Think the world is ending? Grab a shovel, not a shopping trolley A year’s worth of dried pasta? A hundred cans of tuna? Fist fights over toilet paper? If you’ve been to a supermarket in the past week or so it’s clear that things are not normal. Earlier this year Australians were reeling from a summer of drought and fire, but we were still keeping it together. The national psyche was fortified by an outpouring of compassion and generosity at home and abroad. We held concerts, raised funds and banded together to help everyone and everything affected by the bushfires. Struggling farmers. Families who had lost everything. Koalas with bandaged paws. Where is that generosity and community spirit now? Related: Kraut rocks: 'Preserved cabbage is the perfect hybrid of life hack and craft' Fuelled by a news cycle of doom and gloom, a person who just weeks ago could have danced next to us as Celeste Barber and Queen raised tens of millions of dollars for fire-affected communities might now be the enemy. At worst infecting us with a deadly virus, and at best standing between us and scarce resources. We joke about toilet paper hoarders filling their spare rooms with two-ply, but it’s a symptom of a bigger problem – we’re addicted to consumerism, and even the idea of not being able to buy whatever we want, whenever we want is enough to make us lose our bloody minds. Civilisation has been built on scarcity but the idea is so foreign to first-world modern life we don’t even know where to start. With all the world’s technology and knowledge at our fingertips, we’re planning to survive for months on pasta and toilet paper. People are panic-buying flour with no real idea what they’re going to do with it. The supply chains that put food on our family tables are negotiated in multinational boardrooms, and they are more fragile than we might realise My late grandmother lived through poverty, wars and military occupation – if you had asked her how to prepare for hard times, she’d grab a spade and start digging a vegetable garden. If things really get bad, the garden growers will be better prepared for the future than the bunker stockers. If you planted the likes of spinach, Asian greens, snow peas or cabbages this weekend you’d be knee deep in homegrown fresh produce within a month or two, and it could last you all through winter. Even if you don’t have a green thumb – or any actual space for a garden – it’s absurd that we are right now walking straight past overflowing baskets of fresh produce so that if the shops close we can live off cans of tuna. Make sauerkraut from all the cabbages that are in season right now. Get a few heads of cauliflower and fill a dozen jars with piccalilli. Stock your pantry with pickles and ferments. If you plant green peas now it will only take a month or two to yield fresh produce. Photograph: Tatiana Volgutova/Alamy Want to go a little further? Cure a leg of pork. Install the rainwater tank you’ve been thinking about. Rewire the chicken coop. Compost. Set up a window box for herbs. Dry some apple slices in the sun. Not a generation ago all of these things would have been basic household management, prudent in both fat years and lean. This isn’t about having a bunch of fancy pickles to eat, or turning your nose up at tinned beans. Re-learning lost knowledge will reduce our reliance on unstable systems. The supply chains that put food on our family tables are negotiated in multinational boardrooms and they are more fragile than we might realise. I’m not saying we all have to live off-grid in secluded mountain cabins, but shifting a little further toward self-sufficiency and rebuilding more robust, localised economies will reduce waste, save money, reduce our environmental impact, and help us to withstand not just one pandemic, but any other shocks to our systems that might be lurking on the horizon. There’s an often-shared cartoon by the Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist Joel Pett where one attendee at a climate summit says to another, “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?” Our financial systems are unlikely to collapse in the near future. In a while things will be back to normal, just as they were after Sars, the global financial crisis and any of the other global challenges that we are confronted with from time to time. But if we used this as an opportunity to wean ourselves off the 24-hour, on-demand, one-click megastore way of life we’ve become addicted to, would that really be so bad?