In his famous book Isaiah Berlin immortalised a line from the Greek poet Archilochus

“The Fox knows many things, but the Hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Put into a food context Foxes always know where to find the best coffee and mochi, Hedgehogs, albeit with the deepest of reasoning, can probably only be relied on to teach us how to soak locally grown chickpeas.

It’s way more fun to hang with the agile Foxes than the over-thinking Hedgehogs – it’s certainly tastier.  But perhaps lately we’re getting a little insight into what Hedgehogs might know about the food system.

Despite all the panic buying and fears of famine we haven’t run out of food, in fact we have lots of food.

The flipside to our empty supermarket shelves are all the farmers like our own Simon Schulz who previously supplied restaurants and cafes who are now scrambling to find new markets.

A major problem in our globally intertwined food system is not supply but getting the food to all the places it needs to go on the way between farmer and eater.

For instance, if you’re a Foxy specialty coffee lover your favourite single origin brew is quite likely stuck in Guatemala or Honduras where COVID-19 curfews have limited port operating hours.

In China, when the Coronavirus shut down began, backlogs of manufactured goods and foodstuffs caused huge shipping container shortages and freight delays for major food exporters like Brazil, USA and Canada.

In Australian ports, refrigerated containers full of imported seafood have been stranded with no customs paperwork – the documentation, normally sent by plane, has been grounded along with the airlines.

Similarly in Nigeria dockers can’t get to their chronically clogged ports because they don’t have official COVID-19 travel documents and when they do they’re stranded by a shut down public transport system.

All these outcomes are indirect to the pandemic – in the United States COVID-19 infections among meat workers have closed giant industrial slaughter houses across the country, triggering beef and pork shortages.

The Coronavirus is revealing how interlinked, how long, how complex and how vulnerable our global food system is. Our instinctual rush to get locally grown “safe” food over the last month said so much about our lack of faith in the industrial food system. 

So far, the global food chain is holding up, but hearing its links creaking and groaning through the lockdown makes me wonder if we’re starting to develop Hedgehog vision?

Have a great week   

Chris

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