A torrent of articles from around the country have made certain what we noticed anecdotally the other day at the supermarket: America is in the grips of a severe matzo shortage. While there was just enough to go around for seders on Saturday and Sunday nights, observant Jews are scrambling to find supplies of the unleavened bread to sustain them for the rest of Passover, another five or six days of dietary restriction.
Theories for why this is happening this year abound, but are ultimately limited in scope. The aforementioned articles have pointed to recalcitrant retailers like Trader Joe’s who have declined to carry matzo this year, stymied suppliers like Manischewitz that couldn’t make Tam Tam mini-matzos because of equipment failures, and cantankerous consumers who didn’t plan ahead and rushed to buy the limited cache of matzo all at once.
But these explanations ignore the reality that, while matzo is certainly a niche product, what this amounts to, more or less, is a bread shortage. As people around the globe are increasingly — and for many, painfully — aware, the price of wheat has DOUBLED in the past year. Matzo, as you may or may not know, is made of NOTHING BUT wheat! So it costs more to make, and less was made. We’re merely implying causality here, but let’s put aside our lack of hard evidence and consider the following:
All of a sudden, the people of the developing world are rapidly increasing their average daily calorie intake while the land, water, and energy resources used to grow food products are rapidly diminishing in quantity and quality. The wealthiest ten percent of the world has been materially unaffected by this imbalance, but billions are forced to sacrifice and hundreds of millions are on the brink of starvation. It is unfortunate that the richest decile of the world’s population — the people who are in the best positions, politically and economically, to address the food crisis — have little in the way of structural incentives to make the sort of wholesale systemic changes to the global food/energy system that is necessary to ensure sufficient, reliable and equitable supplies of foodstuffs.
Earth Day and Passover are just the kinds of navel-gazing opportunities we need to encourage us to consider how to go about feeding ourselves in this new era of unprecedented high demand and low supply. While many await a technological panacea to rescue us from our present conundrum, no real solution is possible without a shift in attitude by the world’s producing class (that, or we could start eating a hell of a lot less meat). The matzo shortage story may not exactly be a warning shot across the bow, but it’s certainly a sign that no one’s entirely immune to global commodities turmoil.
It’s Passover. Who’s Hiding the Matzo? [NYTimes]
Matzo in short supply for Bay Area Passover [SFGate]
Hit or miss with finding matzo as Passover looms closer [MercuryNews]
As Passover nears, matzo in short supply [Contra Costa Times]
Matzo shortage at many Reno stores looms for Passover [Reno Gazette-Journal]
Price Volatility Adds to Worry on U.S. Farms [NYTimes]
In Lean Times, Biotech Grains Are Less Taboo [NYTimes]
Rising Demand for Meat Takes Toll on Environment [NPR]
[Photo: no more matzo, in any language (missapril1956/Flickr)
N.B. Special bonus! There’s also a shortage on Kosher-for-Passover margarine because farmers planted ethanol corn in lieu of cotton last year. Hope you like your flourless chocolate cakes dry!