I visited my parents over the weekend. My stay was extended when the travel ban went into effect in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy and I rode out the storm with them. Fortunately, my mom and I were able to get to the grocery store before the worst of it hit landfall. Customers and employees were anxious to get home. Shoppers stocked up on “non-perishables”—namely canned soups and meats, jars of sauce, boxes of pasta and rice. Last year my parents were without power for 10 days after Hurricane Irene. I thought about how to shop without making trash if I weren’t able to refrigerate foods for 10 days or longer.
The majority of the groceries I buy day to day are fresh fruits and vegetables, most of which sit on the countertop because I shop frequently enough (at least twice a week) that I don’t have to worry about refrigeration. But there are certain foods I eat regularly like greens (salad and sauté) and some vegetables (carrots, radishes) that I usually put directly in cups or containers of water, then into cold storage. The rest of my regular groceries include dried bulk items and occasionally meat (fish, poultry). Dried bulk foods like legumes and grains certainly qualify as non-perishable and are rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. There are quite a few in season fruits and vegetables that will keep for a while (depending on variety and freshness) without refrigeration, such apples, citrus fruit, unopened pomegranate, potatoes, yams, garlic, onion, and squash (delicata, butternut, acorn, pumpkin, etc…). Selecting unripe fruits that can soften slowly without rotting and choosing bulk dried fruits and vegetables that offer some nutritional value are also options for long-term room temperature storage.
Back at the house we filled the tubs with water to wash and cook with if we lost the power. My parents are on well water and they don’t have a generator to power the pumps during outages—this has never been an issue for me in Providence because I’m on city water. But my parents are lucky to live on a river, so they can collect water in buckets to flush the toilets, conserving the tap water reserves in the tubs. Sure enough, we lost power early Monday evening as the winds whipped through the river valley. My dad cooked us dinner by flashlight with the little water that remained in the pipes. My parent’s have a gas stove, which my dad was able to light with a match. As I watched him it occurred to me that in the event of an outage I wouldn’t be able to use the electric stove/oven in my apartment to prepare many of the above mentioned foods that require cooking. I do however have a wood stove with a steel cooktop and could use it to steam, boil, or sauté foods. When dinner was ready, we sat eating by candlelight listening to the sounds of nearby exploding transformers and trees breaking and falling on all sides of the house. Without the distractions of the TV or our respective laptops (all of which are often in use at once during my visits) we stayed talking with each other until the early hours of Tuesday morning. It’s a time spent with my parents that I’ll never forget.
In the light of day on Tuesday we were able to see the damage the storm had caused. Trees were down everywhere and power lines littered the roads. The interstate travel ban was lifted and I was able to snake my way around impassable backroads to the highway home. I got a flat (shredded) tire on the highway probably from debris left by the storm. I will post more on dealing with the tire business soon…
Losing electricity and running water for nearly 24 hours makes me realize how much I take it for granted every day. As we move closer to the winter solstice, the days are getting shorter and much of my work is done after sunset. I think about my parents and the rest of the 8 million who lost power during the storm and could be without it for weeks while crews work to clean up after Sandy. The weather is supposed to shift to colder temperatures as we enter the month of November and many will be without heat. And I think about the people in the world who live their whole lives without plumbing or electricity. At the moment, I’m especially aware of how much I depend on the internet. For my work but also for my No Trash Project research and blog. My friend just sent me a link to WWWASTE, a site that calculates the amount of CO2 you emit each day by surfing the web. One more site to spend energy by visiting, but perhaps an important measurement to be aware of as our lives become more and more interfaced.