Endless Lines at US Food Banks, While Food Rots in the Fields — Courtesy of COVID Pol Pots
Virus didn't cause this, champagne Maoists caused this
‘We may have to ration’: US food banks face shortages as demand surges
Food banks face going millions of dollars over budget as they struggle to meet surging demand from those hit hard by mass layoffs caused by the [Maoism parading as a response to] coronavirus pandemic.
Across the US, not-for-profit groups are buying truckloads of increasingly expensive food to cope with the sharp increase in the “new needy” – and the dramatic decline in donations from supermarkets left empty by panic shoppers.
The pressures are widespread and growing, according to more than 20 food banks and pantries across 15 states consulted by the Guardian. For example, in Pennsylvania, food banks are spending an extra $1m a week and yet still turning hungry families away.
In Alabama, one pantry looks set to go $3.6m over budget by August as food purchases and running costs – electricity, cleaning materials, boxes and overtime – have tripled: “We’re applying for grants as fast as we can,” said Jenny Waltman from Grace Klein pantry in Birmingham.
The recent rise in public donations is unlikely to offset projected shortfalls.
“We have enough food for the next month,” warned Lisa Scales, president of Pittsburgh food bank where the money spent buying food has tripled. “With so many businesses shutting, we’re concerned community donations won’t sustain this level.”
The economic fallout of the global health crisis has seen record numbers of first-timers – people who have never previously needed food aid – flocking to new drive-thru distribution centres, which have been created to comply with social distancing rules.
Queues up to six miles long have become common at these pop-up collection points as far afield as San Antonio, Las Vegas, and Cleveland, where thousands of recently furloughed and unemployed people wait hours for grocery boxes.
As demand escalates, the price of non-perishable staples such as peanut butter, eggs, canned vegetables, beans, pasta, rice and jam is soaring, while supplies are running low with four- to eight-week delays and bottlenecks reported across the supply chain.
The wholesale cost of rice has almost tripled and won’t be delivered until June, according to one Pennsylvania-based distributor that supplies more than 40 food banks. “Canned fruit and veg are very hard to get, rice and pasta is challenging, and costs have gone crazy as manufacturers pay more for labor, food and transport,” said Mike Fellinger.
“If you find rice it’s like gold,” added Ron Mizutani, president of the Hawaii food bank.
In response, innovative schemes have emerged to take advantage of an abundance of perishable produce such as tomatoes, apples and milk which would otherwise be dumped or left rotting in fields. An estimated 30-40% of the US food supply is wasted, which is the equivalent to throwing out $161bn of produce annually.
However, in one plan, Feeding Florida is paying local farmers to continue harvesting thousands of acres of crops, some of which is turned into freezable soups, sauces and ready meals by a network of idle restaurateurs.
In 2019, about 40 million Americans received free meals or groceries through a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 pantries, schools, soup kitchens and shelters, according to Feeding America. The working poor, elderly and disabled and infirm accounted for the vast majority of recipients.
Since then, more than 22 million people have filed for unemployment benefits, though the true number of layoffs is probably significantly higher.
Unsurprisingly, the demand for food aid has risen exponentially, and is mostly driven by first-timers, according to groups in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington.
For instance, at pantries in Silicon Valley, demand is increasing about 50% each week, with first-timers such as security and cafeteria staff furloughed by tech companies, teachers and restaurant workers accounting for more than half of those needing food.
“It’s not surprising. We already knew a lot of people are living paycheck to paycheck,” said Leslie Bacho, chief executive of Second Harvest food bank, which spent $250,000 on cleaning supplies in March.
No savings and staggering debts: in 2019 Americans owed $14tn including $1.3tn in car loans, $1tn on credit cards, $1.48tn in student loans and $9.4tn to mortgage lenders.
In Las Vegas, drivers of luxury vehicles queued for food boxes. “When you see a Lexus in line at 4am prepared to wait six hours, you know there’s real need,” said Larry Scott from Nevada’s Three Square food bank.
- In Seattle, Washington, the Northwest Harvest food bank expects expenditure to increase eightfold to $8.4m a month through September.
- Feeding Alabama expects to spend $1.71m purchasing food by July – compared to $1.1m during 2018, and $543,443 in 2019 when food banks benefited from a commodities surplus created by Donald Trump’s trade wars.
- In Louisiana, at least one in three people are at risk of hunger, compared with one in five before this crisis, according to Natalie Jayroe, president of South Harvest food bank. “We think it will conservatively cost us $15m for six months … In south Louisiana, we’ve been through our share of disasters but this is different.”
- The Greater Cleveland food bank could go $4.9m – or 26% – over budget by September. They have stopped buying peanut butter, a high-protein grocery box staple, since the price rose $10 a case.
Last week in San Antonio, Texas, an unprecedented 10,000 people showed up in their cars for a pop-up distribution centre – a drive-thru service which typically attracted 400 before the layoffs. That day, 25 semi-trucks of food were handed out, much of it to newly laid off hospitality staff whose last paycheck was already gone, according to Eric Cooper, president of the food bank.
As demand rises, Cooper warns that supplies will run short: “The only thing we can do is ration and give families less … I would challenge our federal government to put systems in place that allow for wasted food to go to families we are feeding. It’s unconscionable.”
As the coronavirus economic hurt intensifies, federal aid is slowly starting to trickle down to ordinary people, including the $1,200 stimulus payment for those with bank accounts.
The rescue packages did expand the food stamps programme (Snap), but the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has so far refused to fully extend eligibility using available disaster powers. “This would help tackle hunger and stimulate the economy, but for some reason the USDA isn’t using all the tools in its box,” said Vollinger from Frac.
It’s unclear when or how the country will return to some semblance of normal, meanwhile America’s hunger crisis is likely to last months – or longer.
Kristin Warzocha of Greater Cleveland said: “I already fear we’re not reaching everyone who needs help, and we haven’t seen anything yet! We will do everything in our power, but philanthropy is not going to fix this crisis.”
Source: The Guardian
Why farmers are forced to let food rot during the shutdown while others go hungry
In recent weeks, numerous stories have emerged about farmers dumping their dairy and produce. Idaho farmers are leaving their onions to rot in the field, South Florida growers are plowing their beans and cabbage into the ground, and lettuce is decomposing in California fields.
While vegetables are left to rot, food banks are struggling to meet the needs of the hungry. In a survey by the nonprofit Feeding America, 98 percent of food banks reported they were having increased demand for food assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, bridging this gap between farm surpluses and food bank shortages is not straightforward. At the heart of this situation is a highly-specialized food supply chain that can’t easily pivot to supplying donations or retail.
“The biggest shift that happened is when they shut down restaurants except for those with fast food and delivery options,” says Dawn Thilmany, an agriculture economist at Colorado State University. Normally, about 50 percent of food produced goes to the wholesale market, which commercial kitchens buy from. Now, Thilmany says that an estimated 75 percent of the wholesale market is gone.
Dairy has been perhaps hit the hardest. Andrew Novakovic, an agriculture economist at Cornell University, says it’s normal for milk producers to dump some of their product as demand fluctuates, but that trashed milk would normally be just 0.3 percent of the total supply. Now, Novakovic says industry estimates suggest that somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of milk is getting pitched.
Before the COVID-19 shut down, the food service industry was a major buyer of dairy, purchasing about half the supply of cream and butter. Coffee shops in particular purchase lots of cream for their beverages. School breakfast and lunch programs are also a major client of the dairy industry, buying all those little cartons of milk served on cafeteria trays. Restaurants represent a lot of the demand for the milk required to make cheese, too. “There are enormous cheese processing plants that are buying hundreds of tanker trucks a day of milk that are producing cheese for just Domino’s,” says Jayson Lusk, food and agricultural economist at Purdue University. With restaurants shutting or slowing down, all that milk has nowhere to go.
In total, Novakovic says it’s estimated that dairy demand in the U.S. is down by 10 to 15 percent. Meanwhile, cows still need to be milked everyday. Many dairy producers are not able to switch their business model this quickly. They might not even have a say, because many dairy farmers are members of larger business cooperatives that determine where to sell their milk. And producers that typically sell to a cooperative that, say, uses all their milk to make feta cheese packaged in humongous vats for commercial kitchens don’t have the ability to switch to selling dairy in smaller quantities for retailers.
And with the enormous volume of milk that major producers make, it’s infeasible to give it away. A few families driving out for a free bucket of milk won’t make a dent. Novakovic adds that most dairy farmers don’t pasteurize their product onsite, so selling it raw can also introduce food safety issues.
The good news is, this unwanted moo juice isn’t totally wasted. As Novakovic notes, the nutritionally-dense fluid can be salvaged in a few ways. Some farmers have anaerobic digesters, which ferment waste to produce methane gas used for energy. More often, though, the farmers dump in milk in manure lagoons, and use some of the liquid in those ponds to fertilize fields. Sometimes, the milk is sprayed directly onto fields.
Fruits and vegetables are also stuck rotting on farms. This is already happening across southern, warmer states that are deep into spring, including Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. “It’s disheartening and depressing to see farmers having to destroy perfectly good food,” says Lusk. “Again, it’s because some supply chains for fresh fruits and vegetables are set up to deliver to restaurants.” Similar to dairy, some farmers sell a large proportion of their produce to food services. Now, with those ripe veggies remaining sellable for only two weeks or so, it’s not possible to shift markets fast enough.
We might also see losses in the animal industry. In recent weeks, a few meat packing plants have closed as workers came down with COVID-19. “These are big plants,” says Lusk. “One big packing plant could easily be somewhere around five percent of our total meat output.” This could put a roadblock in the supply chain, preventing farmers from selling poultry, pork, and beef. If the closures continue, “we’re going to have a whole lot of animals that have nowhere to go,” says Thilmany. “We can feed them a little longer … [but] at some point in time, that’s going to be a whole other version of food waste.”
Some restaurants have been able to ease impacts to their business, as well as the food supply chain, by selling off their wholesale items to consumers, says Thilmany. Panera is now functioning as a grocery store, repackaging wholesale produce, dairy, and bakery foods in retail quantities. Many smaller bakeries and restaurants are following suit (a useful tip for those desperately searching for flour to use in their adventures in sourdough baking!). Some farmers with existing direct-to-consumer sales have also been able to recoup losses through increasing online sales.
When it comes to donating surplus produce, it’s cost prohibitive for farmers to package and ship away acres-worth of crops. [Or harvest it.] Among organizations helping the hungry, labor and funds are needed to pick up and distribute all that food.
Also, many food banks rely on packaged, shelf-stable goods, because preparing and storing perishables requires additional help and refrigeration.
If we want to truly save the bulk of this surplus, a large-scale network capable of distributing this food is needed. With funding from the CARES Act, the recently-passed $2 trillion relief fund, the USDA may be able to help. “There are rumors afoot that USDA is going to put out its relief programs this week,” says Thilmany. “Of the proposals I’ve seen floating around, there’s at least one of them … [in which] they’re going to give a bunch of money to food banks or food assistance assistance programs.” This money could help the programs buy up the surplus from local farms, thus cutting back on waste and feeding the hungry. Perhaps we’ll see more food saved from rotting soon.
Source: Popular Science