Lines of frantic shoppers have mobbed grocery stores in Washington, D.C., after the National Weather Service gently advised residents on Wednesday that an intense weekend storm will pose “a threat to life and property” and impact “you, your family, and your community.”
Which led me to wonder: After people hear a message so ominous, and after reminders of their employers’ inclement-weather policies hit inboxes, what do they buy to prepare for spending a good deal of time indoors? I called up the managers of some grocery stores in D.C. to find out, and they all had more or less the same answer: bread, milk, and eggs. This holy trinity of winter-storm preparedness is not some quirk of the nation’s capital—bread, milk, and eggs are popular panic-buys everywhere from Knoxville to New England.
Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University, thinks that this might be the product of groupthink. “If we go somewhere and we see other people buying those particular things,” he says, “all of a sudden [we’re] even more interested in those [things].” One consumer psychologist quoted by Time has taken this a step further, speculating that “we are prewired to fight for food when we sense that resources are scarce.”
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