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Credit: Natalie Keyssar
The Way We Eat

“We’re Ready to Rock and Roll.” How a NYC Firefighter and Disaster Prepper Is Eating During the Pandemic.

published May 3, 2020
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NameJason Charles
Location: NYC (Harlem)
How many people regularly eat together in your home? 4 (Jason, his wife, and their two teenagers).
Avoidances: None.

Jason Charles is ready for almost anything. While many people were scrambling to get enough supplies to ride out a few weeks of quarantine, Jason, a firefighter and the president of the New York City Preppers Network, was at home with his family in Harlem where he already had most everything they needed to face a global disaster.

When he’s not on the clock for the FDNY, Jason is also the face behind the Youtube channel The Angry Prepper, where he reaches like-minded disaster preppers (as well as the prepper-curious set) around the world. In recent weeks, interest in his urban-prepper lifestyle has obviously piqued. We caught up with Jason during an at-home lunch break to talk about his canned goods closet, the stash of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) under his bed, and the novel that changed his outlook on life.

Credit: Natalie Keyssar

Can you explain what it means to be a prepper?
It’s like having car insurance, except the insurance is gear and supplies. It’s someone who prepares for disaster — money, food, water, supplies, flashlights, medical equipment. We have extra stuff on hand so that when something like this happens we’re ready to rock and roll.

How did you first get into the prepping lifestyle?
I read a fiction book, One Second After, a while back. Something called an “EMP” (electro-magnetic pulse) goes off and society is thrown back to the 18th century. When I read that, I was all in.

Credit: Natalie Keyssar

Did you feel prepared for this situation, by your standards, then?
We are always prepared. I hate to say it, but we were ahead of the curve because it’s something we’ve always done. For us, prepping isn’t this big “to-do” — we just want to be ready.

How has this situation changed your routine?
As of right now, nothing too big. It’s almost like every day — with a face mask. I’ve been a firefighter in the city for 16 years, so I’m still working and going to the station. My shifts right now are 24 hours at a time.

Food shopping-wise, what’s your strategy?
In our family, I’m the one going to the supermarket, because I’m still out and about for work. I go probably once a week to get what we need. If I shop somewhere like Fairway in the city, it costs like $300 for six bags of groceries. If I go to Blairstown in New Jersey, I can get 12 bags for $300. I usually get things like pasta, fruit and vegetables, meat, and juice.

It’s like having car insurance, except the insurance is gear and supplies.

Has this time changed your eating habits at all?
It’s the same for us because it hasn’t gotten that bad yet. Normally we eat three times a day, but I’m trying to start a diet, so I’m personally down to two times a day. We make a lot of our own food: meatloaf, empanadas, chicken pot pie. Right now I’m frying chicken for a chicken sandwich. You have to have a mixture of shelf-stable and fresh food, you know? You can’t just have canned goods.

Credit: Natalie Keyssar

100%. But I’m guessing you have a supply of those as well?
We have a pantry in our cabinets with cans that we do eat from, and then we have another section of all prepper-related sh*t where we have tons of canned goods that we don’t touch: Chef Boyardee, Campbell’s Soup, beans (a lot of beans), mixed vegetables, tuna, tomato sauce. We stick to stuff we know we’re going to eat and stay away from stuff like Spam.

Where do you keep all your supplies (since NYC isn’t known for its spacious living arrangements)?
We have a couple of shelves that we built in our closet for cans, water, masks, first aid, backpacks. I keep all of our MREs in a container under the bed. And we also have a storage unit in the Bronx.

Any advice for people who want to join you in prep-dom?
I would start with canned goods. Once you have a nice supply of those, start learning how to can and preserve foods yourself. Then look into learning about MREs. Lots of people have been reaching out to me since this started asking things like “Should I leave now?” “What should I put in my kitchen?” “Should I have my ‘bug-out bag’ ready?” I’m trying to keep people calm — don’t go anywhere — but this will have a ripple effect. Just be ready.

Thanks for talking, Jason! Check out his YouTube channel all about prepping.

The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. How do you overcome challenges to feed yourself? If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.