When the Price Is Not Always Right
Many of us have come to dread the thought of making a trip to the grocery store only to be sucker punched by the sticker price. This summer, the average cost of a gallon of milk and a pound of ground beef was approximately $3.50 each, whereas chicken was $1.50 per pound according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index. So far consumers have seen an increase in food costs by three to five percent. According to Brian Buhr, Professor and Head of Applied Economics and Agricultural Education at the University of Minnesota, the summer of 2012 and its vicious combination of intense heat, dryer than normal temperatures and little rainfall has put farmers and consumers in a quandary. Officially declared worse than the 1950s drought and labeled “The Great Drought of 2012,” more than half the country was impacted, especially key farming states like Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois and Kansas. Making matters worse, winter 2011 through early 2012 saw the lowest snowfall on record across the USA. When there is no snow or rain, says Buhr, there is not enough water or moisture supply in our underground reserves for crop production. With the fall and winter seasons upon us, some economists estimate these high prices will snowball through 2013.
With key animal and chicken feed ingredients such as corn and soybean production down by roughly 10 to 15 percent, hoards of farmers had little food for their livestock. The high price of feed left them with no choice but to sell their animals. Retailers, in turn, offset food supply shortages by raising prices and consumers felt the pinch in no time.
“Corn (a key ingredient in animal feed) is indisputably the single largest crop in the United States. So once you reduce that, you start to increase the prices across the board. It’s simply a supply issue,” Buhr reveals. “From a consumer standpoint people are going to be paying more for eggs, milk, meat and we’ll start to see some of that on the cereal side but not as much.”
Yes, ironically, your favorite cereals and breads are not expected to cost significantly more, despite the crop shortage. Even if manufacturers were to double the price of oats used to make one box of Cheerios®, the grain is not nearly as costly as the packaging, advertising and shipping costs of cereal. The same is true whether your favorite cereal is wheat or bran based. (Check out Aysha Husain’s video online at www.youtube.com/IFANCA4halal to learn why).
“I am lucky and don’t have to spend a ton of money on groceries because of food allowances at work,” says Humaa Bhatti of Cleveland, OH. “One thing I can think of is buying generic store brands so you have more to spend on quality, healthy foods.”
“My family usually buys in bulk so it lasts longer,” says Amanda Wagner from Brooklyn, NY.
Rabia Asghar of Rochester Hills, MI says her mother buys fruits and veggies that are in season.
True, buying food on sale, in season and in bulk are always sure-fire ways to cut grocery costs says Linda Watson, author of Wildly Affordable Organic: Eat Fabulous Food, Get Healthy, and Save the Planet—all on $5 a Day or Less. Watson, an adamant supporter of eating and cooking organic, healthy foods, says smart food choices can save your budget.
This could also be the time to buy into Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). If possible, buy a share in a community-supported organic farm and receive a week supply of produce from spring until fall. Visit www.sare.org for a list of community-supported farms. As Agripreneur, Dr. Hisham Moharram, owner of Good Tree Farm (www.goodtreefarm.com), a CSA, points out, “(Joining) a CSA is part of a greater effort to connect as a family and live a more wholesome life. The time spent getting, preparing and consuming food together will help us know and support each other better. Buying food from a farm typically means putting some time into preparing it. It is, after all, typically raw and unprocessed, uncooked food. If someone joins a CSA and does not have time to prepare/cook the food, then they are not going to have a good experience and will feel they wasted their money.” You may want to ask what veggies and fruits the CSA offers or be adventurous and willing to try new foods.
Market research shows the price of meat has been swiftly increasing and will continue to rise through next year, Buhr confirms. It’s hoped that Tropical Storm Isaac might bring some relief to drought-stricken states. However, Buhr believes too much moisture from rainfall can also hurt crops more than help them. “Who knows what happens tomorrow,” says Buhr. “I can’t predict the weather, but I do know that our soil moisture conditions across the crop growing region are worse than they’ve been. If we don’t get some pretty substantial moisture coming in before next year’s crop, we are in trouble next year too.”
1. Stock Your Freezer
Ranked high on Watson’s list is stocking up on as many affordable, fresh fruits and veggies that you can get your hands on and freezing them to last you through the winter. “One of the great things you can do is feeding your freezer. Think about your freezer as something you put produce into during the summer. You can save a tremendous amount of money.”
2. Buy More Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables
Strawberries, blueberries, peaches and squash are all considered summer produce whereas oranges, dates and Brussel sprouts are great winter options. “If you have access to farmers markets (www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets and www.localharvest.org), often you will get the best local prices.”
3. Cut Back on Meat
According to Luke Chandler, global head of agricultural commodity markets at Rabobank, a financial institution, in an interview with Food Business News, “purchasers will switch consumption from animal protein back to staple grains like rice and wheat” which today are “30% cheaper than their peak 2008 prices.”
If you’re going to buy meat, Watson recommends buying chicken instead of beef because it’s more affordable and takes less energy to produce. “It takes 10 units of plant energy to create one unit of beef energy. The drought is making [beef] prices go up.”
4. Cut Back on Processed Foods
The one advantage to buying processed foods like cereal is that there are always coupons available, but “if you don’t buy processed food, you’re saving so much money. Simply, the more pure you can eat, the better .” But buy only as much as you will reasonably use. The longer fresh produce sits, the more nutrients it loses.
5. Choose Sturdy Foods
Foods like cabbage, carrots, onions and butternut squash all hold up well. These “sturdy” foods cost less, transport well and don’t spoil very quickly.
6. Scrimp vs. Splurge
Develop a “scrimp vs. splurge list.” You’re standing in the condiment aisle and contemplating whether to buy olive oil or balsamic vinegar. Sure you’re on a budget, but don’t overdo it and know that it’s okay to make certain exceptions on food purchases.
It may not be a natural disaster, but obesity in the United States has rapidly become a national epidemic. Politicians around the country, most notably Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, in an effort to curb obesity has implemented a ban on the sale of large sodas in restaurants and movie theaters. Outside of New York, there are already 30 states including Texas and Iowa, who impose a sales tax on purchase of sweetened drinks. As of this writing, come November, Richmond, California may become the first city to tax businesses one penny for every ounce of soda sold. The idea is to dissuade consumers from reaching for a fizzy drink and opting for fewer calories. These moves have stirred quite the debate. Do you believe soda being taxed will be a deterrent to flavored beverage consumption? Will it put a dent in our waistlines?
About the Author: Aysha Hussain is a New York-based writer and producer. She has worked at NBC, CBS and has written for newspapers and magazines such as Newsday, DiversityInc and Muslim Girl Magazine.