And what better place to prepare than the Ozarks? Strafford got 47 inches of rain last year; the mean temperature was a mild 59 degrees. The Springfield Plateau has a 200-foot-deep aquifer for when rainwater gets scarce. The region is largely insulated from natural disasters—save the odd tornado or benign rumbling from the Bootheel’s New Madrid Fault Line—and the low population density of like-minded folks means preppers, survivalists and homesteaders get left alone. A Lebanon real estate agent tells me remote acreage is an increasingly hot commodity for city dwellers eager to go native. Conversations with locals and time spent on survivalism forums reveal a religious cohort who believe the Ozarks are God’s country—sacred ground upon which one can wage a last stand against the sins of a rapidly globalizing world.
That doesn’t mean that some companies aren’t marketing freeze-dried food as an innovation. After eating the Wise Company meals for three days, I switched to Thrive Life’s Simple Plate program, a Blue Apron–esque service that teaches you how to cook from the company’s store of freeze-dried ingredients, which customers can also get mailed to them in recurring shipments. Unlike Wise Company, Thrive Life’s website makes no mention of emergency preparedness, instead emphasizing the sorts of qualities, like saving money and avoiding waste, that might have appealed to Lydia Maria Child in her time: “These foods won’t spoil in a few days... You won’t be thawing, degreasing, or cutting raw meat. You won’t be chopping veggies or washing and peeling fruit.” I reached out to Thrive Life’s founders to hear more about their rationale for marketing freeze-dried food for everyday use, but didn’t hear back.
While survivalists accept the long-term viability of Western civilization, they learn principles and techniques needed for surviving life-threatening situations that can occur at any time and place. They prepare for such calamities that could result in physical harm or requiring immediate attention or defense from threats. These disasters could be biotic or abiotic. Survivalists combat disasters by attempting to prevent and mitigate damage caused by these factors.
To answer that question, I found myself in the Siloam Cafe in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, seated across from Martin Fletchall, a disabled veteran who says God called him and his family to the Ozarks from Montana. He prefers to be called Fletch. Fletch is in his 40s, wears a white beard, a camouflage hoodie and matching hat and orders toast, eggs and steak, which costs less than $4. He agreed to meet me after a few weeks of exchanging emails and vetting that I wasn’t actually a “social justice warrior.”
He points to the cash registers over his left shoulder. “I’ll bet you there’s not one thing you bought today that didn’t use electricity in the transaction,” he says. Before Y2K, Finelli says he owned a small computer manufacturing company and personally upgraded 8,000 operating systems so the dates would roll over from 1999 to 2000. “Because they wouldn’t,” he says. “There was a defect. I know that computer systems are frail because I built them.” He says a widespread power outage would cripple us—no electricity, no trading debt portfolios, no buying wholesale taquitos on credit.
In the previous decade, preparedness consultant, survival bookseller, and California-based author Don Stephens popularized the term retreater to describe those in the movement, referring to preparations to leave cities for remote havens or survival retreats should society break down. In 1976, before moving to the Inland Northwest, he and his wife authored and published The Survivor's Primer & Up-dated Retreater's Bibliography.
The funny thing about freeze-drying is it’s kind of an exception to the rule. Removing all the water from a floret of broccoli, for example, doesn’t turn it into something new; it simply transforms it into a slightly lesser version of itself. “Once you change the physical structure of something by drying it out all the way,” Allen said, “the texture is never really the same.”
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.”
Although most people have enough room to designate a corner of the pantry or an area in the basement for their emergency supplies, there are other options. Assemble or buy a 72-hour survival kit for each member of the family and each pet. Store these items where each family member can grab his or her own in an emergency. Conveniently place these kits in a bedroom closet, on a shelf in the mudroom, or in the trunk of the car. Make sure everyone knows where you have stored the kits, and designate someone to grab kits for pets and young children.
Here is a mental exercise: Put yourself in the mind set of Mr. Joe Sixpack, Suburbanite. (Visualize him in or near a big city near where you live.) He is unprepared. He has less than one week’s food on hand, he has a 12 gauge pump action shotgun that he hasn’t fired in years, and just half a tank of gas in his minivan and maybe a gallon or two in a can that he keeps on hand for his lawn mower. Then TEOTWAWKI hits. The power grid is down, his job is history, the toilet doesn’t flush, and water no longer magically comes cascading from the tap. There are riots beginning in his city. The local service stations have run out of gas. The banks have closed. Now he is suddenly desperate. Where will he go? What will he do?
3. The water will slowly filter through the charcoal and drip out of the cap. Put a bandanna or another cloth over the hole to filter out any bits of charcoal. (If you’re experiencing intestinal distress—and you very well might be, since your body goes into different kinds of shock in these situations—eat a little bit of the charcoal. It’ll help bind you back up.)