SALT LAKE CITY – Towering grain silos overlook the main highway in Salt Lake City at the Mormon church’s Welfare Square. At grocery stores, there’s a whole section with large plastic tubs with labels that read, “Deluxe survivor 700.” Radio ads hawk long-term supplies of food with 25-year shelf lives.
And houses are equipped with special shelving for cans of beans, rice and wheat.
Storing away enough food and water in case of disaster, job loss or something worse is not just part of the fundamental teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it’s an idea that is increasingly catching on nationwide. And it’s also big business.
A large majority of food storage companies that do Internet sales are based in the state. Terms once used only by Mormons, such as 72-hour kit, are mainstream, as is the survivalist “preppers” philosophy that taps into the Mormon church’s century-old teachings on the topic.
“The wisdom behind preparing is taught heavily in this population,” said Paul Fulton, president of Ready Store, based in Draper, Utah, about 20 miles south of Salt Lake City. “They’ve led the way.”
The Mormon emphasis on self-reliance dates back to the mid-1800s when food storage began as a pragmatic way to ensure survival as church members trekked across the country to Salt Lake City, said Matthew Bowman, assistant professor of religion at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.
Church leaders gave everyone lists of what to bring and then stockpiled food at storehouses as towns were settled.
By the mid-1900s, church leaders worried about nuclear war were using more apocalyptic rhetoric in encouraging food storage. During the Cold War, church members were encouraged to have a two-year supply, Bowman said.
In the last two decades, the focus on food storage has shifted back to practicality.
“A lot of times we are thinking in terms of food storage that we are preparing for this major calamity or major disaster or for Armageddon,” said Rick Foster, manager of North America Humanitarian Services with the LDS church. “It’s not about that.
“It’s about helping all of us individually to get through these bumps that occur in our lives,” he said.
If members are prepared, they can help themselves and others in times of need, Foster said.
The church has a massive warehouse near the airport in Salt Lake City where shelves are stacked tall with boxes of food it uses to stock 143 grocery store-like storehouses it runs across the Americas to provide food to members in need.