How to Eat Well When the Power Goes Out
--and Other Survival Tips
By Robin Robertson
With our fragile power grid and predictions for an active storm season, preparation is a good thing for everyone to consider.
After enduring four hurricanes and other power outages, the main lesson my husband and I learned is to always be prepared. Take the time and trouble to get a good supply of water and nonperishable foods and other supplies in the house and know what you will do for any emergency.
One important discovery we made was how to eat well without electricity, as opposed to just surviving. As the author of Vegan Planet and over a dozen other vegetarian cookbooks, as well as being a former chef, my husband and I are used to great food. So living on granola bars and Gatorade was not an option when we were without power for a week during Hurricane Isabelle in 2003.
It was important to us to at least be able to enjoy good meals during such difficult stressful times. So we wrote the book we wish we had during all those power outages. It's called Apocalypse Chow: How to Eat Well When the Power Goes Out. It was written for survivors who still have a roof over their heads. It shows people how to prepare for hurricanes and other disasters, but mainly how to eat well while the power is off for any reason.
A typical list of survival food can be frustrating for a vegetarian. We actually found one list that suggests people store "52 cans of spam" for long-term survival. So we created a non-perishable pantry list for vegetarians as well as anyone else interested in eating tasty, well-balanced meals during power outages.
Our list developed into what we call Pantry Cuisine--everything on the list is shelf-stable and comes in a jar, bottle, box, or can. The list can help you decide how to stock a pantry with the foods you like. Our list includes the usual canned beans, tomatoes, and ready-to-eat cereals, but also a number of gourmet items, such as artichoke hearts and bottoms, roasted bell peppers, and sun-dried tomatoes. And there are also "flavor makers" like cooking sauces, curry powder and other spices.
You incorporate these ingredients with quick-cooking grains and pastas to make really good nutritious meals that are fun to make. From that pantry list, I developed 68 recipes that can be prepared in 15 minutes or less, including recipes for main dishes, sides, desserts, soups, snacks, and salads. The recipes also are designed to give you good nutrition: Garlicky Chickpeas with Potatoes and Tomatoes, Pasta Improv, Moroccan-Spiced Stew, Almost Instant Black Bean Chili. Desserts like Fire-Roasted Blueberry Cobbler and Skillet Peach Crumble.
We also provide menus to feed two to four people lunch and dinner for five days--you can adapt the recipes to your own tastes. The ingredients for the menus fit into a box the size of a wine case, so we called it the "Five-Day Wine Box." It stashes in a closet and keeps a long time. Of course, you can use a plastic tub with a lid, too.
We also provide lists and resources for being prepared in every way. For example, we recommend a single-burner butane stove. For about $40, you can get one of these stoves at a restaurant supply company or online. It's safe to use indoors and is also compact and easy to store. It's all part of eating well.
Eating well makes all the difference in the world if you're without power for several days. It's boring and frustrating -- you can't work, watch TV, or use your computer. So eating well does several things:
b. It gives you something to do-you can go all out "fancy" with these recipes and get your mind off your misery
c. It gives you the "comfort food" factor to help you reduce stress. A homemade pasta dish like Orechetti with White Beans and Olivada, or a skillet lasagna or a nice dessert can be real stress reducers.
The most important thing about eating well is heating healthy. Health is very important with an extended power outage. People tend to eat the same thing day after day: junk food, or just peanut butter crackers. They eat a lot of snacks loaded with sugar and salt, and after a week without power, they come out of it not feeling good, irritable, and stressed out.
So how do you eat a balanced diet out of cans? Eating a can of plain vegetables isn't very appetizing, so I figured out how to incorporate these vegetables and other healthy ingredients into well-balanced meals. There are some sample recipes on the website you can try: http://www.apocalypsechowonline.com.
Of course, food isn't the only thing you need to be prepared for an emergency situation. You should also have a Disaster Supply Kit ready in advance. If you stock up ahead of time on vital ingredients and supplies, you can ensure a more comfortable situation and reduce costly errors from being unprepared.
Our supply list includes common-sense things, like bottled water, flashlights, a manual can opener. Also keep your important papers handy. And, of course, enough non-perishable food to last a week or more. Below is our basic Survival Supply List--you can adapt this to suit your own needs. We use it more as a basic checklist, with several more specific lists added to this one.
Survival Supply List:
The best advice is to be prepared. As long as you have a roof over your head and basic supplies, a strategy for using up your fresh and frozen foods, and a way to boil water, you've won half the battle.