Buying Groceries

Scottsboro resident Spencer Dudley waited until the initial bread and milk panic was over to buy his regular groceries at Piggly Wiggly.

Whether they are secured via a frantic dash to the grocery store or grabbed in the middle of the night from the corner convenience store, if snow and ice are in the forecast, so are bread and milk.

If you are among the people who have ever asked, ‘why?’ it may surprise you to know there are many theories out there ranging from the historical to the psychological to the downright comical.

Thanks to the Internet, all of them are as easy to peruse as any dairy or bread aisle – easier, if you take into account the number of arms and elbows you may encounter when the ‘panic’ is at its peak.

Historically, the bread and milk craze is often attributed to a 1978 New England blizzard that trapped people in their homes for weeks. Another dates back to the 1950s and happened in Pittsburgh when a record-breaking three feet of snow fell on the city within two days - during a bread and milk shortage.

Psychologically speaking, Paul Farhi, of The Washington Post, printed his theory as follows:

“Bread is the host, the staff of life, a palpable object of survival. Milk is a no-brainer, too – it's the sustenance that a mother provides an infant, a biblical promise ("a land flowing with milk and honey"), a smooth and nutritious foodstuff (except for the lactose-intolerant).”

Working along the same lines, the site al.com reports that “a writer for HowStuffWorks.com interviewed a couple of psychologists about what the writer termed: ‘The compulsive desire to stockpile perishables.’"

Psychotherapist Lisa Brateman told the reporter: “The thought to get milk before a storm is followed by the action or compulsion to go out and stockpile it. In one way or another, 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.”

But buying tins of deviled ham and Vienna (or Vy-eena if you’re Southern) sausages sends the message that you think the storm may trap you in your house for an extended period while perishables are the epitome of optimism.

Licensed clinical psychologist Judy Rosenberg said: "Buying perishables is like saying, 'the storm will be over soon and I won't be stuck in this situation for long.’”

Even the humor often has a psychological taint. Most jokes are similar to the one about the woman who cut the ends of a ham off each time she cooked one just because her momma did it.

As it turned out, her momma did it simply because her pan was too small.

So which is it: historical, psychological or comical?

Much like how many licks it takes to get to the center of a ‘Tootsie Pop,’ the world may never know.

Local grocery store manager Chris Cooper, of Piggly Wiggly in Scottsboro, appreciates the extra business the bread and milk craze brings but admits he, too, is a little mystified by it - even after 20-plus years in the business.

“I don’t really know why they do it,” he said. “But people come in and buy five or six loaves of bread at a time. I wonder what they are going to do with all that bread, and everybody gets milk. I guess they think they are going to run out.”

Because of all the stockpiling, some grocery stores actually run out.

During the most recent forecast, Piggly Wiggly was not one of them.

“The way (the forecast) hit,” Cooper said, “we didn’t know it was coming, but we did fine. I had ordered extra bread, so I was real lucky. We had plenty for everyone.”

Piggly Wiggly customer Spencer Dudley sees the humor in the panic.

“I think it’s done by the bread and milk companies,” he said with a laugh. “If they get low on money, they just send out a bad weather report and make a fortune.”

Customer Sandi Ratze also laughs.

“I think its funny,” she said. “Every time they broadcast bad weather, everyone runs out to get bread and milk like they’ve never had it. I’m from Illinois, so it doesn’t affect me. If bad weather comes, I just get in my car and drive to the store.”

On the other hand, her friend, Glenda Cushen, has lived in Jackson County all of her life and sees the wisdom in being prepared.

“I try to tell her it’s smart,” she said. “I don’t just get bread and milk, I try to think of other stuff I’ll need in case the power goes off.”

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