Between climate change, extreme weather events, nuclear proliferation, economic instability, food insecurity and the increasing unpredictability of politics both here and abroad, it's not surprising that more people are becoming "preppers," self-styled survivalists who are actively preparing for the worst to happen.
"It's really hard to identify exactly how many preppers there are, but since 2007, we've gone from a $10 million market to a $40 billion market space (nationally)," claimed Scott Stallings, founder and CEO of PrepperCon.
Now Costco is capitalizing on the public's increasing fear of Armageddon by offering its "1 Year Emergency Food Kit." For the tidy sum of $999.99, you can be the proud owner of 6,200 servings of canned food, including grains, dairy and dehydrated fruits and vegetables. Plus you'll avoid the headache of having to plan out a survival menu 365 days in advance. And if you're prepping for a family or group, the retail giant offers a one-year kit that feeds four for $5,999.99.
The kit for one contains 100 one-gallon cans that provide about 17 individual servings per day, giving you an average of 1,200 daily calories. And while you'll need around double that amount if you're a moderately active adult, it's probably enough to get you out of your tent/underground bunker/bug-out vehicle to hunt, fish, gather wild edibles and kill a few zombies before nightfall.
Preppers have long been a regular target of jokes. (Know the one about the prepper who wanted to grow his own food, but couldn't find any bacon seeds?) Yet with the regular lack of adequate government disaster response, preppers may have the last laugh.
"The world would be a better place if there were more preppers in it," exclaims prepper Elise Xavier, who maintains the survival blog More Than Just Surviving with her husband Thomas. "A more economically stable place, a place where bad situations would be a lot less bad for everyone involved if they were to take place. A place where you wouldn't have to worry at all really about the people you care about."
When we read stories like the one about the 74-year-old New Jersey prepper who spent decades preparing for the worst and then donated all his stored food to families in Puerto Rico, she may have a point. Considering that her blog's Twitter account has more than 200,000 followers, a lot of people would likely agree.
"While I will admit I don't think governments do the best job possible of providing and protecting citizens, I also believe it's impossible for them to get to the point where they're doing a perfect job-it can never happen," Xavier told AlterNet, adding, "No government could ever help you as much as your own preps could help you."
Still, the failures in New Orleans and Puerto Rico may be contributing to the erosion of confidence in government and institutions in general that many Americans are feeling. "The bonds of social trust that serve as the support structure for our democracy are deteriorating," Nathaniel Persily and Jon Cohen write in the Washington Post. "Americans' lack of trust in government is representative of declining confidence in institutions across the board."
A poll conducted by the paper in October of last year found that out of more than 3,000 registered voters, 40 percent said they had "lost faith in American democracy."
That loss of faith appears to be trending. According to Gallup, Americans' confidence in politicians is at its lowest point in three years, with 43 percent saying they have "not very much" confidence in those who either hold or are running for public office.
When American citizens have to rely on each other for basic survival because the government isn't there to help, Costco's kit doesn't seem like such an odd product offering. I asked Xavier what she thought about the kit. Here's her reply:
"If my calculations are right, that should last closer to seven months than 12 for four people. Nonetheless, even assuming you'll only get that year's supply to last seven months for four people, I'd say it's pretty reasonable in terms of cost per calorie, if and only if you don't care to build up a stockpile yourself and don't really care about the taste of the food. If either of those matter to you, I'd recommend stalking sales at your local grocery store for long-term expiry date foods and tinned and jarred food instead. The benefit: you know what you like eating, and buying only what you know you'll eat makes it a lot easier to rotate through a food stockpile, which I think is important for preppers to do in most cases."
For newbie preppers, she offers the following advice:
"I'd recommend starting on two fronts: working on building a solid financial 'rainy day' fund (after paying down debts besides mortgages as aggressively as possible), and starting a basic food stockpile with items bought from your local supermarket. Figuring out what foods you eat that have a very long shelf life and adding a few extra of these items to your basket each time you check out will go a long way in the long run."
If societal collapse happens within the next quarter century, the Costco kit will keep you covered, as it comes with freeze-dried foods that have a 25-year shelf life. Waiting for the expiration date would be like eating freeze-dried peaches today that were canned in 1992. That was the year President George H. W. Bush fell violently ill at a televised state dinner in Japan, vomiting into the lap of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa before finally fainting. Perhaps he should have brought his own food.
Do you have any survival prep recommendations? Share them in the comments.