Panic buying is a common human response to crisis, which is not caused by food shortage per se, but rather by fear. The fear of scarcity is self-fulfilling, because the more people stockpile, the more others are infected by the panic and therefore the faster the food runs out.

The human relationship with food is hardly rational and as the Harvard epidemiologist Karestan Koenen says, “Food buying helps us feel in control”.

It is estimated that in just 3 weeks consumer stockpiling has resulted in £1 billion more food in people’s houses. Consumer stockpiling means that there is not enough left for others and also if the stockpiled food is not eaten, then it will convert to considerable amounts of food waste.

For the last 50 years or so, many well-off families did not worry too much about food waste as they did not experience food shortages like the wartime generation. The rich societies of today have become accustomed to the freedom and abundance when it comes to food, being able to eat what they want and when they want. Many do not keep track of seasonality, because, for example fresh blueberries can be shipped in regardless of the month. The situation that has resulted from Covid19 has changed the assumptions we make about food.

On the other hand, the less well-off part of the UK population has become more vulnerable, due to a combination of self-isolation, scattered food availability and drops in income. This has resulted in a surge of food bank visitors. The Trussell Trust is an NGO and charity that works at a national level with supermarkets to secure corporate donations. They are working together with most of the large chains, who have announced substantial support packages. Appropriate networks and volunteers however will be needed to reach individual food banks and to compensate for the drop of individual donations experienced in the last few weeks.

The article above has been written by Dr Simona Grasso and It is an extract from the free MOOC ‘Panic-Buying During Crisis: How Do Food Supply Chains Cope?’

The course now available here: