Food and Cooking
If you have an electric stove and oven, you will have to find an alternative way of cooking. If you use natural gas, it will function for a while, but I have been told that in time it may fail as well since some of its delivery path is electricity dependent. (I’d be interested in hearing from other people on that point.)
I would not recommend using liquid fuel camping stoves indoors. They are unreliable and in the event that they do malfunction, they are very dangerous. I once saw a neighboring campsite set an entire picnic table on fire because their stove was leaking fuel. I don’t know whether the stove was defective or they were, but either is very possible and the results are equally devastating. Hobo or Sterno stoves burn inefficiently and are a CO risk indoors.
Interestingly there are no pictures on the Internet of a camping stove on fire. This is very suspicious as I’m sure there are lots around. The one I found had been removed. Hmmm.
Use propane or butane. It is much safer. From a CO point of view it is no more dangerous than cooking with natural gas, although you are still advised to create some ventilated air circulation by cracking a window. (Also, a propane BBQ is combustion on a much larger scale, so, no, I’d never use one of those indoors. I’d also never bring a large propane tank indoors for use.)
If you are going to buy one of these stoves, avoid those stoves that are perched on the top of the 1 lb. propane tank. They are very unstable and are likely to get knocked over when a pot of canned stew or of water is balanced on top of them. They are an accident waiting to happen. The two burner Coleman style stoves or the one burner variety that use the 1 lb. tanks are much safer as long as you screw the tank on cleanly and check for any leaks in the mechanism. You’d be able to smell it if the stove wasn’t tight. Better yet are the MSR style hiking stoves that are very stable and burn very efficiently. They normally use the smaller butane tanks, so you would need to stock up on these for fuel. The point is that these are relatively safe from a fire and CO perspective, unless you do something particularly stupid like setting yourself on fire or using them extensively in a completely air tight room. Those things would be an equal problem cooking with natural gas.
Of course, if you have a large enough, suitable fire place, or a wood burning stove, you can go rustic and cook on these. Using a Dutch Oven with one of these fires can substitute for an oven, but takes skill and practice to do properly.
But what to cook?
I tell people all the time that you should have at least two weeks worth of food in your home, with most of it being non-perishable. On the first day or two of a power outage you can use up the food in your refrigerator. If you have access to a BBQ outside, which is OK to use in an open garage (as long as you don’t set your car on fire), then you can also make use of some of the stuff in your freezer. You don’t likely have an oven, so the BBQ is the only option for this (aside from the possible Dutch Oven). It is not the best option as it is fuel intensive and a lot of work, but it will allow you to take advantage of the food in your freezer.
Much of what you should be storing does not require cooking. Cans of tuna, salmon and flaked chicken are very good to have on hand. Cans of fruit are handy. All canned vegetables can be eaten cold if needed. (Make sure you have one or more working can openers.) Jars of peanut butter and jam don’t require refrigeration until opened, and even then don’t really need it unless it is particularly warm. Crackers store better than bread, especially the RyVita crackers, which are very versatile. Cereals, granola and dried fruit can be purchased from Bulk Food stores and kept in air tight glass or plastic containers. These should be swapped out in a rotation where you consume them and replace them, as they are more perishable.
I have a Costco membership, and I do find that buying many canned goods (among other things) in bulk is far less expensive. I’ll by cases of chili, stew, soups and other canned goods, work my way through them in my regular meals, and replenish the case when it is more than half gone. I’ve always got several cans or jars of tomato and alfredo sauce, as they are always staples. A few cans of turkey or mushroom sauce will also give you great variety.
Spaghetti or noodles are good to have for emergency situations. While I don’t eat a lot of them regularly, they provide good carb calories when needed. They also store well. Ramen noodles store forever; I think some were found in the Egyptian pyramids. They’re also easier than pasta to cook. I came across a little cookbook called Fun with Ramen Noodles (www.pilcookbooks.com) which is not only great for emergency meals, but which should be gifted to every college student resident. The Uncle Bens Bistro rice that comes pre-cooked in the pouches is also a great thing to have on hand. In spite of the name, it’s not the most gourmet stuff, but it is very handy and easy to prepare in an emergency, and it stores well, not needing refrigeration until opened. Regular rice and heavier pastas take a long time to cook and so are fuel intensive. Unless you are cooking on your fireplace or wood stove, I would avoid them.
The above picture might be a little extreme, but not overly so. Especially if it is for a larger family.
Add to this some hot chocolate or apple drinks, some various spices to spice things up, some dried soup mixes, bouillon cubes, dried Parmesan cheese, some granola or protein bars for quick meals, coffee and tea, an ample supply of honey, sugar, salt and cooking oil.
You don’t need enough for a year unless you are preparing for Armageddon, -and many people are. Realistically, if you need more than two weeks worth of food, your emergency is more severe in nature and you might have to start worrying about other people trying to relieve you of your resources. You must realize that others will not be as prepared as you are, and once they and their family start getting hungry, you’re going to have a whole range of possible responses, some of which will be very uncivilized. You may share, if you have the means and if it is advisable to do so, but remember that for every prepared person there are probably going to be ten who are not, so your charity may have to be tempered by practicality. This is one reason why it is not a good idea to advertise too much to your friends and neighbors that you have a large cache of food and other resources. In the short term, or when you can drive for a while to get your supplies because the emergency is more localized, this won’t be an issue. But the kind of ice storm that paralyzed Quebec a decade or so ago causes havoc for weeks, interfered with availability of gas, prevented food deliveries to stores which were closed anyways and made it difficult for services such as police and ambulances to do their jobs. Then things become more desperate. Then being conspicuously well prepared makes you a potential target. So don’t advertize what you’ve got and give at least some thought to what you would be willing to do to defend it. I would be most concerned about this in high density population situations. There are a lot of resources on this topic (some more and some less extreme) if you Google Home Defense or Urban Survival. In fact there are numerous sites on food storage and other survival skills on line, and while you may feel that some are fanatical, you can still learn a lot from them.