Over the past year, I’ve read a lot of survival guides, waded through preparedness blogs, and been introduced to prepper culture via books and the Internet.
There’s a realty TV show. There are blogs, how-to books, seminars, classes, hashtags.
Follow #preppers on Twitter and you’ll get a constant stream of information on everything from simple canning methods to conspiracy theories about secret satellite launches. People who are experts, or at least trainees, at living off the grid sure are active online.
You might say prepping is trendy right now; or at least it’s very visible.
And a lot of people think preppers and survivalists and stockpilers are crazy. A few of them may be.
But the assumption that all these people are crazy — whether they mean legitimately mentally ill or just really weird — because they like guns or grind their own flour is flawed.
Maybe I’ve read too much Wilder and Thoreau, but it seems like prepping isn’t new, just the title is. I mean, everyone used to do this stuff. Everyone used to have these skills. People lived on farms, or even if they lived in cities, they canned their own beans grown out back.
My grandfather may have lived in town, away from his childhood farm, but he still rarely bought potatoes from the grocery store. He was a gardener, a carpenter, a handyman. My grandma sewed, cooked, and canned the fruits and vegetables from the garden.
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I know such gender roles based on domesticity are unfashionable these days, but hey, those people were capable. They were self-reliant.
There’s nothing wrong with living in suburbs or shopping at megastores or buying pre-canned peaches or using a gas heater. But there’s something dangerous about assuming these thing are permanent and indestructible.
It seems like prepping is at least partially a reaction to the rapid ascent of technology and mass consumption, a nostalgic and practical return to tradition, to more sustainable, fruitful and intentional ways of living. It’s the desire to be confident in your own capabilities and craftsmanship, or to look at an object and know something about its history, besides “Made in China” or “may contain peanuts.” It’s probably the same impulse that has led to the rise of Etsy, the popularity of craft breweries and the resurfacing of “Made In America” branding.
Sure, there are elements of prepping that are reactionary, caught up in fringe politics and conspiracy theories. There are factions that seem based more on extreme paranoia than on enjoyable productivity or emergency preparedness. Is it really the height of prudence to invest half your income into stockpiling hundreds of cans of green beans because what if the government is covering up a looming invasion from Planet Cyborg? No. But growing your own beans, or at least knowing how to? And knowing how to preserve them, even without electricity? That seems sensible.
Knowing some basics of living without Walmart or the World Wide Web – that’s just smart. Planet Cyborg invasions may be the stuff of science fiction, but hurricanes, power outages, war ... that stuff is real. That’s why the Red Cross and the government — that bastion of common sense (ha ha) — recommend knowing first aid and having some beans and matches; because disasters happen, and the more people are prepared, the less damage is done.
I’m not a prepper, but I think there are things we can learn from them — and from unaffiliated handymen and homemakers past and present. Besides, growing, making and fixing your own stuff is often frugal and can be fun and challenging.
You may say you don’t have time to can, crochet or construct a makeshift shortwave radio from the stuff in your junk drawer, but really, what are you doing with your free time? Watching “Bones” reruns on Netflix?
Maybe therein the greatest appeal of prepping: It doesn’t allow for stagnation. There’s always some new skill to learn, some new challenge to explore, and, okay fine, some new cyborg invasion to prepare for.