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 current mess 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 are still eating the same amount." 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 wasn’t coming from farmers. It was coming from large restaurant supply corporations, such as Sysco. It came in restaurant-sized packaging that simply doesn’t have a space on grocery store shelves. When restaurants closed and stopped accepting deliveries from Sysco, Sysco told their farmers, Stop, we don’t have any place to put your crops. What was the farmer supposed to do with it? They operate on tight margins as it is, because Sysco wasn’t paying 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 were eating out nearly every meal. So those households are first going to pivot 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 not immediately. The Swanson-type companies already have their own supply chain, and it doesn’t include potatoes prepared to be Red Robin’s steak fries. 
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So the first thing that may happen could be the pre-made meal market seeing shortages. When masked shoppers go to Safeway to stock up on Hungry Man dinners, and that particular case is empty, what are they going to do? They’ll buy their second choice. And very likely they'll buy more than they need, just in case. Hopefully not a panic, such as happened with the toilet paper, but perhaps a pinch more.

A larger section of the population will also try 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. Now the flour is getting scarce, as is yeast, and prices are rising. There's been a hamburger shortage in the meat department of some stores; all these new experimental cookers are more confident in their ability to cook a burger than a roast.

The shortages may not get to starvation levels. Perhaps rice, with its connection to China, will fall out of favor and you’ll have to switch to potatoes. Or your favorite brand of coffee or sugar will be out of stock and you’ll have to switch to another. Or you'll learn to drink your coffee black because of a cream shortage.

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 they 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.

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Bill K. Underwood is a columnist, consultant, photographer and author of three bible-friendly novels available in either ebook or paper at


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