Famine — a severe shortage of food, as through crop failure or overpopulation. (“famine.” Collins English Dictionary — Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers.)
More than merely a shortage or higher prices, “famine” is the extreme low end of scale. It is a systemic problem, not merely a matter of poor distribution or lack of the usual choices on the shelf.
I don’t know why but that word “famine” has been re-occurring in my mind of late. My local supermarkets are still quite full, prices aren’t too bad, some good specials every week. But the word keeps popping into the forefront of my mind.
American hasn’t experienced famine conditions since the Dust Bowl of the mid-1930’s. And even then it was more localized in the specific regions of the Dust Bowl. The major cities and surrounding regions were much less impacted.
The Dust Bowl was the result of a series of natural events as well as many years of poor farming practices leading to the disaster. Natural events keep happening. The massive floods and tornados of the West and South right now (as of writing this) will certainly have a very negative impact on food production and distribution. I’m not predicting a famine because of these events but it will put more stress on American food systems.
Any breakdown in social order or prolonged wide spread civil unrest can also disrupt food production and distribution leading to a famine. If farmers can’t harvest their crops, or can’t get it to the distribution centers and factories, or those DC’s can’t get the product to the stores the result is the same. Worst still, if the food just sits on the farm or sits on loading docks rotting because of logistical issues, it’s just as bad.
An attack or terrorism or other offensive event can also result in a famine. In a book I read about a “limited” nuclear war between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. the first winter after the war famine was wide spread. Not because of the attack itself destroying or contaminating food but mostly due to the processing and distribution systems were so badly disrupted (as well as a wide spread loss of electric power and fuel for vehicles) food simply couldn’t be processed and sent to the major population centers.
And as we have recently seen (as of writing this article) the weather can devastate otherwise quality farm and food production land that may take decades to recover from.
“Famine” may be an old word not heard in the U.S. any more. But there is a saying “What’s old is new again.”