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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?


Join The Conversation
Roarman Roarman 9 years
I think portions at restaurants got bigger because Americans appetites and waist lines got bigger. One way restaurants could eliminate unnecessary waste is to donate the nights leftovers to a soup kitchen. I worked for a catering company and that's what we did with our left overs from weddings, etc. As for the story about deciding between breakfast or gas, it sounds extreme but also quite possible these days. With oil prices rising daily, health care cost rising, food prices rising, many Americans are finding they have to make many sacrifices, and not just on frivolous items such as cable, dvd's and internet, which isn't so frivolous if you work from home. The bottom line is that prices for necessities are getting out of hand and many people are finding it very tough to make ends meet.
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
Jill I'm sure there are some cases like that, but with diabetes especially the problem isn't the medication or accessability, its adherence. Many many patients don't take the medication properly and then either lie or make up excuses as to why... Not saying all.. but in the cases I've read, many.
Jillness Jillness 9 years
One little economy related story... I heard a story on NPR the other day that was focused on a hospital in Boston. They were talking about the types of things that people were coming into the emergency room for. One quickly rising cause is diabetes! They said that they were seeing large numbers of people who had assistance to get the diabetic medication they need...but they couldn't pay their energy bills, and therefore couldn't refridgerate the medication that they needed to stay alive. They had the medication, but they couldn't afford the power it took to keep it usable. Makes you think.
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
Jeez, sorry to have thoughts in such short bursts. I think meat sales will decline, too. I know we're eating less steak, and I'm trying to squeeze in one vegetarian (at least mostly) meal a week.
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
I will say that I prefer locally-sourced, in-season produce. It's bound to be fresher and healthier, in most cases. Jillness: The shipping costs do make everything more expensive. However, products impacted by other factors--such as corn shortages--get an increase, due to production costs, before they're even put on the truck. Fresh broccoli would not be affected much. The other items I mentioned, like meat from corn-eating animals or products produced from them (milk and eggs) more so.
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
Auntie Coosa: You can never generalize for all people. I already batch my errands for the sake of efficiency. I don't have a lot of spare time. Cheaper stores will, of course, see more traffic. It's called "trading down" and the pattern was already noted during the last Christmas shopping season. IMO people will *not* spend more for more durable merchandise. They won't have the available cash to invest. I would expect to see more sales of cheap items. The pricier stuff will be sold to Europeans visiting for the relative bargains. That trend has also already been noted in the mainstream press. My kids will still continue to have their activities. I'm not going to cut out Boy Scouts or music lessons due to the price of gas. I'll trim somewhere else instead. You may have the time to start a garden, but I do not. And I don't anticipate cities changing ordinances. If my neighbors get chickens and waking me earlier than I already have to get up, I'll take dramatic action. Although, I suspect the neighborhood stray cats would save me the trouble.
yesteryear yesteryear 9 years
auntie coosa: nicely said. it's all good. james howard kunstler (major genius - look him up) said that the 21st century will be all about living locally due to rising fuel costs and the "death of the 3,000 mile caesar salad" (signifying how far our imported vegetables travel, etc.). he's right.
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
What?!?! No more dollar menu!!? Thats it. I quit.
freegracefrom freegracefrom 9 years
Please don't take my rice away from me. :sad:
Auntie-Coosa Auntie-Coosa 9 years
This will hurt the Restaurants first. Fast Foods will no longer have the $1 menu. It'll be the $2 and then increase from there. People who used to eat out more than a few times a week will cut down to one or two times and those for whom eating out on the weekend was a family ritual, will be eating in. The Sunday crowd and the AYCE place will start dwindling. Once restaurants feel that pinch, wait staff and kitchen staff will be laid off. And where are they going to go? Mumbai? People will combine trips to stores and shopping so that there are no "spur of the minute" let's run to ______(name your fave store). This will mean that impulse shopping will be reduced. Gasoline stations will sell less of their product as their price increases. Big Box Stores (even Wal-Mart) will start to feel the pinch as people weigh the cost of gasoline to run to their store versus shopping locally and saving on gasoline consumption. Dollar-type stores will probably see an increase in customers. Shoppers will case the Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift stores for bargains. Fewer people will replace "old but serviceable or working" commodities and the "office-type" stores will see diminished sales. Probably the one industry that will still have at least level sales is the computer industry. Computers save time and money by shopping online and having products delivered to your door (on the Post Office's tank of gas). People will keep their cars longer and fewer will turn in their good gas mileage vehicles (like my 1995 Fort Escort that gets 39.99 mpg without ethanol and 35.99 with) for newer models unless there is an appreciable increase in miles per gallon. There will be fewer purchases of big ticket items like furniture. A person will buy American made furniture that lasts a lifetime over foreign made that has to be replaced in 10 years, even though the initial cost is higher. Fewer people will buy houses, opting to "up grade" or "re paint" what they own because it's either paid for or nearly so. BUT you know, this could be observed as a good thing. Parents won't be using gasoline and driving their children hither and thither to their after school activities and will instead stay at home and find that the simple art of conversation and playing games at home is more enjoyable. Families will sit down together to eat a family meal as Mom will no longer be a "short order cook" as her family eats in between their activities. Neighbors will get to know one another and no longer be strangers. Communities may gather together and plan ways to supplement their meals with home-grown vegetables and plant a community garden. A few city ordinances may have to be changed to allow people to raise chickens and maybe other farm animals within the city limits. Nothing like a rooster crowing in the morning as the sun rises. So, rationing? I don't think so, not yet anyway. Just think of this as "the USofA going on a forced diet." Which reminds me, soft drink consumption may fall as people drink more filtered tap water. A Recession: Imposed Dieting on Americans.
angelfromlsu angelfromlsu 9 years
Cow farts? Some farmers already use methane from the droppings for power. It's actually completely established and easy to do. My senior project for engineering was making hydrogen gas from sugar cane...It wasn't a good outcome. I am certainly not going to stoop to eating nasty pasta b/c it's cheap. I'll eat my home-grown veggies before that.
Jillness Jillness 9 years
"Then there's the ripple effect. If corn goes up, so does beef and milk (and therefore cheese). And eggs. That will always impact poorer people more." Higher gas prices also have similar effect on food prices. Since most items are shipped in some way, whether across the country by plane or truck, or even from supply centers to grocery stores. Gas prices tripling in 10 years certainly has a large effect on food prices.
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
Kris that would be AWESOME!
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
Yes I agree ethanol is one to scratch off the list of alternative fuels. D.O.A. is aware of that as well.
KrisSugar KrisSugar 9 years
we should figure out how to harness the power of cow farts for energy!
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
I've been saying this since the big push to ethanol started. Why would you *burn* food? (Unless you're talking about my cooking....) Then there's the ripple effect. If corn goes up, so does beef and milk (and therefore cheese). And eggs. That will always impact poorer people more. In my starving student days, my main protein sources were cheese, eggs, and peanut butter.
KathleenxCouture KathleenxCouture 9 years
This is pretty scary since it means that if it's happening in one place it will happen in another and we are in a recession after all so it's just a matter of time.... anyways i don't mind rationing as long as everyone plays by the rules
hartsfull hartsfull 9 years
Has anyone ever had quinoa (pronounced, keenwa)?
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
"to imply that most poor people are just misguided is pretty unsavory" I did not imply most poor people are misguided. If Cat had not said it was on GMA, which means they have a television, and e-mail, I would not have made the comment. I can also say from my own experiences that there are many people who can cut down on their spending, but choose to keep the luxuries, and my comment is directed towards those type of people. Nothing unsavory invented.
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
Not determine, differentiate... thats better!
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
Jill you are right, I certainly didn't mean to imply that most poor people are misguided. Its just hard to determine the ones who are misguided from the ones who truly are in need.
KrisSugar KrisSugar 9 years
you'd also save a lot if you just measure things out. like i get a bag of starbuck's coffee, because I can't live without it. I know exactly how much water it takes to fill up my alumni coffee mug, and exactly how many scoops it takes. (5) I have all of these measured out in plastic bags in the freezer, which I reuse. I know it's nutty, but it makes certain I get all the servings I can out of that bag. Also I do that with turkey. If the bag says there are 6 servings, I roll them all up into 6 rolls of turkey. makes things a lot simpler in the morning too when you're in a rush to get ready. I just have to be careful I don't go overboard on plastic ziplocs and reuse them when i can.
Jillness Jillness 9 years
I am sure there are people who are spending too much on things like cable, etc. But there are also a TON more people living below the poverty line than there used to be. When I went back home to my rual state last August, I read a local newspaper article that said there were hundreds of people across the state who were dying because of generators they had running in their homes (build up of gases). They needed the generators because their power had been turned off because they couldn't pay the $600, $700, $800 energy bills they had during the winter months. Bills were so bad in December through March, that they still didn't have power in August. I don't think that was becasue of their cable bill. Yes, there are a lot of people with screwed up priorities, but to imply that most poor people are just misguided is pretty unsavory.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
I think this sucks for the world at large but on the other hand I think it's fantastic for us. The U.S. is long over due for a wake up call when it comes to food supply and demand. It is one of the top 5 things we take for granted. We waste so many tons and tons of food every single day. Unfortunately we are the type of society that will only move collectively to react if there's fire on our @$$, but hopefully this will make people stop and think
bengalspice bengalspice 9 years
First they raised the price on lentils ... then the price of rice goes up ... basically, I feel like the food crisis is taking a blow at Asians. I can't imagine not having rice and dal on a regular basis. It's like a staple of my family's diet, other than fish. Once you take fish away from me I'll be convinced that the world is out to get me.
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