Many people keep stockpiles of food and other essentials in their home these days. But when is enough enough? At what point does food stockpiling turn into food hoarding behaviour?
Food hoarding behaviour is a recognized mental health disorder. It happens when a person habitually buys more food than they need and refuses to let it go, even if it’s well past its expiry date.
I’ve worked with clients who have accumulated stores of dried foods in their pantry that are over 40 years old. They have frozen food with so much freezer burn they can no longer tell what foodstuff it once was. They have food in cans that have rusted so much you can’t read the label.
‘Frozen and canned food never goes off’, they cheerily assure me, to justify not letting it go. They are partly correct. As long as frozen food remains frozen, it can still be eaten without causing harm. The same goes for canned food, providing the can isn’t rusted, dented or swelling. But after 3-6 months for frozen food and 2-5 years for canned food, most of its nutritional value will have been lost. The truth is that they might as well eat cardboard for all the good it will do them.
Food hoarding has deep-seated causes that need to be sourced and worked through in order for the person to feel safe to change their behaviour. Expert professional help is usually needed.
Food stockpiling can turn into food hoarding, but it starts out very differently. There are three main reasons why people stockpile food:
Long-term stockpilers prepare for emergencies far in advance and amass great quantities of everything. The degree to which they do this can range from sensible precautions to the full-blown obsession of doomsday preppers. They generally have a system of methodically consuming and replacing the food they store in order to keep it in-date as much as they can.
Emergency stockpilers race to the supermarkets at the first sign of trouble to stock up on whatever they need and strip the shelves bare. They are usually happy to donate excess food to charities after their anxiety has subsided because they realize it will go to waste if they don’t give it away.
Reasonable stockpilers buy in a bit more than usual in situations such as the current pandemic. They make sure they have enough to be self-sufficient in case of lockdown, but not so much that anything goes to waste.
How to get the right balance
The part of our brain that’s concerned with survival is the limbic system, also known as the “reptile brain”. It takes care of vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance. It also kicks in big time if our safety feels threatened. When you hear of two people getting into an ugly brawl in a supermarket aisle over the last pack of toilet paper, it’s the animal part of them that has taken over.
But there’s more to panic buying than that. Fear and anxiety, fuelled to a large extent by media reporting, cam cause people to buy not just what they need but also things they don’t need at all. In the online clutter clearing courses I’ve taught this year, I’ve heard many reports of people buying far more food than they can possibly keep in their pantry, with the result that it is now stashed in corridors and other nooks and crannies of their homes. ‘Shopping madness took me over,’ they often say, regretting how much money they spent and the storage problem they have created for themselves.
The trick is to get the right balance. Have enough food for your own needs and extra stocks of non-perishable items so that you’re prepared for a period of lockdown or self-isolation. But resist the urge to buy so much that it creates a clutter problem in your home or deprives others of food. Above all, don’t let food stockpiling turn into food hoarding. If it starts to get out of hand, make a deal with yourself to not go shopping again until you’ve eaten your way through your existing food stocks and are down to only a few days of supplies.
Copyright © Karen Kingston 2020
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