By: Oliviah Brown
February 14th, 2022
If someone walked into a supermarket with their grocery list in hand, what would they expect to see? Many would imagine a friendly face from the greeters at the door, registers open for a quick and easy check-out process or full shelves with an assortment of colorful packages of food and household products.
But in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, this likely won’t be the case. After bouts of variants raging across the country, issues of unemployment and closures of businesses in the food industry have caused shelves throughout the country’s grocery stores to empty and prices to skyrocket on essential foods and household necessities.
This recent hiccup within the food industry has caused many to wonder where the issue lies. Why aren’t they able to easily buy their preferred brand of cereal, for instance? Why don’t the meat coolers contain the usual variety of beef? There isn’t one clear culprit to this problem, and there isn’t one clear solution.
Many factors play a part in these shortages. According to a recently published CNN article written by business journalist Parija Kavilanz, this change in availability in stores across the country is occurring for a few reasons. These include staffing shortages, severe weather interferences in the transportation and crop industries and new eating habits that induce more extensive buying.
Supply and demand issues aren’t new to the Omicron variant. When the pandemic began in 2020 in the United States, consumers stocked up on food, paper towels and medical supplies such as masks and gloves, causing a plethora of shortages and the beginnings of buying restrictions.
In 2021, cargo ships started piling up, stuck waiting around various docks along the U.S. coastlines for days. Insider business reporter Zahra Tayeb explained this as a consequence of pandemic unemployment and panic buying, two of many culprits to cause a shortage of food. However, before the quickly-spreading Omicron became a well-known variant in the United States, shelves started to empty again, and prices began to rise.
From factory workers to cashiers, employees throughout every stage in the food industry are coming in contact with the virus and must stay home from work and quarantine. So, grocery stores and food suppliers began to more harshly feel the effects of the shortage dilemma. In a Boston Globe article written by staff writer Amanda Kaufman, the vice president of research and industry narrative at the Consumer Brands Association, Katie Denis, said, “‘If you don’t have the people to make the products, ship the products, deliver and stock the products, you’re going to be in a difficult situation with what shows up on store shelves.’”
Some products are becoming harder and harder to find, leading consumers to find other, sometimes more expensive substitutes. Or they go without. As demand for food grows, costs increase to meet the demand and help slow the effects of the pandemic. One staple that’s especially increasing in price is meat.
A Business Insider article written by retail reporter Mary Hanbury explains why these items are becoming harder to afford. Supermarket CEO John Catsimatidis said, “‘Let’s say they [suppliers] normally sell 10 million pounds of chicken. They figure if they raise the price 10 or 20 cents, some people will buy less chicken and the people that really want to buy the chicken—it will be there for them to buy.’” This means that suppliers are raising the prices in order to turn consumers away from buying out the stock that they have, keeping it on the shelves for longer.
This creates a growing food insecurity issue for lower income families and communities during the waves of food scarcity in stores and around the country. Food insecurity means that a person doesn’t have the means to obtain food. During an interview for NPR, writer Laurel Wamsley said that “more than 38 million Americans lived in food-insecure households last year, according to the USDA.” That number may grow as those who were once on the brink lose their ability to afford food as prices rise.
In an attempt to aid families financially burdened by unemployment, lowered incomes or illness, communities are coming together to give back to those facing the hardships that accompany this global pandemic. In cities and towns across the country, food banks continue to provide food and necessities to people in need.
In a Rapid Growth article, health writer Estelle Slootmaker explains people in Michigan are continuing to find ways to help out those who need food during the pandemic. One example of this is creating more jobs for farmers in rural areas by buying their crops and distributing them to food pantries in rural communities.
While food insecurity will never be completely gone, there is hope that through community engagement and consideration for neighbors, friends, and family, people can help those in need receive the food they deserve.
Oliviah Brown is a senior double-majoring in English with a creative writing focus and professional/public writing. Her goal after graduation is to pursue a career as a copy editor. When she isn’t studying, she enjoys reading fantasy novels, writing poetry, or crocheting.