Should you stock-up to prepare for 2000?

BY SUSAN KIM | WASHINGTON | March 1, 1999


WASHINGTON (March 1, 1999) -- How much food should you store in preparation

for the year 2000? It depends on whom you ask.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends three days worth

of food, water, and gas. The American Red Cross recommends between three

days and a week's worth. Many faith-based disaster response organizations,

basing their guidelines off FEMA and the Red Cross, are recommending

several days worth as well.

According to a congressional study released Sunday, food distribution could

very well be disrupted because of disruptions in global trade. Major U.S.

trading partners may not be able to address the computer glitch in time.

The Senators leading the study, Robert Bennett (R-UT) and Christopher Dodd

(D-CT) have cautioned people to prepare as they might for a significant

storm or a hurricane.

In an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, Dodd said, "It's not unwise to do

a little stockpiling," and the clarified that by specifying enough food,

water, and other essentials that would last two to three days.

How much is "a little" stockpiling? So far, neither Congress nor major

disaster response organizations are recommending anything extreme -- such

as stockpiling enough food for, say, 15 years.

Even denominations that traditionally advocate self-reliance and home

storage aren't increasing their recommendations on the amount of food to

store.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) recommends storing

enough essentials, including food, to meet your family's basic needs for

one year. But LDS has included that recommendation in its self-reliance

guidelines for more than 65 years -- it is not in response to the year 2000

(Y2K).

Mennonite Disaster Service recommends keeping a few days worth of food,

said Tom Smucker, executive director. "We're also suggesting that local

communities and churches sit down together and talk about Y2K, to try to

think about what might happen and prepare together," he said.

Thinking about "what might happen" during the Y2K rollover has mystified

even the experts. The President's Council on Y2K Conversion has identified

specific areas that will potentially be affected when computer systems and

electronic devices move from 1999 to the year 2000. But experts have issued

no official predictions on how food distribution may be affected by power

outages, transportation delays, in-store computer crashes, and other

Y2K-related problems.

The most logical way to proceed, according to most disaster response

leaders, is to treat Y2K like any other disaster. Adventist Community

Service (ACS) is recommending three days worth of food - again a guideline

that's not new.

"We've told people for years that they should be able to care for

themselves for 72 hours," said Larry Buckner, national disaster response

coordinator. ACS is planning a satellite-televised event in May where local

congregations can learn about Y2K.

"Right now we're looking at the information that FEMA and the Red Cross are

putting out. We're basing our recommendations off of that. We'll all be

singing the same song," he said.

But those in the business of selling specially produced Y2K food are

singing a different tune. Many survival food companies see Y2K as a

marketing opportunity, or even as a reason to launch a new business. Many

are already vending their products at specialty trade shows, through

catalogs, and on the internet, offering "Y2K Trial Packages" or

"superpails" prepared with CO2 flushing, oxygen absorbers, and metal

polyester for longer shelf life.

Some quote popular, but unsubstantiated rumors, regarding the extent of

Y2K-related problems, such as an internal memo in which the Central

Intelligence Agency was reported to have told employees to stockpile

emergency supplies and cash. Many use alarmist headlines to make their

sale: "Chaos is Almost Here!" "Caution: Don't Get Caught Unprepared!"

"Protect Your Family!" "Get Prepared to Know What This Nation is About to

Endure."

Some offer food-related accessories like family grain mills and sun ovens.

Almost all offer an on-line, second-by-second countdown to the year 2000,

and their assurance that, despite "extreme demand," food orders can still

be filled in a matter of weeks.

Even the most unlikely players have hopped on the Y2K bandwagon. The Amish

Barn -- a gift shop in Old Town Spring, Tex. that once sold only quilts,

jelly, furniture, candles, and the like - now sells Y2K products. In what

owner Rhonda Burke admits is "an oxymoron," The Amish Barn advertises its

Y2K products over the Internet.

Burke said she started stocking items like dehydrated food, family grain

mills, and emergency water filters only when people started coming into the

gift shop and asking.

What advice does she give people about stocking up? "I really can't tell

them what to do. They have to do what's in their heart. Some people are

stocking up for months, some for years," she said.

What about people who are going to extremes? "Who's to say what's

overboard?" she said. "You can't believe anything you hear about Y2K. We

aren't getting the whole truth from the government. As soon as someone says

they're an authority, don't listen to them."

"From a business standpoint, the increased demand is good, but from a panic

standpoint, it's bad," said Richard Proudfit, owner of Future Foods, a

business specially created for Y2K preparation. "We're telling people,

please, don't store for five, 10, 15 years. But people are filling their

basements and their garages. I want to tell them, hey, keep calm. Let's

face this issue. It's a matter of thinking 'if something were to happen,

how can I protect my family?'" he said.

Proudfit's signature Y2K product, a fortified rice-soy casserole sealed in

plastic pouch, looks similar to many boil-and-eat food products being

peddled in response to Y2K. In fact, the biggest difference may lie in what

Proudfit plans to do with his profit. He started Future Foods eight months

ago with the purpose of shifting any profits into Feed My Starving

Children, a nonprofit hunger relief organization he founded more than 10

years ago in New Hope, Minn.

In spite of his goal of topping $5 million in profits by December 31, 1999,

he is quick to caution against undue panic. But as media coverage

increases, as FEMA makes a national circuit offering workshops for

emergency managers, as disaster response organizations issue official

recommendations, and as National Guard troops receive early December 31

assignments, Y2K is becoming a more visible concern to the public. Y2K food

entrepreneurs will be looking at a viable, vulnerable marketplace.

"The panic has already started a little bit," said Proudfit. "People are

starting to call around, saying 'can I get food from you?' We're already

seeing an increase in prices. Deliveries are getting tighter. We've

delivered food to people from coast-to-coast."

"I prefer to see it as putting another $10 in the cookie jar, rather than

withdrawing thousands of dollars from the bank."

Updated March 1, 1999


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