In his 2016 book, Can It! The Perils and Pleasures of Preserving Foods, Gary Allen, a food writer and adjunct professor at SUNY Empire State College, traces the evolution of food preservation as a source of culinary innovation. “The original food-preservation methods—like salting and drying and all that—actually turned the food into something else,” he told me over the phone. “Cabbage sauerkraut is not the same thing as cabbage. Wine is not the same thing as grape juice.”
Here in the Pacific Northwest, the smell of woodsmoke is in the air and fall is prodding us into preparations for the snow that’s sure to be here before we know it. The rural communities are finalizing their firewood stockpiles and getting propane tanks topped off to last the long winter ahead. With colder temps in the forecast, most of us are getting our yards cleaned up and ready for the approaching winter months.
When I started putting together my first survival kit, I just collected whatever weird stuff I could find—like tablets that would protect my thyroid from nuclear fallout. My mindset changed when my first daughter was born. I realized I needed a more practical end-of-the-world plan, with equipment that would be useful for things that might actually happen. Nuclear war is probably not in store for 2018, and if it is, I’ll just open a window. I don’t want to live through that.
Most preppers don’t actually have bunkers; hardened shelters are expensive and complicated to build. The original silo of Hall’s complex was built by the Army Corps of Engineers to withstand a nuclear strike. The interior can support a total of seventy-five people. It has enough food and fuel for five years off the grid; by raising tilapia in fish tanks, and hydroponic vegetables under grow lamps, with renewable power, it could function indefinitely, Hall said. In a crisis, his SWAT-team-style trucks (“the Pit-Bull VX, armored up to fifty-calibre”) will pick up any owner within four hundred miles. Residents with private planes can land in Salina, about thirty miles away. In his view, the Army Corps did the hardest work by choosing the location. “They looked at height above sea level, the seismology of an area, how close it is to large population centers,” he said.
Hall led me through the garage, down a ramp, and into a lounge, with a stone fireplace, a dining area, and a kitchen to one side. It had the feel of a ski condo without windows: pool table, stainless-steel appliances, leather couches. To maximize space, Hall took ideas from cruise-ship design. We were accompanied by Mark Menosky, an engineer who manages day-to-day operations. While they fixed dinner—steak, baked potatoes, and salad—Hall said that the hardest part of the project was sustaining life underground. He studied how to avoid depression (add more lights), prevent cliques (rotate chores), and simulate life aboveground. The condo walls are fitted with L.E.D. “windows” that show a live video of the prairie above the silo. Owners can opt instead for pine forests or other vistas. One prospective resident from New York City wanted video of Central Park. “All four seasons, day and night,” Menosky said. “She wanted the sounds, the taxis and the honking horns.”
However, if some tales of survivalist stockpiling are to be believed, our nutty neighbors have enough of the social lubricant squirreled away to hold the most epic end-of-the-world-party of all time outside of Edgar Wright's social circle. It might not be practical, but who needs practical when you and everyone you know is doomed to die from radiation poisoning or cancer?
For an hour and 50 minutes, we talk a lot about liberty. The world according to Fletch hinges on the rhetorical question, “Is this going to give me more liberty, or less liberty?” He also assures me that his survivalist group isn’t just white guys running around in the woods with guns. “In my sphere of influence, there are Asians, there are blacks, Native Americans; a person’s race has absolutely nothing to do with anything,” Fletch says.
Every year in the US about 150 people die while out and about in national parks, more than 1,000 die in hunting-related incidents and thousands of backcountry enthusiasts get in deep trouble and require a Search and Rescue team to save them; with dozens of those folks dying while awaiting rescue. Most fatalities are the result of poor preparation. Bad weather descends and people get lost. They wander without water or shelter, often injuring themselves in the process. If they survive they often suffer frostbite, hypothermia, dehydration, trench foot or some combination of them all.
These individuals study End Times prophecy and believe that one of various scenarios might occur in their lifetime. While some Christians (and even people of other religions) believe that the Rapture will follow a period of Tribulation, others believe that the Rapture is imminent and will precede the Tribulation ("Pre-Trib Rapture "). There is a wide range of beliefs and attitudes in this group. They run the gamut from pacifist to armed camp, and from having no food stockpiles (leaving their sustenance up to God's providence) to storing decades' worth of food.
Jay Blevins is a former law enforcement officer who is prepping with his family and neighbors for a global economic collapse. Brian Murdock and his Colombian wife-to-be Tatiana are preparing to relocate from suburban Somerville, Massachusetts to somewhere in Upstate New York. Tatiana overcomes her initial reluctance to Brian's prepping ways. Bryan and Lacey May are Indiana preppers preparing for an earthquake along the New Madrid Fault Line. They are stockpiling uses silver and gold to barter with, they also have a Massive Battery Backup to run their home with Wind and Solar Power and Stock food and antibiotics.
Based on this crude but honest assessment of the general public's affinity for the common bicarbonate, you'd be surprised by how much survivalists are into it (#2 on the list of "things for preppers to hoard"). They must expect some pretty serious hankerings for tasty leavened baked goods, or they have extensive phobias about the funkiness of their nuke survival backup plans.
Say what you want about the "characters" involved in the various episodes, but the bottom line is this - are you prepared? Likewise, do you have any friends or colleagues who you have bounced ideas off to create and assemble your emergency reaction plan? Probably not, is my guess. On the other hand, with these videos, you can extract the good and bad, the essential and non-essential, and develop your own plan. The program presents 2-4 different groups of individuals in each episode with a different crisis focus. For example, some preppers focus on EMP (Electronic Magnetic Pulse) disasters, other focus on the results of an economy meltdown, others on natural and man-made disasters. In any case, the concept each prepper conveys is the Boy Scout motto of "Be Prepared". My thinking is that anyone who watches this series (at least this 1st season) will have a better chance to formulate their own ideas of whether making any emergency plans is worth their while. And if so, it's quite easy to filter through the sometimes odd personalities who've made the show what it is. Thing is, after an emergency, the issue of odd personalities will be a moot point. As they say, would you rather be six months too early or one-day too late in your emergency planing? My thinking is that everyone should analyze their own exposure to disaster (e.g., hurricanes, storm surges, tsunamis, nuclear radiation leakage, earthquakes, floods, and of course the darker concept of whether or not these United States of America will always be acceptably free and that our way of life will never be challenged). In any case, be prepared, patriots.
Jack Matthews, an American who is the chairman of MediaWorks, a large New Zealand broadcaster, told me, “I think, in the back of people’s minds, frankly, is that, if the world really goes to shit, New Zealand is a First World country, completely self-sufficient, if necessary—energy, water, food. Life would deteriorate, but it would not collapse.” As someone who views American politics from a distance, he said, “The difference between New Zealand and the U.S., to a large extent, is that people who disagree with each other can still talk to each other about it here. It’s a tiny little place, and there’s no anonymity. People have to actually have a degree of civility.”
You don’t need a huge space to store emergency supplies if you plan wisely. Use every inch of your storage space for efficiency and necessity. When buying emergency supplies, look for stackable items with minimal packaging or that serve multiple purposes (multi-function items are great because you get the benefits of multiple tools without using up all that storage space). For example, MREs don’t take as much space as individual ingredients. Buying freeze-dried food instead of ready-to-eat foods lets you store even more in a smaller area.
Hall, in his late fifties, is barrel-chested and talkative. He studied business and computers at the Florida Institute of Technology and went on to specialize in networks and data centers for Northrop Grumman, Harris Corporation, and other defense contractors. He now goes back and forth between the Kansas silo and a home in the Denver suburbs, where his wife, a paralegal, lives with their twelve-year-old son.
The fears were different in Silicon Valley. Around the same time that Huffman, on Reddit, was watching the advance of the financial crisis, Justin Kan heard the first inklings of survivalism among his peers. Kan co-founded Twitch, a gaming network that was later sold to Amazon for nearly a billion dollars. “Some of my friends were, like, ‘The breakdown of society is imminent. We should stockpile food,’ ” he said. “I tried to. But then we got a couple of bags of rice and five cans of tomatoes. We would have been dead if there was actually a real problem.” I asked Kan what his prepping friends had in common. “Lots of money and resources,” he said. “What are the other things I can worry about and prepare for? It’s like insurance.”
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