While many are still out of the loop as to global financial developments – Spain has just joined Greece in the bailout line and Italy is looking peaked – enough are starting to become anxious about how they might be prepared in the event that the wheels come off of the economic bus. One of the big things that people tend to do, especially if they listen to Glenn Beck or are into Doomer mode, is assure that their larder is fully stocked. This isn’t as extreme as it appears as the unemployment rate is again rising and folks are wondering if and when they’re liable to be next. But stocking the pantry isn’t a one-off proposition and I’m going to spend the next day or two in reviewing the status of what’s in our own larder.
Most American households didn’t have the stocked pantries prior to the Great Depression. With a higher percentage of the family income spent on food and limited storage space in much smaller homes, many housewives did their shopping on an almost daily basis at the neighborhood grocer. The arrival of the supermarkets in the 1920s and improvements meant that food was more readily available and easily stored but that didn’t translate into a societal change until the Great Depression. Older Americans, children of the Depression, recalled the memories of bare pantries and no money and made major changes when they established their own households so that their own children wouldn’t undergo their own experiences. I recall, as a child, asking my own mother why we had so much in the pantry and her comments to the effect that she wouldn’t be caught shorthanded again.
Times are tense yet again and the reality is that there’s the prospect of another Lehman-style financial crisis as the Europeans face a continent-wide debacle due to huge debts and a structurally weak currency. How is it structurally weak? Remember that a currency is not only an economic device, but also a political one as it’s heavily dependent upon the policy choices and politics of it’s nation. The European bind is that they’ve got a currency which presupposes a political structure with full integration such as the United States has with it’s Constitution, yet their funding is heavily dependent upon the individual actions of the constituent states such as occurred in the earliest years of the US during the period of the Articles of Confederation. It’s a round currency in a square political hole. The simple reality is that the global financial system is so interdependent that what happens in Greece will not only affect the French, Spanish and other banks, but have a derivative effect upon the American banks which have all manner of exposure to the European banks.
Which brings us back to the family pantry. One of the key policy responses to these issues has been a repetitive flooding of liquidity into the financial markets from the various Central Banks and when they fill the buckets, the buckets tend to slosh around to other areas; one of the key areas is in the realm of commodities, particularly food. What’s become apparent from monitoring prices via a simple grocery basket – the PracticalDad Price Index – over 18 months is that food costs are now accelerating and their effect is being masked by flatter non-food prices within the grocery cart. Food prices are rising but incomes are not, so if you’re going to stock up, you have to assure that the resources that you expend now are as effective as possible.
Effectively preparing means that you are actually going to pay attention and manage the household food supply. It’s something on which I could personally do better, so time will be spent on the process.
- What do we presently have in the pantry?
- What is the age of the supply, i.e. am I sitting on cans eight years out of date? If you think it odd, understand that the Boy Scouts do an annual food drive for their neighborhood food banks and in sorting the food collected, we’ve come across cans of beans more than a decade past their expiration date.
- What do we actually need and what mismatch exists? Am I sitting on 20 cases of corn while I really need flour?
- What system must I begin to use to assure that this occurs more than once each decade with the loss of hundreds of dollars of food?
While this process happens, there are other and more general questions to answer. What is the time frame for which I need to prepare, end of the world or just a few months of supplemental food to help ease my future cash flow? How much am I willing and able to share with others, and who are those others?
The final upshot of the project is that this is another reminder of how our way of life is resetting to an earlier time, when families had to make much more conscious decisions about how to use their resources.