Editorial: Rocketing food costs are also harming the hunger safety net


A recent editorial by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Eye-popping food price increases this fall, notably for meats, have taken a toll on many household budgets, especially for Thanksgiving. But there’s been a far more serious consequence to the rising food costs — the one-two punch they’ve landed on anti-hunger efforts, both locally and globally.

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank, already stretched because of pandemic needs, saw turkey prices rise 25% over 2019, CEO Kristin Warzocha told cleveland.com’s Sean McDonnell. And that was dwarfed by the 43% jump in the cost of a jar of peanut butter, an anti-hunger staple. But other food costs also rose. A case of macaroni and cheese climbed 21%, and even the cost of muffin mix rose 16%.

Nationally, about one in ten Americans is food-insecure, meaning they don’t always know where their next meal will come from.

In the six counties served by the Greater Cleveland Food Bank — Cuyahoga, Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, Ashland and Richland counties — it’s worse: One in five is food-insecure, according to the food bank.

Globally, the figure is even grimmer — about one in three, per the latest report from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Worldwide, that translates to 2.37 billion people.

Pandemic and now food inflation are making a worldwide hunger crisis worse. According to Food Tank, which describes itself as a think tank for food, the U.N. World Food Program last year “delivered aid to around 115.5 million people in 84 countries.

“This is the largest number of people to receive aid from the WFP since 2012, when conflict in Syria and droughts in the Sahel region of Africa led to humanitarian crises,” Food Tank added, noting that the pandemic has disrupted both agricultural production and the delivery of food aid. Yet that just added to a crisis that was already building because of “conflict, climate change, and economic recessions” around the world, Food Tank said. Globally, donations just cannot keep up.

Luckily, that’s not the case, so far, in Northeast Ohio, where the giving spirit has been the rule, not the exception.

“Northeast Ohio has been a generous community that wants to make sure no one goes hungry,” Warzocha told O’Donnell, describing the “silver lining” of the pandemic in how it prompted even more support — both monetarily and in donated time and food.

But the needs, and costs, just keep growing — including in trucking costs, in grocery stores with less product to donate, and now in food price inflation. And the holidays always see intensified demand for food aid.

…What’s driving food price inflation? A raft of causes, apparently.

Meat has gotten more expensive in part because of higher feed costs tied to increased global demand and climate disruptions, while higher food prices overall reflect pandemic-related increases in food-buying, along with labor shortages and higher processing costs, agricultural economist Jason Lusk told NPR earlier this month.

Economic analyst Kimberly Amadeo, writing for “The Balance,” tagged five main reasons for rising food costs: higher oil prices; climate change; government subsidies for ethanol that steer corn crops to fuel; World Trade Organization limitations on food stockpiling; and increased meat-eating globally.

Some of these are macro trends that may be hard to influence, but Greater Clevelanders can help at a local level, not just in our own food-consumption habits, but also in how we give of our time.

So, if there’s one item to add to your holiday to-do list, it would be to reach out to your local food bank or food pantry and offer to volunteer or help in other ways… .

— Cleveland Plain Dealer, Nov. 28, 2021