- Indian Americans made a dash to Indian grocery stores and Costco outlets to stock up on their staple food after India announced an export ban on non-Basmati white rice last week.
Indian grocery stores across New Jersey are still limiting two bags of rice per customer, an employee working at Patidar in North Brunswick, has confirmed this morning. The run on the store has reduced during the weekend, she told American Kahani, adding that the store is expecting a repeat of last weekend, and is bracing for large crowds. If anecdotal reports in social media are any indication, the situation is likely no better with Indian grocery stores across the U.S.
As several videos posted to social media revealed, Indian Americans made a dash to Indian stores and Costco this past weekend to grab bags of rice after India announced the export ban on non-basmati white rice, a staple in most Indian homes. India accounts for more than 40 percent of world rice exports, and many fear that a cut in shipments could inflate food prices here.
Rupa Lakshminarayan, an accountant in South Brunswick, New Jersey, was among the hundreds who rushed to the closest Indian store to stock up on brown rice for her diabetic mother and idli rice for her weekly quota of idli and dosa batter. She was oblivious to the effect of the ban until she reached the store. “At the parking lot itself could see people who had checked out have loaded the carts with a couple of rice bags,” she told American Kahani. When she went, she saw the rice isle was “in total chaos.” She did however manage to get a bag each, according to the minimum shopping limit set by the store. On the West Coast, Shishira Reddy faced a similar situation. The Phoenix, Arizona-based beautician ran to the store. only to realize that she wasn’t the only one with the same idea.
Videos posted on social media showed hoards of people crowding the rice isle, climbing on shelves and pushing through to hoard large quantities of rice. Not only was the impending rice shortage a worry, many were concerned about price gouging. Some grocery chains have marked up the $15 rice bag to $25 to $50. The scenes harked back to 2020 when people stocked up on toilet tissues, Clorox wipes and other essentials such as disposable masks and hand sanitizers, leading to a severe shortage.
Sriram Ramamurthy, manager of Iqbal Halal Foods in Toronto, Canada told CBC that people “started coming in here and they wanted to buy more and more. He said each customer was “trying to pick two or three at a time.” The store has capped the purchase to just one bag per customer., he added.
The ban halts overseas sales of the grain with “immediate effect,” the government announced last week and is estimated to cover about 75%-80% of Indian rice exports. The immediate provocation for the ban is the possible global shortage of grains given the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, which is the world’s largest producer of food grains. Recently, Russia has walked out of the UN-brokered agreement with Ukraine to let the latter’s grain shipments a safe passage to global markets.
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, India’s export ban aims “to calm domestic rice prices that had risen more than 30% since October 2022. In a statement issued on July 20, India’s Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution there has been an “11.5 percent increase in retail prices over 12 months and that global demand saw Indian exports of non-basmati white rice jump 35 percent year-on-year in the second quarter.”
The hoarding videos elicited mixed responses on Twitter. Some shared their experiences at Indian stores, while others were critical. “Just because we grew up eating a certain food staple, doesn’t mean we cannot adapt to change for some time,” one Twitter user wrote. “Behaving as if the world is ending and becoming selfish to hoard rice for a year is not acceptable and giving an excuse of coming from south India north India is also not a justification.” Another user urged the customers “to be considerate of others,” while another suggested using this opportunity “to quit rice and eat millets for healthy living.”
Another user tweeted this. “Jumping around and buying 10 bags of rice at once is taking away an opportunity from someone who may need a mere 2 bags. How is that fair? Ironically, right after doing this on Friday, the same Janata would sit in the social circles over the weekend raising their golf club or a glass of fine scotch discussing how the majority of mankind is inconsiderate to fellow humans and doesn’t think about the greater good.”
As desi shopkeepers are bracing for another beeline for rice, Lakshminarayan is heaving a sigh of relief. “Am now stocked for the next two months. Hopefully, things will settle by that time.