Ever since it became clear that the economic downturn has unfolded into a global depression marked by the US with the highest unemployment rate in the last 25 years; severe austerity measures taken to the economies of four EU countries, with Greece perhaps leaving the EU; the economic impact of the Japan crisis; and not to forget the foreclosures, and many other aspects too numerous to mention here – since then, people have been reacting to these developments in a number of different ways. In this article I shall be looking at the most basic aspect of our existence, in particular I will discuss the point of food storage and hoarding.
What has brought up this topic is that in the recent weeks I have increasingly crossed paths with news items that shout out to me: be prepared for the coming food crisis. I suppose this food crisis has multiple facets but mostly this loud voice is concerned with food prices rising through the roof, and a possible food shortage due to extreme weather patterns affecting agriculture. This has enhanced people’s survival instinct, blinding people to issues with even greater detriment to food production, such as genetically engineered foods and radiation effects on the global ecosystem.
The latest news item that I crossed paths with was a Foxnews video where a woman, who had mastered a two-year storage approach of grains and other long-lasting foods, was interviewed while demonstrating to the audience tips and tricks of food preparation with Mylar bags for storage. She boasted that she had two storage locations, one in her garage the other in a secret location, where she could store food that lasted her family for two years.
One reason the woman in the video was advocating food storage was because she wanted to pre-empt having to face the rising food prices. If the food prices continue to climb, she will be eating at the cost from yesterday. Fair enough, you may save some money buying the food now, and the cost for food storage equipment as well as the gasoline of travelling to your secret storage location, may all well be within the limits to save money. Though, what happens when the food is gone and the two-year period that has supplied you with stored food is up? You have to go out and get more food to repeat the same procedure. Meanwhile the food prices have risen even higher, and other developments may have taken place that have an impact on food supplies.
This type of thinking perpetuates the understanding that we operate in isolation, without support from others: as long as you have money you can buy the food you need. In actuality the food you need is provided to you by people who may have a lot less money. Let’s take rice as an example, the woman in the video I described above, goes to buy a bulk bag of rice she can store in her secret location. This rice she is about to purchase is coming from India. It is from a farmer in India who grows rice to export for profit. We know some facts from labour statistics, which we will use as underpinning to make this case.
The farmer in question is someone who is earning just enough money to provide for his family throughout the year. Depending on climate changes and weather patterns some years yield more rice than others, but on average, the standard of living of a rice farmer in India is much lower than that of the end-user’s, living in the US. The problems of an Indian rice farmer are many, ranging from inconsistent and over regulated government policies to inadequate agricultural technologies and irrigation facilities. These types of issues are potentialities for problems which our rice farmer skirts in the best way he can to survive in the economic system.
Back to our travelling bulk bag of rice, which has now left the rice farmer and is on route to the US. It is now being loaded onto a container that is stored in a cargo ship, where a grain import-export company will transport it across the sea to its destination in the US. Merchant mariners will accompany the goods, a job performed by people who earn minimum wage. Although these men work hard loading and unloading massive amounts of goods every day, their income is low which does not allow these men to provide sufficiently for their families.
Once this cargo ship has arrived at a US harbour, the local workforce takes over. Even here, men who work the shipping lines are not high earners, neither are their counter parts, such as truckers or other transportation personnel who move the goods across the country.
When we take a closer look where our food comes from, the people involved in the jobs that facilitate production, packaging, transportation, and distributions are the first one’s at risk to be affected when changes in the economy curtail food production. These changes can be brought on by crops’ growth and harvest or are driven by other factors, such as the incentive to make better money elsewhere. Just in the last year we have seen how floods devastated a huge area in Pakistan destroying agricultural production. At the same time, we can also observe how entire villages in China have ceased to produce food and have become ghost towns because inhabitants flog to cities to find more lucrative jobs working in high-tech factories. We must understand that food production is a world-wide issue that affects everyone.
Even from this coarse-grained perspective we can see the interdependence of every bite of food we take into our mouths. Every bag of rice we purchase lines up a long line of people who are part of the chain that brings food to our table. So why is food storage and hoarding not a viable solution to the food crisis? It is simply a fight or flight reaction that brings more inertia into the global picture, prolonging the drawn out collapse of the system as we know it. It does not provide any guarantees to survival, to be able for those who store to eat once the storage has run out. It is a short-sighted, cowardly reaction that is rooted in fear and self-interest.
If we use common sense, as Orwell did when he predicted what the world would look like 63 years into the future, we arrive at the conclusion that it is more effective for you and me to stand up together and change what is here in the world right now. As basic as food is as basic is the change that is needed. It’s a change that must address the roots of our system – money. If we provide everyone with money, because money is an invented concept, we can also make sure that everyone is fed because unlike humans, nature does not provide nourishment for a selected few, it readily provides for anyone who needs it. It’s entirely up to us to go out and buy Mylar bags and start to hoard food, or to stand up and advocate an equal money system. With every mouthful we acknowledge our participation in the system, therefore it is with every mouthful that we can change it.