On September 18, I attended a webinar hosted by the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis at Ohio State University on the impacts of Covid-19 on food security. The panelists included Kip Curtis, an Associate Professor in the Department of History at OSU, Mary Rodriguez, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership at OSU, Brian Snyder, the Executive Director of the Initiative for Food and Agricultural Transformation (InFACT) at OSU, and Lauren Vargo – a Program Manager at Case Western Reserve University.
The panelists discussed the enormous impact of Covid-19 on family decision-making concerning food, and the increase in the use of federal and state food assistance benefits. Rodriguez described how families had to shift their buying habits because of the pandemic. Although official advice was to acquire two weeks of food, many families had neither the financial capacity nor the infrastructure to do so, and had to shift their diets accordingly. Curtis, an environmental historian, discussed the growing importance of local food production, in the context of many crises–not just the pandemic.
Snyder analogized the food system to a river, which had reduced water flow because of the pandemic. This drop in water level exposed hazards in the system that were always there, but hidden. For example, the public became aware of shortages and surpluses in the supply chain, as well as bottlenecks and dams in production, processing, and distribution. Worker issues became visible, especially in the area of meat processing, as production slowed because of rampant disease spread amongst closely packed individuals. Moreover, the fact that approximately 50% of farmworkers are undocumented disincentivized testing and treatment, which leads to more disease spread.
Vargo pointed out how much more food is in the media now, and this webinar highlighted how food and food systems became critically important during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is by no means over. There is no more important time to address the hazards in our food supply, to prepare us not just for future crises, but for the present.