Training & Education

Emergency Kit Cook-Off: A Recipe for Preparedness

The Arizona Division of Emergency Management uses a culinary approach to get citizens thinking about preparedness.

What would you cook with granola, graham crackers, chili, canned peaches and apple juice? That’s what the Arizona Division of Emergency Management (ADEM) wants to know. Inspired by the foods found in emergency kits and culinary competition shows like Top Chef and Chopped, the state’s Emergency Kit Cook-Off is encouraging people to create recipes using nonperishable ingredients.

Started in 2011, the idea for the cook-off came up during a meeting of the division’s public information officers who are self-described foodies, said Ethan Riley, one of the PIOs. “We looked at what the typical outreach programs are. We’ve done poster contests before; we’ve done a video contest before,” he said. “With this we wanted to take a chance and an atypical approach to outreach.”

In late August, the public votes on which ingredients are included in each year’s cook-off. One ingredient from five categories — proteins; fruits and vegetables; starches, grains and nuts; beverages; and comfort foods — is selected, and participants are tasked with creating a recipe that uses at least one of the featured ingredients and can be supplemented only by other nonperishable foods. The recipes are posted on the Emergency Kit Cook-Off website, and people also are encouraged to provide photos of the finished product and give it a creative name. For example, this year’s submissions include Nuclear Reactor Chicken Tortilla Soup, Pandemic-Proof Puddin’ and Black-Out Blackberry Tart.

The cook-off website is active yearlong and aims to get people thinking about preparedness in Arizona as well as nationwide. “Taking a page out of the Great ShakeOut, which was sort of an inspiration, we’re expanding it, making it a Web-based activity and hoping that people from anywhere can participate,” Riley said. Other states and emergency management departments are encouraged to use the website, while also helping ADEM identify best practices. Riley said the concept could be further localized, for example, by incorporating the cook-off’s ingredients into a neighborhood block party.

“We want everybody to have fun with it,” he said. “And at the end of the day, if they think a little bit about preparedness and the sort of things they need to have as far as a kit is concerned, then we’ve achieved something.”

As an incentive during National Preparedness Month, people who submit a recipe during September are sent an Emergency Kit Cook-Off apron. In addition, after providing a recipe, they can take a survey about how to improve the cook-off in return for a preparedness magnet. Riley said ADEM worked with the American Red Cross last year to create magnets that look like recipe cards and can be filled out with emergency information.

To give the challenge culinary credibility, ADEM partnered with Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale. Working with Chef Jon-Paul Hutchins, the division has promoted the preparedness program during cooking segments on TV and other media opportunities. Riley said Hutchins’ recipes are published on the site each year and help show how a professional would use the ingredients.

“I think it inspires people to come up with something other than to just take a can of chili, plop it in a bowl and heat it up,” Riley said. “He hopefully inspires people to think outside the box and gives us credibility.”

And the partnership with Le Cordon Bleu could help spread the preparedness message further. Riley said ADEM is working with Hutchins to expand the Emergency Kit Cook-Off to the college’s other campuses.

The Arizona Division of Emergency Management received a whole community grant this year to help with initiative, said Riley.

Need another reason to get involved? See below.

Image courtesy of ADEM.

Elaine Pittman  |  Managing Editor

Managing Editor Elaine Pittman has nearly a decade of experience in writing and editing, having started her career with The Coloradoan daily newspaper in Fort Collins, Colo. Elaine joined Emergency Management in 2008, and she can be reached via email and @elainerpittman on Twitter.

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