The drought problem
As a sustainability student at Dal, I tend to view food as a human right first and a commodity second; however, the drought that swept across North America this summer has challenged my ideals.
The expected increase in food prices as a result of the drought will press consumers to the limits. With rising gasoline and energy prices and growing unemployment rates, there is limited freedom in consumer budgets.
Gasoline and food are two of the most frequently purchased provisions in households. Therefore, these are the areas where the largest portions of consumer incomes are spent. Some families visit the grocery store multiple times a week to keep the cupboards full—but even driving to the store has become costly. That is reflected in our food prices.
Depending on the time and means of transportation we may see fluctuations in price ranges between local and foreign foods. Now that the drought has lowered corn and soybean yields significantly in the United States it may become necessary to import more products with sky-rocketing numbers on the price tags.
Other factors such as reduced job growth have left low expectations for worthier wages in the future, and have caused consumers to feel pessimistic that their economic situations will look brighter anytime soon. But they may be able to buy a bit of time.
According to an article on Bloomberg.com it may take some time for the result of the drought to notably affect food prices in the stores. Many food companies purchase supplies months ahead of time, so provisions will continue to be sold at regular price for a while longer.
This short-lived comfort does not leave consumers feeling any more optimistic. The idea of even a modest price increase leaves consumers doubtful about their ability to budget in the future—so doubtful that the article termed it a ‘dampening sentiment towards the economy.’
I spent about $20 a week last year in addition to my meal plan, trying to buy healthy snack food. After dishing out a hard-earned green bill, I left the store with enough to fill one bag. Had I stuck to purchasing pop instead of orange juice and nacho chips instead of berries for smoothies, I probably could have filled a few more. In light of the drought’s lingering effects on corn yields in the United States I predict that even junk food prices will seem unreasonable this year. This will leave even less choice for consumers’ restrictive budgets. It will be a real ‘kick in the stomach’, as described by an article in The New York Times, for low income families across the country—but we are not the only ones that will be taking the hit.
Developing countries will feel the effects of the drought the most because food makes up an even larger part of their domestic expenditures. With such large amounts of daily income going into food alone, the World Bank says that global growth and social stability are at risk in these countries.
The bottom line is that good, nutritious food is a necessity. The reality is that many of us live paycheck to paycheck, and odds are that nutrition is going to be difficult for those who don’t have the affluence to attain it. What are we going to do about that?
Cropland soils are depleting, climate change is most certainly taking its toll, and I don’t even begin to have all of the answers.
It seems that we’re all going to have to get used to the idea of food as a commodity.