First it was toilet paper

This has been a year of one frustration after another. A big one for me, self-isolating since March and dependent on delivered groceries, is not being able to get a specific product. Like everyone else, I struggled through toilet paper and paper towel shortages in the spring, but those issues eventually resolved (and I have a bathtub full of paper products to show for it). Since then it’s been hit or miss on groceries in particular. A few weeks ago I couldn’t find the particular frozen pizzas I wanted. And for several weeks I couldn’t find my favorite headache tablet (neither brand name nor generic). Then it was my favorite sugar-free sports drink. And currently it’s the little 7-oz microwaveable chili cups. No big deal, but annoying and puzzling.

A local news story blamed some shortages on the public’s realization that stocking up their freezers is a good way to cut down on the number of trips to the grocery store. Duh. But yes, this week I discovered that a lot of my favorite frozen foods were also unavailable.

However, that story barely scratched the surface. Yesterday I came across “Why Everything Is Sold Out,” subtitled “The Pandemic Broke Online Shopping,” a long read from The Atlantic. Groceries are only the latest addition to my years-long addiction to online shopping and I found the story eye-opening. It seems my missing chili is or could be the result of so much more than just a neighbor who got there first. (On some level I knew that, but just hadn’t thought it through.)

A lot of the problems started when China abruptly shut down its manufacturing/exports in January to stop the spread of Covid. The US is heavily dependent on imported parts, ingredients, and products. Among the possible snags en route to me: shortage of the product’s ingredients/parts; shortage of product containers (cans, cartons, etc.); delays in moving all these things from one place to another (to the factory, to the store, etc.); messed up shipping schedules; shortage of shipping containers (like all those Amazon boxes that keep multiplying in my living room); reluctance to stock what might not be sold. It’s a long and intricate process, with innumerable opportunities for delay.

I get it. I do. But come on people, all I want is a few cans of chili …

6 thoughts on “First it was toilet paper

  1. But China is COVID19-free now. I would think their manufacturing is back up. Sometimes something I want isn’t in stock, but I haven’t had much of a problem with food. Now, cleaning supplies are different. I want the Clorox wipes and they’re nowhere to be found. And I’m not paying $30 for a small size on the internet.

  2. This is why I’ve always avoided online shopping when I could. With the exception of a European brand of show that isn’t readily available where I live, I primarily purchase everything in person (until the pandemic quarantine). It just seems so wasteful to me to have all these trucks carrying all this merchandise, wrapped in plastic or cardboard, especially now that porch thieves are onto the vast wonderland of goodies sitting unmonitored, ready for the taking. Not to mention warehouse workers earning pitiful wages and being treated like slaves. I wish the U.S. would learn from the pandemic and get back to making the products we use here, ourselves. But I doubt it will happen.

    1. At my age it’s just easier to shop online when I know what I want. I’m home all day so don’t worry about porch pirates — but they certainly are active around here. Personal shoppers get my groceries and deliver with their own cars, so no trucks. I do miss “Made in the USA,” but a global economy and the desire for cheap goods has about ruined that. It’s a shame. I’m willing to pay for quality.

  3. We’ve been on a search for those little hash brown potato patties that we have for breakfast. We’ve been to 3 stores, no luck, but we did find a 2 for 1 sale on pork loin and bought six. Great deal.

    But I might be forced to make my own hash browns …

    1. We are creatures of habit, aren’t we? When you’re all set for something specific, substitutes just won’t do. I’ve no doubt you could make your own hash browns, but they won’t be quite the same, will they? Not to mention a lot less convenient.

... and that's my two cents