Cue up the “Where’s the Beef?” jokes as Wendy’s restaurants nationwide have run out of burgers, but this may be more of a factory-farmed meat shortage than a true meat shortage.
There are no Wendy’s locations in San Francisco (unless you count the one at SFO), so you may have a frosty reception to today’s New York Times report that one in five Wendy’s nationwide have run out beef. But that report hits close to home for Costco shoppers, as that retailer has reportedly “placed a three-product cap on purchases of fresh beef, poultry and pork.” SFist did a search for beef on the Costco website, and as the above screenshot shows, a search for “beef” on Costco.com currently produces a number of “Out of Stock” results. The mass-produced meat industry says it’s facing a meat shortage, according to a CNN report on KRON4, as producers have had to shut down factories or slow the pace of production amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
“The food supply chain is breaking,” Tyson Foods warns in a full page ad in NYT today pic.twitter.com/5cyusH6L9V— Ana Swanson (@AnaSwanson) April 26, 2020
“The food supply chain is breaking," Tyson Foods board chairperson board John Tyson wrote in a full-page advertisement that ran in The New York Times, Washington Post and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “There will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”
“Millions of animals — chickens, pigs and cattle — will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities,” Tyson said. You know exactly what he means by “depopulated.”
Capitalism is Tyson running an expensive full-page ad not-subtly asking to be bailed out next to the second half of a story about how they failed to provide their workforce with protective equipment. pic.twitter.com/Yifr9LRoFo— Mass for Shut-ins (is a podcast) (@edburmila) April 27, 2020
But is this really a “meat shortage,” or just an uncomfortable disruption to the factory farming sector? Tyson sings a much different song to their investor base, and we’ve all heard horrible tales of milk dumped and fresh food destroyed thanks to decimated restaurant demand. You can’t help but wonder if Big Beef feels compelled to create a somewhat artificial scarcity as an excuse to rush processing facilities back open, even though these plants are germ factories that seem to be having COVID-19 outbreaks of nursing home- and prison-like proportions. Tyson in particular faces possible criminal liability for an Iowa plant that generated nearly 200 infections.
Q: Is the Bay Area facing a meat shortage?— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) April 28, 2020
A: Not exactly. Here's what you need to know: https://t.co/pyENXDm8l4
According to the Chronicle, the Bay Area is not facing a meat shortage, and the paper notes that meat producer Smithfield Foods admitted in a release that “a small number of employees” had tested positive. As the Chron shrewdly points out, “News reports put the number at one of the plants, in South Dakota, at 783.”
But the Chronicle’s larger point is that local and niche meat producers are seeing nowhere the disruptions of their big factory farming counterparts. “We pull from our own ranches, and so far we’ve been fine,” Golden Gate Meat Co. owner Jim Offenbach told the Chron. “Our shop at the Ferry Plaza has been on fire.” Poor choice of words, but other smaller farmers agree.
“With the closures of big packers, I think the importance of regional food systems will become all the more apparent,” Marin Sun Farms co-executive Claire Herminjard told the Chronicle.
The New York Times report we referenced up top ends with the amusingly zen sentence, “Mr. Boyte got lunch at Taco Bell instead.” That’s kind of ironic in light of the infamous 2011 class action lawsuit claiming Taco Bell’s beef had too many oats, seasonings and other fillers to be considered real beef. Maybe one good thing that will come from all of this is Americans grudgingly accepting the advantages of plant-based meat substitutes or locally raised livestock, despite the price. And frankly, this public health crisis should make the factory farming industry take a good, hard look at itself and put some of its ghastlier practices out to pasture.