In my daily trolling of the Internet, I saw that Glenn Beck is now encouraging Americans to stockpile a year’s worth of food in order to survive the hyperinflation catastrophe that he sees looming just around the corner. On his radio show, Beck predicted that, due to mismanagement of the economy by the Federal Reserve, the price of food could skyrocket like in Weimar Germany of the 1920s. He goes on to advise his listeners to prepare for this potential disaster by buying “food insurance” now. Food insurance in this case means boxes of freeze-dried meals that can feed your family in times of dire emergencies, such as hurricanes, tsunamis, or food-riots by well-armed Wall Street bankers. Good luck with that.
Along with his prophecy of really ugly times ahead, Beck is promoting a company (one of his sponsors) selling emergency food kits that will see you through the darkest days. At foodinsurance.com you can select from a variety of options, starting with the basic “emergency kit” (which contains two-weeks of freeze-dried meals, a very basic camp stove, water filter and a backpack to carry it all in case of evacuation) on up to a year’s supply of food for an entire family (3792 freeze-dried entrées for a family of five).
The meals are edible for 25 years, so all you have to do is stack it all in the back of your walk-in closet and forget about it until the hurricane strikes, or until bread reaches $50 a loaf and civil society completely breaks down. While the zombies, er, I mean, rioters scour the neighborhood for scraps, you’ll be dining on reconstituted chicken ala king.
I actually have fond memories of dining on freeze-dried entrées. When backpacking in my high school and college days, those ultra-light meals were a rare luxury. Normally, we carried much heavier food, since anything freeze-dried was beyond our budget. So, the few occasions when we did splurge, for example, on vanilla ice cream with the consistency of Styrofoam, well, it was memorable. I can still recall the campsite by a creek deep in the Smoky Mountains where we feasted on Turkey Tetrazzini one night. (Buying freeze-dried meals in bulk this way might, in fact, be ideal for someone planning to do the Appalachian Trail next summer.)
What I especially love about the foodinsurance.com website is the photo of a beautiful model wearing one of the emergency backpacks of food, smiling broadly, and looking for all the world like a sorority girl off to a barbeque on the beach. You would think that -- for a company trading on the prospect of disaster -- they would have asked the model to look a bit more, well, distressed, or at least pout.
Now, don’t get me wrong. While I think Beck’s fear mongering is beyond the pale (and unhinged) and that you’d have to be some kind of paranoid survivalist to buy an entire year of emergency rations, I do agree that most people probably are not prepared enough for life’s little emergencies. Here, I’m thinking more like having extra batteries in the house or even a portable generator. Or candles. And in a similar vein, a few pouches of freeze-dried food can’t hurt -- but seriously, 4000 entrées?
And to be sure, there have been times when squirreling away food was the prudent thing to do. My wife reminded me that her nearly 100-year-old aunt still keeps bags of rice, flour and sugar tucked under her bed, just in case. It’s an old habit that harks back to the food scarcity she lived through during a time when there was real hardship to be fearful of.
When I first moved to Finland in the early 80s, I taught English at a language school where one of my fellow teachers was an older Finnish lady. She told how, as a young woman living in wartime Helsinki, she slept fully clothed with a packed rucksack under her bed so she could escape to the bomb shelter at the first sound of the air-raid sirens.
She also told an old family story about how during the Finnish Civil War the local Reds had ransacked the home of her fairly well-to-do family. As they looted the house, the Reds, poor workers from the town’s factory, had found a large ham still cooking in the oven. They placed it on top of the family’s grand piano, and then proceeded to carve off slices of the meat to dole out, cafeteria-style, to the rioters as they filed past.
So, it’s not as if the kind of worse case scenario and social disruption that Glenn Beck seems fixated on has never ever happened. It’s just hard for me to believe that the state of the US economy is so close to tipping into a Zimbabwean-like nightmare that we should all really be hoarding food and gold. Just call me optimistic.