When The Shelves Run Dry

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Siddhartha Mahanta warns that New York City is increasingly ill-prepared for food shortages following a natural disaster:

Until relatively recently, most of the food that wound up in New Yorkers’ stomachs came from the farms of upstate New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Even Brooklyn and Queens helped out, for a long while registering as the nation’s two biggest vegetable-producing counties. When that locally grown food got to New York, it tended to stay around longer, sitting in warehouses for perhaps weeks at a time.

Now, New Yorkers rely chiefly on food from across the country, or the other side of the world.

And to complicate matters, in recent decades the big companies that run these systems have radically altered how they manage the flow of this food through their supply chains. Most of the private companies that now dominate the distribution of food in America, like Walmart and Sysco, keep much smaller inventories than in years past, sized to meet immediate demand under stable conditions – a strategy known as “just-in-time.”

Analysts, in fact, expect Sysco – a major presence in the New York region – to continue cutting down an already super-lean supply chain operation. In other words, the food on New York’s shelves flows through supply lines that stretch much further than ever before. And there’s a lot less of it along the way.

(Photo of a post-Sandy supermarket in Edgewater, New Jersey, by Flickr user Bee Collins)