Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hibernation Food

No, I'm not talking about what bears eat before long winter naps. When I say hibernation I mean when humanitarian workers need to hole up someplace and wait until conditions are safer to either resume operations or evacuate to another city or country.

In conflict zones, it's prudent for organizations to have a hibernation plan in place (typically implemented for the ex-pats). The plan should identify a safe location, how to get there, and how communications will be handled while the staff member(s) wait out the situation. NGO security practitioners advise that the location should be stocked with food and water. But just what exactly does that mean? Here are a few thoughts.
  • Water should be a priority as you can go much longer without food than water. At a bare minimum, one gallon of water per person per day should be allocated. This amount should be adjusted upward in hot climates.
  • Assume you may not be able to cook if electricity and/or cooking fuel becomes limited or unavailable.
  • Context should dictate the amount of food to have on hand based on the number of people to be fed and how long of a hibernation period may be in effect. Enough to last one or two weeks is a very general estimate.
  • Thought should be given whether hibernation will be treated as an austere event or whether normal, daily foods will be consumed.
  • Food should be selected for nutrition value and storage suitability (the amount of space it takes up and shelf life).
  • Avoid low-nutrition (junk) foods as consuming them negatively impacts cognition and decision-making. However, some sweets or other comfort food should be stocked for morale purposes.
  • Since water may be limited, avoid foods that require a lot of water to prepare or contain high levels of salt.
  • Food should be kept in containers or locations that prevent damage from pests.
  • Extreme temperatures decreases the shelf life of food, so select an appropriate location.
  • Don't forget a can opener if you're stocking canned foods.
So what kind of food should be stocked? Generally, staple and packaged foods that don't require much preparation. If you're not an imaginative chef, check out some of the following resources for ideas:

Ohio State University has a short publication titled Emergency Food Pyramid - Eatting Nutritiously When The Lights Are Out. It's simple, informative, and includes no-heat menu suggestions for three days worth of meals.

The American survivalist movement actually has some pretty good approaches to what types of food to have on hand during a short or long-term emergency. This site has a variety of useful information (with a minimum amount of political rhetoric).

Keep in mind that while many food items have expiration dates on the packages, these dates don't necessarily mean the food is unsafe after that date. The expiry dates usually indicate the food may start to lose its normal flavor after that point. In terms of food safety, Kansas State University published an excellent reference on the approximate storage lives of different food kept at 70 degrees F. This document is very useful for selecting different types of hibernation food items and knowing when to rotate stocks.

Bon appetit!



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