Ana Veciana-Suarez: Forget the invented Velveeta shortage


If you’re a sports fan — or simply a sociable gal or guy — the confluence of the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics means you’re probably stocking up on the must-have party dips, chips and vittles that are oh-so-tasty going down but oh-so-bad when they fuse onto hips and heart.

So it was with some selfish interest that I read about the possibility of a Velveeta shortage. A Kraft spokeswoman informed the world that “given the incredible popularity of Velveeta” at this time of year (meaning post-regular football season), some buyers might not find that bright yellow box on store shelves. This was, she added, a short term issue driven by high demand, a statement I found depressing for what it said both about our eating habits and our collective gullibility.

I, for one, was immediately skeptical of such a claim. Figured it was a ploy by Kraft to spike prices or to promote the brand.

Remember Butterball’s supposed shortage of its fresh turkeys around Thanksgiving? Surprise, surprise, there wasn’t one. And before that, think back to last year’s alleged Super Bowl Buffalo wing shortage. That, too, was like a play action pass. A fake from the first hut.

With Velveeta, who knows what’s really happening. The shelves of the supermarkets I dutifully checked were well-stocked with this commodity. Yet, the possibility of doing without sparked lots of attention. Everyone was talking about it. Even Today’s Matt Lauer tasted Velveeta on the air for the first time.

All this makes for a fun story, of course, a light feature that breaks up the ever-depressing litany of real news. But it also desensitizes us to genuine food emergencies and turns our fickle attention away from potential health crises. As we fret about — and give air time to — the Great Gooey Cheese Shortage, true scarcity looms.

Consider this: Last year the United Nations cautioned that world grain reserves were so dangerously low that severe weather in the United States or other food-exporting countries could trigger a major hunger crisis in 2014. Because food consumption has exceeded the amount grown for six of the past 11 years, food reserves are way down, without any prospects of quickly improving.

On a separate occasion, Lester Brown, a top environmental analyst and president of the independent think tank Earth Policy Institute, issued a warning that the global food supply system could collapse at any point, sparking widespread riots and leaving hundreds of millions of people hungry. This situation is not temporary. With climate change and population growth, it may become the new normal.

And while we joked about Super Bowl parties without Velveeta, the Rome-based World Food Programme reported it was facing “level-three” food crises in the Philippines, Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. Dealing with four disasters at the same time is highly unusual, and a strain on even the most robust supply line.

But has a TV personality posed with the depleting stocks of wheat and maize? Or with the stockpiled rations that can’t get to the needy because of corrupt governments and ethnic violence?

We all know the answers, of course. As the World Food Programme director wrote in a published piece, “The world’s gaze has turned elsewhere.”

So, yes, let’s giggle about a run on dip and lament the possible absence of wings from our Super Bowl spread as we cheer the overfed and the overpaid players on the field. But let’s not take ourselves too seriously. Let’s not turn our gaze elsewhere.

Doing without spicy queso dip rates high on the frivolous meter when 870 million people are malnourished.

Read more Ana Veciana Suarez stories from the Miami Herald

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