• Food Fight Team

COVID & The Supply Chain

n the past year the pandemic has exposed various system failures and brought to light the vulnerability of our food supply chains.

I remember during the first few months of lockdown there were what felt like endless shortages of toilet paper, restrictions on the amount of milk and canned goods you could buy, and the odd shortage of ingredients like flour and molasses with seemingly everyone taking up baking as a hobby during quarantine.

The main lesson from the panic buying that occurred was the false sense of a shortage. Yes, there was a temporary shortage of toilet paper at one point, but that was created by the surge in demand. Stores typically buy stock based on past trends and factories typically produce goods based on historical quantities. This led to a situation where suppliers could not make more toilet paper as fast as it was being purchased.

Personally, I think a lot of panic buying was perpetuated by the media. Psychologically if people see empty shelves they are going to rush out and buy more of something in fear of not being able to access this good. However, even though a global pandemic is a serious crisis it does not justify the feeling of needing to buy 200 rolls of toilet paper. The good thing about this problem is that it is temporary and has since recovered for the most part. Obviously in Ontario we are subject to potential lockdowns down the road, but the hope is that suppliers and retailers will be prepared for those surges in panic buying.

A more concerning issue that became apparent was the amount of food that was thrown out by farmers. I myself learned about the Act where the Canadian government pays farmers for all the goods they can’t sell because of this very issue. Even though I think the Canadian government should focus more money on sustainable solutions to food waste and food insecurity, I think it is a good program in place to protect farmers because a lot of the food was wasted because they had no other choice. However, with food insecurity and unemployment spiking to new levels during the pandemic it was discouraging to see perfectly safe to eat food go to waste. There were also issues in the supply chain with food processing plants closing down due to the spread of the virus or productivity declining due to the adherence to health protocols in relation to social distancing. As well, with lockdowns impacting the majority of restaurants and purchasers of food it shocked the system. There still exists a need for a system where food can go directly from farm to table. This is because several farmers struggled with the packaging regulations from grocery stores as they are more cumbersome than what they were used to selling their food to restaurants and mass distributors. There needs to be a better and more efficient way for this food to get in the hands of people who need it without raising costs for farmers.

Lastly, due to mass unemployment nationwide food insecurity and people accessing food banks increased. The pandemic has brought to the forefront the importance of food banks and the integral role they play in our communities. Without food banks a lot of Canadians would be hungry right now and there still exists opportunities for more services and programs to combat food insecurity.

The pandemic has brought about a lot of challenges, but some of these challenges have exposed vulnerabilities in some of society’s key systems allowing us to think of creative solutions to ensure that these systems are stronger after the pandemic.

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