Homebrewing During the Zompocalypse: Reflections on Sanity and Relationship in the Face of a Real Meltdown
In addition to the many things that make me who I am, I am also an avid home brewer and beer enthusiast. I love thinking, talking about, brewing, sharing and drinking all sorts of beers. I’m also interested in how and when society might fall. An odd twosome to write about, I admit. But they say that beer helped usher in modern society, so while contemplating the elixir which brought us The Beginning, why not also muse on its role in The End? Many a conspiracy theory, I’m sure, has been hatched over pints shared into the wee hours of the night.
In my March-April 2012 issue of Brew Your Own magazine, Mark Pasquinelli muses in Brew for Your Life, Home brewing in a Zombie Apocalypse, “It’s only a matter of time before The End. Like the timeless cycles of the cicada, the dead will rise again.” With mock seriousness, he explores survival (and survival of the hobby) during zombie-infused times – through the quirky and devoted lens that only a fanatical home brewer and zombie lover can provide. While perhaps not likely, the idea of a sudden viral outbreak, a lining-up of the planets, the return of Satan’s army – whatever it is that produces The End and its attendant collapse of social order – is a scenario romanticized a lot these days.
What attracts us to the zompocalypse? In a way, it represents the ultimate drama: survival at unspeakable odds, the chance for true heroism, either live all-out ... or die forever. Nothing less than the survival of the entire human species is at stake. Perhaps for those of us who imagine standing atop a mound of corpses, beating back the horde with shovels and shotguns, somehow yearn for a real collapse - a chance to break the regimen of our lives and commit to all-or-nothing success. Perhaps for many of us there is a feeling in our gut that a real collapse can happen, and just might whether we’re prepared or not.
I know I’m worried about that. While risking looking like the zealot in one of those single-panel cartoons, holding a sign that says THE END IS NEAR while society quips either affirmation or denial – I’m here to say let’s not forget: THE END IS NEAR. OK, I get it. I might sound a little crazy. I’m not advocating Y2K-style freak outs or reviving the 1950s suburban bomb shelter sales market. Nor do I necessarily believe that a biblically-inspired End of Times is any more plausible than one dreamed up by the Mayans or Nostradamus or Hollywood. However, if you rationally consider (fringe theories and sudden asteroid impacts aside) the long-term consequences of our short-term societal-global behaviors, you might conclude that we are at real risk of losing it all sooner or later.
Consider this: Our society is built on two fundamental structures: (1) a planetary environmental system which gives us the resources we need to breathe, eat, stay warm, etc., and (2) a monetary system which provides the means to acquire, store, and transport a majority of those resources. The first structure is made of physical, useful things; it was here in some form before any of us arrived, and likely will still be around in some form after we're gone. The second structure only arrived on this planet as humans, and their societies emerged; it’s a fictional construct which can only endure with the continued agreement that it is useful and necessary. Through the use of the second structure we manipulate the first. And they are both in peril.
Consider the depletion of our natural resources, our forests, arable land, and oceanic stores. Consider massive environmental degradation witnessed across the globe, oil spills, air pollution, and the threat of climate change due to the use of fossil fuels. Consider the current global economic collapse, the constant boom and bust of nation’s economies (higher highs and lower lows), housing market crashes, endemic recessions, global-wide defaults, skyrocketing debt. Notice the increasing numbers of poor, sick, dying, acts of violence and corruption.
Governments are intended to provide the backdrop, the glue for our societal structures. They provide the courts, the basic infrastructure, roads, public schools, etc. to keep the basic mechanisms functioning. What happens when the United States government goes into default? What if my state government goes bankrupt? What happens when my county is no longer able to function?
For most of the world, free enterprise fills in the rest of the gaps. It provides the markets where I can get my private schooling, my healthcare, my food, clothing and other goods. But what happens when our environmental systems collapse to such a degree that our basic goods are no longer affordable? What happens when even our “free markets” fail us as they descend into tyranny, dictatorship, monopolization and corruption? What happens when money loses all value due to world-wide and irreversible default, and the masses are forced into looting to survive?
Will we be prepared? Are we thinking of ways to responsibly make the transition?
Perhaps some of these points are in contention. Perhaps you might believe that global warming is a hoax. Perhaps you hold true to the idea that one day our economies will turn around, that they will one day provide everlasting peace and prosperity, if only we could determine the magic formula of economic policy and government function to fix it all. You might simply believe that there is nothing to worry about at all. Or, you might be like me on most days; you might believe that The End could come in some form or another, but you simply find it easier to think of it in terms of the zompocalypse: hollywoodized, glamorized, romanticized. Or, you might feel like me on the worst of days; figuratively (or literally) clutching a pint of homemade beer (or whatever tonic), locked away in my suburban house, suspiciously eyeing the outside world which by all signs appears to be on the brink, too frightened or depressed or stressed out to do much of anything but sulk.
It is at these most pessimistic of times we must stand up straight, take a deep breath of fresh air to re-infuse rational thinking, and say: “Yes we very well might be on the brink of collapse. Could it be at the hands of a bloodthirsty zombie horde? ...probably not. Could it be due to global (or even local) economic and social collapse? …more likely. What should I do about it? Act rational, compassionate, and remain proactive. What should I not do about it? Freak out, act crazy, alienate others, or blame society.”
One proactive idea is to enact a contingency plan among you and your neighbors on how to survive if and when The End happens. Here are some ways you can do that:
1. Get to Know Your Neighbors. A vast majority of people on this planet live very close to lots of other people. If things really do go south, it is these people you will likely look to for support. Or, you will look to these people as competition for the very limited resources immediately available. It seems to go against the general flavor of Western society, but being interested in, learning about, and befriending those in your immediate vicinity not only upholds your own personal self-interest, it’s simply the right thing to do. Will we be able to work with them, instead of against them, if the social order collapses? Do you even know who your neighbors are? Bring them some homebrew, or a pie, or ask for some sugar or milk – and introduce yourself.
2. Begin Talking About The End. OK, again, let’s try and stay rational. Acting crazy will only brand you as the neighborhood Wing Nut. But if you are truly concerned about the state of the world, and are committed to making a difference from a place of compassion, you owe it to humanity to continue the conversation in a responsible way. Talk about your concerns. See if any of your neighbors have the same beliefs. If not, what are their beliefs? What are they concerned about, and what would they do about it if they could? Sit at a kitchen table and share a homebrew. Make it your job to be engaged (at appropriate levels) in the lives of your neighbors. You might not be able to get along with everybody, and that’s OK. Agree to disagree, resolve not to speak ill of them, and move on to the next house.
3. Explore Ideas on How to Build a Sustainable Structure for Survival. For those who do agree that something should and can be done, start talking about what makes sense. Start exploring a possible agreement you can put in place between your neighbors, one that provides a reasonable structure to ensure that everyone is fed, housed, and kept warm in the event of a collapse. What resources would you need? Who would provide them and when? How would you get access to them? Is there a way that the neighborhood can band together to provide most – if not all – of the things required to survive?
4. Assess your Resources. In conjunction with understanding who will provide what, you have to understand what resources are currently at your disposal and what you would need to acquire in the future. A short list of what resources my house (and those in it - me) can provide:
• About 30 gallons of ready-to-drink beer.
• An assortment of perishable and non-perishable food.
• Active yeast for culturing (can be used for beer and bread).
• About .25 acres of land for growing food or housing livestock.
• A south-facing roof which can house solar panels.
• A good amount of tools for yard construction and vehicle repairs.
• Lots of cloth to be used as textiles and some wood for building or fuel.
• An assortment of books for knowledge and entertainment.
• An assortment of electronics and household appliances.
• Knowledge of how an internal combustion engine works and how to fix most things on standard vehicles (I was a mechanic in a former life).
• Knowledge of the English language, reading, writing, and how to structure legal documents (I am now paralegal and legal docs can be used for charters and other agreements which can be written up between neighbors or larger organizations, such as HOAs).
• Knowledge of cooking, gardening, and brewing.
When you start to really look you realize that our neighborhoods are rich with available resources. My neighbors may have many of the same goods and skills that I have, but they also have access to resources that I don’t. My neighbors may have a garden and seeds to propagate further fruits and vegetables. One of my neighbors may know how to sew and make garments and other useful items. Another neighbor may be a doctor, a nurse, a construction worker, or a teacher. All knowledge can be passed in the form of instruction, which in and of itself is a valuable resource for the sustainability of micro groups operating during protracted periods of social collapse.
After understanding what you have, you will need to know what resources your neighborhood doesn’t have immediate access to that it can’t live without. What about a reliable source of clean water, sewage systems, heating and fuel? What can be done to gather and make these resources available sustainably on a micro scale?
Keep in mind that building systems for one product or service can help sustain other related systems. For example, if I have the infrastructure that sustainably and reliably provides me, along with the raw materials for making beer, I also have the ability to provide a number of other valuables: grain and bread, livestock feed, land for growing other vegetables, a reliable water source, etc.
5. Consider Expanding your Discussion to the Wider Community. Putting these contingency plans in place can be helpful in a number of ways for your immediate neighborhood, but what about your wider community? Are these issues of concern being considered by the decision makers in your local government? What about your local HOA, school board, library district, business group or church? Are they thinking about or even drafting emergency preparedness plans? David Lucas blogs about a letter-writing campaign to bring these issues to the awareness of local councils and grocery stores. The idea is to let these institutions know that citizens are concerned, and that a proactive contingency plan might be a good idea.
Even in the best of times, a micro group contingency plan can be a good thing. Once explored and acted upon, such community organization can bring immediate rewards. First, it has the very real potential of bringing us together. This might be the best place to start and focus such relationships – not a focus on planning for “End Times,” but a focus on coming together as an interested, loving and informed community, with such contingency plans a byproduct of overall sustainable practices.
Second, putting an agreement in place now – such as a working barter or resource-sharing system – would provide real world “test” experience of our micro group plans, allowing us to see what does and does not work and what can be fixed before the real emergency strikes.
Lastly, having a working barter or resource-sharing system in place can allow us to cut down now on the inherent inefficiencies of our consumer-driven economic system. Instead of buying a new hedge trimmer when I need one, I can borrow it from my next door neighbor in exchange for a six-pack of brew. Or perhaps we have instituted a community tool shed, where I can “rent” a hedge trimmer when I need it. We have thus reduced our consumption, reduced our spending, and increased the efficiency of the products we already own.
In the end, our most valuable resource is each other. More valuable than money (most certainly) and even more valuable than the individual goods and services each of us can provide, our relationships to each other are the framework from which the rest of the support can emerge. None of us can do it alone; and each of us – at our best – can only provide a fraction of the pieces needed in a resource-based system for all of us to remain healthy and happy. How valuable is the human relationship…priceless?
And besides, as Pasquinelli put it, you may need someone to watch your back while you brew your batch of beer, just in case, someday, the Zompocalypse comes busting down your door.