Disaster preparedness: food and caffeine

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Adam Shostack worries that he might need to eat in a disaster situation:
Since Katrina, I've been trying to spend about $25 a week on disaster preparedness. Fortunately, I already own some basic camping gear, so I'm starting out by storing more food and water. My pantry tends to be thin on food that can be eaten without preparations. I have powerbars and snack bars so I've been adding canned foods, trail mixes, and I'm going to get a couple of army "meals-ready-to eat." Each of those tastes about as good as a brick, but is far more nutritious: Each has about 2,000 calories, which is a day's eating.

...

One of the things I learned from Eric's posts is to think about water not only as hydration, but also sanitization, and so bought a few 8 oz jugs of hand sanitizer. Another thing I learned, as I was storing the trail mix: Check the 'best by' date on it. It turns out that one jar I got has a 'best by' date in January 06. And it looked so dehydrated and up-appealing.

The final food question is caffeine. I don't want to be stressed out, and have withdrawl symptoms at the same time. Nor do I want to be munching coffee beans raw. I did get some ground coffee, which can be made to work if I have heat. I could assume that my (gas) stove will work, and get a French press. I could get a camp stove, or a camp coffee maker. I could get chocolate-covered espresso beans. None of these seem really satisfactory.

MREs are a pretty popular choice because they're nutritionally complete, have a long shelf life, and aren't totally disgusting (though there's apparently a lot of variation in how good the flavors are). They can also be bought with a heating pack so you don't need a stove. On the downside, they're fairly heavy. Each MRE contains about 1000-1200 kcals and they weigh about 20 oz each, so it's about 50 kcal/oz. This is no big deal if they're in your basement or car, but if you have to carry them around. They're also fairly expensive, typically around $6/each, so about 160 kcal/dollar.

If you're not a picky eater, you can do a better with survival rations. The industry standard here is . At about 150 kcal/oz, they have about three times the caloric density by weight of MREs. Typical prices are about $8/bar, so that's about 450 kcal/dollar. The're rated for a five year shelf life. I broke one open a while ago and they taste OK, kind of like lemony shortbread. I'm not saying I'd want to eat them for dessert every night, but they're far from intolerable. Kevin Dick tells me he's also fond of ration tablets (I think these.) I've never tried them so I can't give an opinion on how they taste. I've heard claims of shelf lives up to 10 years, but I don't have any independent data.

An alternative strategy (used by Kevin, I believe) is just to keep a large stock of energy bars on hand and rotate them frequently. This obviously works a lot better if you eat a lot of energy bars anyway and you have the discipline to rotate. In my experience, the chocolate covered ones get kind of messy if they get hot, so you may want to stick with uncoated ones. My experience on camping trips is that Clif bars produce less palate fatigue than the more synthetic tasting PowerBars, but it's obviously an issue of individual taste.

As far as caffeine goes, if you want to make coffee I advise getting a camp stove. For this situation, I advise the MSR International, which will burn white gas, kerosene, and unleaded. This affords you the most flexibility in situations where it's hard to get fuel. (Note, for ordinary camping use I recommend the JetBoil, but it relies on pressurized gas, which may be hard to come by when being chased by an army of zombies).

If you need the caffeine but don't care about coffee, you could probably get by with caffeine tablets. Also, some energy gels have caffeine in them—though significantly less than in coffee—but then you're back to the shelf life issue.

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9 Comments

I stopped eating energy bars in general so gave up on the rotating bar strategy.

Yep, those are the survival tablets (more info at http://www.survivaltabs.com/).

I recommend keeping the MREs at home, because heat and especially heat cycling really degrades their shelf life.

Then I recommend keeping about 3600-4800 calories of ration bars and a cannister of survuval tabs in each car kit. Basically, enough to hike out of a bad situation and/or supplement what you can scavenge.

It's a good thought about caffeine. After Hurricane Fran knocked out power to large parts of Chapel Hill, there were lines for coffee at all the places that had power.

I recommend Jolt gum (available at Thinkgeek)for handy, small-size caffeine fixes. Many other caffeine candy products are also available at Thinkgeek, though price and drug delivery success vary. I thought "Foosh", in particular, was uneatably bad. Post-disaster I might not be so picky, obviously, but I prefer to stock up on stuff I would rotate through for other occasions.

What do your readers recommend in a 9mm handgun?

9mm bullets, preferably.

Having done some thinking on the paranoia as well:

I went with MREs, for the long term shelf life, stored in the exterior closet (so easier to get to if things get fubared/have to go thorugh a wall).

If a gun, (i'm not sure if I want one yet, I'm not some 2nd ammendment praising NRA member...), I think a 12 guage, pump action shotgun is the best:

It's GREATLY intimidating. It can be of various lethality (fine birdshot vs XX Buckshot) on a prearranged shot-by-shot basis.

And did I mention that it is INTIMIDATING?

From what I understand from my friends in the military, it's psychologically quite hard to shoot another person even under threatening circumstance.

Similarly, they seem to think it's a really bad idea to point a gun at someone unless you're prepared to shoot them. Especially, if that someone _is_ prepared to shoot you.

That said, the two common recommendations I've heard seem to be a Glock 9mm and/or a Mossberg 12 gauge. Personally, I think the data on one shot stops warrants considering a Glock in .357 (model 32 is the full size and 33 is the compact).

However, I don't want to be prepared to shoot another person. If I did, I'd invest in the training to make sure I was.

Just as a nitpick, you really want to go to a gun range and try some of these guns out if you're thinking of buying one. You can learn quite a bit about what kind of gun you're comfortable shooting this way. (For example, I find the recoil on .357 magnum rounds to be a bit too much for me; I tense up and am not very accurate even shooting at paper targets.)

Surely someone who's more of a gun person than me will chime in with better advice, but I'm inclined to think the one-stop shot numbers are probably not that relevant to your situation, at least not in the sense of wanting to max them out. It's unlikely you will ever use this gun except to shoot paper targets and tin cans. If that's fun and affordable, then if you ever need to use it somewhere else, you're probably more likely to hit what you're shooting at. The usual advice you see is to have at least a .38 or 9mm, since that's got a reasonable chance of stopping someone--that seems sensible to me. But again, someone who's really big into guns will probably have more of an opinion.

I certainly agree that you should try before you buy. Notice, I said "consider" .357, as in evaluate it as an option.

However, I strongly disagree about the rest of your thinking. Either you want to defend yourself with deadly force via a firearm or you don't. (Remember, that I don't)

If you do, it's like every other life or death decision--figure out the solution that's most effective for you. One shot stop is a big issue in terms of defending yourself. Certainly not the only issue, but one you should look at.

Moreover, you don't want to just target shoot if you want to defend yourself with a gun. You want complete "tactical" training. Otherwise, you may not be able to pull the trigger when necessary and that may be more dangerous than not having the gun at all.

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