Soaring Food Prices Bring Fear but Also Hope

June 18, 2008

The current crisis is a wake up call for going vegetarian, eating local, not over-eating, and reducing waste

Anyone who likes Urban Herbivore’s delicious vegan muffins (and who doesn’t?) came face to face with the global phenomena of raising grain prices recently – the price went from $2 to $2.50. A sign posted by the muffins explained that prices for flour had risen by as much as 141% since last October.

In Canada higher prices for food is a minor inconvenience compared to places like Egypt and Haiti where food riots have erupted, and in the Philippines where the very survival of the population is dependent on importing rice. According to the World Bank, 33 countries are now vulnerable to social unrest and political instability because of food insecurity.

 Meat prices are also on the rise, but so far not nearly as fast as for grains. The lag is due to meat producers responding to soaring feed cost by sending more animals to slaughter creating a temporary glut, agricultural subsidies and bailouts, and cheap exports of beef from South America.

Chart information from the May 2008 issue of Food Outlook, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

What is causing the current food crisis?

A number of elements have come together in deadly tandem: diversion of grain to biofuel production for cars, a growing appetite for grain-fed meat in China and India, water and fertilizer scarcity, and soaring global fuel prices. Add to that the continuing addition of 70 million people per year to the earth’s population, souring obesity rates, and the impacts of climate change and it is not hard to understand the why prices are rising so fast.

But there are reasons for hope

• More people around the world will be moving in the direction of a plant-based diet as meat becomes less affordable.
• Vegetarian diets are generally healthier and require much less land.
• The current crisis is a wake up call for the importance of locally-grown foods.
• Higher food prices should put a dent in obesity rates.
• High rates of food wastage, especially in the West, will likely decline as food becomes more expensive.

An in depth look at this issue will be posted here soon.