Maybe Higher Food Prices Are Actually Good For Us as a Society

CNN is about the most worthless place to get news, but I still check their site a few times a week for comedic value. I’m usually pleasantly surprised when I come across some absurd story, and today was no different. The sensationalistic stories that constantly portray the world ending are far from news, and simply attempt to entertain people who can’t think for themselves.

Today, I want to highlight their story about increasing grocery prices. Now, this is hardly news, and inflation has been a hot topic for a while now. Yes, gas prices are high, milk costs more than it did a year ago, and it is costing people more money to buy the same goods.

The People Make the Stories

What makes these stories entertaining are the people they talk to. I remember one of their stories a few months ago talking about gas prices, and they were quoting people who were complaining that they had to sell two of their three SUVs just to keep up with gas prices, or complaining about how their 200 mile daily commute is eating into their budget. Now, gas prices are a legitimate concern, but CNN always highlights those who have thrown common sense out the window.

In the story about the high food prices, you have quotes such as:

Pond has planted her own herb garden. She buys eggs at the local feed store and pays $4.50 for 20 eggs. She purees vegetables and fruits into home-made baby food.

And gems like:

Many more moms are cooking at home, growing their own vegetables, breastfeeding instead of buying expensive formula, using leftovers to stretch the week’s meals, and even hoarding discounted products.

Wait a minute. Stop the presses! Because of higher food prices, people are resorting to such ghastly tasks as cooking at home, growing some of their own food, and using leftovers! Oh, the humanity. Economic times are just so hard that people have to do things that any prudent person would be doing anyway.

And, the higher food and gas prices may actually help combat the obesity problem in this country. As mentioned in this AP article:

For Peggy and David Valdez of Houston, feeding their family of four means scouring grocer ads for the best prices, taking fewer trips as a way to save gas and simply buying less food, period.

Yes, it is a real shame that now you’re conscientious of the fact that you can consolidate grocery shopping into one or two weekly trips instead of going every day, actually pay attention to sale prices, and are buying less (or probably just buying the appropriate healthy amount) food.

This Type of Behavior Should be the Norm, Not the Exception

One bright spot in the story that gives a sense of hope for our species is Amanda

For Amanda Richardson, the food price squeeze has taught her one more important lesson.

“Before we were incredibly wasteful. We’d let food go bad. I am more conscientious now,” she said. “If prices go back down, I won’t return to my wasteful ways.”

Well congratulations to you, Amanda. It is a sad state of affairs when we’re accustomed to taking food for granted to the point we just waste it. If it takes higher food prices to knock some common sense into people to where they will be more respectful and waste less, then maybe it isn’t so bad after all.

So, what are your thoughts? Is it really so bad that people actually have to think twice before buying something they don’t need or maybe make a few more meals at home and spend time with the family? And is it terrible that people are taking the initiative to grow some of their own food by planting a spring garden or support local farmers in an effort to save a little money? It is a shame that it takes drastic situations to force people to change their behaviors, but most of these changes are for the good–both in terms of ourselves, and our environment.

Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle

My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.

25 comments
Booboo
Booboo

I don't think we need a swift kick, I think we need to get smart. Smart about our leaders, read and think through issues, and turn off the media. We are being led around like sheep. Even the so-called "green" movement is politically motivated. Sure save, but don't make it into a religion. There's more to life than that. I drive 200 miles each day because I HAVE TO. There are no jobs in my area. My 4 hr daily commute feeds my family and pays my bills. Geez, everyone doesn't live in the "city", wear black, has the retro "unkempt" look, and frequent coffee shops. Maybe I'm just angry today. Maybe I'll fire up my F-250 and go down the road and kill groundhogs.

Mrs. Common Cents
Mrs. Common Cents

I agree with you, particularly about the entertainment value of CNN, which is what prompted me to read your article. It's actually healthier for our society to be taking less wasteful measures. We definitely could have used this wakeup call, and gas prices in America are still far lower than in other countries. However, the impact on emerging economies is also real, which is what Dan White emphasized. People who are subsiding on $1 a day are drastically impacted by food inflation, although I don't think that's the point or the target of your article. For wasteful American's, it's the swift kick in the pants we needed.

Tony Wheeler
Tony Wheeler

Great points here. My family and I just moved across the country and I gotta say that we are feeling the crunch. I took a decent pay cut to move here, like half! So I would have to work twice as much to make the same amount..insane! Glad I'm not having to do that, but I empathize with the people who do it every week.

JM
JM

Drink water instead of soda. Its not quite free, but in my area its like $3.50 per 1000 gallons.

Seriously though, I am getting sick of people complaining that they have to actually cook at home and eat their left overs. I've been doing that forever. We eat out from time to time, but as a luxury, not as a supposed time saver. My wife and I spend an average of $6 a day to feed ourselves all three meals, and we eat healthy too. fresh fruits and veggies every day, barely anything out of a can or box.

Somebody should tell those people to get a rice cooker for Pete's sake!

Jason Simon
Jason Simon

I hope more people think twice before they toss their leftovers in the trash, but others are in situations where grocery hikes hurt dearly. I think rising prices is good in some respects and not so good in others.

basicfinancial
basicfinancial

Wow, Chris was pretty down on things, although he makes some valid short term predictions. Loko at American Axle now. My neighbor will be moving to one of the other plants out of state that her company owns because the union won't accept a $20-$30 dollar an hour wage.

Chris
Chris

What I find somewhat unfortunate is that nobody seems to acknowledge the real effects of inflation and how it impacts the world. Our Federal Reserve Chairman INTENTIONALLY caused this inflation in order for our exports to increase. It has been tried before by other nations and they have ended up moving backwards.

Rising food costs occur before everything else because crops take from a few months to a year to turnover. The next thing that will happen is that labor unions will demand higher wages in the next 3-5 years when their current contracts expire. After that, there will be major banking troubles in 20-30 years due to mortgages being lent out when the dollar was actually worth something more than toilet paper.

Lets not forget who this hurts the most, though. The more the dollar decreases in purchasing power, the more people who are already on the verge of starving, die.

Even more sad is the fact that a democratic president and congress would end up kicking the economy when it is down.

Serendipity
Serendipity

I have to agree with the overall point here. Complaining about having to eat leftovers is ridiculous (and it's the lazy choice--amazing more people aren't into them already!). The trend toward cooking at home is also probably one of the most accidentally healthy things our generation could experience. But I do worry when a gallon of soda costs pretty much pennies and a gallon of milk costs $5.

David
David

Seems that the locally grown foods should be cheaper (less transportation costs), but that does'nt seem to be the case.

Michael
Michael

The article is not bad, although not very well thought out. But the author, who bitches and moans ad nauseum about CNN, my never have experienced real news crap. Try Fox. Try ABC. Get a grip.

The Personal Financier
The Personal Financier

While I agree higher food prices will definitely encourage higher efficiency there is one big problem. Not everyone lives in developed countries. Many countries such as Vietnam, the Philippians, Egypt and more already feel the burden of rising food prices. I believe prices will settle down eventually but it's always good no avoid waste.

Experts on Credit
Experts on Credit

This is a tough one because on the one hand, I think of my grandparents who lived through the Depression Era and are leaps and bounds more conscious consumers than our generation. On the other hand, what do you think a price hike at the grocery store is going to do for fast food restaurants that offer burgers for a dollar a piece? I doubt this will solve our nation's problem with obesity.

Francesca
Francesca

Food in America is NOT expensive. I am not originally from here and have lived in different parts of the world and so am able to compare.

I think the problem is that many items have been just way too cheap here for a long time and perhaps prices are now becoming more realistic? Try paying over 8 dollars per gallon of gas like you would in England!

At some level because food and other items have been so inexpensive and credit was readily available, I think that many Americans have been living beyond their means for a long time.

I really welcome the end of the "I deserve it/I'm entitled" phase to be honest!

Heidi
Heidi

As Americans we're not allowed to complain about food (or fuel) prices until our government stops subsidizing our farmers. Try living in Burkina Faso where subsidized American corn is being dumped at a price that undercuts the cost at which local producers can grow it.

escapee
escapee

I agree- these articles are some of the most ridiculous pieces of "journalism" I have ever seen.

We were ALREADY doing all of those things (common sense), that's why we can save so much money!

Daniel
Daniel

Thank you for highlighting exactly the reason I don't watch CNN! These idiots they always find are then seen by the world as the "average American" - and seen by Americans that way, giving us permission to be our worst possible selves.

Perhaps high food prices will help with the childhood (and adulthood!) obesity issues as well. I think that's a long shot. Still, when people are ready, there are tools out there - I just posted my impressions of Fitday over at The Art of Zen Living.

KMC
KMC

This is exactly the thought I had when my wife told me about this story. Any sensible person has been doing the things highlighted in the story (ex the homemade laundry detergent making - that's out there) all along.

Danny Tsang
Danny Tsang

This reminds me of a person who worked for me once. She was complaining about her pay, which I felt was fair and normal. She was telling me a sob story and mentioned how she couldn't eat out with her kids anymore, she couldn't afford gas to bring her kids to school and how her husband was in jail for some reason. Uhh ya, maybe she should just stop eating out and her husband should stay out of jail. He was likely the real cause of her problems anyway not the pay. The story gets way better. I almost choked on my water when I saw her pull up in her car a few days later. I kid you not, it was a lincoln navigator with monster truck tires. Shes a tiny woman with a kid in the passenger seat and she was driving this 13mpg, $50,000 sooped up truck. She watches too much CNN.

Steve Austin
Steve Austin

I look forward to $5+/gallon gasoline soon. I want to hear lard-ass America cry and whimper when they have to put their a$$es on bicycles every morning to get themselves to work. I don't wish to see any outright suffering, but a bit of struggling is past due.

Mrs. Micah
Mrs. Micah

And Amanda wins.

Llama also has a point...some people don't have as much room in their food budgets. Ours was pretty tight and I know people whose is tighter. But CNN...yeah.

Llama Money
Llama Money

Perhaps it's good for those who are being very wasteful with their food. But people who are already taking all the smart measures are definitely hurting. I have family members who are *really* struggling to feed multiple kids on their incomes... certainly not a fun situation.

But I guess it's much like the gasoline situation. Higher gas prices are good in theory... but in practice it's terrible for individuals.

dan white
dan white

The problem with rising food costs is not so much in this country as in places where people are already on the verge of starvation. Food is still very inexpensive for Americans, depending on what and how you eat of course. You can buy rice and oats for about 7 cents a serving. Unlike gasoline, which we all have to buy no matter what the price, there are lots of choices where food is concerned. You don't even need milk, for example so if it goes to $10 a gallon, you can always just get your calcium and protein from other much cheaper sources. Staples, like rice, beans, lentils, can't and won't go too high because they are grown in many areas, so we are not held hostage to buying our food from one or two countries. You can buy oats from Brazil, Canada, the US, and a dozen other places, so the price isn't likely to go too high..maybe 8 cents a serving with inflation. It is rather short-sighted to be using corn to make energy though, since corn is a food directly or indirectly for humans.

Jeremy
Jeremy

Thanks for the book suggestion. I'll have to add that to my reading list. And as you say, yes, there will be certain countries and demographics that will be stressed by higher prices. But for sake of argument within context of the various articles you see in news outlets, I was focusing on the average American.

I think it was in the CNN article as well, that someone commented to the fact that "Why spend 22 dollars to order a pizza, when you can just make one at home for 10 dollars?" I think that is the shift in thinking that will ultimately benefit the average person as a whole. If they can identify that it is stupid to pay double for something they could do just as well at home.

The ease of accessing and the low cost these conveniences have really built some very bad habits over the past few decades. It would probably do everyone good to eat a few less packaged meals and slow down and enjoy life a little more. Not only will you save money, but you'll probably see other improvements in your quality of life overall.

Webomatica
Webomatica

Well, for America it might benefit us as you state above and also that there are so many Americans struggling with obesity. It's seriously retarded that there has been so much food in America that people eat to excess and then PAY to get that fat off our bodies at the gym or fad diets or Weight Watchers, etc.

But the flip side is other nations that are less well off as us, these food prices will hurt them worse than us. What we really have is a food imbalance where we still have way too much food relative to our population.

Check out the book Hungry Planet to see this visually.

Deborah
Deborah

I think the mentality behind the people they interview for these stories is the same as for a lot of (most?) people who took out subprime mortgages. They think they're "expected" to spend at certain levels - have a certain type of house or drink a certain type of wine or eat at certain restaurants - and they never stop to think about how it's going to be paid for it. Laziness is a factor and so is being uneducated - today (and for our generation) we aren't used to thinking about the long term effects of spending at "expected" levels. We're used to thinking that we "deserve" it or that we've "earned" it, even if we can't make the numbers work out.
Webomatica makes a good point - we also don't realize the effect that our spending has on the global economy. Time magazine ran some of the pictures from Hungry Planet, and seeing what other people live on is truly humbling.
http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1626519,00.html
How much of the current food prices are because of the fact that people in more developed countries think that we "deserve" the option of 10 different kinds of bread and the ability to drive SUVs?

Basically, I think that GenXers have become accustomed to spending at certain levels, without asking any questions. Even though I try to fight this urge, I place myself firmly in this category - Are the 20 pairs of shoes I've accumulated over the past 5 or 6 years really necessary?