With all the recent headlines, the story of rising food prices has been on the news back burner. But, for many people, both here in the US and in most under-developed countries, these climbing costs are much more important than a royal wedding, the Trump comedy series about birth certificates, and, even, the elimination of Mr. Bin Laden. Hunger tends to trump (no pun intended) most other concerns.
Yet, for whatever reason(s), we are seeing food prices rise quickly. We have to go back to the 1970’s to find a similar situation. Then, oil prices and availability were not the key issue they are today. The increases in food prices then were driven mainly by Russian wheat crop failures. But, the pressures on food prices now are coming from rising energy and commodity prices, plus several weather related crop issues. As I have written on this blog, petroleum is more than gas for our cars…it is literally is the foundation material for much of the modern world. The majority of consumer products depend on these substrates at some level. Think plastic!
Food is no exception! The earth’s oil and natural gas are used to produce fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and plastics; they are used to power the tractors, sprayers, harvesters, and generate heat; and obviously they are the fuel for the trucks, trains and planes that move our food around the world. Whether it is speculation, increasing demand from the China and India, or peak oil’s decreasing output, oil prices will rise in the long term…and food prices can only follow.
I recently attended a talk by Gary Paul Nabhan, author of Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, whose main message was the importance of local “food sheds.” While this is not a new concept, it seems to gain importance as we watch drought, floods, tornados and rising production prices wreck havoc with US agriculture. It is the old cliché “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” It is in the interest of regions, at least, to be able to produce all the key components of a healthy diet. This idea is catching on.
For instance, here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, we are seeing a return of wheat, and an organized effort to grow a wide range of beans, now all shipped in from great distances. It is an expansion of the local food movement, one that consumer consider more important than “organic.”
But, for many consumers, price is and will remain the primary consideration. This, I feel as a produce grower, is a misaligned focus. Food “quality” should equal nutrition, not cost. But, there is good news. Recent research indicates local foods, not necessarily organic, can cost less at your local farmers market than the national chain supermarket. And, even at a few cents more, local produce, especially the more delicate “greens” categories, will literally be a week fresher. Turn over those plastic tubs of greens at your local supermarket. While the “use by” date may be days off, I will bet you can see some early deterioration of the produce, particularly the red lettuces. If you store the package a few days, you are eating greens that are ten to two weeks old. Just how nutritious, let alone tasty, can this limp product be? Not much. If you want to read more, check out: www.theatlantic.com/life/archive/2011/05/the-farmers-market-myth/238661.
Enough for now…next up…reviews of several books predicting the end of shopping, of our consumer society. It does not deal with food. People still need food no matter how frugal their spending. The recent economic collapse apparently caused many people to step back, examine their consumerism, and realize it is not buying happiness. Maybe, but if a new energy source was found tomorrow, I bet needless spending would rise again. We will see.
Tags:Agricultural production inputs, Agriculture production costs, CSA agriculture, farmers markets, Fertilizers, Food costs, Food freshness and nutrition levels, Food nutrition, Food shed, Food shed concept, Foodshed, garden trends, gardening, green practices, home food production, local food movement, organic fertilizers, organic gardening, Sustainable agriculture, Sustainable food production, Sustainable Horticulture, Sustainable landscape, Urban agriculture, US food system