Pass the roll please

It is a crazy time that we live in right now with plenty of uncertainty to go around, but who would have ever dreamed the biggest crisis Americans could create was a shortage of toilet paper?

What initiated the run on this popular bathroom necessity and why? Is it because folks Googled toilet paper and found out the average American uses 100 rolls a year? That seems like quite a bit so I guess people figured if they couldn’t get to town for more, they better stock up to be safe. Meanwhile, those who were just going to town to get their weekly or monthly grocery run are not checking a few things off of their list because there is none to be had.

The history of toilet paper is interesting. According to

The Romans used an L-shaped stick (like a hockey stick) made of wood or precious metal; at public toilets people used sponges on sticks that were kept in saltwater between uses. In arid climates, sand, powdered brick, or earth was used. Until the late 19th century, Muslims were advised to use three stones to clean up. One favorite tool was a mussel shell, used for centuries. Until the early 20th century, corn cobs were used. (Farmers have plenty of those around so perhaps some entrepreneurial endeavors will spring up.)

In the late 15th century, when paper became widely available, it began to replace other traditional materials. Sometimes old correspondence was pressed into service, as were pages from old books, magazines, newspapers and catalogs. People also used old paper bags, envelopes, and other bits of scrap paper, which were cut into pieces and threaded onto a string that was kept in the privy.

Toilet paper is a fairly modern invention, making its debut around 1880 when it was developed by the British Perforated Paper Company. Made of a coarser paper than its modern incarnation, it was sold in boxes of individual squares. In America, the Scott Paper Company made its Waldorf brand toilet paper in rolls as early as 1890. The first rolls were not perforated, and lavatory dispensers had serrated teeth to cut the paper as needed.

The most interesting thing I found while reading the back of a Cottonelle bag was this toilet paper was actually made in Wisconsin. So maybe this will be a boost to United States manufacturing as we get things rolling again to play catch up. And obviously it involves the timber industry so perhaps not being able to get their favorite bathroom wipe will help some people see the light of harvesting trees for the good of all.

While toilet paper was the first thing to disappear, many grocery store shelves in bigger areas are now empty as retailers and warehouses work overtime to try to restock them. I have long advocated for a day or two without food on the shelves to help consumers have a little better understanding of where their food actually comes from so this may be a great opportunity for those of us in ag to start sharing our message. Besides, everyone is home looking for something to watch on an already overtaxed broadband system but we may be able to generate some interest.

If people who really do want to know how their foods are grown and processed before they get to the shelves, now would be a great time to teach them. This is also a great opportunity for local producers with retail marketing options and local processors to ramp up their businesses. Let’s get the food straight from the farms to the consumers.

The thing about challenges and new frontiers is that it forces us to re-examine the way we have always done things before. Many times the “new way” will be so much better but we would have never explored it without being forced to. Look at the revolution that is taking place in the retail and restaurant world. Carside pickup has taken off at the speed of light. Teachers are now finding ways to reach students online that are not allowed to be in classrooms. There are surely going to be many more great developments that surface as a result of this pandemic. We can be a part of creating them in the goal of trying to make something positive out of a tough time.

In my opinion, one of the greatest things that seems to be coming to the forefront lately is faith, the power of prayer and the willingness of everyone to reach out and help one another. That is how this country was founded: on freedom, faith and teamwork. We weren’t forced to help those less fortunate than us—we chose to. It doesn’t matter how you help, but everyone can find a way to make someone else’s life better in this craziness, even if it means passing a roll of sacred toilet paper under the door.

Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at, or email Trent at [email protected].