A Survivor’s Tale: Paleo Living Through Hurricane Sandy Aftermath

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I live practically on top of the San Andreas fault and regularly feel the ground shake under my feet.

Moving here from temperate Britain, the idea that houses had to be built to withstand earthquakes and ‘stop, drop and roll’ emergency drills practiced every school trimester was as alien to me as eating artichokes.

And the thought of preparing a disaster kit was like learning a new language – necessary in the abstract but of no immediate need. There was always something else to be done.

Disaster strikes

But then I had kids and 9/11 happened. The whole world seemed jumpy and nervous – the apocalypse seemed nigh. Our thoughts turned to disaster preparedness and I assembled my kit, pronto.

Back then, such was the demand that there were physical stores in our vicinity selling military gear, MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and all manner of survivalist equipment. I don’t think the guys in the store had ever seen toddlers before – especially ones quite taken with store dummies dressed in orange chemical suits and gas masks – but they sold me cartons of 5-year drinking water by the case, nonetheless.

Economy down, individual responsibility up

That store has gone the way of the economy so when I recently updated my kit, I had to do my own thing. The American Red Cross has an excellent website to help you prepare yourselves – things have come a long way since 9/11 – and you can see what I have in my kit here.

But with this post, I mostly want to reiterate what Mark Sisson mentioned recently in a post on surviving natural disasters with some feedback from a regular Paleo/NonPaleo reader in New Jersey who wrote to me about her experience with Hurricane Sandy.

Paleo survival, support and safety

Mark, in his post How to Survive a Natural Disaster, said you can have all the equipment and food in the world but without other people on whom you can rely, you are at a severe disadvantage. Groups of people can pool resources, skills, and problem-solving ideas. They can share the emotional support around. In these situations, the sum is greater than the individual parts and that extra is often the difference between coping admirably and not at all.

If you saw I Caveman last year where a group, including Robb Wolf, lived for ten days like our paleolithic ancestors, you’ll have seen how the group was essential for survival and how it was necessary for the group decision to prevail over individual choices. Safety in numbers was that important. And so too in modern day disaster situations.

Living through Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath

Here is how Laura coped with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. She managed to stay paleo/primal despite the destruction.

As you know, here in the Northeast we were just mauled by Hurricane Sandy which left in its wake a lot of destruction.  High winds caused weak trees and limbs to crash into houses, cars, and power lines.  Sea swells led to massive flooding in coastal and low-lying areas.  Thousands of us were without power, many huddled in their homes in the cold, others going to shelters, and yet others staying with relatives or friends.  It was a real nightmare for some.

In our own situation, we sustained minimal damage (a piece of siding came off the house, but nothing major), and we lost power from Monday afternoon through Friday morning.  And we lost most of the contents of our refrigerator and freezer.  This is minimal loss compared to what some people went through with losing their homes or sustaining major damage.  Many business were closed due to lack of power.  People flocked to any restaurants, supermarkets, pharmacies, etc., that were lucky enough to be located in an area with power.

To add insult to injury, there is now a massive gasoline shortage, and the State of New Jersey has instituted a rationing system based on the last digit in your license plate number.  If the last digit is an even number, you are only allowed to buy gas on an even numbered day (i.e., November 6).  If the last digit is an odd number, you are only allowed to buy gas on an odd numbered day.  And yes, police are at the gas stations and they are checking.

So how does one survive as a primal/paleo person in this sort of situation?  Well, here are some things that worked for us.

1)  Get a generator or make friends with someone who has one.  We didn’t have a generator, so we pooled resources with a family that has one (after staying home and being cold for a couple of days).  We helped pay for gas and shared our food which would have gone bad anyway.  The generator was used primarily for the refrigerator, and also for charging phones.

2)  In the first couple of days, we stayed home and I stored food in a cooler. This meant we had to buy ice.  It wasn’t long until stores ran out and at that point I took the food to the friend’s house and shared.  Since we had a gas stove-top, I was still able to saute and boil food (no baking though).

3)  Bring out the board games!  It didn’t take long for the usual electronics to run out of battery power, so we were able to entertain ourselves with lots and lots of board games!  And by candle-light too!  Some of the kids serenaded us with their musical instrumental abilities.  I joked that we partied like it was 1899.

4)  Respect each other’s dietary habits.  My friends are not primal/paleo, but whenever we were preparing meals, they were very sensitive to our needs for plenty of meat and vegetables!  And I was sensitive to the fact that they wanted breads and pastas.

5)  Restaurant food can fill in in a pinch.  Our friend with whom we stayed owns an Italian restaurant which happened to be located in an area with power, so she ordered dinner for us one night.  She made sure that we could eat what she ordered (yes, chicken, sauteed spinach, and salad are perfectly wonderful — though the former pasta-a-holic in me was slightly tempted by the penne in vodka sauce, but I abstained).

6)  Get up with the sun and go to bed soon after sundown.  Sure, we may have partied like it was 1899, but all of us started getting sleepy earlier than usual with the lack of artificial lights, computer screens, etc.

7)  Picking up fallen branches and dragging them to the curb is good exercise.  Walking around the neighborhood surveying damage and checking on neighbors is also good exercise.


Things weren’t easy, but we made the most of a difficult situation.  It did cross my mind a few times that it would be easy to just make sandwiches…..you do have to plan more when you don’t eat non-primal foods anymore.  And we did learn a lot about the importance of community.  Before we joined forces with our friends, I was getting really cranky about the lack of electricity.  But after we joined together, it became fun and my mental state improved tremendously.

In my post, 5 Critical Steps to Eating Paleo in an Emergency, a commenter questioned the necessity of keeping paleo under desperate circumstances. My view is that if eating non-paleo is going to have a poor short-term effect on you then keeping paleo is absolutely relevant to the situation, probably even more so than normal. No point in making a bad situation worse especially when with a little preparation, paleo is quite doable.

But what I gleaned from Laura’s tale is more important – that despite difficult circumstances there were critical elements beyond food that led to a productive outcome:

  • the pooling of community resources – sharing and doing so with neigbors who had complementary resources.
  • a generosity and reciprocity so that no-one felt short-changed.
  • entertainment – books and board games are essential disaster kit items, IMO, and with growing kids require updating at least every other year.
  • a respect for others viewpoints – making your views known and having them respected can generate a huge feeling of goodwill and that’s a message we can all take away from this situation even in our everyday lives; respect and tolerance can drive a situation where people thrive.
  • make do where possible, get creative and resourceful, cut corners where you can, but hold on to the basic fundamentals – eat, sleep, exercise, play.
  • human kindness and companionship are essential to mental health.

Do you have ideas on how to paleo through a natural disaster? How could Laura have kept her meat cold in the circumstances? What were your takeaways from her experience? How could you apply it in your own situation? How well do you know your neighbors? Tell us in the comments!

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Alison Golden writes on the topic of paleo over at Paleo/NonPaleo. She aims to share ideas, inspire and motivate readers by teaching them how to live paleo in a non-paleo world. She is also the author of the bestselling book, The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo, a unique tool that gives the reader hundreds of strategies to navigate the learning process to successful paleo living.

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