The Real Reason People Are Buying So Much Bread

As the coronavirus-panicked population continues to storm the grocery stores, one item that has been almost literally flying off the shelves is about as basic as it gets — good old bread, aka the staff of life. Why is it that any hint of disaster has us feeling the need to stock up on this one particular staple?

Well, it isn't just bread — bread is one-third of what The Atlantic calls the "holy trinity" of panic-shopping that also includes eggs and milk. This may lead some to speculate: Do panicked people feel a sudden craving for French toast? While some may, in fact, turn to this sticky-sweet comfort food, others are merely responding to a deep-seated psychological urge.

Stocking up on canned goods tends to have a kind of doomsday prepper feel to it, but buying bread has no such connotations. Instead, purchasing perishables "gives the person a sense of control in an uncontrollable situation," according to NYC psychotherapist Lisa Brateman (via How Stuff Works). Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist Judy Rosenberg, Ph.D. agrees that bread-buying is a way of helping us to reestablish some sense of life going as usual on despite all the craziness, saying, "Buying perishables and doing the 'normal routine' makes us feel safe and comfortable, even though circumstances are dangerous."

How to store all that bread

So what can you do if you've succumbed to pandemic panic and filled your cart with bread? Whether or not you're quarantined due to coronavirus, are you really going to be able to eat all that bread before it gets stale or moldy? It will as long as you take certain precautions to keep your bread fresh. For one thing, did you know that you really shouldn't be storing bread in the refrigerator? Yep, it turns out that refrigerating bread actually speeds up the process of its going stale. All the moisture from the bread's inside moves to its outside, making the interior tough while the crust gets limp and soggy.

Instead, what you should be doing is taking out any bread that you think you'll be able to eat in a few days and then wrapping that bread in plastic and storing it on the counter away from any direct sunlight. The rest of the bread? Freeze it. Bread stands up quite well to a sojourn in the freezer. Oh, and just so you'll know before your next panic bread-buying binge — the greatest thing since sliced bread is: unsliced bread. This stuff has a much longer shelf life.

What you should be buying instead of bread

While panic-buying is a very personal thing — maybe you're afraid of running out of M&M's, while your partner's in a tizzy about coffee creamer — there are certain staple items that it wouldn't hurt to have on hand while the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt life as we know it. The Los Angeles Times suggests that a selection of canned and frozen foods is always good to have on hand — although only purchase what you actually enjoy, since you don't want to be left with a crate of cream of kale soup that nobody's ever going to eat.

Other pantry staples that totally won't make you a prepper if you just want to keep a little extra on hand include rice, beans, and cereal. Bottled water may not be necessary, however. Even in countries hardest-hit by coronavirus, we didn't hear too many reports of water being shut off and the Environmental Protection Agency says that water supplies should not be affected, nor will they be infected. If you're more of a soda drinker, though, you can either take this time to kick the habit, or you might want to pick up a case or two. After all, some soda distribution has been affected by virus-mandated trade restrictions. Also, as the LA Times reminds us, even if we're self-quarantining, it doesn't mean we have to go out of our way to suffer. Go ahead and get some snack foods to see you through these troubled times.

What you can use if bread supplies run out

Should worst come to worst, and you're late to the bread buying party — oh no! shelves are bare! — remain calm. Try another aisle. How about tortillas? Are there any of those left in stock? You can always make wraps. Flour tortillas are traditional, but corn might make a tasty alternative. English muffin or bagel sammies are good, and hot dog or hamburger buns can be repurposed to house cold cuts or even peanut butter. Crackers are unconventional, but hey, you can experiment, might come up with something good. Or how about pizza crust? You could pick up some unbaked pizza dough and use it to make your own calzones. (Or strombolis. Whatever.)

Yet another alternative is to go the low-carb route and give keto-friendly lettuce wraps a try. Yes, lettuce is perishable, but this means it's unlikely to sell out, or at least should be back in stock before long since no one can hoard too many heads of Romaine unless they want a nasty brown mess on their hands or in their fridge.

You could always try making your own bread

Okay, so making your own bread isn't the easiest undertaking, but hey, look at it this way — what with schools and workplaces closing down, bars and restaurants shutting their doors, and events of all kinds being canceled, don't you now have a lot more time on your hands? Sure, you might make a few mistakes as you teach yourself the fine art of bread baking, but it's a good social distancing hobby, and one that's unlikely to have too many long-term repercussions. As a bonus, the Journal of Positive Psychology (and couldn't we all just use a little of that right now?) reports that cooking and baking are activities that can help to cheer you up (via Smithsonian Magazine).

Oh, and if you want to try bread making the quick and easy way — and on the cheap — you might want to hustle out to a thrift store before these all close, too. Secondhand stores are a great place to find slightly (or never) used bread machines since these were kind of like the air fryers or sous vide machines of the '90s — a must-have kitchen appliance that everybody wanted, but not all that many people actually used.