Earlier this week, Hurricane Matthew swept through the Caribbean before heading north and up the eastern coast of the United States. Thankfully, it spared much of Cuba, inflicting damage only on the far east of the island. Given that Havana roads tend to flood and houses in the old quarter crumble every time there is a serious storm, I can only imagine what kind of destruction a hurricane could bring.
In any case, Matthew gave us a chance to think about food preparedness. The general guidelines say that you should have a few days’ worth of food stored up in your pantry. We have at least two months’ worth, maybe more. But even with the voluminous quantity of food in our kitchen, it turns out we aren’t as prepared as I thought.
Before we moved to Cuba, many expatriates advised us to ship as much food as we possibly could, along with the contents of our home. One family advised researching Mormon websites that gave advice on foods to stock up on, since some Mormons follow a tradition of storing large supplies of food in their home. Another family recommended that we ship dozens of tins of freeze-dried fruits, vegetable, and chicken. We made several trips to Costco, Trader Joe’s, and Target, and on each expedition filled our shopping carts to the brim with food items ranging from Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers to dried tortellini to cases of wine. The employees at the registers (along with nearby customers) marveled at the contents of our carts. “Some party you’re going to throw! Am I invited?” one check-out lady asked, before I informed her we were in fact not having a party but rather moving to an island with very few consumer goods.
The contents of our shopping trips arrived several months later, after we had moved and settled into our home in Havana. It felt like Christmas opening up box after box, with everything from Lay’s potato chips to olive tapenade spilling out of them, tucked between boxes of pasta and cans of tomatoes.
When I examined my pantry recently while preparing for Matthew, though, I realized that we’d depleted a lot of our supplies already. And we were less prepared for a hurricane than I thought. We have tons of flour, rice, baking mixes, olive oil, and coffee. We have a huge amount of dried and packaged Asian goods, like shiitake mushrooms, tofu, seaweed, rice noodles, sauces, and spices. But without power or gas, we wouldn’t be able to do much with any of them.
I’d done a decent job with the canned and dry goods, though. We still have a good amount of tinned salmon, anchovies, and tuna. We have enormous jars of Skippy peanut butter and a powdered peanut butter that we have yet to try. At least a half dozen Costco-sized boxes of granola bars and dozens of boxes of Frosted Mini-Wheats and Cheerios are left, along with some Snap Pea Crisps and my kids’ favorite snack of Goldfish crackers. I’d shipped a huge quantity of applesauce, in big jars and in those little squeeze packets. I’d also brought tons of canned fruits that are exotic here: peaches, mandarin oranges, cherries, and strawberries. With just the fruit alone, my fruit-loving daughter could easily survive for at least a week.
All of that supplements the food I buy in Havana. I tend to shop in huge quantities, because you never know when you’re going to find any given item again. Last week, for example, I found apples for the first time in six months. I bought a whole crate containing 100. In our pantry, the apples joined several cases of Heineken beer and fifteen 1-liter boxes of tetra-pak, long shelf-life milk (the only milk we usually can find in Cuba). In the event of a natural disaster, my husband and kids would be more than happy to live on apples, cereal, and milk. It would take my husband at least a few weeks to go through the Heinekens. Though we’ve depleted our wine supply faster than I thought we would, we still have about a dozen bottles left, plus rum (something you can always find here), and various other hard liquors. My husband and I could be happily drunk through the whole storm.
Then there’s the stuff in our three refrigerators. It’s not unusual to have more than one fridge in Cuba, in order to stock up on goods that otherwise might be in short supply. If you open the doors to ours, you will encounter all kind of nuts, cheese, produce, and various leftovers. In one of our back refrigerators, you will find four enormous flats of eggs — the equivalent of twelve dozen. I’ve learned to buy in that quantity because eggs sometimes don’t show up at all for weeks at our local bodega.
We’ve done all of this, of course, not in preparation for a hurricane, but for daily life in Cuba. It’s one of the many things that living in Havana has taught me: “when you see it, buy it.” It’s also taught us not to take anything for granted, even simple things like eggs, beer, and apples.
Please share on my Facebook page what you would stock up on in the event of a hurricane … or if you were to move to Cuba!