Food For Thought

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Food Anxiety in Tough Economic Times: Should Americans Start Stockpiling Food?

Practical Tips for Emergency Food Storage

Today's second steep stock market crash coupled with wallet-draining food prices have many Americans wondering, "Should I start stockpiling food?"  During times of economic uncertainty, people become anxious about the main stays of living: food, shelter and clothing. Our society as a whole has become used to the instant gratification of going to the neighborhood grocery store or corner fast food restaurant to buy food-on-demand. But what if we didn't have the money?  What if there was an interruption in the food supply?  How would we cope?  Today, the idea of emergency food storage is gaining attention. 

With unemployment hovering around 9%, more Americans are struggling to put food on the table.  Nearly 15% of US households are food insecure (USDA, 2009).  These are households that are uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because there is insufficient money or other resources for food. High food insecurity goes hand in hand with unemployment and poverty.  Demand at food banks is skyrocketing with the number of first-time visitors surging to record highs.

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Anxiety about a looming economic recession, or even depression, has triggered panic amongst some households, leaving many to ponder the benefits of long-term food storage. Being prepared for an emergency is one way to cope with fiscal uncertainty and the food storage industry is thriving. Websites that offer advice about everything from home canning, to sustainable gardens to purchase of long-lasting foods are reporting more "hits. 

Whether you are preparing for economic or natural disaster, here are some tips for successful food storage:

  • Have enough food and water for at least 3 days.  This is for all types of emergencies, including natural disasters, water-shut offs etc.
  • Have 1 gallon of water per person per day available.
  • Store canned goods in a cool, dry place with at least one manual can opener.
  • Keep some matches handy in case you need to "cook" without electricity.
  • Canned goods should include things like canned meats, fruits, and vegetables that require little to no cooking.
  • Create an "emergency" pack, especially if you live in an area prone to natural disasters.  This kit should contain a small supply of medications, first aid, food rations such as nutrition bars and water and of course matches, a flashlight and some batteries.  Keep the kit in an easy to carry plastic bin.  Check the expiration dates regularly and re-supply as needed.
  • For the long term, consider freeze-dried foods that can be stored for years. In my opinion, the choices offered by Daily Bread (www.dailybread.com) are tasty and provide good nutrition and variety.  Some of the entrees are a little high in sodium,  but overall, the vitamin and mineral content  of the majority of their options are similar to non freeze dried foods.  (I have no affiliation with dailybread.com).

Other actions:

The idea of stockpiling food in preparation for impeding economic disaster is nothing new.  To this day, many who grew up during the Great Depression squirrel away mass quantities of canned goods.  And who can blame them?  My parents were born in 1926 and 1931, and they remember going hungry.  During that time, unemployment was high, the stock market crashed and home values soured.  People started taking money out of the bank and hording it; wages were cut but those with jobs were thankfulHunger was common. As a result, Depression-era folks made it their mantra to "be prepared, just in case." 

Today, the economic climate shares some similarities to the Great Depression.  Instead of fretting over what could or might happen, a sound approach might be to consider practical food storage or other action.  Communities everywhere are offering canning classes, gardening seminars and tips for "food survival." Consider helping others by donating to a local food bank, start a garden, or store some food in an emergency kit...there is no harm in being ready....just in case. "Confidence comes from being prepared." -- John Wooden

Martina M. Cartwright, Ph.D., R.D., is an adjunct professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Arizona and an independent biomedical consultant.

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