With more lockdowns on the horizon and a fragile large-scale food production system and distribution, food insecurity will continue to rise. Hunger is a harsh reality in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Even during times of economic stability, schools provide millions of hot meals a day to children, and desperate elderly Americans are sometimes forced to choose between medicine and food. The newly hungry have similar stories: unemployment, whole industries collapsing, reduced hours, illness, and benefits unavailable or running out entirely. You or someone you may know could be facing the hard choice between paying the rent or feeding yourself or your children. This blog will look at the food insecurity problem in America today and what you can do to get through this crisis.
1) A Hunger Crisis
Drive-by any food pantry in America, and you will see that measures to combat this pandemic have taken a severe toll. Millions of Americans have become unemployed. Millions more are on limited unemployment insurance benefits or are facing those benefits running out completely. With schools closed, parents have had to adjust to finding care for their children and supplying them with the meals they would have gotten through school lunch programs.
Food pantries across America have experienced a dramatic surge, as Americans who were by most estimates living paycheck-to-paycheck before the crisis are finding themselves without the means to put essential foods on their dining room tables. Simultaneously, the Consumer Price Index for food rose 20%, effectively pricing many people out of grocery stores and searching for bargains to stretch their dollars.
This year also had some severe supply chain disruptions. There were runs on stores from March through April. SARS-CoV-2 hit the pork industry and several critical agricultural areas, which closed processing plants and left crops rotting in the fields. The August 2020 Midwest Derecho was referred to as one of the largest “land-based hurricanes” in recorded history, spawning 17 confirmed tornadoes across Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. Ten million acres of crops were damaged or destroyed, accounting for roughly a third of the state of Iowa’s agricultural area.
If we emerge from this pandemic in the coming year, the economy can recover from its losses, if production and distribution can remain stable through the first half of 2021, we should see plentiful supplies and the high demand at food pantries to, at least, shrink a little.
2) Finding Food
Even with all the elements that compose this hunger crisis in America, you wouldn’t know it’s happening unless you saw the lines or heard the individuals’ stories. If you go to the store right now, you would see stocked shelves and a cornucopia of choices. Even with the disruptions to the supply chain this year, food is abundant. It just isn’t in the hands of those who need it most.
So, how do you find food when you can’t afford it? Food is essential to survival, so it is a cornerstone of prepping. Next to water, it should be one of the most critical prepping supplies you have on hand. If you have been prepping for even a short time, food insecurity is less of an issue for you, even if you suffer major income setbacks. Buying in bulk, buying staple items, and learning how to cook for yourself, will keep food on the table through hard times; but what if you are only now coming to prepping? What if you find yourself staring at empty cupboards and hungry faces?
The first thing to do is find the non-profit food pantries in your area. Some will require that you prove residency or show identification. There is no shame in going to a food pantry. Many distribute food in boxes. Many have freestanding stores where you can receive free items and also purchase food at significantly reduced prices. Area grocery stores from your average chain to high-end organic stores donate their close to expiration products to these food pantries. If a careless swipe of a box cutter rips open a bag of chips when being stocked, some stores have a policy of donating the whole box of goods. The stores receive a tax deduction and write-off for the donation, and you can receive quality foods at incredibly low prices. Many pantries also receive donations from area farmers and grocer produce sections, so there are usually fresh fruits and vegetables available.
When food is a scarcity, fad diets are replaced by core nutrients. If you haven’t bought in bulk and learned to cook before, you have to now. A 20-pound bag of pinto beans will cost around 20 bucks. A 45-pound bag of rice will cost just under 40 dollars. With that much beans and rice, you could make 570 cups of hearty food at the very least. To visualize that, imagine 285 pint-sized to-go containers full of food. Stretching it out and supplementing it with vegetables, meats, and seasonings will expand it even further. You will probably get very tired of these two staple foods, but they can sustain you for a very long time and are nutrient and protein-rich.
Flour can also be obtained in bulk, and yeast can be stretched with starters and sponges. On average, one pound of flour can make one loaf of bread. Man does not live by bread alone, but it doesn’t hurt to fill you up when times are tough. Ramen and some other highly processed foods might not have much nutritional value and will have loads of salt in them, but they can sustain you and fill you up when you need them. If you get a windfall of apples or anything else, now is the time to learn how to dehydrate them so not an ounce of food goes to waste. When times are hard, you should strive not to throw away an ounce of usable food. From carrot top pesto to boiling chicken carcasses or bones, learn to squeeze every last morsel of nutrients from every scrap of food you can bring into your home.
You can also learn to bargain shop. Ask anyone who grew up in a family without a lot of money, and they will tell you that they shop at several stores because one has better bargains than the other. In our area, we can buy produce super cheap at one, sundries less expensive at another, and meats less expensive at another. Coupons tend to be on products that are already marked up considerably compared to generics, but store circulars can be a guide to your best values and meal planning. Even dollar stores have some not very well known brands you can get on the cheap.
There are hundreds of ways to stretch even a dollar into a hearty meal, but many people have never learned how. Only 30% of Americans eat every meal at home. That is precisely what you have to do when times are tight. Restaurants mark-up the price of food by around 300%, which will drain your budget quickly.
What’s your favorite low budget meal?
3) Stretching What You Can Get
Between my grandfather’s catfishing and gardening, there was always food on their table. It was not unusual to see him trade catfish out of his big freezer in the basement for money, to get a car repaired, even for someone else’s venison meat. Trading what you have or what you can produce for what you need is the first step in bolstering your supplies. Stretching it out is the next key.
Many restaurants stopped putting out condiments, sugar, and salt because people grabbed it by the handful for use at home. My friend once told me that he used to make a basting sauce for chicken out of ketchup and taco sauce packets. During the Great Depression, people put a small amount of ketchup in a cup and add hot water to make a ketchup soup. When possible, they would add cream or milk to make it more palatable and nutritious.
Foraging is possible even for urban dwellers. If you have a pesticide-free area, there are probably plants there you can eat. While there won’t be enough to sustain you, you will get enough to supplement your staple foods and possibly turn one meal into three meals. Take a look at the other videos on this channel on edible plants and see if that is possible for you. Maybe this is the year to try a dandelion and clover salad.
If you know another family in a similar food scarcity situation as you are suffering through, consider meal swaps or combining resources. This can stretch your food supplies and fill in the gaps of what you may be missing. Ask yourself with every bit of food you bring into your house, “How can I get more out of this? How can I stretch this into more meals?” You will have to get creative, but you will begin to develop some tricks of your own. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say.
4) Keep Your Head About You
So much of survival is mental. It is easy to feel like a failure in life or ashamed of the circumstances you find yourself suffering through. You have to keep your head about you. Hopefully, hunger will be the worst thing you suffer through in your life but keeping positive by knowing that lives do turnaround will keep you moving powerfully in the right direction. In rough times, we remind ourselves that we are not the first person to suffer through what we face. We remind ourselves that others have suffered more through the same or worse. And we remind ourselves that we don’t suffer alone. The 2020 recession has been a relentless wave after wave of high unemployment and economic uncertainty, and it only appears to be getting worse. The government stimulus that kept millions of Americans from falling into poverty earlier in the pandemic is long gone, and new aid is still held up by congressional inaction. Hunger is chronic, at levels not seen in decades.
Remember that your great grandparents may have suffered through two world wars, a pandemic of their own, and a great depression. They made it, raised children of their own who eventually brought you to where you are at today. Throughout history, people have persevered through horrible tragedies and lived to see brighter days that they appreciated with greater gratitude. You can too. Don’t lose heart. Don’t lose faith. Develop the mental toughness to make it through to the brighter days.
5) Open Your Pantry
You may not be suffering from any food insecurity, and you may not see it in your future. If that is the case, consider yourself truly blessed. You should still shoulder some of the responsibility of this crisis. There are many, some you may know, who are newly unemployed and possibly newly hungry. Now is the time to accidentally cook a little extra and offer to deliver that extra food to friends, family, and neighbors. Bake an extra loaf of bread or an extra batch of cookies. Make too much stew that’s so good, but you just simply can’t eat it all. Buy too much of something that was just too good of a deal and then figure out how to give it away. Giving to those who might be i n need allows them not to feel ashamed of the circumstances they are in by no fault of their own, and they will remember your simple, secret kindness.
If you want to go all out for the holidays, make the biggest pot of food you can and go to any homeless encampment in your area and start serving it up. You will find that those you feed are not too different than yourself. Most people are just a few paychecks away from homelessness or food insecurity. It’s even more challenging during these times to find people in need because we are all supposed to keep our distance, so you may have to get creative. Though the food may be in short supply for some, our hearts have a never-ending supply of nourishment when we give from our abundance to those who are less fortunate.
The year 2020 has been a year of challenges and struggles for many. High unemployment and economic uncertainty have led many to food insecurity for the first time in their lives. As paltry as it was, the government stimulus kept millions of Americans from falling into poverty earlier in the pandemic, but those funds are long gone. Hunger in America is at a level not seen in decades. With more lockdowns on the horizon and a fragile system of large-scale food production and distribution, food insecurity will continue to rise, but there are ways you can still make it work.
We would love to hear how you stretch your food and dollars, and we know our subscribers would value your tips and tricks to keep food on the table. Is there a hunger crisis in your community, and what’s being done about it?
As always, stay safe out there.