The real reason we stock up on milk, bread before a storm

Empty dairy shelves in an Atlanta supermarket.

Empty dairy shelves in an Atlanta supermarket.  (AP Photo)

As winter dumps a messy mix around the country, many grocery stores have already sold out of bread and milk --typical purchases in times of storm pandemonium.

These perishables, including toilet paper --which doesn't go bad but does run out--has an interesting history.

According to, New Englanders can take credit for the tradition of purchasing of milk and break prior to a storm.  “It was the monumental blizzard in 1978 that trapped many in homes for weeks that gets at least some credit for the current tradition,” the site reported.

Last November, Virginia Montanez, a writer for Pittsburgh Magazine discovered an article from Nov. 24, 1950 that detailed milk shortage brought on by a devastating winter storm. Some markets also reportedly resorted to rationing bread due to the storm that dumped almost three feet of snow. The incident had lasting ramifications for pre-storm rituals.

Montanez also discovered a line in the story that she believes references toilet paper, noting that customers were advised to “buy what the need” prior to the storm. Perhaps back then such items of hygiene weren’t usually called out.

"I don't know about you, but when I'm listing the things we NEED, if we're going to be snowed in for the next few days, toilet paper is damn sure going to be one of them," Montanez wrote.

But think about it. Milk and bread?  What are people making?  French toast?  

Not only are milk and bread perishable items --people seem to give into the unavoidable urge to stock up on these --buying way more than they can eat.  

These compulsive purchases aren't always logical says psychotherapists. 

"The thought to get milk before a storm is followed by the action or compulsion to go out and stockpile it. In one way or another, we spend a lot of time and energy trying to feel in control, and buying things you might throw out still gives the person a sense of control in an uncontrollable situation,"  Lisa Brateman, a New York City-based psychotherapist to HowStuffWorks.

The non perishables sends the message that you expect the storm to keep you homebound for an extended period. Although practical, non-perishables are a psychological admission that you've surrendered to waiting out the storm and its aftermath; perishables are about optimism.

As the Northeast gears up for the third winter storm of 2015, it might not be uncommon see to come across scenes like these in your local grocery store: