The second biggest factor in rising food costs are production costs. They have sort of a domino effect: as each part of the food production process becomes more expensive, the end product becomes more expensive.
Rising Production Costs
Water, fertilizer, seeds, animal feed, and everything else are also getting more expensive. Part of this is due to the price of oil, part of it is due to the increasing scarcity of water, part of it is due to patented seeds, part of it is due to using food grains for energy.
Oil is used in several parts of the food production process. There’s the oil needed to transport food to market, or to transport grain to the farm, or to transport crops to the factory for processing. Each line in the chain includes oil costs when selling up the chain, until finally it reaches you.
Water is also becoming more expensive as it becomes more scarce. Think about your own water bill. It’s probably gone up in the past few years. Now multiply that by the amount of water to produce anything, from corn to cows to boxes. That’s built into the price you pay.
Seeds should be cheap. They come from previous year’s crop. Just save seeds from the previous crop, replant them, and you’re good to go. You only pay for seeds once. That’s how it should be, but in this age of Monsanto, that’s not how it works. Now, seeds are modified so that farmers can only use them once and then have to buy new seeds the next year. In some crops, seeds can be saved, but Monsanto sues farmers who do that. So, factor the cost of new seeds into your calculations.
Using food grains, like corn and soybeans, for fuel. When you use food crops to run cars, that food is no longer available for people, which means there are more people clamoring for the same food items, which makes them more expensive.
All of these affect the cost of producing food. The manufacturers have to include all of these costs in each item they sell, which you then pay at the grocery store. You always pay more because you have to pay the combined total of all those other processes.
Solution to Rising Production Costs: Grow or Cook Your Own Food
If you grow your own vegetables in a small patch, you won’t need nearly as much fertilizer or seeds. You can save seeds from the previous year if you use heirloom plants, which usually taste better anyway. Hybrid seeds are built to make the produce stand up to shipping, not for taste. If you don’t want to mess with seeds, or live in a region with a short season, buy plants from the nursery. A $2.99 six-pack of lettuce will grow all summer, and you can pick it as you need it. That’s about what two heads of lettuce cost, so you’re saving a big chunk on your food bill from one small investment.
Once you get a garden established, it’s not too expensive to keep it going year after year. Victory gardens were popular during World War II because food was scarce. They were just part of life during Word War I and the Depression. Now they’re making a comeback. If you can find a small plot of land, or even a sunny balcony, you can grow a small victory garden. Call it a food crisis garden if you want to be trendy.
In addition, it’s time to learn to bake your own bread and switch from ready-made meals to homemade meals. The raw ingredients are much cheaper than the processed version, and you can usually use some of those raw materials for several dishes. Sure, you have to buy a chicken to roast each time, but you don’t need to buy a jar of salt, more herbs, and oil every time. Leftover chicken can be stretched into a soup, salad, sandwich, casserole, quesadilla, or other entree. The bones can be used for stock. Basically, the raw components of any dinner are cheaper than buying a pre-packaged meal most of the time, and healthier.
If you buy the ingredients used to make a loaf of bread, you’ll be able to make multiple loaves for the same cost as a single store-bought loaf, and avoid preservatives. All you need is flour, yeast, sugar (for the yeast), water, and oil or butter. If you bake a lot, buy a three pound bag of yeast from a warehouse store for $3.99 and keep it in the freezer. That investment is about the cost of one loaf, but it will last all year!
Of course, some things are more difficult to make, so you’ll have to keep buying those. Yogurt is easy to make and worth the effort. Butter is more work, so it’s probably not worth the money or effort. You obviously can’t raise your own cow in the backyard. You could, if zoning and space permits, grow some chickens for fresh eggs.