Hurricane Irene food: Pigging out on the stockpiles


A New York shopper searches for bottled water on Long Island. (MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS)
August 29, 2011

First, congratulations if you maintained electricity this weekend.

Second, put down the Twinkie.

“I bought Goldfish,” says Anahe Hartounian, who lives in the District and went grocery shopping in pre-Irene panic. “And crackers. Cookies. Mallomars — things like Little Debbie; just the worst.” Things that she would never have purchased under normal circumstances.

And then?

“I snacked.”

When natural disasters impend, preparations are made. Supermarkets are ransacked. The water aisle is the first to be depleted, followed by bread and peanut butter. It’s as if entire cities are planning to ride out the storm in a third-grader’s lunchbox. Then the truly creative purchases begin. Surely Pop-Tarts count as non-perishables? Surely Pop-Tarts go with olives and fruit snacks and . . . um . . . kidney beans?

This purchasing frenzy can be classified as happening “Before.”

“After” happened throughout the weekend as Washingtonians realized that they had largely been spared destruction and began to pig out on their hurricane food.

It is as if Mr. Hyde went shopping, and Dr. Jekyll had to get up and make breakfast.

“I’m on my third day of making my hurricane sandwich,” explains Rachel Lewis, who works in higher education policy. The ingredients for this sandwich are pickles, margarine and pumpernickel bread.

These are the ingredients that she purchased in preparation for the hurricane. She does not fully understand why.

“It seemed hearty,” she says of the pumpernickel. “Like something you would buy if you were a peasant” riding out a hard winter. The pickles were sealed in a sturdy jar. That, too, seemed to make sense.

“It’s not bad,” she insists, determined. “I made it for my boyfriend, too.”

Joel Midgley and Jon Mitchell are in their own post-hurricane food coma. By the time they got to a CVS on Friday night — they’re camp counselors heading to New York and were unexpectedly stuck in Washington — the aisles were thoroughly picked over. Dazed, they grabbed whatever was left.

“Soda,” Midgley remembers.

“Powerade,” Mitchell says.

“M&M’s.”

“Tortilla chips.”

“We were still eating the tortilla chips for breakfast” Monday, says Midgley, looking sort of green. “We’ve been powering through.”

Powering through, yes.

The hurricane food must be eaten. If the hurricane food is not eaten, then the hurricane shopping will have been for naught. If the hurricane shopping is not validated, then why were we at Safeway, at midnight, buying sugar-free grape jelly because it was the only product left in the condiment aisle?

(If the hurricane food is not eaten, it should be taken to a shelter. The Capital Area Food Bank says it often receives a welcome influx of non-perishables after natural disasters.)

Moreover, stocking pantries is a finite answer to an infinite problem: Life is precious and indefinite. It ends, even­tual­ly, whether you buy 17 tins of tuna or not. The tuna is the symbol of our fears, our attempts to take human control over something that is larger than humanity. Hurricanes are horrible. If the power goes out or the roof caves in — if something unspeakable happens — let it be known that we did the tiny things we could do to prepare. We bought the canned fish.

“Food was just such a big part of this disaster that did not happen,” says Ellen Reich, who owns an import company in Baltimore. She went hurricane shopping to be a responsible citizen. To be prepared. Resourceful. She bought Lucky Charms and chocolate fiber bars. She told herself that they were non-perishable and sort of healthy. “I was waiting for an all-clear sign — you know: ‘All clear! Eat your non-perishables.’ ”

It never came. She wasn’t sure exactly when she was out of the woods, but eventually, “I was like, I’m not waiting any longer. There is something chocolatey in the house.”

A celebration of life. Life and chocolate.

Tory Patrick had an excellent excuse for her hurricane mini-bonanza. Patrick, a publicist, is pregnant and wanted to make sure that she didn’t neglect her nutrition if the power went out. She went to her Capitol Hill grocery at the height of the madness and bought bread. She bought the only kind of peanut butter that was left on the shelf: “I don’t know what it was. I don’t even know. It was chunky.”

She marveled at the people who were going really crazy, wondering who in Washington would have the refrigerator space for 52 frozen pizzas and what good they would be in a power outage anyway.

She wondered what all of it said about the human psyche, about our need to consume, and to hunker down, and to beat back the inevitable storm.

She used none of her supplies.

“Everything’s still sitting in the Harris Teeter reusable shopping bag,” Patrick says. “Actually, I take that back. We did eat the Doritos.”

What emergency non-perishables are overstocked in your pantry? Tell us what you’re snacking on in the comments below.

Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.
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