The menu du jour for the apocalypse
According to a recent New York Times story, the survivalist movement is gaining steam. Advocates of preparedness might not own an arsenal or worry about Mayan predictions, but they nonetheless harbor a fear that civilization could end any day now. So they stockpile food just in case. In fact, one of the popular survival-food companies, Mountain House, offers a five-pound bucket of freeze-dried supplies that it calls the “Just in Case” bucket. In case of what? In case of a snack attack, duh! And also, nuclear war.
I’m not immune to this paranoid-yet-logical urge to hoard disaster supplies. In the bottom of my bureau, I keep a pair of unopened, brand new J.Crew boxers. In the back of my mind, I’m comforted knowing that when the barbarian hordes are charging over the horizon, a remnant of civilization will exist in my underwear drawer.
But a man can’t live on underpants alone, so I decide to see what life would be like were I forced to eat doomsday rations. To dip my toe in the survivalist waters, I purchase one day’s worth of supplies from the camping section of Dick’s Sporting Goods. Well, most of it comes from Dick’s. I discover my dessert, an Astronaut-brand ice-cream sandwich, in the checkout line of Old Navy. Old Navy: Buy a hoodie, prepare for the end of days!
For breakfast, I’ll have huevos rancheros from Backpacker’s Pantry. For lunch, pad Thai. For dinner, I select chili mac with beef from Mountain House. All of these meals are freeze-dried in pouches, and Mountain House recently tested food it packaged in 1982 and found it still sorta tasty. Perhaps not quite as good as new, but what do you want for food that predates the Thriller album?
I begin my day with the most ambitious dish, the huevos. The pouch reads, “dried egg mix with red beans, chilies, onions, peppers and cheese.” Mmm, Backpackers Pantry—you had my mouth watering at “dried egg mix.” I add water, blend everything and let it sit for 10 minutes so the beans rehydrate. Then I scramble the concoction on the stove and douse it with Cholula, which I’ve decided I’ll definitely feature in my doomsday pantry. I’m sure everyone’s emergency stockpile varies, but mine would include a lot of hot sauce and wine.
I sample a forkful of huevos, and my taste buds revolt against the onslaught of sensory confusion. The dish before me smells like eggs but looks like couscous and has a texture like wet chalk. I choke down about half a bowl. If zombies are knocking on the door, and this is all you have to eat, just let them in.
Lunch is more successful. The pad Thai includes separate pouches of peanut butter and peanuts, which seems a little like cheating. But I’m not complaining. I squeeze the peanut butter into the pouch, mix in boiling water and wait about 20 minutes. The noodles are a little rubbery, and the sauce is a multihued paste, but the overall taste is passable. I eat all of the noodles and some of the sauce, but still throw most of it down the drain. The survivalist diet might be great for your beach bod, if there are still beaches.
Perhaps by dinnertime I’m just ravenous, or maybe it’s the wine I’ve uncorked, but the Mountain House chili mac is delicious. Though it’s not delicious enough to stave off my jealousy that everyone else is eating pork stew with sweet potatoes, garlic bread and real ice cream while I gnaw on my Styrofoam astronaut sandwich. But it’s good enough that I think you’d be excited for chili mac night in the ol’ bunker.
Based on my admittedly limited one-day experience, I conclude that the worst survival foods are the ones that are trying too hard. Look, you’re locked in your panic room waiting for the radiation to subside—you’ve got enough trouble without choking down some sad huevos rancheros that are just egg-like enough to remind you that all the chickens were eaten by the slime mutants. So grab a handful of trail mix, and reconcile yourself to the fact that your favorite brunch place was vaporized by fascist robots from outer space. Jamie Mammano isn’t walking through that door, and if he is, you’d better make sure he’s not Zombie Jamie Mammano looking for ingredients for Zombie Mistral’s new all-brains menu.
For my part, I intend to resume my strategy of being completely unprepared for massive calamity. If civilization ends, I don’t want to be locked in a bunker with a crate of astronaut ice cream, wondering if I’ll ever see another episode of Homeland. I guess I’ll take my chances. When the asteroid blots out the sun, at least I’ll be wearing new underwear.