The fire chief serves up a disaster-friendly trifle
When Canadian Red Cross asked me to judge its Disaster Dining Contest — food concocted solely from non-perishable items, using neither heat nor running water — I was hesitant to accept. Spam and Spaghetti-Os? No thanks. In the end, I was the only reporter brave/stupid enough to agree.
As floodwaters continue to ravage Pakistan, leaving thousands stranded without access to life necessities, Red Cross has encouraged Canadians to build a 72-hour emergency preparedness kit: food, water and supplies such as windup flashlight and radio, that can sustain you and your family for up to three days in case disaster strikes.
Emergency kits aren’t just for those living in hurricane-prone areas. Think the 2003 blackout in Toronto. Think Hurricane Hazel, which in 1954 put a large chunk of downtown Toronto under water and killed 81 people. Think forest fires in British Columbia, landslides in Quebec and tornados throughout Canada. Last year alone, 23,000 Canadians needed disaster assistance.
Realizing I was in no way prepared to lose access to heat, running water and my pizza delivery guy, I decided to give disaster dining a chance. The cook-off took place at a Wal-mart in Scarborough with five chefs, including two Wal-mart employees, a Red Cross council member, the chief of emergency management for Ontario and Toronto Fire Service’s platoon chief. Tables were piled with food: granola, canned fruit, veggies and pasta, sardines, spreads, desserts and, of course, cans of Spam. They had 30 minutes to wow me with their survivalist cuisine. They were allowed to borrow food from neighbours, as you might in a real-life emergency situation.
“The point of the challenge is to show that people can eat well in an emergency situation, if they plan ahead of time,” said John Saunders, Red Cross provincial director of disaster management.
Wal-mart is a long-time sponsor of Canadian Red Cross’s disaster response, raising $13-million since 2003. (In fact, the big-box store is a big giver, donating $25-million to more than a thousand charities in 2009.) This year, it hopes to raise $2.6-million for Red Cross with its disaster-preparedness campaign, taking place throughout the month in 319 stores across the country. Wal-mart will match every dollar donated by customers, up to $2,000 for each store.
The company also provides Red Cross with emergency supplies such as blankets, clothing, diapers, water and hygiene that include toothbrushes, soap and other toiletries.
As for the disaster dining, while I avoided the pink blocks of Spam, there were plenty of delicious and creative culinary delights to try. Dan Hefkey, chief of Emergency Management Ontario, made restaurant-worthy tacos stuffed with crab, corn, salsa and hummus. Toronto Fire Services platoon chief Norm Clements whipped up a tasty trifle made of layers of butterscotch pudding, raspberry jam, granola bars and canned fruit. Red Cross’s Rupa Jannarkar created a veggie wrap with chickpeas, spices and olive oil. Wal-mart employee Okey Dike whipped up comfort food — lasagna and baked beans with a spicy twist.
But the Golden Spoon went to Walmart district manager Eeva Jalo’
s amazing salmon salad that included salsa, chickpeas, parsley, cayenne and black pepper.
Survival has never been so delicious.
This story was written for my weekly philanthropy column for the Financial Post