I’m thinking of covering a local version of this surge in hops demand soon.
Stories about prices — I’ve written about milk, beef, grapes, apples, cherries and asparagus, recently — are always crowd pleasers. We all have a finite amount of money and can relate to how much or little we have to shell out for the things we want and need.
But I’m sharing this link with you now because the story uses a word I keep hearing in the food and agriculture media world lately — “shortage.” (Here’s a contrarian-sounding blog post about the hops “shortage.”)
The term leaves me scratching my head. Demand for hops goes up, so do prices. Same thing happens to beef, milk, limes and all the other things I write about, as well as all the things I don’t, such as gas, iPhones and … whatever.
When I think of food shortage, I think of 1980s images of Ethiopia when children starved to death. Starvation and malnutrition are real nowadays, too, but I don’t think that’s what food reporters mean this time around.
About a year ago, I blogged about reports of a “wine shortage,” simply meaning that demand was growing faster than supply. At least reporters then had the sense to make jokes about it.
I suppose high prices could drive a winemaker — craft brewer — out of business. But nobody is going to starve.
Using “shortage” to describe the supply of something assumes the correct amount is more than you have. But who decides on the “correct” amount of wine or beer for the world?
I might be guilty here, too. I’ve been throwing the word “shortage” around with labor lately, simply because I hear it from grower groups. Farm worker rights advocates claim the shortage would disappear if growers simply paid more for the work.
If that’s true — and I said if because I don’t pretend to know who is right — is it really a shortage in the first place?
Word choice matters. I plan to walk the line a little more carefully in this arena, where even a simple, two-syllable word carries assumptions.