Food hoarding highlights the need for community connections

Hoarders vs. the community

Cindy White

Hoarding of food during emergencies like the B.C. floods could be a sign of a breakdown in how our communities function.

A researcher at the University of B.C. Okanagan, who studies environmental and resource economics, says events like this don’t just test Canada’s supply chain, they can also cause panic buying.

We’ve seen milk, bread, meat and fresh produce stripped from store shelves by people worried shipments have been cut off because of highway closures between the southern Interior and the Lower Mainland.

“Maybe thinking about food security and resilience to these kinds of shocks is about more than just the grocery shelves, but it’s about the structures of our whole communities, and how we’re connected to each other and willing and able to help each other out,” argues John Janmaat, associate professor of economics, UBC Okanagan.

“If you know that if you run out of milk you can go next door and your neighbour will be willing to share some, then you’re probably not going to go just rip it all off the grocery shelves. But if you’re just isolated and think you’re not part of a community where people are going to help each other, well then yeah, you’re going to hoard and you’re going to secure your own fortress and everybody else be damned. Is that the way we want to live in a community,” he wonders.

Janmaat says Canada’s food sovereignty has vulnerabilities because we are an exporter and importer of food. We also have regional specializations, where large quantities of certain things, like dairy, beef and produce, are grown in specific areas of the country. A perfect example is dairy in B.C.

Much of it is produced and processed in the Fraser Valley, including places like Abbotsford, which has been devastated by the flooding. Many farms have lost parts of their herds.

That raised the question about whether we should be diversifying production in the Okanagan, instead of putting all our eggs, or apples and grapes, in one basket.

“I think we have to be careful about going too far with that as a solution to food security and food sovereignty issues. It's part of the picture.

I think the best food system is one that’s a combination of local production, for all of those benefits, not just food, that it provides and at the same time, high-quality, low-cost commercial scale agriculture that can produce those commodities that we all use as cheaply as possible.”

Janmaat adds that the latest severe weather disaster impacting the food supply chain highlights that we should be thinking about how to adapt to these kinds of events, particularly in light of climate change, because we’re likely to see this happen more often.

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