Friday, March 4, 2011

Forget Gas Prices: Who Can Afford To Eat?

My mamer Evelyn taught me well when it comes to frugality. And since getting laid off two years ago, it's rare that my weekly grocery shopping doesn't target what's on sale at the local grocery. Here in Brooklyn Heights, we're fortunate to have a supermarket—small in scale when in comes to the typical suburban Kroger, Pathmark, Safeway or Food Lion—but at least there are weekly specials, a sprinkling of house brands and more than one choice of coffee... unlike many nabe bodegas in the city.

All the same, there are staple items one's gotta have that seldom go on sale: eggs, milk and lettuce. I've been having a fucking fit lately over iceberg lettuce, which, in the past six months, has escalated from $1.69 a damn head to $2.99. That's close to double—and we're talking common, everyday lettuce here, not organically grown beets that are told bedtime stories at sunset.

I wanted to know why, why, why, so did some research and found that farmers are whining about bad weather in Florida and Mexico and too much rain in California, which has screwed the global supply chain. Between Jan. 30 and Feb. 6, farmers' booty on lettuce escalated from 57 cents to $1.19 a head, according to the Dept. of Agriculture. A year ago Feb. 21, farmers were paid 33 cents.

Tomatoes and green peppers have also become the caviar of veges. USDA cites that a 10-pound carton of tomatoes was $31.25 as of Feb. 18. Six weeks before, it was $20.

"Farming is worse than going to Vegas," said Western Growers Tom Oliveri, which isn't particularly amusing. Restaurants have also reacted: Wendy's has you request tomatoes, while Subway cut back on the number of tomatoes & peppers on a 12" sammich, from 6 to 4.

Overall, U.S. food prices are expected to jump between 3% and 4% this year, twice the rate of inflation. This is being blamed on bad weather, worldwide demand for U.S. commodities and rising gas prices. So there's little hope things will level off anytime soon... if ever.

Forget salad. Looks like it's going to be something more affordable for dinner: filet mignon.