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Vegetarian Journal Nov/Dec 1999

Disaster Planning for Vegetarians

By Reed Mangels, PhD, RD

It may be a blizzard in the Northeastern US or a hurricane in the South; a tornado in the Midwest or an earthquake in the West. Suddenly you're left without electricity and possibly without safe water. The stove, freezer, refrigerator, microwave, and toaster oven aren't working. Many groups have recommendations aimed at helping the general public cope with these kinds of disasters. They call for use of foods like canned tuna, canned meat, and powdered milk. What about vegetarians? What sort of plans should we make?

Most authorities recommend having enough non-perishable food on hand at all times to last at least three days. Depending on where you live and the types of disasters you anticipate occurring, you may want to have a greater amount of food on hand (see Y2K Citizen's Reference Guide in the resource list at the end of this article for ideas about more long-term disaster planning). The foods which you choose should require no refrigeration, minimal or no preparation or cooking, and little or no water. These foods can be accumulated gradually by picking up a few items each time you shop. Once you have the food on hand, you will need to develop a system for replacing items as they get older; perhaps every six months or so you can plan to use the items you have and replace them with items you've just purchased.

Which non-perishable foods not requiring cooking should you have on hand? Suggested foods for vegetarians include ready-to-eat canned foods like vegetables, fruit, beans, and pasta; dried fruit; juice boxes or canned juice; powdered milk, either soy or cow's (include extra water in your survival kit if you plan to use powdered milk); individual aseptic packages of milk (soy, rice, almond, or cow's); crackers; high energy foods like peanut butter and other nut butters, jelly, nuts, trail mix, granola bars; cookies and other snacks. Remember to include foods for those family members with special needs like infants or those with allergies. The sidebar shows one possible three-day meal plan for a vegetarian family of four which does not require cooking or refrigeration.

While some may question the use of canned foods, the advantage of these foods is that they can be eaten right out of the can and don't require cooking, water or special preparation. Look for low sodium and low sugar products. You can purchase cans of organically grown fruits and vegetables.

In the event that you are evacuated and must go to an emergency shelter, it would be prudent to bring your emergency food kit along with you. Vegetarian diets are not the norm and in an emergency setting, you may or may not be able to find a variety of vegetarian foods unless you bring your own.

While this article features foods which are available in the supermarket, there are companies which make freeze-dried or air-dried foods. These do tend to be expensive. Some vegetarian items are available.

If you have a safe cooking source such as a wood or propane stove, solar cooker, outdoor grill, or a camping stove, you can prepare some simple hot foods. Non-perishable vegetarian foods which require minimal cooking and which can be prepared on a camping stove include canned soups and beans; soups or meals "in a cup;" instant mashed potatoes; dry mixes for hummus or refried beans; quick cooking brown rice; couscous; textured vegetable protein (mix with tomato sauce and spices); ramen-type noodles; beverages like tea, cocoa, coffee or substitutes; and instant hot cereals. If you plan to use these foods in case of a disaster, you should include a selection of them in your emergency kit. Remember to have a safely stored supply of cooking fuel if necessary. Outdoor grills and camp stoves should only be used outdoors to insure proper ventilation.

Make sure you have a can opener and scissors or a knife for cutting open packages. If water is limited and dishwashing is not possible, you will need to use disposable plates, cups, and utensils, so a supply of these will also be helpful.


Besides planning for food supplies in case of an emergency, it is important to have a plan for water. With normal activity, adults need to drink at least two quarts of water each day. If the weather is hot or you are very active, you can need as much as one gallon of water for drinking. Children, breast-feeding women, and ill people will need more. Several groups recommend storing one gallon of water per person per day (this allows for two quarts for drinking and two quarts for washing and food preparation). You should have enough water on hand to go for at least three or four days without water supplies. Water can be stored in unbreakable, thoroughly washed plastic containers and replaced every six months with a fresh supply.

Food Safety

In case of a power outage, use foods from the refrigerator and other perishable foods first and then use frozen foods. Generally, food in the refrigerator is safe as long as the power is out no more than a few hours. Keep the door closed; food will remain chilled for 4-6 hours if the door is not opened. Fresh fruits and vegetables may keep for several days to a week or more, even without refrigeration. They should be discarded, however, if you see signs of mold or spoilage. Food will keep in a full, closed freezer, even without electricity, for two to three days. Frozen foods should only be consumed if they still have ice crystals or if the freezer temperature has remained at or below 40 degrees F. The freezer door should be kept closed. In winter, if the temperature is consistently below 40 degrees F and animal scavengers are not a problem, some foods can be kept cold by placing them outside in a thermal cooler. Once refrigerated and frozen foods have been eaten or discarded, begin to use non-perishable foods.

When purchasing foods to have on hand in an emergency, consider how you will store the foods without refrigeration after they are open. While it may be tempting to purchase a giant economy size can of kidney beans, unless your family can eat them in one day, any leftovers will need to be discarded. It could be more sensible to purchase smaller can sizes. Similarly, if you plan to use aseptically packaged soymilk and think that your family can drink a liter box at a time, buy liter boxes. However, smaller families or those who don't drink as much soymilk might be better off purchasing 8-ounce individual boxes of soymilk.

Animal Companions

Don't forget to store dry or canned food for your animal companions. Their water needs should also be accounted for when you determine how much water you need to store.

Do vegetarians have it easier in case of a disaster? Possibly. Many meat items will spoil quickly and have to be discarded; canned and dried beans will keep. Certainly with some advance planning, a vegetarian's food needs can be met even during a disaster.

Sample Menu

Here is one possible menu for a family of four which does not require refrigeration, cooking, or water to prepare foods. Your family's food preferences and any special dietary needs (baby foods, allergies, low sodium, etc.) should be considered when developing your emergency food list. All serving sizes are per person.


Lunch Dinner Snacks

Note: Menus were planned to provide enough calories and protein for two adults and two children. These menus are for short-term use only so not all nutrients may be provided at recommended levels everyday.

Three-Day Food Supply for a Family of Four Disaster Kit

(based on menu)


Note: If you want to use this list for 6 days instead of 3, simply double the quantities of foods. For longer term use, be sure to purchase fortified soymilk. Consider your family's food preferences when purchasing items like cereal, fruits, vegetables, and juice.


Cornell Cooperative Extension Service:

"Family Disaster Plan," developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross:

"How to Prepare for Y2K," Consumer Reports, May 1999, pp. 23-27.

"Individual Preparation for Y2K," developed by The Cassandra Project: http://www.cassandraproject. org/home.html

"Preparing an Emergency Food Supply," University of Georgia Extension Service:

"You Can Do It Now," Co-Op America Quarterly, Spring 1999, pp. 24-25.

"Y2K Citizen's Action Guide," developed by Utne Reader:

Excerpts from the Nov/Dec Issue

The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone wanting to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

This article was converted to HTML by Jeanie Freeman

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