I’m a different kind of ‘prepper’

I may resemble a Doomsday hoarder, but the opposite is true: I'm busy chopping garlic and getting ready for the New Beginning to come
Got Garlic? - Photo by N.Bresler

My volunteer gig with a disaster relief organization entails posting updates on social media sites. Years of experience in communications do not always help me here. Some platforms are straightforward enough that even old fogies like me can use them easily. For instance, Facebook is so old fashioned that most of our younger volunteers don’t even bother with it. Some relatively new platforms are intuitive enough that anyone can use them. Take Zoom, for example, which quickly became the most popular tool for connecting grannies and gramps with their kids and grandkids. Click on a link and you’re in. Simple. Other platforms take some getting used to. It’s a good thing I’m a nerd who enjoys learning new technologies. Otherwise, I’d be lost.  I have to keep up to date with media and tools that didn’t exist a few years ago. I’ve had to learn about hashtags and followers and short-form mobile videos. And along the way, I’ve made some pretty amusing mistakes.

Like when I used the hashtag #preparedness in a post about Emergency Preparedness. Sounded logical to me. Turns out that was a mistake. I suddenly acquired a throng of eager new followers. I thought this meant I must be doing something right. Not really. Curious about all my new fans, I clicked on their names. Many humanitarian activists have profile pictures showing them in disaster zones, surrounded by rubble, refugee camps or flooded fields. But these new followers were photographed wearing camouflage fatigues, surrounded by pastoral, wooded landscapes. No disaster in sight. Their profile pictures looked strange: One woman was pictured in a skimpy camouflage-cloth bikini, hunting with a bow and arrow. One of them was photographed in a gas mask outside some kind of bomb shelter, holding an automatic weapon. Another was standing in a basement surrounded by canned food and jugs of water.

Oy. Turns out these are the Preppers – Doomsday Preppers, to be precise. These are the people busy preparing for the End of Days, stockpiling provisions, and trading survival tips. They’re anticipating the zombie apocalypse or a government plot to take control of their lives. I believe neither would surprise them. They’re ready. They know it’s coming. They’ve got arms, ammunition and lots of canned peas. And they have taken ownership of the best hashtags. Oh dear. I quickly removed #preparedness from my posts.

But the other day I glanced at the huge basket of onions and garlic in my kitchen and realized that I, too, am a prepper of sorts. I like to cook. And I do not know how to cook without onions and garlic. Yellow onions, purple onions, leeks, chives, scallions, and garlic – these are the basic ingredients for anything I make. Everything in my repertoire – from ratatouille to shakshuka to stir-fry – is laden with the fragrance and flavors of alliums. So I always have a basket of these wondrous bulbs and stalks on my kitchen counter. But recently I have had to go foraging in my closet for bigger baskets. It seems I’ve been buying extras of everything lately.

I don’t consider myself a hoarder. I am not one of those thoughtless people who bought out all the eggs. Nor did I buy up a year’s supply of toilet paper. But I have been buying a bit more food lately as I adjust to less frequent shopping trips. In the old days, 4 weeks ago, I bought fruit and vegetables almost daily. I would go to the outdoor market once a week to stock up and then I’d shop again on the way home from work each evening. I would pick up one or two fresh items calling to me from the outdoor bins of a vegetable market. Nowadays I limit my trips to the market to once a week. And once there, I shop very quickly, keeping my distance from other customers. Anyway, since I’m masked and gloved, a lot of the fun of produce shopping is gone. No sniffing a tomato to see how fragrant it is. No more squeezing an eggplant to see if it springs back. No gentle pushing on the stem of a melon to see if it gives. I just get my stuff and go. Quickly.  So I tend to buy more of everything when I do venture out, just in case.

Another reason I buy more food these days is that with fewer teaching hours, I am cooking much more than usual. Cooking is occupational therapy for me. Always has been. Nothing beats chopping vegetables for relief from the stress of work life. Corporate politics got you down? Chop, chop, chop. Short deadline and too few resources for your project? Slice and dice. In fact I learned this behavior from my Grandma Kate. We always knew when there was a family crisis brewing by the amount of fruit salad that would appear on the table. Whenever she was stressed, vexed or perplexed, Grandma Kate chopped fruit. And the tinier the chunks of fruit, the greater the worry. Big pieces of fruit were okay – just the usual day to day woes. When our fruit salad was finely diced, it meant trouble. I channel Grandma Kate quite often these days. It’s not lost on me that this kitchen work is called ‘prep’ in chef’s lingo.

So I look at that huge basket of garlic and onions and laugh. It looks as if I’ve bought into that myth that garlic can save us from the scourge. That’s not it at all. Spring is garlic season here in Israel, and I can get fresh garlic on the stalk. I peel and chop and freeze some of the garlic. I roast garlic in its papery skin. I cook both the green stalk and the cloves. Stir-fry is a great dish for shut-ins – lots of chopping, slicing and shredding to do. I make a huge fresh salad every day, reveling in the fact that I can eat as much raw onion as I want, since my students can’t smell my breath over Zoom. Silver lining department. My over-laden kitchen counter may look like I’m prepping for doomsday, but the opposite is true. I’m chopping and cooking to keep myself busy and healthy while I get ready, not for the End of Days, but for the New Beginning to come when we get out of here. I’m ready to exit the quarantine, of course, but not urgently craving it. Why hurry? I’ve got stir-fry to make!

About the Author
Nili Bresler is a member of Israel's pro-democracy movement. She is a business communications coach with experience in management at multinational technology companies. Prior to her career in high-tech, Nili was a news correspondent for the AP. Nili holds a degree in International Relations from NYU. Nili volunteers with the nonprofit, NATAN Worldwide Disaster Relief. Nili made aliya in 1970 and lives in Ramat Gan.
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