Empty Shelves: an Off-Grid Perspective

The way I live, preparedness is a normal part of life, but I’m not stockpiling medical crates or hording food. But that’s not the topic of this discussion, let’s talk a bit about grocery stores and coronavirus.

First off-and this is just for fun-how the name coronavirus attached itself to this bug that’s floating about threatening the world. When I searched wiki for coronavirus, I found that the name applies to any disease from another animal that suddenly infects humans. I think they were pretty specific about birds, too, but I don’t recall. So it’s like, we took this whole family of viruses and put their name on one contagion. That’s kinda funny.

Now to the point. There’s this habit of human nature to assume that evil people “out there” or “over there” are out to ruin the rest of us normal sane folk. People use the word “they” to denote persons who can’t be readily identified, but are blamed for the problems “we” face in everyday life.

When asked specifically, “they” can refer to other general categorizations that get us no closer to identification of a target or perpetrator, such as “the government,” “the military,” “those bureaucrats,” “those democrats,” “those republicans,” “welfare people,” “rich people,” take your pick.

We have a tendency of identifying a group that personifies the worst possible instance we can imagine of someone who may belong to such a group. Technically, they all fall into the same category, which can be summed up as “crazy.”

With COVID-19 on everyone’s mind (“everyone” is another faceless categorization, about halfway between “we” and “they”), “they” has quickly been summoned up to answer the question, “who’s taking all the food?” In short, they are.

Or are they?

When you walk into a supermarket (well, not this week aparently), you see walls and walls of stuff. Beer, food, gadgets, supplies, housewares, etc. Whatever you are shopping for. And there is tons of it! More than any sane person would possibly take home, even with all the annoying people about that are constantly in the way of your shopping cart. Picking up cans, looking at stuff, deciding, and those stocker people always taking up the whole aisle.

There’s people everywhere, and plenty for everyone, right? So when the shelves go empty, surely some people must have just gone berserk (I really don’t like this spelling, berserk should be spelled with a z instead of an s) and purchased up all the ramen and bread and toilet paper. Right?

I couldn’t find the right statistics from a reputable source (though I found a ton of useless statistics with a simple Google search), but I did come across hints that a store like Walmart serves about 3,000 to 8,000 people per week. That’s less than I would have thought. I usually stop there once per week to stock up on whatever I’m running low on around the house. My shopping patterns from a glance or much lower inventory than most, but I tend to buy bulk packs of stuff or several at once as needed. I have about 3 tubes of toothpaste right now, for instance, one of them open. When I open the last tube I’ll go bargain hunting for another 3-pack.

But let’s say for an instance I decided, okay, might get locked down, or maybe the local bigger town will lock everyone out, I guess that could happen for a week or two. Maybe the stores will close. Whatever. Not crazy thoughts, just random. So I, in my wisdom, decide it’s probably not a bad idea to beef up the stock around here. I’m only down to half a bulk bag of TP, so put one of those on the list. Maybe I’ll get my tooth paste early, put another backup shampoo in the bathroom, etc. That doesn’t sound crazy.

Now imagine that the geographic area that local walmart serves, probably around 30,000 people, get the same idea. Foot traffic goes up in the store, and they are suddenly running at 4-10 times their normal weekly customers. And people are buying just a tad more than they normally do, just more “one of these just in case’s” in the shopping cart.

Remember those annoying stocker people I mentioned (I’m not really annoyed by them, but it sounded funnier)? You see them pretty much every time you go in, right? Most of these big stores get deliveries almost daily. Some get several deliveries per day. The reason for that is to keep those shelves looking nice and full. If they were to miss a weeks worth of trucks they would run out of nearly everything without anyone “hording the goods.” They don’t need the help of upstart doomsday preppers to empty the shelves.

So, 4-10 weeks of stuff is being ordered in a week, and they probably have only enough on hand to last 4-5 days at their regular traffic. Sure, there will be a nut-job here or there that you spot walking out with every last AA battery on the shelf, that kind of thing does happen. But mostly it’s not the “crazy” people who are draining inventory, it’s the sudden flood of demand for a certain item or good.

I guess what I mean to say is, there’s plenty on everyone’s mind right now. While it’s fun to point and blame “crazy people” for stuff, it’s not always warranted. And if we seek to understand the underlying problems a bit better, then we will be better prepared in the long run. Walmart can’t suddenly summon 3 million more trucks, boost last year’s grain harvest, or turn off the cloudy weather. This is why I try to keep stock all the time. Even though I couldn’t buy my little noodle packs this week, I have enough on hand to last me for a minute. I’ll take that minute to look at the bigger picture. It reveals dangers of our society far more scary than any Chinese virus, and helps us to take preventative steps to avoid those risks.

After this is all over, maybe keep one extra bag of toilet paper around as a backup, or an extra bag of rice, or a few extra batteries. Most people, I think, tend to keep just enough stuff for the short future. Break that habit and keep enough for a week. When you’re down to six packs of mac ‘n cheese, then it’s time to buy some more, etc. You don’t need ready-made tubs of “survival food,” just a few extra groceries on hand, and most of the stuff doesn’t go bad for a long time. That actually doesn’t even matter if you rotate the stock in your house.

Maybe I’ll do a post on basic SHTF survival prepping skills later that won’t make you look like a crazy person, but will keep you well prepared for any short-term disaster that might come your way. Till then, I’ll bid you a good night and wishes that the corona bugs don’t bite.

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