Monday, March 17, 2008

Food Costs Surge

I read saw this NYTimes article originally on one of the blogs I follow, What to Eat.

The article discusses surging US food costs. I have a unique perspective on this since I was raised on a farm. Since my FFA days in high school, I think it's interesting to follow the market prices in conjunction to the consumer prices.

Right now corn and soybeans are more lucrative for farmers to sell. There is argument in the industry if its due to speculation for corn/soybean ethanol usage, or if it's an actual demand. Either way retail milk prices have also increased but not to the degree that expenses have risen for farmers. Farmers--like my parents--have to pay more to purchase their grain and to fuel their enterprise, but are not being fairly compensated for the added expense.

I know that the middle industries all repeatedly say that they have increased costs, too, but why aren't they paying the farmers more? This is yet another example why verticalization in the agricultural industry has been bad.

I know have another culture to compare this to. In the US, by and large, we're not used to living in economic conditions with constant inflation. In Argentina, however, it seems like inflation is a social institution. There was an article in the Clarín the other day that talked about vegetable inflation. According to the article and anecdotal evidence from my host mother, retail potato prices have nearly tripled since I arrived a month ago. I have yet to figure out how the farmer is compensated here, though. A part of me could tolerate the US food costs rising, if I knew it was being redirected to all parties within the system.

It seems that the Argentines beef industry is highly subsidized here, which keeps beef prices low. The farmers and advocacy organizations are not happy with it because it limits their international trading opportunities, for some reason. The farmer advocacy group here wants them to lift the subsidies so that they can export beef again, but the consumer groups are very opposed to it since it would cause beef prices to soar.

I find this situation to be very interesting and conclude that we must take some action into our own hands. We all have the power to support our local farmers. We can buy food direct from farmers-or nearly direct--at local farmer's markets, road side stands, or small businesses. We can buy local and reduce the ecological footprint we have on the earth by eliminating the extensive shipping that our fruits and vegetables usually have. I always prefer eating fruit, vegetables, and meat from local orchards, farms, and butchers. When you eat this way, the food is picked when it's ripe, the food is more nutritious since it had more time to ripen properly, and the money goes directly--or almost directly--to the farmer and/or local businessmen.


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