There are myriad ways the world could end. It may be starting right now, the game-over, off in some far-flung Russian laboratory or American missile base. Our world continues to exist in a relative state of harmony primarily because of a continued agreement to fulfil obligations: go to work, be kind, feed your family. But when, or if, we stop following the contract, it's best to be prepared.
From the vantage point of England, the concept of "prepping"— the study of survivalism and preparation for the end of the world—seemed a curious American pursuit, like aerosol cheese or the Kardashians. And it was easier still to make fun of our American cousins for their silly stockpiling when we read that one of their Preppers stored 5,000 gallons of his own saliva because he heard it contained "antibioliological qualities," which I'm fairly certain is a made up word.
When most people think of a prepper, they probably imagine a fat, balding old dude in a Patriot's shirt sitting in his basement fallout shelter, surrounded by canned corn, soup, and Budweiser. The hi-fi is probably playing the Boss, and he grumbles to himself that his estranged son Biff, who prefers surfing to stockpiling, will regret ignoring him when the end-times come.
But in 2012, National Geographic ran a short series contrasting American preppers with British ones and we learned that not only are they not that crazy, but they're not unlike us either. The British government, for crying out loud, publishes its own London Resilience guide, which contains information and guidelines for a whole range of potential Armageddons. (Sadly, there's nothing kaiju-related, so when Godzilla finally comes to punish us for the terrible movies we make about him, we'll be totally fucked.)
I spoke to two very different British preppers—one bug out and one bug in— to understand how they plan to eat once every McDonald's has been overrun by creeping lobelia and Heinz executives are keeping all the beans for themselves. Maybe it's a British thing, but neither seemed deluded or even to be fans of American football. And these are the sort of people we'll be relying on if it all does go tits up.
The more I learned about prepping, the more I saw the relevance of it. Rather than being cultish, it was educational; instead of promoting isolation it supported integration and assimilation. It promotes an understanding of nature and emphasizes self-restraint, essentially in terms of shoving food in our mouths.
I'm going to get my hoard on.
First up is Edward O'Toole, a British expat living in a Ruthenian village somewhere in Slovakia, and author of The Tao of Prepping.
MUNCHIES: Hello, Edward. Edward O'Toole: Hello.
Did you move abroad to live off the land? Not exactly–it was more for the adventure and experience. The Carpathians are as close as you can get to wilderness in Europe. The village is very remote and I can watch a wide variety of wildlife grazing behind the back fence every evening. This place has one foot still in pre-industrial times.
Are you already entirely autonomous? No. It's a very romantic notion to want to live some totally off-grid hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but having seen the sheer monotonous toil and graft that some of the local peasantry put into their existence, it really put me off doing the same. We forage with the seasons, as the locals do–mushrooms, berries, etc. My sister in law shoots boar, red and roe deer depending on the season, so we get lots of game meat. We make and smoke our own sausages out of them. We eat eggs from chickens, which run free. We grow lots of our own veg and fruit. However, we live in the 21st century and you can't pay bills or buy a phablet for your child with berries. I've often thought about doing a recipe book based on the traditional food here. It would make the bushcraft and homesteader people weep. Forget Hugh Firkin-Walkingstick's River Cottage.
If tomorrow turned out to be the beginning of the end, what would your last meal be before you turned to the storage goods? Down the local? If push came to shove then it would probably have to be cod in batter with scraps and curry sauce, plus a chip butty. Or a kebab.
Too right. Do you stockpile too? Is your secret hoard entirely comprised of Haribo? Not really. The theory behind stockpiling is longevity of the foodstuffs. I'm not like one of the American hoarders who have vast warehouses filled with buckets of food.
It's far smarter to learn how to grow food, or even hunt or fish, than to rely on an ever-dwindling stockpile. Making a lifestyle change now will provide far more food security than just piling goodies in cupboards. It's also a lot healthier and better for the world as a whole.
As for guilty pleasures, there are several things I can't get out here and I'm lucky enough to have a few good friends who are part of the P2S Prepper Network who occasionally send me "Aid Packages": Sunpat Crunchy Peanut Butter, Bisto Beef Gravy Granules, Marmite, HP Sauce, Kitkat Chunky Peanut Butter…
…You sure like peanuts. Specifically peanut butter. But then there's Tetley or Yorkshire tea bags. My continuing survival depends on it.
What food will you not miss once the world is over? Most of the "stuff" bought in supermarkets or at fast food outlets can no longer be described as food. Microwave meals, ditto. One thing that really strikes people when they visit me is that food actually has taste. Tomatoes, while not looking huge and shiny and red, actually taste like they're supposed to. Same goes for carrot, or chicken, etc. And the bread is real. The natural world provides a much more luxuriant smorgasbord than the imported, genetically modified junk most people have grown accustomed to.
What munchies are you currently into? Porcini mushrooms. I collect them from the forest, where heavy storms and hot weather means there's a bumper crop this year. Try wandering around a dense Carpathian forest with boars and wolves lurking about, looking through leaf matter for mushrooms while a lightning storm strikes overhead.
I tried using a dehydrator—a prepper favorite—but it didn't work. But the sun did.
A nice metaphor for a potential technology-free world. Indeed.
I then spoke to Lincoln Miles, from Bedfordshire who is the owner of The Preppers Shop, the first walk-in prepper store in Britain.
MUNCHIES: You run a prepping shop, so I'm guessing you see a lot of preppers. Give me a low-down on what they're like. Lincoln Miles: You'd be surprised how "normal" our customers are.
What food do they buy? Are they serious or do they get a bit naughty and sneak in a can of Heinz Beans and Sausages? They're all about the Mountain House 24-hour Ration Pack. They contain enough food with a great variety to last you for 24 hours, while tasting edible. Similar to the army ration kits, they are small and light enough to fit easily in to any bag.
Twenty-four hours does not seem like a long time in the never-ending deathscape that is the apocalypse. Most people buy two to keep in their bug out bags. But that's why we also sell crossbows. People also underestimate the amount of water they'd need to store.
Crikey. What's the oddest food someone has bought from you? Nothing particularly strange, but people store almost anything you can ever think of. Be it sweet and chocolate, alcohol, or sundried tomatoes. Having a creature comfort ready will certainly give you a lift in a bad situation.
When global warming burns the planet to a crisp and we're left cowering within great underground caves, what's your day-to-day meal? Being a vegetarian, it would be packed full of vegetables, beans, and some veggie sausages would go down a treat. I'd probably have to figure out how to grow vegetables underground, though.
This post originally appeared on MUNCHIES in July 2014.