Diabetes Self-Management Blog

It’s hard enough taking care of ourselves and our families when things are going well. What do you do when the price of food and everything else is rising fast? Our dietitian Amy Campbell recently wrote about affording healthy food (see "Nutrition On A Shoestring [Part 1]" and "Part 2"). But this economic crunch is going to last a long time, so we may want to give it even more serious thought.

Why Are Prices Rising?
This food crisis is much bigger than we realize. There have been food shortages before, and the market usually corrects them after a year or two. This is different. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute writes:

“The tight food supply is driven by…global demand and supply. On the demand side, the trends include the…addition of 70 million people per year to the earth’s population, the desire of some 4 billion people to move up the food chain and consume more grain-intensive livestock products [meat], and the…use of grain to produce ethanol for cars. Since 2005, this last source of demand has raised the annual growth in world grain consumption…roughly 20 million tons.”

On the supply side, Brown says, “Prime cropland is being lost to both industrial and residential construction and to the paving of land for roads, highways, and parking lots for fast-growing automobile fleets.”

Water for irrigation is also getting scarcer. Finally, soaring oil prices raise the cost of chemicals, transportation, and many other aspects of modern technological agriculture. Global warming is also damaging crops. For example, glacier melt in the summers has filled the rivers of Asia for 10,000 years. But the glaciers are shrinking, leaving the land much drier in the summer.

Feeding Cars Instead of People
Overpopulation and rising living standards are natural processes. But making ethanol and biodiesel—turning grain into fuel—is not a natural process. It’s insane, at least from hungry people’s point of view. For big grain farmers, it’s been a huge money-maker. A whole ethanol industry has sprung up.

Raising grain and converting it to ethanol takes almost as much as energy as it produces. There’s only a small net gain. Meanwhile, the increased demand raises prices and takes land away from food production.

Some biofuels could be very helpful to the environment. Weeds like kudzu (”the weed that ate the South”) are very starchy and could make good fuel. Switchgrass is another plant that could produce a lot of energy without raising food prices. But for reasons of profit, the biofuel industry has focused on corn and soy. This amounts to a conspiracy to raise food prices.

How Will This Affect Us?
Energy prices aren’t likely to come down much. China, India, and other poor countries are getting richer. They’re driving more, eating more meat, and have fast-growing industries. Americans continue to drive all over the place. As long as we use coal and oil as our main sources of energy, energy prices will continue to rise. As long as we use so much energy growing our food, food prices will rise.

What to do? Readers shared good ideas in the comments section of Amy’s blog entry from June 2. Some other ideas: Eat less meat. But a lot of us are trying to eat more protein and fewer carbs, so that’s hard. However, there are vegetable proteins such as tofu and nut butters, which are cheaper and perhaps healthier than meat. (Perhaps not.)

Making your own food (cooking, baking bread) is cheaper and healthier than buying packaged food. Of course, it’s also a lot more work. Perhaps you can share cooking or share bulk-buying, as one of Amy’s commenters suggested. To buy produce, you might be able to shop at farmers’ markets, or join a community supported agriculture (CSA) group. In a CSA, people subscribe to a farm and receive a shipment of food every week. There are also food co-ops that can save you money. Start a garden and grow some of your own food—you’ll get some exercise.

And absolutely do not buy bottled water, unless your local water is condemned or something. Bottling and shipping water wastes tons of energy.

One good thing is that, as energy prices rise, the cost of commercial food (which depends more on energy) is going up faster than the price of organic food (which depends more on labor.) So organic is getting closer to commercial in price. This is good, because organic is better for you and better for the planet. And please write your representatives and demand no more government support for corn/soy biofuels.

Of course, the less you drive, the more money you will have for food. Maybe we’ll do a blog entry about how to drive less, but for now, what are you doing to save on food and driving and keep it healthy? How is it going?

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Comments
  1. Dear David.

    The food to fuel programme can and will be easily reversed by Congress as the evil of it becomes apparent. It is energy negative and takes more fossil fuels than it replaces(see Dr. Pimental studies).

    Buying local veggies may be a good thing but difficult in Canada since all of our commercial veggies come from elsewhere. The high cost of fuel may reverse this a little.

    Grow your own. Not a practical idea in the Houston of the north witch is 50 degrees north at 3000 ft high. But even here something like swiss chard might grow. Out there in the balmy USA you have much less of an excuse.

    Toronto and suburbia have destroyed at least 1000 sq miles of prime agriland. Agricultural zoning? Kinda Commie. Difficult to move an existing city.

    Burning the non recyclable part of garbage to recover some energy instead of fermenting it in a landfill to generate much more green house gas.

    Wood as a commercial energy source. Difficult to burn in domestic equipment without much pollution but much easier on a large scale.

    Posted by CalgaryDiabetic |
  2. While the price of fuel remains unstable it seems to me that it is now time to really watch the portion size of meals (which is good for diabetics) and look and see where else you can cut back on or change a habit.

    I line dry my clothes and only wash when I have a full load. I have an inside drying rack to use when it is raining or snowing. I have a sweater rack that I use to dry socks and I keep it on top of my dryer.

    Next spring I will be planting a garden. Tomatoes are one of our favorites and I bought four on the vine ones (which were on sale) and they cost over $6.00. They were the most expensive item I purchased.

    My next question is what can we do when we have done all the weather improvements to our homes and the bills continue to rise out of site? When as many as possible are growing our own food as best we can, and have cut back on all non-essential items or outings. Where will we go from here?

    Posted by Airborne Mom |

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