When is Enough, Enough?

In his 2006 dystopian novel “The Road,” Cormac McCarthy wrote of a post-apocalyptic world in which the few remaining people on the planet, including the father and son who are the main characters, struggle mightily to stay alive. It’s one of the bleakest, darkest, most disturbing books I’ve ever read.

If those desperate folks were in line at Kroger with their buggies piled high in anticipation of bad weather, I would understand. I wouldn’t think them greedy or selfish or even downright silly. What I don’t understand is why well-fed people who likely have enough food at home to stave off starvation go bonkers when forecasters predict snow. Snow that will likely be gone in a matter of hours or that might not materialize at all. It happened again last weekend, when meteorologists warned that middle Tennessee could get several inches of the white stuff. Pictures posted on social media showed impossibly long lines at grocery store check-outs. Food shelves were stripped clean.

Hoarding of anything, food or otherwise, has always fascinated me. I’ve watched countless episodes of the hit TV show “Hoarders,” trying to understand. Though both my parents lived through the Great Depression, neither was a hoarder. Perhaps that’s why I’m not one, either. But I know plenty of people for whom there’s no such thing as enough. People who buy too much “just in case.” People who take the motto “Be Prepared” to such extremes that they fill their living space and their credit cards to bursting.

I once knew a man who, every fall, baked loaf after loaf of pumpkin bread to give to his friends. One year, because of unfavorable growing conditions, there was a shortage of canned pumpkin. The man acted as though the world had stopped turning. The next year, when pumpkin was again plentiful, he bought many cases. So much pumpkin that he couldn’t possibly bake that much bread. So much pumpkin it filled his pantry and spilled out onto his kitchen counters. He still holds on to those cans of pumpkin, now long expired, for reasons I can’t understand and he can’t articulate.

Is that the unfortunate fate of most unnecessary food people buy when winter weather is predicted?

Truth be told, I have more food on hand than I really need. I keep several extra jars of peanut butter, which I rotate by eating the oldest first, in my cupboard. Just in case. A special kind of lemon juice that I like to squirt into my iced tea is sometimes hard to find, so I try to keep plenty on hand. And I keep a loaf of bread, a couple of pounds of browned ground beef and a shredded rotisserie chicken in my freezer most of the time.

In March of 2020, when Covid-19 became real, I went on a somewhat irrational buying spree at a remote Dollar General Store because I was too virus-fearful to shop at a big grocery store. I bought half a dozen Hot Pockets, two packages of off-brand hot dogs and some canned fruit cocktail, not because I like any of those things but because it was pretty much all the food left in the store and I remembered how things were in “The Road.” I also bought some Tylenol, the last remaining bottle of rubbing alcohol and a six-pack of ballpoint pens, because a writer writes, no matter what.

These days, I try to think differently. Despite supply chain issues, I don’t believe stores will run out of food or toilet paper, though I might not always get exactly what I want. I keep my refrigerator and freezer and pantry organized enough that I know what’s in them. And I remind myself, especially when snow is forecast, that there’s a fine line between being prepared and being downright silly.

(January 22, 2022)