Standing in my tent at our local farmers’ market Saturday I decided that question was about the stupidest thing anyone could use as a conversational opener. At noon, we street-side vendors were looking at a heat index of nearly 100o.
You’d have to be living under a rock to not know that the U.S. is gripped by a major drought this year. There have been the photos of cracked earth between rows of dead corn plants. There have been articles and photo essays all over the Web comparing this to the infamous Dustbowl of the 1930’s. Today it was the announcement that the reduced water levels and unusually high temperatures of the streams, lakes and rivers in the Midwest are resulting in fish kills in the millions, including some endangered species. My brother, an avid fisherman in Iowa, has got to be going nuts.
And there have been the little announcements from the USDA of more counties being added to the national natural disaster areas designation because of the drought.
But if you’re not living in those counties, the drought isn’t quite “real”; it hasn’t impacted you personally yet. Guess what? It is going to. Take a look at the most recent map:
See all that red? That’s the over 1,600 counties that have been declared drought disaster areas. Those counties are overwhelmingly agricultural. But it’s the agribusiness farms out there, right? The ones that are hundreds or thousands of acres growing corn, soy and wheat for export and industry. So who cares if the Russians and Chinese have to pay more for our wheat and corn. Ah, but those agribusiness farms also feed into the rest of the agricultural and food industry. That’s not to mention the cattle and pig ranchers who don’t have enough water to maintain their stock. I actually saw an article celebrating the fact that beef and pork prices are going to temporarily drop as farmers sell off their stock… how bloody short-sighted can you get?
Food prices are going to go up. That’s guaranteed. You might not notice it, as a growing number of food retailers have gone to the “keep the price the same, keep the look the same, but reduce the amount/weight of the product” scam. I caught it at my local supermarket just last week. The 3 lb. bag of frozen chicken breasts is now 2.5 lbs for the same price.
Chickens eat corn. As the corn agrifarms see their yield endangered, the lovely people who play the commodity exchanges are jacking up the price of corn and corn futures, and that is being ultimately passed on to us, even before this year’s crop hits the market. Pigs eat corn. Cattle eat corn. Watch your meat prices go up. It’s already happening. Remember the pink slime flap a few weeks ago? If you buy your ground beef from a major chain, there’s going to be a higher proportion of pink slime added to it. Me, I’ve started buying my ground beef from the vendor next to me at the market. Yeah, it’s about $1 a pound more than the supermarket, but I know what I’m getting: 100% grass-fed beef. Lower fat, no fillers. I can make one pound of that do what two pounds of “cheap” supermarket beef used to do.
The drought is going to drive up the prices of every type of food. The fresh foods in the produce section are a no-brainer; unless they’re grown elsewhere, like bananas, they’re going to go up. Even some of those will go up, riding the tail of the other price hikes.
Frozen fruits and veggies are going to go up. Ready-to-eat foods are going to go up, because the ingredients are going to be more expensive. Flour, corn meal, cake mixes… you name it, the drought is going to impact it somehow.
This drought is going to impact everyone, from the farmer selling off his herd because he doesn’t have the water or pasturage to keep them alive, to the inner-city mother trying to keep her family decently fed on a static food budget. It’s even going to impact pet food. Yup, Fido and Fluffy are going to be more expensive to keep.
I wish I had some sort of hope to offer you… but I don’t. I belong to that lowest economic strata that is going to see the greatest impact from rising food prices. Meats will be the first thing to cut back on; cheaper cuts, less meat in a meal, alternative protein… goddess, I just realized that with the drought in the Southeast, even peanut butter is going to be more expensive.
Welcome to the effects of global warming. Now is it personal?