Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Could there be rice shortages and food rationing in Hawaii?

by Larry Geller

Can you imagine walking in to a Costco warehouse in Hawaii and discovering that there is no rice? From a New York Sun article:

At a Costco Warehouse in Mountain View, Calif., yesterday, shoppers grew frustrated and occasionally uttered expletives as they searched in vain for the large sacks of rice they usually buy.

Right here on Oahu, Bale raised the price of bread at the KCC Saturday Farmers' market by $1, from $4 to $5, citing an increase in the cost of ingredients. That's a 25% price jump all at once.

The NY Sun article cited above is headlined, Food Rationing Confronts Breadbasket of the World, and begins:

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Many parts of America, long considered the breadbasket of the world, are now confronting a once unthinkable phenomenon: food rationing.

Even given the often alarmist nature of Sun articles, this is one scary read.

Is it really "rationing?" For Costco customers, yes:

“You can’t eat this every day. It’s too heavy,” a health care executive from Palo Alto, Sharad Patel, grumbled as his son loaded two sacks of the Basmati into a shopping cart. “We only need one bag but I’m getting two in case a neighbor or a friend needs it,” the elder man said.

The Patels seemed headed for disappointment, as most Costco members were being allowed to buy only one bag. Moments earlier, a clerk dropped two sacks back on the stack after taking them from another customer who tried to exceed the one-bag cap.

“Due to the limited availability of rice, we are limiting rice purchases based on your prior purchasing history,” a sign above the dwindling supply said.

It's not just rice. The article reports other food is being restricted. In New York City:

An employee at the Costco store in Queens said there were no restrictions on rice buying, but limits were being imposed on purchases of oil and flour. Internet postings attributed some of the shortage at the retail level to bakery owners who flocked to warehouse stores when the price of flour from commercial suppliers doubled.

The article notes that shortages can also result from rumors resulting in temporary hoarding. Time will tell if this is a factor.

Time to prepare

Most of us were taken by surprise with the sudden failure of two airlines serving the state in quick succession. It's probably a characteristic of the current economic downturn that damaging surprises will happen. To some extent we can try to be prepared.

This seems like a good time to take a deep breath and evaluate Hawaii's economic vulnerabilities to see if steps need to be taken to protect us, as much as possible, from food shortages and other contingencies. I hope someone in our state government will step forward and take the lead on this [hint].


On Monday, April 21, at Costco in Kona - 20 pound bags of rice - white and brown - were limited to "one" per family - due to a "temporary" situation.

I don't know how "temporary" the situation is - but I have a hunch that this "shortage" will be here for awhile.

However, in Waimea - at Foodland - there were no 20 pound bags of brown rice, but the 5 pound bags were on sale at $2.99. And there was a skip full of 20 pound Hinodes on sale at $8 something (with the usual "on sale" 5 bag limit). Had a variety of little bags.

At KTA - in Waimea - only 20 pound bags of expensive white rice (around $20) were available and only 3 bags of 20 pound bags of brown rice at $10.99 were on the shelf. Don't know about little bags.

On CNN this morning (Wednesday) - it was reported that Sam's Club - "nationwide" - had started rice rationing.

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