Are doomsday preppers batshit weirdo lunatics or just worriers who happen to be very resourceful? The stereotypical prepper type is at least an easy punchline. You know, marginalized white dudes, crazies, ex-military, religious freaks — outlier types who take a little too easily to conspiracy theories and are paranoid, or possibly even mentally ill. But perhaps that perception is slowly starting to change, as more and more regular unprepared people, the sort of people preppers might call a zombie or sheeple — and perhaps in light of recent natural disasters, global warming, or terrorist attacks — are finding their way to readiness training in the event the day comes when the all-mighty grid, or government, fails to provide and YOYO (you're on your own). Just, you know, without all the crazy. Though I'm not always sure how you can tell the difference.
Take prepper chicks, the term for the lady versions of these survivalist types. Some of them are focusing beyond the central tenets of survival to include ladycentric consideration for managing the end of days — sorry, er, TEOTWAWKI, or the End of the World as We Know It.
A recent New York Times piece called "The Preppers Next Door" takes a look at the growing number of people interested in disaster preparedness who decidedly lack the whiff of prepper mania stink covering so many of the crazies like homemade bug spray. A top disaster preparedness expert quoted says the movement now looks like " the strangest mishmash of people you could ever find — black, white, men, women, everyone. It looks like America."
It doesn't mention "Prepper Chicks" specifically but one of their sites (not covered in the story), sheds a pink-tinged light on the issue from a "girl's point of view." This means tips on lady things that help when everything gets crazy, like essential oils, uses for herbs and spices, cooking and food preservation, arming yourself, home schooling your kids and more. It celebrates general girl power and female strength in a pioneerwoman kind of way.
There's even a video out there offering the seven reasons prepper chicks are sexy (For instance: They have food. They won't run up your credit cards, because they only pay in cash.)
But real quick, a warning: With its pink font, pink silhouetted lady with go-go boots, an assault rifle in hand and a feather in her hair, not to mention cheesy music loads on every page ("We Are Family") your first response will probably be to laugh. The second is to suggest they use that "resourcefulness" to get a better website. On Twitter, they promote uses for raw soured milk. How to make goat milk soap. Gardening help. How to make raw vegan blackberry lemon lavendar cheesecake.
It's cheesy, to be sure, but the preparedness they are pushing is not entirely useless. Or even dissimilar to what might come in real handy if, say, Los Angeles ever gets hit by "the big one." It's even kind of reasonable. Like self-defense. Like water purification. Like basic first aid.
As someone married to a former Boy Scout who grew up in a military family, I can attest that being around someone who knows basic survival skills like these is not weird at all, it's extremely comforting. Still, I never thought much about any of this until I had a kid, and we put that kid in daycare. Having to prepare an earthquake kit with enough food to last 10 whole days off the grid — just to send to school with your toddler — will give you pause about your own disaster preparedness.
And it turns out this is what draws a lot of people to what you might call "sane prepping." Whether it was 9/11, Y2K, Katrina, or Sandy, the diverse group of people found among New York preppers in the NYT piece were mostly pragmatists. People who could no longer ignore the realities of the so-called flaws in the sytem. Even the author himself:
MY OWN ATTEMPTS at prepping started at a point between the fall of Lehman Brothers and the corresponding rise of quantitative easing, when it occurred to me — as, of course, it did to many — that the financial system was appallingly unstable and that the realm of the possible now included a disruptive reduction in the value of our money. Egged on by admittedly heated readings of doomsday authors like John Mauldin and Charles Hugh Smith, I began to form a picture of the world as a system of unsustainable systems, a rickety Rube Goldberg machine in which the loss of any one piece — cheap oil, say — could derail the whole contraption, from truck transportation to the distribution of food.
To say nothing of the fact that this prepping came in very handy during Sandy.
Of course, the show "Doomsday Preppers," as the NYT piece points out, may not be helping preppers in the public eye much.
The discipline has taken blows from TV programs like "Doomsday Preppers," which - despite its record ratings and recent episodes, like "Escape From New York" — is more or less a weekly invitation to laugh at lunatics tunneling into mountainsides to escape a Russian nuclear attack.
Nor did the news that the Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza's mother Nancy may have been a prepper make anyone feel all warm and fuzzy. Says the NYT:
Even though prepping is increasingly visible in the culture — through meet-up groups, books, films and weekend retreats at which canning skills are learned — it continues to be thought of as a marginal and unseemly business, something on par with believing that the Bilderberg Group controls world events or that the government is hiding aliens at Area 51.
But what then, if many more of us are moving toward some kind of disaster readiness, IS sane prepping? What is the difference between disaster preparedness and batshit crazy? Is it a game of likeliness odds for the disaster you're anticipating? Is preparing for a mega-tsunami if you live on the coast OK, but prepping for the apocalypse mean you're fit for the looney bin?
We all agree that there is a difference. Somewhere between getting a supply of Silver Eagle coins as an "inflation hedge" and ordering a year's supply of freeze-dried food, there is a wrong turn. But where?
In the New York Times piece, the author seeks that perfect balance between rational and crazy in the prepper world. His sources tell him there's nothing wrong with having a plan. A plan is good. Three day's supply of food and water is smart. A first aid kit just makes sense. A flashlight. Batteries. Everyone needs a plan based on the potential for the worst disaster in your area — weather, nuclear, terrorist. But there's a spectrum here, Dr. Redlener, the director of the Columbia University's National Center for Disaster Preparedness, insists.
On one end is mindless complacency. On the other is paranoia. The challenge is to find that place in the middle where you understand that bad things can happen, but it doesn't consume your life."
Oddly, some of the folks on "Doomsday Preppers" know where they fall on that spectrum. In this list of "10 Things You Didn't Know About Doomsday Preppers," we learn that they, too, came to prepping after natural disasters. That they do have a sense of humor about the absurdity of it. That they have a natural connection to the environment and sustaining it, given that they grow their own vegetables and use solar power. They aren't all of making potted possum or eating squirrel. And they know you think they are crazy. But they are still worried about you.
Prepper Chicks are also worried about you. (Their Pinterest page, full of homemade body wash recipes, solar power info, self protection, and beekeeping, screams new magazine candidate.) But they have a sense of humor about it all. In a blog post called "MAN FEAR in a Survival Situation," they promote a weekly Wednesdays for Women to talk about, in one instance, how to be down-grid when you've fallen to the Communists. You know, on the rag.
But what is "THE" fear that can bring a man to his knees and make him assume the fetal position in the corner whimpering like a wee babe? Women problems. Call them what you like, "The Period" "Menses" "The Rag" "Shark Week", they all carry with them a fear that men cannot deal with in a rational manner. They don't want to talk about it. Is it denial? Can they not wrap their heads around the fact that YES, we can lose that much blood and LIVE to talk about it? So what happens in a survival situation when the standard luxuries are no where to be found? Are we to ignore feminine hygiene in a down grid scenario? What about safe sex? When was the last time you made your own condoms? What do you do when you have no tampons left because you used them all for bullet wounds?
Call me crazy, but that sounds downright handy to me. It reminds me to beef up on the Swiss Army Tampon Survival Guide. You know, before it's too late.