How The Events Of 2020 Changed The Way Preppers Are Perceived
Survivalists have been called worrywarts, overreactors and even downright paranoid and a bit crazy. But now, many of those perceptions have changed.
Last year’s pandemic, coupled with social unrest, rising racial tensions and an economic downturn, have brought the all-encompassing world of survival to the forefront of thought for the average American citizen.
Survival experts and those who practiced prepping for emergency situations such as those last year brought not only had the means to deal with all the myriad troubles, they also attracted a new appreciation for their readiness from a large number of people who found themselves moving toward their way of thinking.
So, how did this turnaround come to be? The path wasn’t as direct as it might seem; rather, it was a gradual process that progressed as the events of the world went from okay to bad to outright disastrous.
WHAT STARTED THE TREND?
The most obvious source of “skeptic-to-believer” is, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. A pandemic is just one survival scenario that’s on a prepper’s ‘could-happen’ list. He or she (yes, there are plenty of female survival practitioners) might stock up on PPE (personal protective equipment) biohazard suits, gas masks, surgical and particle-filtering masks, gloves of all styles, types and materials, and plastic sheeting for dealing with a wide range of serious health threats.
“It’s a shame, but not a surprise, that the stigma associated with survivalism, prepping and self-sufficient living is eroding only because life-and-death situations have affected the lives of nearly everyone on the globe.”
Some of the first items that attracted others to prepping were when survivalists and other early adopters were seen with face coverings and other virus protection gear before they were recommended to the general public. Increased visibility of these individuals and their precautions added energy to the lines of communication about survival concerns. Most were specific to the pandemic, but growing concerns about related joblessness and the eroding societal situation fanned the flames, including record firearms and ammunition purchases. At that time, face coverings and other supplies were “vacuumed up” by the public, as well as by hoarding opportunists—whose plans for financial windfalls exacerbated shortages throughout the country and beyond.
NOT JUST COVID-19
With the pandemic running wild throughout the country, several other concerning situations arose that further increased interest in preparedness from the general public.
With the COVID-19 virus affecting the personnel of food-processing plants, farms, factories and even local grocery stores, the food supply chain began to crumble, and many products were soon in very limited supply. As a result, interest in shelf-stable, long-life and so-called “survival” foods exploded. “Regular people” who learned about these food options rushed to online and brick-and-mortar sellers; and their unanticipated demand, coupled with increased sales to preppers, decimated inventories in short order.
“What was once viewed as ‘strange’ behavior is now ‘cool.’ What was once only practiced by ‘paranoid’ people is now practiced by ‘intelligent-thinking, responsible individuals’ who strive to be prepared for emergencies.”
Without a doubt, a ripple effect occurred as the pandemic dug in. With many professions virtually shut down due to lockdowns throughout the country, incomes dwindled for families as stress levels increased exponentially. Thoughts of a person’s home or business being raided for food or other goods increased as the year wore on. Likewise, gun sales began to climb at an incredible rate—so much so that many gun shops were sold out of popular firearms and ammunition. News of this was spread across all media outlets and, as with the earlier toilet paper scare, the fact that guns were being sold at record rates heightened others’ desire to purchase a weapon and be ready for whatever might come their way.
Social unrest, rioting and domestic terrorism were other survival scenarios that came to fruition early in the new year, when a group of disgruntled people demonstrated in Washington, D.C. Some of them forced their way past Capitol police and into the Capitol Building itself. Political differences culminated in events that made many realize that what “couldn’t happen here” was, indeed, happening here, and a wake-up call was sounded.
“LIVING IT” IS BELIEVING
When the information of the pandemic in China initially hit the news outlets in the United States, most people didn’t give it much thought. To them, it was a problem far across the world and wouldn’t pose a significant threat to their way of life. Only when cases began to pop up on the U.S. west coast did people begin to take notice. Starting in Washington (state), it spread to other states, one after another. People began wondering when it would hit their own state. Numbers of cases rose throughout the country, and many people still couldn’t (or wouldn’t) believe it would be a cause for concern.
“Skeptics can become believers, no matter the circumstances, once the problem hits close to home.”
Many assumed it would be handled by the government. Many said it would be “no big deal” or no worse than the annual flu. Unfortunately, they were quite wrong.
The reality of the situation truly sank in when cases erupted in their own cities, towns and neighborhoods. While advice and information being released by government agencies and other organizations was inconsistent and often suspect, and mainstream media coverage often lacked credibility and objectivity, people struggled to find information they were able to trust. Over time, constant news stories about the virus—specifically the rate of infection and the death count—caused most people to truly admit that the pandemic was real and wasn’t going away anytime soon.
This type of thinking is the polar opposite of the mindset of most survivalists and preppers. These individuals prepare ahead for a variety of emergency situations, understanding that worst-case scenarios can happen and can disrupt their lives. They also understand that local, state and federal governments won’t always make the best decisions or act quickly or decisively enough during a crisis, so they truly value the benefits of their more self-sufficient lifestyle.
So, with the reality finally sinking in, those who said, “It can’t happen to me” or “It can’t happen here,” eventually accepted that it was real, it was right in their own backyards, and there were actions they could take to reduce their risk.
With the pandemic in full swing and touching nearly everyone’s family or friends on some level, grocery shopping wasn’t like it was during pre-pandemic days. Inside were masses of people—as if Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday shopping had been exponentially increased. In addition, the available stocks of food and household goods were either decimated, subject to limited purchase quantities or simply absent from the shelves.
“ … the pandemic is still, unfortunately, going strong. And although vaccines are being administered, it’s going to be a long road ahead until our pre-pandemic way of life returns.”
Furthermore, the lack of key supplies to keep their families both fed and safe was a true eye-opener for the previous “prepper-bashers.” This, most likely, was the first time in most people’s lives that they weren’t able to get meats and poultry, baby foods, medications, house-cleaning products and a plethora of other supplies due to the repercussions of a true survival situation.
GETTING ON THE BANDWAGON
What was interesting during the pandemic relating to survival was the amount of positive press that survival and prepping received. Historically, prepping and survivalism were seldom portrayed in a positive light by the mainstream media and only promoted the idea that prepping was mainly for those who were paranoid about the world around them.
During the peak of the pandemic, interest skyrocketed in books, magazines, YouTube videos and other sources of survival information. People who’d never before stored food or water or any other supplies for a “rainy day” were now investigating ways to become more self-sufficient.
End-of-world, disaster and survival programs and films were aired in greater frequency throughout last year. People watched with intense interest television shows that illustrated techniques that could be utilized to match their current situations. Survival knowledge was ingested in great quantities, and the words, “paranoid,” “obsessed” and “crazy,” were now rarely heard in this context.
During their time in lockdown, people created small gardens that have now blossomed into fresh produce and herbs for their dinner table. In addition, canning has seen a great increase in interest … to the point at which these supplies can also be hard to find.
“Survivalists have been called worrywarts, overreactors and even downright paranoid and a bit crazy. But now, many of those perceptions have changed.”
Finally, stocking food is now “a thing” for many who bought supplies as the need arose. Many who shopped weekly or daily for their food and had little else in their home have adapted to a “buy-in-bulk-and-store” mentality, with sales for home chest (“dump”) freezers and portable storage cabinets ever-increasing.
SURVIVAL IS ‘COOL’
It’s a shame, but not a surprise, that the stigma associated with survivalism, prepping and self-sufficient living is eroding only because life-and-death situations have affected the lives of nearly everyone on the globe. What was once viewed as “strange” behavior is now “cool.” What was once only practiced by “paranoid” people is now practiced by “intelligent-thinking, responsible individuals” who strive to be prepared for emergencies.
This change in people’s perspective is good in several ways. As a seasoned survivalist, I’ve experienced this change in thinking from people close to me since the pandemic started. They now ask me questions, listen with focus to my responses and don’t mock my views of possible survival scenarios that might still come in the near future. This is an incredibly positive change of thinking that’s somewhat validating and liberating: I didn’t need their approval in the past, but their new appreciation of my knowledge might make me more likely to offer advice now than I might have in the past.
A LOOK AHEAD
As of this writing, the pandemic is still, unfortunately, going strong. And although vaccines are being administered, it’s going to be a long road ahead until our pre-pandemic way of life returns.
One thing, however, is certain: Skeptics can become believers, no matter the circumstances, once the problem hits close to home. They say that “seeing is believing” and, although you can’t see the virus, you can definitely see the horrific outcomes as a result of its existence. It now appears that that’s enough to make even the most hardened opponent to the survivalist’s mentality give up on their bias and actually pursue the fundamental benefits and life-saving advantages of prepping.
Survival Is Contagious
Spreading the word about survival prepared my colleagues for the unexpected.
It’s no secret that I have a bug-out bag (or two or three) and that I carry knives, multi-tools and other ingenious survival and emergency tools on a regular basis so I can be at the ready. It’s also known to colleagues with whom I work on a regular basis at my “day job.”
They’ve asked me about survival planning during pre-pandemic times. Initially, when I discussed it, there was a mixture of giggles and laughter, as if what I was saying was absurd, obsessive or both.
Well, times have changed.
Now, I’m approached by those who downplayed my survival information in the past and am asked about emergency preparedness. They now ask about a bug-out bag and what should be included or omitted. They ask how many cases of water I keep at my house and how many I think they should store. They take greater interest in my knives, my key chain multi-tool and my tactical pen. They ask me if they should buy more food in case of another shortage or lockdown.
Best of all, I now hear those previous skeptics sharing key survival tips and tricks with their friends and families.
I’ve realized that all it takes is just one person to pass the word until there’s an entire group focused on survival and self-sufficiency. In this day and age, that’s the only type of “contagious material” we need.
Think You Can’t Convert?
Here are six ways to go from a carefree, daily shopper to a store-it-for-a rainy-day prepper:
- Utilize unused space. Don’t let a small apartment or house keep you from stockpiling necessities. You have more space than you might realize. Utilizing the areas under beds, stairways or those seldom-used cabinets above the refrigerator, you can store vast amounts of dry goods for a long time. Ditch your traditional thinking and store food whenever possible in a cool, dry location.
- Buy in bulk. Buying in bulk saves money and trips to the store. Larger cuts of meat are more economical and can be divided and frozen, while cases of canned goods stack easily and last for years. However, some bulk items are not bargains. Be sure to educate yourself about the pricing of food in all quantities to find the best deals possible.
- Invest in a chest (dump) freezer. Your refrigerator’s freezer can only hold a limited amount of frozen food, so it’s time to go bigger. A freezer allows you to benefit from sales on beef, poultry and fish, and also provides plenty of space when you have to stock up before a disaster hits. Ice bags can be stored between the food to keep packages cold longer if the power grid fails.
- Grow your own food. A garden can be created in your backyard, on a porch—or even in your living room with a hydroponic kit. Nothing beats the taste of freshly grown vegetables and herbs. Gardening is a great hobby that yields great rewards and, best of all, your entire family can help, making it less of a chore and more of a fun project for everyone. In fact, skills you teach your kids now will benefit them the rest of their lives.
- Buy extra when you shop. Bulking up on your food can be pricey. Instead of buying everything all at once, buy a little bit more of some key items while you do your weekly shopping, especially when items you need are on sale. It won’t hurt your budget and, before you know it, you’ll have a significant stock of just about everything you love to eat.
- Keep your eyes on the news. Be mindful of changes throughout your city, state or the country. Is a food shortage a possibility? Is another lockdown being considered? Have weather conditions limited produce availability? These questions need to be asked and answered early so you can make plans one way or the other. Don’t be the last to know, or act, or you’ll miss out when you finally get to the market.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June, 2021 print issue of American Survival Guide.