Stocking up on eggs is no great vice because they will last quite a while. If it takes you several weeks to eat a dozen, that’s no big deal. Eggs can safely be consumed for three to four weeks after the date stamped on the carton, but only if they are kept properly refrigerated. In a severe winter storm, many folks lose power, and along with it the use of every appliance in the kitchen. So now you have a couple of dozen eggs that are perishable at room temperature, and you have no way of cooking them. Face it, no one but bodybuilders eat raw eggs. Even Sly Stallone only did it that once for the famous scene in Rocky. You’d be hard pressed to name a more useless survival food than eggs.
Someone will of course claim that they could cook eggs over an open fire in the fireplace. Which, if you’ve ever tried to hold a pan over an open flame, is damn near impossible. You’d have much better luck with camp-fire friendly foods like marshmallows and hot dogs that can be cooked at the end of a long stick, keeping your hands a safe distance from the fire. I love S’mores! Why doesn’t every winter storm trigger a mad rush to clean the store shelves of Hershey bars, marshmallows and graham crackers? And don’t forget the hot dogs, which may be as perfect a survival food as eggs are useless. Hot dogs are fully cooked and ready to eat right out of the package, and if you are a procrastinator like me, by the time you make it to the bread aisle there won’t be any sliced bread left-Just hot dog buns, bagels, English muffins and the like. My local grocery actually had a few packages of Indian naan left on the bread aisle after the storm troopers had come through on their annual blitzkreig.
The presence of the naan alongside a couple of lonely packages of bagles and English muffins made me remember a time when these choices would not have existed. When I was a kid, in the 1960s and 1970s, people in Birmingham exhibited this same storm hoarder mania but left completely bare shelves. Back then there were no focaccia or pita pockets to pass over. I remember when my Mom first brought home a package of English muffins. My sister and I had never seen one before. I know it’s hard to believe there was a time before the Egg McMuffin. The shape, texture and taste made English muffins and jam a breakfast favorite at our house for the better part of a year. But eventually the newest thing grows familiar, and you purchase a package that no one finishes before the last couple of muffins grow a surface mold and have to be thrown away. A few years later we danced the same program when bagels were introduced to supermarkets.
We really are spoiled by the number of exotic choices offered at today’s grocery stores. I am under 50, so I have never known life before the self-serve supermarket, but there are probably many folks reading this who can remember a time before the wire push buggy existed, when you handed your grocery list to a clerk who gathered all your items together from the shelves. In those days if your list said “bread” you’d probably be making an additional stop at the bakery which was an entirely different business from your grocer. Ever wonder about the expression, “the greatest thing since sliced bread?” It’s because the introduction of pre-sliced bread onto grocery shelves in the 1930s and 1940s was considered an amazing, time-saving breakthrough.
My wife’s grandfather actually made his living as a milkman. She has vivid childhood memories of accompanying him on his route as a child. The milkman would sometimes deliver other perishable dairy items like butter, sour cream, ice cream or even eggs. Now that I think about it, from the milkman’s perspective the insane behavior of folks during winter storms starts to make a bit more sense. Such craziness probably dates from the era of the milkman but has oddly persisted into present day when no such job exists.
There was a time when supermarkets and groceries stocked enough staple products to supply their normal flow of customers who were not having any items home delivered. When a winter storm was predicted, the households that were normally serviced by a milkman feared that the service might be interrupted by icy roads. So right before the storm, folks would visit the supermarket and purchase a few items that they normally would not, meaning the grocery would sell out of these items due to unusual demand, and they would not be available for the store’s normal weekly shoppers. It would only take one or two winters for the non-milkman homes to learn that if they wanted to have milk, eggs, bread and such they had better stock up, regardless of whether they truly needed it or not. Before you could say freeze, an annual winter storm tradition of stripping the shelves bare had begun throughout the Deep South.
Towns north of us that get snow regularly don’t behave in our uniquely irrational manner. The reality is, Dixie almost never gets snowed in. Atlanta was frozen solid this time around for the better part of a week, but we never lost power, and my local supermarket was only closed for the Monday after the storm. By Tuesday morning they were open again for business. The shelves did look a bit less stocked than usual, but that was probably due not to any real shortages, but because they were operating with a skeleton crew. The guy that hand-makes the sushi made it in to work that day. My God, we are so spoiled!
Dee Marcus writes food-centric commentary for Birmingham Weekly. Please send your comments to email@example.com.