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Neman: Food in a time of coronavirus
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Neman: Food in a time of coronavirus

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I went to the grocery store on Sunday for the first time since the panic hit.

I only needed four items, but one of them was onions. The store was completely out of onions. Also, pre-packaged salad, bleach and toilet paper. The shelves were overflowing with facial tissue, but the toilet paper was all gone.

Folks, you can use facial tissue if worse comes to worst (though plumbers would say don't flush them). 

The experience got me thinking about what would happen if we were to experience food shortages. I don't think such a thing is likely, but I heard one compelling theory about how it could happen.

Farmers will still farm, of course, and food producers will likely still produce food. The possible weak link in the food chain would be at the level of distribution. Grocery stores are certain to stay open, but there has to be a way to get the food to them.

Again, I don’t see a likelihood of a shortage. But it never hurts to be prepared. So on the chance that food shortages do come our way, here are some tips for how to handle them.

Obviously, you should not go overboard on buying perishable foods unless they can be frozen, such as meats, butter and even bread. If it looks like a shortage will be extended for some time, canned goods are the way to go.

And don’t be a jerk about it. Save some for other shoppers. They’ll have to eat, too.

Perhaps the most important consideration for a time of shortages, and also for a time of plenty, is protein. If you don’t eat enough of it, your health will severely suffer.

It depends on your size, age, weight and a host of other factors, but the average sedentary woman needs about 46 grams of protein per day, and the average sedentary man needs 56 grams, according to Healthline. Meat-eaters will get most of that from meat, and dairy is another good source.

But what if meat and dairy products are in short supply?

Then it’s time to turn to beans and bean products, such as tofu, edamame and tempeh.

And don’t forget peanut butter. Peanuts are in the same family as beans, they are rich in protein and, when spread on bread with jam or jelly, they are just about the tastiest thing you can eat.

One advantage to buying beans is that you can get a large amount of them dried. They are inexpensive, take up little room in your pantry and will last for years, if you need them. You do have to soak them overnight before using them, except for lentils, but that takes virtually none of your time and only a little planning.

And what do you do with all of those beans? You can do what most of the world does: Eat them with rice.

Plain rice with plain beans is dull, but the dish is easy to make better. If you have them, cook the beans with onion (if the stores have them), celery and either carrots or green pepper — or go crazy and use both. Tomatoes, even from a can, will add a lot. Garlic helps, too, and cumin. I don’t usually advocate the use of curry powder, but a little won’t hurt here. Add a handful of frozen peas, if you have them. If sausage or chicken is available, they are excellent additions.

And if you have chicken or vegetable stock on hand, cooking the rice in it adds a wealth of flavor.

With so many different varieties of beans, you could make variations on this recipe and have essentially a different dish every night. Scramble the leftovers with eggs, or use them as the filling for an omelet the next day for a special treat.

A shortage might also be a good time to begin baking your own bread. It does take time, which you will have a lot of if you are quarantined, but there are also some recipes available for baking a perfectly respectable loaf of bread in an hour.

Jim Lahey’s famous recipe for no-knead bread is definitely worth trying, too, if you have never made it. After the shortages end, you may never want to buy bread from a bakery or grocery store again.

All you will absolutely need to bake bread are flour, yeast and maybe a little sugar to encourage the yeast to do its job. Most recipes have other ingredients, too, such as butter, buttermilk, raisins or different kinds of flour. Just get what they have at the store and make a loaf with those ingredients.

Baking bread is fun and relaxing, and your house will smell great.

And don’t worry. We’ll get through this.

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