A Bright Side to Higher Food Prices?
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.