Jessica Pettway / The New York Times

May 27, 2020

Shortage. COVID-19. Not Again

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Shelves are empty, supply weak, prices heavy. There’s a shortage throughout the nation already. Shoppers are nervous, but on the surface they’re not calm or ready. Personal Protective Equipment and toilet paper, stand aside; it’s meat’s turn to have a shortage. Or is it?

A month ago, word spread that consumers may experience a deficit of common meat — steak, chicken and everything else we carnivores hold dear to our hearts. Grocery stores began receiving less meat in their shipments and consequently placing restrictions on how much meat consumers could purchase. Costco, Kroger and Sam’s Club as well as many smaller stores have limited the amount of meat each customer can take home. From history we know of the food shortages in communist Russia and China, and if asked last year if I believed the United States would join them on that list, I would laugh. But we may not be as infallible as we thought.

In April, John Tyson, the CEO of Tysons Foods, sent a public warning, with the grim message that “our food supply chain is breaking.” Tyson employees had been diagnosed with the virus, causing closures at processing facilities to protect workers’ health. However, farmers were at the ready with more than enough livestock; in fact, farmers were left to euthanize their surplus livestock because not enough plants were open. However, Tyson’s largest plant has since reopened, and at the end of April, President Trump signed an executive order to keep meat processing plants open. It looks like there is reason to be optimistic.

Still, I fear that as a result of alarming statements from Tyson, the temporary closure of meat plants and generally grim outlooks from the media, people will give in to their emotions and panic. Is it possible that the toilet paper shortage could repeat itself with meat? Fortunately, perishable goods are less conducive to hoarding, but consumers can still clear them off the shelves faster than stores could restock. Panic buying and hoarding are very poor responses to fear, as they will only exacerbate the shortage, causing more fear. It is hard to see this vicious cycle when you are trapped in it. Nevertheless, our food processing is strong and will recover, even if that means sacrificing meat for a week or more.

If meat does become hard to find,  there are plenty of foods you can substitute in the meantime:

  • Hard boiled eggs: 7g protein, iron, minerals and carotenoids.
  • Beans: 15g protein, 20% DV iron, 15g fiber and 21% DV magnesium.
  • Greek Yogurt: 15-20g protein and 15% DV calcium.
  • Tofu: 10g protein, 25% DV iron and 35% DV calcium.
  • Fish: 100g Salmon has 40g of protein, 30% DV vitamin B-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Edamame (edible soybeans): 17g protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals.

Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods also produce a wide selection of plant-based “meats,” ranging from brats to burgers. Even though these substitutes are great and I eat them regularly, there is truly nothing to replace the taste of real meat. Thankfully, restaurants are still around. Restaurants receive their meat supply separately from grocery consumers; thus, their supply chain remains intact, frequently relying on local, rather than national or international supply. Who knew a slight departure from globalization could be so useful? It’s unlikely that meat will be the last industry to fall victim to COVID-19, and the next time a worldwide catastrophe hits, I’m certain more of our flaws will come to light. It’s times like these that humble us and force us to reflect on fragility. The more fragile we realize we are, the more robust we will be.


Peter Kaplinsky is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].