Do you know what’s scary? Tornadoes in December, yes. The worsening pandemic, of course. The political situation, certainly. And, I am ashamed to say it, the supermarket shelves are insufficient.
The sad truth: Americans are spoiled. They are used to an embarrassment of riches: 30 varieties of cereals, 25 breads, 19 flavors of ice cream, yogurts and soft drinks and forms of pasta and juices and cheeses ranging from the sane to the surreal.
Think about it: who needs a chicken-flavored cracker? Better yet, what chemical combination synthesizes the flavor of chicken?
Empty shelves are usually the result of a world war, as happened in the 1940s, when meat, sugar, and other commodities were rationed by the federal government. But the current shortages are attributed to supply chain disruptions, or COVID, or understaffing, or climate change or transportation issues.
Yet the audience reaction resembles that of a 4-year-old receiving corn flakes instead of Froot Loops. Orange instead of apple juice. Grilled chicken instead of nuggets. Milk in a regular glass instead of a cartoon character spout.
Decades of generosity have made it possible to adapt our DNA.
My mind came back to the early 90s. An organization in the New England town where I worked sponsored a family of Soviet immigrants, providing a tiny but fully furnished apartment, toys for their grandson, warm clothes. , start-up money and a job. The organization asked me, as a food journalist, to take them shopping and explain American eating habits.
Our first stop: the largest and newest supermarket with inventory approaching the mega Harris Teeter on NC 211. It was a time of economic hardship in Russia causing queues, malnutrition and near hunger.
We grabbed a cart and made our way to the produce aisle, where we were greeted by a veritable tower of celery stalks. The woman gasped, rushed forward, grabbed a rod and held it over her head at the Statue of Liberty, exclaiming something in Russian as tears streamed down her thin, pale face.
I won’t describe what happened in the artisan bakery section, where even Russian-style black bread was baked in plain sight. Although cookies filled the window, their little boy didn’t make a big deal out of them because he didn’t know what they were.
I felt uncomfortable, slightly embarrassed by this obscene display of fullness. The same feelings surfaced when I saw the destruction of food supplies in tornado-ravaged Kentucky.
Empty supermarket shelves taken from the right angle stretch into a large photo for the front page. Unfortunately, they promote the build-up of panic whether the missing item is a necessity or not. Example: Toilet paper, necessary, but why peel the vegetables on absorbent paper when plastic bags and newspaper are sufficient? Meat is no longer plentiful – and disgracefully expensive. So stop eating so much, which will benefit not only the budget, but your health. The same goes for manufactured snack foods. Did you know that one potato is enough to fill a bag of $ 2.39 chips?
As you adjust to price increases and shortages, remember this: Until now, there are still substitutes for favorite brands or products that are out of stock or out of reach. It is not a starvation problem for average buyers. It’s about adapting to circumstances caused, in part, by a nasty disease that can affect the economy for years to come.
Americans are advised to “tighten their belts”. Why not just throw in some stiff belts with holes in favor of a stretchy elastic that responds to changing conditions? Or make a deal with the devil: Eliminating soda and frozen entrees will free up enough money to buy a side of salmon or a loaf of baked bread.
Because until you see Lady Liberty holding a stalk of celery above her head in a football-pitched supermarket, you’re fine.