Each time the threat of a hurricane or a blizzard is announced on the local news, a predictable horde of panicked shoppers will rise from their armchairs and head to the grocery store for milk, bread, and toilet paper. Unable to satisfy the sudden surge in demand, the store’s shelves are quickly emptied. This is inconvenient for the shoppers who arrive a few hours late, but it’s a familiar scenario that most of us have encountered, and it’s not a “life or death” situation. Once the weather clears, the shelves are restocked, and normal buying patterns resume. But what happens when the emergency is bigger than a storm and the interruption in supply is more than just a hiccup in the chain of production, distribution, and consumption? What happens when the food supply dwindles (or stops altogether)?
This worldwide virus is just one example of a situation that could damage or destroy the “status quo” for food (and other supplies) here in America. Unfortunately, this virus isn’t the only threat. There is a frightening assortment of scenarios that could impact our food supply as a nation. Just to name a few, an EMP, warfare, or economic collapse could cause the stores to be empty for weeks, months, or even longer. It’s a grim set of circumstances to consider, but we must consider them. As long as our supply chains can be affected by illness or natural disaster in the United States, we need to continue our efforts to be more resilient and self-reliant. I know it’s scary to think about the food running out, but let’s turn our worry into motivation. Let’s prepare ourselves and do something about it.
Get To Know Your Supply Chain
There are a lot of steps required to get from the food being grown in the field to the food sitting on your dinner table. Even if the food is a relatively “whole food” (like meats, fruits, and vegetables), someone has to grow it, someone else harvests it or kills it, someone else transports it, someone else sells it, and then, you finally take it home. More complex foods (like processed food) have even more people involved, as they require many ingredients that are sourced globally, most of which need more packaging, warehousing, shipping, and planning. To grossly simplify it, the supply chain is a vast and interconnected web, and it’s a fragile web.
In former times, food producers would try to predict the future demand for their product and make plans accordingly. Today, rather than guessing how much you will sell and paying to store extra food in a warehouse somewhere, the JIT (Just-in-Time) logistics model is used by many corporations. In this system, waste is cut back, and warehousing costs are reduced. But the JIT inventory system has one huge disadvantage – it’s precarious. When there’s an interruption in the raw materials, supply, or production, the ability to deliver “just the right amount at just the right time” will get backed up and stop. There’s not much excess anymore either. Many food and drink items are not produced until the order is paid for by the distributor, and delivery is carefully timed. This system is very profitable in a world that’s running like clockwork, but when a monkey wrench gets thrown into the works, it can all fall apart.
Make Your own Supply Chain
I know everyone can’t have their own gardens and livestock, so I’m not going to expound on the benefits of survival gardens and raising your own meat. The value of those activities is evident if you have the land to do it. I know it’s not always possible to feed yourself through foraging, hunting, fishing, or trapping. Even if you are amazing at those complex skill sets, there are days when you will come home empty-handed, and the results are unpredictable. When I suggest that you make your own supply chain here, I’m not asking you to become your own producer. I’m recommending that you become your own middleman.
Since it’s hardly ethical or practical (or legal) to raise your own beef cow in a tiny apartment or keep it on your balcony, you could get together with a few friends and buy a steer from a small local farm. FYI, a steer is a male cow with his testicles removed, which increases weight gain, among other benefits. Now you know the lingo. Your friendly neighborhood rancher should be able to help you find a place to have the steer processed locally, and then you can divvy up that fresh, delicious beef with your friends. Yes, you’ll have to make a bunch of phone calls, and “half of a steer” isn’t cheap, but you’ll be set for months with beef if you invest in a freezer or know how to pressure-can the meat. Small local chicken producers, pork producers, and other types of farms are even more likely to be of benefit. Many of them can sell more manageable portions of meat, already processed, and directly to consumers. Similar arrangements can be made to buy directly from greenhouses and farms, particularly CSAs (community supported agriculture farms). When you buy a CSA membership, they agree to provide so many pounds of food on a regular schedule. The pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farms are also an option, though these tend to be pricy. The bottom line is that you don’t have to be a hunter or forager to get meat and vegetables during a crisis, you just have to be creative about designing your own local food supply chain.