The Cause of Rising Food Prices, and How to Beat Them

I’m seeing complaints all over the web about rising food prices. It’s true, food prices are rising, although less so here than in other countries. American actually pay less now than families did in the past, it just feels like more because we got used to cheap food. This week, I’m outline several causes of rising food prices, and some solutions you can implement at home. Today focuses on oil prices.

The Faux Rise in Food Prices
I won’t argue that food this year is cheaper than food last year. It isn’t. Part of that is inflation, part of that is due to the sharp increase in oil prices. However, food isn’t more expensive now than it was fifty years ago. In the 1950s, families spent 21% of their income on food. Today we spend 9%. And still we want cheaper food.

Sure, some items are more expensive, but that’s because we’re importing fruit from Chile and grain from all over the place. In the 1950s, staples like sugar were imported to the mainland, but most families did without fresh strawberries in January. Most families also had to cook their own meals entirely. TV dinners were a new thing, and fairly expensive.

As wages have risen, the cost of food hasn’t kept up, but we have more options than ever. If you’re paying significantly more than you used to, think about where those food expenditures are going and what you ate when you were a kid. It’s probably pretty different. Perhaps if you went back to the basics of home-cooking with whole ingredients (but less fat and salt than cooks used back then!), you’d see your costs drop.

However, there are some factors that will make that 9% expenditure rise, and the first is rising oil prices.

The Effect of Rising Oil Prices On Food Costs
Rising oil prices are partly to blame for rising food prices. Food has always been more expensive in distant locations. Just ask Hawaii. That’s because it costs more to get food from place to place. The cost of transportation is also factored into the cost of raw materials used to produce processed food, so you’re getting a double-whammy.

Solution to Rising Oil Prices: Buy Local
Buy as much unprocessed, local food as you can. Local food costs less to transport fruit 100 miles than it does to transport it 1000 miles, so you can probably get it cheaper, and tastier, by buying it from a local producer. Farmer’s markets are the best place to find local growers, but CSAs and natural foods stores are also options. Your grocery store may even have a local section, but some of them mark up the price because it’s a good sales pitch. If you look, you can find local sources of food that are probably a lot cheaper. Yes, your options will be limited to what’s in season in your region, but do you really need strawberries in January? They do actually grow in my region year-round, but I find they taste better in the spring/summer, so I don’t buy them in January. I buy citrus and apples, which are in season, and just as tasty.

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