For Kevin Nield, alleviating fear was a matter of pointing to the pantry.
When a young couple recently shared with Nield their anxiety about the current economic climate and how it might adversely affect their family, Nield asked the couple to look at their shelves. The pantry was stocked with a reserve of everyday food items, while an adequate supply of water had been stored in the basement.
"It looks to me like you're in preparation mode," he told the couple. "Don't shift to fear mode. Just continue to do your best."
It's that very principle the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sought to convey in 2007, when two pamphlets, one of which outlined a new food storage initiative, were issued to the worldwide membership.
The message was simplified and meant to encourage. Members were counseled that sustained, "small" efforts would go a long way toward fulfilling the commandment to establish a food storage and realizing the blessings of preparing for adversity.
One year later, that counsel looms large.
With fuel costs rising in an unsteady economy, food has taken a prominent place in the national conversation. When viewed within this context, the church's new food storage initiative has become especially relevant. Economic adversity is a present reality, and putting forth the effort to prepare for and navigate through such times by "laying up in store" is at the heart of the church's message.
"When the economy is turned upside down like it is right now, it would appear that the counsel we have received is very much for our time," said Nield, director of bishop's storehouse services for the welfare department of the LDS Church.
JUST MORE THAN a month ago, a Wall Street Journal columnist wrote that "maybe it's time for Americans to start stockpiling food."
In an article titled "Load up the pantry," Brett Arends suggested that with food inflation hovering around 4.5 percent a year for the average U.S. household, storing large quantities makes good economic sense.
An April 21 article in the Deseret News chronicled how rising food prices have affected Utah families and cited large increases in the assistance sought from organizations like the Utah Food Bank.
According to MarketWatch .com, the price of wheat this month is 43 percent higher than the U.S. Department of Agriculture's forecast from the previous year. And while the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization recently reported that food prices stabilized in April, they aren't likely to come down, MarketWatch noted.
"It's not difficult to determine that food is an issue out in the world, from those who may have a very difficult time getting food to those who are facing the increase in cost of food," Nield said.
These days, there is ample application for the church's message on preparation.
"All Is Safely Gathered In: Family Home Storage," one of two church-issued pamphlets in 2007, encourages members "to prepare for adversity in life by having a basic supply of food and water and some money in savings." The First Presidency counsels against going "to extremes," and states that "with careful planning, you can, over time, establish a home storage supply and a financial reserve."
The pamphlet asks members to build a three-month supply of commonly used food, set aside drinking water, establish a financial reserve and work toward a longer-term food supply.
Nield acknowledged that in certain areas of the world, long-term food reserves aren't possible, but the principle has international application. For some, laying up in store may mean having a reserve days in advance rather than months, Nield said.
"It may be that simple, and that's why the brethren have asked to reduce and simplify this message, so people feel like it's possible," Nield said.
"The message is worldwide, and that's the point."
According to Craig Israelsen, an associate professor in the school of family life at Brigham Young University, consumers are always vulnerable. Abiding by the church's counsel can reduce the risk of being affected by economic disruptions, such as a truck strike, Israelsen said.
"I think part of the goal is to get us in a mind-set of not being the consumer all the time," he said. "In the broadest sense, the guidelines of the church are trying to make us less dependent on the daily ebb and flow of the products in the market."
Where possible, a three-month food reserve is the best way to make sure there's food on the table, Nield said.
"Some food in the home seems significantly more available than some food on a truck on the highway or on a shelf at the grocery store," he said. "That home storehouse is an essential part of having something to eat."
PROGRESSING TOWARD THAT goal, Nield suggested, is as simple as an extra jar of peanut butter in the pantry.
Nield reiterated the counsel found in the church's pamphlet, which suggests buying "a few extra items each week to build a one-week supply of food," and then building off that.
"If at all possible instead of buying one can of tuna and one can of soup and one bottle of peanut butter, to buy two and have one laid up in store," Nield said.
The idea, he said, is to establish a pantry of commonly used items.
Tapping into long-term food storage would signal major life changes, but when it comes to short-term reserves, it's important to consider what your family is accustomed to and to store items that will be used, Israelsen said.
"Eat what you store, and store what you eat," he said. "Most people don't like a surprise in their diet when they're surrounded by other disruptions in their life. Food is a comfort area, especially for children."
Building a reserve doesn't have to be a major expenditure, Israelsen said. One way to augment preparation and reduce cost is to simplify diets. Eating more basic foods and simply eating less may not be convenient or appealing, but it will save money.
"If people want to make substantial adjustments in their budget, it requires substantial adjustments in their behaviors, and that is a stumbling block for a lot of us," he said.
Oscar Pike, a professor of food science at BYU, said that a little extra effort like making your own bread from raw ingredients, or buying meat and potatoes instead of pizza will show up in the budget.
"Items that you have to prepare yourself are going to be cheaper generally than items that have been prepared for you," he said. "It comes with the price of inconvenience, but that's how you save by doing the work."
At the same time, potential adverse conditions must be taken into account when building a short-term supply, Israelsen said. Because the idea is to prepare for an emergency, Israelsen stressed the importance of considering potential factors such as not having access to electricity. In that situation, a pre-cooked can of stew that doesn't require heating would be a valuable commodity, Israelsen said.
"You have to think about stuff that's immediately available to eat," he said.
Israelsen recently had the opportunity to live off the food in his pantry. In his home ward, the bishop encouraged willing members to test their reserves by living off the food and water stored in their home for one week. The experience taught Israelsen the importance of water.
"What we learned is that you have to have a lot of water stored and that's just for drinking," he said. "Water storage is the immediate need in an emergency."
FOR THOSE WHO have yet to establish a reserve, Nield has one piece of advice get started.
"Once you've started, keep adding to it," he said. "And I believe the Lord will bless us and show us the way as individuals, as families, regardless of our family's circumstance, how we might best approach and apply the counsel that has been given to us by the First Presidency."
Because the initiative is still relatively new, Nield said it's difficult to gauge its impact, but he said the simplicity of the message should serve members well. He acknowledged that each family's circumstances are different, but suggested that the principle of the initiative can be a source of comfort in an unstable economic climate.
"It seems to me like one way to alleviate fear and panic is to prepare a little," he said. " ... Is it having everything one could possibly want to get through whatever circumstance might come along? That's probably not the case. It's probably to be (as) prepared as we possibly can based on our individual circumstances.
"I'm confident many people are not out there panicking, because they've thought about it, they've been cautious, they've been prudent ... Hopefully we're all watchful and hopefully some will benefit from the counsel that's being given."
For Israelsen, the initiative has benefits beyond the pantry. Focusing on preparation, he said, helps us prioritize what's most important and that, in turn, changes who we are.
"It's wise at a very human level," he said. "It also creates a general sense of responsibility for yourself, and that sense of responsibility begins to create its own set of behavior patterns, and all of them are good."Through small degrees, we become the type of people we want to be."
"A cardinal principle of the gospel is to prepare for the day of scarcity. Work, industry, frugality are part of the royal order of life."
Bishop Keith B. McMullin, second counselor in Presiding Bishopric, April 2007 general conference
Web site: Providentliving.org
Available resources: "All Is Safely Gathered In: Family Home Storage" pamphlet and "All Is Safely Gathered in: Family Finances" pamphlet, both available on the Web siteAvailable products: Food storage items, including the family home storage starter kit, are available at ldscatalog.com or by calling 800-537-5971.
E-mail: [email protected]