Emergency Kit Cook-Off: A Dash of Planning… Pinch of Preparedness… a World of Difference

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emergency kit cookoff

By: Ethan M. Riley

Staff meetings for the Arizona Division of Emergency Management (ADEM) Public Information Office (PIO) are pretty run of the mill. We review the past week’s accomplishments, divvy up assignments for the coming week and forecast projects for the weeks ahead. We talk a lot of “shop,” but also make time to dish on our favorite subject …lunch. So it did not come as a great surprise to those who know me or my colleagues that the ADEM PIO office would start a “Whole Community” campaign called the Emergency Kit Cook-Off.

The Kit Cook-Off is a participatory preparedness activity inspired by the nonperishable contents of a 72-hour emergency food kit. Rather than scare, guilt or shame people into getting prepared, our outreach encourages play with preparedness principles. Specifically, to actually practice using the three days’ worth of shelf-stable food and potable water you squirreled away for your family. If the idea of building a kit is new to you, participation in the Kit Cook-Off is a good introduction to what personal preparedness is all about.

You may not consider canned chicken, a jar of curry paste, and single-serving peanut butter packets fine dining. However, in an emergency, these non-perishable ingredients could be used to create a nice chicken peanut curry dish. Simply add some canned sweet potato and as a certain New Orleans chef would say, “BAM! Dinner is served.”

In an emergency, pizza delivery may not be making house calls.  It will be up to you to have nonperishable food and the wherewithal to cook with it. The fun of the Kit Cook-Off is creating a recipe from what you have stowed away in your kit and pantry.  And yes, I used “fun” to describe emergency preparedness outreach.  Join us!

Because the Kit Cook-Off is a web-based activity, participation is open to everyone. There are two ways to participate in the Cook-Off: 1) vote in our online ingredients poll in August and 2) submit a recipe during National Preparedness Month in September.


During the last two weeks of August, the public will vote for the ingredients they want to cook with in September. Voters will select one (1) ingredient in each of five categories: protein; fruits and vegetables; starches, grains and nuts; beverages; and “comfort foods.” The ingredients often reflect a theme. In 2012, the Kit Cook-Off celebrated southwestern flavors with a list of possible ingredients that included canned green chilies, jarred cheese sauce, and salsa.


While we are not looking for gourmet cuisine, we are also not looking for butter on crackers. Be creative with the ingredients and create a hot or cold dish that you would eat if required to shelter in place. The submission guidelines for recipes are as follows:

1) Create a recipe that highlights one or more of the featured ingredients and uses other nonperishable pantry items, including (but not restricted to): seasonings, condiments, sweeteners, and potable water.


2) Use manual appliances (e.g., can openers and hand whisk) in the preparation where feasible. Microwaves, stovetops and other modern appliances are acceptable, but we challenge you to substitute manual appliances for modern conveniences where you can.


Like that jar of honey in your pantry, www.EmergencyKitCookOff.org has no shelf life. Our website features a Kit Cookbook populated with submitted recipes and searchable by meal, course, and ingredient categories. The Kit Cook-Off “officially” occurs in September, but visitors are invited to submit, print, comment on and rate recipes on a “five-can” scale year-round. You may also share a preparedness tip or suggest an ingredient for the next year’s Kit Cook-Off.

September is National Preparedness Month, but emergency preparedness is not a one-month-a-year activity. In actuality, it requires an abiding commitment to make a plan, prepare a kit, inquire about plans and threats, and inspire others. The Kit Cook-Off starts participants along the path to preparedness and asks how prepared are you? Take a look in your pantry and practice preparedness cooking. When the power is out, your family will be glad you did.

Ethan M. Riley is a Public Information Officer with the Arizona Division of Emergency Management, a branch of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, in Phoenix. Ethan is a native of Lancaster, Pa., a graduate of Millersville University, a former journalist and feature writer, and a graduate student in the Applied Communication program at Northern Arizona University.

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Page last reviewed: April 16, 2013
Page last updated: April 16, 2013