Leave Safeway alone please; they’ve been through enough

April 1, 2020 — by Allen Chen

As the quarantine enters its midlife crisis and the not-really-novelty of staying at home all day and actively avoiding social interactions begins to stale, you might be tempted to don a mask and head down to our local Safeway for some sushi.

Frankly, don’t. It’s important during this period of uncertainty to stay away from others as possible. Flatten that curve, folks. But if you decide to go against that advice, you might find something at Safeway that reminds you of an elementary school math problem.

Fred gets 40 boxes of oranges at the store. Then, Fred buys 20 more boxes. How many boxes does he have?

Too many, and none are left for Jane or Sally or anyone else.

Unless you are a juice manufacturer, please, do not buy that many oranges at a time. In fact, please, do not buy that many of anything at a time, especially perishables. There’s no indication that food supply chains might suddenly stop anytime soon, so there’s no need to get into the apocalypse mindset just yet. Buying out the stock at Walmart makes the overall crisis even worse. Some stores have started limiting purchases, and I can’t even blame them for it.

The reason that people panic and buy entire shelves of items is that they see empty shelves from other people panicking and buying entire shelves of items. It’s a positive feedback loop, when people fear a shortage, they end up creating the shortage. The only way out is if no one hoards to begin with.

As the hoarding continues, those who didn’t manage to grab the things they need only suffer more and more, while the hoarders only see marginal benefits or even see their unneeded food rot.

Or look at the toilet paper situation right now. Pretty soon, we’ll have people on street corners dealing packets of Charmin Ultra Soft for $20 apiece because a few people were panicking and bought enough to last them until the real apocalypse.

Although I can appreciate a metaphor for the failures of depending on volunteerism, I would much rather it stay in fictional form. I would also like it if it didn’t come with the additional side effect of forcing me to ration out my toilet paper square by square.

So yeah, no matter how tempting it is to fall into panic mode and pick up enough cans of Pringles to live comfortably as a hermit for the next 50 years, please think of all the other people who also want Pringles in these trying times. Would you deprive someone of their Sour Cream and Onion Pringles? Could you really look someone in their eyes and snatch that long, impractical tube out of their hands?

So, buy what you need, and not any more. It won’t be the end of the world, but only as long as no one shops like it is.