We here in D.C. got a bit of a shakeup Tuesday afternoon when a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck. There are other parts of the United States and the world that put up with far worse seismic disturbances, of course. But for us, this was far from the norm. And to top things off, we have Hurricane Irene making her way up the coast. In these parts, storms should not have eyes and I’m hoping she keeps her distance and we won’t feel her full force like current weather reports are predicting. (Isabel was all the hurricane I ever care to endure.) But wherever you live, it’s a good idea to be prepared for whatever disasters might spring up. You really don’t want to be that person at the grocery store before, say, Snowmageddon who in a fit of panic decides to stock up on wine and Dreamcicles instead of essential foodstuffs. And really, who thinks of cooking at times like these? You might someday find yourself in a situation where you won’t be able to use your usual cooking tools—an oven won’t do you much good if the electricity goes out—and you need to have an emergency plan for feeding yourself.
Let’s start with the basics of stocking your pantry. The American Red Cross recommends that you store enough food to last you for two weeks. Foods that will serve you especially well include: ready-to-eat canned meats and fruit, prepackaged beverages, high energy foods (granola, peanut butter, etc.), compressed food bars, instant meals (like cups of noodles) and comfort food (why not try to make the best of a bad situation?). Avoid salty foods and be careful with items that require water to prepare since you may need to rely on your water stash to keep hydrated and clean. Try to avoid really bulky items, especially if storage space is an issue. And a person should generally have about half a gallon of water a day for drinking, so stock up accordingly. Things like pasta, beans and rice are cumbersome to prepare in less-than-ideal conditions and should also be avoided. In the event of a power outage, consume perishables you have in your fridge and freezer before diving into your emergency store of dry goods.
And while it’s hard to be the consummate kitchen maven in the face of disaster, it’s still possible to manage food prep without a fully functional kitchen, which the Canadian Red Cross illustrated in a Wal-Mart cooking demo earlier this month. Local chefs were brought in to create recipes that could be made without water or electricity, and came up with dishes such as “disaster tacos”—canned chicken, aerosol cheese and salsa piled into a shell—and hemp seed bean salad. For more ideas, check out The Healthy Hurricane/Disaster Cookbook by Dr. Marcia Magnus of Florida International University. Free to download, it’s a helpful guide for how to pull together balanced meals and snacks. Some recipes do, however, require heating. For those of you who can swing by a book store, try flipping through books like Apocalypse Chow (especially if you’re a vegetarian), The Storm Gourmet or Emergency Food Storage and Survival Handbook.
If weather conditions allow you to go outside and use a kerosene heater or a grill, more power to you. Some people create stoves from tin cans that use alcohol for fuel, and you can find a number of tutorials on the web on how to craft one; but bear in mind that even the Boy Scouts of America has banned the use of these devices by their troops, so this is a device you use at your own risk. If you plan ahead, you can buy commercially manufactured stoves that use fuel pellets or stoves that use Sterno as a heat source. These are all pieces of camping equipment and are intended for use outdoors.
You can also search around the Internet for no-cook meals, though this method for meal planning requires a lot of sifting. Even though these recipes don’t require an oven, you might need other electrical appliances to prepare them, or the prep work itself might be more than you want to manage under stressful conditions. If you’ve ever had to put food on the table while all hell is breaking loose around you, tell us about how you managed to muddle through.
Oh, and one last piece of advice: Don’t forget the can opener.