Emergency Food Supplies For Wuhan Virus
February 1, 2020 5:10 AM   Subscribe

I live in an Asian city that has a large number of confirmed Wuhan virus cases and am avoiding going out because of that. Help me with emergency food storage and feeding myself?

I am a local without much money, not an expat and am unable to leave for another country. So I am trapped here.

People are terrified here and all masks, disinfectants, sanitizers, rubbing alcohol and even immune-boosting supplements like Vitamin C are all sold out. It is terrifying to see all the empty shelves. I have never experienced this in my entire life and I lived through SARS. This is worse than SARS. I hate that I have to go through another epidemic again.

I have been unable to buy any masks etc and thus staying inside is the best solution. Food is still available in grocery stores but I do not know how the situation will develop and how long the epidemic will last. The last time I went to the supermarket I was trapped in a long queue with senior citizens frightening me by coughing so I don't want to go again.

I am currently living off canned food that I have bought before Chinese New Year before the number of cases went up. I did not expect the situation to worsen so fast or I would have bought more food. I have a big bag of rice and dried beans. My biggest problem is fresh produce. It only lasts so long. I have placed an online order for groceries for the first time in my life (a lot of fresh vegetables are out of stock). There is powdered milk in that order in case I run out of fresh milk.

How do I get through this long term for several months without nutritional deficiencies e.g. scurvy, lack of vitamin D (since I am not going out)? Do I buy multivitamins? What staples should I stock? I have canned fish and beans. Do freeze-dried vegetables have vitamin C? Should I buy dried rosehips and drink rosehip tea? Any supplements that might boost my immunity (probably all bought up by frightened people already but I could try)? How do I keep my spirits up in confinement and my health in good condition?

I just filled my prescription so that I will have enough medication for the next couple of months. The pharmacist was totally overwhelmed by people trying to buy masks and sanitizers which are constantly out of stock. Apparently the warehouse logistics is in a mess because of the sudden demand for virus-related stuff so I have to wait longer than usual to get my meds. I shudder to think how it will be if the epidemic gets worse.

Things you should know: I live in a small apartment so no garden to grow food. There's not much room for storage. My refrigerator is not particularly large and the freezer space is limited. Also I live in Asia so not everything is available. People are used to eating out and buying fresh ingredients here, not stocking up once a week. We don't have huge freezers and we don't eat much frozen food so the food culture is quite different. I can buy peanut butter for example but it isn't really that popular with locals. My budget is limited so the money has to be used wisely.

If I survive this epidemic, I swear I will become a prepper.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Frozen fruit and veggies are highly nutritious - so a good choice for your small freezer space. I’d look for fresh veggies that keep a long time, like cabbage and carrots or whatever cruciferous veggie is available where you are. Sleeping well and getting some exercise are probably the most important thing for immunity and keeping your spirits up. There are lots of Askmes on free/cheap online exercise - I like Yoga with Adriene!

Good luck, keep calm and carry on!
posted by schwinggg! at 5:24 AM on February 1

I can't speak to long-term prep overall, but my current depression meal of choice is cheap and has a good range of vitamins. (Pretty much all masks and hand sanitizer are sold out here, too.) It's just a bowl of white rice, egg mixed in, kimchi on top, and a bit of soy sauce. That's carbs, protein, and veggies. Glass of milk for calcium on the side. Vitamin-fortified chocolate powder added to the milk sometimes.
posted by lesser weasel at 5:29 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]

Pickles made in a cold process with brine like kimchi will retain their vitamin c and a lot of nutrients. I’m not sure what Chinese equivalents might be, but any bubbly pickles will keep in your fridge or a cool place. Citrus fruits like limes and lemon are also chock full of Vit C and will keep a long time. These are the types of things people ate on long sea voyages to avoid scurvy. If you can get enough calories from rice and beans you can live a long time (months) without experiencing much nutritional deficiency, especially if you supplement with pickles. This is how people used to make it through winters.
posted by permiechickie at 5:30 AM on February 1 [6 favorites]

Also try to get some shelf stable fat (like oil or lard) to supplement your rice and beans. It will be very very boring but you will survive.
posted by permiechickie at 5:32 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]

I live in Hong Kong as a non-wealthy person and I'm taking some steps to stay prepared foodwise without completely shutting myself in. I also have no masks and am relying on just soap at home or hand sanitiser when I'm out and about.

- I am going out only once every couple of days, with a mental list, and buying fresh stuff like veggies and meat from the market closest to my house, not necessarily where I'd normally go, because it reduces my time outside and around others. Yesterday I did three or four days' shopping in about ten minutes. This felt a little frenetic but was fine and I got what I needed.

- When shopping, I am going out quite early or quite late to reduce the number of people I am around.

- For dry goods, I am only buying what I need - I live alone and have another week of basics sorted, but I don't plan on buying a fifty-kilogram sack of rice or something (which I don't have room for anyway).

- I'm doing more meal planning than I might normally - instead of just making what looks good at the market, I'm thinking about how recipes interact - a roast chicken can become chicken soup, etc.

- I've gone to the IKEA local drop-off centre near my home to get frozen salmon and other frozen items because I knew no one would be buying these things there. It was a ghost town.

- I always leave home with a backpack so I can pick up anything I see on my one trip out.

- I've checked out local grocery delivery service Jou Sun and the supermarket delivery services; I found that I didn't have the patience to wait for these deliveries but I live in a building with no lobby/mailroom so perhaps this would work for you.

- I've ramped up my home hygiene routine and am washing my hands tons; because of this I treated myself to nicer bar soap.

- I've done some Facetime/video calling with friends in other parts of the city while we were both cooking dinner - this was hilarious and really made it feel as if we were together.

If you're in Hong Kong, drop me a MeMail - I'd be happy to bring by anything you'd like, or even just leave things outside your door if you'd rather not have someone from the internet near you.
posted by mdonley at 5:49 AM on February 1 [34 favorites]

Can you sew at all? By hand, even? If you have even the most basic sewing skills, there are several very good tutorials on how to sew your own surgical/medical masks. These two are really good 1 2 - you would need some elastic, fabric, interfacing, and a needle and thread. To the mask in the first tutorial I would add the interfacing-type layer as in the second one, for an extra layer of protection.

How to make your own hand sanitizer - 1

If you feel comfortable doing so, please contact me via mefimail to give me your address and I will send you some vitamin c supplements and protein bars and hand sanitizer. I am in the US.
posted by the webmistress at 5:57 AM on February 1 [13 favorites]

Canned fish has vitamin D.
Can you grow things from seeds that don't need much space, like baby greens? Even if you don't have much light or space at home, you can easily sprout most seeds and legumes. I've never tried sprouting whole grains but at least some of those are supposed to work too.

If you know any of your neighbors, be in touch with them and see how you can help each other. If you don't, think about getting to know them. If people are really afraid of in-person contact, see if you can set least set up a building-wide chat group.
posted by trig at 6:17 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]

Am I correct in assuming that your rice is white rice? If you can get brown rice, that would get you a lot more vitamins and minerals. Brown rice, beans, canola oil, canned fish, and maybe a multivitamin will keep you for a long time.

If you have a scale to determine your portions accurately, you can use a nutritional database like CRON-o-meter to check the nutritional completeness of your diet. Sadly, it will not know many common Chinese foods. Staples like grains will be recorded, though.

But also, note that you don't have to go full-on minimal subsistence diet until you have to. Palatability matters! Eat perishable foods while you can.

+1 to banding together with your neighbors, virtually if necessary to avoid contagion. Try slipping a note under your neighbors' doors with your Wechat or using the find people near me feature. If you have any elderly neighbors, they may appreciate someone dropping off supplies outside their door.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 6:29 AM on February 1

Hey listen, I understand you are in a situation that's really scary but you are 100% not going to suffer nutritional deficiencies or get scurvy from the situation you describe. I understand your freezer space is very limited, but canned fruit and vegetables are fine. (Fresh is optimal but canned is fine.) The world is filled with populations who get their fruit and vegatables solely from a can.

Most of your vitamin D comes from food and not sunlight exposure. Your body stores Vit D for a long, long time and you are unlikely to become deficient in a few months. While chronic, life-long Vit D deficiency isn't ideal, even if you were to become deficient in the short term, it's easily correctable.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:31 AM on February 1 [40 favorites]

If you’re really worried about a mask, tie a scarf over your nose and mouth, and wear eyeglasses or sunglasses.

Probably even more important than a mask is to be very careful about not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth when you’re out.

Wash your hands well as soon as you come in, and wipe anything you touched with your outdoor hands (door lock, light switch, faucet, wallet, keys, etc).

I wouldn’t be worried about scurvy and vitamin D deficiency, personally - those take months to show up and even when they do they’re reversible pretty quickly.

If you have multivitamins, you can ration them - take just half a tablet every second day, for instance.

Sit by the window to get some sun, and talk to friends on the phone or better yet over video chat. Eating meals together over video chat is really nice, and doing so will boost your mood. Hang in there! You’ll be ok.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:32 AM on February 1 [6 favorites]

Canned fruit and veg. are full of nutrients and if you can order them, do, and, yes, you need some fats in your diet. Carrots and onions keep really well and can be prepared several ways. Beans have a lot of vitamins and minerals in addition to protein. It takes a while to get scurvy and your nutrition may not be optimal for a while, but as long as you get adequate calories from several sources, you'll be okay.

There's so much debate about masks, but any mask seems to provide a bit of help, so use a bandana or other fabric. Handwashing can't be emphasized enough, and if you have gloves, any gloves, wear them.

There's a Coronavirus check-in thread that might be helpful and an Ask about cabin fever. You're isolated, the news is full of sensation and panic, so read MeFi, avoid suspenseful media, listen to music and maybe take up a new skill/hobby.
posted by theora55 at 7:00 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest going to the market at odd hours to avoid standing in line with others, if that is giving you anxiety. From what I recall there are all-day markets in Wuhan -- not sure whether you have access to these, of course
posted by shaademaan at 7:19 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]

If you can get your hands on bottled lemon juice (sold as a cooking ingredient), it keeps for ages in the fridge and can be added to curries, salad dressings and so on. That should sort you for vitamin C and ward off scurvy. I've seen ascorbic acid sold in powdered form as a breadmaking ingredient, and I'm sure that would do at a pinch.

Any sort of arty activity (pencil drawing, say, or starting a novel) is great for your mental health and provides a way to escape to another world without leaving the house. Plus you might create something legitimately wonderful.
posted by Grunyon at 7:58 AM on February 1

I suggest sprouting whatever seeds are available to you. Mung bean sprouts are edible within a week and are very nutritious. Sprouting requires very little sunlight and just a tablespoon of so of seeds can grow a couple of sizeable servings of sprouts.
posted by mezzanayne at 8:59 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]

If you are looking for iron, canned baby clams are solid in the protein department. I keep them on hand for prolonged power outages and the like. They are a reasonable addition to garlic-based pasta sauce. The are different from canned chopped clams.
posted by childofTethys at 5:42 PM on February 1

Here is an article on safety advice during a viral outbreak, from a journalist who covered the SARS outbreak. According to her, there's no real need to worry about infection if you follow basic precautions. These precautions need not include a mask, which may not help and might even be harmful.

Assuming that you are a healthy adult, and unless something changes, you will probably be fine.
posted by waffleriot at 8:12 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]

Sorry this is happening. Must be overwhelming.

Nutritional deficiencies are very unlikely. People who get them have extremely restricted diets for years at a time.

I suggest stocking up on cheap, shelf stable staples like dried rice and beans. This could safely be the majority of your diet for months and, supplemented with small amounts of meats and canned or frozen fruits and vegetables, would be totally adequate nutritionally.

Canned fish, frozen peas, nuts and dried fruit all last a long time and have high nutrition content.
posted by latkes at 9:12 AM on February 2 [2 favorites]

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