Newsletter: The food supply chain reaction

Associates fill orders for Ralphs and Food 4 Less grocery stores at the Ralphs Distribution Center in Riverside.
Associates fill orders for Ralphs and Food 4 Less grocery stores at the Ralphs Distribution Center in Riverside.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The coronavirus has upended the U.S. food system, but everyone from farmers to food banks is trying to find solutions for the future.


The Food Supply Chain Reaction

It took decades to build the U.S. food industry into an intricate system that matches supply with demand. It took only weeks for the COVID-19 pandemic to flip that on its head — just as unemployment and food insecurity are skyrocketing among families.

The fallout has been particularly severe in California, where more than a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts are grown, and where hunger and homelessness were already entrenched.


Farmers, truckers, grocery executives, restaurateurs, food service providers and food bank administrators from Northern California to the Imperial Valley have been scrambling to shore up the nation’s food supply and their own bottom lines while solving the problem of food going to waste while people go hungry in the U.S. (Case in point: Washington potato farmers have a billion-pound surplus.)

In dozens of interviews, they said the effort has been exhausting but worth it.

One Small Step Forward

Amid growing pressure to ease the stay-at-home order that has dealt a severe blow to the California economy, Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced that some retail stores across the state can reopen with modifications as early as Friday.

Under the new guidelines, Newsom said bookstores, music stores, toy stores, florists, sporting goods retailers and others can reopen for pickup, and manufacturing and logistics can resume in the retail supply chain.

The changes are part of a four-stage plan the governor laid out last week to gradually transition back to normal. The plan also expands decision-making at the local level, allowing some communities to move further ahead into the second phase of the reopening process at their own pace.

So when might California be ready to really loosen up its statewide stay-at-home order? One expert told The Times it would be a slow process that could take more than a year.


The Empathy Deficit

President Trump has spent much of the last several weeks praising his response to the coronavirus and urging a quick reopening of the economy — even though the danger of opening too soon has been emphasized by health experts and was made clearer with reports that the Trump administration is privately projecting a steep increase in daily deaths to about 3,000 on June 1.

But one thing Trump rarely does is express empathy for those who have died or their families. The president has hosted numerous White House events with business leaders, lawmakers and other visitors, yet only one with a handful of survivors.

Today, when he leaves the Washington area for the first time since March, he’ll be heading to Phoenix to visit a factory where workers are churning out protective masks. But he isn’t going to meet with devastated families, as presidents normally do during times of national crisis.


Voices from the Spectrum

Social isolation. Disrupted routines. Economic strain. For many during the coronavirus crisis, this is the new normal. For many, this is the old normal.

Autistic people have diverse experiences that resist easy generalization. But in recent interviews, a number of autistic adults say that although the pandemic can be especially stressful for people on the spectrum, many are practiced in dealing with the challenges that are now affecting the general population.

They hope that those experiences might help people who aren’t autistic to better understand them.


More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— Months into the pandemic, widespread testing still isn’t available, and California’s patchwork of testing approaches offers a sobering view of the dysfunction blocking the way.

— Amid an outbreak at one of its stores in Southern California, Kroger, the largest U.S. grocery chain, has announced it will provide free coronavirus testing for all its frontline associates who have symptoms or medical needs that make them eligible for testing under guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

— Scientists have identified a new strain of the coronavirus that has become dominant worldwide and appears to be more contagious than the versions that spread in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study led by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory.


Mexico’s fragile health system is running out of room for coronavirus patients.

— Across the U.S., masks have become a new battleground.

Honors for The Times

The Los Angeles Times has won two Pulitzer Prizes, for art critic Christopher Knight’s watchdog coverage of plans for the new Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and reporter Molly O’Toole’s audio story about U.S. asylum officers’ discontent with Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. O’Toole and The Times shared the audio prize with journalists from “This American Life” and Vice.


The Times was also a finalist in three other categories: in breaking news reporting, for the staff’s coverage of the Conception boat fire, which killed 34 people off Santa Barbara in September; in commentary, for Steve Lopez’s “purposeful columns about rising homelessness in L.A.; and in explanatory reporting, for “a deeply researched examination of the difficult choices Californians must make as climate change erodes precious coastline.


Pilot Cliff Winters was known for his elaborate stunt flights. On May 5, 1962, Winters was performing at the National Air Circus at Riverside Grand Prix Racetrack, where he flew a Fairchild PT-19 aircraft through a fake building. About 20,000 people watched him reduce the building to rubble, then emerge from the wreckage unharmed. According to The Times, the plane was also destroyed, “but Winters will salvage parts for future crash flights.”

He died four months later in a crash at the National Air Show at Chino airport.

May 5, 1962: Stunt pilot Cliff Winters flies his plane through a building during the National Air Circus at Riverside Grand Prix Racetrack. Winters climbed out of the wreckage unhurt.
(Joe Kennedy / Los Angeles Times)



LAUSD schools are planning the school year to start on Aug. 18 as scheduled, but officials have made no decisions on whether campuses will reopen for in-person classes by then.

— Coughing echoes all day through the bus. L.A.'s Metro drivers spend their days with strangers in enclosed spaces, wondering “Am I going to catch it today?”

— Felice Blair has had a lot of time recently to reflect on her and her husband Bernard’s life together — and how it might end. Bernard has advanced Alzheimer’s and is one of thousands of California patients at risk and cut off as the virus spreads through nursing homes.

— A man was spotted wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood in a Vons in the San Diego County city of Santee, igniting outrage.


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— The Supreme Court gave the public a window into its proceedings with a live broadcast of oral arguments via C-SPAN. The court has released audio recordings of oral arguments, but it has never before allowed a live broadcast.

— Officials in Guatemala say they will begin routinely accepting U.S. deportation flights again after being promised that every passenger would first have to test negative for the novel coronavirus.

China’s diplomats are taking a decidedly undiplomatic approach to critics of the country’s approach to the coronavirus: “Put on a mask and shut up.”


— As Europe considers its future, the race to develop coronavirus tracing apps is on. But developers are finding strict privacy laws are butting up against tracking efforts.


— Stuntwoman Olivia Jackson lost her arm while filming on a “Resident Evil” movie in South Africa. But she’s found little legal recourse, highlighting the vulnerabilities of performers as sets move across seas and as catastrophic injuries increase.

— Disney announced two new “Star Wars” projects: Taika Waititi will direct a new movie for the franchise, while “Russian Doll” co-creator Leslye Headland is developing a new “Star Wars” series for Disney+.

— Hulu’s “Normal People” isn’t about sex. But intimacy is an integral part of the central romance and the show’s producers went to great lengths to get it right, with realistic results.


Beyond “Animal Crossing”: What 59 game pros play to de-stress in quarantine.


— NBCUniversal announced a sweeping corporate reorganization that includes the departure of NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, signaling that the storied news operation is looking to make a fresh start after years of controversies.

J. Crew Group filed for bankruptcy. The company was already struggling to overcome debt rooted in a long-ago leveraged buyout before the pandemic closed its doors.


Don Shula, the NFL’s all-time leader in coaching wins and “the patriarch of the Miami Dolphins for 50 years,” has died. He was 90.


— Campuses are empty and sports seasons are canceled. But not only is USC still recruiting, it’s experiencing a bold recruiting renaissance.

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— California is starting to reopen. But if we relax vigilance now, we could go back to shutdowns, The Times’ editorial board warns.

— Staying alive is a victory, but the trauma of severe COVID-19 doesn’t end when the tubes come out. We need to take the long-term consequences seriously, writes Marissa Wagner Mery, a surgery and perioperative care professor at the University of Texas at Austin.



— Frontline workers spend their days confronting the suffering of others — and their own. The pandemic is giving way to a mental health crisis. (BuzzFeed News)

— Most events in the Lincoln Memorial are banned, but Trump got an exemption for his Fox News interview on Sunday. (New York Times)


Sunset Sound has been the birthplace of hundreds of essential recordings by the Beach Boys, Prince, the Doors, Barbra Streisand, Bill Withers, Toto, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Janet Jackson, Linda Ronstadt, Elliott Smith and, more recently, Haim, Death Grips, John Legend and Beck. The studio says it had a 22,000-day streak of recording — until the coronavirus hit. Now, Sunset Sound and a host of other historic studios in L.A. are hoping better days will be coming around.

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