Sticker Shocked

I was in the supermarket today and made sure to get my block of cheddar for the summer’s grilled cheese sandwiches, since apparently I’m going to be paying more for dairy products.

As much as that may chap my butt, John Cloud, writing in Time Magazine, points out that Americans are actually spending a far lower percentage of our income for food than we should.

A little historical perspective: despite the recent price run-up, Americans still spend less to feed themselves than any other people on the planet—probably less than any monetized society in history. ... Americans don’t spend much on food largely because we just don’t want to.

And, as Cloud notes, thanks to corn subsidies, we don’t have to.

Sadly this means that nutritionally suspect corn snacks and corn-syrup-based beverages are so cheap and convenient that “it’s perfectly rational, on a dollar-per-calorie basis, to buy them.” But fruits and veggies, which are not subsidized, are more expensive to produce, store, and ship, meaning that to get a given number of calories from raspberries would cost a hundred times what it would cost to get those same calories from cookies. With diet-related illness on the rise, cheap calories are literally killing us.

But Cloud isn’t a “let them eat $5-per-pint raspberries” food snob. He acknowledges that rising prices disproportionately hurt the poor, and advocates increasing the amount of money people on food stamps receive, as well as figuring out ways to get fresh produce into local food banks.