Lines of frantic shoppers have mobbed grocery stores in Washington, D.C., after the National Weather Service gently advised residents on Wednesday that an intense weekend storm will pose “a threat to life and property” and impact “you, your family, and your community.”
Which led me to wonder: After people hear a message so ominous, and after reminders of their employers’ inclement-weather policies hit inboxes, what do they buy to prepare for spending a good deal of time indoors? I called up the managers of some grocery stores in D.C. to find out, and they all had more or less the same answer: bread, milk, and eggs. This holy trinity of winter-storm preparedness is not some quirk of the nation’s capital—bread, milk, and eggs are popular panic-buys everywhere from Knoxville to New England.
Now, I get bread. It doesn’t need to be cooked or refrigerated, and it goes with just about anything. The CDC even recommends it as something to have on hand for storms. But milk and eggs? Why, when the concern is that the power might go out, do people hoard things that need refrigeration, or even cooking?
There are some theories out there about the roots of pre-storm hoarding, most of them reasonable enough. “We spend a lot of time and energy trying to feel in control, and buying things you might throw out still gives the person a sense of control in an uncontrollable situation,” a psychotherapist told How Stuff Works. And one clinical psychologist suggested that buying things that might spoil is an assertion of optimism: It’s “like saying, ‘The storm will be over soon and I won’t be stuck in this situation for long.’”