bags of rice, thailand. photo by IRRI images.
I WISH I’D HAD A TAPE RECORDER. One day the manager at the cafe where I work was lamenting the climbing cost of her weekly groceries, the next she was attempting to justify the higher prices on our soup.
“[Another cafe] is charging five dollars for a cup that’s the same size!” she said, explaining why it was now costing our customers a dollar more for a product that we dump out of a bag. The economic reasoning seemed rather dubious to me, especially juxtaposed against her earlier complaints.
“This is how food prices go up,” I said to her dryly. She shot me a look that seemed to say, Whatever.
It was an illustrative moment. While I can’t pretend to fully understand the complexities of the looming food crisis, amid all the factors that lay out of human control — floods, poor crops, shortages, etc. — the common denominator appears to be human greed. This has manifested itself on a range of levels, from questionable price gouging to grain hoarding.
With recent riots over food prices in Haiti and the IHT reporting that elementary schools in rural Cambodia are being forced to suspend free breakfast programs, it’s obvious that — as ever — the world’s poorest are the first to feel the pinch of this greed. But in some backwards way it’s hopeful that Americans are too; proof that the distance of oceans doesn’t insulate us from everything.
The worrisome aspect of that equation is this: Americans have agency and buying power, whereas citizens of third world nations have little to none. Bloomberg says that hoarding by eager Wall Streeters is already adding to the pain of farmers and consumers.
And so we’re left with a reality that has always existed in some form but has rarely been so plainly presented — unless we check greed and panic in this situation, people will starve and die.
Looking at soaring food costs as an opportunity for capital gains is one-dimensional and shortsighted. Those inching up their prices hoping to make an extra buck are only going to turn around to find their dollars don’t go as far in the aisles of the grocery store. But Statesiders ought to reflect on the fact that on the other side of the world, the consequences are more real; kids going to school with empty bellies, families grinding by on rations bought with $2 a day.