When I hear about people socking away food and supplies in case the arrival of the year 2000 throws a monkey wrench in our computer-dependent lives, I'm surprised. Not that doing it is weird, but that people are just now doing it.
I've been taught about food storage my whole life, as a way to prepare for any emergency--whether inflicted by a natural disaster, a break in the water main or sudden unemployment. It's part and parcel of the practical nature of my church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which since its early days has been counseling people to learn to sustain themselves.
My Jewish husband was a little worried about this concept when we got married 10 years ago. He thought I was trained to stockpile gold bars and ammo and construct a bomb shelter in Idaho. I was not. Instead, the church encourages members to save a year's supply of food, clothing, water, first-aid supplies, and if possible, fuel in times of plenty for emergencies in the lean years.
My mother always put up food. In rural Indiana, she might have canned anyway. But with the church counsel to urge her on, she plotted and planned. In addition to canning, we scrimped and saved enough to buy a full-size, upright freezer so my mother could store more.
The summers were a succession of canning and freezing vegetables and fruits against the possibility of misfortune or outright disaster. We shucked and peeled and blanched and trimmed bushel baskets heaped with corn, peaches, green beans, cucumbers (for pickles) and tomatoes (stewed and for spaghetti sauce). And after a long, steamy day in the kitchen, my mother would sit at the table and calculate how much we had and how many more containers would keep a family of eight fed for a year.
What we didn't grow or buy, we ordered. Huge strawberries and big chunks of mixed fruit arrived frozen in 10-pound tins, the metal sweating as my father loaded them into the freezer. A side of beef, butchered into steaks, roasts and hamburger, went in. My parents tried dried soup mix, also in Price Club-size cans, but didn't buy more after we kids turned up our noses.
My mother scrounged five-gallon glass containers from the school cafeteria to hold extra flour, oatmeal and dried milk. And she incorporated all the foods she stored into our daily meals. We learned, for example, that powdered milk tastes best if you mix it in a glass container and get it ice cold.
When my father got laid off from his factory job, my mother didn't panic. She pulled out her lists and figures and checked her calculations. Later, when we went on welfare and got food from the government (food stamps replaced this program), she squirreled away some of the allotment.
Food storage isn't a commandment for Mormons. Perhaps the emphasis on independence, industry, thrift and self-reliance had its genesis in the early days of the church, when members were driven by persecution from New York and across the Midwest. Brigham Young, the church president who led the exodus to Utah after Joseph Smith was killed, was clear in his admonition to the early church: "Learn to sustain yourselves, lay up grain and flour, and save it for a day of scarcity."
Church teachings regarding personal and family preparedness do not stem from any specific event, including Y2K concerns. According to a church statement earlier this year: "Predictions of disaster, famine, flood, and earthquake have come and gone and will continue to do so, but the common sense admonitions of church leaders to prepare for times of adversity and to be self-reliant remain unchanged."
When I moved away from home, I occasionally felt bad for not storing food. I didn't miss the hot work of canning, but I regretted not having a cupboard lined with gleaming jars. I especially missed the peaches, soft globes in amber syrup.
After I got married, I decided it was enough to stock up on sale items. But when I was six months pregnant and my husband lost his job, I wondered how long the food in our basement would hold us. The good news was that he found work quickly. The bad news: I continued to postpone a systematic food storage plan.
I'm not inclined to panic or go to extremes about Y2K. The worry over Jan. 1, 2000, just gives me an excuse--and a concrete deadline--to fill out at least a three-month supply. I will assuage some low-key guilt, feel more secure and make my mother proud. Here are some basics that I have learned from my years as a Mormon.
Water: We all know people who stock up on toilet paper whenever the first snowflake falls. Well, get your water supply first and then worry about the amenities.
Survival manuals agree that you should count on one gallon a person per day--two quarts a day for drinking and the rest for cooking, brushing teeth and washing your hands and face, and so forth. Store two weeks' worth and then decide how you want to treat water after that. (See box at right.)
Groceries: Next, make sure you have food that will meet your body's basic nutritional needs--and foods you like. This means you need to introduce some high-fiber, healthful stuff into your diet now. Your guts will rebel if on Jan. 1 you suddenly eat whole wheat and legumes day in and day out. Start with oatmeal cake and whole-wheat pancakes and work up to pearl barley, lentils and stir-fried whole wheat.
Recipes for cooking with stored foods are surprisingly similar to recipes for what you cook every day, if you're used to using a certain amount of grains and canned goods and casseroles. Don't waste your time on the exotic; I don't see the point of making a homemade Tootsie Roll when I can go to the store and buy real ones.
Many companies are selling dehydrated foods and some shelf-stable entrees that will last for years. But it is a waste of money to buy a huge container of food you don't like. Get a sample before you commit money and storage space. If there's no Y2K disaster, you don't want to be stuck with a three-month supply of food you hate.
In the months ahead of New Year's Day, draw up a schedule and buy a few extra items each time you go to the grocery store. Then food storage won't be a sudden financial drain.
Pay attention to expiration dates and rotate the supplies you have. Mark the purchase date on goods you put into storage. Use the food closest to its expiration date and replace it. Buying a year's supply and then not touching it until there's an emergency could leave you eating stale Wheaties.
How bad you expect the situation to be will determine what you store. Mormons are encouraged to have a "72-hour kit," which contains three days' worth of food that doesn't have to be heated or refrigerated. If you think all services are going to be knocked out for longer than that, you need to make provisions for alternative ways to heat your food (never use an outdoor grill inside!) or store only food that doesn't need to be warmed up or kept cold.
Include boxed milk or powdered milk and powdered eggs in your pantry to ensure that you have forms of these perishables on hand for cooking. And I can vouch for powdered buttermilk, but I haven't had the courage to try powdered cheese.
I checked Food Storage Planner, a computer program, but wouldn't suggest that you follow it blindly. The program shows three levels of supplies: survival, standard and luxury. The differences in the lists are interesting. Salt is a basic; ketchup is a luxury. You have to tailor it to your tastes. I plugged in the ages and genders of my family (one man, one woman, one little boy, one little girl) and was told that for three months we would need to store 23 pounds of cornmeal. In nearly 10 years, we have not used more than 10 pounds of cornmeal, so I don't think I'll be following the program on that one.
(And I don't care if it is lightweight: beef jerky is not making in onto my pantry shelves. I'll make it up in canned salmon.)
Storage: Where to put all this stuff? Food keeps best in cool, dry, dark places: under beds, at the back of a closet, in the basement. And remember: Cover the basics first, then supplement as your budget and space allow.
What and How Much Should I Store?
Are you thinking about starting a food-storage program? Lots of advice is out there, but one of the most helpful sources I found is the Emergency Essentials Web site www.beprepared.com. Here and in the charts below is their advice:
The average person needs a minimum of a half gallon of water per day for drinking and food preparation. This makes a total of seven gallons for two weeks. An additional half gallon of water per person per day is also needed for bathing, brushing teeth and dishwashing. These are the bare minimums but you would feel more comfortable with more water. A family of four needs a minimum of 28 gallons of water for a two-week supply but, for optimal comfort, 55 gallons is recommended.
When storing your water supply, remember to store it in clean, opaque, plastic containers with tight-fitting lids.
You can also purify your water by boiling it vigorously for three to five minutes or by adding the appropriate amount of any household bleach containing sodium hypochlorite (5.25 percent solution) without soap additives or phosphates. For one quart of clear water, add 2 drops of household bleach. To one quart of cloudy water, add 4 drops of household bleach. For one gallon of clear water, add 8 drops of household bleach. If the gallon of water is cloudy, add 16 drops of household bleach. After purifying, for better tasting water, pour the water from one container to another several times. You may also purify water successfully by using water purification tablets or a portable water purifer.
The charts should be helpful in determining how much the average person needs for two weeks.
Of course these are just suggestions. You may want to store a good supply of garden seeds, sealed to protect them from moisture. You should also consider those in your family with special needs such as infants, the elderly and those with special diets. You may be concerned at the amount of food required for just 2 weeks, but you may be pleasantly surprised at how many things you can get in number 10 cans. Not only are they space-saving, but they will store for 5 or more years! Also, remember to store far more than you expect to eat.
Additional Information on Food Storage
Keeping Food Fresh by Janet Bailey (Dial Press, 1985). Excellent everyday reference book.
Beginners Guide to Family Preparedness by Rosalie Mason (Horizon Publishers, 1998)
Making the Best of Basics (10th edition) by James Talmage Stevens (Old Leaf Press, 1997)
Essentials of Home Production & Storage (booklet), (Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978)
72-Hour Emergency Preparedness Checklist by Barry G. Crockett and Lynette B. Crockett (Publishers Press, 1989).
In addition, I stocked up on useful manuals at the Alvarez Millennial Bookstore, 6855 Grande Lane, Falls Church; call 703-534-6979 for hours. Similar books are available elsewhere, including online.
Typing in the keywords "food storage" (as often designated in search engines by using the quote marks) and "Y2K" nets a whole slew of responses, many of which are suppliers of freeze-dried or dehydrated foods and other emergency equipment. Here's a short list of useful sites that have articles (a couple of these also sell supplies).
Red Cross-- http://www.redcross. org/disaster/safety
Noah's Ark-- http://www.millennium -ark.net/ Includes a free food-storage planner you can use if you have Excel.
Emergency Essentials-- http://www. beprepared.com Click on "Insight" for excellent articles on a variety of emergency issues, including food storage. Good and very practical.
Y2K Preparedness Resources--http:// viscom.byu.edu/y2k/links-prep.html A catch-all site
http://www.revelar.com/fsp.html A site to order a computerized food- storage list. You have to pay attention and not just follow this blindly. My family would not need 23 pounds of cornmeal for three months.
http://www.senate.gov/y2K Check out the witnesses at the food hearing under "News."
Lois M. Baron lives with her basement full of food at an undisclosed location in Arlington.