The Security of a Food Supply

An adequate food supply could be the key to your family’s survival

A general feeling of security is derived from having a combination of valued things, such as the feeling that one is living according to his religious convictions, is loved and respected by others, and has good health. The feeling of security or well-being is less complete if any valued item is lacking.

An important part of personal security is having an adequate supply of material goods and means to meet physical needs, both in the present and in the future.

Brigham Young frequently stated that our religion is a practical religion. He advised the Saints to provide for themselves from the native elements. “If you cannot provide for your natural lives,” he said, “how can you expect to have wisdom to obtain eternal lives?”

Moreover, the general Church welfare handbook states: “… welfare leaders will earnestly teach and urge Church members to be self-sustaining to the full extent of their powers. No true Latter-day Saint will, while physically able, voluntarily shift from himself the burden of his own support. So long as he can, under the inspiration of the Almighty and with his own labors, he will supply himself with the necessities of life.”

Recently the Church food storage plan was explained to a nonmember, who was impressed and increased her family’s supply of food on hand. Not long after this, the rent of the family was raised. Later she explained how happy she was that the family had a supply of food on hand so that expenditures could be decreased until they had adjusted their income to the rent increase.

Minor emergencies that are threats to security occur in the lives of all families. The threat of major emergencies makes planning for the future even more important. Loss of income due to illness or death is a possibility each family faces. Wage earners may be laid off because of strikes or slack periods, and unemployment compensation is not always adequate to care for family needs, especially if obligations for installment payments are involved. Moreover, there are times when heavy spending is required of the family, such as when a child marries, goes on a mission, or attends college. For many families, the income does not increase to meet major demands.

Impressed with the importance of material security, the authors made a study of ninety Mormon families to learn more about the security families are assuring for themselves. The following questions were asked:

How long do you believe your family could live as it normally does without going to a store?

How long do you believe your family could survive without going to a store?

How much food do you have on hand?

Close to half, or 45 percent, said that if they lived as they normally do, they could get along two weeks or less without going to a store, and 31 percent said they could get along between two and three weeks. No family said it could go over four months. However, if they could supplement what they had stored with fresh meat, fresh eggs, and fresh vegetables, they could live as they normally do for a much longer time.

As to how long they could survive without going to the store, their answers indicated this was for a longer period of time than if they were living as they normally did. Over one-fourth (29 percent) said they could survive for a year or more without going to a store. Close to one-fifth (19 percent) said they could survive six months to a year; and over half (51 percent) said it would be less than six months.

The families were asked the amounts of vegetables, fruits, tomatoes, meat, milk, flour, wheat or cereal, fats and oils, and sugar they had on hand. The weight of a can, quart, or package of food was determined, and the pounds of food on hand were totaled for each family. In determining how long the food on hand would last a family, the number in the family and their food needs according to age and sex were determined. (Quantities of food for a week based on good nutrition according to age and sex of a person are listed in Family Fare, Home and Garden Bulletin No. 1 [U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1966], pp. 14–15.)

After lists were made of the food each family had on hand, and the food needs of each family had been determined, how long the food would actually last the family was next calculated.

While LDS families are storing more foods in some of the food groups than others, the supply of food on hand in the various groups would last the majority of the families less than three months.

Milk, meat, fats, and oils would last the families less time. Foods of which they had the largest quantities stored were flour, grain or cereal, tomatoes, vegetables, fruits, and sugar. Thus it appears these families overestimated their survival capabilities considerably.

Food Group

Percentage of Families Whose Food Supply Would Last Less Than Three Months





Flour, grain or cereal


Canned tomatoes


Vegetables and fruits


Fats and oils


Sugar and sweets


Having a supply of food on hand doesn’t mean having a reserve labeled “For Emergency Only.” As one person stated, “We store on one end and eat off the other end.” Of the families in the study, two-thirds had some method for knowing which food had been stored longest, either through dating or placement, so that the food stored the longest was eaten first. There are several reasons why families should use the supply they have on hand and add to it:

1. Some packaged foods become rancid and lose their flavor when they are stored for long periods of time.

2. Foods that are stored indefinitely may lose their color, quality, and nutritive value. Temperature and light influence these losses.

3. There is more danger of loss from insects when food is stored over long periods of time.

To project ahead for the amounts of food your family uses, the following method prepared by the Utah Nutrition Council is recommended.

1. Determine your family needs.

Lists of Food your Family Needs

Keep a list of all food used for two weeks or one month. Record in easy measures—teaspoons, cups, can size, etc. Also record nonfood items used—toilet tissue, soap, personal supplies, and other items your family needs.

Using your lists, total how much of each item was used over a two-week or one-month period.




27 quarts


21 cups


3 No. 3 1/2 cans

Group the foods into convenient categories:


Dairy products

Fresh, frozen meat

Canned meat

Fresh vegetables

Frozen, canned vegetables

Frozen, canned fruits

Fats, oils


Fresh fruits


2. Plan your storage items.

First, set up 4 sheets of paper.

Yearly Storage Items(click to view larger)

Page 1 Essential Foods

Then multiply across your paper by the appropriate number for the storage periods you wish to use (1 month—16 lbs., 3 months —48 lbs., etc.).

Take inventory of what you have on hand, and buy items you need to round out your storage plan. Now you won’t have an excess of one item and none of another just as essential.

3. Rotate your stored items.

Some items are used more frequently. Some have storage life of three months while others can be stored for a year. Example: If you store six months’ supply of an item and you plan to rotate it within one year, one-half should be used and replaced in six months.

4. Plan facilities for food storage.

The Latter-day Saint families who cooperated in the study have many different places where they store food. Almost one-third of the storage areas are in the kitchen or somewhere else on the main floor of the home. Fourteen percent of the garages are being used for storage; 10 percent of the food storage is in the basement furnace room; and 25 percent is in a utility room in the basement.

Forty-one percent said their storage area is adequate, while 59 percent said it is inadequate. Reasons for inadequacy are that there is too little space, no shelves and bins are available, and the temperature and moisture are unsatisfactory.

5. Give attention to temperature where food is stored.

Temperature in the storage of food is more important than many have believed. Food may taste and look the same yet differ in food value. To make sure food nutrients are protected, store food at the coolest temperature available in the home. If possible, keep canned food in a cool, dark place where the temperature is no higher than 50° to 60° F. Temperatures may be lower provided the food containers do not break.

The following example shows food loss in relation to temperature: Canned fruits and vegetables have small losses of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) when stored at 65°. Losses are about 2 to 7 percent after four months and gradually increase to about 10 percent by the end of one year. When, however, the storage temperature is 80°, losses range up to 15 percent after four months, up to 20 percent after eight months, and up to 25 percent after a year.

Having a supply of food on hand is part of providing for the physical needs of the family. But it is just one part of a suitable program for achieving material security. Families should also take steps to have adequate clothing, proper housing, cash reserve, and adequate insurance coverage.

Dr. Poulson is a professor of family economics and home management at Brigham Young University.

Dr. Christiansen is professor and chairman of the Department of Sociology at BYU.