Thursday, October 30, 2008

Planning and Executing Family Food Storage with Food Allergies

This is the first post of a special 4-week series about food storage with food allergies (to read the entire series, see posts from Week 2, Week 3, and Week 4). Special thanks to our guest poster, Ali Kat! Be sure to check out her bio at the end of the article.

Food storage is hard enough when you have the ability to buy and store any kind of food, but when you are one of the 12 million Americans who have food allergies or intolerances, food storage becomes quite daunting. We’ve been instructed for decades to store copious amounts of wheat/flour, powdered milk, and canned goods. What happens when all the food you can buy in bulk becomes poisonous to you or someone in your family?

As someone who has suffered from food allergies for more than six years, I have tried to wrap my head around this very issue. As it is, my sacrament bread is supplied by me and delivered on a special tray. There are several (yes, several) other families in my ward who are in the same boat, and each week a different deacon takes the allergy tray all over the chapel to the food allergy benches.

If you, or someone in your family, have food allergies or intolerances, chances are you’ve been struggling just to cook any meal from week to week. How then do you locate larger amounts of grocery goods and how do you find ways to plan meals that don’t require fresh ingredients? While I advocate using fresh ingredients whenever possible, I have found ways to get around the issue of cooking balanced allergen-free meals with items that can be stored. This article contains strategies for dealing with these issues, and over the coming weeks recipes that I have altered and prepared with great success using some of these strategies will be posted on this blog.

A year supply of grain

We’ve been instructed to have a year supply of wheat. I say, substitute that with a year supply of “grains”. I think that you can substitute wheat with brown rice, which is much healthier than white rice. You can steam rice as a whole grain or you can grind it in your electric or hand crank grain grinder. I personally own the hand crank kind. It is really important that if you plan to grind your own grains, make certain that your grinder is clean and free of any and all other flours and known allergens that are not gluten-free or wheat-free.

If you are strictly allergic to wheat, but not necessarily gluten intolerant, oats or barley is a good wheat alternative. All of these grains can be ground in a grain grinder, and can also be purchased as flour in larger amounts from specialty retailers, like Whole Foods, or through online suppliers. I had difficulty finding amaranth flour in stores, which I use for my all-purpose flour mix, and ordered it in bulk from a farmer I found on Amazon.com. On a side note, in my research I found that amaranth was used ceremoniously in Central and South America during ancient times. Take from that what you will, but please understand that my mother kept referring to my blueberry muffins as Book of Mormon muffins.

In your year supply of grain/flour, please know that the absence of gluten is going to require a binder and expander. I recommend xanthan gum. The initial package can be expensive, but one small bag lasts forever. One heaping teaspoon does the job and then some for most baking recipes. When you do your planning, determine how much baking you think you will be doing in a year’s time, and purchase enough allow for that. If you skip the xanthan gum, your baked goods will crumble and remain very dense and flat.

Other Non-Perishables

If you haven’t already, it is really important that you determine what ingredients fall under the category of your particular allergen or intolerance, and that you take a comprehensive list with you to the grocery store in an effort not to accidentally stock up on something you are allergic to.

Because of the epidemic proportions of food allergies and intolerances in this country, more food companies and food retailers are offering organic and allergen-free options as basic ingredients and food items. For example, I have found that there is only one brand of gluten-free chicken stock currently on the market, which I have recently found in bulk at my local bulk big box retailer. My sister, who is allergic to soy, has to be careful of the same thing. I have also found that some alternative foods can be stored at room temperature until opened, like soymilk and rice milk. This is important to note since we have been instructed to store large quantities of powdered milk, and this is not prudent or wise if you are allergic to dairy or are lactose intolerant.

Frozen foods

It’s good not too rely too heavily on your freezer in case you lose electricity for a lengthy period of time in warmer months, however raw meats and non-dairy cheeses and vegetable spreads (fake butter) can be stored in the freezer, which is a nice option for you. You can also freeze, or bottle, fresh fruits and vegetables that you get at farmers markets, so that you are using ingredients that have not been preserved with ingredients dangerous to you. It’s usually a really good idea for allergy-prone eaters to eat locally grown food. Organic foods tend to also be safer for individuals troubled by allergies or intolerances.

Preserving Your Foods Safely

If you are planning on preserving your foods yourself, (i.e., jerky, jams and jellies, etc…), be sure to understand what you can safely use as a preservative. For instance, sugar and salt are natural preservatives, but if you are diabetic or have high blood pressure, you may need to look into other alternatives. For me, the opposite is true and I can handle real sugar and salt just fine, but the fakes make me really sick. FYI, honey is another sugar preservative that lasts so long, it will outlive you.

Learning to Prepare Your Stored Foods Into Meals That You Are Willing To Swallow

It’s a really good idea to start researching recipes now and cataloging them, to a.) make sure they really work, or b.) taste good enough to eat a second and third time. With alternative foods, trial and error is the name of the game. I have eaten some really bad gluten-free foods, but I have also eaten some really delicious gluten-free foods, several of which I made myself. If you have success with a recipe, put it in your permanent file and make sure you always have enough ingredients on hand to make the meal as often as you think you will want to eat it over a three-month period of time.

Let’s See This In Action

I had a conversation about food storage recipes with my mother recently, and she told me about a cookbook the LDS Church put out several decades ago that had recipes based on food storage. She said that although the book was really useful and important in its time, it has become almost obsolete because a lot of the meals, which were fine at the time, are currently very out of date or considered unhealthy. She said, “People just don’t eat that way anymore”. When she told me this story, I immediately thought of all the casserole injustice perpetrated on me as a kid at home and at potluck suppers (potato chip casserole, really?). She has since submitted, Joseph the food scientist and chef to Salt Lake, to possibly get a re-write of the book because having a book filled with recipes that teach us how to use our food storage effectively is good, but doing it in a healthy and delicious way is equally or more important. I dread to think how many potato chip casseroles I might have had to eat if that was one of the few options available to me.

Fortunately for us all, Hannah and Abby have done a great job creating and posting food storage recipes that reflect how we eat today. I want to add to their treasure trove of recipes and ideas with recipes of my own.

As a treat for some of you with a variety of food problems, I have worked very hard to create recipes that can be used with alternative food storage items. I have collected and re-worked a group of recipes that can make up an entire meal or can be prepared one-at-a-time to be enjoyed on their own. I can testify that none of these recipes are second-rate alternatives, and that even the regular eaters of your household will cheer for these meals and gobble it up. My husband was shocked at what had been substituted when he ate the food I prepared for this assignment. He had no idea I had made the switches, and he normally complains when I make substitutions. So look for the recipes in the coming weeks, I promise that these recipes are four-star all the way and will get no complaints. Enjoy!

Ali has primarily lived all over the eastern United States, most recently in the southeast. Her formative years were spent in the northeast with all the other granite stators who like to “live free or die”. She hails from a gigantic Mormon family, where she is the eldest, and evidently the bossiest. She has worked as a photographer and graphic designer for the last 14 years, and also studied clinical psychology at the graduate level. She has been living with known food allergies for over six years, and is involved in the gluten-free community online and in her local area. She writes for her own blog as often as possible, and photographs everything she eats whenever she remembers (which is often), along with everything else that interests her.

To become a fan of Ali Kat’s work, or at least an occasional online stalker, go to her blog at: http://yeagleyspawn.blogspot.com/


Sharron said...

This is great. I will pass it on to my daughter raising a son with some intolerance problem ... what the heck. I will also pass it on to people in the ward who deal with some of the same issues.

kanewoman said...

Ali - definitely the bossiest. But we all love her.

DJ said...

Great post-- love your blog! My wife and I live in Southern Utah and have been working on our preparedness as well. In addition to our supplies, we've got several cookbooks for preparedness foods, including "Just Add Water" by Barbara G. Salsbury (1976) and a recent one by local preparedness expert Al Cooper.

I love cookbooks, but the truth is, I can't follow a recipe-- I look at cooking as an art, and I'm pretty inventive.

Melinda Ford said...

Hannah -
Thanks for referring me to you site. It's amazing. I'm just beginning to get started on food storage, so I'll definitely be back. The bread looks incredible!

Marilyn said...

Thanks SO SO much. We are dealing with wheat & dairy intolerance here and I am so excited to see what is coming up. Thanks for the link too!

Debra said...

Oh this is SUCH a blessing to me and my family. We have 5 kids of which 2 were dx with severe ADHD at the age of 4. We know see that it is something else because the dx just doesnt "fit". So we are doing the GFCF diet. I have hundreds of lbs of wheat and milk in my food storage that I am having to give away :-( I had no idea what to store. This is a WONDERFUL post to stumbloe across. THANK YOU!

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