What’s for dinner in an emergency? East Bay CERT group’s taste test
By Lou Fancher
When we face The Big One — the major California earthquake experts say is inevitable — the first thing that springs to mind likely won’t be, “What’s for dinner?”
But eventually, hunger will prevail and that is why Lamorinda CERT annually selects emergency meal products to test.
This year’s “Disaster Food Tasting,” on Aug. 14 at the Orinda Library, featured the opportunity to sample a variety of entrees with a 25-year shelf life, as well as a presentation about emergency drinking water from Bruce Macler, an Environmental Protection Agency regional toxicologist.
“We don’t just open a can of soup because cans normally have expiration dates about a year out,” Lamorinda CERT program manager Duncan Seibert wrote in an email.
Instead, the dehydrated food allows people to stock supplies adequate for several months, and products that will remain in good condition for a decade or more. All the meals require water, a portable butane stove and fuel for preparation.
The emergency meals don’t come cheap — Seibert says a year’s supply for one person costs more than $6,000. A quick Google search shows one meal, Mountain House Lasagna with Meat Sauce, at prices ranging from $5-9.
A 16-serving gluten-free sample package with four different entrees from Legacy Food Storage is $46 and comes with the company’s encouragement to “sample, taste, inspect and ensure” that the term “disaster” doesn’t apply to dinner during an emergency situation.
People at the tasting session were given an evaluation form for the seven selections prepared by CERT instructor Patricia Young and other volunteers.
“Try them and decide,” Young instructed. “Then rate them as you taste: ‘I think we should bury that one,’ or, ‘In a pinch, I’d eat that one.’ Or ‘Wow, let’s have this all the time.’”
“To be honest, this taste like gruel. You want something that tastes like a real meal,” said Tom Spalding, of Orinda, about Legacy Premium Parboiled Rice.
Spalding was lukewarm about the company’s enchiladas, but keen on the “meat-like mouth feel” of Wornick Company’s Imitation Boneless Pork Rib. “It’s not bad, but the rest, I’ll wait for an earthquake to eat again,” he said.
Other people had a different reaction to the enchiladas, which in a final tally earned the most “wows” and overall highest rating.
“It tastes like it’s supposed to and has a little kick,” said Cindy Lee of Moraga.
Orinda resident Matt York agreed and said he’d stock the Legacy Premium enchiladas and Mountain House lasagna.
Already prepared with a 55-gallon tank of water he purchased through CERT and plenty of camping equipment that includes a stove, York said, “We need emergency food because what we have now is canned and out of date.”
Eric Lee of Moraga cast a thumbs up on the enchiladas, but flipped on the same company’s rice dish. “It just tastes nasty. I’d find something else to eat,” he said.
Lee was most interested in the presentation on water. “That’s why CERT is good and why I’m here — they train you about emergencies.”
Cost-saving tips from Young included not just buying dehydrated meals that won’t go to waste because they’re inedible or out of date, but alternative long-lasting products: Spam, if a person likes it; spaghetti from a grocery store because it’s inexpensive.
Macler also had an eye on costs: ignore expiration dates on bottled water. “That’s a marketing tool that has nothing to do with safety. Once the water is in there, nothing gets in there. It might taste like plastic after five years, but as long as the bottle holds, it’s perfectly fine.”
Access to safe drinking water is a primary concern in a disaster. Much of Macler’s talk identified sources and clarified methods for sanitizing water. “A Hayward Fault will cause thousands of water distribution system line breaks,” he said.
With EBMUD’s storage tanks retrofitted with emergency cutoff valves, water will slowly drain out and water service will be lost for days, a week, or longer. “If you stay around (in your home),” Macler said, adding that most people do, “how do you get water?”
Provision of potable drinking water is not EBMUD’s responsibility in an emergency. Lamorinda residents must rely on municipalities to get water from the county, state and eventually, FEMA. “It takes a long time,” he warned. “You need to be prepared to get it on your own.”
A story told by one woman about how she and her neighbors on National Night Out began to coordinate their resources and aid during an emergency had Macler urging others to do the same. With the right supplies, a person might even be able to invite a neighbor over for dinner.
In an emergency, estimate one gallon of water for drinking and cooking per person per day, and one gallon or more per day for washing. A 7- to 10-day supply is recommended. Supplies to have on hand are filled five-gallon water storage buckets (weighing about 40 pounds when full); a bottle of unscented chlorine bleach to eliminate bad taste in water obtained from swimming pools, and coffee filters to rid water from lakes and streams of algae; along with measuring spoons and refillable water bottles.