Jump to Navigation

Cool Things - Civil Defense Food Kit

Civil defense food kit

A Topeka family purchased this food kit in the 1960s, hoping to survive the dropping of a nuclear bomb.

"In the event of an attack, the lives of those families which are not hit in a nuclear blast and fire can still be saved--if they can be warned to take shelter and if that shelter is available."-- John F. Kennedy, presidential address, July 25, 1961

Life in a nuclear fallout shelter was a grim prospect, but events during the Cold War made it an increasing possibility. Shelters were developed to mitigate the effects of a nuclear attack. Should such an attack occur, people were instructed to enter these shelters where (along with traumatized family members, foul odors, and confining spaces) they could look forward to consuming their daily share of granulated protein mix and vitamin C wafers.

Dr. Robert Parman probably envisioned similar conditions for his family when he constructed a fallout shelter in his Topeka home in 1961. As a local pediatrician, he was also aware of the alternative: radiation exposure.

Close-up of food kit label

Following instructions published by the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, Parman constructed his shelter from cinder blocks and wood purchased at a local lumberyard. Along with gallon jugs of water, he stocked it with three Emergency-Pak Food and Water Kits, one each for his wife, son, and himself.

Surviv-All, Inc., of New York City manufactured the food kits, but General Mills developed the central component--a gallon can containing a granulated protein mix called Multi-Purpose Food (MPF). General Mills had experimented with shelf-stable food engineered for fallout shelters since 1960. Served hot or cold, wet or dry, three scoops of MPF were all shelter occupants needed to meet required daily nutrients and caloric intake. General Mills recommended adding MPF to other foods, such as tomato juice for breakfast and peanut butter sandwiches for dinner, suggesting the product's flavor may have been less than desirable. If requested, General Mills would even supply innovative recipes for cooking the post-nuclear apocalypse staple.

Close-up of MPF fan

Each kit also contained 14 cans of water, enough to last one individual two weeks. This was considered an adequate amount of time for radiation to drop to acceptable levels, after which occupants were to emerge and forage the outside world for food.

Though Parman constructed a shelter and purchased food kits with his own money, other citizens expected the federal government to supply these items. Early in the 1960s the Department of Civil Defense initiated surveys to identify potential public fallout shelters and formed partnerships with local municipalities to construct and stock them. By the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, though, the initiative was found lacking. Food kits were belatedly rushed to makeshift shelters and many ended up rotting in warehouses.

Luckily, Parman never had a use for his Emergency-Paks. In 2006, he donated this kit to the Kansas Museum of History. The Parman family did use the shelter, though. Safe in their basement, they rode out the 1966 Topeka Tornado, an event whose aftermath has often been compared to a nuclear explosion.

 Listen to the Civil Defense Food Kit podcast Play Audio Tour

Entry: Cool Things - Civil Defense Food Kit

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2006

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.