THE ANCHORAGE DAILY PLANET
When the chairman of Tyson Food tells America “the food supply chain in breaking” after multiple meat processing plants across the country are shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is time to pay attention.
Alaskans should be paying even more attention than most during the ongoing crisis. We find ourselves at the end of a very, very long supply chain.
At one point, some time ago, food security in Alaska was a big deal. Former Gov. Sean Parnell in 2013 set up the Alaska Food Resource Working Group, composed of eight state agency commissioners. It was to recommend policies to increase the purchase and consumption of local wild seafood and farm products and encourage collaboration among fisheries, consumers, Alaska farmers, state and tribal entities, and consumers.
Parnell’s goal was to make Alaska more self-reliant when it comes to food, and more prepared for a major earthquake or other disaster. He wanted to build warehouses to hold enough emergency food in Anchorage and Fairbanks to feed 40,000 people for up to a week after an earthquake or other disaster.
There was a statewide assessment – “Building Food Security in Alaska” – town halls and much talk in some circles. All that has gotten less attention in the years since, and, worse, Alaska has become even less self-reliant. Over the years it has lost its state-run dairy, its meat packing plant and much of its agricultural base. We are ever more dependent on that very long supply chain for our food.
Nowadays, the Alaska Food Policy Council is working toward a “more secure, more self-reliant” food system in the state. State government, despite its economic woes, should step up, too, and make the food system a top priority.
Agriculture should be encouraged with the end goal of having Alaska able to stand on its own for crucial food supplies.
In the Parnell administration, the governor’s Food Resource Working Group was nearly a Cabinet-level effort, giving it the visibility and clout needed to accomplish something.
The effort in the administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy should be at least that important – especially now. A hungry Alaskan, after all, is a grumpy Alaskan.