by Cole Mellino
Food prices are rising so consistently, Americans are starting to do crazy things.
Earlier this month, the UN predicted food prices would continue to get more volatile. Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting an increase of 3.5% to 4.5% for American retail food inflation this year. Retail inflation increased just 0.8% last year.
The changes in retail prices are making many cash-strapped shoppers go to great lengths to get good deals, according to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal.
“If I don’t think it’s a good deal, I don’t buy it,” Evelyn Jackson, a student at Columbia College in Chicago said Tuesday as she loaded groceries into her car, which she uses for comparison shopping despite the high cost of gasoline. She said she had not only turned up her nose at okra recently offered at $4.99 a pound in a Jewel supermarket, but had taken a picture of lower-priced okra in a competing store and showed it to a manager at Jewel, a unit of Supervalu Inc. She has also balked at Asian pears offered at $2.99 apiece.
“Oprah Winfrey wouldn’t pay $2.99 for one of those pears,” she said.
If Oprah wouldn’t pay it, good luck getting most Americans, who make a fraction of her income, to pay for it.
Let’s not forget about the tens of millions of people around the world who barely have access to food today. The price increases in America are symptomatic of what’s happening in the rest of the world — creating food-access problems that even Oprah can’t solve.
While the global economic slowdown tempered the dramatic rise in food prices, they’ve still been at levels not seen since the late 1970s. In 2008 alone, food prices rose 5.5%. Prices of staples including milk, beef, coffee, cocoa and sugar have risen sharply in recent months. Many of these price hikes, such as the one in cocoa, are being linked to temperature and weather shifts due to climate change.
As the world heats up and causes worsening food crises that disproportionately impact the poorest people, a lot crazier things are going to happen than Americans taking multiple trips to the grocery store to find cheap fruit.
— Cole Mellino, Center for American Progress intern, with Stephen Lacey