If you want to move past “empty shelves,” support local farmers and grocers

Never in my decades of following economics and high finance did I think I would live to see our country’s supply chain break. While Americans were faced with Venezuela-esque “empty shelves” during the 2020 lockdowns, we were not in a particularly dangerous position at the time. There was no labor shortage – in fact, our country went into the coronavirus panic at full employment. There was no “anti-work” movement in specific industries. Warehouses were fully stocked and transportation networks were still functioning quite well.

I don’t think most Americans appreciate how well the supply chain functioned against the forces of extreme hoarding and selfishness. Folks were buying out all of the soup and toilet paper the moment it went on the shelves, and it was replaced the next morning, only to have the process repeated ad nauseam. In another country, this behavior would have resulted in actual famines.

We are not in that position now. Many industries have no prayer of working at capacity for years. If the country were to experience another genuine economic or geopolitical shock, some part of the population would go without necessities and essential services. And that’s before you get to the skyrocketing cost of goods and raw materials.

I have seen a lot of commentary from Bloomberg, etc. from self-proclaimed supply chain gurus that the “experts” saw the fragility of the supply chain coming for years now. One can obviously disprove that with a simple Google Trends search – or you can just read Bloomberg’s own content from a couple years ago. This is a feature of crises since our country has been overwhelmed with political tourism, however. Stuff breaks and then we get to suffer through an insufferable avalanche of instant experts in the media.

The fact of the matter is the supply chain collapse is one massive own-goal. There is no reason why we should continue to have covid restrictions in place now that the virus is literally the common cold. Hospitals are not overwhelmed by sickness – they are suffering through the same sort of dysfunction the trucking industry is experiencing. As long as the morally weak and intellectually unreasonable populations of urban transport hubs continue to say “thank you, sir, may I have another,” this completely unnecessary nonsense will continue.

Anyway, that is one long preamble to another observation – how wildly different the experience of localists and locavores has been throughout this entire crisis.

During the 2020 lockdown, our household was already under the impression that this panic was completely manufactured. We refused to wear masks and decided early on to vote with our pocketbooks. (Behavior like this is why Florida has ZERO covid restrictions and other states are still stuck in the amber of 2020.) We stopped physically going to Publix and instead bought our produce at a massive local produce stand run by local farmers down the street from us. And I do not mean a few things – I mean everything. No one there wore masks and they certainly did not harass customers about them. Thousands of dollars that we normally spent at Publix went directly into the pockets of farmers instead. We bought fish from local fishmongers and meat from local butchers. We stopped by international grocers from Portugal, Russia, Latin America, Asia.

It was fantastic. We tried a lot of new food and met a lot of like-minded people from diverse backgrounds, which helped keep us sane and happy. And it was a terrific example to set for our daughter on the value of community.

But it is amazing that this is true even now, years later. The Publix down the street from us has been in and out of essential goods for the better part of six months now. This includes products that one would think are acquired locally, like perishables. One of the more disturbing things all year has been the lack of meat available, particularly frozen meat. They had an influx of meat around the holidays, but before that, there was essentially no frozen meat section in the store.

Why is this? Frozen meat comes from industrial meat packers in the US, and government regulations, the covid testing complex, and general fear-mongering have kept their workforces thin to non-functional.

We have made it a point to stop by local butchers, fish-mongers, and grocery chains in our new town and surrounding areas like we did in 2020. Do you want to know who is not having a meat crisis?

Yesterday, we stopped by a butcher shop in Naples after Elise’s fencing lesson. I bought two pheasants, a rabbit, blood sausage, ground kangaroo (not kidding), ground elk, and smoked wild boar, all for less than it would cost to eat out at a chain restaurant now. They had plenty of steaks, chicken, etc. in stock too, but it was the specialty stuff that has not been available even in luxury grocery chains like Fresh Market for a year now that I was shocked at. The place was packed with food and packed with shoppers. And it was like inflation had not touched the place.

I realize the options I am talking about here do not apply to places that have no agricultural industry to speak of. My family in Colorado, for example, can shop at any grocery chain they choose and they will never have produce at any point in the year that looks like it does here in Florida, where the growing season never ends. To eat local there, one really does need to learn how to store and preserve food and make the most of what you do have access to. (And it’s not like ground kangaroo is local food anywhere in the United States, lol.)

But for the most part, the key to having an anti-fragile network of food suppliers is to start building up and supporting local businesses and stop feeding the megacorporation beasts. It is a winning solution all the way around – you support your cities, you promote civic pride, you support a cleaner and more sustainable environment, and you know that what you are feeding your kid is safe.

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