On any given day I’m well prepared to be quarantined. I have stacks and stacks of books waiting to be read on my bookshelves and kindle, plus supplies for all kinds of craft projects, and plenty of work. I’m the ultimate homebody anyway and am never bored. Also, I have sort of an odd penchant for dystopian literature, and it inspires me to be prepared for the worst. I’m not a prepper by any means, but I do get a little anxious if there is less than a six-week reserve of food in my pantry.
Even so, I’ve been reassessing my supplies as I follow the news about COVID-19. Given all the uncertainty over the coronavirus, it seems like a good idea to be ready for anything. If you haven’t stocked up on food and other essentials, the time to do so is now. Even if you aren’t able to stay home, you can reduce exposure by eliminating unnecessary trips to the store.
My friend Erik Marcus has useful information about COVID-19 on the vegan.com website. It includes a handy list of pantry items that will see a vegan through a couple months of quarantine. I highly recommend checking this out.
My list below covers what I consider to be broad categories of essentials plus extras you might want to have on hand.
Food for the “Better Safe than Sorry” Vegan Pantry
Grains and beans are, of course, the foundation of a vegan diet whether or not there’s a pandemic on the horizon. A pound of dried beans provides about 1500 calories and 100-plus grams of protein for less than $2, making beans the very best use of shelf space. Canned beans are a less efficient use of space, but you’ll still want to have them on hand for fast meals. Any kind of grains and pasta are also good for cheap calories. In addition to beans, I’ve stocked up on bean pastas.
While fresh produce generally has a limited lifespan, apples, oranges, carrots, cabbage, and beets all keep well in the refrigerator for more than a month. Potatoes and winter squashes will keep for that long in a cool, dark, dry space.
I demoted the less perishable foods from my freezer to the refrigerator to free up most of the space for frozen vegetables (plus a smaller supply of veggie meats). Frozen vegetables are healthy, economical and convenient. They don’t taste as good as fresh, but sautéing them in a little oil, adding favorite condiments, or stirring in vegan cheese helps. I also have a small supply of canned vegetables on hand. From a nutritional standpoint, they are fine. But they’re not something I would generally eat (because they don’t taste good) so I have them only for extreme emergencies. Canned tomatoes are the exception; I have a huge stash to add to bean dishes and soups.
Even for non-vegans, TVP (textured vegetable protein) is the official doomsday-prepper staple. Made from dehydrated soy flour, it’s rich in protein and fiber and has a long shelf life. To prepare, soak 1 cup TVP in 7/8 cups boiling water. On its own, the flavor of TVP leaves something to be desired. It’s good, though, when cooked in tomato-based sauces like spaghetti or sloppy joe sauce.
Soy curls, which are made from the whole soybeans, are somewhat less shelf-stable and a little bulkier than TVP. But they will keep for a long time in the refrigerator and can add protein-packed variety to your diet.
I use vegan cheeses condiment-style as a quick way to perk up frozen vegetables. Many have a reasonable shelf life of several weeks, and most can be frozen.
Nuts and/or seeds are essential in vegan diets. I always have a variety of these foods on hand, but for purposes of stocking up, I focused on walnuts for essential fats, pumpkin seeds to jazz up grains, and a huge stash of cashews for making home made cheese sauces.
Peanut butter (or any nut butter) is a valuable nutritious staple because it goes with everything and is relatively inexpensive.
Even if plant milks aren’t a regular part of your diet, it’s worth having a couple liters in aseptic packages.
Don’t forget to make room for a few treats, too. Many cake mixes are accidently vegan, and they have a very long shelf life. You can make a fast and fun cake with just two ingredients: cake mix and any kind of soft drink. No egg replacer or oil needed.
Condiments and vegetable oils are key to keeping meals from becoming monotonous. Think about what you use the most and concentrate on having a good supply of those. My staples are olive oil, avocado oil, maple syrup, hot sauce, liquid smoke (for the soy curls), tamari, salsa, mayonnaise, and nutritional yeast.
I don’t anticipate that water supplies will be interrupted, but it’s always good to have bottled water on hand for emergencies. And of course, coffee and tea (and wine and soft drinks) are essential for some of us.
Don’t forget supplements of vitamins B12 and D.
Be sure to stock plenty of pet food. I bought several large bags of Purina Cat Chow for the six cats I feed because it’s especially calorie-dense, so a little will go a long way.
Finally, think about what you might want to eat if you do get sick – things like saltine crackers, soups, and juices.
Planning Beyond a Month
If you have a patch of sun on a deck or patio (and it’s well segregated from your neighbors) consider buying a few bags of potting soil and planting cool-weather container-friendly vegetables like kale, collards, chard, lettuce and spinach. A window box works, too. Gardening on any scale is a cheerful endeavor and you’ll appreciate being able to supplement frozen vegetables with fresh. My favorite source for seeds is Renee’s Garden which has several varieties specifically for containers (and the seed packets are like little works of art).
You might want to also put by a small stock of yeast and flour so you can make homemade bread if you run out. It’s a fun activity for kids, too.
It may turn out that you’ll never have to quarantine yourself and all this prepping will feel like an overreaction. But there is no downside to being prepared as long as you aren’t stocking up on things you wouldn’t normally eat. At the very least, you’ll be able to take a long vacation from grocery shopping.