Opinion: Put the toilet paper down! A note on panic buying from the family health teams’ dietitian

As the Manitoulin Island family health team dietitian, I can’t help but notice an alarming trend happening right in our very own towns. I’ve had too many clients express to me they’re worried they won’t be able to access food and household supplies such as cleaning products. This is an unprecedented concern – and what is the cause? Panic buying. Panic buying is when people buy much larger volumes of products than they ever normally would due to fear of a disaster. This has been displayed on our store shelves in the past couple weeks. Panic buying feeds off of itself, people see an empty shelf and it feeds into their pre-existing sense of fear or anxiety and they then buy far more than they normally would to help ease that anxiety. 

You may ask, “why is this an alarming trend?” – because it leaves some of our most vulnerable community members out in the cold. The young parent waiting on their government support cheque to come in before going shopping, the nurse or doctor working long shifts to keep us all healthy who arrive to a store full of empty shelves, or the person living on a small or fixed income who can’t afford to buy mass amounts of groceries at one time. We are a community and in times of difficulty such as this it is imperative that we come together and support one another and emptying the grocery store shelves is a far cry from that. The young parent should not be left unable to buy diapers for their baby, nor the senior living on a pension be unable to find any bread in the whole grocery store. Those heart-breaking realities should not exist. 

Since the root of panic buying is fear and anxiety, I want to take a moment to set your mind at ease regarding our food supply. Good sources still say our food supply is secure and grocery shelves will be restocked shortly. Ontario has a secure food supply chain. The shelves are not empty due to lack of supply but due to unprecedented purchasing patterns. To quote our national minster of health Patty Hajdu, “I’ve been saddened by media reports of panic buying in Canada. Have enough supplies for a possible 14-day self-isolation, but think of your neighbours and only buy what you need. Be kind to one another.” 

The government of Canada has advised against panic buying and only supports stocking up on 14 day’s worth of food and household supplies (cleaning supplies, paper products and sanitary products). There is a fine balance between panic buying and a sensible stock up of shelf stable goods and longer-lasting produce etc. 

The reasoning for stocking up a bit on such goods is not just in case you have to self-quarantine for 14 days. It is also so that you have some food reserves and can stay home rather than go out to shop should the virus spread more locally. Having food at home means you do not need to hinder your ability to practice social distancing by going to the grocery store. Some products to purchase so that you have a good 14 day supply may include frozen vegetables and fruits, dried pastas and sauces, canned or dried beans peas and lentils, tinned meats and fish, dried grains (quinoa, rice, barley), and perhaps a few loaves of bread to freeze. You may also wish to purchase an extra package or two of paper products, sanitary products or diapers if you have a child that needs them. You may also wish to freeze a few extra servings of meats or poultry and to purchase some longer lasting items such as apples, cabbage and eggs. But none of these ideas should result in overflowing grocery carts and empty shelves. 

So you may be asking, ‘what can I do about this?’ Well there are many things you could do. If you’re at the store and are purchasing groceries for yourself, if you’re able consider buying an extra tin of tuna, a jar of peanut butter, a bag of rice, cereal, toilet paper—if there is any—drop it off in the food bank donation bin. These bins are available in a few stores across the Island. If we all took that simple step it could really help those who find themselves unable to access food at this time. Let that sink in for a minute—unable to access food—that’s not okay. The other challenge we may run into is completely empty shelves resultant of panic buying so to those of you who may have a large stock pile of paper products or pantry items, please take this opportunity to share with those who are not so fortunate. 

I implore you, please consider your neighbour who may not have the resources to stock up at this time. At the very least, if you already have a stockpile of paper products at home – put the toilet paper down, leave it for someone else. Stay healthy, stay kind.

Your friendly neighbourhood dietitian,

Nola Thompson, RD

Manitoulin’s family health teams