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Why we should all think like preppers – and how to do it

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The acclaimed post-apocalyptic TV series The Last of Us, based on a hugely popular video game, featured a character – Bill – who has managed to live through the nightmare because he has prepared for such an eventuality – he is what he calls a “survivalist”.

“Prepping” – as it is widely known – is a way of anticipating and adapting to impending conditions of calamity by preparing homes, rooms and bunkers to survive in.

COVID-19, the limits on certain foodstuffs caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the cost of living crisis have pushed “preppers” from the fringes towards the mainstream.

Despite attempts by preppers to push back on stereotypes, prepping does still come with associations of doomsday and apocalyptic thinking. Research also suggests that preppers tend to be conspiratorial, often displaying traits such as low agreeableness, paranoia, and cynicism.

Yet many of us became partial “preppers” during the recent pandemic. We stocked up on loo rolls and rationed products, buying as many items with long shelf lives as we were allowed to by local supermarkets. Survival and a degree of panic were certainly driving our actions, and at times irrationally so.

Prep the right way

Nevertheless, if done in the right way, prepping – thinking ahead and being proactive – is the opposite of panic buying. Instead, it means stocking up on key essentials over a long period of time, so that in the future there is no need to panic buy.

When demand for products surges, it leads to shortages which can cause what is known as a “bullwhip effect”. This is the phenomenon where increased demand by consumers creates unsustainable and exaggerated demand across the entire supply chain. This can lead to product shortages but also higher levels of waste due to unnecessary stock production. Stocking up on key items early can help prevent this.

Woman reaching for tin in supermarket
Stock up on essentials slowly over time.
Ground Picture/Shutterstock

And preparing for emergencies has always been both the logical and sensible thing to do. A “bug-out bag” or “go bag” – a bag packed with survival supplies such as food, water, medications, radios and flashlights – is considered essential in regions prone to natural disasters when rapid evacuation may be necessary.

Pre-pandemic preppers tend to be associated with an irrational fear of “doomsday”, while those who stocked up on vital goods during the pandemic have been (often unfairly) portrayed as hoarders. We propose a new kind of prepping, without the anticipation of doomsday and the stigma of hoarding. Here are four ways to become a responsible prepper.

1. Take a drip-fed approach

Being conscientious in your purchasing habits will allow you to responsibly “prep” while smoothing out the demand in the supply chain, leading to less shortages. Buying the odd extra packet of something or pack of loo roll to add to your usual cupboard stores over time can become your normal buying pattern, as opposed to emergency bulk-buying at once.

2. Create a personalised ‘bug-out bag’

Fill it with items essential to you and your family, such as cooking utensils, toiletries, solar-powered batteries, reserves of candles and food and medicines with a long shelf life. In the event of natural disasters such as snowstorms and floods or events such as power cuts, having your bug-out bag will help you feel more prepared to weather the storm.

3. Go back to basics

Build the capacity to make your own basic food products such as bread and pasta and invest in the equipment and ingredients to do this. Pasta was a staple in pandemic pantries, leading to widespread stock shortages. A responsible prepper would learn to make their own – and feed their neighbours at the same time. The same goes for bread.

4. Consider using more tinned foods

Prepping may be an interim solution to navigate through the current cost of living crisis. Introducing cheaper tinned foods or other long-life products into your shopping basket may help ease financial pressures. Tinned goods have a longer shelf life so are less likely to spoil before you use them in times of need.

Should another event happen that prompts panic buying, responsible preppers can also help limit supply chain disruptions. They will already have the items they need, and won’t contribute to the emptying of supermarket shelves. Maybe it’s time we all found our inner prepper.

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