UC Food Blog
Empty grocery store shelves are troubling enough to California consumers who are accustomed to abundant supplies. To hear about farmers dumping milk, crushing eggs and plowing under crops when demand for food is strong just doesn't make sense to most consumers. Although the new coronavirus crisis has currently derailed the connection between supply and demand, “the food system in the United States is resilient and there is little reason for alarm about food availability,” write University of California agricultural economists.
Overall, neither food consumption nor the amount of food supplied by farms have changed much, they write in a new article published by UC's Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics. The authors explain that the sudden closure of schools, restaurants and other institutions, coupled with residents in many states sheltering in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19, has disrupted normal patterns of where people buy food.
“Price changes, surpluses and shortages along the food supply chain are likely the result of recent and temporary shocks to supply, demand or both,” said co-author Ellen Bruno, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Berkeley.
“On the demand side, we have seen customers shift to buying more food at the grocery store as restaurants and other food service businesses have closed. Plus, consumers have changed what they consume and stockpile during these times,” she said.
Initially, worried consumers stocked up on staples such as rice and pasta that store well. Then, with more free time, they started cooking at home and baking their own bread and pastries, buying up eggs, flour, sugar and other baking supplies.
“On the supply side, there are challenges in trying to rearrange production and packaging to service grocery stores, as opposed to restaurants, schools, etc. which often purchase items in different quantities,” Bruno said. “Plus, there are the obvious health concerns and potential disruptions due to the impact of the virus on the workers themselves.”
How quickly the food supply system will adapt to changing demand depends on the product, according to Bruno and her co-authors Richard J. Sexton, UC Davis professor, and Daniel A. Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center and UC Davis professor, both in the Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics. Canned fruits and vegetables are often processed shortly after harvest and can be moved from storage to retail fairly quickly. To increase egg production, farmers have to add to the number of laying hens, which takes months. Many perishable produce items are planted, harvested, packed and shipped according to a precise schedule to replenish grocery store inventories “just in time” so farmers can't quickly increase the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables they supply.
Produce wholesalers who sell to food service have products and packaging specifically designed for that market. For example, packing plants that prepare large bulk salad packages for restaurants aren't set up to pack salad into retail-ready bags that require consumer labels. While adjustments were made, some fresh produce rotted or was plowed under.
After the COVID-19 disruption ends, the authors expect the food supply chain to evolve as the economy gradually recovers.
“In the longer term, even after restaurants and the food service industry are back and running, reduced incomes due to the recession will change our consumption patterns,” Bruno said. “Demand for food consumed at home doesn't change much with income, but demand for food at restaurants does. In many ways, food service and the growers that supply directly to food service will be hardest hit by all of this because they suffer both in the short run with mandatory closures and in the long run with an economic recession.”
Although it's uncertain how long the pandemic will last, the authors say Americans will have an adequate supply of safe, healthy food.
“Despite these disruptions, overall our food supply chain is robust and adaptable,” Bruno said. “Nothing in the underlying economics suggests that there will be a lack of food available.”
To read “The Coronavirus and the Food Supply Chain,” visit https://bit.ly/covidimpactonfood.
Growing up in a traditional Asian Indian household, home cooking was a part of the daily routine and a cultural practice. At the time, acquiring cooking knowledge and skills was an expectation and considered normal. When I moved to the United States, I added new knowledge about diverse cultural values and norms surrounding food and home cooking practices.
Today, with millions of people nationwide facing stay-at-home and social distancing guidelines, home cooking has found new meaning for many families. Navigating through this new normal, I feel blessed to have the cooking knowledge and skills that empower me to cook basic pantry food items into diverse cultural food recipes from across the world. Thanks to my family for keeping the passion of home cooking alive.
As the UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family, and consumer sciences advisor and a researcher trying to understand and identify strategies to support healthy lifestyle habits among children and families, I feel this commitment has never been stronger than it is right now. I decided to meaningfully inform the ways families can work together with children in the kitchen. In this process, I examined the strategies used by UCCE nutrition education programs of Tulare and Kings counties in the past year, along with current research and best practices that promote home cooking, age-appropriate kitchen tasks, and meal preparation activities.
What is cooking and why it matters?
Cooking is a learned skill that is broadly defined as the ability and capacity to prepare meals. Cooking at home is a practice that encompasses a range of activities to include nutrition and age-appropriate kitchen tasks from food planning, preparation, safety, consumption and much more. Children can acquire cooking skills at home with adult guidance and supervision. There are many benefits of cooking at home.
Cooking at home improves health and well-being
Families that prepare meals at home eat a healthier diet. Studies have reported more fruit and vegetable consumption and low consumption of convenience and processed foods among families who cook at home compared to families who cook irregularly or not at all. A study reported that adolescents with cooking ability indicated better nutritional and mental health and stronger family connections. Among adults, cooking at home has indicated improvements in health status, dietary intake, self-efficacy, self-esteem, mood and affect.
Cooking at home strengthens family resource management
Food resource management involves meal planning, shopping, and budgeting. Studies have shown preparing meals at home saves time and money and helps families eat healthy on a budget.
Cooking at home increases family mealtimes
Having basic cooking skills set the foundation for family mealtimes. Research shows when families cook at home, they are more likely to eat at home most days of the week, make healthier food choices, and save money.
Cooking at home promotes family cultural tradition
Families pass on their cultural tradition when they include children in every aspect of the meal preparation, from choosing the food menu and ingredients, to setting the table to making the meal, talking and eating together. Research shows such practices may differ from family to family, however, it creates lifelong knowledge and memories.
Cooking at home contributes to lifelong healthy habits and life skills
Cooking together as a family helps children learn useful life skills of reading, teamwork, planning and organization, communication, problem-solving, creativity, imagination, cleanliness, and gratitude. Children can apply math, science, nutrition, culinary, and geography lessons to understand where the food comes from, how to read a recipe, how to measure ingredients, healthy vs. unhealthy foods, foods from around the world, seasonal foods, nutrition aspects of the food and much more.
Promoting healthy families and communities through UC Cooperative Extension
Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nutrition education is an integral component of these programs. Increasingly in recent years, there is a focus on improving lifelong practical skills using age-appropriate learning approaches.
In the past year, the UCCE nutrition programs in Tulare and Kings counties have empowered children, youth, adults, and families with knowledge and skills to make the healthy choice the easy choice.
Participants learned about handwashing and food safety, age-appropriate cooking basics, growing a vegetable garden, reading a recipe, eating healthy from five food groups, healthy and seasonal foods. Through food demonstrations and taste tests, participants enjoyed foods from all food groups, including new fruits and vegetables, and showed a willingness to try them at home.
Additionally, adult learning also included food planning and management, selection, preparation, cooking, and eating on a budget.
How can families engage children in age-appropriate home cooking activities?
Now is the time to create family home cooking memories with love and gratitude
Try a few of the activities listed below, and set goals to adopt small healthy living changes. Soon, you'll be proud and happy to see your children pick up these skills and habits.
Age-appropriate kitchen tasks. Children are great helpers. Parents can delegate and guide children with Age-Appropriate Kitchen Tasks . Age-appropriate tasks are recommended based on what children can do at each age. Effective parental practices can help children stay healthy and safe (Child Development Milestones & Parenting).
Cooking appliances, tools and accessories.Be a kitchen tour guide to your children and help them get to know the kitchen layout and appliances. Show them cooking tools and accessories that you frequently use in the kitchen. Provide age-appropriate cooking tools to encourage children to get involved in the kitchen.
Handwashing. Help children understand the importance of washing hands before, during, and after handling food, cooking, and eating. Help children develop handwashing habits by following Five Steps to Handwashing. Handwashing can be a fun family activity.
Food safety. Explain to children the science behind food handling, cooking, and storage using guidelines about Food Safety in Your Kitchen and Food Safety Fun Learning Family Activities. To get guidance on safe handling, preparation, and storage of food and beverage items, download Foodkeeper App.
Food menu planning. Involve children in Food Planning Activities & Resources. Create a Sample Two-Week Menuto minimize trips to grocery stores. Ask children to help you create a family food menu. During grocery shopping, fill your cart with healthy options and consider shelf-stable and budget-friendly items from each food group with Food Groups Tip for Every Aisle.
Cooking with new foods, herbs and spices.Walk the talk about the importance of eating from five food groups and drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages by doing so yourself. When creating a food menu and food recipes, include foods from five food groups - fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains and dairy from MyPlate and Seasonal Produce Guide. Add flavor to your food with Herbs & Spices. You can also Grow Your Own Herbs & Spices Indoors .
Food recipe cookbooks. Involve children in creating healthy food recipe cookbooks for breakfast, snacks, lunch, appetizers, and dinner. Think about building traditional family food recipes, food recipes from around the world or by culture, quick and easy food recipes, cooking with herbs, slow-cooker recipes, and much more. Family friendly recipe ideas can be found at MyPlate Kitchen, Healthy Recipes from the Whitehouse to You, Meeting Your MyPlate Goals On A Budget, Healthy Eating on a Budget Cookbook.
Food demonstration and taste test. Food demonstration and taste test can be a fun family kitchen activity during weekends. Encourage children to create a fun recipe to cook, and ask them to use their five senses to describe the flavors, ingredients and the food used in the recipe. Try to blend the food from many cultures to create new recipes. Share family food stories with children to keep the family tradition alive.
Family mealtimes. Family mealtime is an opportunity to eat, talk, connect, communicate, and learn. Visit MyPlatePlan to learn what and how much to eat within calorie allowance. Eating together as a family gives the children an opportunity to learn and practice their table manners, social and communication skills.
Reduce food waste. Family meal preparation time is a great opportunity to educate children about how to Recycle & Compost food waste. Recycling food helps save money and reduces the amount of food going to waste.
Food- and kitchen-related COVID-19 informational resources.The USDA Food and Nutrition Service and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has useful nutrition and food safety tips and activities for families managing the challenging conditions of the COVID-19 outbreak. Find these organizations here:
- USDA Food & Nutrition Service Information Link
- Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics Link
- Videos on Kitchen Topics
- Social Media Kitchen Related Topics for Families
- Games, Activities, & Tip Sheets
Central Valley residents from Visalia to Sacramento look forward every year to the beginning of strawberry season in early April, when roadside strawberry stands operated by Hmong and Mien farmers open to the public.
These farms grow strawberry varieties such as Chandler and Camarosa that haven't traded flavor for shelf life – they don't ship or store well, but they are far sweeter than varieties usually sold in stores, and they reach their peak ripeness and flavor in the fields next to the strawberry stands.
As strawberry season opens this year, farmers are hoping that customers will still stop by the stands to pick up their fresh, seasonal strawberries, and also that they will observe 6-foot social distancing and other guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19. UC Cooperative Extension agricultural assistant Michael Yang and I were interviewed on a local news station to encourage Fresno residents to practice these guidelines while supporting local farmers.
To assist Fresno strawberry farmers, the UCCE small farms team in Fresno County developed, printed, and distributed signs for roadside strawberry stands reminding customers to observe social distancing and other safety practices, as well as guidelines for farm stands to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Versions of the signs were also developed for strawberry stands in Merced and Sacramento, as well as a general sign for local produce at any farm stand.
Signs and safety guidelines were printed with funding from the Western Extension Risk Management Education Center, and Michael Yang distributed large printed versions of the signs to all strawberry stands on the Fresno County Fruit Trail map in Fresno County. These materials have also been shared with UCCE small farms and food systems advisors as well as nonprofit and agency partners and county Agricultural Commissioner's offices, and they are available for printing on the UCCE Fresno strawberry website.
Even as Californians shelter in place to contain the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, nutritious food remains vital to the health and well-being of our communities.
“Eating fruits and vegetables is known to benefit our overall health and help our immune system,” said Lorrene Ritchie, director of the UC Nutrition Policy Institute. “At a time when we need to be especially vigilant about staying healthy, eating healthy is essential.”
Farms, farm stands and farmers markets are listed as “essential businesses” in the state shelter-in-place order because they are important parts of the food supply. Urban farms are included in this category. As large produce distributors struggle to switch from selling large quantities to restaurants, schools and institutions to supplying supermarkets, these small businesses may offer a better selection of fresh foods, and may be closer to homes and less crowded.
To help minimize exposure and risk of spreading of the virus, urban farms need to follow some key guidelines from the CDC , said Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension metropolitan agriculture and food systems specialist in the Department of Environment, Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley.
UC Cooperative Extension has compiled a list of resources for farmers, community gardeners and other people working in the food system to ensure that they can continue supplying fresh, healthy and affordable food to Californians.
“Social distancing, heightened health and hygiene practices and cleaning and disinfecting reduce the risk,” said Sowerwine.
Although eating a nutritious diet can boost our immunity, the Los Angeles Times reported produce sales plummeted by 90% or more at Southern California produce markets after the statewide shelter-in-place rules went into effect.
“It's worrisome to see that sales of fruits and vegetables are dropping so sharply, but not surprising,” said Rachel Surls, UC Cooperative Extension sustainable food systems advisor for Los Angeles County. “As people shop during the crisis, they may be prioritizing groceries that can be stored for a longer time in the fridge or pantry. And they may be on a very limited food budget, even more so than usual, so they are likely prioritizing essentials like bread and rice and baby formula.”
To support farmers in California, the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program created a directory at http://www.calagtour.org for consumers to find local farms to purchase produce directly.
For families who have lost jobs and income, the risk of food insecurity increases. Some families could supplement their food from gardens and urban agriculture during this crisis.
Consumers must practice safety, too, when visiting farmers markets and farm stands. UC Cooperative Extension small farm advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard explained, "Things like keeping the minimum six-foot distance from customers, not touching any produce that you're not planning to buy, leaving as soon as you've made a purchase and washing the produce when you get home would be some good guidelines."
The virus is thought to be spread mainly from person to person, however there is evidence that COVID-19 can last for days on hard surfaces, thus the need to ramp up good health and hygiene practices, social distancing and cleaning and sanitizing of surfaces.
University of California research and extension faculty have compiled a list of helpful fact sheets and resources for farmers, community gardeners and other food system workers to ensure fresh, healthy and affordable food for communities across the state:
- Food-related resources for consumers and members of the food industry for COVID-19
- on the UC Davis Food Safety website.
- Sowerwine's PowerPoint presentation Safe Handling Practices for Fresh Produce in a Time of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) for urban farmers.
- A set of policies and procedures for safe food handling at the farm during COVID-19 provides step-by-step instructions for applying new food and health precautions on the farm including checklists, standard operating procedures and signage posting guidelines for preventing the spread of infection.
- COVID-19 safety guidelines for farm stands.
- Handouts for safe food-handling at home that can be distributed to customers receiving food from the farm.
All of these resources are posted on the UC Urban Agriculture website at https://ucanr.edu/sites/UrbanAg.
“During this challenging time, I am heartened by the quick and thoughtful responses by many extension, grassroots and institutional efforts, including Community Alliance with Family Farm's COVID-19 Responses and Resources for California Family Farms, Mutual Aid organizations where groups of young, healthy and lower-risk people are bringing food and services to vulnerable people who shouldn't be in public at all, and Bayareafood.info that seeks to support local restaurants, farmers, and food systems workers as they weather this latest storm,” said Sowerwine. “Crisis can spawn innovation, and I am hopeful that through this, we will come out the other end with a more compassionate and resilient food system.”
UC Cooperative Extension advisor Rose Hayden-Smith has taught schoolchildren at 4-H summer camps about food, inspired Master Gardener volunteers to plant school gardens, led the UC Cooperative Extension office in Ventura County as its first female director, and encouraged fellow University of California scientists to collaborate more on sustainable food systems research as a statewide leader. In recent years, the historian wrote a book about Victory Gardens, created the UC Food Observer, and became a leader in using social media to expand the university's public outreach.
Hayden-Smith, who joined UC Agriculture and Natural Resources in 1992, is reinventing herself again after retiring Jan. 3, 2020. She has been selected to be a Fellow for the eXtension Foundation, to promote adoption of new technology by Cooperative Extension professionals nationwide. She also launched her own consulting business, Shine Communications.
“I've loved the multi-faceted aspect of my UC career, which has enabled me to serve my community and my colleagues in creative and meaningful ways,” Hayden-Smith said.
Lynnette Coverly was a 4-H volunteer when Hayden-Smith joined UCCE Ventura County.
“Rose struck me immediately as a passionate and organized leader who easily motivated everyone she came in contact with,” Coverly said. “She motivated me personally to get more involved as a 4-H volunteer leader.
“For my daughter, Rose continually spoke with her about how to practically apply her education and the skills she learned in 4-H to her collegiate life and later, in dental school.”
“At Loma Vista Elementary School, Rose developed an experiential demonstration garden for the fourth-grade classes,” said Curwood, who is currently director of School Nutrition Programs at the Virginia Department of Education. “Crops introduced by the Spanish and native California crops used by the Indians, grown on the grounds of the California Missions to feed the complex, were grown by students in the school garden to replicate this important part of California history and culture.”
Hayden-Smith worked with Loma Vista Elementary School teachers annually to integrate the school garden with their California history curriculum and persuaded the kitchen staff to add the garden-grown foods to the cafeteria salad bars so the students could taste them.
“Rose also provided professional development to the school nutrition program foodservice staff on the agriculture present in Ventura during WWI and II and the contribution of local Victory Gardens to the war effort. It really brought history to life and amplified their work and community connections from a historical perspective.”
During a sabbatical leave, Hayden-Smith worked with deaf and hard-of-hearing students in garden settings. She teamed with the City of Ventura to pilot-test a curriculum for middle-school age youth about sustainability through fun garden activities.
A career day at the county science fair, agriculture and natural resource journalism academies, and on-farm programs for court-mandated kids were some other learning opportunities offered by Hayden-Smith, who served as a county commissioner for juvenile justice.
“Most recently, I've been working in digital communications in Extension, which has been a wonderful fit for my skills and evolving interests,” Hayden-Smith said. “This work has also brought me back to my early career work in marketing and technology.”
An early adopter of technology, Hayden-Smith began blogging and using Twitter in 2008 as @VictoryGrower, a handle chosen to reflect her expertise in the war-time Victory Garden movement.
“It's a different ‘victory' now, but many of the goals are the same,” Hayden-Smith said. “Gardens connect people with food and food production. Food is fundamental. It's what everyone shares in common. As we are entering a more challenging era of increased population and pressure on resources, it is vital for people to understand how to cultivate food.”
Over the years, the practicing historian has delivered many presentations, commented for documentaries and podcasts and published articles about gardens. She published a book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War 1” in 2014.
While serving as a Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow, beginning in 2008, Hayden-Smith developed a national media and education campaign to promote school, home and community garden efforts and public policies, publishing articles in the Huffington Post and Civil Eats. She served on the USDA People's Garden Advisory Group, visiting the White House garden groundbreaking and again in 2012, when she live-tweeted her experience.
People increasingly took notice of the academic's extraordinary communication skills.
As the social media maven's following grew, she began mentoring and encouraging UC Cooperative Extension colleagues who wanted to use social media for outreach and professional networking.
In 2011, Hayden-Smith, who had developed a reputation for being upbeat with a knack for cultivating cooperation, was tapped to lead UC ANR's strategic initiative in sustainable food systems. She was honored for her leadership, work ethic and integrity in 2013, when the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis presented her with the Eric Bradford and Charlie Rominger Agricultural Sustainability Leadership Award.
To support UC's Global Food Initiative, Hayden-Smith was asked to curate a selection of news, reports and thought pieces from a broad range of sources that represent diverse perspectives on food. The intent was not to focus on UC, but to facilitate discussions about food that were occurring across many communication platforms. She launched the UC Food Observer blog in 2015 and complemented it with social media.
“Over the course of my UC career, I've worked with the best people: curious, driven to improve communities and inspiring all around,” Hayden-Smith said. “I've been blessed to work for a world-class institution that has fostered my creativity and need for new challenges. My biggest takeaway? It all goes so fast, the possibilities for learning new things are endless, and work – and the people you work with – are a blessing.”
Prior to working for UC, Hayden-Smith worked in the technology sector as a product manager, and public relations and marketing manager for a number of companies, including Tymshare, Wavefront Technologies and McDonnell Douglas Information System Group. She earned her bachelor's degree in English, master's degrees in education and US. history, and a Ph.D. in U.S. history and public historical studies. She began her UC career in 1989 as a student affairs officer at UCSB advising re-entry students.
“Transitions are hard, and I'm filled with both sadness and excitement,” Hayden-Smith said.