Homecoming

We sojourned in the wilderness for seven years, spending years of famine and frustration in small apartments. Our children learned to play indoors; our driving skills deteriorated. Worst of all, we neglected our food storage.

Of course there were lessons now and then in Priesthood or Sunday School. A lesson on food storage in New York City, though, is a lesson on sunbathing in Antarctica. Random members would opine about the merits of building beds and chairs out of number ten cans. We would all nod politely and try to pretend like they weren’t freaks.

At the end of the day, we managed to jam a few dozen twelve-ounce cans of corn and beans and pears into a tiny hallway closet. This was our food storage, and we proudly showed it to all who asked, basking in its greatness. We lived with secret shame, though. Our feeble efforts didn’t really fool anyone, least of all us. We remembered the parables of our youth, and the ancient adages. If you don’t have wheat, you might as well be a Jehovah’s Witness.

July found us en route to California — a new job, a new home, a new life. And for our food storage, a return to the fountain of our youth. Like riding a bike, food storage is something one never quite forgets how to do. Within days, a row of five-gallon buckets had sprung up with descriptions like “sugar, 7/2005” written in red magic marker on their lids. Mountains of moving boxes remained unopened, but we had our sugar in buckets. I felt like a Mormon again.

It is a sacrament to pour beans or sugar into a bucket; it is an ablution to stack and balance pallets of canned corn and fruit and beans. Our provisioning ceremonies are a rite that marks us in our mormonness, a frontlet before our eyes. And like the bloody sacrifices performed by priests of old, this ritual is one that ends in our stomachs.

Our sojourn in the wilderness is over. We have found the promised land, and it is a land of milk — powdered — and honey. They sit together, in five-gallon buckets, in the garage.

30 comments for “Homecoming

  1. s
    June 28, 2006 at 2:32 pm

    Thanks for this post, Kaimi. It made me smile. I must confess that I’m horrible when it comes to food storage, and I do not live in NYC. I think it has to do more with the fact that I’m a single grad student. What is it about being single that makes it seem like the whole food storage thing doesn’t apply to you? (Or maybe it’s just me?)

  2. manaen
    June 28, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    Nice.

    I remember timing our food-storage binges in Michigan to Meijers’ semi-annual house-brand canned-food sales.

    My sister and husband, in their first apartment, fitted an entire living room wall with shelves for food storage and hung drapes in front of them. A slightly smaller room, but a hidden cornucopia at hand.

  3. Kevin Barney
    June 28, 2006 at 3:15 pm

    Nice post, Kaimi.

    My father was a big food storage guy, and growing up we had an entire (albeit small) room in the basement dedicated to it. My oldest sister is the only one of my generation to have kept up with the practice. We could probably live for a few weeks on the food in our pantry, but a real Mormon food storage it does not make.

    Even though I don’t have such a food storage, the idea of it is still appealing to me after all these years.

  4. Paul Mortensen
    June 28, 2006 at 4:17 pm

    I don’t understand why the Bretheren would continue to advocate food storage for US and/or Canadian members as the practice is completely irrational, impractical, and waste of resources. For example, in the event of a natural disaster a family will be faced with two likely scenarios: 1) their home is destoyed along with whatever supplies they had stored; or 2) their home was spared but the government will not let them back into their home or neighborhood. Under both scenarios the family would have been better off if they had taken the money used to accumulate thier food store and saved/invested it or stored the money itself in the form of cash. Another justification held out for food storage is that it can help in the event of unemployment but that rationale doesn’t fly in the US because food comprises only a very small percentage of the average family’s living expenses. The average family spends more on housing, transportation, and health care individually than they do on food. Why waste money today on commodities that consistenly decline in real prices at the expense of building equity in a home or saving for future transportation costs.

    I’m not opposed to all forms of preparedness. I think 72 hour kits are extremely valuable (my family has 120 hour kits) and precient. But the one or two year supply of food is just an insane practice. I think its one of those boilerplate issues of Mormonism that no one has reconsidered in years.

  5. paul frandsen
    June 28, 2006 at 4:28 pm

    The issue behind food storage is not emergencies per se (read 72 hour kit), but longer term disasters. The real cost of a years worth of food is small and is a one-time expense–as long as the food is continually used and replaced. The argument that it is better spent in a bank is more symbolic of dissent than useful monetary practice. In the event of a market collapse and a useless dollar, I would rather have food in the pantry than cash in a box.

  6. Stored Food
    June 28, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    Cash? Ha. Try eating a 10 dollar bill.

  7. MikeInWeHo
    June 28, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    re: 4

    I’m not sure I’d use the word “insane,” Paul, but it’s certainly distinctive and not sensible from a secular perspective (as you indicate). And maybe that’s the point, just like so many other Mormon practices: cultural distinctiveness. Also, doesn’t Mormon eschatology imply other scenarios besides normal natural disasters? From that perspective the guidelines might make perfect sense.

    As for me and my house, we prepare for natural disasters only and have a 7-day supply laid in.

    Hopefully one of y’all will throw some dry beans my way if that proves inadequate someday!

  8. Starfoxy
    June 28, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    I\’m inclined to say that I think food storage is a really good idea. Not because it keeps us prepared in times of emergency (that\’s what 72 hour kits are for). If it were in preparation for emergency or a governmental collapse we\’d be encouraged to live off the power grid, refrain from investing in the stock market, keep a years supply of other disposable goods (like toilet paper) and to know how to sew our own clothes.
    I think it\’s a good idea because of the lifestyle it forces you into. It almost forces meals to be wholesome sit-down affairs, with little meat and lots of grains. It forces the family to be aware of their long term plans. It\’s also a lot of work, work the whole family has to cooperate in. It makes us slow down.

  9. Paul Mortensen
    June 28, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    Mike:

    I have a hard time believing that food storage is a spiritual practice in the same vein as the WoW or garments given the real costs associated with it. While there may be a social cost to both the WoW and wearing garments, the economic costs are virtually nil. My family of five is one of those that has a year’s supply of food. We bought it all at once back in 1997 and it cost us about $4,200. That was real money and a genuine sacrifice (in terms of standard of living) for us. Today I can buy the same supply from the same company for $3,500. I could have put the money I spent on a year’s supply of food back in 1997 into an S&P500 index fund and today that account would be worth almost $10,000. If a tornado tore through my neighborhood my food supply would not supply any relief regardless of whether or not my home was hit. The same would apply if my town was flooded or if an earthquake leveled the area. If I lost my job that food supply would provide very little relief (less even than what I would save from no longer writing a check for tithing given that I no longer had an income). A year’s supply of food is just insane. I don’t know why I continue to maintain one.

    Comment #5 alluded to some otherworldly scenario under which paper money has no value due to a collapse of the economic system. Such scenarios are as probable as the entire universe resting on the back of a turtle. I don’t think that’s the kind of thinking the Bretheren have in mind when they admonish us to get our year’s supply of food.

  10. Gander
    June 28, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    I agree with #5. I feel the stability of our economy/government is taken for granted. One weak link in, say, the distribution system of tractor trailers, and there’s no more Dasani water on my grocery store shelves. I think they’d run out in 6 hours. Isn’t part of the whole global economy thing based on the idea of warehousing as little as possible at each level?

  11. queuno
    June 28, 2006 at 5:32 pm

    Re #4 – Let’s hope you are never out of work long-term and have to resort to what is provided by the Bishop’s Storehouse.

    A natural disaster might indeed wipe out your food storage, but there are different degrees of disaster.

  12. M.J. Pritchett
    June 28, 2006 at 5:45 pm

    Paul frandsen:

    Can you give some examples of the kind of “market collapse and useless dollar” you have in mind which have occured in the last 50 years?

    There have been lots of horrific conditions to be sure, including, both natural disasters, civil wars and civil unrest, but usually people’s homes are destroyed or they become refugees and have to leave their homes (and food storage) behind. However, my impression is that even during these conditions the market doesn’t collapse and currency doesn’t become worthless. But I’m no expert, I’m really interested if there are situations in which an actual [or even theoretical] member could have used his or her food storage in a disaster situation for more than a couple of weeks?

    Looking to the future, what are the hypothetical conditions you can envision in which the market would collapse and currency would become worthless and you would be better off with two years worth of food than with two weeks worth of food and the difference in cash?

  13. DKL
    June 28, 2006 at 5:50 pm

    M.J. Pritchett Can you give some examples of the kind of “market collapse and useless dollar� you have in mind which have occured in the last 50 years?

    During the economic debacle that was the presidential administration of J. Earl Carter, inflation exceeded the rate of return offered by Banks. In such an instance, non-perishable food may have been a better investment than a bank account. And we’re never more than one election away from electing someone as inept as J. Earl Carter.

  14. Paul Mortensen
    June 28, 2006 at 5:52 pm

    queuno:

    I did experience a period of long-term (9 months) several years back. Our bishop at the time admonished us to take advantage of the bishop’s storehouse during that period rather than use all our food storage. It was a far greater challenge trying to make housing, healthcare, and transportation payments than it was feeding my family.

  15. DavidH
    June 28, 2006 at 6:52 pm

    “under which paper money has no value due to a collapse of the economic system. Such scenarios are as probable as the entire universe resting on the back of a turtle.”

    But for US debts’ being denominated, for now, in dollars, I think our economy and currency would have long since gone the way of a “banana republic’s” (I apologize if I have offended any natives of a “banana republic”). See, e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/25/business/yourmoney/25every.html

    Of course, we will all be in good hands once the Chinese government forecloses.

  16. MikeInWeHo
    June 28, 2006 at 8:01 pm

    re: 11 Must resist temptation to compare GWB to J. Earl Carter…….

    The thing that seems odd to me is the one-size-fits all approach to food storage, which is why I think it’s functionally (if not intentionally) a spiritual practice. Wouldn’t the real disaster preparedness needs of a Mormon in suburban America be considerably different from someone in the inner-city, or Africa, or Switzerland, or Japan, or wherever.

    For example, I live in the midst of a major urban area (L.A.) with lots of poverty nearby. If some kind of economic and governmental collapse occurred that necessitated a full year supply of emergency food in my home, I’d also need an arsenal to protect it. In my situation, having short-term food resources and an evacuation plan makes a lot more sense.

  17. June 28, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    Having used food storage and currently keeping it and rotating it, I’ve got a few comments.

    First, if you move parts of your food buying cycle into longer seasons, you save money. When I bought ultra-premium cocoa, in bulk, it came to under five dollars a can for the number 12 cans (I think that is what the roughly a gallon sized cans are called). Before my chocolate allergy got bad, I used a lot of cocoa.

    Second, having had some economic downturns in my life (every time I buried a child my practice was roughly halved, three children, you can do the math), I found it useful that I had food storage I could use and cycle. As it is, I regularly cycle flour and sugar and other things. The food storage refried beans are excellent as is the peanut butter (we got several cases, the local relief society got to them like a plague of locusts, but we will get more).

    Third, there are different types of reserves and skills.

    I don’t understand why the Bretheren would continue to advocate food storage for US and/or Canadian members as the practice is completely irrational, impractical, and waste of resources.

    Bottom line, nothing gets wasted, or very little (we had some beans that we replaced, and some flour that went a little bad faster than we could cycle through it) compared to our non-LDS friends, isn’t impractical. Makes me feel better about big box visits. ;)

    Enjoyed your post Kami.

  18. Mark Butler
    June 28, 2006 at 9:10 pm

    Pre-war Germany is a much better example of out of control inflation. Surely everyone has heard of the account of Germans who paid for loaves of bread with baskets full of rapidly depreciating paper currency. When the currency was renormalized I understand the ratio between old and new Deutschmarks was 1,000,000 to 1.

    It reminds me of those who said a few years back that the U.S. should pay off the national debt by creating a trillion dollar coin. So if you want to store a liquid asset, gold is probably a better choice, at least until the next FDR outlaws its private possession.

  19. Ian
    June 28, 2006 at 9:19 pm

    And like the bloody sacrifices performed by priests of old, this ritual is one that ends in our stomachs.

    Excellent post Kaimi.

    Mormonism needs a week-long, annual festival that revolves around food-storage.

  20. June 28, 2006 at 10:26 pm

    Thanks for this post, Kaimi. There is indeed a comfort in having those buckets filled with staples! I’m not sure exactly why the Brethren continue to advocate food storage, but I have certainly made use of mine in short-term crises like extended power outages and trucking strikes in the U.S., and temporary food shortages and a hurricane in other countries.

    MikeInWe Ho (#14), Actually the Church does not advocate a “one-size-fits-all” approach to food storage. Local leaders adapt general guidelines to the diets and circumstances of the country. In many developing tropical countries where in-house storage is impossible, members are encouraged to have a garden. In some places they are even using the chapel grounds for cultivating vegetables. In countries where the government prohibits food being stockpiled (they may call it “hoarding”) members are told to store only the quantities permitted. Worldwide, there are many areas where a year’s supply of food is impossible. But the principle of being prepared can be taught within the appropriate framework. Those who are used to buying a handful of rice at a time are encouraged save up to buy enough for a week’s supply, etc.

    Also, I don’t think the counsel to store a year’s supply of food means that we would guard it with a gun and keep it to ourselves if a large-scale disaster occurred. Of course we would share with those around us. But what a blessing it could be to an area if there were a large number of members to do the sharing.

    In following this food storage counsel, the obedience factor may well be more important than the specifics of what we store. If we try to follow what the prophet says to the best of our ability, it may not matter if our food storage is a banana tree and ten pounds of rice, or a full year’s supply of all the basics for a North American. It may not matter if our stored food is washed away, given away, or used up by us and our family. In the end, we will know we have done what we could to prepare as we were asked to do; and we can have faith that the Lord will be mindful of us in our extremity.

  21. Tatiana
    June 29, 2006 at 2:53 am

    Food storage is awesome! As a convert, I think it’s one of the coolest things about the church. You buy in bulk when prices are low, and save money, as someone said. Food is the ultimate form of cash. It makes a great savings account. I feel so secure and prepared because of my food storage. (I store everything, not just food. I store toilet paper, foil, laundry detergent, anything at all that I would be loth to do without.) There are ten bazillion different ways that society can break down, for the short or long term, and grocery store shelves can stop magically filling (bird flu is one that pops into my mind – there may be a few weeks at the height of a pandemic during which most everyone will be home sick, dying, or caring for family members, and not on the job at the power plant, or behind the wheel of their trucks). Sure, it’s possible that you will lose it, but that’s true of any possesssions, and it doesn’t stop us from acquiring them. =) Which percentage of calamities would cause me to lose my storage, versus those in which it would come in handy? I’m sure there are some, and yet I am extremely happy that I have prepared against what I can. It’s wise like having health insurance, or a retirement account. I absolutely love food storage.

    It’s so interesting to me that the ways in which I feel the brethren are MOST WISE seem foolish to you guys. It makes me wonder if the things I kick my heels at are every bit as wise, but I just can’t see it. =)

  22. annegb
    June 29, 2006 at 8:54 am

    Good post, Kaimi. When our kids were little and we were dirt poor, our food storage consisted of a lot of home canned vegetables and venison that Bill had killed and we’d butchered in the kitchen ourselves, and fish he’d caught.

    Now that we’re older and don’t have any kids at home, I have things in my food storage like alfredo sauce and really good tuna fish. Plus the other stuff. There’s sort of a paradox about that. When you have lots of kids and really need lots of food storage, you can’t afford it.

    But we’re planning on taking care of our kids, too.

  23. MikeInWeHo
    June 29, 2006 at 10:42 am

    re: 20, 21 Thanks for those great comments. They really gave me some new light and made me consider this issue again. I think you’ve converted me to the wisdom of the Church’s current approach. The bird flu comment in particular made tremendous sense. I’m going to seriously re-examine my family’s own preparedness now. Hard to imagine where I’ll put a year’s supply of food in my condo, but perhaps there is more that can be done.

  24. Ben H
    June 29, 2006 at 5:58 pm

    Freaks!? Hey, by the time I was baptized, I had been sleeping on a bed made from wheat buckets for a good four years!

    The main obstacle to proper food storage nowadays is nobody has a decent cellar any more, to keep it all cool and fresh . . .

  25. paul frandsen
    June 29, 2006 at 7:52 pm

    I have enjoyed the post Kaimi. The comments have also reinforced a vague unease I have always felt about placing too much faith in banks and portfolios–not that I’m relying on them heavily in my retirement planning. Thank you also for concrete examples of times in the last 50 years where money has been devalued to the point of being worthless. I’m not an economist by training.

  26. cchrissyy
    June 29, 2006 at 11:25 pm

    23) our bird flu preparations include several bottles of pedialyte and medicines for fever and nausea for both kids and adults.
    Don’t know if I believe bird flu will come. But when the next regular virus hts, we’ll all apreciate a saved trip to the drug store!

  27. Kaimi Wenger
    June 30, 2006 at 2:14 pm

    Ben,

    You’re a philosophy grad student in Indiana . . . I don’t know if proffering yourself as an example changes the calculus much. :P

  28. June 30, 2006 at 4:56 pm

    Kaimi, Ben was a philosophy grad student in Indiana. Now he is a philosophy professor in Virginia. Does that change the calculus?

  29. goneagainfinnegan
    June 30, 2006 at 11:16 pm

    Proselytizing family members, I played up the many cultural advantages of Latter-day Sainthood including the 72-hour kit, food storage, and emergency preparedness. However, the response I got was not what I hoped for; instead, I heard, \”Well, we\’ve got guns, and we know who has the food.\”

    Somehow the fact that we know who has the bourbon and the guns…doesn\’t make me feel much more secure.

  30. Lona Smith
    October 10, 2006 at 10:54 am

    I used to think that having a years supply of food storage was a bit over the top. Right up until the Harmony,PA area was flooded out. All the supermarkets were on the other side of a closed bridge-and they were flooded out. They were closed for 2 weeks. Every road in or out of our valley was flooded and closed. The ONLY local business that was open was, of course, the bar. My food and water storage kept many households in our neighborhood from going without. The only thing I hadn’t stored was baby formula, cuz we didnt have a baby. I will add a few cans this time around just in case. The funniest part of this whole story is that we completely used up our food storage blessing our neighbors. Then we moved-from our roomy apartment to a mobile home. WAY less storage space. Do you think our church community has helped us to replace even a small portion of that food storage!! HAH!!! We now have ZERO food or water stored, but a great feeling of knowing that the idea has been passed along to people who didn’t even know they needed to do it. Now if I could just figure out where to store food in a mobile home…………….

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