Describe An Economic Scenario Causing Food Shortages in Major US Cities
For those of you who think it could happen, what causes it and how does it unfold? I am less interested in what happens after the shelves are bare than what causes the shelves to become bare in the first place.
Since this is something that I think will happen and am particularly concerned about, I’ll throw in a few factors/scenarios:
- The availability of oil is greatly reduced and the price skyrockets. This, in turn, drastically limits the ability for food to be transported from the area of production to processing and distribution centers, and then on to supermarkets. This food shortage would be because there isn’t enough fuel to transport the food.
- Same as #1, except that the petroleum-based inputs to farms (chemical fertilizers and pesticides, fuel for tractors, etc) are so limited that it drastically reduces the amount of food that can be produced on farms. This food shortage would be because there isn’t enough fuel & petrochemicals to produce the food.
- Similar to #1 & #2, a global shortage of fossil fuels leads to reduced availability of electrical power or makes electricity too cost-prohibitive for farmers to continue production, distributors and processors to operate, and supermarkets to produce and keep food available… particularly highly-perishable foods that require refrigeration. This food shortage would be because there isn’t enough power to produce, process or transport the food or to keep it from spoiling.
- As a last ditch effort to save themselves from sinking, banks begin foreclosing on farms. This food shortage would be because the land is no longer being used to grow food once the farmer gets kicked off.
- Due to economic crisis, banks stop loaning farmers and other producers upfront capital for seed, pesticides, equipment, etc. This food shortage would be because the farmer/processor couldn’t obtain this season’s capital so no food could be produced.
- As a last ditch effort to save themselves or because they have completely over-extended themselves, the government stops subsidizing farms and the farms go under or farmers have to work elsewhere to make ends meet. This food shortage would be because the land is no longer being used to grow food because it is too cost prohibitive to do so.
- Similar to #6, the government stops special subsidies and tax breaks for large agri-corps for resources such as fuel, power, water and waste management so these large corporations start shutting down or off-loading their agricultural and food processing/distibution holdings as cost-saving measures. This food shortage would be because the land, processing plants and distribution/transportation companies stopped producing and handling food altogether to protect financial assets and profit margins.
I’m sure that there are deflation/hyperinflation aspects that would play into all these scenarios as well, but that’s not my gig… I’m more into systems & processes than finances.
These are great answers, and I agree with all of them, but I think the overriding factor is human psychology. Once it is realized that there is an imminent shortage, people will rush out and stockpile- god knows I will. Some people will probably go a little overboard, and this will trigger further panicked buying. I remember last summer some stores- even in Canada, where we feel somewhat insulated from SHTF, some stores running out of some main staples (rice, flour, canned goods) on the mere rumour that there was a shortage.
I think we need to look at what could happen if one or more of our city ports was shut down. The results would be catastrophic, and it would definiltey put in a kink in the works as far as shipping is concerned, and that kind of think can have a ‘ripple’ effect..people running out and buying everything in sight becuase there are shortages in some areas, so it can start out no so bad but get worse because of people panicking themselves into a self fulfilling prophecy.
Good point Jess, if one of our ports shut down and foreign food couldn’t be transported into those cities people would get panicked and start hoarding all over the country, not just those food items but everything imported.
Yoshhash, we had a similar thing happen here this winter when we got a bunch of bad storms that aren’t common in this area… people were literally fighting in the supermarket even though the major roads were still open and the utilities were still working. But everyone got panicked thinking that they weren’t going to be able to get food or the food wouldn’t be able to get to the supermarkets.
Personally, I’m planning a little farther ahead food-wise… slowly stockpiling staples and canned goods until I can get my garden and homestead livestock established. Waiting until there might be a food shortage pretty much guarantees you won’t be able to procure enough to last you.
Thanks for taking the abstraction out of the process of food not showing up on shelves. It is refreshing to see how many different ways the system to support our most basic need lacks resilience. Gives me renewed energy to help promote and develop the local food system.
Oh David, and I didn’t even mention natural disasters like floods, drought, pests and diseases interrupting transportation or production, or terrorist attacks on and pandemic contagions spreading through the major food distribution center bottlenecks. The fuel & money problems are just the tip of the iceberg when speaking about the instability of the US centralized and distributed food system. Just think what nasty hell could happen if something goes horribly wrong with the Monsanto genetically modified corn which is grown on almost every conventional commercial farm, feed to almost every livestock animal, processed and reprocessed and put in almost all our food as additives. Yep, things start to look even scarier when you start taking into account uncontrolled biological threats like that. Hey, look there’s plenty of food but you’ll die if you eat it… ENJOY!
I’m a card carrying member of the grow local, eat local, eat in season, and support your small local (preferably organic) farmers club!!
Thanks for the update. Funny how easy it is to forget old time disasters like floods, drought, and locust! when thinking about the human created problems in human created systems. We all need full root cellars, etc….
I echo Plickety’s thoughts – well outlined. For me the real deal is exactly the herd mentality and the hyperemotional responses of that herd. If the MSM were to outline any of the scenarios, coupled with a report on Oprah about the same, don’t get between the masses and the local grocery store. It happens every time there is a disaster. Recently here in Texas we had Hurricane Ike. I live in NORTH Texas and there was not a generator to be found locally within 2 days of the storm. I bet food is more important than a generator and the panic will be graded accordingly.
I heard that farmers in California were having difficulty obtaining working capital to plant without proof of irrigation. Here is the situation for California farmers. http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSTRE52C07R20090313
Another economic scenario would be if the American dollar or our credit-worthiness degraded, or the government screwed around with the trade rules and tariffs so much, to the point where foreign countries were no longer willing or able to trade with us. No more coffee, no more chocolate, no more Acai berry superfood, a lot less sugar and a lot less tropical fruits…. just to name a few food items.