We try not to have all our eggs in one basket.
February 11, 2018 12:49 PM   Subscribe

It's not an uncommon problem in Alaska groceries: A whole shelf meant for bananas was almost completely empty one day last week at the Fred Meyer store in Midtown Anchorage. Keeping fresh produce that's grown thousands of miles away in stock here is a delicate system that grocers have been perfecting for years. Still, one 24-hour delay — recently, a cargo ship needing a repair and stuck in Tacoma, Washington — can send swift ripples through the food supply chain.

By Annie Zak, via @Nicole_Cliffe.

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Elsewhere, the American appetite for packaged baking mixes is waning, according to the market research firm Mintel, as consumers move away from packaged foods with artificial ingredients and buy more from in-store bakeries and specialty pastry shops. Yet in the small, mostly indigenous communities that dot rural Alaska, box cake is a stalwart staple, the star of every community dessert table and a potent fund-raising tool. “Cake mixes are the center of our little universe,” said Cynthia Erickson, who owns the only grocery store in Tanana, an Athabascan village of 300 along the Yukon River in central Alaska. “I have four damn shelves full.”

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The consensus in Iqaluit seems to be that everyone with a credit card has an Amazon Prime membership. That's because people can often find groceries cheaper online than in local stores, despite government food subsidy programs. "Amazon Prime has done more toward elevating the standard of living of my family than any territorial or federal program. Full stop. Period," a local principal, who declined to speak further, said on Facebook.
posted by ChuraChura (19 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have a family member who used to work in the oil industry in Alaska. He said that they got company-subsidized rates for shipping, once a month or a quarter (I can't remember) a smallish cargo container on Alaska Airlines between Seattle and northern Alaska towns. According to him, a common thing to do a few times a year as a "mini vacation" was to fly down to SeaTac and make a beeline for the Tukwila or 1st Ave Costco and load up on various things and then tote them back to the Alaska Airlines cargo terminal for shipment up north. He said you could tell who worked for the companies that provided cargo benefits because those people had nice TVs and cooked with high-end olive oil.
posted by fireoyster at 1:13 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


The pullquote from the third article is a touch misleading because according the rest of the article the Iqaluit live in perpetual fear that amazon prime is going to cut free delivery like they did to the Nanavut in 2015.

Capitalism can provide a short-term boon but it’s not a social program and what’s needed it sounds like is an actual social program.

/me looks at the history of western civilization’s treatment towards first people and tries not feel hopeless
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:37 PM on February 11 [16 favorites]


From the first linked article: ""It's cheaper to barge or fly it in than it is to grow it here," said Stephen Brown, a Palmer-based district agriculture agent with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "The problem with that is that creates a very fragile food supply that's very easy to be disrupted.""

I really, really wish there had been a sidebar with Brown about Alaskans' use of traditional preserving techniques. Seems like a sensible addition to the pantry in light of the food supply chain's vulnerability to accidents/weather/delays. I am glad to see that Fred Meyer is locally sourcing at least some of its items--I'm curious about how much Alaska-grown produce they order every month.

Interesting links, thanks!
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:51 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


The pullquote from the third article is a touch misleading because according the rest of the article the Iqaluit live in perpetual fear that amazon prime is going to cut free delivery like they did to the Nanavut in 2015.

Huh? Iqaluit is the capital city of the territory of Nunavut.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:33 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I live in Fairbanks, and regularly there are entire shelves in the produce section of Fred Meyer that are just empty, because the produce truck hasn’t yet come in. As in, the entire section of bagged lettuce mixes is empty. Or, there are no bananas or cilantro. You ask, and they say the produce truck is supposed to arrive on Tuesday (or whatever).

On the other hand, we do have fresh produce regularly. They usually have Alaska grown carrots and potatoes in stock (and the Alaska grown carrots are noticeably superior to the imported ones).

The big news locally was that we had a Sams club that was one of the ones that abruptly was shuttered a month ago—which is causing serious problems for local restaurants. But it’s sounding like Costco might come in instead, which everyone is very excited about. It made a breaking news banner on the newspaper app (as well as front page news).
posted by leahwrenn at 3:14 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


seattle amazon banana giveaways fucking shit up for alaska amirite yo
posted by mwhybark at 4:14 PM on February 11


The blog Alaska Bush Teacher talks about grocery shopping, including doing reviews of food delivery companies.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:45 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Not about Alaska, but shipping and supply chains and Costco play an outsize part of my working life. The place I work at in Tokyo relies on Costco for all sorts of things that are hard to find or prohibitively expensive elsewhere in Japan. Because of that, any small ripple in the supply chain means we have to scramble to find alternative supplies of things like corn chips, salami, cheese, and the like. Currently, there's some sort of backup in a shipment that means we're waiting for corn chips again, and nervously watching our stocks dwindle. Uncertain supply lines also encourage an unhealthy hoarding mentality, where you buy tons of a thing when they finally become available, simply because you don't know when the supply line might fail again.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:57 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


There are quite a lot of greenhouse operations in Alaska now, I know someone who runs a fairly large one that sells mostly to the small village it's located in but also hits some farmers markets, which are huge there now. But one issue with the really big year round geo-thermal setups is that they are growing everything hydroponically. Hydroponic vegetables provide all the macro-nutrients but not the micro-nutrients you'd get from soil- trace minerals etc. At least not well and not easily. Also the tomatoes taste like ass, as anyone who's had hydroponic tomatoes knows well. So it's helpful but not a perfect solution. And it's a tiny industry, it won't help if the boats stop coming in a meaningful way.

And unfortunately one of traditional preserving methods in the really remote far north was to make ice cellars in the permafrost and that's not working so well now. People are losing meat and they're not happy.
posted by fshgrl at 6:51 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


Kind of the opposite of Alaska... I went to high school on a remote military base in the Marshall Islands. We got a Military cargo plane 2X a week and a barge 1 or two times a month. So mechanical problems, storms, etc. would blow up the schedule and there would be no milk on the island, or no produce, for a few days.

One time they sent 100 cases of Stroh's beer by mistake The usual beers available on island were Bud, Lite, and our premium beer was Michelob. I worked at the convenience sore where the beer was sold. 100 cases of Stroh's sold out in a few hours just because it was something different.

A long line of people. To buy Stroh's.
posted by COD at 7:14 PM on February 11 [11 favorites]


When I was living on Pohnpei, the supply ship got stuck in Guam (or somewhere else) under suspicions of smuggling, and we had no onions or ice cream for about a week or so. I remember being told that all of the food on base (on Guam or the Marshall Islands) was shipped from the US and being just flabbergasted at the inefficiency of it.
posted by that girl at 7:43 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


"convenience sore," lol.

My first wife spent a couple years in her early adolescence on Kwajalien, I have heard similar stories. In Stroh's defense, there was a period of time in the late 80s where they did something to their recipe and they were very definitely the best big-iron US brew. Blue cans, as I recall. Maybe that was the extent of the recipe change.
posted by mwhybark at 7:47 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


I now feel silly for getting crabby about not being able to get frozen cauliflower florets last week.
posted by JanetLand at 6:31 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Correcting my language: “dropped many nanavut communities”.

Comprehension fail on my part.

Also: article about amazon dropping said support
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:43 AM on February 12


A friend of mine is the most senior flight attendant for Alaska Airlines. He has been to nearly every landing strip in Alaska and has some great and harrowing stories.
posted by Sophie1 at 6:48 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Should remind us that this used to be standard everywhere, and only in a major metropolis were you likely to see anything perishable out of season, well into the 20th century.

The consensus in Iqaluit seems to be that everyone with a credit card has an Amazon Prime membership.

To which I have the same response as I had to those two interns talking about a Peopod delivery during a blizzard 6-7 years ago: "If a car can't get down the street, how is a van getting to you?" Like if everything comes up on the same freighter, and that freighter breaks, is amazon sending out teams of huskies?

Also, aren't First Nations/Native people the least banked in the world? Is "everyone with a credit card" just code for "white people?" It's certainly pretty tone-deaf.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:50 AM on February 12


Oh man, just wait. It's going to get bad.

Where do we go? The mountains of El Salvador?
posted by mrgrimm at 10:36 AM on February 12


To which I have the same response as I had to those two interns talking about a Peopod delivery during a blizzard 6-7 years ago: "If a car can't get down the street, how is a van getting to you?" Like if everything comes up on the same freighter, and that freighter breaks, is amazon sending out teams of huskies?

Amazon Prime's bonus is free shipping of much cheaper products, the speed is less of a concern.
posted by jeather at 10:57 AM on February 12


A friend of mine is the most senior flight attendant for Alaska Airlines. He has been to nearly every landing strip in Alaska and has some great and harrowing stories.

Sophie1, please ask him to write a blog post about this, and then please make a post about it on Metafilter!
posted by ejs at 5:53 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


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