The news lately has been full of headlines about the rising costs of food and the expectations that it’s only going to get worse. As someone who already pays a premium for what they put on their plate (organic, grass fed, pasture raised, etc.), I wanted to know more. The whole Paleo movement’s foundation is what we eat and why, so this affects us all.
Surprise: The political uprisings we’re hearing about in Arab countries has a lot to do with rising food costs. I don’t know why I didn’t consider this before, since I already understand that wars are not fought over ideals such as religion or principles like democracy (even though war is sold to us this way), but over resources and who should have access to them. Obviously, the best example of this is oil in the Middle East, but food is even more immediate of a concern when vast numbers of people are unhappy about the lengths to which they have to go just to feed their families.
So what’s behind the inflation? (NPR has an informative breakdown here.)
- Weather = Dastardly Villain. Droughts in some parts of the globe, floods in others.
- Demand for groceries is rising in places like India and China.
- The rising price of oil trickles down to agricultural producers, which then gets passed on to consumers.
Here’s my interpretation:
- Let’s blame something beyond our control instead of anything human related.
- Over population. Also, it was such an unsubstantiated statement that I’d love to see what they really mean by that.
- Well, obviously. Can’t get into that whole thing here.
The scary part is that those of us in the US haven’t yet felt the effects. The USDA is estimating price increases for 2011 (I’ve seen a few different numbers) between 2% and 4%. Where we’ll see these increases in the grocery store: grains and grain products (Phew! Dodged that one!), dairy (depending on how you Paleo/Primal), meat (Zoinks!), eggs (Ouch!), produce (I think I’m numb by now…), cooking oils (break out the home-rendered bacon fat), and sweets (Finally some good news!). Increased corn prices are expected to bump the cost of pork 6.5% and eggs 4.5%. What is a caveperson to do?
- Try (even!) harder to find local, 100% grass-fed and pastured animal protein sources. Less transit from farm to plate means less overhead passed on to you for gasoline prices. If the animals aren’t eating corn, soy, and other grains, then, ostensibly, this should mean ranchers aren’t paying extra for their feed. Consider cowpooling. Unfortunately, this doesn’t bode well for chicken or eggs, since almost all suppliers I’ve been able to find use corn and soy in their feed.
- Eat out less often. You probably already do, seeing as how it’s hard to find places that cater to our particular dietary principles. Restaurants already operate on such thin profit margins that any increase in food prices is immediately seen on their menus.
- Eat seasonally. If you’re not already, give it a try. Asparagus just wasn’t meant to be eaten in December. Recently, I saw a pint of gorgeous raspberries (one of my daughter’s favorites), but at $5.49, no way in hell was I putting them in my cart. Especially when I think about the yummy local berries I can get at our Farmers’ Market for $2 a pint in season.
- Grow your own. Depending on how you do it, this isn’t always a real money-saver. If you truly calculate the cost of your tomatoes, you might find yourself thinking the money would be better spent on luxury caviar. But, it can put more distance between you and the Industrial Food Complex and give you a measure of control over your foodstuffs. Look into whether or not your town will let you have a few egg-laying hens.
I feel fortunate to live in an area with such easy access to local produce, meat, and eggs, and this just reinforces my resolve to shop locally. Something that worries me, however, is that even local prices will be affected somehow, perhaps as a result of good old fashioned supply-and-demand or through some other consequence. While that remains to be seen, how is this news going to affect you?