As the holiday season approaches, many of us struggle to find gifts for the friends and family members who already have everything. Have you considered giving things that will help the most important people in your life be more prepared for emergencies? In our Gift Guide series of posts, DEM looks at the best preparedness-related gifts that our staff and volunteers have given, received, or bought for themselves.Why It’s Useful: People still need to eat when grocery stores and restaurants are closed, they’re iced in, or the power is out. Or all three.
Price Range: Starting at $10-20 for a few canned items or freeze-dried entrees; $60-80 for a case of MREs; $50-200 for modern camping or backpacking stoves.
Where to Buy: Outdoor retailers; online preparedness retailers; military surplus stores.
Don’t Forget: Be aware of food allergies, religious restrictions, and personal preferences. One of the keys to a good disaster diet is food that survivors want to eat.
Here at DEM, food is one of the office hobbies. We’re pretty serious about our cuisine. So are our volunteers – when we asked for specific recommendations for this blog post, we got what may have been the largest amount of feedback ever from our CERT members (thanks, team!).
Food is a basic human requirement, sitting at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In a disaster situation, many of the technologies and facilities we use for our regular meal preparation may not be available. Our cooking, cleaning, and food storage depend on regular water, electricity, and, in many homes, natural gas. When those utilities are offline, the prepared household turns to meal and snack options that don’t require refrigerated storage or normal cooking methods. As you might expect, we have a few suggestions…
Backpacking FoodsWe’ll go ahead and use the word “dehydrated” here, hoping it doesn’t lose some readers to flashbacks of chalky “astronaut ice cream” from the 1980s. Food preservation technology has come a long way since then. Most contemporary food marketed to backpackers, expedition planners, and other outdoorsy types is freeze-dried through a process that removes water and oxygen. Because these drive most of the chemical reactions that cause fresh food to break down, their absence allows a long shelf life – theoretically, more than a decade with a sealed container and proper storage conditions (i.e., normal residential temperatures). Low weight and bulk also make for efficient storage.
For ease of use, our favorite backpacking fare is the type that comes in sealed plastic-and-foil pouches. Preparation involves tearing open the pouch, pouring in a measured amount of hot water, stirring, and waiting a few minutes for rehydration. The results don’t give up much in the way of flavor – in some cases, they’re better than their restaurant competitors! For eaters with dietary restrictions, several manufacturers offer vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free options.
The need for hot water can limit a survivor’s ability to prepare freeze-dried food in a disaster. However, most two-person entrees we’ve sampled require no more than two cups of water. Our preferred fix is to use a small backpacking stove and, if necessary, bottled water, just as we’d do if we were on the trail. Such a stove and a couple of fuel canisters makes as good a preparedness gift as the food itself does.
(Caution: Follow all appropriate safety precautions when using open flame in a disaster situation. Our firefighters will already be busy enough.)
Meals, Ready to EatVeterans among our readers are undoubtedly already familiar with MREs. For the rest, a brief explanation: MREs are the current incarnation of military field rations. They’re intended for use in spartan surroundings, so each packet contains a complete meal and everything necessary to prepare and consume it (within reason). Because MREs are designed for troops operating in combat, each packet’s contents average between 1,200 and 1,600 calories. MREs are officially rated for three years of storage at normal residential temperatures.
Inside each MRE’s outer wrapper are several foil envelopes containing an entree and side items. A beverage mix and an accessory packet (spoon, paper, seasonings) are also standard. In addition, a flameless chemical heater is included with each meal. On contact with water, the heater begins an exothermic reaction that warms the entree and sides to serving temperature within a few minutes. However, MRE contents are pre-cooked, designed to be eaten cold if there’s no spare water or if using the heater is impractical.
In the decades since the first MREs hit military surplus stores, several manufacturers have recognized their popularity and introduced their own versions to the outdoor and preparedness markets. We recommend checking out the non-commercial site MREinfo.com for information on how each brand of MREs differs from the government-contract standard in menu, nutrition, and price (here’s their comparison chart).
A cautionary note: be careful buying “official” MREs, particularly from online auction sites. Any that were made on government contract started life as federal property and may not be for sale on a legal basis. They may also be past their best-by date. We recommend going with one of the known commercial alternatives to minimize risks.
Disclaimer: The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and the LFUCG Division of Emergency Management do not endorse any goods, services, vendors, or service providers mentioned in our blog posts, social media statements, press releases, or website content. Any mention of commercial products is for informational purposes only.