April 19, 2008

Food prices climbing

Today's Journal notices what the Cortland Standard noticed a few months ago: increasing grain prices are making it harder for local bakers and others who use lots of flour. There's also a more general piece on wheat prices and another piece that examines energy and food inflation.

Food prices are climbing for a lot of reasons, but as the article on bakeries notes, energy is a key component. It just plain costs a lot to truck 100-pound bags of flour around, and diesel prices seem to have climbed even more than gasoline prices.

Even before you get the food into the truck, though, nearly our entire agricultural system today is bound to oil. I first started figuring this out in 2004, when Richard Manning's The oil we eat shocked me with this simple story:

"A two-pound bag of breakfast cereal burns the energy of a half-gallon of gasoline in its making. All together the food-processing industry in the United States uses about ten calories of fossil-fuel energy for every calorie of food energy it produces....

That number does not include the fuel used in transporting the food from the factory to a store near you, or the fuel used by millions of people driving to thousands of super discount stores on the edge of town, where the land is cheap."

It doesn't help that we're turning large areas of good land into source of ethanol fuel, or that Australia is having serious drought, but in general the cost of food is going to climb as the cost of energy increases. We've enjoyed cheap food because of cheap energy for a long long time, and we need to remember that that was a privilege, not the natural state of things.

At our house, we're lucky at the moment, having bought local wheat in bulk last summer, but I don't think the Town of Dryden is likely to see a resurgence in wheatfields. However, I do hope that our garden will help ease our budget and our impact on everyone else's budget, and encourage more people to try it.

Posted by simon at April 19, 2008 7:38 AM in , ,
Note on photos