End of summer is a really good time to sit down and look at your preparations and your food storage and take inventory. What have you put by? What do you still need more of? What did you use over the last year? What did you have too much of? Whither from here? September is National Emergency Preparedness month, so now is the time to think – am I ready for the next crisis (do you even have to ask whether there will be one?)
If you’ve been working on this, but you don’t feel you are ready, here are some questions to ask yourself, and some possible remedies if things aren’t where you want them to be yet.
1. Do I have staple foods that I can rely on as the basis of my meals? A staple is a nutritious starch that contains some protein as well, and that can meet most of your needs. It could be a grain – many Americans rely on bread for our staple starch. But it can also be oatmeal, corn (if you are primarily relying on corn, it must be corn that is nixtamalized, so that you won’t get a major nutritional deficiency – you only have to worry about this if you are mostly eating corn, not if you eat an occasional meal of tortillas – so if you are storing whole corn, know how to process it, and if you are buying cornmeal, buy masa, not plain corn meal), barley, quinoa – or root crops. You can also rely primarily on potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, turnips and other roots, or a combination of those.
You can order bulk grains online or through a coop or whole foods. This time of year, you can often get a 50lb sack of potatoes or sweet potatoes quite cheaply. Ethnic markets often have good deals on grains as well. Don’t forget popcorn and pasta.
Here are a couple of posts about staple foods: http://sharonastyk.com/2008/07/17/the-storage-life-of-grains-major-and-minor/
2. Do I have protein foods that can supplement my staples? This is not as important as the staples – if you had to, you could get along quite well with just a starch for a while (many people all over the world are forced to do that by high food prices most of the time), but you wouldn’t enjoy it. And diabetics, hypoglycemics and others would struggle with this. For most people with normal diets, you need about 1/3 to 1/4 protein dense foods.
What are some choices here? The traditional choice is some kind of legume – beans, split peas, lentils, cowpeas. You could buy dry milk – mixed with oatmeal, or into flour in a dairy bread recipe, that would be enough to sustain you, but it gets kind of boring. You could can your own meats and fish, or buy pre canned meat and fish that your family likes if you like meat. You could also add seeds – sunflower, flax, pumpkin seeds, or nuts like almonds or filberts. Powdered eggs don’t taste very good, but they will allow you to bake, and add necessary protein. Or perhaps you have eggs, if you just store enough chicken feed. What you do is up to you and your budget. Think about foods you know your family will eat and that they like.
3. Do I have some fruits and vegetables to add flavor, fiber and nutrition? The two hardest to cover vitamins are vitamin C and A. So choosing C and A rich fruits and vegetables to add to your storage reduces the danger of both nutritional deficiency and constipation. For vitamin A, canned pumpkin, squash or sweet potatoes, or fresh stored orange vegetables are the best option. For vitamin C, dried elderberries or rose hips are an excellent source. You can and should also have some seed that can be sprouted for fresh green vegetables if you live in a place where you can’t easily go out and forage a safe, unsprayed supply of greens (dandelions, plantain, chicory, etc…) all year ’round. Or you should have them if you don’t know how to recognize those foods. Wheat seeds are easy to sprout, but you might prefer broccoli, radish or others. These can be bought online or at a supermarket or health food store. I would recommend more vegetables and fruits as well – either dried, canned or kept in cold storage.
Now is the perfect time to dry and can fresh fruits, garden vegetables, even greens that are in abundance at local markets and in your garden (and wild in your yard). In an emergency, you will be grateful for all the dietary diversity you can get.
4. Fat. You need some cooking oil. You probably already have preferences on this, but most oils will keep a couple of years in a cool dark place. Oh, and everyone will probably want some salt (salt is necessary for life, so buy a few boxes) and sweetener. These are cheap and useful at making food palatable. Add in as many inexpensive spices as you can afford, or as many home-dried herbs as you can gather. These make the difference between survival and misery. You may want some condiments as well – soy sauce, tobasco, homemade salsa, nuoc mam, berbere, harissa, chutney, etc… Almost all of these can be made at home or purchased.
4. Do I have the basic ingredients of making meals we eat? Think about what you actually eat for breakfast, lunch and dinnner. Do you like granola? Well, then you need some oats, nuts or seeds for crunch, maybe a bit of honey and oil. Can you not imagine a meal without bread? Make sure you have yeast and salt. Think about what you need in terms of the things that make you happy.
5. Do I have water stored? This is an easy one – go raid your neighbor’s recycling bins for soda bottles and fill the bottles with water. If you don’t plan to rotate them every few months, add a drop of bleach to each one. All done. Now make sure you have something to flavor the water, because stored water tastes a little icky – you can get tang, which has vitamin C, tea, coffee, or just go pick some mint to add to your water and hang it up to dry. Think again about what you need to feel good.
6. Do I have multivitamins at a minimum? What about other supplements that I might need? Our family keeps not only multivitamins for kids and adults, but also vitamins C, D and E. Do I have a reliable way of getting necessary medications? How about copies of your prescriptions and extra medication for emergencies?
7. What about basic hygeine items? Think soap, shampoo, toothpaste and tooth brushes, vinegar or some other cleaner, laundry detergent or borax, as well as toilet paper. You can substitute for some of these – you can use diluted Dr. Bronner’s soap for almost all these needs, baking soda in place of tooth paste, and use cloth for toilet paper if need be, but if these items will make you happier and more comfortable, store them. Make sure you have plenty of soap! Washing hands will be essential.
8. If my basics are covered, are there luxury items I’d like to add? Are there things my family needs or wants that would be useful? If the crisis overlaps holidays or festivals that are important to me, are there ways of storing items to allow us familiar treats or special foods?
Have I prepared for household pets and livestock? Do I have adequate food for them, or ways of making a nutritious diet for them out of my stored staples?
9. Do I have warm clothes, blankets, a way of heating myself, my home and/or food? Some way to cook the beans and grains? Do I have flashlights and batteries, a cell phone charger? How will I cook, bathe and do laundry without power? That is, am I ready for an emergency? My claim is not that we are facing an immanent one, but that we’ve already seen an increase in emergencies, and a slow down in our response to them – being able to take care of your own needs.
Am I prepared to deal with basic medical needs, or to handle an acute situation when I cannot reach a hospital or when they are overflowing? Do I have a book on first aid, or better yet, have I taken basic first aid, CPR and medical response classes? Do I have a good first aid kit? Does my household have a supply of basic OTC medications, and perhaps a broad-spectrum antibiotic (and the wisdom to use it only when truly necessary?) Do I know how to handle the range of basic injuries? Check out Chile’s first aid kit info: http://chilechews.blogspot.com/2008/10/building-first-aid-kit.html
10. Do I have mental health needs met? That is, can I handle the stress of a difficult period – a job loss, service loss or other crisis? Do I have ways to keep busy, to feel productive? Do we have games and educational materials to keep kids entertained and learning? Does my family have the habit of supporting each other through difficult times – do I have a strategy for dealing with stress productively? Do we have ways to have fun – music, games, sports equipment, books whatever our family likes to do? Can I not panic, and keep a sense of perspective?
Again, none of this should panic you. Answering “not yet” to some of these is not the end of the world. In fact, all of us, including me, probably have to say “not yet” at least somewhere. It should simply move you towards the next step, and the next.