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Organic Consumers Association

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Cook Organic not the Planet Campaign

The Deeper Source of Grocery Panic

How COVID-19 exposes the flaws in industrial agriculture—and invites reforms

In mid-March, as the reality of how COVID-19 would upend daily life became real for people across the U.S. and Europe, Katja Bartholmess went out for provisions in her Berlin neighborhood. At the REWE supermarket, she found long lines and emptied shelves, apart from the odd box of pasta. By contrast, the Boxi (Boxhagener Platz) farmers market was “well visited but well stocked.”

As the coronavirus pushes the food business into unknown terrain, the distinction is revealing. “These sellers are based within a radius of 50 miles,” says Bartholmess, a strategist and anthropologist working with B Lab Europe, a nonprofit seeking to catalyze business as a vehicle for good. “Even if things are shut down, they can pack products into a truck and bring it to people.”

Erratic availability of food supplies has people anxious. While much reflects panic buys and hoarding, the advent of COVID-19 reveals flaws in our food system, frailties that, for the most part, cheap transport and global supply networks have been able to mask. Recognizing this vulnerability highlights the need to bolster resilience in our food system. Ideally, we would decrease our reliance on long, global supply chains that are less alert to local needs and circumstances. As Bartholmess says, “Those farmers and local vendors know their customers and can anticipate and respond to their evolving needs much quicker than a globalized supply chain allows.”

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