Nine Meals Away from Anarchy

Aggravated by impending climate chaos and policies like Justice in Time delivery, most of the industrial food system is about “nine meals away from anarchy.”

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    Thanks to “Just in Time” delivery, most stores keep only 3 days’ worth of food on site.
    Photo By Rick Harris

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It started in Greece, where a national debt crisis led to millions of laid-off workers and cut-off pensioners. Suddenly unable to afford basic groceries, formerly middle and working class people started buying low-cost staples in bulk from local farmers. City governments set up drop-offs where people bought sacks of potatoes for a fraction of what supermarkets charged, but more than farmers ever got from middlemen.

The potato revolution is a sign that food emergencies no longer only happen to desperately poor people in faraway and desolate areas of Africa and Asia. Food emergencies have become as globalized as everything else.

Until the potato revolution defined a fresh response to crisis, the precedent for Global North reaction was when British farmers and truckers, outraged by fast-rising gas taxes, blockaded delivery of oil trucks in the fall of 2000. On day one of the blockade, there was a panic buying at gas stations. On day two, panic buying spread to supermarkets. On day three, panic turned ugly, provoking a sound bite heard around the world.

Civilization is only “nine meals away from anarchy,” said the head of the UK’s Countryside Agency, Lord Cameron of Dillington. The Lord liked the statement so much that he repeated it in 2007, again to widespread media coverage, warning that on day three, “there will be rats, mayhem, and maybe even murder.”

Lord Cameron’s alarm resonates with a fear—that the veneer of order, complacency, and civilization depends on food being readily and effortlessly available, which in turn hangs on threads of transit routes that can be shut down on a moment’s notice. Chain reactions could be critical with frightening speed, thanks to both the short timeline from disruption to collapse of a logistics system, and the short fuse from civility to civil breakdown when food runs out.


8/3/2020 4:31:45 PM

Any one reading this article today, August 3, 2020? This is our reality.

4/6/2018 3:00:28 PM

I didn't have to read the whole article to know this is real. I've been saying the same for my whole life. Now, however, I believe it more than ever, as I have been working for Walmart Neighborhood Market for the last 21 months in the produce department. We now get a truck 6 days a week with an average of about 500 cubic feet of fresh produce each time and there literally are days when we get rid of virtually all of our supply. There is no 3 day supply for us. Without a truck we could easily be totally bare in 2 full days. Regular groceries seem to be about the same. We fill up the warehouse when a truck gets there and by the end of the day there is nothing left. It's all out on the floor and it all starts over the next day. If at any point in time we were told there will be no more delivers, there would be chaos within 24 hours I do believe. Most people don't have the slightest clue as to how much food actually gets purchased on any one day, just in the city they live in. It's sort of unimaginable actually. It's scary. The solution? Everyone who is able should grow something for themselves. You can do one simple row along your fence or buy a bunch of $3 buckets from Lowe's. Find little spaces where ever available. Most people couldn't possible grow enough food to survive, but anything can make a difference, at least in the short term.

1/31/2018 10:34:42 AM

We lose 24 million acres of soil to degradation and loss per year To feed humanity we through 2050, we need 12 million acres of new soil per year for 30 years. We are losing soil 2X faster than we need more of it. Emissions have to 0% by 2060 for 2 C. Emissions have to go below 0% beyond 2060 for 2 C. We need 1 billion acres of new land to even try to do this. Humans and livestock make 97% of land vertebrate biomass and eat 40% of earth's net primary production of chlorophyll, or nearly half the green stuff growing on earth. Yet energy demand will double by 2060 because infrastructure construction is 50% of emissions. 2 C = Disaster says James Hansen, We only have a 5% chance of keeping it under 2 C says Kevin Anderson. This means we have a 95% chance of not staying below 2 C, where 2 C = disaster. 1 billion people on earth walk a mile for water each day, in 15 years it will be 2 billion.

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