Here’s a current report about growing food shortages. It centers on China. But as China is the world’s largest nation, it affects us all. Food shortages are growing in many other regions, as well. And these are not “future projections by experts”; it’s happening now.
The personal danger for those who’ve always enjoyed an ample food supply is to assume “It’ll never happen here.” We’re used to stocking up when some major storm is coming, assuming the supermarket will restock afterwards. I don’t think we can even imagine what would happen if they can’t. And the problem: it takes a while to grow new crops. Suggestions for personal action follow.
• • • • • • • •
China’s mealtime appeal
amid food supply worries:
Don’t take more
than you can eat
Oct. 5, 2020
SEOUL — On the surface, China’s campaign to encourage mealtime thrift has been a cheerful affair: with soldiers, factory workers and schoolchildren shown polishing off their plates clean of food.
But behind the drive is a harsh reality.
China does not have enough fresh food to go
around — and neither does much of the world.
The pandemic and extreme weather have disrupted agricultural supply chains, leaving food prices sharply higher in countries as diverse as Yemen, Sudan, Mexico and South Korea. The United Nations warned in June that the world is on the brink of its worst food crisis in 50 years.
Arif Husain, chief economist of the United Nations World Food Program, said in an interview …
“It’s scary and it’s overwhelming. I don’t
think we have seen anything like this ever.”
In China, the two foods in the tightest spots are pork and corn, with the nation’s pigs hit hard by African swine fever and much of the year’s corn crop ruined by floods. But fresh foods of all stripes are in short supply, too, due to the coronavirus pandemic and flooding — from eggs, to seafood, to leafy green vegetables.
Beijing has declared it is not in a food crisis, and says it has enough reserve wheat to help feed its people for a year. Still, China’s leadership has watched uneasily as pork prices soared 135 percent in February, and floods washed away vegetable crops.
And for China’s leadership, there is a worrisome legacy. The country has a long history of food shortages sparking political unrest.
The risks for Beijing extend overseas. China is dependent on the United States this year to bridge its corn shortfall, a position it has sought to avoid for years by stockpiling grain. Beijing’s developing-world allies are facing their worst food insecurity in decades.
‘Clean Plate’ push
Beijing’s solution has been a sunny “Clean Plate Campaign” launched in August, with the aim of curbing food use without prompting public alarm. Like the American Victory Gardens of World War II, the campaign is as much about trying to unite the country around a patriotic mission in a time of hardship as it is about securing the food supply.
Restaurants across the nation are dishing out “half-servings” in line with the drive. Some, like upscale Peking duck chain Quanjude, have instructed servers to nag diners not to waste. Other restaurants are fining people for leaving too much on their plates.
At one elementary school in southern China, students must send teachers short videos of their dinner each night to verify they are cleaning their plates, according to the state-run People’s Daily. A number of university canteens are giving away fruit and other small gifts to students who finish their lunches.
Even billionaire Jack Ma, founder of the online retail giant Alibaba, has been filmed trying to save food. A recent viral video shows him asking for his unfinished crab and lobster to be boxed up to go. He says in the video:
“Pack it up, pack it up, pack it
up! I will eat it on the plane.”
Government officials are, of course, forbidden from holding lavish banquets during this period.
As these restrictions took effect, China’s overall inflation on food costs eased to an annualized 8.8 percent in August from 10.2 percent in July, though vegetable inflation ticked back up to double digits with continued heavy rains and flooding. These higher prices are still affordable for China’s growing middle class, but they are being felt keenly by those on lower rungs of the economic ladder.
Memories of famine
For Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the food thrift campaign is not solely a practical measure, but also a reflection of Xi’s fundamental “hatred of materialism and wastefulness,” said Joseph Torigian, an assistant professor specializing in Chinese politics at American University.
Torigian cited Xi’s sister, Xi Ganping, who wrote that their father had been a stickler at conserving food at meals, even though he was a senior official. She wrote …
“We were terrified of his strict rules on thriftiness.
For example, when eating, he never allowed us to
drop a single piece of rice or bit of food. If you
weren’t careful and you dropped a bit of food,
he would immediately pick it up and eat it.”
Food security is one of the oldest concerns of the Chinese Communist Party. Millions starved to death during famine from 1959 to 1962 during Mao Zedong’s rule. Many who survived remember eating tree bark or grass to get through.
Early leaders identified food shortage and economic downturns as possible triggers for public uprisings. The Communist Party’s most severe political crisis to date, the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, took place in a period of runaway inflation and economic malaise that bred popular discontent.
Over the past couple decades, the implicit bargain offered by Chinese leaders has been unprecedented economic advancement and opportunities in exchange for political quiescence. That means the ability for regular folk to eat meat regularly instead of as a luxury, as well as having a range of nutritious foods within reach.
When Xi assumed office in 2012, one of his flagship policies was to eradicate extreme poverty from China by this year. Local officials across the nation have worked to meet this target for years until the pandemic this year threw a wrench in these plans.
One of China’s rare private food banks, the Shanghai Green Food Bank, reported in recent weeks that growing numbers of the city’s migrant workers are having trouble making ends meet and are requiring food assistance.
Husain, the World Food Program economist, said an estimated 270 million people globally are suffering acute hunger this year, twice last year’s count. This number doesn’t even include China, the United States and European nations traditionally considered food-secure, where the World Food Program doesn’t track such data. He said …
“No region has been spared.
Literally the whole world is affected.”
• • • • • • • •
In previous blogs – which you can find under the “food” heading – we’ve mentioned CSA’s and farmers’ markets. This report makes the potential of food shortages more immediate … as it’s already happening. Here are a few comments from D, the entity my wife channels, then some new development trends.
“There’s something about thoughtfulness with food, not wasting, re-using leftovers, not eating more than you need, that needs to be part of the conversation.
“We also recommend planning your pantry, to take you through difficult times, so that you have extra on hand, just in case.”
Finally, subdivisions with their cul-de-sacs were developed after WWII, and were designed to encourage “driving to the mall” and other activities that would encourage greater use of cars – and gasoline. Today, we’re beginning to see some developments set aside land for growing food. In fact …
We’re now in the early stages of planning for a second Garden Atrium development that will be Net Zero in food supply. We found that residents with a green thumb were enthusiastic about starting their gardens in April. But when the heat came in July and their garden needed weeding, they were “otherwise occupied.” What we learned in our Garden Atriums development is: if you want to ensure food delivery, hire a professional farmer. Some developments set aside land for food, but don’t engage a farmer.
(A third of an acre can provide 100% of one person’s food needs – some for veggies, some orchard, some for chickens, etc. One organic farmer can farm ten acres. If you have a larger community, you can engage multiple farmers with special skills, such as aquaculture, orchards, livestock, etc.) A greenhouse significantly extends the growing season. And a cannery – especially with freezers – enables you to flash-freeze what you’ve just harvested, so you have the good food you want, when you want it.
So … in addition to identifying local sources for food provision, if you happen to be considering moving to a new home, be sure the development has a reliable food-producing system in place.