The Experiences and Concerns of Food Supply Workers During COVID-19
Americans across the country have stories to tell about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and how it’s affected their work, family, and mental health.
There are a few groups, though, whose voices are being lost in the clamor–specifically those in the food supply industry.
Cattle ranchers are among those who have faced disheartening challenges. Santa Rosa, California radio station K.S.R.O. reported that grocery stores and restaurant demands soar, meanwhile processing plants are shutting down due to virus concerns.
Lacey Zuck, a Northeast Iowa beef rancher, explained the instabilities don’t come from the beef production itself but from the packing plants and transporting products to consumers.
Describing pricing issues, she said ranchers “can only hold an animal for so long. Each calf has its own input cost.”
Between feeding the cows through the winter, accounting for vaccines, tagging, and other essentials, “we’re just not getting enough back out of the cow to cover the cost. The packers are marking up the pricing,” Zuck told Scriberr News.
She also explained one of the main challenges with grocery supply is the consumer’s perception of beef.
“[You would get about] 90 pounds of unfinished meat…it comes out to $5 a pound because we have to pay for [state] certifications, and the grocery store is selling it at $3.98,” she said.
With the money that is poured into raising cattle, inspection and application fees for their lockers and other costs, this makes an unprecedented time especially hard for ranchers like Zuck. She is currently talking to her legislators to waive the aforementioned fees.
A.G. Net West (AGNW) posits that up until the social distancing and quarantine mandated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the meat industries expected an uptrend.
“Beef producers in California are struggling with precarious market conditions that have been exacerbated by COVID-19 issues,” the AGNW noted.
“‘Most all of those segments [of the beef supply chain] are experiencing losses and maybe even record losses while we see wholesale and retail prices being fairly high; close to record-highs, not quite yet,” [Mark] Lacey explained. “Those profits are only being experienced at the retail and processing level.’”
The article goes on to explain that Lacy, currently president of the California Cattlemen’s Association, is hopeful that the industry will survive the pandemic.
Other groups are ensuring their futures not only with the help of their local media outlets, but also by assisting the members of their communities.
Urban Growers Collective (UGC) in Chicago, Illinois is holding a COVID-19 pickup and donation service, which stands as a tribute to their mission to serve those most in need.
“Rooted in growing food, we cultivate nourishing environments which support health, economic development, healing and creativity through urban agriculture,” their website reads.
For every bag of food purchased, UGC donates a bag of food to one of their partner sites.
The UGC’s homepage says they source from their farm in South Chicago and Marano’s Produce, an area wholesaler.
“As we transition both into an online store and…on emergency food distribution, our produce donations are distributed weekly to over 200 residents at our partner sites [including] Claretian Associates senior home in South Chicago… Martin Luther King Community Center…and Howard Brown Health,” their website reads.
As places like UGC focus on the transition to include online resources, many largely brick-and-mortar grocery store workers shared how their environments and priorities in the workplace have changed.
Grocery store and trucking concerns
Birmingham, Alabama resident Octavia Webster, a young mother of two, spoke to Scriberr about her experience as an employee at Costco.
“It’s like, ‘Take one for the team,’ you know? I’m young and healthy, and I was like, Worst-case scenario, if I get this, I can most likely fight it off,” Webster said.
The mother was more worried about potentially passing the virus to her children, adding that she “didn’t think [the virus] as scary or anything.”
Every day when Webster would come into work, there was a new precautionary measure added. “And they started implementing us having to wear masks. They started having people wipe off the buggies. It’s gotten ramped up recently,” she said.
Costco, along with other grocery stores, limited the number of customers allowed per line and implemented social distancing measures.
Although Costco’s protocols helped Webster to feel safe, her encounters with the shoppers weren’t always so positive.
“[It’s like] you’re not a person that is of the worthiness of being six feet away. You can only do so much [about the shoppers]. People were bringing their newborn babies in,” said Webster.
She also felt some shoppers not adhering to the social distancing measures were inconsiderate of others, a common concern that has divided the country.
While supply chain workers across the board have had their share of frustrating day-to-day encounters, another group is also uneasy about the aftermath of stay-at-home orders.
American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) official website expressed concern that transportation budgets are running low, and jobs in the infrastructure business are at risk of being erased, which means less safe roads for truckers all across the country.
“… what happens when life returns to a new normal? America’s sagging roads and cracking bridges will still be there, causing the bottlenecks and accidents that are the signature of everyday gridlock,” the website read.
Although truckers only account for 4% of traffic on American roads, ATA pays for many highway user fees, and claims they’re willing to pay more. They believe that rebuilding the infrastructure is an essential step to rebuilding America itself, improving the working lives of food supply employees everywhere.