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Stockpiling: is it justified?

We live in unprecedented times. But the world has seen pandemics before, so what makes the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak so different?

For one thing, with social media playing such a major part in everyday life, people can follow how the pandemic unfolds on a timely, minute-by-minute basis. On the one hand, this has been great for keeping people connected during self-isolation, whilst also allowing people to stay up-to-date with the latest advice. On the other hand, social media platforms can act as a breeding ground for disinformation, mistruths and public anxiety.

Across the EU, panic-buying has set in over fears of food shortages as nations close their borders. What started as sensible stockpiling seems to have spiralled into chaotic buying. Meanwhile, images of empty shelves in supermarkets litter social media, fuelling fears and exacerbating this issue in a positive feedback cycle.

As a result, many countries, from Lithuania to the UK, have experienced rising food prices. Moreover, food banks are experiencing a shortage of donations. As the manager of one foodbank in the UK put it,

“The items people stockpile are the items we hand out, and the most vulnerable people we help are not able to stockpile” (Broughton, 2020, cited in British Broadcasting Service, 2020a).

The pressure on food banks is also likely to mount, not only because of increasing illness leading to staff shortages, but also as a result of growing demand as businesses collapse and people lose their jobs.

In response, many governments have put wage package schemes in place, whilst some shall support businesses which promise to keep their staff employed. Yet, the unsustainable trend of panic-buying continues to threaten the health of those who rely on food banks today.

However, both governments and supermarkets assure us that it doesn’t have to be this way; so long as everyone shops responsibly, there is, and there will continue to be, enough food to go around.

Now of course, different people have different ideas about what ‘responsible’ food shopping looks like. For me, I plan on continuing to buy my food as normal, whilst building up a small stockpile in case I suddenly have to take stricter self-isolating measures. This stockpile should last me just over a week, and is based on advice I have found online in my home country (British Broadcasting Service, 2020b; Ritschel, 2020). Therefore, I encourage you to do a bit of research to see what the advice is where you live, keeping an eye out for credible and accurate sources as you go along.

One thing is for sure, all of this self-isolating has given me a lot of time to think. And I suppose, one of the reasons this pandemic feels so extraordinarily strange compared to those in the past is the fact that we are actually living through a major response. Right here, right now, people are responding to an unsustainable crisis. In times like these, we come face to face with the reality of history unfolding around us, and we realise that the future is still unwritten. There is still hope of a brighter, more sustainable future. Once we have passed the worst of it, let us use this experience to hold our governments to account for their pledges for stronger climate action.

More immediately, this pandemic has served as a shock reminder to me of the failure of our society to meet everyone’s needs. COVID-19 can infect anyone, no matter their race, gender or socio-economic background. Yet, those who are homeless, reliant on foodbanks or have insecure jobs, often for reasons beyond their control, are possible the most vulnerable to the wider effects of this disease.

Nevertheless, the future is unwritten. We as individuals can actively make decisions to reduce the extent of our stockpiling and shop more responsibly. We can also continue to donate to local foodbanks, perhaps even offering them our support if they are suffering from staff shortages. Indeed if we are to foster a more resilient society in the face of COVID-19, we must now exhibit the best of morality.

References

British Broadcasting Service. 2020a. Coronavirus stockpiling ‘will hit vulnerable’, says foodbank boss. British Broadcasting Service News. [Online]. 13 March. [Accessed 24 March 2020]. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-51856592.

British Broadcasting Service. 2020b. Coronavirus: What are shops doing about stockpiling?. British Broadcasting Service News. [Online]. 22 March. [Accessed 24 March 2020]. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-51737030.

Ritschel, C. 2020. Coronavirus: people are ‘doomsday’ stockpiling – but should you be?. The Independent. [Online]. 02 March. [Accessed 24 March 2020]. Available from: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/coronavirus-stockpiling-panic-buying-food-supplies-canned-sanitiser-covid19-a9370921.html.