The Hunker Mindset

Drew Harwell never joins the bread and milk frenzy:

Everyone’s shopping list is different — toilet paper, eggs and booze fill many carts — but bread and milk stand out as long-time staples of the panicking pre-storm bustle. A report from Pittsburgh during “The Big Snow” of 1950 said that milk “was the one shortage that has hit all sections,” and that bread was being “doled out” in some grocery stores, a Pittsburgh Magazine writer found last year.

It’s not just that bread and milk work poorly as emergency rations, critics say; they don’t even work well with themselves. Twitter users have even criticized the un-versatility of the combo with a hashtag called #milksandwiches.

A more reasonable alternative?

Bottled water’s not a bad choice. Neither are foods with more nutrients or longer shelf lives: canned goods like tuna, vegetables or soup; peanut butter and crackers; nuts, trail mixes or granola bars. They may break the routine or give less of a feeling of control. But at least you’ll have something to eat.

Daniel Engber tries to diagnose the urge people feel to panic-shop:

[T]his is a different kind of frenzied state than you’d find during a genuine catastrophe—less frightened than nervously excited, not so much survivalist as shopaholic. In fact there’s a name for such behavior, which takes prudence as a beard for gluttony. The word is hunkering, in the specifically American sense of digging in and taking shelter. It’s the anxious form of self-indulgence, where fear is fuel to make us cozy. The end is nigh let’s eat!

Official weather warnings feed this hunker culture. They talk in terms of quantity, not quality—an implicit exhortation to go shopping. Meteorologists say that a crippling and historic storm will dump several feet of snow or more. “More”—that’s what drives the hunkered mind: The weather will be so excessive, with so much snow on top of snow, that we should take excessive action. Politicians gin up excessive numbers, the bigger the better: We’ve got 700 pieces of equipment at the ready, says Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh, and more than 35,000 tons of salt. On Sunday, New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio rallied local hunkerers with a call for immoderation: “Whatever safety precautions you take in advance of a storm,” he said, “take even more.”

Got that? It doesn’t matter what you do, exactly, as long as you do as much of it as possible.