Most Americans don’t realize that they are completely dependent on the just-in-time food system that brings food from factories, industry farms, shipyards and the like, through a series of warehouses and distribution centers, to the local supermarket and grocery stores. If you’ve ever experienced extreme weather, long power outages or emergency conditions in your town, you know just how quickly the grocery store shelves can become empty.
Some items, such as water, milk and bread can go as quickly as in 1-2 days. Since most stores have about 4 days of food supply on the shelves, in more catastrophic conditions, such as Hurricane Sandy, food shortages can become severe.
“Many people are completely reliant on the delivery of foods to the grocery stores, and their subsequent ability to purchase that food and bring it home. Without a stockpile, if the just-in-time delivery system hits a snag, you and your family could be without food. Furthermore, you are at the mercy of Big Food, and whatever toxic ingredients they can assemble the most inexpensively. A crisis situation is the time that you need good nutrition the most – the only way to be sure you are supplying premium fuel for your body is by storing it or producing it yourself.” – Daisy Luther, The Organic Prepper
As a proprietor of OffgridOutpost.com, I’ve had many chances to ask people why they are buying storable food. Yesterday, one of our customers, who was purchasing a six-month supply for his family, shared two very common concerns, although his case was slightly more extreme: 80% of the food sold in his state, Hawaii, is being shipped in. His first concern was that there is no reliable emergency plan on the part of the state nd local government should food deliveries be delayed or stopped all together due to a natural disaster or other emergency. Considering the ever-increasing cost of fuel, this customer was also worried about food prices continuing to rise.
Rising Food Prices
The US Department of Agriculture estimates that retail food prices will increase 3-4% in 2013, giving reasons such as increasing oil prices and the 2012 draught for the increase. In the 2 prior years, prices have risen a combined 5.3%. In 2008, when oil prices skyrocketed due to the financial crisis, retail food prices rose 5.5%. Since 2005 – so in less than 10 years – food prices have risen over 22%! (source)
This is happening while employment costs – made up primarily of wages and other compensation – are only increasing about 2% year-over-year since 2009, on average, down from an average of 3.5%-4% annual increases prior to 2008. (source) Statistics aside, most Americans are still eating rather well – or, more precisely, they have abundant access to ‘food.’ So abundant that they throw away almost 40% of their current food supply every year. (source)
The USDA reports that from 2001-2011, food costs accounted for slightly less than 10% of a household’s disposable income. The problem lies in the fact that major food companies have been working very hard to keep food prices low in the face of increasing costs. Unfortunately, this means lower-quality ingredients, increased use of hormones and food additives, the unethical treatment of animals, and other means of ever-increasing production, all of which results in our food being less-healthy, and even harmful.
Once you start buying healthier organic options, your food bill is likely to increase substantially. In comparison to USDA’s 10%, various online consumer polls put the current average share of food costs closer to 15-18% of household income. When you consider the rise in food prices, many of us might think that food delivery costs are the culprit, bearing in mind the increase in gasoline prices. Yet when looking at the energy consumption and CO2 emissions of the entire food system, food transportation from producer to retailer is estimated to be only about 4% of the total (source), with production and processing accounting for a much larger 83% share. As energy prices increase, no matter how closely you are located to your favorite food producers, the prices of the food will nevertheless be impacted.
Taking Control of The Food System
“Our food system has many flaws. We need more locally grown food. The current system is far too dependent on fossil fuels, is concentrated in too few seed varieties and a handful of corporations, is subsidized toward unhealthy and unwise products, and wastes prodigious quantities of water and nutrients.” Toby Hemenway, PatternLiteracy.com and author of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture
Yes, there are many problems with our food system, and it may feel as though creating solutions to these problems is completely out of your control. You may not realize that you don’t have to be completely reliant on the just-in-time food system we’ve become accustomed to. You can have more control over your food supply. Here are some suggestions:
1. Prepare for Emergencies
If you do some research, you will quickly find out that most states have only a few resources in place to deal with food shortages in case of emergency. The USDA gives lots of resources about keeping food safe in emergency situations, and most states have programs in place to help low-income families that may experience food shortages on a day-to-day basis. But in an all-out disaster, as past events have shown, ‘the state’ can be unprepared, under-prepared, disorganized and limited in resources (it’s hard to forget the debacle following Hurricane Katrina).
Every home should have at least a 5 to 7-day stock of emergency foods, in case of adverse weather conditions, power outage, or even family illness or car breaking down. Similarly to having a well-stocked first-aid kit, knowing where you will get water and food needs to be part of your emergency plan. Emergency preparation classes may also be available in your community – or perhaps you want to organize one for your neighborhood. It is a great way collaborate with your neighbors…and perhaps before you know, you’ve organized a community garden.
2. Store Food
Storing food could mean that you learn how to preserve and can, so when in-season produce are inexpensive and plentiful, you learn how to conserve them for other parts of the year. This also means you learn how to stockpile your pantry, so you’ve got 2 to 3 months of regular staple foods available on hand. If you have some expendable cash, consider buying some foods in bulk… especially grains and other items that last. You could also purchase professionally-packaged storable foods with even longer shelf life.
3. Produce Food
For most of us, producing food means starting a garden. You could start by planting just a few veggies and herbs in pots to put throughout your home. If you have some yard space, you might consider setting up an aquaponics system or replacing the lawn in your front-yard with a nutritious food garden. There are many resources available on permaculture and other methods that make organic gardening accessible to everyone. You can take food production to another level, and, if your city ordinances allow it, raise a couple of chickens or another small farm animal to produce your own eggs and dairy.
4. Take Action
Perhaps you’re not one to stand on the front steps of your capital to protest Big Agra or Monsanto, but you can still take action in improving the food supply system. Stop yourself next time you’re headed to Super Wal-Mart or the large grocery store chain, and consider supporting your local food producers by going to farmers markets and buying from local co-ops. You can help local producers stay in business while regulators, supported by Big Agra, are doing what they can to make buying directly from local farmers illegal. Not only will this make a difference by putting money back directly into your community, you will also be supporting the same people who may be your only life-line during a longer-term food shortage. And frankly, you’ll be healthier for it.
Awareness Junkie created and published this article (4 Ways To Decrease Dependence On The Just-In-Time Food System) under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Anna Hunt and AwarenessJunkie.com. You may repost freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this copyright statement.