Mastering Disaster

After 9/11 we were all told to have a disaster plan that included several escape routes, flashlights, batteries, blankets, and lots of food.

What kinds of food and how much are questions my wife and I answered a long time ago, when we survived the Loma Prieta earthquake in Northern California in 1989. After the quake, I stocked a new trash can with what I thought could sustain us for at least three days. I put the supplies outside the house, not inside, because houses have a tendency to collapse in earthquakes. On the one-year anniversary of the quake, I decided to write a story about how (or if) we could survive for three days on the supplies I squirreled away.

The deficiencies in my emergency pantry became immediately apparent after I woke up on the first morning. No coffee! I had forgotten to pack instant coffee and nondairy creamer, two things I do not consume under normal conditions. How was I going to heat the water for my coffee with no gas or electricity? On my outdoor grill. You could also use a small camp stove.

When I bit into the rice cake for breakfast, I realized my second mistake. The rice cakes were stale because they were well past their expiration date. Expiration dates are usually not a problem for canned goods, which normally have long expiration dates. In addition, they are perfectly edible for some time after them, though perhaps not as tasty.

That said, it’s a good idea to check your supplies regularly and replace those that are approaching expiration dates. Regular checking will also uncover problems such as glass jars that may have cracked (plastic jars are a much better alternative) or can openers that have rusted (keep them sealed in a plastic bag).

I slathered peanut butter on my rice cakes to mitigate their fustiness but not before I made a mess when mixing in the oil that rises to the top in natural peanut butter. This taught me a valuable lesson: when it comes to emergency food, don’t worry if your food isn’t natural or organic or not in its purest form (as in instant coffee). Convenience and practicality are more important. Yes, the food should be nutritious. In fact, it should be nutrient dense (meaning as much nutrition as possible in small amount). But in a post apocalyptic world, whether or not your peanut butter has transfats (and whatever else they put in Jiff or Skippy peanut butter) is about as important as using the right fork to eat out of a can.

Since I had no coffee, I decided to wash down my peanut butter and rice cakes with grapefruit juice. The grapefruit juice was fine. But after I opened the 40-ounce can I realized that I had no way to reseal it. Nor could I keep it cold because I had norefrigeration. The answer to this dilemma is  individual serving cans. Yes, they are more expensive but ultimately they will be less wasteful. And speaking of expense, try to wait for sales before stocking up on emergency supplies.

Finally, just because you are stocking up for a disaster, doesn’t mean you can’t enliven your meals a bit. For example, consider some red wine in an aseptic container or bag-in-the box (glass breaks, remember?). Also condiments such as mustard and cornichons. They help the Spam to go down a little easier.

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