30 August 2012

How much to keep on hand?

Everybody knows that you should keep food and household essentials on hand in case the power goes out and you're stranded at home. But how much to keep?

Well, how much space do you have? How many people will you have to take care of? What kind of problem do you anticipate keeping you in the house and unable to leave?

The Rowhouse Livin' household packs an adult and a teenager in just under 1000 square feet of cozy, mostly open-concept living space, with closets that are few and far between. I figure our home, built following the Society Hill revitalization projects of the 1970s, was designed for yuppies who wanted to live in Center City before starting a family and moving to Chestnut Hill.

Living in a densely populated urban neighborhood has its advantages. Our streets are plowed early and often; and in the rare instances when our utilities go out, they generally come back before those of residents in outer suburbs. We don't risk getting snowed in for months at a time. Though we're on a coastal plain, and though we've got rivers to the east and west of us, I don't put flooding that would strand us in the house on our radar. It's just not realistic, absent a water main failure -- which is more of an evacuation risk, anyway.

But I'll tell you what I do anticipate. I anticipate two basic scenarios: (1) My daughter and I are stuck in the house together for a week; or (2) I'm alone, but I'm so ill or injured that I can't get myself to the store for a week. But you know, to be safe, let's say two weeks. I keep enough non-perishable food and household essentials that my daughter and I would be fine for a bare minimum of two weeks.

So when my pantry runs low on a food item, or my bathroom cabinet runs low on something -- but wait. What do I mean by "low"? The joke around here is that you can be out of something, or you can be Rowhouse Livin' out of something. Regular out means you have zero of something on hand; but Rowhouse Livin' out means you have two weeks' worth available. (Or, if it's an item in a package that lasts longer than two weeks, such as olive oil or shampoo, Rowhouse Livin' out means no spare. Thus, when I toss an empty olive oil bottle into the recycling bin and reach into the pantry for the spare one waiting to be used, I am now Rowhouse Livin' out of olive oil.) So, two weeks, or 42 meals, in my pantry ready to go: home-canned beans, commercially canned soups, instant noodle bowls, dried fruit, and nuts. Plus some seeds for sprouting, so that I'll have some Vitamin C in a few days.

Next: Thoughts on how to build up a two-week pantry.

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