Once you get over the shock of your stock market losses (I’m still not over it frankly) get ready for more frightening price hikes at the market. There is a food crisis occurring internationally that will be hitting the U.S. before you know it.
Brandon Keim in his article, Food Riots: Will You Go Vegetarian? talks about the massive worldwide food shortage that due to the upcoming election, ongoing Iraq war and collapsing economy, gets little or no media attention here. For decades we here in the U.S. have not just eaten meat, but allowed it to dominate our plates at nearly every meal. Our meat-based diet has marched across the globe in the form of Americana infused cuisine and American based fast food chains, introducing millions of people to the wonders of an animal-based existence. Add to that the fact that as nations prosper, their diet becomes more meat-centered (because there’s no better sign of wealth than one’s ability to splurge on a steak dinner) and you’ll see how China’s prosperity and the rise of India’s middle class, have increased the demand for animal foods.
Years ago, as meat demands were skyrocketing, we fundamentally changed the way we raised cattle. The meat industry abandoned their 5-6 year growth cycle which allowed cattle to naturally, over-time, fatten up out in the field before being sacrificed for our palate. Instead, to keep demand down and prices low, they “beefed up” our beef as well as the process by feeding cattle a corn-based diet (as well as growth hormones) that fattened them up quickly so as to go to slaughter after only about 18 months.
So what’s the problem? The free market that works via cyclical, supply and demand changes should be able to handle and adjust itself. The problem is that it takes 5 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat and this process has now become amazingly expensive. Between fueling the farm machinery to prep, plant and harvest crops; the petroleum needed to create pesticides and fertilizers to ensure that the crop grows; as well as the energy required to process the beef and ship it all over the globe, the price of meat is going to go through the roof.
David Chang, owner of Momofuku restaurant, in his article, What the 21st Century Will Taste Like, writes:
Farmer Michael’s feed costs have risen 400 percent in the last twelve months. To make a profit on the beautiful turkeys his family is raising in time for Thanksgiving, he’ll have to charge a hundred bucks a bird. At Momofuku, I’m paying 150 percent more for humanely raised pork belly than I was paying at this time last year. And at the hyperglobal megachains that feed most of America, the only way they’ll be able to keep selling one-dollar hamburgers is to grow their “protein units” in petri dishes, add even more filler to their products, and outright enslave the workers whose backs they’re already breaking to keep costs artificially low.
The cost to import grain has gone up by 25% in some areas. Considering that in Indonesia a family spends about 50% of their income on food while in Nigeria a little more than 70% of a family’s take home pay goes to sustenance and you see where this is going. Back in April, the World Bank warned that 33 nations were at risk of social unrest due to food shortages. Now that nations are hoarding their grain supplies, prices will be driven even higher and more violence will ensue.
Sadly the excess corn we have sitting in silos all over America’s heartland does us no good as it is inedible. It was grown for cows with less discriminating palates then ours. And we haven’t even talked about climate change and it’s negative affect on agriculture – another kink in the food chain.
Seems like we have two choices here. We either get back to basics or freak out. If you want to freak out, feel free, just don’t do it around me. I’ll be too busy cooking and baking more, using leftovers, substituting beans, legumes, nuts and seeds for meat in recipes and buying the meat that I can afford in bulk.
I have some tips for you to try, but I’m going to save them for my next post. I think we’re all a little shellshocked and could use a moment to take a breath. We’re headed for some hard times and if you’re of a certain age, you’ll be fine. You just need to go back to the way things were done when you were growing up. If however, you’re under 30, I’m guessing you’re in for the shock of a lifetime. Relax, us old farts will guide you through it.