Recognize Food Shortages Coming: 5 Things You Need to Know

April 05, 2020


  1. Unavailability of field workers
  2. Reduced distribution and trucking
  3. Runs on stores
  4. Lockdowns, quarantines, and martial law
  5. Non-traditional ways of obtaining food

Summary: Establishes the basic premise that you will examine what signs a City Prepper can look for to foresee a possible shortage.

With the current situation happening around the world, especially in the U.S., the question has to be asked: what are the implications to our food supply chain?  Should we be concerned?  Could the supply chain be disrupted, damaged, or worse, could food shortages become a reality in the next few months?

It’s easy for us to take for granted how accessible food is to us in our modern world; however, as you may have now realized from the current situation we’re living in, things are changing quickly, people are panic buying, and now for the first time in many generations, the general population is suddenly realizing that having the food they need on hand is no longer guaranteed.

In this blog, we’ll discuss the 5 signs a food shortage is may be imminent and how what you can do now to prepare yourself to have what you need on hand to survive to ensure your family’s safety.

Furthermore, we’ll discuss the signs you should be looking for and we’ll conclude with some practical types to help increase your odds of handling a shortage.

1. Unavailability of field workers

Summary: Discusses the essential role of the field worker and encourages people to be observant of changes in this first line of the food supply.

Unavailability of Field WorkersDuring normal times, 36 percent of all Americans eat at a fast food restaurant on any given day.  But when 75 percent of the U.S. was under some sort of a “shelter-in-place” order, restaurants have shut down or had to dramatically alter how they conducted business.  It’s safe to say that Americans have a heavy dependence on sources of food that can easily disappear during a shutdown or shelter in place order.  The people supplying restaurants and agricultural products for store shelves are the field workers.  This critical first line in the food supply chain plants, tends, and harvests the crops supplying the stores and food processing plants that manufacture the products for your store shelves.

As illnesses spread through this group, we will inevitably see recalls on products for E coli, viruses and bacterias.  Often, there are recalls on products because the food we consider safe has been exposed to harmful contagions.  Recalls are not a big disruptor of the entire food supply, but illnesses amongst this working group, slows output and supplies to larger manufacturers.  As reliable as our farms and production are, they are still susceptible to massive disruptions from even the smallest of contagions.  If this occurs and news spreads, many people will start the hoarding process and panic buy products from the shelves all over again.  This further compounds the shortages and leads to more panic buying and hoarding behaviors.

Field workers are the first to plant and harvest our foods.

If there are widespread illnesses amongst this group, the supply chain can be seriously disrupted.  These individuals are often the unseen, undocumented works that perform a very critical role in our food supply chain.  Their access to medicine or medical care if they get sick is very limited leaving them much more vulnerable.  Being a marginalized group, their ability to weather this storm is far less that the average citizen.  You should really consider what food products you rely upon and make sure you have enough of these products on hand to last you several weeks.  As we’re making this blog there are already limits to the purchase of beans, rice, flour and other staples.

Trade wars, drought and natural catastrophes, and border closings will all contribute to diminished food production.  With current projections forecasting 2020 to very likely produce record heat waves, the possibility for crop failures is on the rise.  Recent events have dealt additional blows to a vulnerable farm economy, sending crop and livestock prices tumbling and raising concerns about sudden labor shortages.  

If you see an escalation in any combination of these factors, especially when combined together, it should signal to you that shortages of food in stores is likely imminent.  Logistical snags from closed borders to reduced workforces can put strain on usual supply routes, particularly for fresh produce.

Be aware of any significant disruptions to this first line of the food supply chain.  Recognizing when the disruptions in production are about to occur amongst this group can mean the difference between you having what you need to survive and waiting in long lines at grocery stores only to find empty shelves.

2. Reduced distribution and trucking

Summary: Trucking and shipping disruptions can signal an imminent food shortage.

Reduced Distribution and TruckingThe second sign of an imminent shortage are the distribution methods and truckers.  Much of the food we eat is grown in other countries or travels great distances from the farm or ranch to the table.  When borders close and cargo ships can’t get through to major ports, as occurred after the events of 9/11, it’s a sign that grocery stores and food processors will experience a disruption in their production capabilities.  At a time when much of the nation’s workforce may be furloughed or sent to work from home, truckers have been deemed “essential” to keeping America rolling.  When consumer demand for products skyrocket, this industry can boom, but disruptions to this industry caused by illnesses or the lack of availability of fuel could signal a second wave of food shortages.

With regards to cargo and container shipping, we often don’t realize a shortage of pineapples or avocados, and it doesn’t impact our daily lives to work around these disruptions in the food lines; however, extended shortages of imports like oil, wheat, rice, beans and other staples for production can dramatically reduce food manufacturing production output.  If you see stories of container ships lined up outside the nation’s ports, this should signal to you that a food chain disruption will follow.

Also, keep in mind that while America may have the necessary medical equipment and medication available to help individuals that get sick recover, many countries, especially the poor countries we trade with, do not have those luxuries.  If those that transport our food from other nations become sick and the workforce in those nations is crippled, it will be difficult to get food to our own country.  As we’ve become a global community, we have become more reliant on other nations.  While we may recover here, they may not as quickly or ever.

Are you prepared to get by if you can’t grab from your pantry that box of whatever?  Truckers striking, cargo ships not being allowed into port, planes or trains not running, are all signs that a food shortage is imminent.  We’ve already seen employees on strike at Amazon recently due to their concern about the lack of adequate health conditions and their exposure to the illness.  As more people become sick over the next few weeks, you very likely will see this impact those that are responsible to getting food to our tables.

3. Runs on stores

Summary: Navigating shortages at the stores.

Runs on storesRecent lessons have taught us that in a crisis situation, those who are not prepared will stock up on items they “think” they need.  Runs on toilet paper are a perfect example of this.  While stores were selling out of toilet paper, recently, they were also selling out of boxed meals, beans, rice, flour, bread, eggs, meat, milk, and other essential foods.  As social distancing has become a practice, long lines and limits on product purchases have become a reality.  Even worse, having to wait in a line with, possibly, asymptomatic shoppers, can put you and your family at risk later on.  Is waiting to get food and at the same time exposing yourself to a potential lethal carrier worth the risk?

The average person loading up a cart full of toilet paper may not be looking for bread yeast or even flour right away.  A 20 pound bag of flour can make at least 20 or more loaves of bread.  Having that in your storage can be a life saver.  And when the stores are sold out of white flour, a savvy baker can use whole wheat, rye or another alternative flour just as easily to provide critical calcium and b vitamins to a family.

Beyond just baking, though, runs on stores can create shortages in other staples, and knowing grocers are in low supply of any product should still afford you enough time to prepare your own supplies for an extended period of food supply disruption or even the need for self-sustenance.

Worth mentioning here are electronic orders and scheduled deliveries.  These sources may become depleted and are not entirely reliable in a larger shutdown or order to shelter in place; however, when runs on stores begin to occur, a well timed and early order of steaks or pre-packaged frozen meals could mean you’ll receive what you need before the rest of the world overloads and depletes these resources.  At this point, deliveries are stretched from next week, to next month, to “if we ever can.”  A good example of this in our most recent crisis was bottled water delivery service.  While stores were selling out of bottled water, five gallon delivery of water through pre-arranged services in my area were merely limited to the quantities of previous orders.  A food delivery source can keep you from having to dip into your supplies, for as long as possible.  Just to be clear, we are not suggesting takeout when we say food delivery service.  Takeout and delivery orders from fast food restaurants where workers may be forced to work while being sick or may be asymptomatic as they prepare your food is very risky.  By food delivery, we mean those services that ship or door deliver pre-packaged meals or raw materials like fresh vegetables, frozen beef or fish.  While it is never a guarantee and these delivery sources may also be disrupted or end all together, food delivery sources can be a potential means of supplying yourself in the early days of a crisis when stores are beginning to run out of product.

4. Lockdowns, quarantines, and martial law

Summary: Restricted movement can prevent a person from obtaining all of the needed supplies.  The importance of having recipes and all the ingredients.

Lockdowns, quarantines, and martial lawWithout moving to the far extreme of martial law as a result of any civil unrest, it is important to be prepared for periods when you are in lock down, quarantine, or under a “shelter in place” order.  Any of those situations are indicators that your ability to obtain food from traditional sources like grocery stores or takeout are no longer going to be feasible.

If people cannot move freely, deliveries may slow or stop all together.  Even having groceries delivered in the current crises resulted in people waiting up to two weeks or more for their order to be delivered.  When online distributors of products experience a slow down as a result of lockdowns, quarantines or martial law, deliveries will experience a slow down or, in the worst case, a halt.  In Sweden, during the recent social distancing, deliveries are only occurring at night.  It’s reasonable to assume that should things worsen in the current crises, deliveries may halt, move to a staggered schedule, or cease all together.

Periods when you have to remain in your home are very real possibilities.  Knowing how to cook and prepare food is an essential skill you should develop.  Ten pounds of pinto beans will do you no good if you don’t know how to prepare them.  Having the dried spices and herbs you need to make your meals less bland can provide you a psychological boost.  During a period where you can’t get to the store, you will find having all the ingredients you need on hand can make your time in your home easier to bear.  Key to this is having a few pre-printed recipes or basic cookbooks for the staples you have stored alongside your containers.  You cannot guarantee that your internet connection will allow you to search for recipes, so it’s important to have these printed and ready in advance.  If you’re cycling through your supplies and keeping them fresh, you should already be eating your stored foods and will, hopefully, have a few recipes you regularly make.  These precautions and the skill of cooking guarantees you’ll have food you can enjoy and activities to keep you busy should you be forced to isolate yourself.  It’s important to recognize that lockdowns, quarantines, and martial law can all dramatically impact your ability to get the basic foods you need to feed yourself and your family.

5. Non-traditional ways of obtaining food

Summary: Bartering, exchange, local growers and home/patio gardening.

Non-traditional ways of obtaining foodIf you’ve followed our website, you know we’re not here to scare you.  The preparation that we talk about is for the exact things we are facing right now globally.  Realize, that even in a crisis there are some non-traditional ways to obtain food.

Social networking, bartering, and exchange are all ways to maintain your food supply through a social crisis.  Your neighbors may have an essential item you can complete your supply with in exchange for a product you have an abundance of.  If everyone is recommended to “shelter in place” and grocery stores are overwhelmed, your citrus tree or home garden may become a key commodity for you to stretch your supplies.  Sitting on a hoard of 40 pounds of pinto beans does nobody any good, but exchanging 4 cups of beans for 4 cups of flour, 4 eggs, or 4 potatoes ensures that everyone in your community continues to thrive in even the worst of times.

These bartering networks can spring up organically.  Social media can allow you to set up porch pickups.  As friendly as these exchanges may be, however, you will want to avoid offering too much or revealing too much about what you have in stock.  Only trade for the essentials you need and then only with the small quantity you are offering up.  You would not want to post a picture of your 20 pound bag of flour and state that you’re willing to trade 4 cups of it.  While people are currently calm during this event, if it worsens or food shortages become worse, that may change.  The term is OPSEC which is short for Operational Security.  The less people know about what you have, the better.

If trusting strangers on social media makes you uncomfortable, sometimes calls to your friends, family or next door neighbor can still help you secure the foods you need to fill in any gaps in your inventory.

Another non-traditional way to obtain food is to get local.  Make connections at farmer’s markets for when you might need them later.  Local farmers, the poultryman, the fishmonger usually have contact information for their clients.  All can be critical sources when store shelves are barren, because they tend to be smaller operations not feeding into the larger national supply chain, and they have to continue to run their operations and care for their animals and crops.  Here also, bartering is a great means.  You may not need an entire case of citrus or avocados, but after you have what you need, someone else may be willing to trade for some quantity of what you have.

One of the most reliable sources of food is your home garden.  If you haven’t attempted patio tomato plants, a vertical planter, or even a bold venture into the world of hydroponic farming, you may want to research it a little more.  If you’re completely new to gardening, a great book to get you started is the “All New Square Foot Gardening” which you can pick up on Amazon.  It helped us when we first started to garden.  If you think you could and might go down this route, you should plan to keep a few types of seeds in your supplies.  The problem with this method is that you are at the mercy of the plants growing.  That takes time and energy before you can have any substantial harvest, and that means you can’t wait to start your home garden the day of a crisis.  That being said, last year’s harvest of tomatoes that you painstakingly dried and stored or dehydrated, freeze dried or pickled foods from your last harvest may be a lifesaver when a crisis occurs.


To summarize the points in this video, if history teaches us one thing, it’s that when we are well-informed and adequately prepared, we increase our odds of survival.  Food shortages are a reality in any extended crisis or periods of social unrest.  If you make some key observations early, you can stay ahead of the shortages and make certain you have the food supplies you need.  Watch for disruptions in the field worker population.  Are farmers having a difficult time finding laborers?  Watch for disruptions in distribution methods like shipping and trucking.  Watch for the early signs of a run on products on store shelves, and focus on filling the gaps in your supplies with the other products you need that the general population isn’t yet realizing they will be short of.  When store runs are occurring, realize you may also still have time to place an early order from a food delivery service ahead of any disruptions in this channel.

While lockdowns, quarantines, and martial law are a guarantee of coming food shortages and may leave many too late to stock up or even get the essential foods they need, building connections with local producers, bartering, exchanging, and home gardening can fill the gaps in your supplies and maintain a steady supply of some foods.

If you found this blog informative and helpful, please feel free to like and share it with your friends, family, and community. 

As always, stay safe out there.

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