Of Course, You Should Stock Up On Toilet Paper

Of Course, You Should Stock Up On Toilet Paper

As I sit from the comfort of my home and watch news reports that show hundreds of people waiting for hours in lines at grocery stores, I have a profound sense of gratitude for the little supply of goods I have had in my pantry for the three weeks preceding this late panic. My stash is nothing to write home about, but it should be enough to last a couple weeks. This prescient preparation I owe to my instinct for imagining the worst-case scenario, as well as to paying attention to Tucker Carlson, who was reporting on the coming crisis in January, when almost no one else was.

Of all the hot items flying off the shelves into shoppers’ carts, the most lampooned purchase has been toilet paper. The memes are admittedly very funny, but social media comments indicate there is widespread bewilderment over people buying toilet paper. And it’s not just the folks on Facebook who don’t seem to understand the run on toilet paper.

Professional news media across the board have puzzled over the phenomenon. The news reporter I saw on CBS called the stocking up on toilet paper “inexplicable.” The expert physician on an MSNBC panel also couldn’t understand. She assured the audience that COVID-19 is not a GI illness — that is, this virus doesn’t cause diarrhea. She added that covering your face with toilet paper will not be a sufficient deterrent to the spread of the virus. The panel concluded that people must be stocking up on toilet paper out of fear and simply because they have seen other people buying it. Similarly, another expert chalked it up to “copycat behavior.” The media must not think very highly of the American public. I’m surprised no one suggested boredom must be forcing people to “TP” their neighbors’ yards.

Let me try to explain what seems so inexplicable to everyone.  First of all, full disclosure: I do have, along with other nonperishable goods, my own stockpile of toilet paper. Why? Was I misled into thinking the Wuhan coronavirus leads to more trips to the restroom? Am I placing toilet paper over my face to protect from germs? No.

I can’t speak for other shoppers. I can only explain my own logic, and the answer is simple. My family and I cannot go without toilet paper, not easily anyway. I’ll refrain from specific details, but toilet paper is one of perhaps only two items I must have at my house. I can think of no other item that, when I run out, I must replace immediately, before the end of the day. Milk, bread, sugar, meat, even hand sanitizer — I can go days without them. But, if I can help it at all, I will not go a day without toilet paper and coffee. So guess what the top two items on my stockpile grocery list were: toilet paper and coffee. Not water — it’s still coming through my tap, and I can boil it if necessary. Before canned goods, frozen foods, dog food, and even disinfectant, I buy toilet paper and coffee.

Do the experts on TV go without toilet paper? I assume that while they laugh it up, they have their own stash too. I don’t understand why they don’t understand.

It is the media who have told us to quarantine ourselves, to stay home for the good of public health. Fine. In my shopping cart, that preparation looks like two weeks’ worth of food (which comes in a wide variety of forms) and two weeks’ worth of toilet paper (which has basically one form). If you have two weeks of food — and you should — then you should also have at least two weeks of toilet paper. I hope I don’t have to explain the causal connection. Am I missing something?

Keith Stanglin is Professor of Historical Theology at Austin Graduate School of Theology in Austin, Texas, where he is the editor of the journal Christian Studies and is the coordinator of the master’s degree program. He has written or co-written eight books, including "Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace" (Oxford University Press, 2012) and "The Reformation to the Modern Church: A Reader in Christian Theology" (Fortress Press, 2014). His most recent book is "The Letter and Spirit of Biblical Interpretation: From the Early Church to Modern Practice" (Baker Academic, 2018).
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