Friday, April 17, 2020

Is Food Shortage Next?

Perhaps you’ve seen some of these stories of dairy farmers dumping milk down the sewer, or vegetable farmers plowing their crops under. What’s going on? 

Storage is expensive. Cold storage is especially expensive. Over the past few decades, with the help of the almighty computer, supply chains have cut margins to a razor-thin edge. A crop goes from its source to its consumer with as short a wait as possible.  

Before the pandemic began, the average American ate out at a restaurant six times a month. 6 meals out of 90 = about 7%. Just because I hate math, let’s round it 5%. So 5% of the food produced in this country is no longer being consumed. “Wait!” I can hear you saying. “People who stop eating out still eat." True. But the farmers who are part of the supply chain for restaurants can't just turn around and sell their food to grocery stores.  

The food at most restaurants doesn't from farmers. It comes from large restaurant supply corporations, such as Sysco. It comes in restaurant-sized packaging that simply doesn’t have a space on grocery store shelves. When restaurants close and stop accepting deliveries from Sysco, Sysco has to tell their farmers, Stop, we don’t have any place to put your crops. What is the farmer supposed to do with it? They operate on tight margins as it is, because Sysco doesn't pay them much. Redirecting their crop to grocery store suppliers would have cost them more than the crop was worth. Some of them couldn't even afford to deliver it to food banks. So they dumped it. 

Now, here’s where it gets tricky. That 5-7% number mentioned earlier; that doesn’t represent every person eating out 6 times a month. Some households eat out nearly every meal. So when the restaurants closed during the pandemic, those households pivoted to eating pre-cooked meals – things like Swanson TV dinners. 

Couldn’t the Swansons of the world take the restaurant’s excess off the hands of the farmers? Eventually, yes. But the switchover took time. The Swanson-type companies already have their own supply chain, and it doesn’t include potatoes prepared to be Red Robin’s steak fries.
So closing the restaurants spiked the pre-made meal market. When masked shoppers went to Safeway to stock up on Hungry Man dinners, and that particular case was empty, what do they do? They buy their second choice. And of course they buy more than they need, just in case. And the supply chain isn't built to account for that, either.

A section of the population also tried to dust off their cooking skills. When was the last time you baked bread? Early on, when toilet paper was being hoarded, bread was also in short supply in some stores. So people started stocking up on flour and Googling how to bake their own bread. That resulted in a flour and yeast shortage, driving up prices. The price of hamburger in the meat department rose as well; all these new experimental cookers were more confident in their ability to cook a burger than a roast.

The shortages by and large did not reach starvation levels. But the price per ounce of food definitely rose faster than other parts of the economy. And even though the pandemic seems to be in the rear view mirror now, news of shortages and sharp spikes in prices of some foods, such as chocolate, have become commonplace. Humans are amazingly adaptable; what causes alarm one day is ho-hum the next, and that is a problem.

Isn’t it interesting that this type of food shortage is exactly what the Bible predicted? Revelation 6:6, in describing the ‘end times’ or last days, said: 
  • “I heard a voice out of the midst of the four living creatures say, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s wage, three quarts of barley for a day’s wage, and do not harm the olive oil or the wine.’”

In Bible times, as today, wheat was preferable to barley. A quart of wheat would not have been enough for a small family to subsist on, certainly not something you'd want to spend your whole day's wage on. So that heavenly voice was predicting, not necessarily starvation, but at the very least price gouging, and having to make do with what may not be your preference. Olive oil and wine were staples as well. Olive oil was used for everything from lamplight to lotions. The admonition to not harm them would indicate having to take special care to preserve what you have. 

Food shortages alone, or even food shortages accompanying a pandemic, are not proof that we are living in the last days. That’s why Jesus gave a multi-part sign. But what we are seeing should be enough to make a reasonable person investigate further. If you haven’t done so in a while, re-read Matthew 24 & 25, Luke 21, Mark 13, 2 Timothy 3, and Revelation chapter 6.

Click here to read another column about the Signs of the Times. Please subscribe and leave a comment.   

Bill K. Underwood is a columnist, photographer, and author of several books, available at You can help support this site by purchasing a book.


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