Before Disaster Strikes: Food Preservation and Preparation

Before Disaster Strikes: Food Preservation and Preparation


   “A shield is not made in battle.”  This is an African mantra that has a message spoken by Eric Black at a panel discussion on disaster preparation. His message is about preparing for battle, being ready to arise to the occasion when the occasion arises-especially when it comes to livelihood.  We cannot control when nature decides to display in extreme events such as brush fires, tropical storms, tornadoes, or tsunamis; but we can learn and act in preparation for those events.  Hindsight is 20/20 after a life altering occurrence happens and leaves lack of resources to survive during and after it.  The shield is a set of tools and resources used in advance to be available whenever the occasion (whether a tropical storm or tsunami) arises.


   “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”  This statement is the focus of this article; the objective of this piece is to give tips and consideration on how to prepare before, during and after times of unavoidable disaster.  It speaks to the facts of current and previous disasters (Hurricanes Harvey and Katrina, the Drought of 2011 in East Africa) and their damaging effects on food access.  It also provides some methods of sustainability and ways to be ready that can deter fatality.  The goal of this article is to encourage thought and consideration on how to prepare for unavoidable disasters.  


Look at the Numbers

   There are some of many natural disasters that have occurred within the last two decades with many facts.  These events are the East African Drought of 2011, Hurricane Katrina of New Orleans in 2005 and Hurricane Harvey of Houston in 2017.  Here are some numbers that highlight the damage and loss from those events.

East Africa Drought 2011 facts and numbers according to Answers

  • Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti were affected by what is said to be “the worst in 60 years”
  • The drought put East Africa into the worst food security crisis African ever faced over some decades; Somalia experienced the most effects with extreme food and scarcity.
  • It is estimated that between 50,000-100,000 people died due to famine, half of which were children under the age of 5 years old

Hurricane Katrina 2005 facts and numbers according to Louisiana State University Ag Center Research and Extension and

  • Struck August 25, 2005; New Orleans had about 500,000 residents (
  • Death toll in the hundreds (
  • $2,380,000.00 in vegetable crop loss (LSU)
  • $151,341,822.86 in fishery loss (LSU)

Hurricane Harvey 2017 facts and numbers according to the New York Times and Ag

  • 1st major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since 2005…(New York Times)
  • More than 250,000 Texans were without electricity… (New York Times)
  • Category 4 hurricane with deadly 135mph winds (Ag Pulse)
  • State of Texas will suffer at least $150 million in agricultural damage from Harvey (Ag Pulse)
  • About 80% of state’s rice has been harvested but some of the storage facilities holding rice have been damaged (Ag Pulse)
  • David Anderson of Texas A&M University sees dire threat to 1.2 million head of cattle (about 27% of state’s total) in the 54 counties that are declared a disaster because of Harvey (Ag Pulse)


The facts presented provide incidents of famine, death, damage and loss caused by events that occur in nature, therefore we as humans have no control of them.  Yet, there are sustainable and practical methods that can be done to help people endure during and after extreme events happen; the facts can be taken into consideration when learning and practicing these methods.


Food in Times of Disaster

   Food is a vital part of livelihood and is necessary in challenging times of natural disaster.  In incidents like Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey grocery stores are not always accessible due to flood waters, lack of transportation or electricity, therefore food can be grown in advanced.  Growing vegetables, fruits and herbs for preparation is a way to not be completely at the mercy of disasters. Learning how to cultivate your own food teaches you the life cycle of plants as well as survive on natural sustainable resources.  Once the food is grown preserving it creates its access during periods when there is lack of electricity or transportation; food is vital for survival during challenging disasters.


   There are sources that provide information and instruction on how to grow and secure food in preparation for survival. WWF Pacific has created a video of Navotua women demonstrating practices of traditional preservation methods to survive natural disaster.  Urban homesteader and cultivator Jacqueline A. Smith of GrowAsis Urban Garden Consulting, Inc.  has written two blogs “Be Empowered Grow and Secure Your Own Food Part 1” and “Be Empowered Grow and Secure Your Own Food Part 2” that shares information and techniques of food security. Natural disasters are as old as the earth itself but people have been able to survive them with preparation. Exploring opportunities and methods of food preservation survival can lessen the possibility of extreme food deprivation during a natural disaster.


Preparing for the Worst: Sustainable Food Preservation and Preparation

   Food preparedness is one of the best plans of action.  There are various ways food can be preserved and prepped long before a natural disaster occurs; the methods can be done with or without electricity.  Here are some options:

  • Purchase non-perishable items:  This is an easy to go to method that does not require a lot of work, effort or electricity.  Purchase canned goods, boxed milk, dry goods like oats, rice and pastas, applesauce, juice boxes, peanut butter and nuts from local grocers or bulk retailers like Costco.  You can also buy these items in increments as part of your routine grocery shopping to avoid the experience of scarcity in stores. The Centers for Disease Control provides information on how to prepare for non-perishable foods. PopularMechanics provides tips of what kinds of food store for natural disasters.


  • Create a personal/family garden: Growing food is a healthy and economic way to prepare for disaster without the use of electricity.  Grow fruits and vegetables that are liked and eaten frequently in the household.  The food grown and harvested from the garden can provide nutrition, can be preserved and prepared for food accessibility during a natural disaster.


  • Seed saving and harvesting: Harvesting seeds for vegetable crops is a good way to secure food.  Saved seeds can be used to grow a vegetable garden after a disaster occurs; they can also be used to grow vegetables or herbs indoors if it is not possible to garden outside. The Seed Save Exchange website provides tips on seed saving techniques.


  • Canning foods:  Canning is a method of preserving in advance for a long period of time with the use of an electric or gas stove.  Pickling vegetables and making canned preserves from garden fruit in mason jars can be kept and stored for more than one year which can secure food during and after a natural disaster.  The GrowAsis blog provides the benefits of pickling in “Goodness of Pickles: Food Security, Vegetable Gardening and Health at Its Best


   The objective of this article is to provide tips and ideas on how to prepare and preserve food in the event of a natural disaster.  Events like the recent Hurricane Harvey of 2017 and past Hurricane Katrina as well as the Drought of East Africa provide facts related to residual damage, loss and famine after their occurrence. Food is a vital source of survival during and after disaster. Sustainable food preparation and preservation is a good plan of action that can be done before disaster occurs.  The facts and tips provide in this article can provide insight and preparation on how to be ready for natural disaster; they are a shield not made in battle.