Buying Bread and Milk is All in Your Head!
I'm writing this with six of an expected eight inches of snow piling up on the ground outside my office window. Forty years past and a few hundred miles north from where I sit now, this would have been considered an average snowfall on an average winter day. It might have slowed us down a bit as we brushed and scraped it off our cars and from our paths, but life would have gone on largely unaffected. Located as I am now along the 36th parallel, it is cause for widespread panic. Not as widespread, perhaps, as it was a few years ago when I lived even deeper in the Deep South. There an inch or two of snow caused a reaction that bordered on insanity. Schools closed days in advance and virtual martial law-like scenarios were implemented. Once a “state of emergency” was declared, you were subject to arrest and fine if you were found frivolously driving around town on one or two inches of snow. Yes, I'm serious. My mind still reels when I recall the time “snow” – i.e. one to three inches – was predicted on a Monday evening, scheduled to arrive on Thursday morning. They started closing the schools on TUESDAY! The city spent Wednesday in full panic mode and when Thursday arrived, it rained. And there wasn't a loaf of bread or a half-pint of milk to be found anywhere within a hundred-mile radius.
Which brings me to my point: Why? What in the name of rational thinking are people going to do with all that bread and milk?
When I was a broadcaster, I used to joke that whenever the local Kroger or Piggly Wiggly had a surplus of bread or milk, they would call the radio and TV stations and ask us to say “snow” on the air. Didn't matter if it was the middle of July. That simple four-letter word would have the power to strip the shelves of any and all stock and overstock. In the South, it's a Pavlovian response. You hear the word “snow” and you are compelled to run to the nearest grocery or convenience store and buy all the bread and milk to be had.
Hey, even native Southerners laugh at it. But nine out of ten of them still do it, even though they can't explain for the life of them why they do. It is literally a conditioned response, handed down through the generations. It doesn't have to make sense. It's just what you do.
After years of head-scratching, I decided to do a little research on the phenomenon. Here's what a psycho-doodler I read posited as a theory. According to this learned individual, buying bread and milk represents a form of control. The theory goes that when a storm threatens, if you buy something substantial and sensible, like canned food or dried beans or something, you are expecting the worst and surrendering your control of the situation. If, on the other hand, you buy something totally impractical, like bread and milk, you are secretly telling yourself that everything will be alright and that you will remain in control of your circumstances for the short term. There. All figured out. See? Wasn't that easy? The binge buying of bread and milk is all in your head. The crisis isn't real and with a little therapy you could be cured.
Now, I do have to question this scholar's credibility a bit because, A.) she lives in Los Angeles where nary a flake of snow has ever fallen and B.) rather than objectify Southerners in specific, she chose to include Mid-westerners in her proposition. As one who spent the first twenty years of his life in the Upper Midwest, I can assure you that at no time did I ever see my mother, father, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends or neighbors rush off to pillage a supermarket at the drop of a snowflake. Had they done so, they might as well have just taken up residence in the stock room, because when and where I was a kid it started snowing at Halloween and didn't stop until Easter.
Not that I'm saying a little preparation is a bad thing. But, for Pete's sake, use some common sense. In the first place, you're in the South, okay? IF.....and that's a big “if”.......any measurable snow actually materializes after they spend a week scaring the beejeebers out of you, how long will it actually last? A day? Two? And then what do you do with all that bread and milk? Get together with your equally overstocked neighbors and have the world's biggest bread pudding party?
Which leads me to ask “why do you have to buy all the bread and milk in sight?” I mean, come on. Jesus fed the multitudes with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Is there a reason a family of four needs sixteen gallons of milk and thirty-two loaves of bread to last for the next day or two? As I write this in February, there are people in New England who will likely not see the ground until July. Surely folks in Atlanta, Birmingham, and Charleston can survive on what's in the pantry for a couple of days without having to denude the store shelves of superfluous goods.
Yes, I said superfluous goods. Bread and milk are rotten choices for emergency provisions. Milk requires refrigeration which requires electricity. Unless, of course, you plan to stick it all out in the snow. And nutritionally speaking, you're not getting much bang for your buck out of loaves of gummy, store-bought white bread. What's on your emergency menu, bread sandwiches? Why don't you raid the peanut butter aisle while you're at it. At least that way you'd have something nutritious and non-perishable on which to survive for those grueling thirty-six hours. And instead of gallons and gallons of liquid moo juice, why not fill up the old pickup truck bed with cases of powdered milk? Yeah, I know it tastes lousy but it's non-perishable and it will still be good when the next two-inch blizzard strikes a couple of years from now.
I know you just want to panic when the power goes out and takes the electric stove with it, but do you realize how easy it is to cook up a pot of Campbell's soup over a can of Sterno? Why not grab some of those instead of all that bread and milk? Or canned fruit. Or packaged nuts. Or granola bars, for cryin' out loud. Something you can actually live on for a day or two. I saw a picture online of some guys lining up with beer and chips. Great idea if you like warm beer. No power, remember? Again, I guess you could just slip some Buds in a snowbank, but really........
Old habits die hard, and that's really all it is. There's no logical reason whatsoever for terrorizing grocery store clerks and herniating bread and milk deliverymen other than the fact that your mama did it and your grandmama did it and your great-grandmama did it, and so on. It's time to break the cycle. Get therapy if you need to, but stop the bread and milk madness!
I gotta go now. My wife just got home with groceries........including a gallon of milk......and I've got a loaf of bread in the oven.