COVID19: A leaner future

In an earlier post, I described emerging innovations despite government coercion to stay home and wait.   One example concerned restaurants:

… the word is getting out that these restaurants want to continue to operate and in particular want to retain their staff and maintain their wages.   The public is (perhaps slowly) adapting by incorporating restaurant prepared meals when they would normally prepare their own meals more cheaply.

I was among the ones mentioned of considering the regularly schedule delivery for lunch and dinner instead of making them myself even though I’m perfectly happy preparing them myself.   I probably will not do so, and I will not be alone.   The restaurants may not have enough of a business to stay afloat and will end up closing for good.

One of the reasons I decided against it has to do with garbage.   To help get through this crisis, my local government is begging us to minimize our garbage and recycling that needs collection weekly.

 Over the week of March 22, residential trash tonnage has increased more than 30%. The residentialcollection system is becoming stressed and we all need to do our part and limit the amount of trash, recycling and yard waste being placed out for collection.

At the same time:

The County encourages the community to continue to support local restaurants with carryout/pickup orders.

If we want to take advantage of local restaurants, we’re going to increase the load on the trash and recycling collection system already straining due to limited processing capabilities.   I’m pretty sure that I would double that collection output if I were to get take out or delivery instead of prepare stuff myself.   Meals come with rigid trays and covers that must be disposed after use.

There is more to that.   In the past few weeks, I’ve been gradually reducing my serving sizes to stretch out a grocery purchase over more days to avoid going to the grocery store so often (I’m not giving up my preference for fresh food, yet).   Take out and delivery will inevitably delivery at least twice (probably much more) than I would normally eat.

I suppose I could stretch that with leftovers refrigerated and reheated.  That leads eating leftovers that would be poorer experience than me making my own meals from scratch, and undermining my initial desire to help with my daily business as would happen if I ate in their dining rooms.

At least for me, take out or delivery doesn’t work.   If enough people feel the same, there won’t be enough business to keep these businesses going.

They will disappear, and future entrepreneurs won’t dare to replace them given the governments proven eagerness to discard them the next time there is some panic.

I’m eating smaller portions to the extent that the same grocery load that may last me 2 days is now lasting me 3 or more days.   At this stage in my life, I’m likely to continue this habit even if things return to normal.    I’ve come to a rhythm of working and eating that is sustainable, but consuming much less.

This has the short term benefit of reducing demand on grocery stores, but it is long term implications because the stores will need to distribute less quantities long into the future.   Grocery stores stay profitable by selling quantity.   If lower quantity stock movement becomes normal, many would not stay in business in the long run.   There will be fewer local stores because only stores capable of handling larger customer traffic can remain profitable.    Without those local stores, there will be a trend to stretch out the period between grocery trips and that will come with reducing serving sizes or choosing recipes using fewer and more versatile ingredients.

All of this will have an impact upstream on the supply chain.   Farmers are already throwing away crops because there is no market for them.

Some of this is due to the supply chain unable to deliver the product as is the case with discarding raw milk at dairy farms.   I am surprised to see that there is now a glut for produce such as potatoes that were destined for making french fries at now closed fast food places and chips used most during social gatherings no longer happening.   The surprise for potatoes was the quick turn around from scarcity just a few months ago due to a bad growing season last year.

I predict that this is going to lead to a spiraling down of consumption of food in general, and calories in particular.   Farmers will be scaling back on their production of items of low demand, making those items less available and potentially more expensive in the future.   The public likely will adapt to the change in prices and availability and eat consume even less of these products.   Eventually, we’ll end up in a new equilibrium of lower production and lower consumption and that will remain for some time.   The longer the emergency measures are enforced, the more conditioned people will be to a smaller and less varied menu.

As stated in my last post, I fear things will get much worse, where large numbers of people may be unable to feed themselves at all.   The survivors will condemn our choices for putting them into that predicament.   Unfortunately, in times of crises, our forms of government are incapable of planning for the benefit of the future populations as all of the attention is on the (sometime futile) attempts to pacify the present populations.

That pessimistic outcome may be averted somehow.   We may still see a lower consumption of foods and calories as a result of the conditioning under stay-at-home orders by government.   People will learn to eat smaller meals with more versatile ingredients.   Many will lose their interest in eating out and even those who do cherish those experiences will find them harder to find and harder to afford.

The end result may be that we may see a decrease in obesity on a population scale, fewer people being obese or the remaining obese losing substantial amount of weight.   There may be a long term medical benefit of the current destruction of our economy by having fewer demands for treatment of obesity related conditions.

Maybe such medical benefits will be countered by an increase in other conditions related to the lack of regular exercise.   The current stay at home orders will condition the people to accept a more sedentary life as they find things to occupy their time that involves sitting down for long period of time (such as writing in blogs).   People can deliberately exercise at home, especially doing body weight exercises or aerobic exercises.    The problem is that there will be a decline in incidental exercise involved in walking around the office, across parking lots, or within large stores or malls.   On a population scale, the latter makes up a good fraction of total exercise.   Even after all this settles down, people will find it natural to continue to do what they have been doing and the remaining landscape will offer fewer attractions that require such walking.

The decline in exercise involves exercises not usually associated with weight-loss so I don’t think it will have change my prediction of a gradual reduction of body weight as a result in eating habits conditioned by the current climate.   The primary medical impact will be an increase in medical conditions such as heart disease and mental health that comes from lack of even moderate exercise.

In my mind, the current state of emergency for the pandemic has already lasted too long, but I predict it will last until late summer and probably will get much more restrictive before it gets less restrictive.    This is a long time for changing people’s habits.   I predict people will lose weight (even if they don’t need to) and many of those will continue their new lower-consumption lifestyle by choice or by necessity long afterwards.

I predict a leaner future.   Either it will be because of collapse of food supply change leading to widespread famine conditions, or it will be because of a reconditioning of people to be happy eating less in quantity and in extravagance.


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