The irony of this didn’t escape me: While I’d been drawn to freeze-dried food as a convenient way of preparing for a cataclysm that may never come, there I was, toiling away for hours in the kitchen to prepare a dish I’d be eating that night and the next day. It was the most fortifying meal I’d eaten all week, and a minor achievement: Thanks to the premeasured portions and easy-to-follow instructions, I’d learned how to make a chicken pot pie from scratch.
He ushered me through, and, in the darkness, I could see the outline of a vast concrete dome, with a metal blast door partly ajar. I was greeted by Larry Hall, the C.E.O. of the Survival Condo Project, a fifteen-story luxury apartment complex built in an underground Atlas missile silo. The facility housed a nuclear warhead from 1961 to 1965, when it was decommissioned. At a site conceived for the Soviet nuclear threat, Hall has erected a defense against the fears of a new era. “It’s true relaxation for the ultra-wealthy,” he said. “They can come out here, they know there are armed guards outside. The kids can run around.”
“The answer is you probably could,” she said. Though research suggests it might cause a mild depletion of vitamin C and other antioxidant chemicals, she explained, freeze-drying fruits and vegetables doesn’t have any significant impact on their nutritional value; packaged as stand-alone ingredients, they can even make for a healthy alternative to more caloric snack foods.
Doug owns a rock hauling business in Tennessee and plans to bug-in with his family in his underground bunker. Doug, whose line of work has earned him the nickname "Rockman", also plans to use a hillside full of boulders as a defense to ward off potential threats. He is also stockpiling coins minted before the 1970s because of their higher silver content, which makes them useful for bartering. Jeff Flaningham is a single, Wisconsin native, who is looking for woman who will live with him in his decommissioned SM-65 Atlas missile silo located in rural central Kansas in the event of a catastrophic event. During the program, Jeff goes on dates with three women he has met through an online dating service. He then arranges a second date with one of them, Stephanie, to go visit his missile silo.
ARE YOU PREPARED? The end of the world didn’t come for Judgement Day followers who expected the rapture in May 2011. But who are these people who continuously fear the end of the world and obsessively prepare themselves and their loved ones for the worst? Meet "preppers" including one man who built an underground bunker where he and his family can retreat during a nuclear attack.
Still, these extraterrestrial-looking foodstuffs seem to be having something of a moment: For the past four years, Costco has been selling pallets of shriveled vegetables, fruits, grains, and meats that promise to feed a single family for up to a year—and if you’re not a member, you can purchase similar survival kits, many of which boast a 20- to 30-year shelf life, at Walmart and Target. One top seller, Wise Company, saw its sales nearly double over the past four years, reaching around $75 million, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story last November. The company’s CEO, Jack Shields, told me he estimates the industry as a whole generates between $400 and $450 million annually in retail.
One measure of survivalism’s spread is that some people are starting to speak out against it. Max Levchin, a founder of PayPal and of Affirm, a lending startup, told me, “It’s one of the few things about Silicon Valley that I actively dislike—the sense that we are superior giants who move the needle and, even if it’s our own failure, must be spared.”
Another wave of survivalism began after the September 11, 2001 attacks and subsequent bombings in Bali, Madrid, and London. This resurgence of interest in survivalism appears to be as strong as the 1970s era focus on the topic. The fear of war, avian influenza, energy shortages, environmental disasters and global climate change, coupled with economic uncertainty, and the apparent vulnerability of humanity after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, has increased interest in survivalism topics.
While Johnny Cash advised us against falling into a ring of fire (good advice), I don’t think he would have seen this one coming. The Ring O Fire kit from Live Fire Gear combines three great products into one fire-friendly pack. The trio starts with a hot-sparking ferrocerium rod. Next comes 25 feet of FireCord. This eight strand 550 cord has an extra strand that is highly flammable. Just cut a short section free, and pull out the red strand for a volatile tinder material. You also get a Live Fire Original Emergency Fire Starter. This small tin has a fuel soaked wick inside, which burns for 30 minutes with the lid completely removed, and much longer when the lid is only partially opened. Place the Live Fire tin under your kindling to start a campfire, or use it as a candle. This sleek kit is a great fit for your camping gear, vehicle, tackle box, disaster kit or bug out bag.
Survivalists' concerns and preparations have changed over the years. During the 1970s, fears were economic collapse, hyperinflation, and famine. Preparations included food storage and survival retreats in the country which could be farmed. Some survivalists stockpiled precious metals and barterable goods (such as common-caliber ammunition) because they assumed that paper currency would become worthless. During the early 1980s, nuclear war became a common fear, and some survivalists constructed fallout shelters.
What, then, needed to be done? More than anything, there was an obsession over acquiring or building a fallout shelter for your home. Every edition of PSM featured reams of advertisements from British and international companies offering to construct such a shelter, or send one that could be buried in your garden and accessed through a small hatch.
He thinks that mainstream news organizations are biased, and he subscribes to theories that he knows some find implausible. He surmised that “there is a deliberate move by the people in Congress to dumb America down.” Why would Congress do that? I asked. “They don’t want people to be smart to see what’s going on in politics,” he said. He told me he had read a prediction that forty per cent of Congress will be arrested, because of a scheme involving the Panama Papers, the Catholic Church, and the Clinton Foundation. “They’ve been working on this investigation for twenty years,” he said. I asked him if he really believed that. “At first, you hear this stuff and go, Yeah, right,” he said. But he wasn’t ruling it out.
Still, as I sat at my desk one afternoon, eyeing the colorful salads my coworkers were having for lunch, I realized the absurdity of my experiment: I live in a city with 24/7 access to fresh food and work a job that affords me the privilege of eating healthfully most of the time. Even quibbling over the nutritional content of these freeze-dried meals was something of a luxury, because I wasn’t in a position where I actually needed to eat them. Then again, you never know what’s going to happen.
Those impulses are not as contradictory as they seem. Technology rewards the ability to imagine wildly different futures, Roy Bahat, the head of Bloomberg Beta, a San Francisco-based venture-capital firm, told me. “When you do that, it’s pretty common that you take things ad infinitum, and that leads you to utopias and dystopias,” he said. It can inspire radical optimism—such as the cryonics movement, which calls for freezing bodies at death in the hope that science will one day revive them—or bleak scenarios. Tim Chang, the venture capitalist who keeps his bags packed, told me, “My current state of mind is oscillating between optimism and sheer terror.”
They hate their lives and fantasize about a world where they could be a hero. Melvin from Accounting can’t wait for catastrophe so he can become Melvin the Survivor! He’s praying for a complete economic collapse so he can look his boss and say, “I made 40k a year, but now I’m the post-apocalyptic king! I have all the SpaghettiO’s and I won’t lower my drawbridge to give you any! Muhaha!”
James Patrick Douglas, a man of the land in Maine, shows off homesteading techniques he believes will become necessary based upon overpopulation fears; Larry Hall turns an underground missile silo into a bunker to make sure his family is safe during any event; Becky Brown (of Grab n Go Food Storage) is making sure she and others are ready for martial law.
During the dinner rush, the Pizza Hut on Glenstone Avenue is a kinetic juxtaposition: fast-moving people behind the counter, slow-moving people in front of it. Carbohydrate osmosis, I assumed. Earlier that afternoon in the Starbucks down the road, Randall told me Andrew:’s meetup group might be here. He’d been hosting meetups in the gymnasium of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Belview Avenue, but the church disinvited the preppers after clergy leader and RN Janis Hall witnessed Andrew: deliver a scathing diatribe against modern medicine. But here, judging by the veterans’ hats, overalls and waistband cell phone holsters crowding the salad bar, I knew I was in the right place.
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