Growing up, my mom regularly foisted food storage powered milk on us, which we sleuthed from a mile away. It had a horrible mouthfeel and gave us the runs, hives, or both. Food storage was bomb shelter fare we’d eat only if the Russians attacked, there was an alien invasion, or a famine — and cannibalism was our only hope.
If freeze dried jello existed, Mormons would buy it. In bulk. Because somewhere along the way we were told to Be Prepared. Hence Food Storage. Testimonies and advice from the pulpit of families saved by their ample pantries helped bolster this, and by the 1970’s, if you were Mormon, you likely had more oats under your bed than box springs.
Understand this: Mormons are over-achievers. When asked to do something, we often go the second mile, then the third, forth, and fifth. Food storage is no exception. Looking back, I’m not sure church leaders knew the zeal with which we would take this idea and sprint. Sprint we did.
Thankfully, food storage isn’t a prerequisite for baptism or temple attendance, and in the beautiful way time has of easing people’s fixations, Mormon attitudes are shifting. I saw it myself at a LDS women’s regional meeting in the early 2000’s. We were counseled to go home, open our food storage (decaying despite those perky oxygen packets) and actually use it. We didn’t need to wait until World War III, an epidemic, or the second coming.
I still remember the day my mom began earnestly unearthing her stockpile. It was curious gold: crystallized honey in giant silver metal bins. Instant potatoes gray with time. Dozens of Mason jars embalming more weevils than wheat.
“When Vincent Van Gogh was mad, he actually once tried to eat his pigments.”
Eating stale food storage is akin to a brilliant-but-nuts artist eating his paint. Why do it at all unless you’re crazy?! So I asked my mom why she’s still keeping this stuff. Her answer? “Stale food is still better than nothing. In tough times we can eat it, give it to neighbors…and live.” She has a good point. Aesthetically it’s lacking, nutritionally it’s waning, but still. It fills the belly.
My husband and I inherited our first food storage from Mormon neighbors ten years ago. They were divorcing and this was the fall out. Cases of unopened plans and neglected regret. But not to us; we felt rich: Powered cheese flavoring! Beef bouillon by the pound! Freeze dried chicken bits! We should have dumpster chucked it, instead we hoarded it six-feet-high in our closets and wondered, “Will we ever use this stuff?” We didn’t. Except the powdered cheese flavoring — worked well on popcorn.
Fast forward to the present. After ditching the last food storage, we accumulated more. (It collects in Mormon pantries like lint.) Only now I’m older and wiser (heh), and tired of life’s luggage, so recently on a whim I experimented, determined to keep or toss it all.
Here are some of my findings:
Note: shelf-stable cheese and chicken protein are still big players in the modern food storage circuit, as well as plucky pioneer and patriotic American packaging.
Powdered orange “smoothie protein drink”: Good. Tastes like melted cremescicle bars or Tang with powdered milk. Served best with ice or blendered.
“Chicken” noodle soup: No thanks. Chicken protein nuggets? Mmm, not. My kids like it hot but the soup soon congeals. This is desperation food. Visually depressing, zero bowl appeal, exudes a weird funk.
Cheesy instant mashed potatoes: No way. It has a vague orange tint; smells like a mix of fake cheese and time. Rubbish.
Oatmeal with apple and cinnamon flavor: Awesome. This is a gold mine, we have loads of it.
If I bear burdens
they begin to be remembered
as gifts, goods, a basket
of bread that hurts
my shoulders but closes me
in fragrance. I can
eat as I go.
-Denise Levertov, from “Stepping Westward”
When it comes to food storage, we can consider Levertov’s advice and “eat as (we) go.” Buy food we love, that we can afford, that is good for us. Eat, enjoy, repeat. Sure, we may consider food storage more burden than gift, but it definitely earns points for survivalism. Just please don’t hoard it for decades untouched, only to throw it away. It’s as if our logical, Mormon pioneer brains have been replaced with dehydrated au gratin potatoes.
“We want to take it all in, for one last time, we want to eat the world with our eyes.”
I want to savor food, eat it with my eyes. Food storage, at least the variety I’ve encountered, is the antithesis of all things good and holy. Does it have to be this way? Decades old Cheese-Its and rancid trail mix don’t make me feel pioneer, they make me sad.
So go, unearth your food storage, and decide today if you’re going to use it, toss it, or give it away. And who knows? You might bless someone else’s day.