Saturday, April 30, 2011

Food in an Emergency

With severe storms devastating so many states (our hearts go out to all of our southern neighbors impacted by the recent tornadoes), we thought the following notes from Mary Frances of were timely and thought-provoking for anyone's preparedness in a power outage, and particularly for those whose diet restrictions cannot be tossed aside, even during an emergency.  Here's what she wrote:

Staying Gluten Free in an Emergency

Yesterday my husband and I drove through the community of Phil Campbell Alabama.  An enormous tornado whipped through that town Wednesday afternoon and miles and miles of homes were completely destroyed.  We didn't even realize that we were getting close to the town as we drove because all of the physical landmarks were completely gone.  Homeowners stood by the road looking at a landscape of debris trying to figure out what to do next. And unfortunately, the same sort of scene could be found throughout Alabama yesterday.

Our house did not sustain any damage - a tornado went by in the air early Wednesday morning while we were asleep and a tree fell to within feet of our home.  As I saw the destruction yesterday and read more coverage online, I began to think about whether our pantry reserves are large enough and whether we were prepared to obtain and cook gluten free food during an extended emergency period.  Unfortunately, the answers were "No" and "No".

Here are a few lessons learned from our experience.

Lesson #1:  Having cash on hand is essential.  We use debit cards or online banking for 99% of our transactions.  However, when the power is out debit cards and online banking are useless.  And unless your bank has a generator you won't be able to get cash from the bank or ATM.  We ate breakfast at Waffle House on Wednesday morning (beware cross-contact from the grill) and they let us leave a check until we were able to get cash from an ATM and come back and pay our bill.

Lesson #2:  Food preservation requires planning.  I was pleased that we were able to salvage most of the food in our refrigerator and freezer. We have one large cooler and I packed it full with frozen fruits and vegetables and the refrigerator perishables.  There was enough frozen food that we didn't need (or have room for) ice, but everything kept cool for two days. 

In the past we've stored lots of food in an upright freezer. I'm not longer a fan of this because there is the potential to lose so much food in a power outage.  Unless a generator is available, I think canned food storage is the way to go for food stores that cannot be consumed within 48 hours.

Lesson #3: Heat is required to cook. We ended up leaving Birmingham and going to my parent's farmhouse because they have a gas stove.  We knew that the power might be out there, but at least we'd be able to cook easily.  (Little did we know that the tornado devastation near the farmhouse was much worse than what we had at home). 

If that hadn't been available, then we would have needed to cook on the grill. I've done some grill cooking in pots, but not much. It's something that I plan to practice.Perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a gas campstove available for emergencies. If none of these are an option, then I think it would be good to keep produce on hand that keeps well.  We ate a good bit of salad and fresh fruit while the power was out.

Lesson #4: A stash of GF convenience foods will keep you sane.  I don't keep a lot of GF processed foods on hand. We're not eating a lot of grain-based foods right now, and when we do I generally make it by hand.  That being said, I was very grateful for my Mom's stash of GF food that she keeps at the farm.  It was so helpful to be able to whip up a batch of GF pancakes for the kids on Thursday morning (Thank you, Betty Crocker and Mom).  

John and I talk a good bit about gluten free food stashes in our ebook, The Gluten Free Survival Guide.  After the past two days, I think we need to restock the food stash in the Yukon.  Cheetos, nuts, juice boxes, and bottled water go a long way towards keeping everyone happy if you need to drive out of a disaster area. (On that note, I'm also thinking that I'd like to keep more gas in the Yukon)

Lesson #5: Be prepared for the long-haul Between my pantry and the food Mom had left at the farm, I was able to cook very good meals without doing any shopping for two days. However, if we had been without power for a longer period, then we would have been having some very strange meals and run out of food pretty quickly.  Some communities in Alabama will not have power for at least a week (the main transmission lines in many areas of the state were destroyed).  Ice storms in the winter can knock out the power for two - three weeks. 

Based on my experience this week I can count on frozen food for 2 days refrigerator food for 2 - 3 days, fresh produce for 2 - 5 days, and canned food indefinitely.

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