While American supermarkets have been experiencing shortages and prices have been rising, so far, we haven’t truly seen food rationing. We’ve been rationing infant formula, but that’s about it.
European countries, however, cannot say the same. German supermarkets Aldi, Lidl, and Rewe have been limiting sales of items such as bread, pasta, and cooking oil to “normal household quantities” to prevent hoarding.
There are very real problems at every step of the chain between the fields and the homes of consumers, no question. Are they bad enough yet that it warrants rationing? Let’s think about this a little bit.
Germany is actually a net exporter of wheat.
However, wheat is an internationally traded commodity, which means that the shortage caused by the war between Russia and Ukraine affects prices worldwide.
Germans have wheat, but it’s increasingly expensive.
The same goes for vegetable oils. There’s more to bread and pasta than just wheat, and practically every packaged food at the supermarket contains vegetable oil. Germany produces some oil, but they are ranked 11th in production worldwide. Like wheat, vegetable oil is an internationally traded commodity, and Russia and Ukraine are producers 8 and 9 globally. The ongoing war in Ukraine has disrupted much of their agriculture. The Ukrainians simply won’t be able to plant, harvest, and thereby export much this year.
The Russians, meanwhile, banned sunflower seed exports and placed a quota on the amount of sunflower oil to be exported this year. What the Russians have produced is mostly going to India, not Europe.
You might be thinking sunflower oil is just one kind of oil, so who cares? What about all the other stuff out there?
Are there alternatives?
Well, the shortage of sunflower oil from Russia and Ukraine really comes on top of a much more significant oil shortage. There have been problems in the worldwide supply of cooking oil for quite some time now, as The Organic Prepper reported over a year ago. Indonesia is by far the world’s biggest supplier of cooking oil. At approximately 50 million metric tons, it produces twice as much oil as the world’s second-biggest supplier, China. In April, Indonesia banned cooking oil exports. In May, they ended their ban on exports, but the damage has already been done.
The world now faces the fact that, over the past few decades, we’ve sacrificed resiliency and redundancy in our food supply for the sake of keeping prices low.
“Just-in-time” ordering and low inventories have indeed lowered prices, but they’ve also led to a fragile system, easily disrupted by hiccups in any part of the chain, whether it be packaging, shipping, processing, or the actual fertilizing and growing. And because our system has been so globalized, problems in one part of the world affect things everywhere.
Right now, we’ve got problems at every step.
Paper, aluminum, glass, and plastic have all been in short supply since 2020. Plastic production particularly has been experiencing problems. This has been causing problems in every single part of the economy. For example, just this week I was talking to a friend who happens to work in a medical laboratory. They are hopelessly backed up because there isn’t enough plastic to make vials for the substances they work with.
The problems producing plastic have been myriad and ongoing. In 2020, consumer buying patterns shifted rapidly due to lockdowns and continued when the plastic manufacturing plants had to change rapidly to comply with Covid guidelines. Much of the U.S.’s plastic manufacturing occurs along the Gulf Coast, and when the big Texas ice storm hit in February 2021, many production facilities were damaged.
And we can’t forget that plastic is made from petroleum. The Organic Prepper has already published articles about the many problems the petroleum market is currently experiencing.
Petroleum extraction and refining also affect shipping costs, which have likewise skyrocketed since 2020. Costs have increased everywhere. Along some routes, it costs four times as much to transport goods as it did pre-pandemic.
Increased fuel costs aren’t the only factor at play here. Changes in consumer spending patterns, labor shortages, inconsistent port openings worldwide due to lockdowns, port congestion, and a lack of available containers have all contributed to increased shipping prices.
The problems don’t end when the food reaches its intended destination.
Wheat needs to be processed into bread and pasta before people consume it; most people don’t have their own grain mills and pasta-making gadgets. Germany’s food processing industry employs over 600,000 people. However, Germany faces similar labor shortage problems as the rest of the developed world. Between lockdowns and inflation, people have been quitting their jobs, changing their jobs, and moving all over the world. The availability of labor has been in flux everywhere, and the German food processing sector is no different.
And, of course, food needs to be grown first before it can be processed, packaged, and shipped. Americans paying attention know that there will be problems this year. The Organic Prepper has published articles about the ongoing fertilizer shortage. As of mid-June, prices have finally peaked and begun to drop a little bit, but American farmers have already lost some of their springtime planting. Will we still produce food this year? Absolutely.
Will there be as much as usual?
No, between fertilizer problems, drought in some parts of the U.S., and flooding in others, farmers simply cannot expect the same yields this year.
So, is Germany facing the same agricultural problems this year? Do they expect a smaller harvest, too?
Well, no, Germany actually anticipates a higher-than-usual wheat harvest this year.
This is great. It’s great to see that, in this world full of bad news, at least the Germans are still producing.
But it begs the question, of all the countries, why are the Germans rationing food? Between their status as a food exporting nation and their considerable food processing abilities at home, they are in a better position to feed themselves than much of the rest of Europe, let alone the world.
(Want to make sure your family has enough to eat? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to home canning.)
Three answers come to mind.
The first is that all the fancy growing and processing equipment in the world doesn’t mean a darn thing if you can’t get fuel for all your facilities, and the Germans are in a severe energy crisis.
They imported approximately 32% of their natural gas, 34% of their crude oil, and 53% of their coal from Russia in 2021.
Germany has been loudly protesting Russia’s actions in Ukraine. In response, last week, Russia cut Germany’s natural gas supply by 60%. Germany plans to increase electricity production at its coal-powered plants, but as mentioned above, they import more than half their coal from Russia, too.
Since they are not considering bringing their recently-closed nuclear reactors back online, Germans truly face an energy crisis. And an energy crisis will quickly lead to an everything crisis, including food.
The second is that mainstream media in every country seems determined to disparage anyone who “hoards.” The Defense Production Act, part of which was originally designed to prevent hoarding, has already been activated in the U.S. No distinction is being made between the careful preppers that slowly build up a stockpile over the course of several months or a year, and the people that just read something scary and then grab everything in sight.
I think there may be some deeper reasons behind this disparaging of hoarders. That’s a lengthy topic outside the scope of this article. For this article, it should suffice to say that having signs up to remind people to only buy one or two items at a time and to not be a “hoarder” seems to fit into that general demonization of hoarders, preppers, and anyone who doesn’t trust the authorities to take care of everything.
The third reason Germans may be rationing food is that their authorities may simply be trying to get people more used to centralized control. NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg has been telling Europeans to get used to higher food and gas prices for the sake of Ukraine. European leadership wants its citizens in the self-sacrificial state that they think wartime will bring out. They are trotting out all kinds of excuses for increased control, regardless of whether or not regular citizens agree on the priorities of the EU and NATO.
For example, on June 23, the European Parliament voted to extend the use of Covid Passes for another year. This happened in spite of the fact that, of over 385,000 people surveyed, 99% wanted a complete end to the digital pass system.
The European Parliament’s decision is a blatant slap in the face to the regular citizens of Europe. They do not represent their own constituents; if Europeans cannot trust them to take their wishes into account in terms of things like health passports, can they trust them to make reasonable decisions regarding food distribution?
And could this kind of thing happen in the U.S.?
I have spent some time in Germany as an adult. I have had multiple friends and family members living there for one reason or another.
Last I heard, most of it was still a pleasant, clean, well-run country. They have shot themselves in the foot regarding energy policy, but the U.S. isn’t far behind. Our politicians are making the same destructive green energy promises the Germans are; they’re just a few years ahead of us.
We cannot ignore what’s going on over there. Our politicians seem to have many of the same priorities. If Germans face food rationing, we can’t rule it out either.
Shortening the distance between where your food is produced, and your table has never been more important.
The Organic Prepper has a lot of great resources about food independence, even if you live in an urban/suburban area. If you’ve got a bunch of kids on a suburban lot, no, you can’t grow all your food, but you’ll be able to grow some of it. (Want uninterrupted access to The Organic Prepper? Check out our paid-subscription newsletter.)
And there’s never been a better time to reach out to local producers. I’ve been an artisanal meat producer for years. I spent a large amount of time explaining to customers why my food was worth more money. If you have the opportunity to get to know a local producer, take it. Talk to them and try to learn something about what will best meet your needs.
I would love to be wrong and to have everything magically get fixed within the next year or so.
But I don’t think that will happen.
I think prices will go up astronomically. I think anyone who has not been planning and preparing is going to get a nasty shock in the fall when there simply isn’t that much available.
I don’t think there will be mass starvation in the first world, at least not within the next year. But the chances for some kind of rationing system will be fairly high. It may be something global; maybe not. Either way, decreasing dependence on the globalized food supply has never been more important.
Real problems exist in the food sector, no doubt. But are things bad enough yet that one of Europe’s wealthiest countries needs to start rationing basic foodstuffs?
What are your thoughts? Do you believe it’s likely that the United States will follow suit? Do you see food rationing in our future? How do you intend to prepare for it? Share your thoughts in the comments.
About Marie Hawthorne
A lover of novels and cultivator of superb apple pie recipes, Marie spends her free time writing about the world around her.