Today, let's think about food and booze! You know it is not going to be a column on gastronomy. It is about practical economics, of course. One of the things about living on a minimal income is that a certain values clarification takes place. What do I want? What do I need? What must I have?
Having spent much of my life in basic survival mode, I have long known that in tough times for society, there are always a few basics that have value – like them or not, social uncertainty brings clear value- clarifications. What is necessary? What is tradable? What will protect are always the first questions.
They are shelter, warmth (if you live in any kind of north), health, food, water, weapons, ammunition, medicine, and skills. While I have tried to keep this simple, it is obvious that these basics are all expandable.
Medicine can take lots of forms including recreational drugs, anti-biotics, pain killers, vitamins and alcohol. Escape is something that we, as a society, have taken up so it is infinitely tradable.
Shelter is protection against the elements as well as against others who might wish whatever we have. Skills, food and weapons are what make you valuable to others via either fear or need – whichever is actionable.
Food & water, however, is necessary all the way around – and one that most people have the least experience accessing on their own in the modern world.
Food scarcity is experienced more than most folks imagine in America but rarely at the level of the poorest people in the world. Few of us are truly skilled at foraging, hunting is available only to a relative few and what game there is will be gondepleted quickly due to competition.
In just 2 generations, most Americans live in cities and even the family farm is mostly a memory. We all have some faith in gardening but there are problems there too.
My readings of the last 2 months have noted an oddity in the present economic situation. Food is usually a problem due to scarcity. In this recession with high inflation, the problems looming are not ones of scarcity but affordability. What got me started on this was an article that mentioned 'food riots' happening around the world. What food riots, I asked Google.
Food riots have broken out in Morocco, Yemen, Mexico, Guinea, Mauritania, Senegal and Uzbekistan. Pakistan has reintroduced rationing for the first time in two decades. Russia has frozen the price of milk, bread, eggs and cooking oil for six months. Thailand is also planning a freeze on food staples. After protests around Indonesia, Jakarta has increased public food subsidies. India has banned the export of rice except the high-quality basmati variety.http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/feb/26/food.unitednations
As happens, one article brings up another and I started thinking that we are not much of a 'soup kitchen' mentality in this country any more – neither socially nor via government commitment to help citizens in need. We've got the 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality that doesn't count those with no shoes as anybody of value. So, I'd like to bring you some thoughts of what is going on as we speak and leave it to you to project what may happen .....
In his annual threat assessment to Congress, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell notes that wheat prices have shot up 60 percent in 2007 alone, while the prices of some key commodities, like vegetable oil, are at near-record levels. The [United Nations] World Food Program's food costs have increased by more than 50 percent over the past five years and are projected to grow another 35 percent by the end of the decade," McConnell says.http://www.usnews.com/articles/news/2008/02/08/the-dangers-from-rising-food-prices.html
That's them, not us, right? The problem being that they used to get it from us primarily but we don't have it to give anymore. Wheat supplies are the lowest they have been since 1948 and most of the corn we might have given away (or fed, or eaten) is bound up in biofuel. But, it is not just them. The shortage of wheat is worldwide due to weak harvests & massive droughts. So, corn and wheat are limited, to say the least, and many prices have doubled in the last year.
"Hunger Insecurity" in the U.S. has been steady at 11-12% for the last decade. Considering the variety of foods we find in the U.S. supermarkets, consider this.... "Today, a mere four crops account for two-thirds of the calories humans eat. When you consider that humankind has historically consumed some 80,000 edible species, and that 3,000 of these have been in widespread use, this represents a radical simplification of the food web." Humans are omnivores, he notes, "requiring somewhere between 50 and 100 different chemical compounds and elements to be healthy. It's hard to believe that we can get everything we need from a diet consisting largely of processed corn, soybeans, wheat and rice." http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/02/29/7378/
The additional problem of shortages of wheat and corn (plus the significant increase in oil (fuel) costs is that they affect most other foods, predominately meat (as that is what the animals are generally fed) and dairy – eggs & milk – not to mention cereals. For example: Ø It takes 8lbs of cereals to produce 1 lb of beef. Ø Corn is up 70%Ø Butter prices are up 31% Ø Cheddar cheese prices, up 65% Ø Nonfat dry milk prices, up 117% Ø Broiler chickens, up 17.5% Ø Beef, select, up 12.8% Ø Milk, whole up 23-42%Ø Eggs, up 29.2%Ø Soybeans, up 85%Ø Wheat, up 125%+Ø Shortening, up 70% in 08 aloneØ Flour, up 200-400%Ø Pork – up 48%Prices are based on 2007Sources: http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/why-rising-food-prices-eating/story.aspx?guid=%7BE2C47792-2693-48BF-8967-26B070F10EBF%7D http://www.chathamdailynews.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=927783 http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/rising-prices-threaten-millions-with-starvation-despite-bumper-crops-790319.html http://www.havenworks.com/energy/ http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601082&sid=aGcGIiIwHQ1g&refer=canada http://www.roguegovernment.com/news.php?id=7205And, for you beer and pizza lovers…..v Hops (for beer) have risen from $4/lb to $40/lb since September 07v Malting barley has risen 80%v The flour for pizza has risen and average of $4.50/bushel to $25/bushel in less than a year. Sources: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23415510/ http://media.www.dailytarheel.com/media/storage/paper885/news/2008/01/15/Features/Beer-Prices.Impacted.By.Worldwide.Hops.Shortage-3152447.shtml