A Bright Side to Higher Food Prices?

June 25, 2008 at 11:59 pm 6 comments

We’re all feeling the pinch in one form or another.  We feel it when we hand over the extra dollar for the slice of pizza or part with $4 dollars for a half-gallon of orange juice. We notice it too in the shrinking size of cereal boxes or in the ever smaller portions of rice we’re served at Japanese restaurants.

No one likes the sting, but is it possible that some good can come from the price spikes?  Can there possibly be a bright side to higher food prices?  The optimist in me says there is. 

The shock of higher prices jolts us from a long 50-plus-year sleep – an era when most Americans stopped worrying about food production and began to take food for granted. As the country shifted to large-scale agriculture and great bounties of food began to appear regularly and conveniently at cheap prices on supermarket shelves, people slowly lost touch with the land and what it produces when.  They forgot about farmers and the risks they faced with hot-tempered Mother Nature. 

Higher food prices connect us to farms and farmers in a way we haven’t been in a long time.  Images of inundated cornfields in the Midwest and stories of crop failures and food shortages around the world are an unwelcome wakeup call – a reminder of how farmers and the land should never be taken for granted.

It’s hard not to connect with farmers when we hear stories of their toil.  In a recent New York Times article, one Iowa farmer worried how he and his fellow American farmers would be able to feed the world, given the disastrous crop failures.  If they take on the burdens of the world, people might begin to think more responsibly about how they eat and what they can do to minimize their toll on the earth.  People might begin appreciating their fruits and veggies a little more, and the breads, cheeses and meats they mindlessly throw into their shopping carts. 

They might even start to follow Michael Pollan’s words of wisdom on eating: Eat food.  Not too much. Mostly plants.

A few months ago, my boss, an avid consumer of Coca Cola, Pepsi and other soft drinks, wondered aloud why the local pizzeria hiked its prices.  Pizza is not made from corn, he remarked.  Why should the prices go up?  Colleagues piped in with explanations – higher costs of fuel and fertilizer, and grain shortages across the board.  It was a reality check, an epiphany that food may not always be there for the taking.   

Higher food prices also make us better shoppers.  I recently bumped into a woman at a health food store who fretted about the ever smaller boxes of cereal.  “I’m paying attention to sizes and costs like I never did before,” she told me.  Both of us then commiserated about cereal makers’ marketing ploys.  We spent a few minutes comparing cereal box sizes.  Even though some were exactly the same size and shape, not all contained the same amount of cereal.

Higher prices got us talking and thinking. I’d say that’s a good thing. 

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Entry filed under: Food Dilemmas. Tags: , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kylie  |  July 3, 2008 at 1:59 am

    Amen Sister! I’m really enjoying your blog.

  • 2. mcorreia  |  July 4, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    Thanks, Kylie. I appreciate the nice feedback.

  • 3. Bronx Babe  |  July 19, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    DAMN. Is everybody who reads this blog that rich?

    For most people who aren’t farmers or wealthy (ie the majority of the world’s population), higher food prices are a disaster. There have been riots over this already in Haiti, where some people are eating dirt in order to survive.

    Closer to home, food insecurity feeds the obesity epidemic. Because, guess what, people? The cheapest food in terms of dollars per calorie, and the easiest food to prepare (yes, this matters, some of us work long hours and are TIRED when we get home), are usually the junk foods. And when you don’t know if you’ll have enough money to eat tomorrow, there’s a tendency to alternate binge-eating when the food is free or cheap, with eating nothing when it isn’t–the exact opposite of what the diet books all tell us to do.

    Food pantries and similiar charities are hard hit by high food prices–just when more and more people need their services, less and less can afford to donate.

    Something else to consider: eating “not too much” and “mostly plants” is advice that works for those who’ve had enough of everything for a long time. For the new middle class of China and India, whose meat consumption is surging, to eat meat is a visible, tangible sign of wealth for populations who’d been forced by high costs to be vegetarians for a long time.

    HIGHER PRICES GOT A LOT OF US STARVING. I’D SAY THAT’S A BAD THING.

  • 4. mcorreia  |  July 21, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    Hey Bronx Babe,
    All in all, higher food prices are a bad thing. But being the optimist that I am, I was looking for the silver lining, which I admit was hard to find. One thing I wanted to point out is that higher prices can benefit farmers in poor countries, if they sell more than they buy. I attended a UN conference, where one of the speakers made the counter-intuitive argument that an increase in food prices actually benefits the world’s poorest households. It’s too complicated to get into here, but I’ll soon be blogging about what I learned that day.

  • 5. hungrybritain  |  August 7, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    With the current uncertainties with food prices there is a greater need for us to conserve and be increasingly
    economical about food consumption at home. We have become wasteful as consumers of food and have never really had a need to feel otherwise before this crisis started. Blaming the rampant consumerism of the supermarkets has now irrelevant in this discussion. The situation now is that if we don’t change our food habits this situation could easily escalate completely out of control. The responsibility is now on us all to change our food buying and food consuming habits.

    Simple food saving tips are things we need to get used to and practice more regularly. Most of these are common sense and can be quite creative. You can find a list of free food saving tips at sites such as http://www.foodcrisis.co.uk amongst other similar sites as well.

    We all need to contribute to a fairer and more food wise program for ourselves.

  • 6. A Blessing in Disguise « New York Bounty  |  September 11, 2008 at 12:13 am

    […] 11, 2008 Is there a bright side to higher food prices? It’s a question I posed in an earlier post and which I answered in an embarrassingly Pollyannaish way – yes, I said, higher food prices make […]

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