by Marion Nestle
Mar 16 2008

Food prices up, up, and away

So what’s going on with food prices? In the last year, milk is up 17%, dried beans 17%, cheese 15%, rice and pasta 13%, bread 12%–and eggs 25%. The last time I bought a quart of milk at my local anything-goes corner store, it was $2.40. Why? For eggs, it’s clear: growing corn for ethanol drives up corn prices and chicken feed. For eggs and everything else we have the perfect storm: increased demand (from China), decreased supply (ethanol), and higher fuel prices. I’m sure there are other reasons too, but these will do for a start. This is why food systems matter.

Comments

  • Sheila
  • March 16, 2008
  • 3:36 pm

This may help increase the demand for locally-grown produce available at a community farmers market. Also may increase demand for locally raised free-range poultry, eggs, dairy, and meats, to lower the feed costs and the transport costs.
This is why preservation of the local family farm matters.

  • Anna
  • March 16, 2008
  • 6:18 pm

I pay $7.25 for a half gallon of raw whole milk from herds fed on pasture. At first it seemed expensive, but I guess I’m used to it now. I would find something else to cut from my budget if the price went up. My dairy source uses no subsidized feeds, nor do they feed their herd garbage like many in the industry do, nor does it receive price supports for their milk.

Food shoppers have not been paying the true price of food (or energy) at the register for most of the last century. Rather, we have been paying the balance due in our taxes, with our health care payments, and with degradation to our environment and soil, etc. For the most part, food has been so cheap that we have been able to ignore the true costs. Perhaps the rising cost of corn and energy, two of the biggest factors in a huge proportion of modern foods, will finally prompt people to take a closer look at local and non-corn based food options.

We really need to wean ourselves off of the bad food habits we have developed in the past few decades. We don’t “really” need all marginal foods that typical families buy. Focus on the basics, even if they are more expensive.

I understand the rising cost of food especially hits the poor (who already struggle), but I hear more whining from those who are better off, who still find funds in their budget for sodas, snack chips, candy, microwave popcorn, 100 calorie cookie packs, pretzels, and other “nothing” foods. Forgo those and allocate the savings for real food. Get to know the kitchen again. Get to know family dinners again, but without the bucket ‘o takeout.

I know people who make way less money than I do who have more luxury goods and use more luxury services than I do – big screen TVs, computer game consoles, fancy cell phones, cable television …

I also know people who make way more money than I do who spend way less money on food than I do, and who can’t resist the siren song of Costco. I have one friend who routinely buys those 14″ Costco pies, even though there are only three people in the household, because they are so cheap. Then she wonders why she’s spending so much money sending her daughter to a shrink.

Both of these seem backwards to me. First, buy food first, real, high quality food, and if you don’t know what high quality food is, here’s a hint: you get what you pay for. If you can’t believe how cheap it is, there’s probably a sinister reason for it. Second, put some money in your savings account. If there’s any left, by all means, buy a Wii if it makes you happy.

(As for psychology, after I’d been on a high-fat, low-carb, moderate-protein diet for about a year, I gave up Prozac. My doctor was skeptical, given my lifelong history of severe clinical depression, but she finally had to admit that I did not fall apart. I’ve been Prozac-free since 2003.)

I agree food prices are up, but farmers by and large are not being compensated. It is true that corn and soybeans are up right now, but there has not been the same type of compensation for Cattle, Poulty, hogs, etc farmers. It is ridiculous that farmers right now have to pay more for their corn and soybeans to feed cattle and then turn and sell them for the same amount they sold them for last year. The same situation exists with the dairy industry. When will the middle man stop taking the profit?

I admit that the middle businesses have increased pressure for fuel resource demands, but frankly farmers have the same pressure. There’s no excuse for this terrible trend.

Civilizations are founded on sound and consistent high quality food supply. If the market continues the way it is, I think it brings into question how stable our food supply will be in the forthcoming years.

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