

Stockpiling food does come with some risks. If not properly stored and monitored, the food can spoil or become infested with insects and rodents. If you don’t regularly rotate your stockpile, it may expire before you have a chance to use it. 

To mitigate these risks, be sure to store your food in a cool and dry area. Never store it in places that are prone to moisture, such as garages or basements.

Rotate items regularly and review your entire stockpile every six months or so to ensure that you have enough of the right items on hand and are not relying too heavily on any one item. Keep a food log or inventory list to help you stay on top of what items you have and monitor their expiration dates.

Finally, keep your storage area clean and organized for easy access when needed.

What are the benefits of stockpiling food?

Stockpiling enough food for you and your family members (minimum 3-day supply or 2 weeks’ worth) can provide financial and practical benefits. With careful planning and proper storage, it can help you avoid food shortages, price hikes, and other potential catastrophes during times of crisis. 

By strategically planning, purchasing, storing, and rotating your food items, you can create a safe and efficient supply that can last for months or years.

What does it mean to stockpile food?

Stockpiling is the practice of amassing large amounts of food in order to prepare for times when regular access to these items may be limited. 

Stockpiling provides important security during emergencies and disasters, as well as a sense of peace of mind knowing that you have enough food supplies to get you through difficult times.

Have stockpiling trends changed as a result of Covid-19?

I recently read the results of a study done in China titled The Impact of COVID-19 on Food Stockpiling Behavior over Time in China.

In brief, it showed that food hoarding was prevalent during the pandemic (no surprise!). However it also showed that even though trends fluctuated during different periods of the pandemic, the trend of stockpiling food remains a bit higher than it was before Covid-19. In other words, the trend did not return to “normal” based on what was normal before the pandemic. 

The study listed the four primary reasons why people were motivated to stockpile. These included: 1. Fighting against rising food prices; 2. Avoiding shortages; 3. Pursuing ease (as a result of herd effect); and 4. Going out less to avoid exposure to the virus. 

If you’re interested in reading the full report, you can find it here.

Another study titled Stockpiling and food worries: Changing habits and choices in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, mentioned that “stockpiling can disrupt food markets due to the shortages, increase in price, waste, and the uneven food distribution that comes along with it, as well as can cause a break in the food supply chain. This may lead to an actual scarcity of food which can further increase anxiety over food availability and cause further increases in prices.”

In conclusion

Even though we live in a relatively stable country [compared to most], there may come a time when a national or worldwide crisis leads the President to declare martial law in order to bring stability back to the country.

If we are serious preppers, we shouldn’t be surprised if the military comes knocking at our door demanding us to give up our supplies so that they can be distributed around for the greater good. This is a reality we have to prepare for and perhaps eventually face.

It is always better to be safe than sorry when SHTF, even if it means using alternative methods to protect your supplies. Whatever happens from that point on will have to be left in God’s hands. In any case, becoming a wise prepper will help you see your family through any emergency.

This article was originally published on August 12, 2018. It has since been updated and improved.

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Comments 11

  1. Not mentioned in this is what could be said to be a room elephant: The second and every other part of our state and federal constitutions were written to protect us from agents who would pull the [martial law] crap described.

    If and when martial law was declared to the end, among others, food I’d spent years acquiring and stockpiling, then that is an abuse of authority, imposition of socialism or communism, and may well be said to be a trigger for the exercise of liberty rights purposed to insure we can protect ourselves from OUR agents.

  2. Thank you for this well thought out article. So nice to read from a like minded individual. Stay stocked, strapped and safe. Much love!!

  3. “Under marital law, anything we own will no longer be ours, including the emergency food, water, and weapons you may have stockpiled for such an event.”


    A bit of a Freudian slip, but ironically it’s also true!

  4. Yes, many foods can absolutely be stored in a basement provided the food is in airtight, waterproof, pest proof containers and is stored up off of the floor. Basements can be ideal storage places for food since they are usually cool, dark places. If necessary, you can use a dehumidifier to keep the basement dry.

  5. This post should be a wake up call for individual home prepping. It has always puzzled me why people need to rush to the store at the same time to prepare for a disaster when there is a warning posted. We should be ready for any disaster, months ahead, not hours ahead. Nobody should be trying to drive to the store for anything during the aftermath of a hurricane, ice storm, blizzard, or tornado. That’s just dumb.

    Growing up in Florida, my parents just handled hurricanes, storms, flooding, and lengthy power outages like these were normal events–not surprises. If the power goes out you clear the fridge and have a barbecue, and eat from that first. Then clear the freezer. Then you cook from the rice, beans, and canned tuna collection until you run out of charcoal and deadfall. The canned food is only for when you can no longer cook. Open and eat! And float your leftovers in the creek to keep them safe to eat.

    But the gas hoarding guy wasn’t helping friends. It was obvious he was hoarding gas during a crisis and mishandling a dangerous liquid.

    As for FEMA and DHS, I’ll help my neighbors during a crisis but only I know where my personal family stockpile is located.

  6. If the government comes to peoples’ houses to try to steal their food, they should be all shot to death. Everyone should do this. Massive bloodshed. The government eventually will stop trying.

    This is the answer to all the problems we face. The government is not going to continually send people to die by robbing citizens.

    And of course there’s the typical remark to this “Great idea idiot. Everyone doing this will only succeed in killing themselves because most people are not trained.” People need to get trained.

    In 1776 if people thought like the “smart guys” that would call me an idiot for what I said above we’d. never. have. this. country.

  7. Pingback: Is Food Stockpiling Illegal In The United States? - Apocalypse Ninja

  8. First rule of Prep: Keep your mouth shut. Second rule: Slowly gather Prep. Over time you will not raise suspicions. The best Prep is that which no-one knows about. Keeping all of your money etc. in the Bank is a red flag. A safety deposit box is not safe. When you die, for example, it is instantly locked ,per Law, which prevents relatives from accessing your account . The contents are subject to probate to prevent access. Anything which is subject to Public Record is relegated to probate. The State you live in does not deserve to have access to your estate, no matter the value of your property, after you die. Life insurance is not the answer. No insurance, Whole Life or Term will solve the Estate problem.

    1. Your suggestion should have qualifications. For example, I live in farming country and me picking up a few five gallon buckets of beans, apples or what have you is best done, all out, at harvest time.

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