The Price of Food and Oil

Reader Contribution by Sue Van Slooten
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Going to your local supermarket can be a shocking adventure these days. It seems that no matter what you touch, the price has gone way up, sometimes at least 25% for certain items. Some people don’t understand why this is happening. We will explore the reasons, and also take a look at another phenomenon I’m noticing:lack of freshness.

First, the price of food.Oil and food. They’re connected. Much more than you would think. The current crisis in Libya shouldn’t affect our food prices, right? Wrong. It has everything to do with it. Commodities speculators are pushing up the price of crude, due to the uncertainty not just of Libya, but the entire Middle East. That means higher prices at the pumps, which we’ve all been seeing. Ask any farmer. It costs more to run the tractors, equipment, eventually combines, anything that uses diesel or gasoline.If you’re a farmer, especially an industrial one, this price usually gets passed on to the consumer, and goes all down the line until your produce, wheat (flour), sugar, or whatever agricultural product you buy, ends up in your grocery cart. It doesn’t end there. All processed foods are treated likewise of course, so the more highly processed foods will be even higher, like breakfast cereals, fast foods, whatever requires a lot to be done to it.

While I mentioned breakfast cereals, I’m now going to warm up to my favourite subject:bread. The cost of grains has gone way up, particularly wheat. While oil is partly responsible, it’s also a case of droughts and bad weather. Anyways, I know you’re already putting two and two together, and you’re right. Flour is much more expensive, and where I am, it has doubled in price from just two years ago. If you’re a serious baker like me, you can’t but help notice the price increase on a bag of flour.And it gets worse. A report just came out that the price of barley is hitting the roof. So why worry? Except for a pot of soup, where you could substitute something else, like rice (which will be up, or is), why is barley important? Answer:The price of beer will also go through the roof, at least here in Canada, and I would expect, worldwide. Now that I’ve got your attention, you can see how the price of oil affects not just our food, but also our beverages.

For the second topic of this blog, I want to talk about the freshness of one’s produce, particularly since about last September or October. I would appreciate feedback on this, because I have noticed a definite decline in the quality and “staying power” of any industrially grown fruit or vegetable. I first noticed it in tomatoes, but then later in salads. (I admit it: I hate making salads, so yes, I buy the bag or the box, at least in the winter.Most naughty I know. Now that you know my culinary weakness….) Eggplants, potatoes, and even cut flowers aren’t immune, and produce managers I’ve talked to all have noticed it as well, and in some cases, don’t even want to put the stuff out there. Even our local health food store wasn’t spared.

It would seem in my humble opinion, we’re getting squeezed from at least two directions here:price and quality. So what’s a body to do? Grow your own. I suggest even a modest kitchen garden for starters, but a real veggie garden would put the proper tomato on your table, or whatever variety you have a predilection for, be it lettuce, herbs, squash, beans, all the good stuff. While it may not be necessarily cheaper (although that’s possible), it will be a heck of a lot healthier, and you know it will be superbly fresh. A good backyard garden will keep a family in fresh produce several months out of the year, even in Canada, global warming being what it is today. Now if I had enough space to grow some wheat!

Photo Credit: Bob Van Slooten

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