What Causes Food Insecurity: Part IV

In case you missed it, here are Part I, Part II, and Part III of What Causes Food Insecurity.  Here is the final part of this segment.  While more could be said about each of these topics, remember I’m simplifying a lot of this for the purpose of readability (and this is a blog not an academic paper!).

Here are two more reasons that are commonly cited for increases in the cost of food and subsequently food insecurity.

Fuel Costs: You may recall in early to mid-2008 the price of oil rose dramatically ($140/barrel… in the Bay Area gas was over $4.00/gallon) and all of a sudden there were riots in various developing countries (I remember Haiti, since I was working at a government agency dealing with food security issues).  The price of oil is largely controlled by OPEC (Organization of Oil Exporting Countries).  Increases in the cost of fuel means increases in the cost of food for a few reasons.

  1. Gasoline and other petroleum based chemicals are inputs for a lot of agricultural production (i.e. tractors, fertilizers, etc).  When the cost of production increases, generally that cost is incurred by the consumer because the producer doesn’t want to (and often simply can’t afford to) lose profits.
  2. Transportation.  Certain places have better climates for growing.  If you live in the the United States, chances are a lot of your produce comes from California or Mexico.  The cost of transporting food is reflected in the price of the food.  If it costs more to ship some grains around the world then food is going to cost more.

Increased Demand from Emerging Nations:  It is argued that certain developing nations namely China, Brazil and India have increase in wealth and improved quality of life in recent years.  This has created increased demand for food, particularly meat and dairy products, which require more land and agricultural products to produce.  Increased demand with a constant supply causes an increase in price.

Here’s my opinion on this last point:

I don’t think it’s fair to blame developing nations for increasing the cost of food.  I’ve never been to China, and was too young when I went to Brazil to observe this kind of thing, but India still has extreme levels of poverty and hunger.  I wonder how much their consumption has increased actually affecting food prices.

Developed countries have been consuming at unsustainable levels for decades.  Can we honestly tell countries like China, Brazil and India that they cannot enjoy the same luxuries that we do? I think curbing consumption is extremely important for attaining food security and environmental sustainability, but we cannot expect certain nations to limit themselves when we do not.  This is the major reason why I am a vegetarian.  I feel like if I reduce my consumption of meat, more people in the world might be able to eat and the Earth will be a bit healthier.  Some would say it’s a drop in the bucket, but I think it’s worth it.

What are your thoughts?  Do you see any solutions to these issues?

Is there anything you’d like to know more about?


5 thoughts on “What Causes Food Insecurity: Part IV

  1. ginamastrog says:

    This was a great post. In my, “Ethics of Eating” class, we’ve been talking a lot on this subject as it relates to our intimacy with food and how people can or cannot afford to buy and consume locally. I think that at this point, it’s a bit implausible to expect everyone to afford certain foods unless government and state measures are taken. Here in Burlington, we have a program where food stamps can be used at the local food shelf, and families can buy organic and locally. Also, I think it’s great what you said about being a vegetarian – I am one as well, and completely agree.

    So I was reading through some of your other posts…do you go to Ithaca? I live like, an hour away from there, and will be going there the weekend of the 19th! 🙂

    • Karla says:

      “Ethics of Eating” sounds interesting! I don’t think it’s feasible to expect people to eat only local food. While I think the local food movement is great, we live in a globalized world and we can benefit from comparative advantage. Obviously with that comes a lot of problems, but I know I love bananas and coffee. I wouldn’t want to give them up but I think it’s important to be conscious of where your food comes from and who it’s affecting.

      I go to Cornell. Sadly I’ll be going home on Dec 17th! We could have had a meet up! Darn!

  2. Karin says:

    I really enjoyed reading your food insecurity series and I completely agree with you: we could go on and on and on and talk (or write ;)) forever about it. I think that “rich countries” have to be blamed the most because it’s only natural that developing nations want to achieve the same standard as “western” countries. So nothing gives us the right to think “we had everything first and you should stop wanting it!” and blame everyone else for increasing the cost of food.

    The world wouldn’t change much if I were the only vegetarian. But I’m not. So yes, one person alone can’t change much but there are millions of other people who are veggies as well so no one can say that all those people can’t change anything. I agree with you that it’s absolutely worth it.

    I sometimes feel bad for eating at least one banana a day as it’s not the most ecological product but most of the produce that I buy is Swiss and I tend to avoid heavily processed foods so I think it’s ok to get my “daily banana fix”.

    • Karla says:

      One person being a vegetarian may not necessarily make a difference but I think you need to model the behavior you want to see. I don’t expect everyone to stop eating meat but I think we can at least be more conscious and consume less.

      I understand feeling guilty for having bananas daily, but honestly I don’t think you should. Think of how many people get to eat/survive because you buy their bananas (granted probably at a ridiculously low price, but better than nothing in my opinion). This may sound hypocritical because of what I’ve said earlier but I think I’ve also mentioned that it’s not realistic to eat things that are only produced within 100 miles of us. Food needs to be enjoyed 🙂

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