The Internet is full of examples of stores being cleaned out – and of the weird things that people are buying or (by contrast) not buying. We’ve all seen them. We know that this is because people are panic-buying things. And it feeds on itself. If you see someone panic-buying things, you start to wonder – will that thing be all gone soon? Do I need to lock it in now? And you contribute to the problem.
The things that people are buying sometimes make no sense. Bottled water – like in a hurricane or flood; except that a viral pandemic won’t affect the clean water that is available in virtually every American home. Chicken, but not beef, or beef, but not pork, depending on the stores. All the chicken breasts gone but the chicken thighs intact. All the frozen vegetables gone, but fresh cabbages piled up on the shelf. The toilet paper, for God’s sake. People are doing this because they haven’t really thought about what they need, and probably because they are restricted to what they know how to use.
As we settle in to weather this storm, you can use the opportunity to learn a little resourcefulness. First, you will not starve to death. No industrialized country has suffered a famine in generations, except when literally invaded or losing a war. If a besieged island like Britain can keep food on the table while fighting Nazis, it’s going to be ok now too.
But it might not be the food you are used to. The things that will be left after the first pick is taken, and that will keep rolling in, are more likely to be basic ingredients that you will need to know how to prepare and cook rather than just pop in a microwave. This will be especially true in a worst case scenario, which would be some kind of rationing system. In other words, expect your choice of foods to diminish and therefore your need for flexibility to go up. The foods disappearing now are a perfect illustration of peoples habits and skills.
Take the chicken thighs for example. Those were left in the store, presumably because people didn’t know how to debone them or prepare them – but they are actually relatively easy to cook into anything where you might use a chicken breast. And you could use the bones for making stock. But most people aren’t comfortable with that so even in a panic situation those get left on the shelf. Or certain brands get cleared out while other brands’ versions of the same thing stay on the shelf. That’s the power of habit overpowering the power of fear.
But this happens because it’s unconscious. If you really stop and think about it you’ll realize that you can easily buy different brands or learn to use the many things still on the shelf. If you really had to, you could use some rags for toilet paper and wash them. It’s gross, and you’ll live.
That’s not to mention that if we are all locked in our houses we might need to learn to do some home repairs or other chores ourselves that we might normally hire out. But the good news is almost anything you can think to try to do – cooking with any given set of ingredients, any kind of home repair, or just coming up with games to pass the time – probably has a whole library of blog posts and instructional videos online telling you how to do it.
My advice is to treat this reality like a challenge. Prepare to roll up your sleeves, crack open Youtube, and start learning skills you might need. The situation isn’t going away quickly but gaining competence to deal with it can give you some control and self-respect in the chaos.