How to Prepare for Catastrophe

Many people today are worried, justifiably, about major devastating events that could seriously alter our way of life. Yet, intertwined with those legitimate fears are vehicles that may or may not be legitimate, which do little more than stoke fear or evoke a collective sense of worry, unsubstantiated by the facts. It goes without saying that the current course of the economy, our involvement in foreign wars, and unemployment has many people worrying about where their next paycheck may come from or what will happen in the future. Coupled with these, however, are worries about 2012, the rapture, or Nibiru (or who knows what else), all of which are not based on any rational criterion. These vehicles for emotional knee-jerk reaction are symptomatic of the question, what happens if everything changes tomorrow?

In this mindset, we can see the plight of those who are not prepared, which, needless to say are most of us. How can I prepare for sudden dramatic changes to our civilization which may leave me or my family without the means to support ourselves?

In the first place, we should turn to why 2012, or Nibiru, is not a rational criterion for preparing for the future. The fact is the hysteria generated over 2012 is little different than Y2K, or even fears at the turn of the millennium in the Middle Ages. Our Lord wisely said “You shall know neither the day nor the hour…,” and this is an important element in the unfolding of revelation until the death of the last Apostle. The Catholic Church, and I should say, any Protestant Church, which would claim any legitimacy, would not be so rash as to come out and make predictions about the end of the world. Christ, who in fact knew the very day and the hour, but was not allowed to reveal it in his human nature on earth, would not say it. How can His followers claim to be higher than He and predict the date? We have seen in the last century churches try to forecast the end of the world, fail and disband or, as we saw last year, predict the date of the supposed “rapture.”1

Again, we see it in non-Christian thought popularized by the secular media and thus appropriated by many Christians, of the date of 2012. This date was the end of the Mayan calendar, reconciled with ours, but it doesn’t particularly mean anything other than the mathematical base of the calendar, and anything added to that is mere speculation. It may be that the ancient Mayans had some insight, either by God or by demons, to see things getting really bad in 2012 (as geopolitically they may very well become), or it may be nothing at all, a mere calculation of math. Either way, speculation about it is mere hysteria.

On the other hand, what the various popular worries of this or that date, this or that event, evince in the common culture is an unsettling worry. We are not prepared. This is a legitimate concern and the subject at hand. If bad things happen, am I prepared to survive for six weeks or six months without the grocery store, without the Internet, and without local water, sewage, and trash service? Without electricity? Without heat? These questions do not depend on the “rapture,” the 12th Imam, 2012 or United Nations blue hat soldiers rolling into your community. They are simply a question of natural prudence.

The question we should be asking is: do I have enough food to last extended periods of time? Do I have the means of cooking without electricity? Do I have anything I can offer in trade to someone who might have these things? This is not media hysteria or some supermarket tabloid talking about the planets aligning, but the very real possibility that something will happen in the world that will compromise our ability to attain the goods necessary for our survival. Our economic situation should make this abundantly clear.

For example, in spite of the abundant resources of the United States, at least 40% of our food production comes from outside of the United States. Why is that? Corn is subsidized by the government in order to keep the prices artificially low so that corn related products, which show up in virtually everything you see in the average mainline grocery store, from high fructose corn syrup to chemicals, lowers the cost of production of these same things. So the majority of our fields grow corn. The production of ethanol for fuel, which is highly inefficient since it takes more energy to produce ethanol than what we get out of it, reduces the volume of land used to grow wheat, fruit and vegetables. What this means functionally for you, is that you have less chance of obtaining food in your area. So where does your food come from?

A majority of Americans depend on an expensive system of 18-wheelers (or “big rigs” depending on what part of the country you are from) trucking food from one port to another, from one ConAgra facility to a production plant. Food is shipped to east Beijing and back via boat to a harbor where another 18-wheeler picks up the trailer and brings it to your local grocery store. In other instances, the distribution of oranges require trucks to transport Florida oranges to California, and from California to Florida, so those states can manage their trade balances better. If the Iranians close the Gulf of Hormuz and diesel fuel goes up $8 or $9 a gallon, or if for another reason trucks stop rolling, you will not find food at your local grocery store.

If gas should rise to $8 or $9 a gallon, could you really manage? The “glory days” of the 1950s are long gone. Gas for 18 cents a gallon is history. The only reason we pay $3 a gallon instead of $7, like our neighbors to the north, or $12 in many parts of Europe, is that oil is priced in American dollars. Suppose the sufficient counter-balance to American hegemony is established in oil-producing regions such as Saudi Arabia and Eurasia, another very real possibility, which would allow world economies to function without the dollar as the reserve currency.

In the early 20th century there were approximately 30,000 facilities butchering meat, located near farmers, whereas today there are only 11 massive ones. If the trucks stop rolling, will you be able to buy meat at the store? Even rural areas where you can find independent farmers that raise livestock and have them butchered could scarcely keep up with the overwhelming demand.

If you live in a highly urban area and have no means of heating your home naturally (as with a wood stove) or lighting your home without electricity, things can get pretty hairy pretty quick. If electricity is no longer being supplied, lighting (among other things) will become a serious issue.

Most people, if they are honest, will say they are not prepared for these possibilities.

Some propose the answer is to own silver and gold. I’m not opposed to this. Both by their historic connection to the monetary system and their universal value, silver and gold can serve as assets. However, the bear bones facts are that, in the face of massive economic collapse, if you can’t eat, drink, or smoke it, it is useless. Someone who may have a surplus of this or that thing, will not accept gold and silver if what he really needs is food to feed his children.

Americans trusted in the system during catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina and they were failed by it at both the state and federal levels.2 Citizens of Louisiana had no food that could help them weather the crisis nor the means of taking care of themselves for even a brief period of time. So what is to be done?

Thus, prudence would dictate true preparedness, as in Aesop’s old fable of the Grasshopper and the Ants (Read this here). If the trucks stop rolling, and your store shelves are empty like in Soviet Russia, what are you going to do?

Basic preparedness would suggest at least six months of food and a seed vault. In the former, you need to have at things that could be cooked over an open fire if electricity failed; wheat, rice, quinoa, oatmeal, canned foods (preferably organic and non-BPA plastic lined), vegetables and fruits, and high protein legumes like beans and lentils. Dried meat would also be wise, and this can be prepared easily without the need to buy beef jerky, although jerky serves as a good protein source. Water is also something that is necessary to have on hand. Store water in old jugs, Carlo-Rossi wine jugs (which is preferable since glass does not leech chemicals into the water), or your old juice and water bottles. The seed vault is what you want to use to plant gardens in the event things do not get better. While using your stores you can set up gardens to yield vegetables and berries. What you don’t use should be canned to preserve for the following winter.

Do you need that morning cup of coffee? Do you have a deal worked out with some overnight shipper to get coffee beans flown in from Colombia? Granted, this is more of a luxury item, but, if you really want it, it would be good to buy coffee beans in bulk to retain their properties better while stored and roast them yourself. This process is not difficult. Look into purchasing coffee makers that do not require electricity, such as a Bialetti. Get a hand crank coffee grinder. Then purchase nitrogen packed coffee as it will retain its freshness so long as the tin does not corrupt.

Do you have a way to stay warm? Blankets, warm clothes, wood stoves, or at least the means to start a controlled campfire are essential. What about lighting? Do you have a propane lamp? What about extra propane canisters to light them? Candles are good, but generally these are novelty items in America. Unless you have beeswax candles and followers to preserve the wax and burn it for the longest possible time, you will not get much out of them. For that matter how will you start a fire, whether for cooking, heat or light? Large boxes of matches are still relatively inexpensive, and there are many emergency fire starters that would be handy to have around.

Have you thought about toilet paper? From an early age, like the insatiably curious Elephant of Kipling’s Just So Stories, I was always curious about how people did things before we had electricity and appliances, especially natural things like going to the bathroom. Fortunately there are books, rather than crocodiles to teach the lesson. How did peoples who did not have sewage, plumbing and toilet paper get along? As it turns out Roman soldiers carried a sponge with their normal military kit, the sole purpose of which was to wash themselves when going to the latrine. Toilet paper is a late medieval invention, inspired by knowledge that rice paper was being used in China (NB this does not sound like a happy alternative to certain necessary things). At that it did not come into common use until the late 19th century. Do you have areas of your property which could be set up as latrines, away from your sources of water? Hygiene can be a serious issue.

What about your teeth? That toothpaste tube you depend on from your local grocery store’s health and beauty section indeed comes in handy. Do you have enough to last your family for six months? Do you know that with Hydrogen Peroxide and baking soda you can create a useful cleaning agent for your teeth and maintain your dental hygiene for some time? Baking soda and peroxide is not too expensive to pick up every time you go to the store, and these are non-perishable. Otherwise start stocking up on that fluoride free toothpaste.

For that matter do you have enough soap to last you through extended periods? Even the Celts and Germans of classical times, considered barbarians by the Greeks and Romans, used soap developed from animal fats. The accumulation of dirt, dead cells and sweat over a long period of time can become serious with respect to contracting various diseases. Do you have enough soap, or know how to make it yourself, to last you? Do you have sufficient first aid supplies? What about cleaning your laundry? You might consider converting that old kiddie-pool into a washing tub, pronto.

In all of these things, these are not the marks of some millennial suicide cult, or the popular image fostered in us by the media of militias made of up odd people fearing black helicopters and UN soldiers in their neighborhoods (which, as far as I can tell is a gross caricature at best), but of the natural prudence human beings once had and, at least in American culture, have lost due to our over-reliance on technology. In the past people stored up for hard times because it was a reality. The experience of the depression shows us that rural America, scorned by the urban elite, managed, whereas stockbrokers faced with ruin jumped from windows.

The practical solution does not require that you go out and spend your life’s savings on survival foods. If you are going to purchase “kits” and the like, be sure to do your research. Be aware of the foods your family eats and what you will need over a long period.

More importantly, many people say, food is perishable. They can’t sit on it forever. What if there isn’t a crisis and I have all this food stored up? You can use these types of goods in your normal cooking and replenish them as needed. It is like the philosophy of emptying your wallet of the last few dollars to keep your gas tank full rather than keeping it just above empty. If something happens to you at least you have a full tank, whereas in the latter case you have an empty tank. Should things get tight, you will have an asset for barter and trade worth infinitely more than random stocks from Wal-Mart or Microsoft, which will be worth nothing if the stock market goes belly up. You can eat food. I’m not so sure on the digestible nature of stocks.

This goes far beyond issues of Distributism, Socialism and Capitalism. Rather, it points to the very nature of survival, of reaping and storing into barns to be prepared for later—which was (and in many parts of the world still is) a natural function of families—rather than blind trusting in Big Business or Big Government.

We need only look at Soviet Russia.3 Most Russians, whether good, bad or otherwise, knew the government would not provide for them (if from nothing other than experience) and had the best reserves they could procure in spite of the system. When Communism collapsed, they had the means to continue and establish a parallel economy.

You can invest in gold and silver all you want, but in the end, you can neither eat them nor drink them, and are dependent upon the hope that some economy will develop where trade in these assets will become a reality, which may or may not be the case. In any case you can depend upon “bare necessities.” You can most certainly eat, use and trade the things I mentioned above. We are probably not looking at the end of the world, and even if we were that would not address what I’m talking about here. We may, on the other hand, be looking at radical changes in our civilization, and even if that turns out not to be the case, at least we will have been prepared, and what we will be prepared with will be useful in securing our future.

1. This is not the proper place to debate the false theology of the Rapture embraced by some Evangelical Christians, but to put it briefly it is a misreading of 2 Thessalonians where Paul speaks of us being taken up (raptus in Latin meaning to take), combined with the ancient heresy of chiliasm resurrected in the 19th century. It believes Christ will bring everyone to Jerusalem to be Jews for a thousand years according to the Old Testament economy, which is totally at odds with what Jesus said in the Synoptics and the Pauline accounts of the Last Supper, where He offers now a “New and Everlasting Covenant.”

2. We see this in the disaster of poor response by Louisiana and FEMA in the wake of Katrina.

3. For more on this see Dimitri Orlov’s analysis on the fall of the Soviet Union and the US here, and here.

Ryan Grant is a native of eastern Connecticut. He received his Bachelor's degree in Philosophy and Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and also studied at Holy Apostles Seminary. He currently teaches Latin in Post Falls, ID where he resides with his wife and two children.

This article courtesy of The Distributist Review.

  • Denise Smith

    Great article. I like the non-panic prospective of the author. Surely, we are all to live prepared in all ways. We generally do have foodstuffs, but Ryan brought up a couple of things we had not thought about.

  • CCR

    Excellent explanation: Centralization of production and processing has weakened the country by creating an Achilles heel: the energy sector. It is difficult to predict how the country would look after a nation-wide Katrina scenario, like for example a giant solar flare that would render all electronics useless for a long period of time (including the spark plugs in cars and trucks!) or a huge plague like the ones that use to happen periodically in Europe. The Christian counsel has always been to acquire the treasure of wisdom. Know-how and ingenuity are the better assets a survivalist can have. The greatest wisdom of all is to trust oneself to God for protection for there is no true salvation outside Him. I for one believe that this world is courting disaster. There is enough evidence of the foolishness of our leaders. All we need now is a small strategic push by Mother Nature compounded by the reaction of thousands of Brownies (like the infamous and hesitant FEMA director of Katrina’s fame) and voilá! the castle of cards will come crushing. Only God knows how we’ll go from there but in my opinion we are going to be extinct if Divine Providence does not provide a way out.