By Erik Marcus, Published March 4, 2020
This page ends with a grocery list for vegans who want to intelligently go about prepping for any sort of food supply disruption. But let’s start with some background on COVID-19.
Three Things to Know About COVID-19
When you hear somebody downplaying COVID-19 risks by comparing it to the flu, it’s a sign that the person is grossly misinformed. That’s because:
- COVID-19 is much more contagious than ordinary seasonal flu.
- In contrast to seasonal flu and SARS, people become highly contagious well before they develop symptoms. This in turn means they can be out shopping and socializing and spreading the virus far and wide, whereas with other infectious diseases they’d be home sick in bed and therefore limited in the number of people they can infect.
- Not only is COVID-19 much more spreadable than ordinary flu, it’s also far more lethal. You can figure that death rates will vary from well under one percent among younger people with excellent access to hospital care, to upwards of ten percent for people over fifty who lack access to intensive care in the event of complications. Smokers and people with diabetes or cardiovascular disease all face greatly increased risks of infection and complications.
Most governments, including the United States, have very limited test kits, and these tests may also be unreliable. In the absence of a country carrying out thousands of daily tests, there’s going to be a lag of several weeks between the disease becoming widely spread, and the public realizing there is a crisis.
We are currently in that lag period. In the United States, new cases are appearing daily all over the country. Many of these cases are termed, “community spread,” which means that disease surveillance experts are unable to trace the person’s illness back to the original spreader. In these cases, there’s no way of knowing how many people have been exposed to infection.
The Main Concern
Given access to excellent medical care, the overwhelming majority of people with even severe cases will recover. The trouble is that the most common complication of COVID-19 is pneumonia, which requires specialized equipment and nursing skills to treat. During a large-scale local outbreak, the demand for respirators—and the nurses qualified to run this equipment—will undoubtedly far outstrip supply. Add to this that most hospitals typically run at nearly full capacity even in the best of times. If the number of serious cases in a given city surges, there is no chance there will be anywhere close to enough hospital beds, doctors, and nurses to go around.
Right now, thanks primarily to staggering levels of incompetence, we are in a limbo period. We can expect things to get bad in many countries, but we have no idea how bad. Why don’t we know? Here’s what Walter Shaub, the former director of the United States Office of Government Ethics, tweeted March 3rd.
There’s no useful information coming out of our government on the coronavirus because the government has no information to share. The government has no information to share because it isn’t testing people. It isn’t testing people because they haven’t distributed tests. They haven’t distributed tests because they bungled them. They bungled the tests because there’s no competent management. There’s no competent management because Trump chose appointees based on loyalty. He used this criterion because he’s corrupt. Also because he’s incompetent.
In the event you think Shaub is being uncharitable, get a load of this.
So What Should You Do?
With what we understand so far, one thing seems clear: each of us should do as much as we possibly can to avoid catching COVID-19. Don’t become complacent by the fact that, if you’re young, getting infected means you’ll likely develop no more than a mild case. There’s still a significant chance your case will turn into pneumonia and require intensive care, with ensuing financial ruin if you’re inadequately insured. Plus, imagine the lifelong guilt you would carry if you infected friends or family members who were older or in poor health.
It’s apparent that we have reached a pivotal moment, with the disease quickly spreading through upwards of eighty countries worldwide. Quickly intervening to adequately curtail the spread of COVID-19 may require steps too draconian for any non-authoritarian country. The Chinese essentially shut down Wuhan, Beijing, and Shanghai—massive cities the latter two each having around twice as many people as New York City.
By mid-March, the extent of the problem and what we each need to do will become much clearer. Until then, it seems prudent to over-react rather than to risk not doing enough. In other words, you want to avoid all possible exposure to the virus, not just for your sake but for the people you would in turn infect.
Unfortunately, minimizing your risk is extraordinarily inconvenient. You’re risking infection anytime you visit a space where people gather—and the more people present, the greater the risk. This applies to office work, school classes, conferences, theaters, concerts, and, unfortunately, grocery shopping.
There are millions of people who face financial calamity if they stay home from work. But if you are at all able to avoid going to school, office jobs, or indoor public spaces until mid-March when we have a better handle on what’s going on, I predict you’ll end up glad you made the sacrifice.
As long as you stay in a house and don’t go outside, your risk falls to near zero (assuming you don’t have family members who go out and become infected). Unfortunately, if you live in an apartment, there’s convincing evidence that you risk infection from people in your building—even ones who live several floors above or below you.
I can’t offer advice on how to avoid work or school, but I can offer advice on reducing or eliminating your food shopping. Supermarkets are undoubtedly one of the main places of transmission. Moreover, many stores are already experiencing panic buying, and are out of basic necessities like toilet paper. Expect this to become more of a problem in the coming days and weeks.
Dr. John Campbell, whose videos I urge you to watch, thinks we’re on the brink of “widespread community transmission.” He argues this will lead to a “severe prolonged pandemic.” But we can each push that day back and buy time, while eliminating our own risk of contracting COVID-19. As Campbell says later in the video I just linked to, “What we need to do is contain and delay, to flatten out this peak [of people requiring hospitalization].” The most effective way to accomplish this is to stay home and avoid venturing out into public spaces.
How to Minimize Risk if You Must Go Out
If you absolutely must go out, limit your number of trips and keep these trips as brief as possible. N-95 masks probably offer significant protection. Unfortunately they’re now very difficult to get ahold of. Regular surgical masks are better than nothing but probably offer minimal protection, although they will help keep an already-infected person from infecting others.
Best to wear glasses or ideally goggles to keep virus-laden aerosol particles out of your eyes. Nitrile gloves that you discard upon returning home are also a wise choice. Regardless of whether you wear gloves, vigorous and lengthy hand washing every time you leave the house or return home is a must.
Finally, practice social distancing. Avoid greetings that include handshakes, hugs, and kisses for the next several weeks. People won’t be offended if you explain this minimizes risk of contagion.
Three Recommended Steps
When it comes to disease outbreaks, as we’ve seen with SARS, Ebola, and mad cow, the optimists are usually right. Usually the disease lacks sufficient ability to spread, and health authorities can take measures to contain it before it wreaks worldwide havoc. But there is good reason to believe that this time around will be different. It’s possible that COVID-19 will become comparable to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed tens of millions of people.
Fortunately, you have the ability to reduce rather than add to the problem. This involves acting to:
- Educate yourself
- Warn others
- Eliminate or minimize your time in public spaces, particularly indoors.
The bottom line: if you wait a week or two, you’ll probably be told by the government to stay home and avoid public places. But by that time, you may already be infected. Better to act too aggressively now, then to depend on authorities to provide you with official advice in sufficient time.
Before we move on to my vegan food prepping list, let me leave you with the three best COVID-19 information resources I know:
I think it’s worth at least thirty minutes of your time each day to stay current on COVID-19 developments. Remember, you only get one chance at this. It’s much better to do a little too much too soon, than to take meaningful precautions too late. Stay safe!
Vegan Prepping Guide
For anyone preparing for food supply disruptions, it’s good to know that vegan prepping is remarkably easy. The most convenient, inexpensive, and imperishable pantry items are nearly all vegan.
Grocery prepping pays off two ways. First, it ensures you’ll have enough to eat if panic-buying leaves your local supermarket’s shelves bare. Second, it keeps you from making repeated visits to supermarkets, and thereby dramatically cuts your risk catching the virus. Obviously, making your food purchases online is far preferable to visiting a grocery store, since it’ll enable you to avoid visiting a crowded public space.
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, I decided to buy a couple month’s worth of food for myself so I could stay out of grocery stores. My goal was to purchase as many calories and as much protein as cheaply as possible, using foods that don’t require refrigeration.
Chris Martenson promotes the idea of keeping a “deep pantry.” Instead of buying revolting buckets of pre-made processed food marketed to apocalyptic preppers, you can buy cheap grains, beans, and nuts—all foods that should be key parts of your diet anyway. If the four horsemen of the apocalypse don’t come trotting in, you can then eat up this food anyway over a period of months so that none of it goes to waste.
If you’ve decided to stock up on food, you’ll find the below list helpful. It’ll ensure you don’t forget anything important and obvious.
Essential Foods for Vegan Prepping
Here are the items I purchased to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic, which I expect to easily cover my calorie and protein needs for a couple of months:
- dried beans (pintos, garbanzos, lentils, split peas)—5 kilograms
- whole grain pasta (spaghetti, macaroni, etc)—5 kilograms
- brown rice—3 kilograms
- white rice—3 kilograms
- nuts (peanuts, almonds, cashews)—3 kilograms
- nut butter—3 kilograms
- oats or dried porridge mix—2 kilograms
- tomato sauce—4 big jars
- olive oil—4 liters
- unsweetened soy milk—1 case aseptic packed
- nutritional yeast
- tamari and whatever other sauces you like
- Indian lime pickle condiment
- spices and salt
Most of these products are available in bulk-sized containers from Amazon.com. That may enable you to acquire what you need without having to risk contagion by visiting a supermarket. Please see our vegan grocery for more items worth considering.
I’ve had people respond to this list by saying they don’t know how to prepare many of the above items. The cookbook to get is The Homemade Vegan Pantry, by Miyoko Schinner. Here’s our list of other top vegan cookbooks.
Finally, in the event that your water supply gets interrupted, make sure your drinking water needs are covered for at least a few weeks. Please stay safe!