Food Prices & Hunger: Coming Soon to a Neighborhood Near You?

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I went grocery shopping the other day and came home with an empty wallet (despite growing much of our food ourselves, I might add) to read that, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, November marked the fifth month in a row during which world food prices fell. At first I was compelled to shout obscenities at the liars behind my screen, but then I noticed even they admit the statistic is misleading.

 

No Frills Grocery

 

Despite a slow downward slide since the index’s peak in February 2011 food prices remain higher than they were one year ago and experts say prices are likely bottoming out now and will rise again in the months to come.

In the U.S., where corn plays a major role in everything from the planting of seed to the manufacture of food to the transportation required to get edibles onto store shelves across the nation, the end-of-summer corn surplus projections for 2012 remain low. Farmers are expected to have less than 25 days of corn on hand; a 30 day supply is considered healthy.

The looming fears about grain shortages in 2011 have already contributed to soaring food prices that have left average American families at a loss on grocery day. The USDA estimates that food prices will have risen 4.5% in 2011 and projects similar increases—3.5% is estimated at this time—in 2012.

This, at a time when food banks face unprecedented demand as they grapple with supply shortages and nationwide eligibility for the free school lunch program soars.

It’s impossible to not notice what’s happening as I unpack our relatively few items from the grocery store each week and review my receipts; knowing that we are far from financially rich but still better off than so many of our fellow Americans. I can’t help but wonder how many families are managing and suspect that hunger is already hitting some households that have never before known it hard and fast and creeping into others.

Most of the families we know have already made some adjustments to the way they buy and consume food. Ours is no exception to that rule. I know women who have taken up couponing, others who are cooking from scratch more often than they did in the past, and many families whose lunches are packed rather than purchased on a much more regular basis. In our case, treats and conveniences aren’t making their way into the cupboards the way they used to but we’re not hungry and not at risk of becoming so. And for that I realize we become increasingly fortunate with each passing day. I can’t help but wonder how long it’ll be before we know a family who is hungry and how, if at all, we’ll best be able to help them when that does happen; especially with the conventional routes of helping the hungry so strained already.

How are you dealing with quickly rising food prices? If prices continue to rise at or near current rates will you have to make more changes in order to cope?

Diana Prichard authors Cultivating the Art of Sustenance and is the owner of a small farm in rural Michigan.

Image Credit: Ian Muttoo on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

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