Food prices are soaring around the world, due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. This sadly comes at a time when millions of people are out of work and already struggling to afford essentials.
As predicted by climate change experts, extreme weather conditions are wreaking havoc on the global food chain — the recent storms in Texas, which destroyed crops and livestock, being a recent example. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service estimates farmers and ranchers have lost $600 million, the cost of which will ultimately be felt in food shortages and higher prices around the U.S. The storms also disrupted shipping, which led to food waste. “Truck drivers were stuck for days waiting to load or unload produce,” reports the New York Times. “Processing plants had no power. Dairies were forced to dump 14 million gallons of milk, said Sid Miller, the Texas commissioner of agriculture.”
The pandemic has made food workers uniquely vulnerable, as working conditions at farms and slaughterhouses are prime for rampant spread of the COVID-19 virus. Because of these unsafe conditions, many workers fell ill, which led to less production and companies hiking prices. According to NBC, “Consumer Price Index data for the month of January found that the cost of food eaten at home rose 3.7 percent from a year ago — more than double the 1.4 percent year-over-year increase in the prices of all goods included in the C.P.I.”
According to Bloomberg, staples across the world are rising, from a 30 percent jump in the cost of tofu since December in Indonesia, to a 64 percent increase on sugar in Russia over a one year span. “People will have to get used to paying more for food,” Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Canada, told Bloomberg. “It’s only going to get worse.”
In the U.S., the pandemic has led to millions being out of work, and food banks have seen unprecedented demand. Because food is treated as a commodity, not a necessity, people continue to go hungry even though there is enough food to go around. For example, due to February storms and power outages, Portland grocer Fred Meyer threw out thousands of pounds of food, and called the cops on residents who attempted to salvage it from the dumpster.
As with many man-made disasters, it doesn’t have to be this way. But this is what happens when you live in a system that values profit over people and the planet.