Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread: Coronavirus and Food Security

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Many years go, during the ‘80s, I had an academic fellowship in Geneva, Switzerland. There I spent a wonderful year, researching trade policy, improving my French, skiing most winter weekends, and learning a little bit about food security – even though that wasn’t the subject of my research.

At that time, Swiss food policy ensured the country was self sufficient. This condition was considered necessary to maintaining Swiss political neutrality – a central principle of the country’s foreign policy, as it hasn’t participated in a foreign war since the 1815 Treaty of Paris.

More than 60 per cent of Switzerland is covered by the Alps, so it’s not the best place to grow food cheaply – although they do make excellent cheese. Alas, for someone trying to live on a fellowship – albeit one with a generous stipend – the price of Swiss meat was a bit of a stretch. It was easily more than 3 times what I paid for meat in the UK. I more or less became a vegetarian that year, forgoing meat for cheese, vegetables, pain aux raisins, mont blanc, and of course, heavenly chocolate.

Since that time, Switzerland has relaxed its food policy, and is now a little more than 50 per cent self-sufficient. And the Swiss electorate endorsed this policy when they rejected two ballot proposals in 2018, the Food Security Initiative and the Fair Food Initiative, aimed at promoting local farming and ethical production, respectively, according to Ethical food proposals brushed off the table.

Now, the coronavirus crisis may prompt many countries, including the Swiss, to reconsider their dependence on other nation states for a basic human need: our daily bread.

As Bloomberg reports in Countries Starting to Hoard Food, Threatening Global Trade:

It’s not just grocery shoppers who are hoarding pantry staples. Some governments are moving to secure domestic food supplies during the conoravirus pandemic.

Kazakhstan, one of the world’s biggest shippers of wheat flour, banned exports of that product along with others, including carrots, sugar and potatoes. Vietnam temporarily suspended new rice export contracts. Serbia has stopped the flow of its sunflower oil and other goods, while Russia is leaving the door open to shipment bans and said it’s assessing the situation weekly.

To be perfectly clear, there have been just a handful of moves and no sure signs that much more is on the horizon. Still, what’s been happening has raised a question: Is this the start of a wave of food nationalism that will further disrupt supply chains and trade flows?

Yesterday, the United Nations warned that coronavirus measures could lead to food shortages, as The Guardian reports in Coronavirus measures could cause global food shortage, UN warns:

Protectionist measures by national governments during the coronavirus crisis could provoke food shortages around the world, the UN’s food body has warned.

Harvests have been good and the outlook for staple crops is promising, but a shortage of field workers brought on by the virus crisis and a move towards protectionism – tariffs and export bans – mean problems could quickly appear in the coming weeks, Maximo Torero, chief economist of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, told the Guardian.

“The worst that can happen is that governments restrict the flow of food,” he said. “All measures against free trade will be counterproductive. Now is not the time for restrictions or putting in place trade barriers. Now is the time to protect the flow of food around the world.”

At present, the UN’s warning is ominous, but not dire. Yet the food shortage threat will only increase, as the coronavirus crisis continues, and the northern hemisphere moves into the heart of its growing season. Encore for The Guardian:

While the supply of food is functioning well in most countries at present, problems could start to be seen within weeks and intensify over the following two months as key fruit and vegetables come into season. These types of produce often have short ripening times and are highly perishable, and need skilled pickers to work quickly at the right time.

“We need to be careful not to break the food value chain and the logistics or we will be looking at problems with fresh vegetables and fruits soon,” said Torero. “Fruit and vegetables are also very labour intensive, if the labour force is threatened because people can’t move then you have a problem.”

As governments impose lockdowns in countries across the world, recruiting seasonal workers will become impossible unless measures are taken to ensure vital workers can still move around, while preventing the virus from spreading.

“Coronavirus is affecting the labour force and the logistical problems are becoming very important,” said Torero. “We need to have policies in place so the labour force can keep doing their job. Protect people too, but we need the labour force. Major countries have yet to implement these sorts of policies to ensure that food can keep moving.”

Countries such as the UK, with a sinking currency and high level of imports, are also likely to see food price rises unless the government takes action or retailers absorb some of the costs, he said.

The most important role governments can play is to keep the food supply chain operating, intervene to ensure there are enough workers, and keep the global food markets from panicking, according to Torero.

“If traders start to become nervous, conditions will get difficult,” he said. “It just needs one big trader to make a decision [to disrupt the supply of staple crops] and that will affect everywhere. Governments must properly regulate, that is their biggest function in this situation. It’s very important to keep alive the food value chain: intervene to protect the value chain [including the supply of workers] but not to distort the market.”

The United Kingdom

I lived in the United Kingdom for three years prior to my stint in Geneva, and for one one year after. At that time, UK food prices were much lower than Swiss ones. Now, as those who monitored Brexit discussions no doubt already know, the UK is dependent on imports for roughly half of its food, 53 per cent, to be exact.

As Tim Lang writes in The Conversation, Coronavirus: rationing based on health, equity and decency now needed – food system expert:

Food security is no laughing matter at the best of times, but I gasped when I first read the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) annual food civil contingencies infrastructure report in 2018. It is barely a page long (in public at least) and assures us everything is OK and that the food system is resilient and able to withstand shocks. As the coronvirus racks the nation and panic buying continues, this complacency is about to be tested.

Few analysts of the UK food system are anything other than sober about its fragility. There is little storage. All operates on a just-in-time basis in which food travels down the supply chain – literally, just in time for when the next link or process needs it. Food businesses have been realigned to cut delays and storage. Consumers have come to expect constant flows of food, without hiccups or gaps. New industries have emerged, notably logistics and satellites which track this all from farm to shop. We are trucker-dependent now.

Only 53% of food consumed in the UK is produced in the country. Others feed the Brits. Some scientists calculate that UK external dependency is even greater, with hidden use of external land to provide animal feed.

While this distortedly efficient food revolution has been rolled out, the UK food trade gap – the difference between exports and imports by value – has widened. In 2018, food worth £46.8 billion was imported, with exports worth only £22.5 billion, leaving a food trade gap of £24.3 billion. Much of the imports are vital for health, the £10bn imports of fruit and veg in particular. UK fruit and veg growing has sunk. The UK’s main “oral” export these days is whisky. Even meat – supposedly Britain’s forte – is in the red. If borders close or supply chains snap, what then?

Lang believes that the UK may soon be facing a food crisis, and calls for the government ito think about imposing a system of rationing, rather than allowing a free for all to ensue.

A crunch point for UK food policy and planning is surely approaching. The coronavirus crisis is already spawning worrying actions. Whereas under Brexit no-deal threats, stoicism ruled and “preppers” – people stocking up – were generally few. Today shelves are being stripped and queues form for supermarkets to open. It’s why colleagues and I have called on the UK prime minister to set up a rational system of rationing – based on health, equity and decency – to see the country through this crisis.

The alternative is for food retailers to engage in de facto rationing, according to whatever principles they care to apply, rather than those that would prevail in a transparent public rationing system. Lang again:

Meanwhile, it is the food retailers who are beginning to ration supply. This is unacceptable in a democracy. If to happen, it ought to be in the open – and guided by health and sustainability. Surely the “public good” lies in feeding all well, according to need not income. Those values are what got the UK through the second world war, as our Churchill-inspired prime minister ought to know.

Calcutta: The Overhang of the Bengal Famine

One reason many Indians have so little time for Churchill hagiography is his behavior during the 1943 Bengal famine, when more than 3 million people died. If you don’t know this stragic tory, please look at this piece by Indian author and Congress politician Shashi Tharoor, In Winston Churchill, Hollywood rewards a mass murderer (just one of many Tharoor has written about this subject).

After completing a doctorate at a very young age and spending decades as a bureaucrat at United Nations headquarters in New York, Tharoor was a front runner to be UN General Secretary, until the United States blocked his candidacy. He returned to India, and is now a member of India’s parliament, the Lok Sabha, representing the state of Kerala (see this 2006 account in India Today, UN top job: Why India’s candidate Shashi Tharoor had to drop out of the race; see this more recent and complete account from Tharoor himself, in Open, The inside Story of How I Lost the Race for the UN Secretary-General’s Job in 2006: Shashi Tharoor.)

For those readers who wish to delve further into the history of the Bengal famine and Churchill’s complicity, please see this Guardian account, which summarizes recent scholarship on the issue, Churchill’s policy, Churchill’s policies contributed to 1943 Bengal famine – study.

Now, the days seem past when some crisis or other could lead to widespread famine in India. Nonetheless, even in ‘normal’ conditions, 19 crore (e.g. 10 million) Indians – roughly 190 million people – go to bed hungry every night, as India Today reported in 2017, World Food Day: Why 19 crore Indians go to bed hungry every night.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Tuesday announcement to lock down the movements of more than a billion Indians for 21 days to limit coronavirus spread has led to food price spikes. Supplies remain ample, even though Modi’s speech triggered a wave of immediate panic buying as he failed to explain in his speech what arrangements had been made to ensure people could buy food. He quickly tweeted to correct this oversight (see No need for panic buying; essential commodities, medicines will remain available: PM). Yet even short term price surges harm India’s poor.

Formidable organizational challenges must be addressed to ensure food remains available and affordable. As just one example, the city of Calcutta gets many of its vegetables from wetlands outside the city, and food is shipped in by commuter rail service – now shut. Alternative means must now be arranged to move vegetables to Calcutta consumers. This will no doubt include ferrying provisions in via vehicles – private, public, and perhaps military.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced yesterday that local police would drop off food supplies at people’s doorsteps, according to The Hindustan Times Covid-19 lockdown: ‘Police stations will take responsibility to deliver food at doorsteps,’ says Mamata. There’s no sign of this pledge yet being met, but markets, shops, and supermarkets are open, with supermarkets sending customers SMS messages about their business hours. Today, sound trunks trundled across the city, blaring the message that Banerjee’s party, the Trinamool Congress, would make basic foodstuffs available at sub-market rates. Potatoes and tomatoes, for example, would sell for 20 rupees (about a United States quarter) per kilo – significantly less than today’s market price of 30 rupees (an uptick from the pre-lockdown price).

Other problems loom. Indian states have closed their borders, stymieing for the moment food shipments across state lines. And since the bulk of some  foodstuffs – the fish beloved of Bengalis – comes from outside the state, people may need to do without some favorites during  the crisis. Just how the harvest will be managed – of wheat, for example – is unclear, with grain markets shut, according to Outlook, Oppn parties welcome Centre”s relief package, but say ”too little”, ”inadequate” But Indians are stoic at present, and there is no immediate threat of food shortages – at least in Calcutta.

Outlook

The UN’s warning is worrisome. Governments must now focus on ensuring stable, regular, food supplies, at affordable prices, while discouraging price gouging, hoarding – and accompanying wastage of food.

Yet in the longer term, governments may reconsider whether the Swiss once had it right: Food security is a basic component of sound public policy. And extended supply chains, while they seem sensible during ordinary conditions, break down during crisis.

Most people merely mutter the words of the Lord’s Prayer without thinking the plea may ever apply to them. Let’s all hope national and global policies are better at ensuring food security than public health measures were at preventing the pandemic’s spread.

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61 comments

  1. vlade

    Throw a bit of climate change in there with its foods, droughts, locust and everything, and you have quite volatile mix.

    Reply
  2. PlutoniumKun

    One sign of strain here is that Marks and Spensers here in Dublin – British purveyor of high quality prepared foods – has lots of very nice dishes on discount sale – there was no panic buying in this shop (too expensive), but as people adopt to going to the shop a lot less, they seem to be struggling to match their supplies with demand. I suspect that a lot off food is getting dumped (but i have a fridge full of just on the sell-by-date dishes, and very tasty they are too, at a fraction of the normal price).

    I think its the prepared food sector that will hurt the most, they have the most complex and vulnerable supply chains. The real impact on bulk foods will only be apparent I think later in the year if it turns out they can’t be harvested or processed.

    Reply
    1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

      Jerri-Lynn forgot the rest of the quote and the emphasis, ancient wisdom: “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses debts…

      It’s not “Sell us this day our daily bread” and it’s “forgive”, not “give us more” debt

      Reply
      1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

        Thanks for highlighting that connection – I leave discussion of the forgive us our trespasses part to the inestimable Michael Hudson.

        Reply
    2. FedUpPleb

      The UKians are panic buying now because their mass media kept them ignorant until the last moment. It was only when it became clear that the UK government had no policy at all that the panic began among some. Classic middle class, zombie apocalypse reaction.

      In Ireland I am guessing, there is less mass media and more internet usage for news. I am guessing that more people had more advanced warning of this, and also probably more expectation of a botched government response and hence dug their tunnels earlier. The fatalism of a populace expecting failure.

      We also have Germans in charge of our logistics chains. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that out loud.

      Reply
  3. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    I was under the illusion that the hoarding would have eased off until I visited a large Sainsbury’s store yesterday, which was more depleted than it was the previous week with booze & toilet roll having being totally cleared from the shelves, with other usual suspects following closely behind. As the person I am shopping for is as they say these days, alcohol dependent & I am trying to keep this vulnerable person from leaving their house to go wandering about looking for it on foot or suffering the effects of going without, I then drove to a very large Tesco store where there was a large queue, due to only a certain amount of people being allowed in at one time. I ended up in Lidl where I managed to get enough to last my friend 4 days of much more expensive wine than usual, which was all that was left.

    I read somewhere late last night a report of a 30% increase in food wastage & personally in relation to the toilet roll stampede, I’m not sure how but I think the phenomenon explains much of why this world is so screwed up as the normally reasonably well managed herd runs amok. I was also surprised by the reaction to me of being the only person I saw wearing a face mask, although it did help with social distancing while eliciting wide eyes, nervous laughter from one woman as she quickly scurried away & a cashier treating me as if I had crawled from under a large stone.

    Sainsbury’s had put up signs stating that the items that were no longer there would now be rationed, which is good as measures to keep journeys down are not helped by people like myself having to visit various stores in order to search for the odd remainder that has not been stashed away by the mob. Ironically, I wore the mask as from what I have read their usefulness for the most part is in in lessening the chance of infecting others, as is the case with doctors performing surgery.

    Reply
    1. paul

      Perhaps that you would expect, people who do not know how to cook, will not not know what to do with it after hoarding.
      A blemished vegetable will invoke horror rather than urgency.

      Reply
      1. Greg

        Yesterday we had reporters asking our priminister what people were meant to do if they couldn’t cook, since the takeaways were all closed now. Suffice to say while she was very diplomatic, everyone I’ve talked to has been quite scathing of these wealthy people who don’t know how to do for themselves. And yes, the topic did come up of panic buying numpties at home with a stack of bags of flour, having never baked in their lives.

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        1. The Historian

          Methinks a lot of live in nannies will be pressed into service as cooks and cleaners, as well as having to take care of the kids.

          Reply
  4. Clive

    International trade has completely distorted domestic food supply. While it was fun having thousands of lines to choose from at reasonable or even cheap prices, the cost was, as usual, hidden.

    The Bloomberg article was a very useful overview, but for the U.K. the government reports allow more in-depth analysis.

    As starting points, the chart on pg. 22 (“Origins of food consumed in the UK”) shows how, for imports, it’s the EU countries and pretty much nothing else. The Rest of the World is just a rounding error in terms of overall food supply. This isn’t surprising given an assumption of freedom of movement of goods in the Single Market. Sure, why not have someone else grow your potatoes?

    Related, the flowchart on pg. 7 (“Food Chain”) illustrates the problem of looking, like Bloomberg did, at food security in terms of financial flows. In particular, the hefty imports of processed (lightly or highly) accounts for a significant proportion of the import total in GBP (£) terms. Again, much comes from EU countries which, again, seemed like a good idea at the time but only when you could close your eyes and pretend to ignore food security implications. Especially as a chunk of U.K. domestically produced unprocessed foodstuffs (i.e. ingredients) get exported to the EU, processed in low-cost countries, then reimported as a value-added product. This needless (needless except for Because Markets) shuffling of foodstuffs along long, fragile and carbon-intensive supply chains was always a risk. But like most risks, it’s been underpriced. It won’t be from now on.

    So, one of the many things that Will Never Be The Same Again is how our countries organise themselves in terms of domestic agricultural production, exports of food, imports (especially where domestic production could be used but isn’t) and the reliance on assumptions about international trade.

    Reply
  5. shtove

    In the UK we’ve been having trouble the past couple of weeks with refuse collection. Not aware of any official restrictions, so one to keep an eye on.

    Reply
  6. jackiebass

    Our immediate crises will be if those on the front line get sick. People working in grocery stores and those driving trucks that deliver to ware houses and stores are a couple. It’s highley likely this will happen because the virus is very contagious. Then we have a brewing crises in the near future. I’m talking about growing and harvesting the new crops. Much of this is done by temporary workers, many of which are undocumented. Without these workers crops won’t get planted and if planted not harvested. Fruits and vegetables need to be harvested at the appropriate time.If not harvested they spoil. Since this virus is universal importing won’t be an option. The actual processing of food isn’t problem because it involves very few people. I watched frozen French fries being made on a program called How It’s Made. From start to finish I saw only three people. The truck driver delivering the potatoes. A person watching to make sure the production line was working properly. A person driving a fork lift to take the bagged and boxed fries into a huge drive in freezer. Three people from start to finish. I’m sure other foods are also processed in this way.

    Reply
    1. ambrit

      Ah, but who builds and then keeps the machinery running?
      I have done some maintenance and repair work in a chicken processing plant in Hammond Louisiana once. The contracting plumber paid better than average wages for this type of work because, simply put, it was so messy and, frankly, horrific that very few would do it.
      The chicken processing plant is set up as a disassembly line. The poor chickens are ‘dispatched’ at the beginning, everything is as automated as possible, (you don’t really want to know how they are ‘dispatched’,) and then whisked along a hanging conveyor belt like system to their eventual ‘parted out’ ends. Because of the mess involved, there are a lot of water sprays and drains involved. These break down and have to be fixed. The basic water piping, for one instance, has to be replaced on fixed schedules in a preventive maintenance system.
      As Clive has taught me about financial IT systems, there is a “front end” and a “back end” involved in any industrial process. So, there are a lot more people involved in any large scale process than is readily apparent.
      With the primacy of the “just in time” philosophy in our “modern” civilization, the supply of skilled workers to run and maintain all the complex mechanical processes which our society now depends on has become a primary bottleneck.

      Reply
      1. coboarts

        I took a class at one of our community colleges in building maintenance. For those living in cities, these guys, the highly skilled building maintenance workers, are your life support system.

        Reply
  7. Synoia

    Yes, one of the side effects of Brexit could be rationing, as the UK has had a negative balance of payments for as long as I cam remember,

    It’s most likely future place in the world, the Tax Haven of the world, will not feed its population.

    Reply
  8. William Hunter Duncan

    I have said for 20 years, the “feeding the world” mantra of the industrial, corporate, “green revolution” would not be remembered for helping to bring 100s of millions of people out of food insecurity, but for doubling global population into epic overshoot, setting up humanity for mass famine.

    Because it was never about feeding the poor. It was always about a relative few taking control of the food supply, away from the people, to become very rich and to control the many.

    Those lamenting the damage to “globalization” in regards to food production are in denial about how much damage they have done, centralizinig food production.

    Cancel student debt, buy out large tracts of land near cities, make farming a local family and cooperative thing again, and we will do much to heal the land, waters and people.

    Reply
    1. Greg

      The green revolution of the 50’s also set us up for catastrophic crop failure when we run out of fertilisers to constantly pour on the fields that we’re overcropping to the point of soil failure.
      There are a multitude of long term ways to starve that we’ve set ourselves up for by moving to dwarfed monocrops with industrial chemical use. And we can’t go back because as you say, now we’ve pushed population up past where it could ever be supported by any other form of farming.

      But as the article points out, this will only be a problem in the places where we do the cropping, since collapsing supply chains will starve everyone else.

      Reply
  9. Chris

    Similar to other aspects of the current crisis, it seems as if this is more a failure of government response than of the underlying situation. If governments included food security in their pandemics responses, it could have gone a long way to prevent it. If only there had been more foresight in the US and elsewhere.

    Reply
  10. Tom Stone

    I read an article last year that showed 40% of hoseholds in San Mateo County (One of the wealthiest Counties in the USA) were food insecure.
    Anecdotally, one of my friends volunteers at the local food bank and she told me that the lines this week were five times longer than the prior week, that’s just going to get worse…
    California is in a drought, not a big problem this year, however if it continues another year or longer it will be a big problem.
    And of course the people who tend and harvest our crops are in most cases migrants who follow the harvests.
    They are among the most vulnerable to the Corona Virus.
    Socialism for the Rich and Capitalism for the Poor is not a sustainable model, as we are finding out the hard way.

    Reply
    1. Reality Bites

      Having lived near there for some time, most of the wealth in San Mateo goes to paying the astronomical cost of living. People are going to be furious when they realize that only people earning under 100k (or 150k joint filers) will get any sort of money from the stimulus. It assumes that people earning 100k or more magically have money when that is laughable in places like LA, the Bay Area, NYC, and Seattle. By coincidence, all are hotspots for COVID. The dems screw their voters every time…

      Reply
    1. kirk seidenbecker

      Thanks for that link, here’s another of the same vein – The Effective Demand Approach to Economic Development by Jan Kregel –

      https://cnd.fgv.br/sites/cnd.fgv.br/files/Kregel_0.pdf

      Also, gotta have a related Michael Hudson link –

      https://michael-hudson.com/2017/12/on-simon-patten/

      An excerpt-

      “Protectionists do not desire to destroy foreign trade,” Patten insisted. The problem was that free-traders put the cart before the horse. “Foreign trade is the effect, not the cause, of national prosperity, and protection increases foreign trade by increasing national prosperity.”

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    2. templar555510

      The much maligned JMK was, IMHO , the one true genius of economic thought in the 20th Century, the thought that grounded Economics in the Social Sciences ; which was just as well for me when I studied it back in the sixties, before it lapsed into its decades long degradation and debauchery lauding itself as a ‘ hard science ‘ . Who knows maybe COVID-19 will be the spur to take it back to the place where it belongs.

      Reply
  11. Reality Bites

    I think we should be a bit skeptical of the idea that panic buying and hoarding are the main issues. It seems to be a bit like blaming loans to the poor for the 2008 crisis. The shortages here is the US seem to be creeping into more and more items. The latest is eggs. the problem, as Yves talked about earlier, is that there is no slack in the current supply chain. Panic buying is, at best, a contributing factor. There is no way that grocery stores were prepared for a situation where the vast majority of people were suddenly forced to stay at home. Eating out becomes prohibitively expensive for every meal especially with a family. Just-in-time delivery quickly collapses.

    The report’s complete lack of emphasis on supply chain weakness is a glaring omission. It is also contradictory. It says government must focus on food stability. Food stability generally means ensuring supply for their domestic population and export controls. Governments quickly lose support when they are seen to be sending critical food supplies outside the country as prices rise. Governments have also repeatedly trashed the UN and degraded international coordination mechanism to the point where there is no credible forum to address this issue. It is going to be a painful lesson and I can only hope that it will lead to better food policies on the back end.

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    1. Ian Ollmann

      We started ours. The summer vacation seems unlikely to happen this year. It is an excellent use of the potatoes in the back of the cabinet that have sprouted.

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      1. polecat

        Summer staycations(for those classes below the 90%ers) will soon become the new summer getaways.
        Although the plebians may, on occasion when the season begins, seek out deals on fresh elite entrails …

        Reply
        1. Jeremy Grimm

          How will the below 90%ers manage to pay mortgage or rent and remain in a home until summer if nothing more is done? Instead of a summer staycation they may need to caravan to the informal camps of people waiting to hear of employment picking fruit and vegetables and following the harvests around through the summer.

          Reply
  12. chuck roast

    The local paper in my little sea-side town reports that the food pantry at the Martin Luther King Center is experiencing much greater demand. During the past week the pantry has served as many people that it typically serves in three months. Precarity in the flesh. Be generous if you can to your local food bank and don’t forget our own Water Cooler.

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    1. Amfortas the hippie

      because we don’t throw anything away(lol…used to be a sort of good natured jab)
      I had a “potty chair” for bedside on hand when eldests buddy’s grandad needed it. delivered it to his front yard this afternoon.
      he lives across the street from the food bank, in the Barrio.
      they were hopping…bunch of well intended church-going white folks out there huffing and puffing, trying to get a garden going.
      good on them, and all…it’s what Jesus would want them to do.
      but probably a little late in this crisis to be making a beginning.
      I’ve been at it for months….and just added to what i was already doing when this exercise went live.

      y’all know i’ve been an evangelist for autarky and food security and just plain old self reliance forever.
      more and more people around town are stopping me to ask for advice…and admitting that i was right to be concerned about the way we provision ourselves.
      the signs were there all along that all the just in time, the 3000 mile tomato, and exporting all our production were short sighted and stupid…but nobody wanted to think about it.
      the food bank would be farmers will likely have difficulty finding enough seed, and they won’t be organic…i wonder how long the chems in the feedstore will last. is that reliant on a warehouse on wheels, too?
      next winter, i’ll be teaching starving people how to prepare beds and compost and waste nothing, i’m afraid.
      homo sapiens my a$$. the sapiens part has been rooted out of us.

      Reply
  13. The Rev Kev

    Governments should be wary about exporting their own food at the expense of their own people. That is a guaranteed way to get food riots that. You can make a case that the French Revolution itself started off as food riots caused by a few lousy crops. It is no wonder that countries are making sure that they secure their own food needs first. You can never now be sure if you can get other food from other countries at all which leaves you short.

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    1. Wukchumni

      I’d always thought some shitty 3rd world country would be the best place to ride things out if the 1st world went to hell in handbasket, and now regret not buying that pied-à-terre in Port-au-Prince.

      Essentially none of the 500 million fruit & nut trees here in the Golden State are fenced in or guarded in any way, that would’ve gotten in the way of operations when we’re talking about 5,000 almond or citrus trees, or even more. Lets say you took the California National Guard and utilized them to watch over future food sources, they’d be spread as thin as the police are now, we’re talking a lot of ingress & egress points all over the place, in order for a starving soul to pillage.

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      1. Knot Galt

        Excellent comment. But, I think, nothing a few thousand drones with added survelliance technology couldn’t handle? How long do you think it would take for government to justify the arming of such technology?

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    2. Tom Bradford

      Potatoes were exported from Ireland even as a million died in the famine. I’ve a feeling that Ireland would still be part of the UK, like Scotland, had the British Government taken an humane approach. The great unwashed have long memories, across generations.

      Reply
  14. ambrit

    The glaring “fail” that leapt out at me from this article was the lack of mentioning of the low wages the ‘migrant’ food pickers get. The migrant workers are a “precious resource” precisely because the system does not factor in a living wage for agricultural workers. This “race to the bottom” in agricultural wages has created the migrant worker system. Locals will not take the jobs because these jobs do not pay a wage that would allow an average worker to subsist in the region that the crops are grown in. Migrant workers are imported to undercut the local worker’s economic, and thus political, strength.
    With corona, expect the prices of foodstuffs to rise, dramatically in many instances. If corona becomes a seasonal occurrence, expect this rise in food prices to be around for a long time.

    Reply
  15. Anon- sorry I can't say

    I’m always interested in what Jerri-Lynn Scofield has to say and this article is no exception. Here are some thoughts in response.

    Having worked in a food pantry I can say that one thing mainly middle class people may not generally realize is that in poor neighborhoods both booze and food can be used as a form of currency. This was shown very clearly in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

    It may also be that people aren’t already out of food right this moment but they are worried that they will be. Also people, especially children, are staying at home, worried and unable to go out and are eating more (heck, I know I am).

    Although public schools in my city are distributing free breakfast and lunch I would suspect that many people are too frightened to go out for fear of contracting COVID-19. Still, it’s important that those options for food remain in place, especially in high poverty areas. I have worked as a volunteer in food distribution in impoverished areas and I saw that children will take advantage of summer food programs and have seen older brothers and sisters make sure the small children get fed this way.

    Confidence that food will still be available is only going to come through time and frequent messaging that a lack of food is not an issue. I think it’s to be expected that hunkering down means that one has enough food stored up in their house that they aren’t going to need to run out often.

    Overall, though what I like about this article is that it highlights the need for food to be produced locally as much as possible. I personally define locally as within my state or within a 100-200 mile radius. This has been a clear message being sent by many for years now (I’m thinking of Barbara Kingsolver’s excellent book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as one example).

    Reply
    1. Massinissa

      ‘Having worked in a food pantry I can say that one thing mainly middle class people may not generally realize is that in poor neighborhoods both booze and food can be used as a form of currency. This was shown very clearly in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.’

      All those ZeroHedge types panic-buying gold should really be panic buying canned food. Or cigarettes, even. If we get to the ‘Mad Max’ scenario that they’ve been worried about for at least a decade, and which looks increasingly plausible, gold will be next to worthless.

      Reply
    2. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      I’m a strong supporter of local food production and I put my money where my mouth is whenever I am able. I was just speaking to one of my sisters, who lives in High Point, NC, with her husband and the one daughter who’s not yet left the nest and is on furlough from university in Chapel Hill. They’re on lockdown, but allowed out to get food and other essentials. And I said when she has to replenish stocks, she should consider the local farmers market, and eschew Costco and big supermarkets, for several reasons. First, the farmers need income and their stock is largely perishable. Second, I bet it’s much less crowded than Costco, etc. And third, it’s an open space, roofed, but open on all sides, no AC. So an environment where if you maintain social distancing, you’re less apt to catch COVID-19 than in the scrum of an enclosed, ACed supermarket. I think the market remains open, and has items not easily available elsewhere: Can’t find certain food items? Try the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market.

      Reply
  16. David

    What I find interesting is the likely reaction of the British public to discovering that food is not something that arrives by magic and never runs out. Hoarding is perhaps an early sign of dawning reality. British food has been industrialized and divorced from its initial production longer than in almost any other developed nation: even in the 1950s, when I was young, the food we ate came mainly from tins, packets, and bags, often frozen. “Food technology” was already a big thing (Margaret Thatcher had a degree in chemistry and her first job was in a company making artificial flavors). Add to that the traditional British view that food is basically just fuel, to be bought, like petrol, as cheaply as possible from the local hypermarket, and you have a culture which is almost completely detached from the realties of the production and distribution of food. Food, like petrol, is alway there: the concept of “seasonal vegetables”, for example, hardly exists. In France you go to the market and they tell you that carrots or tomatoes are finished for the season and you accept it. I don’t know how the British will cope with the idea, even without actual shortages, that what they want just isn’t available. What do you mean, those bananas come from thousands of miles away?

    Reply
    1. Clive

      Yes, so much of the UK food deficit is, in monetary terms, “non indigenous” produce. Try telling your average Brit that buying limes in March, tomatoes in February and grapes in January isn’t a Divine right and you get looked at like there’s something wrong with you. Suffice to say the UK orange harvest this year is not going to exactly be huge.

      When I was a child, my parents, who were fairly sensible people, were delighted and amazed by “Smash” (freeze-dried instant mashed potato if this isn’t a global brand, for those unfamiliar with it). Once, my mother, just for fun, coloured it green for tea. We thought we were being so modern and living the future. I don’t think our mentality around food has really come very far since then and might well have got worse.

      Reply
  17. Synoia

    One reason many Indians have so little time for Churchill hagiography is his behavior during the 1943 Bengal famine…

    Yes he was a bit preoccupied with another matter. What would the Bengali’s’ have had Churchill do for them?

    Reply
    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      From the Guardian Churchill’s policy, Churchill’s policies contributed to 1943 Bengal famine – study link above:

      More recent studies, including those by the journalist Madhushree Mukerjee, have argued the famine was exacerbated by the decisions of Winston Churchill’s wartime cabinet in London.

      Mukerjee has presented evidence the cabinet was warned repeatedly that the exhaustive use of Indian resources for the war effort could result in famine, but it opted to continue exporting rice from India to elsewhere in the empire.

      Rice stocks continued to leave India even as London was denying urgent requests from India’s viceroy for more than 1m tonnes of emergency wheat supplies in 1942-43. Churchill has been quoted as blaming the famine on the fact Indians were “breeding like rabbits”, and asking how, if the shortages were so bad, Mahatma Gandhi was still alive.

      Mukerjee and others also point to Britain’s “denial policy” in the region, in which huge supplies of rice and thousands of boats were confiscated from coastal areas of Bengal in order to deny resources to the Japanese army in case of a future invasion.

      So, to answer your question, Bengalis would have had Churchill and his ministers allow them to eat the food they produced – and so desperately needed to avoid starvation – rather than ship it abroad.

      Reply
  18. Jeremy Grimm

    The COVID-19 virus is revealing of fragilities in the supply chain. Lloyd’s has several risk reports available for download at:
    [https://www.lloyds.com/news-and-risk-insight/risk-reports/library]
    Some of these reports examine various aspects of the supply chain fragilities, and some discuss the food supply-chain risks:

    “An Innovation report from Lloyd’s” — 26 June 2019
    [https://www.lloyds.com/~/media/lloyds/reports/emerging-risk-reports/supplychainlloyds-final.pdf]
    “Gives new insight into food supply-chain risks and their implications for the insurance market, including gaps in cover and other opportunities to improve services for supply chain organisations. Provides the Lloyd’s market with an overview of current and future risks arising from food supply chains.”

    And two earlier reports previously referenced in a post from NakedCapitalism [sorry I don’t have that link].

    “The risk of global weather connections”[https://www.lloyds.com/~/media/files/news-and-insight/risk-insight/2016/1781g-lloyds-met-report-2016-links.pdf]
    “In weather and climate science, links between extreme weather events occurring in separate regions of the world, taking place over timescales from days to years, are known as teleconnections. The frequency and impacts of teleconnections take place are important for insurers, and particularly reinsurers, both of whom are required to hold a level of capital that adequately reflects their exposure to losses including material weather events.”

    “Food system shock: The insurance impacts of acute disruption to global food supply” [https://www.lloyds.com/~/media/files/news-and-insight/risk-insight/2015/food-system-shock/food-system-shock_june-2015.pdf]

    “While many food security discussions have focused exclusively on this pressure, little work has been done to explore the global food system’s growing vulnerability to acute disruption.
    Lloyd’s commissioned the development of a scenario of an acute but plausible disruption to global food production and its consequences to explore the implications for insurance and risk. The scenario – developed by experts in food security and sustainable development economics – was peer-reviewed by a diverse group of leading academics, before being presented to insurance industry practitioners for assessment at two workshops.”

    What will happen when we experience multiple problems affecting the complex fragile coupled networks which support our way of life?

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I took a closer look at some of these reports fromt Lloyds and in my layman’s opinion — I am not sure I would rely on them. One of them The Food System Shock report has what appears to be a good selection of sources.

      Reply
  19. xkeyscored

    If I understand rightly, it’s been the West’s general policy for ages to actively discourage food security. The IMF and World Bank aim at encouraging developing countries to use their land for cash crops such as coffee and cocoa, of little food value, and to import staples from the likes of the USA, able to mask its agricultural inadequacies with subsidies and cheap oil. The British East India Company, I believe, encouraged – to put it mildly – farmers to buy food from them while growing opium for export to China. In Kenya, the English gangsters took the best land for their tea plantations. Millions of Africans were kidnapped and exported to America to grow sugar. No doubt NC readers will know of many more such examples.

    If it takes a pandemic to make the West think this food insecurity might not be such a wonderful idea after all, maybe that’s another slightly silver lining in this coronacloud.

    Reply
    1. David

      Many, many years ago I was at a high powered seminar on future security problems with, among others, a lady who was very highly placed in a certain very prestigious weekly financial publication. Her only argument, repeated at the table and over coffee, was that « true security comes from being able to buy what you need from the market.” Even at the time I wondered what happened if the Magic Market failed to do its job.

      Reply
  20. John Zelnicker

    Mentioned above, it’s most definitely time for Victory Gardens.

    I started a food forest in my yard last year but only had the chance to plant 2 blueberries, 2 pears, and a cherry tree. All but the cherry have bloomed and are starting to make fruit, with the blueberries quite full and the pears with just a few potential fruits. I don’t expect anything from the cherry this year. Until this morning I thought it might be dead. Much to my delight it has new green growth today.

    Reply
    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      I’ve been sending my Mom occasional parcels to cheer her up: flowers from a local florist, a basket of cheese and other goodies to enjoy while in seclusion. I understand that she’s also started planting this year’s kitchen garden and I wish I could get some more tomato plants, etc., to her. But her part of North Carolina is now fully locked down.

      Reply
      1. John Zelnicker

        If I can get to it, I have a plan for a 10×10 sq. ft. vegetable garden, based on French Postage Stamp Gardening principles. My mother had one and usually produced so much that she shared it with neighbors. Some of the best Silver Queen corn I ever tasted was fresh out of her garden.

        The way the garden is planted with the crops very close to each other works to keep weeds from growing and planting marigolds around the perimeter tends to keep out insect pests so no herbicides or pesticides are needed.

        Reply
        1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

          I’d like to see that plan, if you can get to it. My mother plants tomatoes, some scattered vegetables, and herbs. I spent most of August 2019 with her, and was able to enjoy some of her produce. Plus I took many trips to the local farmers market, and bought lots of things – mainly soft fruit and tomatoes – which we turned into jam, soup, and sauce. Frozen, not canned, and she’s still enjoying some of that bounty. We ate the corn the same day we bought it.

          She has a large yard and could easily expand her operation. With what’s happening now, though, it will be tough for her to get plants, etc., though I understand she already has a fair few of those.

          Reply
          1. John Zelnicker

            TBH, the plan is still in my head. My mother had a book called French Postage Stamp Gardening that she used and I know it was in my library, but I can’t seem to find it right now.

            It was a softcover about 9×12 in. I don’t have any idea if it’s still in print, but I’ll keep looking for it here. Perhaps you can find it on the intertubes somewhere.

            Reply
            1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

              Thanks – I’ll let you know if I find anything. And do let me know if it reappears.

              Reply
            2. The Rev Kev

              Hey John. If that book was written by Karen Newcomb, there are several copies for sale on eBay as well as other sources.

              Reply
                1. xkeyscored

                  The evil BitT has

                  The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden – Grow Tons of Organic Vegetables in Tiny Spaces and Containers (2015)

                  [by Karen Newcomb]

                  Reply
                  1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

                    I’ll try to get a copy. Spoke to Mom 3 hrs ago, who tells me she’s waiting until next month to plant most of her vegetables, as her part of North Carolina can experience frosts until then. She’s planning on planting peas and spinach, zucchini, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, parsley, maybe some yellow summer squash.

                    I suggested she might think about increasing her planned plantings. Yesterday, she planted some flowers – her neighbour dropped off a flat.

                    Reply
  21. VietnamVet

    A primary reason for food fragility is the rise in the last 40 years of the global corporate state and the downgrade of nation states into secondary incompetence. Just in time logistics and offshoring production intentionally decreases resilience to increase profits. If the coronavirus pandemic causes food shortages, it is because preparing for one would have lowered the amount of money extracted by the system to the wealthy. Who in the world could have predicted a 2020 global pandemic? If asked, those experts not getting a cut of the profits.

    Reply
    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      And the problem is not just sending food across national borders. India is enforcing its 21-day lockdown by stopping/limiting cross-border shipments from state to state, and that’s causing some food supply bottlenecks. These need to be fixed, especially for perishable food. And well before this year’s harvest is distributed.

      Reply
  22. Jabbawocky

    Thanks for this piece. The link between food security and security more generally is the concern in my small village in the U.K.

    What I found interesting is that despite stories of people panic buying, the Daily Fail of all places that gave the sales statistics (accuracy unknown) of items that had been stripped from the shelves in the U.K. For all of the items demand had less than doubled. Now if you are trying to double the time between your shopping visits to limit your virus exposure opportunities this is essential. So not so much panic buying, as just sensibly increasing stocking levels, and this is sufficient to crash the system.

    Reply
  23. drumlin woodchuckles

    I wrote a comment on another thread about a few days left of sale-price access to some very good soil-focused books. Since soil is somewhat relevant to this thread as well, I will go ahead and reproduce the link here, in case anyone wants to take any last minute action on it.

    https://www.acresusa.com/collections/soils?utm_source=Acres+U.S.A.+Community&utm_campaign=0eab5d5094-HSS-3-20_Keynote-Announcement&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_65283346c2-0eab5d5094-184789077&goal=0_65283346c2-0eab5d5094-184789077&mc_cid=0eab5d5094&mc_eid=f874b279b6

    Reply

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