Ethics of an Emergency Food Supply

The Ethics of Emergency Food Supplies: How to Balance Self-Preservation and Community Support

The Ethics of Emergency Food Supplies: How to Balance Self-Preservation and Community Support

In the UK, despite the illusion of calm predictability that we tend to feel, emergencies can happen at any time, from natural disasters to economic crises to accidents. During such emergencies, having a supply of food can be critical for survival. In fact, the UK government recommends that households store at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food and drinkable water in case of emergencies. This includes items such as canned goods, dried fruits, and bottled water. However, the question of how to balance self-preservation and community support in emergency food supply raises ethical considerations. In this article, we'll explore the ethics of emergency food supply, and provide tips on how to balance self-preservation and community support.

When emergencies occur, access to food can become limited or even non-existent. Having an emergency food supply can help ensure that you and your family have enough food to survive until help arrives. 

The Need for Self-Preservation in an Emergency

Self-preservation is a natural human instinct. When an emergency occurs, it's natural to want to ensure that you and your family have enough food to survive. However, the moral justification for self-preservation in emergency food supply can be questioned. Some argue that hoarding food during an emergency is selfish and goes against the principle of community support.

Self-preservation during an emergency can have negative consequences. If many people hoard food, there may not be enough for everyone in the community. This can lead to social unrest and even violence. Additionally, hoarding food can lead to waste, as perishable items may expire before they can be consumed.

The Need to Provide Community Support in an Emergency

As it stands, in the UK, around 8.4 million people are food insecure, according to research by the Food Foundation - these individuals and families are already struggling to find enough food to feed themselves, and during an emergency these issues are exacerbated. It is important to support those in need, particularly vulnerable members of the community such as the elderly or those with disabilities. Providing food to those in need can help build community resilience and foster a sense of solidarity.

However, providing food to others may mean sacrificing your own food supply, which can be a real problem if the emergency lasts for an extended period of time. Additionally, attempting to distribute food in the community can inadvertently lead to resentment if some members of the community feel that they are not receiving their fair share of food.

Balancing Self-Preservation and Community Support

There are a number of different approaches you could consider in order to strike an appropriate balance. One strategy is simply to ensure that you have enough food for yourself and your family, while also setting aside a portion to donate to those in need. Another approach is to work with your community to develop a plan for building an adequate supply and distributing emergency food, which can help ensure that everyone's needs are met.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some UK restaurants and cafes turned to feeding NHS staff and vulnerable members of the community. By donating food and resources, these businesses were able to support their community while also ensuring that their own needs were met. Another example is community food co-ops, which allow members to pool resources and ensure that everyone has enough food in times of need.


Emergency food supply raises important ethical considerations, particularly in terms of balancing self-preservation and community support. While it's important to ensure that you and your family have enough food to survive an emergency, it's also important to support those in need. By finding the right balance for you and your community, you can help build resilience and ensure that everyone has enough to eat during difficult times.

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