More Bad News on Food Prices

For the last week or so Bolivia has been rocked by massive strikes from groups as diverse as teachers, doctors, and miners. Because of the skyrocketing costs of food, everyone is trying to get paid more in their job to make up the difference. There’s all sorts of crazy Bolivian economic policies that I could talk (and/or vent) about that are based on shaky economics, they don’t really have much to do with the unrest…they just pile on to the problems.
Even if Bolivia had the best possible economic policies (I’m not going to say I or anybody else knows what those would be), it still would be having a lot of the same issues, just because of the huge increase in food prices. The World Bank just released numbers saying the the food prices have risen 36% over this time last year! When you’re already working 10hrs/day, and spending up to half your money on food (the rest probably on housing), there’s simply no room in the budget for food prices changing like that. Thus you need more money to just get by. So, you go on strike to try to get that. When you have lots of different groups all on strike at the same time, then it starts to get crazy. There have been road blocks on all the major roads, miners exploding dynamite in La Paz, and doctors shutting down the clinics and hospitals.

The price increases aren’t just affecting the people of Bolivia either, but these prices are going to affect anyone who really has to watch the price of the food that they eat. I know that when I was living in St. Louis, this didn’t include us…we were blessed enough that we didn’t have to think about if we could afford the stuff on our shopping list, but I know there were people even living in our old neighborhood that did have to think about things like that.

So what can you do to help?
1) Eat less meat. Raising livestock (like cattle) takes a lot of food to feed the animals (more than 50 times what we get out of them), if there wasn’t the demand for so many animals to eat, more of that feed could go to feeding people. I’m not suggesting being a vegetarian, I don’t think I could do that unless I was forced to…but if everyone cut down their meat consumption by half, that would make a huge difference. Try to start thinking of meat as more of a reward or food for celebrations than something you eat on a daily basis.
2) Drive Less. (or get a more efficient car) A huge part of food prices is the transportation of the food. Thus the price of gasoline is making an impact on the current food price crisis. If we can start being more efficient with our driving habits, we can reduce some of this pressure on food prices (and do a whole bunch of other good things too).

4 thoughts on “More Bad News on Food Prices

    • That’s a tough one…when you start making tough cut-backs in lifestyle choices its not easy…for you or the people who depended sustaining the more extravagant lifestyle. On the up-side for them, this isn’t something that would happen over-night, ideally we could alter the supply-demand equation so that both sides shrink at approximately the same rate. This would give people who had previously been farming cattle the opportunity to switch their business model to something different in an orderly fashion. Obviously this isn’t an easy thing to accomplish, and unfortunately it could cause much hardship, but the important thing is getting the economy as a whole on a sustainable track.
      The other mitigating factor is that most farming, especially cattle, is run on a mass-production scale by large corporations. The family cattle farm is (sadly) the exception these days. Most of the farmers who work in these corporations won’t have as much invested in the operation, and it will be even easier for them to make the switch.

      In reality though, all that is never going to come to pass, Americans are just too set in their ways. More realistically, the changes we could make in the economics by eating less meat wouldn’t lower the price of food (including beef) at all. Instead this is more of a measure to try to keep prices just where they are now, which, looking at worldwide trends, will be a small miracle if we can do.

  1. If I could put my two cents in I recognize the problem and thanks Joe, I saw that article too! It’s a real eye-opener, basically once you start exporting something it becomes almost too expensive for locals to buy their own staple crop. Kind of a similar story with our doubled sugar prices here too. So despite the risk of increased inflation, I believe at least here in Bolivia the solution is not to subsidize food prices or attempt to lower them but to let the world market do it’s thing and instead pay people living wages! That’s what all strikes are for- a living wage. If food prices increased 18% in the last year, how can the government justify only paying people 10% more??

    But to support Tom’s statements, we do have a roll (albeit small) in the world market in how we choose to spend our money, hence the suggestion to cut back on meat. Realistically, with the world population rising at it is every person could cut back half of the meat they eat and I don’t think it would affect production greatly since the demand continues to rise. In addition, due to the resources necessary to create meat, it’s already NOT possible for every human being on the Earth to consume meat at the same levels as the richest 5% (which includes all of us who have a computer and internet to read this) and that situation is only getting worse as natural resources are strained.

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