“Be prepared” is the motto of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts around the world; explorers and adventurers throughout history have learned that preparedness is sometimes a literal lifeline, and the pioneer families that settled the Great Plains quickly learned that they would not survive harsh winter conditions if they had not made sufficient advance preparations.
There are many reasons to be prepared. People here in the Midwest know that Mother Nature sends us weather events we need to respect throughout the year. Severe weather can mean we need to be prepared to live without electricity for a few minutes or hours, or maybe even several days, especially in rural areas. As many of us have learned in recent years, storms or floods can compromise our water supplies, make travel hazardous or close roads, or simply confine us to our homes.
In the past decade, governments around the world have had several occasions to urge citizens to “be prepared”: first was Y2K—would society’s machines grind to a halt when the 20th century ended, resulting in chaos? In 2002-03 the SARS virus was causing concern and avian influenza, or bird flu took over the headlines in 2004. In June of this year, the World Health Organization classified an outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus that began last spring in Mexico, as a pandemic. By the end of July the virus was active in 168 countries on every continent. Media coverage of the flu outbreak quieted in the U.S. over the summer as most of the activity moved to the Southern Hemisphere, but authorities here were expecting the virus to become more active with the return of cooler autumn weather. No one really knows how this bug might affect us. Governments everywhere have encouraged individuals, as well as businesses and schools, to have plans in place for weathering a severe outbreak of influenza this fall. They tell us that we should plan to stay away from work, school and other public places for at least a week if we contract the virus or are caring for an ill family member. In the event that large numbers of people become ill, it is even possible that all types of businesses may be forced to reduce their hours so many experts are recommending that we all be prepared to stay home for an indefinite period of time.
The current round of influenza warnings is controversial—some people want a quick vaccination, some are taking a wait-and-see approach and others argue that the situation is being over-hyped or that vaccines might be harmful. Whether you fall into any of these camps or are somewhere in the middle, it’s not a bad idea to be prepared to spend some time at home—even if it’s just to hunker down and wait out a good old-fashioned Wisconsin blizzard.
There are some basic things included in the idea of preparedness, regardless of the reason or duration of the problem: you need warm, dry shelter; water for drinking and washing; food (including food that can be eaten without cooking if necessary); and first aid supplies (including any needed prescription medicines). Most experts recommend having enough food and water on hand to last each person in your household for at least three days but preferably two weeks or more. The food you want to store is the food you normally like to eat, so don’t stockpile new things just because you’ve found a good deal. Many websites and books on the topic of preparedness also recommend that you have a generator and the fuel to run it, garden seeds for the next planting season and enough cash to last a few months; whether that degree of preparation is really necessary is something each person has to decide for themselves.
With winter approaching we need to think about readying our homes for heavy snow, freezing rain and cold temperatures. That means finding the snow shovels and checking supplies of sand or ice melter, as well as your pantry supplies. If your street or rural road is notcleared for a few days, you may not be able to get to the Co-op to shop and your favorite restaurant may not be able to provide takeout food. The good news is that weather forecasting has improved and unlike the early pioneers, we usually have plenty of advance notice when a winter storm is on the way. Modern refrigeration means that most cooks usually have plenty of fresh food on hand, but if that is not your style, you may want to make some changes for the winter.
Most root vegetables and winter squashes will keep well at cool room temperatures for several days and many last for weeks. If you have a cool, dry basement, garage or unheated room you may be able to store root vegetables for the entire winter. Be sure the space you use stays above freezing and store vegetables slightly elevated off the floor for good air circulation. Onions and garlic can be hung in mesh bags. For the best keeping qualities, choose a storage area with steady temperatures—frequent or large temperature fluctuations will cause vegetables to deteriorate more quickly. It is a good idea to keep the storage area dark; if it isn’t dark, you will want to cover produce, especially potatoes, to maintain quality. Check out library books on the topic of “root cellars” for more suggestions on home produce storage. If you have some extra storage space consider stocking up on some of the local harvest of root vegetables to enjoy throughout the winter, whether you are snowed in or not! Winter storage vegetables can easily be turned into delicious soups or stews that often taste even better the second day.
Apples can be kept for several weeks under the same conditions as root vegetables and locally grown apples are delicious eating, so you will probably want to keep some around. Citrus fruits store best in the refrigerator, but will keep at cool room temperature for several days. Softer fruits like bananas need to be eaten as they ripen or preserved. Ripe bananas can be dried, or freeze them, unpeeled, until you have enough for your favorite baked treat.
Eggs and dairy
Eggs and cheese will keep well in the refrigerator for a few weeks. The USDA recommends using eggs within three to five weeks of purchase; hard cheese will last for several weeks after opening, but fresh cheeses should be used within a week. Other dairy products will also be good for about a week after opening. Meat and seafood should be used or frozen within a day or two of purchase.
Most people keep bread in the pantry, but what do you do if you can’t get to the store for a couple of days and the bread goes moldy? Crackers or flatbread can stand in for bread, as well as the tortillas or pitas you may have stashed in your freezer. But, if you’ve got flour, water, salt and a bit of yeast you can bake delicious bread at home; add a few other ingredients like butter or shortening, milk or buttermilk, eggs, spices or herbs and you can create biscuits, muffins, scones and other warm treats. Check the Bulk aisle for a wide variety of flours and seasonings to stock for a winter baking day.
While you are in the Bulk aisle, consider picking up some other long-storing foods as well. Grains can be used for savory dinner dishes or soothing breakfasts. Most whole grains keep well for several months when stored, tightly sealed, at cool temperatures. Some, including buckwheat, millet and brown rice, have a shorter shelf life unless refrigerated or frozen. The staff in the Bulk aisle can answer any questions you might have about storing a specific grain or you can pick up an informative brochure on this topic—check the rack near the meat freezer.
Dried beans are another handy item to store in your pantry and the Bulk aisle has a great assortment. Varieties like lentils and split peas cook quickly without presoaking; others need to simmer for an hour or two, can be cooked in a pressure cooker in 20 minutes or less, or overnight in a slow cooker. While canned beans are an important, highly nutritious item to stock for emergencies and convenience, the flavor and texture of home cooked beans can’t be beat.
Make a few selections from the bulk soup and dinner mixes as well. In addition to five kinds of soup, you will find “instant” versions of falafel, refried beans, veggie burger mix and more. Add a little water to the mix, wait a few minutes and cook it up. These mixes are handy when time is short or you don’t have the ingredients or physical energy to start from scratch.
Before you leave the Bulk aisle, add some dried fruit and an assortment of nuts to your cart. These make good additions to all sorts of recipes—you can add them to baked goods or savory dishes, make your own granola or use them for snacking. For long-term storage of nuts, seal the package well and keep them in the refrigerator or freezer.
Include some pasta and sauce in your stored rations, along with canned tuna, salmon and sardines, and an assortment of canned beans, vegetables and fruit. Nut butters are another good source of protein and energy and often a favorite of children. Store a variety of packaged beverages including juice, non-dairy milks, cocoa mix and bulk or bagged tea. Coffee beans can be stored for a short time, but be sure to use and replace them regularly for the best flavor. If you have the space, you may want to include a few little luxuries to tempt bored taste buds—think olives, roasted peppers and marinated artichokes and don’t forget to stash some good chocolate. Remember to add paper products and finally, be sure to include food for any four-legged family members in your plans.
Rotate your supplies
Whether you choose to stock enough supplies to sustain your family for several months or just a couple of days or weeks, be sure that your supplies are rotated regularly. This is easy to do if you are storing foods that you eat on a regular basis-just make that meal and replace the stored ingredients on your next shopping trip. Rotating your stored food prevents items from growing rancid or stale and ensures that your stored foods pack as much nutrition as possible.
Most of us live with municipal water supplies that we don’t even think about—turn the faucet and the water runs; flush the toilet and down the drain it goes. Communities all around southern Wisconsin and in parts of Iowa and Minnesota have experienced flooding in the past few years that have made water systems unusable at times. Having a private well and septic system is no guarantee of water either, so authorities recommend storing drinking water for emergency use. The suggested minimum amount is one gallon per person, per day, plus extra for cooking and washing. If you decide to stash some water away, you don’t have to buy cases and cases of individual bottles. Pick up a few five-gallon water bottles and fill them at our water machine or at home. Collapsible plastic water bladders can be found at stores that sell camping supplies and some websites offer sealed, 50-gallon drums of water.
Extended urban power outages are rare, but not impossible; they tend to happen more often in rural areas. If the lights do go out, will you be able to cook the food you’ve stored away? If you have a gas stove, chances are good that it will work fine once you’ve used a match to light the burners. On some newer gas stoves, the oven burner will not light without electricity, however. Find out how to safely light your stove before a power outage occurs; an appliance repair person or the gas company should be able to provide this information. Most foods can be cooked outdoors on a camping stove or a grill even in winter; be sure to have fuel or charcoal on hand, as well as matches. If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace and a supply of wood, you can roast vegetables in the coals and you may want to invest in a Dutch oven to extend your hearth cooking capabilities. Check out The Magic of Fire: Hearth Cooking by William Rubel for more information. Store matches in watertight containers and keep them in a few handy locations.
Power failures can be disastrous if you are depending on the refrigerator or freezer for all your food. In the event of an extended power outage, refrigerated food will be fine for several hours if the refrigerator door is kept closed; the contents of a full chest freezer should hold for 48 hours if you keep the door shut. You can extend these times somewhat: add block or dry ice to help keep things cold; insulate the appliance with quilts, blankets, layers of newspaper or sleeping bags; when your refrigerator starts to warm transfer the contents to coolers packed with ice or frozen gel packs. If outdoor temperatures are between 35 and 40 degrees, it may be tempting to transfer the contents of your refrigerator or freezer to a cooler and put it outside, but the USDA cautions against this idea—outdoor temperatures vary throughout the day and the fluctuations could trigger bacterial growth in your food. Animals or dirty storage conditions could also contaminate food left outdoors. The USDA does suggest taking advantage of extremely cold conditions to make ice in buckets or other containers and then use that ice to preserve the temperature in your refrigerator. When the power comes back on you may be able to save some items—food that still has ice crystals or registers 40ºF or less on a thermometer can be refrozen. Refrigerated foods that have been above 40ºF for more than two hours should not be saved. For a complete list of recommendations see the Emergency Preparedness fact sheet at USDA’s food safety website: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/keeping_food_Safe_during_an_emergency/index.asp.
Cooking can save some refrigerated or frozen food when the power fails, but only as much as you can eat! Invite all the neighbors over and grill up as much as possible!
Add some candles to your emergency stores to light your home during power outages. Beeswax candles are especially nice; they burn smoke-free for a long time and have a lovely, natural scent—our General Merchandise department carries a wide selection of candles to brighten your home. You will also want a flashlight with extra batteries and possibly a lantern.
Vitamins and first aid supplies
Visit the Wellness department to stock up on supplements and first aid supplies. You will want a good multivitamin in your provisions and you may want to include other supplements, depending on your family’s needs. Your first aid kit might include a product like Tiger Balm or Traumeel for aches and pains caused by snow removal along with the band-aids, disinfectants and pain relievers. Don’t forget to pick up extra body care items including soap, shampoo and toothpaste.
Strong immunes systems
If the flu does find you, meet it with a strong immune system. A healthy diet that includes lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids is the basic building block for a healthy immune system, but during flu season you may want to bolster your immunity with a few key supplements like extra Vitamin C and D, a probiotic and herbs including astragalus, oil of oregano, elderberry extract and/or medicinal mushrooms in supplement form, such as Host Defense. Vitamin D helps to regulate both infectious and inflammatory responses in the body. Many people have low levels of this vitamin, especially during the winter months when we do not have enough exposure to sunlight for our bodies to synthesize Vitamin D, so this might be the time to stock up on aVitamin D supplement. Use extra garlic when cooking leafy greens or other savory dishes—garlic has been revered for millennia as a potent protector against illness. Spices like cinnamon, ginger and turmeric are other excellent additions for fighting illness. Acupuncture keeps your whole being strong and balanced; massage is good for your immune system as well. Regular exercise, plenty of sleep and stress reduction are the other components that will strengthen your immune system.
Good personal hygiene
Though it’s not something you can stock up on, good personal hygiene is a huge part of flu prevention. Be sure to cover sneezes and coughs and use your arm, not your hand, if you don’t have a tissue or handkerchief. For an amusing and informative video demonstration, see: http://www.coughsafe.com/media.html. Wash your hands often throughout the day and always before eating. Try to avoid touching your face, especially around the mouth, nose andeyes. If someone in your household is sick, they should stay in bed and away from other family members. Dishes and utensils should not be shared with an ill person and everyone should have their own towels and toothbrushes—and replace those toothbrushes as soon as the illness is over. Let fresh air circulate through your home as often as possible. Getting plenty of rest and drinking enough fluids to prevent dehydration will help speed recovery. The illness can last several days and the Centers for Disease Control “recommends that people with influenza-like illness remain at home until at least 24 hours after they are free of fever (100°F [37.8°C]), or signs of a fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.” If you need to stay home use our Co-Shop service to have food and wellness relief delivered to your door.
The influenza pandemic of 1918 was the most deadly on record; over the course of 14 months, half the world’s population was infected with the virus and 40 million people—from every country on the planet—died. During that flu outbreak homeopathic physicians were the only doctors who had consistent success in treating the illness. Homeopathy uses a variety of remedies for flu that are determined by patients’ symptoms, but homeopathic physicians commonly recommend Gelsemium, Bryonia, Eupatorium perforliatum, and Nux vomica; for a rundown on which remedy best fits your symptoms contact a professional or check this website: http://www.holisticonline.com/remedies/Flu/Flu_homeopathy.htm.
Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic flu remedy that has been subjected to multiple controlled studies. Researchers found that when Oscillo is taken promptly after the onset of symptoms, both the duration and severity of the flu are greatly reduced. Most people report that they feel significantly better—even cured—in 48-72 hours. Flu Guard, from Source Naturals, is another popular homeopathic flu remedy; it is formulated to include the best mix of ingredients to fight most flu symptoms. Black elderberry extract has had similar results to homeopathic remedies when tested in flu patients. The Chinese herbal remedy Yin Chiao provides flu relief for many people. All of these holistic remedies are available in our Wellness department and the staff will be happy to assist you in making a choice.
Drugs and vaccinations
In contrast, antiviral drugs and flu vaccinations may or may not protect you from the virus, or speed your recovery. All viruses mutate often and quickly, making it very difficult for pharmaceutical companies to create reliable vaccines fast enough to ensure a benefit. Many people experience mild flu-like symptoms after receiving a vaccination; others report more serious side effects. The flu vaccine targeted at the pandemic will likely contain squalene, an additive that has never before been included in public vaccines. Squalene was a component of the vaccinations administered to military personnel during the Gulf War and has been linked to the condition now known as Gulf War Syndrome. Finally, flu vaccines usually contain the preservative thimerosal, which contains mercury. Thimerosal has been suspected of causing autism in children and mercury’s negative effects on the nervous system have been well documented. Pregnant women and children should request mercury-free vaccines if they choose to be vaccinated against the flu. Antiviral drugs require a doctor’s prescription and they often have unpleasant side effects including nausea, diarrhea, sinusitis and insomnia; most people recover from the flu without complications, even if they don’t take antiviral drugs, but high-risk individuals may need them. By late summer there had been a few reports of pandemic viral resistance to Tamiflu, one of the common antiviral drugs. Drugstores carry a plethora of over-the-counter products to target fever, aches and pains, but these may also cause stomach, or other problems. If you are ill, discuss the options with your health professional.
Just in case
Whether we have ten inches of snow this winter or 100 inches, whether the flu pandemic fizzles or explodes it’s a good idea to have some things ready—just in case. And, the next time family members tease me about all the food stashed in my pantry I can just tell them that I’m prepared!