I'm pretty sure zombies have infiltrated pop culture more thoroughly than any other monster figure. They've gotten their teeth into literature. They organize flash mobs. They get runners motivated. The military plans for them. They have a lot of mojo right now.
Which is what makes "when the zombies come" such a powerful charm. Not to summon them, of course; not to bring on the apocalypse or anything of that nature. It's a ward against skeptics. It's an answer to questions that doesn't leave the speaker vulnerable. "Why would you bother to learn to [hunt/forage/smith/hand-spin]?" goes the question, with the implied "that's so time-consuming and obsolete." And a wry "When the zombies come, you'll be glad I can [find food/repair our tools/make new clothes]" soothes the skeptic, tells them It's okay, I'm like you, I believe in the same world you believe in, I'm just indulging in play. Sometimes of course the framing goes the other way and they're the ones asking for reassurance: "Can't hurt when the zombies come, huh?" as a reaction to someone learning a forgotten skill. Elaborating on the usefulness of the skill in the zombie scenario finishes the charm.
Because oftentimes answering that question seriously leads to a conversation that's exhausting and awkward. "When a pandemic scare breaks down social services" or "If the drought leads to food shortages" or "When fuel costs make it too expensive to ship cheap goods halfway across the world" are uncomfortable contingencies. They sit in that nasty place where people don't want to believe in them, but they are believable. The zombies are a "safe" disaster, the one we know won't arrive. Looking at the possibility of other disasters occurring (or worsening) and planning for them makes people uncomfortable. Why are you so pessimistic? Come on, they'll think of something! God, you're not some kind of prepper survivalist weirdo, are you?
I don't know. I'll cop to the pessimism easily. We are living, as they say, in interesting times. Climate change is an ongoing disaster all over the place. The global financial system is made up of a terrible baroque assemblage of mechanisms to make numbers get bigger, without a care for how they affect the standard of living of billions of people. The US has committed itself to repeated military engagements in the Middle East, spilling blood to ensure we retain access to oil. I don't have a lot of faith in The System to keep things running smoothly. Learning hands-on skills to take care of my immediate needs makes me feel a little better about my situation.
I have a three-hour class on spinning with a drop spindle tomorrow: one more step toward knowing how food and clothing happen without capital-I Industry. You know. In case the zombies come.