Food Shortages – The Hype and The Reality – Part 1, by SaraSue

If you watch YouTube videos, alternative media, and even mainstream media, there is a tremendous amount of hype about food shortages. A common phrase among Preppers is “stack it to the rafters”. I can imagine the amount of stress this puts on families who don’t have a lot of extra cash. I was there once, so I have deep compassion for those worried about food security, not to mention gasoline and heating cost concerns — the basics. I’ll give a few tips to address that in this article. But first, are there really food shortages in the United States of America?

As I’ve gone to various stores in my region (Costco, Walmart, Piggly Wiggly, Dollar General, Walgreens, etc.), I haven’t seen anything that scares me other than prices are going up weekly – and that doesn’t scare me yet. Now, to qualify what I’m seeing, I live in a rural area of Tennessee – take that for what it’s worth. Our Costco, a new one in a neighboring county, was very well stocked. Walmart had plenty of frozen turkeys on sale for $.89/lb, but I did notice “holes” in the shelves in various spots, and still, plenty of food and supplies. Piggly Wiggly is a small store and I don’t shop there much because their prices are high for most products with limited selection. Dollar General seems to be the store/chain that looks like they aren’t getting full shipments in – very limited inventory and a lot of empty shelves. Walgreens carries a few processed food items including milk, but very little. I shop at the Farmers Co-Op for animal feed, bedding, supplies, equipment, and they are very well stocked. The Farmers Co-Op is a familiar sight in Tennessee and most animal feed is sourced within the State, as far as I can tell.

I order a lot of bulk and organic items from Azure Standard out of Oregon. They run trucks across the country to various “drop points”, and people go monthly to their “drop” on a specific date/time to meet the truck, help unload it, and pick up their orders. They’ve become so popular, in fact, that they’ve put out a plea for volunteers to come to their warehouses in Oregon and help fulfill orders. They’ve had to delay routes and get creative since they don’t have enough trucks and drivers to meet the demand, which has doubled recently. On my last order, only half of the original order was filled. But, as they explained, it’s more a factor of a labor and transportation shortage than an actual food shortage. I generally do a monthly order, so if something isn’t available one month, I just add it to my online shopping cart for the next month’s order.

How to Shop

Let me explain how I shop: I buy food and supplies in bulk because I can do that financially right now, and the cost per pound is much less so my overall costs are less. I “invest” in food grade buckets (the price has gone up quite a bit lately), and lids, because they last a lifetime and there are endless uses for buckets. Food grade buckets and regular lids are cheap (buckets $4-7 each, lids $2 each, and can be purchased from Lowe’s, Home Depot, Tractor Supply, etc.). Each bucket holds about 25lbs of grains, or rice, or beans, etc. The purpose of the bucket is to keep out pests and rodents.

I dedicate the pantry and some closets to food storage. Food buckets stack easily and you can fit hundreds of pounds of food in half of a closet. I purchase meats in bulk and have a large freezer – the cost of buying meat this way is substantially lower than purchasing weekly at the local store. I envy the hunters among us who fill their freezers with venison! Bulk purchases of meats are from local ranchers. Bulk purchases of grains, oats, and beans are from Azure. Costco has great prices on organic chicken, so I rely on them, but am raising meat birds this year.

As far as produce goes, I am relying on canned goods this winter since I moved and wasn’t able to have a large garden (fruits, vegetables, potatoes). Every fall, at many stores, there are “case lot sales” where canned goods go half price. The only thing you have to watch out for with case lot sales is expired cans, and I see that rarely, but it happens. Usually the “case lot” canned goods are good for two years and cost about 50 cents for a 15-ounce can.

Where are the Shortages?

As I took a bite out of some fresh out of the oven honey wheat bread slathered with real butter, and I thought “what food shortages”? I cook from scratch, so as long as I have the basics (wheat, beans, rice, barley, vegetables, fruits, meats), I am fat, dumb, and happy. I think that “scratch cooking” is one of the keys to having an adaptable pantry. The majority of things that are missing from shelves are “processed foods”. Dollar General has relied on very cheap imported products, and yes, many imported processed foods. Most of the things that are missing are imported goods, and most of them are not food items. So, in that regard, I would not panic in regards to food when you see all those container ships backed up at the southern California ports. The items aboard are, obviously, imported goods. If you shop within the United States for food, you don’t have to worry about the container ship backup in regards to food. While there are many forces at play (transportation, gasoline costs, manpower, the Big C, and politics), basic foods are available and there is plenty.

I am not diminishing the fact that a lot of consumer goods, such as lightbulbs, air filters for your car and home, clothing and fabrics, common appliance parts, and many raw materials needed for manufacturing, are on those container ships. I read recently that Citric Acid was becoming scarce, so I checked what I paid last year and what it costs this year, and yes, the price had almost doubled. But, we should live without manufactured Citric Acid (as a food additive) because the manufactured kind, common in most processed foods and drinks, is not naturally occurring, is not made from lemons or limes, and can cause widespread inflammation in the body. I just learned this new-to-me fact, so it might be in some of the canned goods I purchased – I’ll be reading labels closely. That’s why next year’s gardens, and the beginning of an orchard, will be huge, and I will spend a significant amount of time canning it up, or dehydrating, for the pantry.

I’ve commented over the years to family, that it is our Food System that is killing us. I have inflammation throughout my body that causes significant pain. The cleaner my diet, the lesser the pain. I believe there is a significant correlation between processed foods and human illness. (“Potential role of the common food additive manufactured citric acid in eliciting significant inflammatory reactions contributing to serious disease states: A series of four case reports”). Who knew? Primarily, I advise avoiding all processed-by-others foods.

My main message is that there is plenty of food in the United States of America. How you source that food may have to change. How you prepare that food may have to change. We are not going to starve here. There will be people in your community and families that do not have the knowledge necessary to thrive during these times. The absolute best thing you can do, is learn everything you can about sourcing food, preparing and processing it yourself, safely storing it, and sharing that knowledge. The second best thing you can do is keep an eye out for those in your community who need help – either with food or with knowledge. There are some people who are so private, you will never know they are in need. I saw an interesting idea, kind of along the idea of a food pantry, but smaller. It’s called a “Blessing Box”. It’s a cabinet of some kind, set up in a regular neighborhood, obviously with the permission of the landowner. People who have plenty put food in the box. People who are in need take food from the box. I’m thinking seriously about putting one up in my area, although making sure wild animals can’t get to the food would be important.

A Relevant True Story

Now, I’ll tell you a little story from when I was a single mom with five kids to care for, ranging from 2 – 18 years old. I had no child support nor assistance from family at the time. My church was mostly oblivious to me and my family, even though we were faithful attendees and I always put a few (precious) dollars in the offering plate. I had a low paying clerical job. I was adamant about not taking any type of “welfare” – it was just the way I was raised, and pride, that kept me from it. Lord knows I could’ve used some help. Every single dollar mattered. Every single one. I recall the time my 10 yr old son accidentally dropped a whole gallon of milk, and as it splattered all over the floor, I cried out in frustration. I remember buying one whole chicken on sale, and making 3 to 4 casserole dishes out of it with lots of pasta, saving the bones and broth to cook again for a big pot of soup, adding a little rice and beans. I remember buying one bottle of liquid detergent and thinking I could use it for the dishes, the laundry, and even as shampoo (ouch!), because it was only 89 cents. I remember begging the utility company to not turn off my electricity, which I barely used (didn’t use the heat and there was no air conditioning). I bought bread from a “day old bakery” for pennies on the dollar. Just to say, I do know a thing or two about being broke. I am not telling you this to engender any kind of sympathy. My adult children today are Go-Getters, and tough, and wonderfully compassionate, and we are all still very close. What I learned from that experience has informed me in ways that many folks will never experience – I know what frugality is – how to stretch a dollar – how to make do. Now, when I’m frugal, it’s a choice, but I well know that it could be a requirement again in the future. There is no shame in that! Think of frugality as a highly prized skill!

You Can Do This!

If you are “broke”, you can still stock up, a little bit at a time. You have to think differently about food, where you can get it, how to prepare it, and how to store it. There are whole youtube channels devoted to frugality if you search for them. Join with some friends who are in the same boat and share a 5, 10, or 20 pound bag of rice! Make up a silly name for your group, like Frugal Fun Friends, and have fun figuring it out together. Maybe 3 of you can go in on a single 20lb bag of rice for $17 – it’s cheaper to buy in bulk.

If you can’t even find an extra $5, believe me, I get it. Do this: reevaluate what you purchase and where you purchase it from. Couponing may not be helpful, since coupons are issued by major manufacturers for their processed items. If a store has a buy 1, get 1 free, take advantage of that, if it makes since. Buy only simple ingredients, such as a bag of rice, a bag of beans, a box or bag of pasta, a can or frozen bag of store brand veggies, etc. Beans, by the way, are full of fiber and protein – vegetarians use them as a meat replacement – so can you! Beans cost about $1/lb, sometimes more and sometimes less. The humble pinto bean is cheap and a great source of nutrition. A pound of beans goes a very long way.

I pray that every single one of us look for opportunities to ensure that our neighbors have enough to eat. It’s a burden I have always carried – compassion borne out of my own experiences. I remember that I personally only ate one meal a day, and that was after all my children’s tummies were full in the evening. I was super skinny back then, but not because I wanted to be. People would say, “You look great!!”, and I’d be thinking how hungry I was, but would smile anyway. You can learn to cook from scratch, avoid processed foods for your health and your wallet. There’s so much you can do, but most of all don’t live in fear.

Conclusion of Part 1

It is my opinion that there are definitely shortages, but not in all the areas that are being emphasized in the media. There is plenty of good, healthy, food in this country, even if you can’t “grow your own”. In order to provide for yourself and your family, you might need to get creative and re-think the how, what, where, and when of your food. In Part II, I will discuss the potential of malign influences upon America’s food supply, and how you personally can safeguard against that.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)