Trying to Help When, Where and How We’re Able

December 28, 2020 | Letters

Author: Dr. Nicole Olynk Widmar, Associate Head and Professor, Purdue University Department of Agricultural Economics

Fred Rogers poses with his show's neighborhood trolleyWe first invited you to Consumer Corner in June of 2020 to derive insights from agricultural economics consumer-relevant research and bring them into the conversations occurring in the agribusiness and food industries. It is now the last Monday of 2020 and, wow, what a doozey. Mondays are rough, and 2020 was, well … 2020. We watched our world change before our eyes with the punishing consequences of COVID-19 unlike anything most of us have seen outside of history books. From an economics and markets perspective, it is far from over. Yes, even after a vaccine is widely distributed.

I’m a worrier by nature and an economist (economics, aka the dismal science) by training, so while I think I’m okay at outlining alternatives and consequences professionally, I’m not always so good at moving beyond focusing on the downside risk. I specialize in risk assessment and mitigation personally, which means I tend to easily see all of the negatives and then worry about them getting worse. I spend relatively little time considering uncertainty of the upside variety, meaning I place very little attention on the potential that something unexpectedly positive may happen. Today, in the spirit of the upcoming new year, I’m putting effort forth to attempt to see the upside more often.

For starters, the food system has developed and maintained resiliency thus far, largely keeping up on the macro level with consumer demands (albeit with some adjustment pain along the way). And the brightest spot of all, recent news of vaccine trials have emerged as glimmers of hope among the otherwise devastating COVID-19 news cycle.

Human behavior is sticky, and we will not immediately revert to old habits, even once it is possible to do so safely. First, we’ve spent months (if not over a year) under duress, and that anxiety-driven canned food and toilet paper stockpiling behavior is likely to stick, just as the shopping habits of our elders were shaped by depression-era or post-war behaviors that influence them decades later. How much impact this time period will have on how we spend, save, eat, travel and prioritize our time amongst activates is yet to be seen.

Looking ahead to 2021, although the current COVID-19 situation is far from over, it seems timely to remind ourselves to “look for the helpers”, like our old friend Mr. Rogers once told us.

“When I was a little boy and something bad happened in the news, my mother would tell me to look for the helpers. You’ll always find people helping, she’d say. And I’ve found that that’s true. In fact, it’s one of the best things about our wonderful world.”
By Fred Rogers;

Even better, perhaps, is that we seek to be helpers ourselves and contribute when, where and how we are able. See you in 2021.