Friday, April 25, 2008

Food Crisis?

A "global food crisis" is upon us.

If you go to the grocery store - as my bride does frequently - you've no doubt noticed.

The cost of food is going up significantly faster than inflation. In fact, so much so that food is currently a sound investment, besides being one of life's necessities. An editorial was published in the April 21, 2008 Wall Street Journal. Author Brett Arends says, "I don't want to alarm anybody, but maybe it's time for Americans to start stockpiling food. ... Reality: Food prices are already rising here much faster than the returns you are likely to get from keeping your money in a bank or money-market fund." (The editorial can be read HERE.)

Stockpiling food? Who ever heard of such a thing?!

Will the increases in food prices be sustained? Hard to say... a lot of factors are contributing to it, including: 1) diversion of what would otherwise be food for bio-fuel, 2) escalating transportation expenses, 3) prosperity in countries that have traditionally been poverty-stricken, resulting in worldwide demand for good food. (Ya can't blame those Chinese people for wanting something to go with their rice!)

Combine those factors with the climate that seems to be growing increasingly unstable, and indeed it seems very prudent to have at least some food stored away.

Is all of this surprising?

It may be if you haven't been paying attention.

In my case, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I'm not surprised at all.

My church leaders have been encouraging me and my fellow saints to "store in your own basements and in your own private storehouses and granaries sufficient for a year’s supply." That advice was given in 1937 - more than 70 years ago - and has been repeated regularly since then. (More info HERE.)

Of course, thousands of years earlier, Christians were told by the Apostle Timothy, "If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel."

My parents set a good example for me as a child. They took our prophet's advice very seriously. We had a "fruit room" in that basement, its shelves stocked with canned goods. Mom joined the effort - she dutifully canned fruit. Dad also had some long-term freeze-dried food, etc. - the stuff that you don't need to rotate because it has a 20-year shelf life, but would sure be nice to have as an alternative to starvation.

(My childhood coincided with the "Cold War," when there was a movement afoot to prepare, at least in a small way, for a nuclear strike. Dad added onto our basement, specifying concrete walls that were several feet thick.)

We are trying to do the year's supply thing. (It's still a goal... not a reality. But we've made progress lately.)

It's not easy.

One of the main challenges is storage space. I bought 500 pounds of flour a few months back... do you know how much space it takes? A 5-gallon plastic bucket holds about 25 pounds of flour... so figure 20 of those buckets. And you can't just store it anywhere. Attics and garages are TERRIBLE! Food that is stored in temperatures much above "room" temperature will lose their nutritional quality, and spoil, much more quickly.

Another challenge is that of rotating. Most non-canned food has a shelf life anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. (And canned food doesn't last forever, either.) Somehow it's easier to just grab a bag of flour or sugar at the store, than to pop open that storage bucket and then replace its contents when it's empty.

I'm trying to catalog our food storage inventory in an Excel spreadsheet, so we can pay attention and get stuff used up as the expiration date approaches.

(We've also enjoyed some success in growing food in a garden. There's a good deal of satisfaction to be had in taking a crop of tomatoes and beets and cucumbers and peppers from bare ground in the springtime, to bottles on the pantry shelf a few months later.)

As far as I can tell, there's really no "down side" to having some food in storage. Unless it spoils and you have to throw it out. But that can be easily avoided with a little effort.

Ask yourself: "If the shelves at the grocery store were empty for whatever reason, and if transportation were cut off for whatever reason, how long would my current food supply last?"

One of life's lessons is... you need to prepare for a crisis BEFORE it happens. Once you are mid-crisis, it's too late to prepare. "Be prepared." (Golly - somebody oughtta use that for a motto, or something.)

For anyone interested, much more information about storing a supply of food can be found HERE.

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