WEST VALLEY CITY — It wasn't a community catastrophe that made Stephan Gabrielson break into the extra supplies of food he had stored in his home.
"I envisioned a disaster on a large scale where everyone had to rely on their food storage to survive — something like an earthquake where we are without power and transportation for weeks," Stephan said recently in his home in West Valley City.
"But that isn't what we use it for," his wife Fayone added.
"There are more down-to-earth and practical uses for food storage," Stephan said.
Many of the uses for food storage are related today's recovering economy. Tim Pedersen, manager for Emergency Essentials, a group of stores specializing in emergency preparedness, said buying food storage for possible economic problems is becoming more popular.
"Since Sept. 11, the reasons for getting food storage has branched out in scope to include job loss and the economy," Pedersen said. "Before then, food storage was not used as frequently except when we were forced to eat it."
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average time someone may spend out of work these days is 40.9 weeks. With this reality facing many Americans, food storage like the Gabrielsons' have can be an economic lifesaver.
But it requires a different mindset said Teresa Hunsaker, family and consumer sciences agent at the Utah State University Extension. "If all I am storing for is the big earthquake or the inevitably flood. If I am basing, philosophically, my food storage program on needing it because there is a natural disaster I typically will plan and structure it differently than if I look at it as a supplement to a financial downturn," she said.
The Gabrielsons had to change their mindset back in 1999 after Stephan was out of work for about nine months.
The type of food storage they used then was mostly staples — the typical number ten cans of flour, sugar and the like. The basics helped them, but the experience also taught them to expand their understanding of the purposes of food storage.
Since then, the contents of their food storage have become more useable on a daily basis. "We learned early on to avoid the foods we don't like and to get and store more of the foods we do like," said Cameron Gabrielson, their 18-year-old son.
"We get things we are more willing to eat so we are not eating macaroni and cheese every day for three weeks in a row," Stephan Gabrielson said.
Shopping in the basement
The Gabrielsons' latest foray into their food storage began in 2009 when Stephan, an auditor in Salt Lake County's budget division, took a six percent cut in compensation due to the county's efforts to reduce costs.
That loss of income plus rising costs in living and other unexpected costs sent the family back to their food storage as a way of supplementing their income.
"We go to our food storage now the way we used to go shopping," Fayone Gabrielson said.
The family does, however, go to the grocery store for items that are perishable, such as milk and fresh vegetables and meat. And they keep their eye out for specials to buy in larger amounts.
"Some people want to store their food and then never think about it again," said Michelle Lloyd, manager at the Food Technology Research Center at BYU's Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science. "Others buy a lot of different foods and rotate their way through it by eating it as part of their regular meals."
Hunsaker at USU said she is seeing this more and more. . "I'm so glad that there are families who planned," Hunsaker said. "I work with families in my finance counseling — and I know when they have had food storage it has made all the difference in being able to keep the roof overhead and divert the money they would have spent on food to a more needed spot."
The Gabrielsons are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which encourages its members to get started in food storage. The church recommends people begin with a three-month supply of food that is part of their normal diet. Ideally, people would have a year's supply of food.
Fayone Gabrielson talked about how they followed what their church taught about being prepared for tough times.
Bringing back the pantry
But there may be an older wisdom at work in a year's supply of food storage — something that harkens back to when life and food was more seasonal.
"It is a generational thing," Fayone said. "Those who are farm-raised have a different perspective."
On a farm things are stored seasonally in the pantry. Fruits and vegetables harvested in one season are preserved to stretch across the other seasons. Peaches canned in September can be eaten through August the next year and beyond.
A longer-range view of shopping can have much of the same effect — and can save money without even thinking about impending disasters or elections. Some items are cheaper at different times of the year. Sales on other items may not come often, but if carefully taken advantage of can save money over that year.
But people shouldn't buy a case lot sale special on rarely used items such as Tabasco sauce (unless they are planning on giving them out as Christmas gifts next year: "Dear Neighbor, Here is the hottest gift this season").
"The cost of food has increased at a higher rate than the standard inflationary rate," Hunsaker said. "The idea is to budget, if possible, to take advantage of lower costs."
There are many families who can't afford to buy in bulk, but if people have the flexibility in their budget to accumulate things on sale, it is one of the smartest things they can do, Hunsaker said. "I may not know how to can or even desire to can, but I can read ads and know when it is a good buy on apple sauce," she said.
For the Gabrielsons the use of the food storage has worked. Its only drawback is it is dwindling.
"We are about half empty," Fayone said. "At one time our food storage was brimming."
Stephan said, "I hope our situation will stabilize to the point where we are not taking more out of the storage than we are putting back into it. It is like one step forward and two back right now."
"Life keeps happening," Fayone said.