You should be stockpiling food for Brexit

Intended Audience: People in the UK. If you are not in the UK this post is probably useless to you, though I suppose might be of academic interest.

Also this post assumes you have a reasonable degree of financial buffer to the point where spending a few hundred pounds now rather than later is not a great hardship (it does not assume that this is a small amount of money for you, only that you have it in savings and can move when you spend it around).

Epistemic Status: Fairly confident that you need to do this. Less confident in the specifics of my advice except in the sense that I am confident that following my advice will be dramatically better than doing nothing.

Attention Conservation Notice: If you’re already sold on stockpiling for Brexit, here’s the Amazon ideas list I put together based on my own planning. It’s far from perfect, but it’s reasonably good.


We’re now getting uncomfortably close to Brexit day. I do not know what is going to happen. I am hoping that there will be some only moderately awful resolution to it, but I am not optimistic on this front.

At any rate, even if we’re being optimistic, it is not implausible that we will crash out of the EU with no deal. Say, low single digit percentage chance. If that happens, the supply chain is going to be a mess for some months. Things will become substantially inconvenient to obtain – much of our supply chain is arranged on a just in time basis, in ways that are intimately dependent on international supplies, and with comparatively little warehousing in this country relative to demand.

That isn’t to say there would be no food. This isn’t a full on zombie apocalypse scenario. However, in this scenario we have to start planning on the assumption that you will go to the shops to get a thing and that thing won’t be there. This is very different from the world of easy abundance we currently live in where it’s considered a national crisis when it becomes a bit hard to find courgettes.

Another scenario is to consider is that if things get unpleasant, we’ll have a situation reminscient of the London riots – it’s not that you can’t leave the house, you’d just maybe… rather not1.

Additionally, even if things go less badly, transport and import logistics will become more complicated and more expensive, increasing the cost of food significantly.

Set against this is the fact that the cost of preparing for these scenarios is low, and in fact has something of a curb cut effect in that doing so actually makes your life somewhat easier – it’s useful to have a supply of staples available so that you don’t run out of things mid recipe, or for evenings where you can’t be bothered to go shopping, or many other things. It’s also typically cheaper to buy in bulk.

As a result, stockpiling a certain amount of food and other supplies is of relatively negligible cost if you can afford to pay more up front, and of extremely high benefit in a fairly plausible and imminent scenario. If you can do it, you should do it.

What to Stockpile

My general recommendation for food is to pick things that are high energy density, last well, and are tasty, but also to mostly buy things that you’ll happily get through in the hopefully more likely scenario that everything is mostly OK.

It’s also worth doing things like stocking up on frozen food as part of your normal shop (both veggies and meat that is suitable for home freezing if you eat meat), if you have the freezer capacity. The power will probably stay on, or at least be reliable enough that you can just keep your freezer shut when it’s off, and frozen is a great substitute or supplement for fresh food. I use a lot of it even during normal times and I can highly recommend it. You can and should also buy large bags of vegetables that store well – e.g. onions and potatoes will keep for a very long time if you have a cool, dry, place to store them.

Now would also be a good time to update your food storage options if they’re not already good – good tupperware, containers for dry food, etc. will make a large difference to how usable shopping in bulk is, and being able to store food once you’ve cooked it helps deal with an erratic food supply.

The need to stockpile doesn’t just apply to food: I think general household items items where you tend to get through them slowly are especially worth stockpiling. e.g. Soap (in all its forms) is also worth buying in bulk.

Definitely stock up on toilet paper. It’s one of those things that is currently trivial to obtain, and would be a literal pain in the ass to run out of. Apparently ours is mostly imported, or at least the raw materials of it are, and there isn’t a lot of local storage of it due to how bulky it is2, so it’s worth making sure you don’t run out.

It’s also very worth getting a buffer of any medicines you find essential (useful tip: The USA will happily sell you bottles of 1000 pills of ibuprofen. They’re great. If you’re visiting there or know anyone who is, bring some back. While you’re there, pick up some Naproxen, because we’ve got a national shortage even pre Brexit). If you have periods, ensuring you have an adequate supply of whatever you use to manage those is similarly important (I had overlooked this point until a friend reminded me of it). If you happen to get some of your regularly used medications from the internet now would be a very good time to put in an order. If you have prescriptions that need refilling, it might be worth talking to your GP about getting an extra month’s supply. Whether or not this works is a bit hit and miss unfortunately – if you have restricted or dangerous drugs, or an uncooperative GP, it might be an option. I don’t have any good advice at that point, sorry.

Birth control, condoms, etc. are also worth stocking up on. A lot of people have lives that assume easy access to these things, and it’s worth buffering against that not being the case.

Toiletries in general are worth making sure you have a decent buffer of – it’s really annoying to be out of tooth paste, and can have a disproportionately large impact on your mental and physical well being for how easy it is to safeguard against.

It’s also good to have spares of things that are likely to break. Extra USB cables, bike inner tubes, a spare can opener (although I tend to just buy ring pull cans) etc.

I’ve put together an Amazon idea list for this if you want a decent starting point based on my own planning.

Note that this does use my affiliate link – feel free to change it over to Smile if you want to give money to someone who isn’t me instead.

The food contents of that list are heavily biased towards things that are staples for my diet because I know which ones are good – I think these are all great things to have and I’d recommend them, but I’d also recommend stocking up on anything that you consider to be staples. Pasta, flour, etc. are all worth getting in large quantities if those are things you eat (I can’t eat wheat), as are things like sauces, jams, etc. It may also be worth getting powdered milk, but I don’t know what to recommend on that front. It’s also worth making sure you stock up on any spices that you use regularly and are running low on – they’re almost all imported and being able to make food tasty.

Some of the other items on the list are more suggestions for you to substitute your own version of it. e.g there’s gin on the list, because if this goes as badly as I expect then I’m really going to need a drink, but if you don’t like gin you should feel free to substitute your own spirits of choice. Similarly, the brands of toiletries on there are my own preferred ones. Yours may be diffferent.

Are you feeling lucky?

The basic logic of stockpiling for Brexit is that low but non-negligible probability but high consequence events are worth doing reasonable things to hedge against. I think stockpiling food, medicines, and anything you would normally regularly use, is a no brainer. Beyond that, it depends a bit on what you mean by “non-negligible probability”, “reasonable things”, and “high consequence”, and as a result you have to decide what your appetite for risk is, and what scenarios you could easily weather out without doing much preparation.

The outside scenarios all hinge on reliability of water, power, and internet, and other services that are essential for day to day life. Many of these may be disrupted due to shortages, import delays, and essential personnel either deciding to or being forced to leave. I think major issues with any of these are significantly less likely than problems with the food supply, but I don’t actually know enough to gauge how unlikely they are, and feel like it’s worth at least investing a little bit of effort into considering the problem.

There are a few mildly paranoid items on the Amazon list that are only useful in these scenarios. You may or may not want them depending on how you feel about risk and what your budget is.

I think water is probably worth preparing for a bit, which is why there are water purification tablets on the list. You probably won’t need water purification tablets. However the water supply chain actually involves a lot of chemical treatment that may be in short supply post-Brexit, so again it’s not totally implausible, and they’re incredibly cheap, last forever, and take up basically no room3. Set against this, not having access to clean drinking water is incredibly bad. The purification tablets seem like a safe bet to me.

The first aid kit and USB lantern are probably not necessary for Brexit per se, but they’re both compact and very useful to have around the house anyway. The power bank is useful to have in general and there are plausible-ish scenarios where you might have working mobile phone signal but erratic access power (e.g. if you have to travel).

The multivitamins are almost certainly useless (multivitamins definitely don’t work if your diet is adequate, and I’m not very clear how well they work if it’s not), but if there’s a shortage of fresh food I’m certainly going to start taking them.

The maps… well, I’m not going to claim that in 2019 it’s remotely useful to have a physical map given that Google maps exists, but knowing where things are is an incredibly important piece of information, and while I’m not expecting internet access to go down, I will feel more comfortable knowing that I can find my way around if it does.

Another thing that is probably not necessary but is of negligible cost and may be very valuable if things go poorly is cash. Cash is likely to be of use even if everything falls apart. I don’t really expect card payments to stop working, but there’s almost no downsides to just making sure you have say £100-200 available in cash instead of in your bank account as long as you have somewhere that is remotely safe to keep it.

An example of something that I’ve decided doesn’t match my risk profile is whether it’s worth getting a camping stove or similar. I just have no use case for one outside of Brexit and don’t think it’s worth the cost and space given that – I have a barbeque and I’ll stock up on fuel for that a bit, and much of the food I’ve got prepared can be eaten raw in a pinch (the rice and beans being the main ones that can’t). If you are otherwise inclined towards having a small camping stove and have been thinking about getting one, now would probably be a good time, and if you have one then it would be worth stocking up on some extra fuel. In general, if you like camping there are a bunch of other things it might make sense to get – e.g. a water filtration system, a solar powered phone charger. I’m not currently planning to get these things because they’d be a pure loss for me in the more likely scenario that things just go a bit badly.

When, How, How Much

When should you do all this? Now. If not now, certainly before the beginning of March.

We are getting extremely close to the point where it would be too late, and there will be a lot of panic buying at the last minute unless things get resolved much sooner than I expect. Buying now ensures that you will have things in plenty of time, and that when people panic buy the supplies available will have had time to adjust to demand. It helps you and others.

How can you fit it all? I’ve included plastic storage boxes in the Amazon list. They’re great and very stackable. I have a stack of them in my bedroom, and you can fit a lot of stuff in a surprisingly small space that way. It’s not super convenient for regular access, but for this use case that’s fine. I also have a bunch of cans under my bed

How much? I could probably feed myself for about three months on what I have alone, although I’d be a bit bored of it by then. I think this is a reasonable amount, but more generally I think you should stockpile as much as you feasibly can.

Don’t make your life substantially worse by doing so – stay within reasonable financial and storage budgets – but beyond that there’s really no such thing as too much as long as it’s food that will keep for a while (at least six months, ideally a year). Even if it’s more than you personally need, there will always be others around you who have not stockpiled – either because they could not afford to, or because they gambled and lost. If you can afford to stockpile, I think there’s a certain moral obligation to help those around you who can’t, which makes it very hard to have too much.

The “worst case” scenario for stockpiling too much is that we end up deciding that Brexit is a silly idea and stay in the EU after all, at which point this is all entirely unneccessary. I wish I could say that I thought this was likely, but it sure would be nice. In that unlikely scenario I recommend we all throw giant no-Brexit parties to reduce our stockpiled food supplies down to more manageable levels

Seriously?

Does this whole post sound overly paranoid? It would have to me a few months ago, but unfortunately now I’m feeling it’s just sensibly cautious. If anything I’m starting to feeling that not stockpiling when you could be is a bit reckless.

With any luck, we’ll look back on it in a few months and go “Ha ha remember when we thought prepping was necessary? I’m glad we were wrong.”, but that will be an incorrect conclusion: As I outlined in this post, the reason to stockpile is not that we expect it to be necessary, but because the cost of doing so and being wrong is much lower than the cost of not doing so and being right, and the chances of needing to are probably low but definitely not negligible. This is not a plan to make because we expect to need it (that plan would be much more in depth), but one to hedge against an outside possibility.

Even so, the fact that it has come to this is a national embarassment and a tragedy, and I am so far beyond angry about it that I’ve wrapped around into numb.

I can’t do anything about that. but I can plan for and manage how the situation affects me and those around me. You can do the same, and I would highly recommend that you do.

Further Reading

Here are some other people’s suggestions if you want to hear other people saying broadly similar things and/or get recipe suggestions:

  1. Actually I was out at a friend’s during the London riots. It was fine. However there is a significant element of privilege in this being the case
  2. I haven’t fact checked this claim carefully. It’s from people who are likely to know though, and seems plausible.
  3. I’ve also bought Jerry cans, but I feel like this was taking the paranoia a step too far. If things get that bad use your bathtub.
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3 thoughts on “You should be stockpiling food for Brexit

  1. Ivo

    Many of these are a good idea anyway, to be prepared for e.g. a serious failure of the electrical grid. We are always one unexpectedly large solar flare away from a total lower grid failure. In theory it should be back quickly and many things should keep working on backup power. In practice that scenario has never been tested and as Fukushima showed, complete FUBAR’s are to be expected, including the electrical grid being out for say a week, with water and other utilities also being gone.

    So e.g. a small amount of emergency water purification ability will save you a lot of headaches if that ever happens.

    Reply
    1. david Post author

      Yeah, I agree, there’s very little here that is Brexit specific per se, it just changes the probabilities of various events in significant ways.

      Generally speaking I think of disaster prepping as a personal choice – it’s sensible to be a bit prepared, but having more than like one box of stuff specifically for disaster preparedness requires a fair bit of risk aversion to be rational unless you have a lot of space and it’s stuff that keeps forever. In contrast, Brexit is a sufficiently high probability imminent disaster that failing to prepare for it is actively irrational.

      Reply
  2. Yvonne Bolton

    I have been sent a weeks supply of a new stoma/ileostomy base plates and pouches that is being made and trialed in the UK, it even says its in prep for Brexit! My Normal ileostomy supplies are made in one of the Scandinavian countries and there might be a hold up in getting them to the distributors :( I am trying to build up a buffer of my meds and supplies but my GP is resistant to giving repeat prescriptions too early

    Reply

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