On New Year’s Eve, Susie Madrak over at Crooks and Liars posted a story about a family in Oklahoma that is struggling to feed their family of five on $500 a month in food stamps. This is a story that is being told over and over again across the United States as the recession of the last two years continues to take its toll. The story that’s not being told though is that as little as two years ago that $500 might have been enough to feed their family for a month, but now barely makes it to three weeks.
When we talk about inflation, we never talk about food inflation. We talk about how much more college is going to cost this year over last. We talk almost daily about the price of gas at the pump. We talk about the cost of health insurance increasing by double digits almost every year. But we never talk about the price of food. No one talks about how difficult it is for a working family, let alone a family with its primary wage earner is unemployed, to purchase food for an entire month.
And even though the government will tell you that food prices increased only 1% in the 2010, I can tell you, from personal experience, the average consumer lost between 10% to 25% of their buying power at the grocery store in 2010. Sure, at my local store here in Phoenix, I can at times buy milk for as little as $1.59 a gallon, but for the most part I am paying higher prices on just about everything. A year ago the price for one green pepper was 89 cents. Now I am lucky to find those same peppers for less than $1.29.
To add insult to financial injury, food packaging has gotten smaller while the price has stayed the same. In 2008, Starkist Tuna went from 6.0 oz cans to 5.0 oz cans. Dreyer’s Ice Cream went from 2 quarts, down to 1.5 quarts and is now at 1.25 quarts while the price stayed the same at $4.29 per container. I almost laughed myself to death a few weeks ago when I saw packaging that said “20% more free”. The cereal manufacturers have been doing the same thing.
Now, imagine that you are a family of five and you have only $500 to spend each month on groceries. Now try to purchase food to provide well balanced and fairly nutritional meals on that same $500. Can’t do it, can you? Neither can the family mentioned in the original story. They are lucky to have that $500 to purchase enough food for three weeks and even then everyone goes a bit hungry. And I am pretty sure that the family isn’t purchasing fresh vegetables. They are probably relying on high starch and pre-packaged foods that are loaded with sodium and other preservatives.
The question is: Why isn’t the media talking about this? Why aren’t they covering the rising costs of food for the average American? Maybe it will take an episode of Top Chef where the contestants are allowed to spend only $11.90 to make a balanced and healthy meal for five. Until the mainstream media starts talking about food inflation it will continue to hide in the shadows, hurting those who need help the most.