In 2014 there was a major outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in West Africa. This was far larger than all earlier outbreaks combined, because people are getting more mobile and the disease reached larger towns and cities. Horrifyingly, it also managed to reach out across the Atlantic and infect four people in the USA. We were lucky; all the cases were caught before they could spread further. We might not be lucky next time – and the virus is still out there in Africa. All it takes is one sick person to get on a plane and we could be facing a major epidemic.
A long-range nuclear missile is incredibly sophisticated. It needs to be; it has to deliver a warhead – possibly up to a dozen warheads for a MIRV’d missile – to a precise location. A Trident II submarine-launched missile can drop half its warheads within 65 feet of the target, letting it destroy even hardened bunkers with a relatively small weapon. An EMP attack doesn’t need anything like that precision. As long as the rocket can get the weapon to a high enough altitude, it can detonate anywhere in a circle hundreds of miles wide and still blanket a huge area with its pulse. Every country that currently has nuclear weapons and several that could be very close to building them has the ability to attack with high-altitude EMP – and that includes rogue or unstable states like North Korea and Pakistan. An EMP might not be the worst thing that could happen, but it’s a real risk.
Though its light weight and long shelf life are ideal for navigating harsh conditions, freeze-dried food is probably most famous as a cultural curiosity: Like many Americans, I discovered it in a museum gift shop, gawking at the styrofoam-like ice cream that astronauts used to have for dessert. More recently, I encountered it at a disaster preparedness convention in Raleigh, North Carolina, where smiling, gray-haired preppers manned tables piled with plastic bags full of vegetables, meats, and stews.