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Food Rationing

Rationing! It's Not Just For Your Grandparents Anymore

Call it the Big-Box Tipping Point, but you know the global food crunch has solidified from sad headline to international reality when your local Costco gets walloped.

Shoppers at the Costco in Mountain View, CA felt the first tremors of the clamp down this week — no rice! The usually packed shelves held but a few jumbo bags of rice and shoppers faced something the US hasn't really seen since WWII: rationing.

That's right. Rationing. The sign above the dwindling supply read: "Due to the limited availability of rice, we are limiting rice purchases based on your prior purchasing history." It's not just limited to rice — a Costco store in Queens has limits were imposed on purchases of oil and flour. The meager supply is partially responsible for emptying the shelves, but it's also human nature. To see how,


The editor of says it's a hoarding instinct. "There have been so many stories about worldwide shortages that it encourages people to stock up. What most people don't realize is that supply chains have changed, so inventories are very short. Even if people increased their purchasing by 20 percent, all the store shelves would be wiped out."

Of course the Costco situation is but a ripple world wide. The head of the UN World Food Programme just admitted urgent action is required to stimulate food production and help the poor cope with soaring food prices. 100 million people who did not need assistance six months ago, cannot now afford to purchase food.

Liberians are getting creative in the face of surging rice prices — local people are changing life-long habits and switching to cheaper staple foods such as spaghetti. The Costco shortage is similar in Liberia as the country imports 90% of its rice from Asia and the US. Earlier this month in Egypt, anger over rising food prices and the cost of living sparked street battles between crowds and police producing some stunning stories that make the Costco blip seem like an omen.

It's clear now that action is needed. Is rationing the way to go? On this Earth Day when thoughts turn to using less, would you be willing to accept a stamp book program like the one used in World War II? Can you imagine turning in ration stamps for butter, sugar, or meat? Is that structure exactly what we need to encourage people to make conscious consumption decisions?


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