Slate recently ran an essay from Lauren Kirchner that looks at contemporary retailers of dehydrated and freeze-dried foods. With sales strategies that include Amway-like multi-level marketing, the industry subtly (and sometimes overtly) taps into the long-standing American tradition of survivalist paranoia.
Self-sufficiency without government services is not just a point of pride for many libertarian-minded citizens (and the basis of a ubiquitous political slogan). But whether or not they’re Ron Paul supporters, Americans have never had so many motivations to stockpile food. Stock market crashes, job losses, extreme weather, and the lingering trauma of terrorist attacks all do a number on our national psyche. So-called once-in-a-lifetime storms lately feel like regular, yearly events….
Thankfully, reality rarely bears our fears out. In 2010, Glenn Beck quoted “inflation experts” on his Fox News program in predicting that food prices would soon rise “700 to 1,000 percent.” He brandished a loaf of wheat bread that he calculated would cost $23, and a 2-pound box of sugar that would cost $62, as early as 2011…. Survivalism’s new, softer sell acknowledges all of these fears—it trades on them—but with savvy and subtlety….
Whatever the motivation for consumers to stock up, there’s no question that survivalism is entering the mainstream. Many of the products I’ve mentioned are available through major retailers: Wal-Mart sells food storage kits from Auguson Farms. I first learned about Shelf Reliance from a promotional email from CostCo offering $300 off the usual $1,999.99 price for “THRIVE Essentials Grains and Proteins Kit,” which included 15,698 servings of food in 36 buckets. Hardly an impulse buy, but a bargain at about 11 cents per serving.
That particular kit, while massive, only includes the most basic staples: wheat, rice, oats, beans, instant milk, etc. It barely scratches the surface of the Shelf Reliance line of products. The website offers vegetarian and gluten-free options, freeze-dried whole strawberries and grapes, and bacon and chicken and beef. With ingredients like butter powder, egg powder, and spices and seasoning, you could make just about anything by just adding water and heat. You could live on this food in your everyday life, even in the absence of a new world order. But would you want to?
I decided to order some of this stuff to taste it for myself.
The full story makes for an interesting read, so check it out here.