Tuesday, June 03, 2008


While we gathered together to celebrate a birthday in our small mountain town in the state of San Luis Potosi this weekend, an ugly specter began to emerge. Food is getting really expensive, and just like fuel, it is already being rationed.

No, I don't mean rationed as if we each get a little book of food tickets. I mean economic rationing. Those who can afford it are eating just fine. Those who cannot, are beginning to suffer. Here's a background story from Slate.

Why Are Global Food Prices Soaring?
Energy costs, investment in ethanol, bad weather in Australia
By Juliet Lapidos

The U.N. World Food Program's executive director told the Los Angeles Times that "a perfect storm" is hitting the world's hungry, as demand for aid surges while food prices skyrocket. Cost increases are affecting most countries around the globe, with prices for dairy products up 80 percent, cooking oils up 50 percent, and grains up 42 percent from 2006 to 2007. (For more specifics on how prices have changed since 2000, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has a handy chart.) Why are groceries getting so expensive all at once?

Energy prices.
The global food system is heavily dependent on petroleum, not just for shipping goods from one location to another but also for production, packaging, and processing. As the price of oil rises—crude oil is currently hovering at around $100 a barrel (this story is 2 months old)—so do the costs of planting, harvesting, and delivering food.

High oil prices have also created a secondary problem: The burgeoning interest in biofuels. In 2006, 14 percent of the total corn crop in the United States was converted into ethanol; by 2010, that figure will rise to 30 percent. When the production of corn intended for human or animal consumption decreases, prices go up.

Why does this local shift in policy affect food prices around the world?

The diversion of American corn into energy has a ripple effect for two reasons: First, the United States is the world's largest corn exporter, accounting for about 40 percent of global trade, so when corn-as-food production decreases here, costs go up everywhere. Second, when the price of corn increases, farmers in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere who use the crop to feed livestock look for cheaper alternatives, like wheat or sorghum.

These alternatives, in turn, become more expensive." more

Meanwhile the world leaders are getting serious about doing something about it. They are eating less foie gras.

UN Opens Food Summit with Call for Urgent Action
to Stem Food Crisis
By VOA News
03 June 2008

The United Nations is calling for urgent action to ease the global food crisis that officials say threatens to push millions of people across the globe into poverty and to the brink of starvation.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday addressed an international food summit in Rome urging world leaders to boost food output by 50 percent over the next two decades.

The U.N. chief called on governments to administer direct food aid and to supply small farmers in stricken countries with seed and fertilizer before this year's planting seasons. He also urged the elimination of trade and taxation policies that he says distort markets.

In a message, Pope Benedict told delegates that hunger and malnutrition are, in his words, "unacceptable in a world where resources and knowledge" can solve the crisis.

The Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is hosting the three-day summit. Delegates are slated to discuss the effects of global warming on food availability and the surge in demand for biofuels - made by converting food crops into fuel."

In an act of supreme empathy, lunch at the meeting has been revised from last year's feast.

"World leaders attending the UN food summit in Rome settled down today to a "modest" lunch in order not to be accused of "hypocrisy" as they were at the last world food summit six years ago.

The 2002 menu, published by The Times, began with foie gras on toast with kiwi fruit and lobster in vinaigrette, followed by fillet of goose with olives and seasonal vegetables and ending with a compote of fruit with vanilla, all accompanied by an array of fine wines.

This time the catering was scaled down.

Leaders first ate vol au vent stuffed with sweetcorn and mozzarella, followed by a pasta dish with a sauce of pumpkin and shrimps, and then veal meatballs and cherry tomatoes, with a fruit salad and vanilla ice-cream for dessert. The wine was a "straightforward but very acceptable Orvieto Classico", officials said.

Tomorrow the lunch menu features cheese mousse, pasta, green beans and pineapple with ice-cream, all washed down with a Nero d'Avola Cabernet from Sicily. On Thursday, the last day of the summit, delegates will be offered courgette tart, parmesan risotto, ragout of veal with sautee potatoes, and lemon mousse for dessert with a strawberry sauce, with Pino Grigio from Trentino as the wine. "

These guys really know how to show their concern for those who are suffering because of their inaction and their love of markets and mammon over the well being of their people.

According to the UN, it only requires 30 billion a year to solve the problem (about 90 days of the Iraq war) to de-fuse the current world food crisis and avert the looming threat of conflicts over food.

It's enough to make Ghandhi reconstitute himself.

Hopefully, as climate change and resource depletion continue

to exacerbate the stunning agflation we are seeing today,

It won't be that long until he does,

And the next time world leaders meet to discuss hunger,

they fast.


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