As the coronavirus spread across the United States, Americans became inundated with fear of catching the mysterious disease. As time passed, however, it became clear that getting sick wasn’t the only severe consequence of COVID-19. The economy started to crumble, there were predictions of global food shortages, and huge meat plants began shutting down.
Just a few months into the pandemic, the U.S. food supply seemed to take a major hit, yet experts claim the initial panic was a bit more reactionary than it needed to be. The nation’s food supply has proven to be more resilient than we gave it credit for, although experts have said that the pandemic — which has been a sort of ‘stress test’ — has identified enough weak links to show that our food supply isn’t as adept as it should be to handle an imminent crisis.
Americans with enough income or assistance haven’t had to worry about food shortages. The most potent threat has lied with those impacted by food insecurity, which was already a life-threatening issue even before the pandemic started. There are millions of Americans who are still unemployed because of the outbreak. And since the beginning of the year, 2 in every 5 people visiting food banks for assistance are seeking help for the first time.
Feeding America, whose 200 food banks typically serve around 40 million Americans, have reported an increase of about 17.1 million new mouths to feed. During a natural disaster, only a few food banks would typically be affected, but the pandemic has disrupted the operations of every food bank across the country.
In the midst of uncertainty, we can’t just sit back and wait for everything to return back to normal. Here are some things we can do today to help those impacted by food shortages caused by COVID-19:
Avoid grocery store panic
When everyone started reading about the impending outbreak, it caused consumers to panic-buy groceries in bulk. The bare shelves at these stores made national headlines because it was unlike anything we’ve seen before. Hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, canned food, frozen food — everything was gone.
As you can imagine, this is problematic. When people purchase food in bulk, it makes those items unavailable to others. Sadly, this doesn’t only take away food from those in need, but the items these consumers panic-bought ended up being thrown away once they realized the pandemic wasn’t as unrelenting as they initially thought.
In the event of a crisis, consumers should think outside-the-box. If certain meats and vegetables are scarce, try alternatives like tofu or other plant-based options. This ensures that other people still have access to meat to feed their families, and these substitutions are also better for the environment as well, especially when there have been thousands of COVID-related deaths across various meat processing plants.
Individuals that are at higher risk of food insecurity don’t have the income to afford these more expensive items. When we can get creative about the meals we stock up on and make for our families, we don’t hoard the food that other people desperately need to ensure they’re able to support themselves and their children.
Support food banks during this time
It’s estimated that there is a supply gap of around 8 million meals that are needed to feed communities across the nation. While food banks are needing to feed around 60 percent more people due to COVID-19, they are experiencing less donations from grocery stores, manufacturers, and consumers that have been able to help them in the past.
To help those experiencing food insecurity, consider donating to your local food bank. This could be a monetary contribution, or you can directly donate the food items that are needed to give to those in need. Most food banks are even urging people to volunteer because they need help packing emergency food boxes and distributing food into the community, and the more hands-on-deck, the better.
We are in the midst of a terrifying time. Yet, in the face of any crisis, some people will be more adversely affected than others. Just because you have access to the same food as you did before the pandemic started doesn’t mean that others do. Change your habits and consider giving anything you can to ensure that no one goes hungry during these unprecedented times.