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Social distancing is imperative to keep food insecurity from rising.

As states make preparations to reopen, some people view it as a sign of a crisis past.  Anecdotally, as reported by the Washington Post, a shopkeeper in Wisconsin was surprised by “how normal” people behaved, crowding outside sidewalks with no care for protection or distancing. Identically, recent footage emerged of similar congregating in a Texas mall, despite Covid-19 cases rising in the state.

Texas isn’t the only place seeing the virus spike after reopening, but, according to The Hill, it’s joined by others, such as North Carolina and Arizona. This comes at a time when the nation’s death-toll bordered 100,000, the CDC indicates, leading to a decisive conclusion: the crisis is far from over and fatalities should be expected to rise deep into the future.

Yet, upcoming struggles concern more than just respiratory problems. What’s discussed with less frequency and, therefore, rarely registered by those dismissive of the disease, is that the virus cripples more than physical health; it impairs a society’s ability to eat. This cannot be made more evident than elsewhere around the globe, as less privileged nations suffer.  

The New York Times described how, “from Honduras to South Africa to India, protests and looting have broken out amid frustrations from lockdowns and worries about hunger.” It tells of a Kenyan stampede during a flour giveaway and of Indian migrants battling over rice. An Indian worker is quoted, saying, “the lockdown has trampled on our dignity.”  

In summation, at the start of May, the United Nations warned that “265 million people could face ‘acute food shortages,’” a CBS News video reported.  

But, while such a reality is decidedly distant for America, it too has reason to worry. In April, a number of meat processing plants were forced to shut down in the U.S. after thousands of workers became infected across a variety of states. This has led to an ongoing, if temporary, shortage of meat as well as horrendous food waste. A Vox article explained how farmers were  forced to euthanize millions of animals in order to avoid overcrowding.  

Yet, while there seems to be some disagreement as to the length and intensity of the meat deficit, what appears to be an evidently swelling dilemma is American food insecurity. Another Vox investigation reported burdened food banks, their efforts unable to meet the demands of a hungry public. Christina Wong, a public policy director of a Washington food bank, said, “The need in our state has gone from 800,000 Washingtonians before COVID to 1.6 million people.”  

Therefore, one must sympathize with those pushing to return to work, as they, quite realistically, linger between the risk of disease and the risk of starvation. Yet, to avoid a prolonged pandemic, states should continue to loosen restrictions in a timely and rational manner.

Meanwhile, some measures can be adopted to help those suffering. According to the same Vox article, the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, should be financially expanded, allowing more people to be fed. After the Great Recession, the “13.6% increase on the maximum monthly benefit [of SNAP] in 2009 was found to have a tangible effect on reducing food insecurity.“ Currently, lawmakers are pushing for a 15% expansion.  

Additionally, concerning issues of meat availability, the U.S. can learn from Europe. According to Foreign Policy, the U.S. faces this dilemma because of a high consolidation of the meat industry. For instance, “in beef production … just three companies account for two-thirds of the market.” That means that if one factory shuts down, it can result in the loss of “10 million beef servings in a single day.” Europe lacks such consolidation and is free of America’s hardship.  

Finally, as the virus extends into the rural counties of the south and midwest — America’s agricultural hubs — people should continue to practice social distancing if possible, whatever local governments allow. 

After all, food will only be available as long as there are healthy people to produce it.

Filip De Mott is a rising journalism and international affairs junior. Contact him at demottfs@dukes.jmu.edu.