Food shortages and surpluses

Photo by Mike Haupt

Meat plants a closin’, produce farmers at risk, dairy farmers dumping eggs & milk – what in the pandemic is going on?

I was curious how today’s experiences might relate to the food shortages of WW2. I remember learning about the butter shortage back then that related to the war needs for lubrication oils, but I didn’t know much other than that.

Through an exceedingly brief search of the internet, here’s a collection of some fun facts I learned. I have no education on this matter other than this brief search so if someone can contribute meaningful science/history, I’m all ears.

What we know is true: there are two kinds of shortages:

  1. Those that relate to heightened demand
  2. Those that relate to restricted supply

Back in WW2 they were dealing with both. As noted above, demand for fats like butter were high because the war machine needed lubrication for weapons and vehicles. There were supply issues in WW2 as well. Another contributing factor to the butter/oils shortage was that many of the raw materials for these products originated from countries with whom we were at war.

A non surprising fact is that the shortage spread. According to the book “The Army and Economic Mobilization” by Elberton Smith “the Army found itself presented with applications more and more removed from its direct interests.”

I like a phrase that was referenced in this book: “shortage of capacity.” This included not just the ability to find enough raw materials to make the stuff you want, but also the challenge of logistics. I like this because it seems to nicely describe our current supply network problems. By being optimized for a narrow market, production facilities falter when there’s a hiccup. Dairy farms are dumping milk because they don’t have any means of transitioning from industry milk to consumer milk. Toilet paper is plentiful for business supply – but not for consumer use. These logistical issues on top of the dramatic demand increases for PPE, glass for medical vials, that weird south American tree bark for vaccine research, and the fact that hording will likely grow at both the local and national levels suggest to me that things are gonna get weird.

And not the good weird.

2 thoughts on “Food shortages and surpluses

  • 5/4/2020 at 11:22 am

    Hope you bought that Velveeta

    • 5/6/2020 at 1:36 pm

      I admit. That’s a stock photo. I didn’t take the photo.


      the new website layout requires a photo for each blog post. Since I usually don’t plan my blog posts out with great care, I often find myself without an appropriate photo for the feature pic.

      i.e. Imma gonna be posting a fair bit of stock photos.

      Fun fact: my collection of free stock photos come from here –


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