Cheap foods pack a big punch in disaster relief

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 15/12/2012

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Peanut butter is the secret ingredient to riding out a disaster, a new study suggests.

The University of Otago in Wellington has found that stocking up on emergency rations need not be expensive, and meeting the daily energy needs of a grown man could cost as little as $2.22 a day.

Peanut butter, sugar, flour, rice, pasta, vegetable oil and whole grain oats are the cheapest and most calorific items, the study says, and it wants to encourage poorer families to prepare for natural disasters.

"People don't need perfect nutrition in a disaster, they just need calories and energy," public health researcher and associate professor Nick Wilson said.

Families, especially the poor, often had meagre stockpiles of food or made no disaster preparations at all, he said.

The study rated foods by price and nutrition to find the lowest cost for a set amount of energy and general nutritional needs.

Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office regional manager Bruce Pepperell was doubtful whether the study would have much effect on "Joe Citizen", saying the $2.22 scenario could require a separate recipe book because "not many people know how to cook peanut butter, flour and oats".

However, it was worthy of discussion as part of the suite of disaster management strategies, he said.

Researchers also looked at more expensive foods that could be eaten straight from the can or after soaking.

The mid-range scenario cost $3.67 a day and included whole grain oats, vegetable oil, dried peas, breakfast biscuits such as Weet-Bix, sugar, peanut butter, sultanas and peanuts.

The costliest rations, at $7.10 a day, were foods meeting all nutritional recommendations.

They included wholemeal flour, dried peas, sugar, canned sardines, tomatoes, peaches, apricots and fruit salad.

Overall, researchers were surprised by how little the food cost and said emergency stockpiling would be feasible "for nearly all families". Because it would not always be possible for people with damaged homes to get to food stores, the study recommended civil defence authorities or the army could store the cheapest rations and supply them in a disaster.

With storms and flooding likely to get more savage because of climate change, researchers said disaster readiness was important in a country prone to a wide range of natural catastrophes.

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- The Dominion Post

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