Pandemic Diary Day 21
April 14, 2020
I had intended to use the USDA definition of food security, but it is gobbeldygook so here is the definition per wikipedia: Food security is a measure of the availability of food and individuals’ ability to access it. Affordability is only one factor.
What we are beginning to experience during this pandemic is food insecurity.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies has explained the food insecurity under Covid-19 thus:
Are we at risk of food shortages or price spikes?
Global food supplies are adequate…However, we still don’t know what the medium- and long-term impacts of Covid-19 will be on global food security.
At an individual level however, look at San Antonio. Here is a summation of an article from www.Ken5:
The food bank hasn’t seen this big a crisis or this big a line in 25 years. The San Antonio Food Bank prepared for 6,000 families, and 4,000 more showed up on Thursday. CEO Eric Cooper called donations from Sysco Foods, Labatt Foods, and Ben E. Keith Foods a lifesaver. Their food typically goes to San Antonio restaurants.
San Antonio is not alone, Oregon Governor Kate Brown has infused their food banks with $8million and there are and will be many more stories just like this. About one in three people going to food pantries in March had never previously needed emergency food aid. These are people whose financial situation, exacerbated by Covid-19. are absolutely food insecure, but what about our entire country?
Food begins with the farmer and April and May are critical planting and harvesting times for many US farmers. They need skilled laborers to work their fields, and a reliable supply chain to deliver their goods.
If farmers can’t find enough workers or if their farming practices are disrupted because of the pandemic, Americans could have less or pricier food this summer.
What we experienced at the beginning of Shelter In Place was a supply chain problem, not a lack of food. In fact many farmers are dumping product because their main buyers are restaurants and schools. Those products are packaged so differently, that they can not make it into the household food supply chain without costs too extreme to make the move in a timely manner. They are also difficult to donate to food banks as most food banks do not have the cold storage capability for fresh fruits, vegetables and large amounts of dairy products.
In the future, however, it could become a harvesting problem. The Midwest grows primarily grain and much of that is automated, California, however, is unique and is especially vulnerable. Most of the crops in California must be picked by hand. Your tomatoes, strawberries, asparagus, avocados and all your other favorites are picked by hand, often packed in the field, by farmworkers that are invisible in the eyes of the average American, until they aren’t.
The administration is attempting to lower the wages of these very, highly needed farmworkers, and at the same time in a rather ironic situation the US Department of Agriculture launched a new streamlined process for the H-2A visa process that allows agricultural guest workers, mostly from Mexico, to work legally in the US. Only about 10% of the farmworkers in the US, however, come here on an H-2A visa.
Estimates of the number of farmworkers employed in the United States vary. According to Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, estimates it is about 1.5 million to 2 million. Guenther also states that between 50 and 70 percent of those workers are illegal.
How will Covid-19 affect these workers? And what would an outbreak of COVID-19 among farmworkers mean for the food system?
Fortunately, the risk of direct transmission of the coronavirus passing from farmworkers to consumers through food products is low. Unfortunately farm work does not allow for social distancing, and this means the virus could run rampant amongst the farm worker population when they are needed the most.
If a single farmworker does get sick it is an easy thing to send them home, albeit causing a financial catastrophe to that worker whose pay is tied to production.
Workers on H2A visas often are provided housing which means they live together, share kitchens and travel to the fields on buses together, you can see where this is leading. Loosing a few workers is bad enough but loosing an entire crew would be devastating to the farmer as farmworkers are already in scarce supply.
George W. Bush referred the work these important people do as “jobs that Americans won’t do,” they are low paid and very difficult jobs. And this administration is trying to lower their wages. These farmworkers are not appreciated, maybe when this is all over we can take a look at these “illegal” heroes and realize our California economy is completely dependent upon them.
It was probably stated best by Erik Nicholson, national vice president for the United Farm Workers “So in the middle of a pandemic, rather than trying to figure out the cheap way to do things, we need to make sure we live up to the expectations society has of us as an industry to keep the food flowing,”
Then there is the supply chain. I was once told that there was only enough food on San Francisco grocery shelves to last about two days. This is primarily because we run an on-demand delivery system in the United States. That is about to change as well.
The middle of our country is where much of our meat comes from. The farmers in these areas are watching the price of hogs, steers and cows go down, some say to the lowest levels they have ever seen. At the same time these prices are going up in the grocery stores because the supply chains are breaking down. These animals need to be taken to processing plants, many of which are shut down due to Covid-19 absenteeism. At least six of the larger processing plants have shut down, this includes Smithfield the world’s largest pork processor and one that was processing 1900 cattle per day. Items my vegan friends will not be sorry to hear.
Then there is simple transportation as part of the chain. Think about the fork-lift operators, truck drivers, warehouse people and sales personnel, keeping these people healthy in order to maintain a supply chain labor force is crucial. Follow that with the in-store people, they are now critical to the system in just keeping the shelves stocked.
I am not yet ready to turn my daily diet on its head and slow down on my consumption of fruits and vegetables, but we all may have to. Many experts are urging people to stockpile canned foods (something that is truly never in my pantry, except tomatoes for sauces). They are also encourage the buying of potatoes, pastas and foods that will store longer. This type of diet will truly throw the Californians I know into paroxysms.
When this is all over, let us not forget the people, legal or not, that work for horrible wages in terrible conditions just to put food on our tables.
My Horoscope for today: It’s hard to admit that you had an equal part to play in a relationship’s troubles, but now that you see it you can get things back on track.
The NYT Crossword Puzzle: Very easy with a handful of humor
San Francisco weather: 64 degrees and sunny
NYSE DOW opened at: 23690
Italian word of the day: contrarre (catch)
Spanish word of the day: el combustible (fuel)
OED word of the day: summulist
Days under Shelter In Place: 32
Reading: The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft by George Gissing
Reading Canto XX of Dante’s Inferno
A Special Something: Wildlife is wandering Yosemite
My Black and White Picture of the Day
Something Silly From the Internet: · PSA: every few days try your jeans on just to make sure they fit. Pajamas will have you believe all is well in the kingdom.
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