I don’t need a lot. My personal shopping for the week would probably not half-fill a basket at the supermarket, let alone a trolley. I usually pick up what I need at a ‘corner shop’ and seldom have more than a day or two’s food in the pantry. The dog eats better, though, so every so often, a visit to the big store becomes a necessity to which I strongly object at the best of times.
Sunday was not the best of times.
The roads were all unusually empty. Sunday retail therapy seems to have become a family outing for many and the roads are often busier than during the week. I thought that perhaps people were staying home to avoid possible infection, rather than hitting the shops.
Apparently not. They were all at the supermarket.
It took ages to find a parking spot, then armed with my empty basket, I joined the jostling throng. I have never seen anything like it… not even in the run-up to Christmas, when queues can stretch down the aisles. The store was heaving with people, piling trolleys high with multiple packs of anything they could get their hands on. Many of the shelves were completely empty, arguments were breaking out, staff were looking haggard and harried as siege mentality took hold and people thought only of their own needs.
I overheard one conversation between a couple shopping, each with a trolley of their own, gloating over the fact that they had managed to get twice as many of the items in short supply as they would have done had they shopped together as usual. I also saw an elderly lady, standing bewildered and in tears in one aisle where all the shelves had been emptied.
It is natural to try to protect yourself and your family when you feel under threat and between the measures that governments are putting in place across the world and the media coverage, panic seems to be setting in for an awful lot of people. Panic is a fear reaction and making sure you have more than enough for your potential needs is one way in which you might wrest back at least a semblance of control over events beyond your reach… even if that sense of control is only an illusion. What shocked me the most, though, was the utter lack of logic.
It may be sensible to ensure you have enough supplies to wait out a week or two of self-isolation, though most supermarkets do offer a delivery service these days. But, if you are trying to avoid the spread of infection, is it really a good idea to take the whole family shopping, filling the store to bursting point, so that someone can push an extra trolley load while potentially picking up the very infection you are trying to avoid? Is there any point at all in the closure of schools or the cancellation of mass gatherings if whole families are going to be indiscriminately exposed to unknown dangers, just so that they can buy an extra tin of beans or packet of pasta?
I had to wonder, too, how many had thought to check with elderly or infirm neighbours who are most at risk to see if they needed anything… there did not seem to be any evidence of concern for others in the mad dash to grab as much as possible from the fast-emptying displays. Oddly, though, there seemed to be no shortage of soap on the shelves… and the donation baskets for the food banks were most noticeable by their absence.
I was determined not to jump on the bandwagon and write about the current pandemic. But the display of brutish, herd mentality that I witnessed today shocked me to the core.
It is not the whole story though. There are many who are looking out for others, keeping an eye on vulnerable neighbours, or setting up initiatives to ensure that those who will struggle most get a little help and support. I would like to believe that these people form the majority… I certainly hope so, for if what I saw today is an example of humanity’s response to crisis, then we have completely lost our way.