Saturday, February 15, 2014

Bread and milk! Milk and Bread!! Bread and milk! Milk and Bread!

As our area and perhaps your area hunker down for yet another batch of snow (I don't care what that big dot-com weather site says, winter storms don't have names unless they have high winds and are shaped like spirals) I'm seeing yet another batch of stories and posts about milk and bread. 

Lately it seems that most of the stories about milk and bread are not actually about people stocking up on milk and bread in advance of a storm but rather about people snarking on people stocking up on milk and bread.  Doubtless you've seen this Youtube video about the phenomenon:

In the past few years there have even been articles attempting to explain the run on milk and bread in advance of a storm.  This story ably, if uncritically, recounts some of the hypotheses.

These theories are bunk.  Bread as a symbol of the staff of life?  "The compulsive desire to stockpile perishables" as the subconscious desire to believe that the storm is transient?  Are these people insane?  Have they never actually been faced by a big storm approaching?

People are actually pretty rational most of the time and because of this the explanation is very simple.  Milk and bread are the things people will run out of if they can't get to the store for a few days.  People don't stock up on non-perishables because they already have a huge stock of them in the pantry.  They don't need canned soup or dry pasta and jarred sauce or even ground beef because they've already got enough in their kitchens to wait out a storm.  Milk and bread are highly perishible items which people buy frequently.  At any given moment, most people are almost out of milk and bread and they are planning to buy more within the next half a week or so. Provided with the knowledge that going to the grocery store may be impossible or even inconvenient for the next few days, they buy their stuff now instead of later. Most of those people also probably buy other things too, but they all buy different things.  You may low on canned soup, I may need some pasta, that guy over there may need to restock his beans and rice.  But we all need milk and bread because we all always need milk and bread. 

Life usually pretty simple and interpreting people's motives is also pretty simple if one merely assumes that other people are at least almost as smart as you are.  Unfortunately, common sense rarely makes for a good story or a good blog entry.


  1. Instead of becoming panicked about running out bread, why not just stock your pantry with the stuff from which to make bread? After all, if you're snowed in, you got plenty of time on your hands.

    1. That's a great snow-day project, particularly if there are kids around. My pre-snow list is pretty different from normal. Since we're a small household we've usually got a week's worth of bread and milk lying around. I buy things to restock my salsas. Dried and fresh peppers, tomatoes and onions, cilantro. etc.


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