Fear and Gardening in the USA


Could the emerging trend of conservative survivalism provide fertile ground for dialogue?

Scanning The Savage Nation Web site, the online home of far right talk show host Michael Savage, I noticed a picture that seemed strangely out of place nestled amongst the Drudge-on-steroids headlines.  This cheery photo featured a smiling farmer, squatting proudly next to a wooden bushel overflowing with plump, red tomatoes. Upon noticing the text accompanying the photo, my confusion vanished. “New survival seed bank lets you plant a full-acre crisis garden,” the ad promised. “Provides enough seed to feed friends and family for years to come in the event of a crisis or meltdown…”

The unifying theme that anchors the many incoherent ramblings of Michael Savage – and most other conservative pundits, for that matter – is fear. The message of the Survival Seed Bank ad with the happy farmer and his bounty of tomatoes struck right to the core of this fear.

Clicking the link, I was misdirected to the site “foodshortageusa.com.”  This simple Web page is formatted to look like an urgent news dispatch, even featuring a headshot of the author, “Consumer Reporter” Mike Walters and the mysterious time stamp “Thursday, 8:37 a.m.” beneath the headline “Why almost everyone is wrong about how to survive any food shortage or crisis!”

When I took a job as a marketing assistant a few years back, my new boss told me on the very first day that “greed and fear are the two qualities that motivate people to action more than any other emotions – always remember that.” The marketing team behind “foodshortageusa.com,” clearly subscribes to this school of thought. Nobody in their right mind would spend $40 on what this site is actually selling: an instructional DVD two-pack on how to can and jar food. Just go to the library, a different Web site, or ask most grandmas if you want to get this information for free. However, promoting a “new food storage system” with DVDs that hold invaluable, possibly even life-saving, “Food Storage Secrets” necessary to survive the nation’s impending collapse to paranoid, right-wingers exemplifies a marketing campaign that understands its target customer base.

Beneath the first few fear-mongering paragraphs, an ominous photo of riot cops with the word “Policia” across their backs is accompanied by the caption “Will Canadian Troops be guarding U.S. food supplies this winter?” This bizarre query is neither contextualized nor elaborated upon within the main “article.” Who has time to worry about Spanish-speaking Canadian riot cops when we’re facing “the very real possibility of empty shelves during the first year of the new administration”?

Just in case you’re not sold by the promise of learning how to preserve 39(!) different kinds of meats, the site also links to several more “articles” underscoring the need for Food Storage Secrets by explaining that if you don’t have the inside tips on must-have skills like hiding your food stash from your neighbors, you’re practically begging for your family to die of starvation. Not wanting to offend the generous Christian sensibilities of their primary target audience, many of whom would likely be discomforted by the thought of letting their neighbors perish in the upcoming famine, Food Shortage Secrets offers the following anecdote to justify this troubling lapse into moral relativism: “In the depression some spoke of having a small dog that would go through culverts and flush out rabbits while the large dog at the other end dispatched the rabbit as it ran out. Sporting? Perhaps not…but if it comes to eating or not, how ethical will you be after not eating for 4 days?”

Impressed by the emotional imagery of sales pitch, I decided to track down my originally intended destination, “suvivalseedbank.com,” to see if the agrarian solution to the food crisis was being sold as vehemently as the canning DVDs. It may be hard to believe that an advertisement for seeds could make apocalyptic visions of rodent hunting seem tame in comparison, but the pitch for survival seeds is framed in such starkly dystopian terms that it made sharing rabbit meat with a large dog sound like a Sunday picnic.

“You don’t have to be an Old Testament prophet to see what’s going on all around us,” the site warns, with a knowing wink. “A belligerent lower class demanding handouts. A rapidly diminishing middle class crippled by police state bureaucracy. An aloof, ruling elite that has introduced us to an emerging totalitarianism which seeks control over every aspect of our lives.”  Soon, things will really start to go downhill, leading to the inevitable question: “Could you and your family get off the grid and survive in a panic?”

The solution is survival seeds, of course, but just like Jack and Beanstalk, these are no regular seeds. They have been “grown in remote plots, far from the prying eyes of the big hybrid seed companies… by small, fiercely independent farmers” and some of these seeds are even “up to five times as nutritious as hybrid varieties.” Once you harness the power of these explicitly non-GMO seeds “you’ll have confidence knowing that you and your family will be able to eat if the Insiders trigger some huge meltdown.” And, just in case this looming food system collapse/totalitarian coup has you feeling a bit paranoid, the site offers the comforting advice that your “Indestructible Survival Seed Bank Can Be Buried To Avoid Confiscation.”

As someone with politics of the far left persuasion, I initially found this apparently emerging trend of conservative survivalism sort of frightening, but mostly amusing. I don’t think the economy is suddenly going to go “back to normal” (nor would I want it to), but I don’t think supermarkets are months away from collapse either and I sure don’t consider spending $129 on a tube of seeds that could be found at any gardening supply store for a fraction of the cost to be a wise investment (“no discounts, even to FEMA or military personnel”).

However, as I reviewed the urgent, emotional messages being employed by the purveyors of Food Storage Secrets and Survival Seed Bank, I was struck by how many of these arguments, removed from their ideological setting, would resonate equally well with, well, people like me. The motivation to purchase these items is very intentionally driven by the fear of a bleak future and a deep skepticism that the government, mainstream media or big corporations would be our allies if the shit goes down, but the real promise here – the end goal – is empowerment. That premium on self-sustainability – it’s long been a core value of both extremes on the political spectrum. Is it a good thing that it seems to be raising its profile among more moderate citizens, as well? I haven’t done the research, but it seems safe to assume that we’ll see more and more people planting gardens and doing things like sewing old clothes back together instead of shopping for new ones and generally finding more creative and sustainable ways to be self-reliant.

Over the past few years, we’ve all seen how Hurricane Katrina illustrated the ineptitude of a government response to even a relatively minor crisis (and that was before the bubble popped).  The media failed miserably to warn us of the financial meltdown. It could go without saying that anger and cynicism towards the captains of industry is drastically more intense now than any other time in recent history. These are the facts where many on the right and left can find common ground. Could gardening provide another mutually agreeable topic? Is this fertile territory for breaking out of our comfort zones, at least temporarily, to discuss these issues instead of remaining firmly entrenched in our ideological bomb shelters? Perhaps. Just don’t ask those conservatives to share their food, especially if they’re eating rabbit.

[Note: The SuvivalSeedBank Web site has been updated since I wrote this a few days ago.]

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3 Responses to “Fear and Gardening in the USA”

  1. re: turn on Says:

    Its a clever, unscrupulous exploitation of the fearful and stupid. Remember when Intel and Microsoft profits went through the roof right around the time of the quickly forgotten Y2K?

    Beliefs help us cope with a chaotic world. We’d go insane if we didn’t try to make order out of chaos and chance. Except media and advertising tends to inflame our beliefs to grab attention, making us more anxious!

    As T.S.Elliot said “Humankind cannot stand very much reality”

  2. Gary Says:

    You have no idea what “far left” even means, do you? “Far right?” The reason that things like this appeal to “even, well, [you],” is that there is really no difference between the supposed left and right political mafias presently in control of this country, and you wonder about your own well being as it sits in the hands of liars and crooks just like the rest of us do. Don’t be so fast to make fun of things just because they may sound overly impassioned. You’re not necessarily so much smarter than the purveyors of the site you condescend here. Small farmers–whose products are now all–too-often referred to as “organic” in order to draw the fundamental distinction between themselves and the massive corporate entities now undermining their proud heritages–have a place in this world, too, as does a healthy fear of a politics and government long since bought and paid for by terrifyingly powerful and privatized interests.

  3. Alex Says:

    I don’t think conservative survivalism is the correct term here. After all – it’s the left that cries about changing climate, hunger and the end of the world because of human greed.

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