Monday, November 28, 2016

Is Your Pantry Ready?

By Megan Barney, Elmira College Intern

During the 1950s and 1960s, there was a widespread fear of nuclear war. In response, the government advocated for the creation of fallout shelters, both in personal homes and in community places.  In Elmira, families built their own fallout shelters and organizations created community ones.  Among others, one was located in the since demolished Robinson Building on Lake Street.  Each location provided a central place for people to escape to in the event of a nuclear attack.
Advertisement, 1950
Robinson Building, c. 1960s
The Office of Civil Defense on the local, state, and federal levels also released comprehensive documents on how to survive a nuclear attack. Such publications included what goods and necessities should be stocked in the fallout shelter.  When it came to food, the New York State Civil Defense Commission and the United States Department of Defense suggested that food should be stockpiled in the shelter.  Each family member was supposed to have enough food for 14 days in order to let the nuclear fallout settle.

The suggested foods included milk, juice, fruits, vegetables, soups, one-dish meals, sweet spreads, crackers, cereals, beverages, sugar, hard candy, and salt, all of which equated to 2000 calories per day for an adult.  Most Civil Defense Offices argued that non-perishable food such as the ones listed above could last for up to three years if stored correctly.  In the case of emergency, however, moldy bread was edible, sour milk was drinkable, and fruits and vegetables with rotten spots were acceptable to eat.  Even foods that were exposed to nuclear fallout could be washed, peeled, and enjoyed.

C. 1950-60
In the case of a nuclear attack, water was more important for the survival of people than food.  Under extreme circumstances, people can survive three weeks without food, but only three days without water.  The Civil Defense Offices advocated that each family member should have seven gallons of drinking water stored in air tight containers.  In most cases, water could also be found in hot water heaters that often stored anywhere from 30 to 60 gallons of water. However, if push came to shove, water was readily available in different pipes in the home, including the toilet bowl.

In the end, the most important part of surviving an atomic bombing was not only finding immediate shelter and having a stockpile of food for two weeks, but also selecting familiar foods.  The New York State Civil Defense Commission suggested that families should select familiar foods because “they are more heartening and acceptable during times of stress” and could be a potential morale lifter in times of tragedy.  So if tragedy strikes, is your pantry and family ready?

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