The current crisis will actually help us NOT to run out of food. Ironic. How is that possible?
It is estimated that we waste 30-40 percent of the food in this country. I am not sure what the percentage represents (particularly the denominator), but it is abundantly clear that restaurants are an enormous source of wasted food. Serving sizes are excessive, salad bars and buffets are enormously wasteful, and sloppy inventory management in restaurants is surely a problem.
With all restaurants closed, with many large organizations closed or on reduced schedules, with large-scale cafeterias reduced in scope, we will now go back to cooking and eating as our parents and grandparents did.
When many Baby Boomers were growing up, very few families ate out. Don’t forget, in those days we did not have almost 700,000 restaurants to choose from. In 1977 less than 20% of food was consumed out of the home, yet by 2012 that had risen to almost 35 percent. Here is a chart showing trends.
Thus, one could infer that the rapid shift to home-based food consumption that is now underway would be profoundly beneficial to the food system.
I also predict that we will see a new consumer focus on a narrower (and somewhat simplified) part of the enormous spectrum of food that burdens the system with specialty products, exotics, etc.—the sort of stuff restaurants like to offer (bang bang shrimp, mussels, Kobe beef, etc.).
If the food system can focus on staples (have you noticed the sudden fascination with rice, beans, and other starches?) our production capacity is prodigious. If supply lines remain open from Mexico (from which we obtain much)– and a few other places– we will be fine.
With world oil prices plunging because of the Russian-Saudi battle, it will be much cheaper to transport food. We might even see a small price drop.
So I see the food system as becoming more focused, more coherent by a “slimming-down” of consumer expectations, and a general “hunkering down” mentality. Superfluous consumption, parties, banquets, and general gluttony is going to stop. Food wastage will plummet. Our mother’s cookbooks will be rediscovered.
We will be fine.
By the way, please give up on frogs’ legs, caviar, graved lox, Norwegian salmon and rediscover simpler fare. We all might lose a little weight along the way….
Dr. Daniel Bromley can be contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.