Is food scarcity an issue?

By Deanne Brandstetter, MBA, RDN, CDN, FAND

Anyone who has been to the grocery store, a big box store or even online grocery ordering sites in recent weeks has experienced empty shelves, refrigerators, freezers and out-of-stock items. We’ve also heard stories of neighbors buying up cases of chicken, pasta and frozen vegetables (in addition to that toilet paper!). As communities around the country have implemented various “shelter in place” policies, it has only fueled hoarding behaviors. 

By all appearances, it looks like there is a shortage of food … but rest assured, that is not the case. We do have shortages of some things like medical protective gear but there is plenty of food being produced to feed all of us.

Let’s look at a few commonly asked questions:

If communities across the country mandate “shelter in place” policies, does that mean food growers, producers and manufacturers are stopping production? 

No. Those working in food production and delivery, along with healthcare and pharmaceutical services are considered part of the “essential critical infrastructure workforce” and are not subject to “shelter in place” policies. Most recently, a Pennsylvania factory producing toilet paper, paper towels and diapers was also deemed critical.

If there is plenty of food, why are the shelves empty?

Right now, we are seeing some empty shelves because the distribution system that gets the food from the producer or packager to the store has not yet caught up to the tremendously increased demand. As the distribution system adjusts to this new reality, you will see shelves being restocked more frequently.

What can I do in the meantime if I want to cook at home yet can’t find the things I need in the grocery store?

You can make some substitutions, experiment and try some new things. For example, at my Trader Joe’s the other day, there was no fresh or frozen chicken and no frozen salmon. But I scored three bags of TJ’s Seafood Blend (shrimp, calamari and scallops), which I used to make a seafood paella. I also mixed a bag with some jarred pesto for a great pasta topping.

If the frozen vegetable section is empty, try looking for fresh vegetables that last longer like kale and winter squashes. And while there were no canned beans left, there were packages of dry beans and lentils – if you are working from home, you have plenty of time to soak and cook dry beans.

What else can I do?

You can support local restaurants and foodservice providers by ordering food for pick up or delivery at least once a week, if you can afford it. And if you still feel tempted to fill your cart with every last box of pasta on the shelf think about this – in your neighborhood there are hundreds of healthcare workers on the front lines who don’t have time to visit five different stores to feed themselves and their families. It is critical they eat well and stay healthy to take care of our loved ones who may fall ill.

Deanne Brandstetter is the Vice President of Nutrition & Wellness for Envision Group. Read more stories like this at