Supermarket mayhem…

She was standing by her empty trolley, impeccably suited, subtly made-up & sleekly-coiffed, clutching her shopping list, with tears trickling slowly down her face. Our local W8rose had run clean out of pasta this morning; the shelf was utterly empty. And rice, and noodles, and tinned tomatoes & passata, corned beef & tuna, bread flour, yeast & sugar, all except the exotic, expensive varieties. To be honest, there were plenty of alternatives like bulgur wheat available, but rationality had fled and sheer blind panic set in. Her blank, tear-stained face will stay with me for a long time.

I’m not completely unsympathetic; poor woman, evidently nothing in her comfortable life had prepared her for this. And she may only have had an hour to “get everything in” before giving a vital presentation or chairing a meeting. The reality of being “let down” by one’s ubiquitous upmarket grocer brings home the reality that there is something going on just now that many people are somewhat poorly-prepared for.

One of my daughters works at another local supermarket which has been mobbed for the last couple of weeks. Regular customers who normally do a £100 weekly shop are spending £300-£400, ransacking the shelves of what they perceive to be store-cupboard staples, like crisps and energy bars. Out of curiosity, I looked up bulk noodle & rice supplies on Amaz0n, and watched the available deals vanish before my very eyes; I’d see a deal considerably less favourable than I’d find in our local oriental supermarket, click on another for comparison, go back to the first & find it had sold out, literally seconds after I first saw it.

I’m not worried for ourselves; for many years, I’ve been a “prepper” in the sense that I’ve kept a good store-cupboard & always had some non-perishable food & flavourings on hand that we could survive on for a number of days if for some reason, like having ‘flu, being snowed in, or having broken a leg, I couldn’t get out for a bit. That just seems like common sense to me. When something runs out in the main larder cupboard, I open the one in the store cupboard and make a note to buy another ASAP to replace it, making sure stuff is rotated and used up well before it’s best-before date when possible. It isn’t always possible, as demand fluctuates, but in general we don’t end up throwing stuff out, and sometimes it even saves us money. But that hasn’t stopped people gently laughing at my “Armageddon Cupboard”…

And that’s one of things distressing my daughter; knowing that a lot of the stuff that people are rushing out to buy will probably be wasted in the end, as they won’t have, or will run out of, the things that make bland staple carbs like rice & pasta interesting, or they just won’t need or use it at all until it’s out-of-date. Also that many people are buying much more than they could possibly need to last for a couple of weeks, because they’re used to daily or, at most, weekly shopping and have no idea how much stuff they actually get through. Not much thought is going into their panic-driven lists; they’re racing to snap up things that a) they don’t usually buy or use and b) there’s no known shortage of in this country, but that someone’s mentioned on Faceb00k.

People are getting left out. I’m not so worried for the lady crying in the pasta aisle, though that’s a shame. But for the pensioners who can only get there once a week, with just an hour before the bus back home leaves, who find the shelves empty. For the food-banks, whose donation boxes are conspicuously empty. For those elderly or disabled stuck at home, dependent on carers & meals-on-wheels deliverers who may themselves have to self-isolate. For those who have no storage, living in bedsits, or worse still, no home at all to keep stores or self-isolate in. And what about those on zero-hours contracts, who will have no money to pay the rent or buy food with if they need to take time off sick?

This is a mess. Those nominally in charge don’t appear to have a coherent plan of action & seem to be more invested in minimising economic damage than in making sure all of their citizens are as safe and as well as can be. They’re leaving it up to us to prepare ourselves, and not everyone is in a position to do that, or has the time or the skills, or even the inclination. And it’s up to the supermarkets to ration supplies or not, as they choose. If things do get really silly, all we can do is try to look after any vulnerable people we’re aware of, making sure they do have food to eat at least, even if it’s just a bag of tins (provided they have & can use a tin-opener; not everyone does or can) or packets left on the doorstep & a thumbs-up through the window. Phone your elderly relatives, if you can’t go & see them, so that at least they have a tiny bit of social contact, and phone them back every day if you’re the only voice outside the gogglebox that they’re hearing. Skype or FaceTime them, if they can manage that.

Oh, and please don’t bet your health, and everyone else’s, on it “not being any worse than the ‘flu”…

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