2007 was a breakout year for agricultural commodities like corn, wheat, and soy. According to this piece on Market Oracle, a key indicator of the U.S. commodities market rose 31 percent last year—compared to single-digit growth in the greater domestic economy. Corn prices finished the year at an 11-year high, while soybeans were at a 34-year high. Such trends are, of course, driving up food prices; in May of last year Sustainable Table covered this very issue. But are we really feeling the effects?
In my neighborhood in Brooklyn we regularly shop at one of the two local health food stores, which are the only stores nearby offering organic produce. However, it is impossible to leave either store without spending more than $20 on one meal's groceries. Now, granted we are buying organic, but a meal's worth of groceries costing me more than $20 makes it feel like it's almost worth going out to a restaurant instead. At least I wouldn't have to cook or clean.
And restaurants, too, seem to have gotten more expensive lately. A coworker was telling me about his recent meal at Becco, where $21.95 gets you the Sinfonia Di Pasta, basically a fancy all-you-can-eat deal. My gut reaction was, wow, that's a really good deal. $21.95 isn't bad for a restaurant of Becco's quality. But now that I've had some time to mull it over, I am actually astounded at that price for pasta, even if it is house-made and all-you-can-eat. (How much pasta can you eat?)
But how much of this is attributable to the crazy real estate market here in New York City, and how much to the soaring prices of agricultural commodities? It's hard to say, but my hunch is that it's a bit of both. With growing demand for food from booming populations in India and China, and worldwide shortages owing to global warming, the dwindling of available arable land, and increased biofuel production, the trend is only expected to continue.
Serious Eaters, are you feeling the crunch at the checkout line? Have you noticed your weekly food bill increase over the past year? Let us know in the comments below. Relatedly, see what one week's worth of food will set you back in a bunch of different places throughout the world.
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