Stories and photos of empty shelves and long lines are plentiful amid the spread of COVID-19 in the United States and beyond. Americans’ emergency shopping is straining the industry and raising questions about how well we can feed the nation and what’s being done to protect grocery workers.
But empty shelves shouldn’t make Americans nervous. The U.S. produces more than enough food to feed all of us. The problem is how to get it where it needs to go. Stocks of food like frozen poultry, raspberries and cheese are at all-time highs, according to the Department of Agriculture. However, warehouses are having problems moving stocks to stores in quantities large enough to meet demand.
And once food arrives at a store, how do we ensure workers are properly protected from coronavirus and compensated for their work? Stop & Shop gave some 70,000 of its workers a 10 percent raise and paid sick leave. Other major grocers are attempting to hire thousands of workers.
Adequate sick leave could fix a significant contributor to a lack of health in the grocery industry. According to a 2014 UC Berkeley Labor Research Center Report, 65 percent of grocery workers in California had gone to work sick and 60 percent they’d done so for three days or longer.
But these policies may not make a difference if a worker or customer gets sick in the store itself. And it doesn’t do anything to address the problem of worker fatigue.
How does America feed itself during a pandemic?