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The Food FEMA Forgets

Two years ago, in the midst of Avian Flu scares, I typed up a quick Foodie's Apocalypse Kit... a nice grouping of emergency preparedness items I felt (and still feel) FEMA and the Red Cross really missed the boat on.

Now that two years have passed and the flu scare headlines have been replaced with the terror du jour, folks may have forgotten their annual apocalypse kit freshness review. So... How're those expiration dates looking? National holidays ought to correspond to the practical needs of the citizenry, so shouldn't the second Thursday of January always be Check Your Apocalypse Kit Day?

As we all take a moment to take stock of our stockpiles, I think it's particularly appropriate to plan for a very practical emergency preparedness component that FEMA forgets: Vice.

Tucked in alongside the 10 Essentials, addicts of every stripe need to lay in stock for their needs. Stressful times are not the right moments to quit smoking or try to kick the caffeine.

There's three underrated bug-out bag essentials I'm thinking about at the moment: Coffee, Chocolate and Hard Liquor.

apple martini

Coffee is a no-brainer for bean-worshipers like me. It's le soma quotidien. I feel ooky without it. Ooky is most certainly not what I want to feel if there's anything that's required of me.

Chocolate isn't much of a mental stretch, either. If there's a disaster, you're probably going to feel very unhappy and uncomfortable. For most people, chocolate is something soothing and pleasant. A staple diet of brown rice and canned beans might keep the body working, but a nip of good chocolate is food for the spirit.

I've already mentioned the liquor in brief, but as it's still not on any emergency preparedness list I've ever seen, I'm pressed to make my case with more persuasive detail.

Even if — like me — you're no fan of clear liquors like vodka (or whiskey, or rum), said fluid should be de rigueur for nearly anyone's go-bag. Aside from obvious benefits as a mental balm during hard times, liquor is endlessly useful:

  • It sterilizes wounds and cleans tools.

  • Liquor preserves foods.

  • It's a local anesthetic and disinfectant. Use it on cuts and broken blisters.

  • For painless bandage removal, rub a vodka-soaked cloth on the bandage to dissolve the adhesive.

  • Liquor can be used as an accelerant.

  • I've not tried it, but vodka's rumored to take the sting out of jellyfish encounters and poison ivy incidents

  • Liquor is a commodity that maintains its value. Trade it to the neighbors for something you want or need.

I was around for the Northeast Blackout of 2003, and I can tell you with great certainty that in the sudden absence of electricity, people become very interested in clean water, long-burning candles and a good, stiff drink.

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1.10.2008

The Foodie's Apocalypse Kit

With pandemic paranoia pulsing in the press, the time seems ripe to discuss one of the treasures reaped from a recent bookshop foray: How to Develop a Low-Cost Family Food-Storage System by Anita Evangelista.

Sounds dull, right? The low-budget 1940s-era clip art on the cover might not convince you to give it whirl, either. But just wait until you find out what's on page two: Eleven Reasons to Store Food.

1. Severe seasonal weather, with road closures, power outages, and supermarkets depleted by panic buyers.
2. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tidal waves, hurricanes, volcanoes, or tornadoes, with supermarkets unable to restock shelves.
3. Ecological disasters, such as the Three Mile Island nuclear facility's failure, and the contamination of foods.
4. The possibility of nuclear holocaust with all food deliveries suspended.
5. Tainted foodstuffs, either by purposeful maniacs (as in the "pain-killer poisonings") or improper processing (as in the glass fragments found in baby foods or the salmonella bacteria in dairy foods.
6. Riots, civil insurrection, collapse of local or regional governing bodies, gang warfare, looting, racial incidents; inability to shop at all.
7. Long-term illness.
8. Loss of employment and inability to secure a new job.
9. Strikes, either by truckers, food processors, food pickers or supermarket employees.
10. Destruction of standing food crops in farmers' fields, either willfully or by natural calamities.
11. Collapse of the currency system, and inability to purchase needed goods.

Wow! Choose your poison — that's enough paranoia for everyone!

Evangelista tours readers through the various practical traditional and non-traditional food acquisition systems (shopping, gardening, foraging, gleaning, etc.) and food preservation methods before pulling out the really fun stuff in Chapter Five: Where Do I Put It?

I was particularly interested in this section, thanks to my teensy New York apartment. What's a budding packrat to do, given a cramped kitchen and no closet space?

The easy answer? Five gallon plastic buckets. The path of dedication? Camouflage your booty by opening up the walls, installing interior shelving, replacing the wall and slapping on patch and paint 'til the evidence is invisible.

I know... you're saying to yourself, "I hate making trips to Home Depot. Why would I bother with all that?"

Ask anyone who's ever worked as a waiter or waitress whether they've found people to be on their best behavior when they're hungry. Now imagine a city full of cranky, hungry people. Now imagine a bunch of cranky, hungry neighbors busting into your nest and rooting for your neatly stored cans of black beans and your tasty treasure trove of apple sauce and your shiny silver cans of Le Sueur Baby Peas.

Good thing you plastered those cases of SPAM and light-syrup pineapple rings into your wall, right? Trust me... You'll thank Anita Evangelista later.

In all seriousness, there really is a chance that avian flu could wreak havoc (it happened in 1918), in which case it's good to have extra water and canned goods stuffed into your limited closets. Here's the Flu Wiki and advice from the Red Cross on all the stuff you should already have on hand anyway.

In addition to a solid first aid kit, a lot of water and all the items from FEMA's boring list of staples, from my personal apocalypse kit, I can recommend:

  • Tasty Bite Dinners.
    Indian and Thai curries! Far more flavorful than the standard shelf-stable MREs.

  • Amy's Kitchen organic soups.
    Soup is good food.

  • Desert Pepper Black Bean Dip.
    Because I'm an addict, okay?

  • Frontera Chipotle Salsa.
    This stuff could make cardboard taste good, and if I'm reduced to roasting rats, I want something nice to dip them in.

  • Jacques Torres Wicked Hot Chocolate Mix.
    It's yummy, and disasters are always short on yummy.

  • Orange-blossom honey and fruit jams from Sarabeth's (or homemade).
    Delightful with Carr's water crackers

  • Sardines in Hot Sauce or Mustard (Bumblebee sardines are good).
    Mmm... Sardines. I eat these even when I have fresh food around.

  • Muir Glen Crushed Tomatoes.
    So versatile, so delicious. And the cans are lined, so they don't have that awful "can" flavor.

  • Jars of spicy Spanish olives, oil-packed Italian tuna and jars of roasted red peppers.
    I reckon this'll make for good post-apocalyptic tapas.

  • Praline spread from Le Pain Quotidien.
    Again, seriously delicious. And yes, this stuff would make even my homemade hardtack edible.

  • Quality tea and coffee in factory-sealed containers.
    Lack of caffeine is a disaster unto itself.

  • Aseptic packs of Parmalat milk, Ceres fruit juices and Silk chocolate soy milk.
    Open a fresh container after the spare daily ration of rice and water grows tiresome.

  • Bottles of vodka and bourbon (or your favorite hard liquor).
    Barter with the neighbors for some of their Slim Jims. Disinfect a wound. Preserve fruit. Or just have a consolation drink. Liquor is endlessly useful in hard times.

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3.22.2006