unemployment numbers holding at just under 10 percent nationwide,
the bad news has been compounded by a United Nations report
that predicts global food prices are likely to rise by 40
percent in the next decade.
are pockets of hunger all over America,
and there are places where many are “food insecure,” which
means that they have food, but not much, and the family
sometimes wonders where their next meal is coming from.
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, in its
report, The Agriculture Outlook 2010-19, noted that wheat
and coarse grain prices could jump to levels of between
15 and 40 percent higher than they were in the ten-year
spend a smaller percentage of their disposable household
income for food than most other countries and, yet, they
complain about the high cost of food.
U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research
Service (ERS) recently reported that Americans in 2009 spent
about 9.9 percent of their disposable income on food consumed
at home, whereas, in Mexico
- just to take one developing nation as an example - families
spent 21.7 percent of disposable income for food consumed
ERS also keeps historical records. In 1929, American families
spent 22.7 percent of $18 billion worth of disposable income
for food. ERS’s 2009 figure of 9.9 percent was based on
$990.2 billion of disposable income. As the U.S.
population increased and the overall income increased, the
percentage of income spent on food dramatically decreased.
has been accomplished by government maintaining a cheap
food policy, but it has been accomplished in large part
through the industrialization of American agriculture and,
for the most part, small farmers are left out of the picture,
since production of food relies more and more on the industrial
form of production - heavy capital investment in land and
machinery, on fossil fuels for fertilizer and a cocktail
of assorted chemicals to combat pests, fungi, and diseases
food is turned into a commodity, it becomes just another
thing that can be traded on the world’s various stock and
commodity markets. It’s no longer food. Rather, it becomes
another ingredient among the many substances that are used
to manufacture what Americans currently consider to be food.
debate continues about that aspect of food in the U.S.
How is our food grown, produced and how is it processed,
once it gets to the factory? Are ingredients food? These
are basic questions that have yet to be answered.
common wisdom among people concerned about the quality of
our food is that, if you can’t pronounce the ingredients
or you don’t know what they mean, you should not eat what
is inside the package.
much of food presented to us in the supermarkets fits that
description. Even so, it is not the cheapest thing available
to people of modest means or to poor people. There are always
fast food restaurants, but it is more evident every year
that this is the kind of food that is making people obese,
causing them to be malnourished, and in many cases, making
them sick from diseases that are increasing in frequency,
such as diabetes and all kinds of heart and circulatory
is the price, however, that makes parents in poor families
give their children two or three dollars and send them to
the neighborhood fast food emporium. It may not be cheap
in the long run, but it is cheap at the time of a particular
meal. If you have little disposable income, that’s what
foods for preparation at home may be just a little more
expensive, but the net effect on personal health could be
the same. It’s not likely that people are making those comparisons
when they send the children off to the burger-and-soda shop.
course, the problems are much broader than whether the cost
of food (any kind of food) goes up over the next 10 years.
Parents are having the squeeze put on them to feed their
kids anything, so whatever is out there at the lowest
price is what will be chosen, in the home or down on the
40 percent increase will hit wage workers, the working poor,
and the poor with equal force, because, whatever their current
income, whatever increase in household income comes along,
it will not keep up with the cost of food. And remember,
we’re not talking about the quality of the food available
to them, for that’s another, different discussion.
are countries in which average workers pay 50 percent or
60 percent or more of their disposable household income
for food. It makes our less-than-10 percent-of-income family
food bill look like small change. But, there are few Americans
who would say that our government has a cheap food policy,
and they never would be able to empathize with people -
workers, peasants, and indigenous people - who pay out most
of their income in food bills.
of doctor bills, school tuition, clothing, shoes, housing
costs? They get to the back of the line, for food and safe
water are the first things.
UN is not saying that there must be shortages of
food (the organization says that one billion people around
the world are now believed to be undernourished), it says
that ways must be found to make sure that food gets from
the food-surplus areas to food-deficit areas. That’s not
an easy task, anywhere.
the report of increasing food prices does not bode well
for Americans (the unemployment rate in Detroit is reported
to be higher than 15 percent) who are on the economic edge,
but it is potentially much worse for those who are poor
in poor countries - in Africa, Central and South America,
and large portions of Asia.
news must have some of the world’s biggest corporations
salivating over the possibility of selling the idea of genetically
manipulated plants and animals - the industrial method of
production. For years, they have told the world that GM
crops will produce more, but that has not been shown to
be the case.
they have told the world that they are safe for humans.
The jury is out on that question, but the preliminary results
of studies that could take three or more human generations
are showing the potential for physical and genetic harm.
food prices rise as abruptly as predicted in the next decade
and if wages and income do not increase to keep pace - as
seems to be likely - there will have to be ways to get the
food and the income to people who are hungry or undernourished.
they should not need continuing food aid from us. That has
been going on for generations and the conditions of deprivation
persist. What they need is for us to help them feed themselves,
with their own traditional crops and seeds and with their
own livestock. They may need some emergency help, from time
to time. But the way to sustainability for them is through
food sovereignty - determining their own course in farming
and food production, using their own traditions and culture.
this can be done anywhere, including the U.S.
There is talk of razing hundreds or thousands of abandoned
homes and making city farms and gardens out of the space,
providing food and jobs. Their success in that endeavor
in a country that looks down on manual labor will be an
upward struggle, but it can be done.
need to look at those possibilities for every city where
people are deprived of the means of their food production.
We’re not that different from people in other countries,
rich or poor.
Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former
union organizer. His union work started when he became a
local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s.
He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New
York State. In addition to labor
work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to
stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food
producers and land developers. Click here
to contact Mr. Funiciello.