Everyone jokes about Arkansas and our tendency to buy bread, eggs and milk whenever a bad snow storm is predicted. It’s not just a joke, it is a fact of life here in Arkansas. Whenever we have a prediction of winter weather, the bread section of the store will be quickly emptied by worried customers.
It’s not just an Arkansas thing. Today, it’s a tradition in most of the states that don’t often get snow and ice. Accuweather says a storm from New England in 1978 started the tradition. That blizzard trapped New Englanders in their homes for weeks. Most of our winter storms don’t last that long. Even if they did, items like bread and milk make those more experienced with winter weather scratch their heads in disbelief, “Are those really smart purchases? What are you doing, making French toast?”
Our Northern friends are probably right. Perishable foods aren’t a good idea. If we lose power, the eggs and milk will be ruined. You can’t cook an egg without power anyway (unless you have a gas stove). The bread is probably ok, as long as you have some non-perishables like peanut butter or canned tuna to give it some added nutrients, but do you really need three loaves?
A peanut butter sandwich is a healthy meal you can make without any appliances, but there rarely is a run on peanut butter, canned soup or canned goods. Those would be smart purchases before the emergence of a storm. Those items last a long time, are nutrient packed and easy to prepare without power. It seems like maybe we haven’t thought our winter weather preparations out.
So, why do we buy bread, milk and eggs? Why we buy the bread and milk has deep psychological roots.
Our Optimism Bias
Howstuffworks suggests that human beings’ tendency towards optimism is the reason we buy perishables instead of non-perishables. Buying bread and milk helps our subconsciously reinforced belief that the power won’t be out for long. The storm won’t last for long. We’re going to be okay in just a few days.
If we stockpiled canned goods, bottled water and other non-perishables, we would be signaling that we expected to be home bound for a while. The human brain isn’t usually geared that way.
According to Howstuffworks, we tend to buy more than we need because we subconsciously want to be able to give assistance to others. If I have three loaves of bread, I could loan out a few slices to a neighbor in need who couldn’t get to the store.
Comfort and Routine
Personally, I think we buy bread and milk because our parents did, their parents did and so forth. It’s a tradition. Most people don’t think much about it. I asked a lot of people why they were buying milk and bread, and most really didn’t have much of an answer. Many just said, “It’s going to snow.”
We’re used to having bread and milk. It’s comforting to know you have access to these staples, even if you can’t get out of the house. We know in Arkansas, if snow is coming, we won’t have access to them.
On the other hand, the major reason we won’t have access is all the attention bread and milk get in winter weather. The “legend” causes the shortage. Many people responded to the “Why do you buy bread and milk?” question with answers like, “The stores will be out of for days, even after the weather. People buy it all up. I might as well get it now!” Some of the shortage is caused by people buying it only because they fear a shortage.
A Real Emergency Prep List
The CDC has a great real emergency prep list if you’re looking to stockpile for winter weather and power outages.